Vision for Learning News

Student Choice
Posted 05/25/2016 02:35PM

This past winter, we devoted an hour-long Upper School faculty meeting to small group discussions around how we might further nurture student curiosity and confidence. Over and over, faculty returned to the theme of student choice: the more opportunities students have to delve deeply into topics of their own choosing, the more they discover and deepen their personal interests, which feeds confidence and continued curiosity.

Having taught the seven core texts Lovett requires of all AP English students, Upper School English teacher Julia Franks spent the final weeks of the year embracing student choice in her senior AP classes. The first choice was whether to have a choice. Ms. Franks gave her students two options: 1) read three books of the teacher's choosing (approximately 650 pages of reading) or 2) read twice as many books of the student's choosing, selected from a list of hundreds.

All 47 students chose option two, and so the pilot was launched.

Over the ensuing weeks, students spent class time in a combination of quiet reading time, small group discussions with others reading the same book, Advanced Placement exam practice and preparation, and large group discussions of poetry.

Students selected a wide range of books. Side conversations with their peers often led them to their next book choice, as did their evolving sense of the types of books and authors they most enjoyed. Some students chose books from the traditional canon, while others gravitated towards current literary bestsellers. Some students immersed themselves in a series or the work of a particular author; others chose more widely. At year's end, every single student had read more than the 650 pages of assigned reading they would have faced in the non-choice option. In fact, almost every student read twice that amount.

While there were things students missed about a "more traditional" English class, most of the 47 AP English students in Ms. Franks' care raved about the experience. "Before this experiment, I hated reading, but now I find myself choosing to read instead of using technology," wrote one senior. Much of the student feedback affirmed that the several weeks of choice reading did, indeed, nurture self-awareness and curiosity. One student put it this way: "I loved this experiment because I was able to delve into subjects I was interested in, and because I was reading independently, I could dwell on my own feelings, ideas, and interpretations." Another said, "I feel like I learned more about myself and my interests."

As we send these seniors off to college and adulthood, their recognition that reading can be a means for understanding themselves may be one of the best gifts we can offer.

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