Choice and student freedom are swiftly becoming as buzzwordy as any buzzword in education today, but this is one bandwagon I'm happy to jump on. I've always felt like giving kids their druthers was something more teachers should do. I remember when I was first given my druthers. They weren't really mine, we couldn't afford original druthers so mine came from Goodwill. But those druthers were the start of a brand new world for me. So on my teacher supply list, and this is something I recommend for all teachers, I requested a class set of druthers. Some kids will come in with their own but you want to be sure you have enough so each child can be given her or his druthers.
Freshly druthered students will be more motivated. They will try harder and take more risks. In theory, at least. Some of them might continue to laze about, after all you did give them the freedom to do what they want. "But with guidance!" you say. And I agree. This always circles back to one of my Tenets of Education- Never Be Hardline About Anything, Except Not Being Hardline About Anything. Flexibility is the key to all things. Why put your foot down hard when a little creativity will allow you to reach an even more interesting answer?
My favorite part about student freedom is being surprised. I'm constantly surprised by why my kids can do. Not that I don't think they can accomplish a lot, but the jump between what I think they can accomplish and what they actually do is sometimes very big, much to my satisfaction. As a teacher the only credit I can take for this is the giving of space and opportunity. Everything else comes from the kid.
To illustrate my point and brag on a few of my students, we do small group reading at my school. Some kids are pulled for Resource, some for Small Group in other rooms, and I'm left with about eleven. I set out a selection of six books for those eleven to choose from. I tell them the title, give a summary, and that's it. They choose one at a time and not in groups, not planned partnerships. Groups form naturally by title interest. As of now their instructions are as follows- "Read and discuss your book. You will need to make a Thing which tells us a summary of your book and anything you found interesting. Go." If they need I'll clarify as to specifics, but as you can see there are no specific specifics to speak of.
Some of my groups presented Things that were less than inspired. Good, but not great. A nice first effort. But two in particular really blew me away with their creativity and depth of effort.
First, a play inspired by the book which summarizes every main point in the book succinctly and clearly. I watched them rehearse this and was impressed with the scripting and blocking work that was done. I should also point out that only the tall boy and the boy with the broken arm are actually in this group. The other two jumped in to help and so did more work than I required.
The second blew me away. His book was about The Water Around Us. He asked to take it home and work on his Thing there. Sure, why not? The Next Day he brought this in. "Dude! How long did you work on this? You know I didn't assign...well, I didn't expect this." "Eh, it only took like four hours. It was fun."
I'm going to keep giving these children more and more druthers because I have to know how much learning they can do on their own. There are others that will get a more guided leash because they aren't here yet, but look at what students will do on their own if given the freedom.