“Student choice is widely acknowledged as a tool for engagement and meaning, and there is ample research to support this idea. When I first started teaching in 1995, though, choice was not really operational. Back then, in my traditional college prep school, all students were expected to read the same books (written by old, dead White guys plus Harper Lee) and write the same five-paragraph essays their parents had suffered through 35 years prior. Any variation was considered outlandish.
The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t take into account student engagement. Eventually, I discovered that allowing students choice about what they read and wrote was critical to their buy-in. During a unit on adventure, when I told my students they could write a fictional adventure story, a personal narrative about an adventure they’d had, or an essay about the qualities of adventure, they were far more invested. I didn’t care how students showed me they understood the theme of adventure… I simply wanted evidence of their understanding.”