Do I Have a Choice?

So when I was a kid I didn’t have much choice in what I learned in school. I remember clearly as a whole class having to read the same books and to write about the same things, and having to do the same math worksheets, and having to research the same topics in Social Studies, and even having to do the exact same science experiments. I remember never being able to choose my own partner and I absolutely remember being forced to play the clarinet in 6th grade when all I wanted to do was to play the drums! I also remember not being very interested in any of it. 

As far as I can remember I had no personal connection or choice in anything that I was learning when I was a kid, and I always felt like I was being forced to learn things that I had no desire to learn. Thank goodness for recess and sports and after school activities where I could finally get a little control back in my life. There was however, this one amazing year when I was in 5th grade, and I had a teacher (Ms. Lumsden) who let us all choose our own just right books to read, and who allowed us to write about topics that were important and meaningful to us, and to research anything we wanted in our current events unit, and she even let us design our own science experiment to share with the class…and I could choose my own partner if I wanted! That was easily the best year of my school life, and the year where I actually remember the book that I read, and the experiment that I designed, and the essay that I wrote about baseball…funny enough, It’s also the teacher who I connected with the most, and the one who I felt truly knew me as a young person…man I loved Ms. Lumsden and I loved 5th grade!

Anyway, I’m writing about this because we have been working very hard as a school over the past couple of years to find ways to give our students more voice and choice in their learning, and lately I’ve been noticing it everywhere I look. I see it in our Math stations where kids get to choose which games they play, I see it in our literacy workshops with kids choosing their own just right books and writing about topics that deeply interest them, I see it in our Inspiration Projects where kids go after a passion that they are keen to research and present, and I see it in our science and maker-space programs where kids are given choice in the areas of environmental stewardship, school service, and creative design. In music, kids are able to choose the instruments that they want to play, and in PE students are often able to design their own activities. In Art kids are choosing what materials they use and how they want to represent their learning, and in French students are able to choose the roles that they play in their green screen skits, and they write their own scripts…student choice is literally everywhere! 

You know what, I can honestly say that I’ve never seen our students more engaged and joyful in their learning, and when looking at student data I am seeing an increase in student achievement as well…but the best part of it all is when I pop into classrooms and ask kids about what they truly love about their school experience, they consistently talk to me about the choice that they are given throughout the day. It’s been validating for us to have recently attended conferences and worked with consultants who are championing student voice and choice as a way to deeply engage kids in their learning, and I’m thrilled that our new strategic plan is connected strongly to this purpose…so good. 

Finally, I understand that we can’t give students choice in every activity and experience throughout the day, and I am acutely aware that there is a time and a place for direct teacher instruction and whole class activities. What I am celebrating is the attention that we are paying as a school to finding places across our programs to give students more voice and choice in their learning, and to inspire our students to take more ownership of their total educational experience. I’m asking you all this week to look for ways to give kids choice if you can, where and when it’s appropriate, and then watch as the joy and engagement explodes all around you. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 

Quote of the Week…

The necessity of creation is the sovereign power of choice

– Sunday Adelaja

Inspiring Videos-

Call Someone

Fred Rogers Speech

Returning the Favor 

E.T. Returns

Happy Thanksgiving

Related Articles –

The Benefits of Choice

Student Voice and Choice

Why Choice Matters

The Power of Choice

Voice and Choice

About Daniel Kerr

Dan Kerr is now Lower School Director at the American School of Paris. He previously served as Intermediate Division Principal at Academia Cotopaxi American International School in Quito, Ecuador, and prior to that was the Middle School Principal at SCIS in Shanghai, China. Dan has also worked at JIS in Jakarta, Indonesia and he began his International career in Abu Dhabi. Dan is thrilled to be joining the ASP family and will be accompanied by his wife, Jocelyn, who will be working as a counselor, and his two children, Max and Gabby. 
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