Adventures in Literacy Land: allowing student choice

Showing posts with label allowing student choice. Show all posts
Showing posts with label allowing student choice. Show all posts

Adding Student Choice with Guest Blogger Lauralee

Welcome to Lauralee from Language Arts Classroom, who is joining us today to tell us all about student choice when reading. Read more to find out how to add student choice when teaching literature.

I’m a reader, a lover of almost all books. Even books that I don’t love, I can normally appreciate a portion of. When I began teaching, I wanted my passion and excitement to flow to my students. And, the novice teacher that I was, I figured it would simply because of my excitement.   Of course, that didn’t happen. Some students were game, but others were clearly bored. Others didn’t read, no matter what I did. I struggled to reach all students - and I wanted literature to influence my students the way it did me.   Eventually, I found tricks that worked, lessons that reached more students. What I’ve realized is that these ‘tricks’ all revolve around giving students choice. By providing choice in literature lessons, I am reaching more students, my initial goal.   Plus, choice provides students freedom, and they are not in competition with other students. Don’t be afraid to implement student choice! To start, provide choice in small areas and move on when comfortable.   Here are quick ways to implement student choice in literature lesson plans today.   Novels   I’ve never had the freedom to choose novels with students (a YAL reading class would be a dream!), but choices with novels still exist. With older students, ask them what works best.

  • Students can choose what review and discussion activities they like after certain sections. Present different options and students can choose their favorites. For instance, with partners students can have discussion starter prompts. Group work allows for larger analysis. Individual work can also allow choice - which graphic organizer, which writing topic?
  • Students can choose the culminating activity at the end - presentation, paper, or artwork. I’ve had some students choose a test simply because they are good test takers.
  • Are students struggling? Ask what will help them. For difficult novels, they may want guided notes.
  Short Stories/ Nonfiction   Allow students to choose stories or nonfiction pieces with structure. Explain the theme of your unit and be honest about your resources. I’ve even told students what we need to cover - literary devices, analysis processes - and that is how I developed the list of choices.   Choices:
  • Students can choose what to read. Give students a list of short stories with a short summary of each. They can vote on the short stories or nonfiction pieces that interest them as a class. For instance, I teach a spooky unit during October and typically cover Poe. I want to cover Poe. Students need to read at least one Poe, but other suspenseful stories full of conflict are out there. I allow student input for which Poe story, and then they choose others. Sometimes, they want to read multiple Poe stories!
  • My students love choosing which nonfiction piece to choose. Since most of the choices are on the Internet, I give them web addresses and ask them to choose. Then I provide a list of questions (since I have already read all potential articles).
  Vocabulary   Giving students choice in what vocabulary they study has been the easiest implementation of choice in my experience.   Choices:
  • Students can choose what words to study. This can be as simple as their choosing a certain number of words. You can also provide students with a form.
  • Students can decide how to study the words: writing a story? sentences? stand-up comedy routine?
  • Students can choose how to analyze the language. What parts of speech are the words? Can they use the verbs as participles?
  With older students, using choice improved my classroom management as well as. Students engaged in the literature because they chose their method of studying. This makes sense; appreciating literature is a personal experience.   Providing choice for students may seem like extra teacher-work. I’ve found the opposite: students see success. I’m able to meet IEP goals without obviousness. Students experience failure, and as a class we make decisions together, and feel the repercussions of them - together.   When I think back to my simplistic approaches to teaching literature, I shudder. Choice has improved my teaching and brought the joy of literature to my students - my ultimate goal.

Lauralee from

Language Arts Classroom

HELP! I don't know what to write about!

HELP! I don't know what to write about!

The key to teaching writing is to take away the fear and the excuses.  "I don't know what to write about," is the worst excuse EVER!  If your students give you this excuse, you need to rethink your brainstorming activities for Writer's Workshop.

Three ideas

1. Topic Cards 

I am an admitted thrift store junkie.  I have some thrift stores in the area I frequent for specific things. I go to the book section first.  Can't pass up children's books for 78 cents!  I also look for word books, but that's coming later.  Then I look for "Topic Cards."  Most people know these as flashcards, but they are really topic cards in disguise.  I put the cards in a container labeled "Topics."  If students want a new topic, they can choose a card.  Easy.  Last week I found old cards for a peg board (young teachers won't know what I'm talking about).  These cards didn't have words, but it was easy enough to add the words with a permanent marker.

2. Word Cards and Word Books

Seasonal or Topic-based Word Cards can provide students with many, many topics.  These word cards can be related to your state standards or could be fun word cards, like FIRE FIGHTERS!  This word card excites boys and girls. These Word Books or Picture Dictionaries are perfect topic books.  These books contain words with clear photographs.  

3. Vocabulary and Classroom Anchor Charts

Finally, using Vocabulary Anchor Charts in the classroom can provide a wonderful topics for your students.  They could want to write a new chapter for "Dinosaurs Before Dark" or they can write their own Jack and Annie story.  They might even want to write a completely different story about dinosaurs.  

I hope these ideas will end the "I don't know what to write about" excuses.


Giving Students Choices

Hello Teacher Friends!  This is Deniece from This Little Piggy Reads.  I had such a busy beginning of the school year that my own blog has been silent and unfortunately I felt so overwhelmed that I haven't posted on Literacy Land since summer.
 For the first time ever, the "busy" of the beginning of the school year wasn't my own, but My Girl began Kindergarten and that has completely taken over our home life.  I'm just now taking a breath.

