Given the Gift of Choice, the Voice Soars

The pen is rusty and the keys on the keyboard may not sing as sweetly or as swiftly as they once did, but I could not let this day end without documenting today’s experience which reminded me of the power of student choice, student voice and an authentic audience.

Last week, one of our grade 8 teachers left a Post-It note on my desk with today’s date, 10:00 am and Museum.  As always, I’m thrilled with invitations to come and see our students shine and specific reminders ensure that I don’t miss those special highlights as I make my way through classrooms each day.

As I ventured into the grade 8 classroom, our students were busily setting up their displays ~ complete with flashing lights, sound bars, detailed cardboard structures, meticulously illustrated comic books, creative graphic novellas, clay models and more.  I started to make my way from one presentation to the next as I learned about the journey of American slaves, which ended here in London Ontario.   The engagement in the assignment was evident as each duo of students articulated the narrative of their chosen individual, their background, their struggles and in most cases pictures of the actual homes (which are still standing) where they eventually ended up living.  This was truly new learning for me and listened intently to each group.

At one point, I veered from my consecutive pattern of following the circle of displays and crisscrossed to the other side of the room and the duo (that I had “skipped, until later) were concerned enough to let Miss Spratt know that I had “missed” them.   After explaining that it was very crowded at that time I was initially walking past, the duo of presenters seemed so excited to share their display and it was a tangible reminder of how important an authentic audience is to our students.

One of the presentations was so intricate and elegantly designed.  When I inquired about the treasure box container, the two students, who are working so hard to learn English, shared that their ESL teacher had lent it to them.  It was a wonderful reminder of how intentionally our staff works together to support our students.

As the time ticked by, I knew that we were getting close to the first nutrition break and the remaining time was limited. I had one more display to visit.  From a distance I could see a Chromebook, a few novels, a quarter, two sheets of notes and the duo of presenters.  There was no glitz or glitter, no statues or structures, no lights or landscapes.

When I arrived, the girls clicked the play button on the slide show on the Chromebook as visuals of fields, loneliness, schools and homes transitioned from slide to slide and then they started.  Their presentation was a masterpiece. It was a memorized and mesmerizing rant, poem and Readers’ Theatre all rolled into one.  The emphasis on words ~ through pacing, volume and emotion drew me into their presentation like nothing I’ve experienced.  The quarter and each novel (such simple yet effective props) were precisely presented, like a fine tuned choreographed number as they dramatically came to the part about the importance of education and the destruction of the slave school.

Needless to say, we continued long into the start of the break.  As they came to the end, I was speechless and emotional. I couldn’t effectively articulate how utterly amazed, impressed and proud I was of how they had decided to share their learning on this topic and how it impacted me as a listener and learner.

I did share that there was not a “mark” that their teacher could provide them that would adequately and authentically capture their work and more importantly the impact that it had on me and the others.

This was a much needed reminder about providing our students with choice when it comes to presenting their learning.  When we place boundaries around assignments, we are limiting creativity, thinking and learning.  We must remember that learners are capable, competent and they love a challenge.

When students are provided with choice, we give them the gift of using their voice in a way that makes sense to them, in a way that they can connect with the learning and in turn connect their learning to others.

How do you provide students with choice, voice and authentic audience? Come write with me…..

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