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High school students succeed when shown choices in English class.

High school students succeed when shown choices in English class.

ELA teachers can encourage students to challenge themselves and discover the joy of learning. In college, I was given to read Paradise Lost. What work! But instead of asking me to write an essay in response, the professor allowed me to create a poster displaying my points as images (before PowerPoint). The only reason I remember anything about the book is because I had the opportunity to respond in a way that interested and challenged me.

The professor was also memorable for his anguished breath as he struggled to communicate amorphous ideas visually. That task significantly shaped my path to teaching and learning. In my English class, I have embraced the principles of choice, challenge, and joy to create meaningful experiences for students.

Also read: house drawing

Choice

Student choice is widely recognized as a tool for engagement and meaning. And there is extensive research to support this idea. However, when I started teaching in 1995, the choice was not operational. Back then, at my traditional college prep school. All students were expected to read. The same books (written by old, dead. White dudes plus Harper Lee) and write the same five-paragraph essays their parents had endured for 35 years. Years. Before. Any variation was considered extravagant.

The problem with this approach is that it does not consider the students’ participation. Eventually, I discovered that allowing students to choose what they read and write is critical to their acceptance. During a unit on adventures. When I told my students that they could write a fictional adventure story, a personal narrative about an experience they had had, or an essay about the qualities of yarn, they became much more interested. I didn’t care how the students showed me that they understood the theme of the experience. I just wanted proof of your understanding.

This change also meant that he needed to teach children the principles of various writing styles so that they could marry form with function. While all students. Were required to learn to describe action clearly. I led the fiction writer about foreshadowing to build tension and the narrative writer about prioritizing access to the protagonist’s thoughts to deepen understanding.

I extend the choice to books as well. Although I create a list of recommended books, I encourage students to read any book they like. I invite them to share their insights through assignments like book covers, marketing campaigns, dioramas, and slideshows. Students love being able to select their reading material and always indicate that it was their favorite part of English class.

Challenge

Challenge is also ultimately a matter of compromise: what is challenging for one student is often too difficult or too easy for another. Allowing students to choose their adventure in terms of writing and reading solves the challenge problem. Giving students writing assignments where they could choose their desired format also created an option in terms of challenge. For example, an annotated fanfiction format was more difficult to write than a personal narrative because annotations and fanfiction required a deeper understanding of the source material.

I’m also transparent with students about which option is the most challenging. I want kids to know what they’re getting into. In my experience, once students feel comfortable in the classroom, they look for work that hits their zone of proximal development: hard enough to be exciting but easy enough to be manageable. When students choose the level of challenge, each student learns much more than when I set all the tasks as they strive to excel in their preferred format.

Another way I add challenges is through silly restrictions, even if they have a purpose. For example, in the annotated fan fiction mentioned above. Students wrote fan fiction for a novel they had read, but they also had to point out the thematic points of connection between their story and the book. Other times I forbade the students to have characters cry in their stories: they had to come up with different ways to show a character’s emotional state (that was a response to every story I read for a few months with characters “crying hysterically”). I was wailing” or shown with “a single tear moving down her cheek”).

These challenges were meant to be fun and encourage. Students to employ creative descriptions. And that worked. With the tasks. But they pushed themselves in new ways. One student who told me he didn’t like all the English homework ended up writing a western adventure story that he loved and enthusiastically shared with the class and, more tellingly, her parents.

joy of learning

Finally, I try to infuse every class moment with the joy of learning. I recognize that what’s happy for me isn’t necessarily delighting for everyone, so I’ve learned to ask. What each person in my class thinks is funny and use that information to shape assignments. learning experiences, and jokes that appeal to my audience.

If 100 percent of my students liked dogs, I would bring my dog ​​into the classroom as a live model and ask the kids to write about her. If some students loved video games, I would include writing a video game plot as an option in a particular unit. Or, if my students liked mysteries, I would give them a mystery to solve, complete with police investigation files and visual evidence, and then ask them to write their own story.

If you lived to ask me. “After 27 years, what do you know to be correct close teaching?” I would tell you that fundamentally learning should be full of joy. Only then can you truly know that you have reached and helped improve the skills of every person in the classroom?

This understanding, by the way, goes against much advice you may receive. I’ve heard many administrators and mentors say, “Well, you can’t please everyone,” in response to uninterested students. But you can please everyone, not with every assignment or lesson but through an approach that values ​​each child’s sovereignty. Unique gifts, and ability to have fun. There is no formula to create joy, but knowing your students, offering them options, and designing exciting challenges for them is a great start.

At the end of each year, the students marvel at their growth. I try hard not to assign my students the middle school equivalent of Paradise Lost (hmmm, would that be Lord of the Flies?), but I am grateful to that teacher because of that project. I learned the worth of agency, challenge, and delight.

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