Writing can be an overwhelming and tedious task for many students, especially when it comes to composing a research paper in Freshman English. However, as a teacher, many barriers for student learning and engagement are eliminated when allowing students choice. One way students embrace choice in my classroom is to choose what topic they focus on writing their essay over. In other words, students choose the subject they use to research and write with the end of goal of going through the required writing process and demonstrating their writing skills for assessing with the same final product of a polished research paper.
The process of choosing topics is quite an eventful process! Students come to class with a list of three possible topics they would be happy to research and write about. Choosing topics is much like the lottery: an act or process of chance. Kids draw a number. Starting with one, students choose their topic. However, no two people can have the same topic. Many emotions are expressed with each draw for a number and the realization of where they fall in the mix of picking their topic. There is a lot of negotiating and fun bantering as topics are chosen!
The benefits of providing students with choice in the classroom is proven to increase “student effort, task performance, and subsequent learning” according to Marzano. I have firsthand seen this research to be true year after year. Aside from being able to assess my kids’ writing abilities, I am able to learn so much about each of them as individuals. Their topic choice alone shares an interest or passion they have beyond the classroom. Oftentimes, during the research phase, kids get lost in the information because they are so engaged and want to learn more. This type of energetic buzz of engagement is a teacher’s dream!