Thursday, October 29, 2015

LET 'EM CHOOSE! Using Academic Choice Literacy Stations in the Elementary Classroom

We want our students to acquire the skills necessary to make good choices in their future. In order to develop those skills, a trusted colleague told me that we must create safe places where students can make mistakes.

Ruth Sidney Charney, in her book Teaching Children to Care, echoes this sentiment when she writes, "Children are growing up in a world with frightful persuasions and terrifying problems. Rather than providing prescriptions for them, we need to give them choices. Decision making must be part of the expected curriculum. There are many kinds of purposeful choices students may make in a regular school day." (p. 374)

One authentic way students can develop these decision-making skills is by giving them the power to choose how they'd like to spend their independent literacy learning time while the teacher is meeting with a guided reading group.

But when planning out the choices we'll give children to independently complete, what exactly can be classified as an Academic Choice Literacy Stations? Conversely, what isn't an appropriate option during this time of the school day? 

To answer these questions, I turned to the teachers with whom I work. Their responses are below:

Academic Choice Literacy Stations are:

  • permanent, but not always.
  • set aside for specific learning purposes.
  • physical spaces, but not always.
  • task-oriented with clear expectations.
  • more task oriented/hands on for younger students, older students need less task-oriented/hands on.
  • open-ended inquiry!
  • spots with ongoing routines.
  • organized and labeled.
  • introduced one at a time.
  • meaningful literacy.
  • able function w/o teacher assistance.
  • flexible and provide variety.
  • targeted to instill a love of reading and learning.
  • heterogeneously grouped.
Academic Choice Literacy Stations are not:
  • a closed-ended exercise.
  • new every day (teachers shouldn't feel under pressure to create new lessons each day!)
  • done without practice, students shouldn’t be expected to do independently until they fully understand it.
  • changed too often or all at once.
  • busy work.
  • fill-in-the-blank worksheets.
  • meant to sit idle.
  • activities that require a lot of planning by the teacher.
*The responses above are based on a reading from Guided Reading: Good First Teaching for All Children by Fountas and Pinnell.

Once we build Academic Choice Literacy Stations into our classroom routine, how do we keep students accountable? How can we assess students' efforts during this lengthy time?

One teacher developed the rubric below that her students will use to reflect on the choices they made while she was working with a small group. (Click the rubric below to go to the Google Doc that you can copy and edit for yourself!)

Rather than providing prescriptions for students, what choices do you give students throughout the day, but especially when they're learning literacy strategies, skills and dispositions? 

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