How to Incorporate Student Choice into Your English Classroom

In a perfect English classroom, all of the students would love to read and would always have their noses buried in the latest book. They would have high reading scores (although standardized testing is not a very good way of assessing student ability). They would be able to discuss and communicate, read fluidly, comprehend, analyze, and synthesize efficiently.

In a perfect English classroom, students would have the ability to READ.

Yet, this is not the case.  Many teachers struggle to get their students to read at all! In 2015, only 36% of fourth graders, 34% of eighth graders, and 37% of twelfth graders scored at or above proficient in reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP 2016). Students all around the country are struggling readers.

Yet, in today's age of technology, what teachers do not realize is, students are reading all the time. Students are always on their phones, laptops, tablets, and other various devices. They read facebook, twitter, and instagram posts, memes, blogs, news articles, buzzfeed lists, and many other things every day. Although it may not seem like it, these students are reading.

The reason students are scrolling through their phone screens rather than flipping pages of a book is because they want to. The screens are interesting to them. It is what they want to read. Students have a choice, read what is on their social medias or read a book they are forced to for school. They will choose their phones every time. But there are ways to combat this.

Why not give students a choice in your classroom? 

If students are allowed to choose what kinds of books they read, within their reading levels, then they are more likely to want to read. Smith and Geil, teachers and researcher from Bloomington Illinois write, "When students are able to make decisions, it gives students a feeling of control in their learning. Students want to be a part of the decision making and learning" (2016).

So, how can you incorporate student choice into your English classroom?

1. First and foremost, let students pick books that interest them. 

In elementary schools, it is very common for classes to have library days once a week where students are allowed to go to the library and pick out a new book to read. This is very exciting for students because they can choose books that interest them. This does not have to be reserved for elementary schools. Students at the middle and high school level should also have the option to go to the library and choose books they would like to read based on their interests. 

2. Teach students how to choose books based on their reading levels. 
If students are choosing books they want to read, it is important to keep in mind that they are at all different levels. Students are more likely to read if the book they choose is easy for them to comprehend. Teachers should take some time to get to know their student's reading levels and gear them towards options within those reading levels. 

3. Give students time to read in your classroom.

If students are being given the choice to pick what they want to read, they should also be given time to read. Teachers should try and set aside just twenty or thirty minutes a week for silent reading time. Students should also be encouraged to bring their books to class everyday and should have the option to read their books at the end of class if all of their classwork is completed and there is time leftover.

4. Give book-talks and read-alouds to spark student interest. 

Even when given the choice, some students will not know what they want to read. That is where book-talks or read-alouds can come in handy. Advertising a book or reading a few pages can really stick in a student's brain and potentially spark their interests. It is also a great way to get students engaged.

5. Incorporate literature circles and reader's workshop.
If students are choosing what they want to read based on their interests, there is a chance they will want to talk about it with their friends and peers. Setting up literature circles where students can discuss the books they are reading (especially if some have chosen the same book) with their peers can help to encourage future reading. It is also important for the teacher to be checkin in on reading progress and showing an interest in what students have chosen to read. Incorporating a reader's workshop is a great way to do this.

6. With student choice, comes great responsibility.

                     When students are given choices and freedom within the classroom, it is imperative to remind them of their responsibilities. Remind students that if they take advantage of these choices and freedoms, they will not be granted them anymore. Students need to be reminded to hold themselves and others accountable and take responsibility for themselves and their work. 

Giving students choice within the English classroom is a great way to build community, facilitate exploratory learning, increase literacy and reading scores, and get students engaged. With that said, this is not an easy process. It takes a lot of work and mutual understanding for both the teacher and the students, but once the work is put in, the outcomes can be amazing. 

Online Sources:

Academic Articles:
"Student Choice in Literature Circles in the Middle-School Classroom" By: Kayla Smith and Ashley Geil
"Creating a Classroom where Readers Flourish" By: Donalyn Miller

Text books:
Read, Write, Teach: Choice and Challenge in the Reading-Writing workshop By: Linda Rief