School Climate & Safety Opinion

Make It an Empowering Day or Not... the Choice Is Yours

By David Ginsburg — November 23, 2013 1 min read
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“Make it a great day or not. The choice is yours.” Many principals say these words at the end of their morning announcements. And it’s an empowering message for some students. But it’s an empty message for students whose only choices are compliance or punishment.

Work with your group or you're getting a detention. It's up to you."
You need to sit criss-cross applesauce or would you like me to call your mom?"

“Choices” like these are about overpowering students, not empowering students. But can you give students real choices without losing control of the classroom? Do you need the latest technology? Do you have to replace worksheets with project-based learning?

I often hear questions like these when I help schools shift from teacher-centered to student-centered classrooms. And the good news is you don’t have to do a pedagogical 180 to give students choices that allow them to feel empowered. A few examples:

Early Finisher Activities. Don't punish students with more practice on a skill they've just mastered or waste their time with mindless activities like word searches. Let them choose from a menu of fun yet challenging activities such as Sudoku Puzzles, wordplays, and brain teasers (the Car Talk Puzzlers are great). Journaling. Give several journal writing options (or let students come up with their own) rather than require students to respond to the same prompt. The goal is to get students writing, which they're most likely to do (and do with zeal) when they can choose what to write about. Strategies. Rather than insist students use a particular problem-solving or reading strategy, expose them to (or let them discover) multiple strategies, and let them decide which ones work best for them. Sitting. Should refusing to sit with a group and failing to sit with your legs crossed really be classroom crimes? Let students decide if they're better off in a group or by themselves (see my earlier post, Independence First, Interdependence Second). And let them choose between sitting on the rug or on a chair (Bad Students or Bad Situation?).

I’m not saying that giving students choices like these is all it takes to create a student-centered classroom. But I can tell you that students accustomed to having no choices feel empowered in classrooms where they have some choices. And when teachers see the effects of students feeling empowered (including students being more cooperative and collaborative), they feel empowered too, and they’re motivated to take student-centered learning to the next level. That’s what happened after I started giving students choices in my classroom, and that’s what has happened for many teachers I’ve coached.

How about you? Make it an empowering day or not. The choice is yours.

Image by Alexokokok, provided by Dreamstime license

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