Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind. --Virginia Woolf
As Language Arts teachers, one of our main goals is to help our students become better writers. We give students the same writing assignment because it seems more manageable and makes the content easier to cover. But what if we saw what students can do when given choices? What if we saw an increase in engagement, a sense of professionalism, and a sense of ownership that accompanies writing the paper? And what if we could make a real difference in reading comprehension and in enhancing students' use of explanation and evidence all at the same time? It all begins with a simple phrase. . ."I wonder".
My journey with student choice in writing began with giving students freedom to ask anything they were wondering about. Sounds scary, right? It turned out to be the biggest turn in my teaching I have ever experienced. Take a look below at the "wondering" generated by just 2 class periods:
A sample of student writing from an "I Wonder" speech:
For more examples of "I Wonder" speech paragraphs, click here: https://sites.google.com/boyle.kyschools.us/student-choice-in-writing/home
To see steps for the "I Wonder" speech, click here: https://sites.google.com/boyle.kyschools.us/student-choice-in-writing/i-wonder-speech-steps
So what were the obstacles?
It all begins with a driving question. I never had success when I tried to have students write on a "topic". There has to be more focus provided. Check out this website: http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/sept10/vol68/num01/Choice-Is-a-Matter-of-Degree.aspx
This link is to an article that discusses the importance of a driving question, which became a central focal point in my classroom.
This second link provides a process for guiding students to formulate their own strong driving question.
Students will sometimes grow frustrated with their driving question. I tried to push students to persevere if I thought it was a question they could be successful with, but if it's just not working, don't be afraid to exercise flexibility. Sometimes this will require a heart-to-heart with individual students where you help them find something they will truly love to write about.
Providing student choice in writing is a collaborative effort. I worked with my co-teacher, my special education teachers, our learning specialist, our district writing specialist, and members of my CTEPS team. Together, we made this endeavor a success.
Together, we worked to place the pieces of the puzzle that is providing student choice in the classroom.