Today I want to discuss giving students a choice in the classroom.  I teach a GT pull-out program and my students like having a choice just as much as reluctant readers do.  Choice also seems to give them a feeling of being "grown up".

I'm sharing an example that I used in my own classroom.  My mini-lesson was Asking Questions.  I began by choosing 5 different short non-fiction passages. Based on the passage, I posted an "I" statement.
Students put their names on post-it notes and attached it to the statement that they identified with the most.

Their readings were inside a folder marked 1-5 and once the students got into their groups, I passed out the folders and let the groups read the passages and write questions that would spark new learning.  Finally, my students presented their questions to the class.  I must add that since every group had a different passage, the audience was engaged and listened closely to the presentation. 

Choice Menu's don't have to be the only way you give student's choices. What is one way you give choices in your classroom?


Independent Reading: Whose Choice is It?

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!

Frame:  Pink Cat Studio; Font: Kimberly Geswein  (KG) Fonts

Independent reading. D.E.A.R.  Read to self. S.S.R.  No matter what you label it, there is no arguing that giving students quality time to read is not only important, but is critical to reading development and to fostering an authentic love of learning in our students. This summer I read Donalyn Miller's wildly popular The Book Whisperer and have blogged about it numerous times. Two major points from her book that resonated with me are~

  •  Miller cites researcher Stephen Krashen who identified fifty-one studies that “…prove that students in free-reading programs perform better than or equal to students in any other type of reading program” (p .3).

  •  An effective literacy program focuses on engaging students, not writing “pretty” novel units. Students’ goal: read for pleasure, not to complete endless activities.  Let me (Lauren) clarify:  this does not mean that students never respond to their reading, complete vocabulary tasks, or are not held accountable for their reading, comprehension, and learning.  However, students are not bombarded with endless activities that diminish the pleasure one gets from reading.

For years, I have not only promoted and allowed for a large chunk  of uninterrupted reading time in my classroom, but have also been a strong advocate of reading at home as well.  Whether students are reading in class or at home, the number one motivator is student choice.  Allow students to choose books that interest them and there is a very, very strong likelihood that they will actually complete the reading.  I do not hover over my students micromanaging their book choices, much as Miller stated in her book. Whether I am teaching a reading/language arts class or instructing an intervention group, they know that they are expected to read at home.  They also know that I trust them to make good decisions. Of course, this is after modeling and supporting them with how to choose an appropriate text that interests them and is a "good fit".  And I am talking about kids from ages four to eighteen.

With elementary students (and the preschool enrichment students I have worked with), I guide their choices, keeping in mind their reading level and interests, but I always, always allow them to choose a book that they want to read, even if it appears to be too easy or too difficult.  If they are reading at a Guided Reading level of  "F" and they want to take home a chapter book, I allow them to do so. If they are begging me to allow them to reread an easy picture book, I allow them.  But why?
  • Because I feel that motivation to read/learn is paramount.  Students may choose a chapter book even though it is beyond their instructional or easy level because they feel proud to have a chapter book and view themselves as a reader. Maybe they want to be accepted by their peers and fit in with their classmates who are already reading these more challenging books. If students do not view themselves as a reader and are not motivated to read, they will not choose a chapter book, something that is much longer and intimidating than a book that is on their easy level. My first goal with any student is for them to view themselves as a reader, no matter what their reading level and to be interested in selecting books to take home to read.
  • Because they must see reading as enjoyable if they select a book and beg me to allow them to take it home or read in class. There is no way that I will squelch that enthusiasm.
  • Because I know that by rereading books, reading books that are too easy, and choosing to read books that interest them, students are building fluency and may for the first time actually find reading to be pleasurable.
Parents sometimes are concerned that the books their child is reading is too easy.  My response:  "But they are reading, enjoying it, and are identifying themselves as a reader.  Isn't this what it is all about?"  Miller concurs when she states:  

"They [students] must choose and read many books for themselves in order to catch the reading bug". (p.77)

 Now, this does not mean that I allow students to choose easy books or reread books all year long.  Not at all. Once the student is "hooked", I can then nudge them toward books that are on their reading level and provide more of a challenge.  But if I don't have their buy-in, if they don't sincerely develop an interest in reading, then I can dictate their reading choices all I want or limit them to books at their exact level, and they may or may not read and they most likely will not enjoy the experience. Usually, we will compromise.  They will select a book they want to read and I will urge them or require them to take home a book that I want them to read (because it is on their easy level, allows them to practice/apply a skill or strategy we have been learning in class, etc.).

To communicate with parents and to avoid confusion, I place little notes inside the front cover of the books the students take home.  This allows the parents to know if the book is too hard and they need to read it aloud to their child, if they may need just a little help, or if they can read the book independently.

The notes I use look like this~

Frame:Pink Cat Studio; Font: Kimberly Geswein  (KG) Fonts; Graphics:  Scrappin' Doodles

As students are selecting books to take home, I simply place one of the notes inside the front cover as in the above picture.  Eventually, even the little ones can do this independently.

Click here to download a copy of the notes from Google Drive.  You can print them on card stock and laminate for durability.  They should also print out nicely in black and white or gray scale.

How do you manage take-home or independent reading?  I'd love to hear your tips and tricks!