When I was a kid, the rule at dinner about vegetables was this: You have to try it. Mom & Dad decided how much we had to try, but once we tried it, it was our decision whether or not to continue. There were some vegetables, like spinach, I could barely eat the three bites I was given. Bleeech! Green beans, peas, broccoli...those surprised me and I gobbled up every bite and asked for more. I think what made an impression was the fact that it was my choice.
This is such an important part of teaching! Reading and writing instruction thrive when choice is an element. Even back in the 1980s ("olden days" as my students call it) I remember having some choice in school. It was in the library. Reading class wasn't real reading. Library, now that was reading. I love going to the tiny school library every week. I gathered Beverly Cleary books or discovered the Strawberry Girl and found Nancy Drew! There were so many choices, I could barely contain my excitement...until- Misty.
One day, our librarian decided to assign a book and a book report. I was forced to read Misty of Chincotegue. I had to. I didn't want to, but I had to. Attending Catholic school meant that students listened to teachers...no matter what. I was a rule follower and I liked to please my teachers... until the day. The day that Sister Helen made me read that book. I didn't want to read it. Horses didn't interest me and it looked boring but I had no choice. So being a good student who did what her teachers told her to do, I read it. Every moment was agonizing. I complained and complained and procrastinated and complained some more. Finally I finished my book report and I despised it.
Not being able to choose my own book...I didn't understand that. How could she do this to me? Why am I wasting time reading this when Dear, Mr. Henshaw is waiting for me? I remember thinking, This doesn't make any sense. The library is my place to find my books. Why does she get to decide what I read?!? What I remember most about that experience is the frustration & anger I felt at my teacher for requiring me to read that book. I don't remember the book report. I don't remember the book (and in all fairness, it may be a fantastic book), but I couldn't see past the "You have to" of it all.
Choice isn't about letting kids do whatever they want, whenever they want. Choice is about finding their interests, their passion and developing those. It's knowing they will have to try new things and explaining that process and the why of it, but then returning to the time when they have control over their learning.
Today, I'm choosing to read Allegiant!