Although I still consider myself very much a newbie when it comes to this whole teaching thing, I’ve found that one important tool in many veteran teachers’ arsenals is the use of choice. Providing students with options for assignments, goals, and learning tasks can be very important to them. Even if they want the computer lab lights on or off during typing time can be an impressive motivator. Perhaps it’s been the guidance of my terrific mentors that have helped me realize the power of choice, or my first principal, who was steeped in the knowledge and theory of Love and Logic. Whichever is the case, I’ve found that giving my students choices in their learning can be an even bigger motivator than the technology we’re using in class.
Case in point:
I’m currently reviewing with my third graders how to create a graph using data in Open Office Calc (similar to Microsoft Excel), and this time around I’ve decided to let them choose what data to collect. Usually I give the entire class some silly question like “what’s your favorite flavor of ice cream” or “what night of the week do you watch the most TV” and then take a poll of the class. We use that data for our graphs, and call it a day. But when I review I like to make creating graphing more about the process of crafting a question, coming up with choices, polling other students, and then working on the graph at their own pace. The kids are immediately hooked by the ability to ask other students questions about their favorite pets or colors, and then choose what type of graph they want to create (bar, pie, etc.). The level of participation and excitement over something as simple as the choices I give these students is overwhelming. The need to see their question, with their choices, on their graph is quite a compelling learning tool.
Too often I feel that computer labs are seen as the exact opposite of this experience. Teachers will walk their kids in (quietly! No pushing), sit them down, talk them through logging in, carefully explaining each step of the process. The lesson is some predetermined exercise or activity on a website in which the students must follow step by step instructions and all they really end up caring about is hurrying up to finish so they can go to their favorite game site and play an inning of math baseball or some other game. The spark for learning is nowhere to be found, just the drive to finish and go play. Too often this was the case in my early teaching with computers; do as I say, make sure you follow the steps, then you have free time afterward. I’m thankful that I’m learning from wonderful veteran teachers, so that the experience I had today of kids eagerly chatting away about their favorite video game character or ice cream flavor was a rewarding one for them and myself. In a way, it’s important to remember that students need choices on the computers just as much as anywhere in the school, just different choices than what game to play.