Adding Choice and Voice into the ELA Classroom

As a high school ELA teacher, I often struggle walking the fine line between allowing students to have free choice in the classroom and also making sure I remain in control with the required curriculum. It takes a lot of trial and error to see what methods of choice were not enough, were too much, and, finally, what were just right.

Why Choice?

Now, you may be thinking, Why do I need to include choice in my classroom? Simply put, providing choice (and voice, but we will get there later) has many benefits to a classroom. Including choice, no matter the method, allows for students to feel they have control of their learning. Often times students struggle with something simply because they feel they don’t have any control of what they learn or how. Giving students ownership of their learning, no matter how you choose to approach that task, makes students feel important and that their voice matters.

Why Voice?

Similar to choice, voice gives students the opportunity to express to us (their educators) how they feel in relation to their learning. Building strong rapport with students encourages a positive and safe classroom environment for students to grow and learn. Part of that growth comes from the ability to express themselves and learn how to do so appropriately. I personally feel that part of my job as my students’ teacher is to help them grow in all aspects of life, not just in the ELA classroom. By encouraging students to use their voice, I am helping to build strong, independent, and influential human beings.

How to use Choice and Voice?

I remember when I was a student (that wasn’t too long ago!) and feeling forced to read certain texts. Now, granted, I am quite the book geek and love reading, so I was very open to any text a teacher threw at me. However, as I transitioned from student to teacher, I learned (very quickly, I may add) that not all students are not that way. In fact, most students will find the easiest and quickest option to get something done, even if that means reading the SparkNotes or asking ChatGPT for a summary.

However, by giving students voice and choice, it allows for them to take agency of their learning. It gives them an opportunity to express if something isn’t working, if they are struggling, or if they feel there is another option that would work better.

Voice and choice often work best when paired together. For example, in my classroom, I tend to use choice boards. If you are not familiar with a choice board, it is a way to format an assignment where students may choose what pieces they complete. Now, there are some required components, but, students have choice within those required components. I have found that even if students are not a fan of the assignment and/or content, they are more willing to complete it if they have some form of choice. Similarly, I always allow students to express their voice at all stages of an assignment. I may survey students to see if they prefer to work digitally or on paper for an assignment. I also ask how they feel about certain tools and aspects of an assignment and I take all of that information into consideration.

Including voice and choice in a classroom isn’t difficult, it just may take some time to “get used to.” However, once you start, I promise you will never go back. So, how will you use voice and choice in your classroom?

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