I first started thinking about this blog post when I read this article about employees having a side hustle. Coming from a family where my mother, in particular, specialized in part-time jobs, with an all-time high of seven at one point, it never seemed odd to me that I might do more than one job at any given time.
But the truth is that having a “side hustle” is about a lot more than just some extra cash. It involves being interested in something, in being organized and driven, in being enthusiastic. It means choosing how to spend your time, mental energy, and drive. How do we get our students there? How can we use our classes as a learning experience and a learning place where students can get early practice in knowing when an idea is good, knowing when to bail, knowing how to salvage what you can to use in the next iteration, knowing how to self-assess accurately?
I’m pretty sure I don’t have the answers to these questions, of course, but I continue to reflect on how bringing choice to my teaching practice might lead to modeling some of these practices for students.
In Learning to Choose, Choosing to Learn, Mike Anderson writes
It is more important to be a learner than to “be learned.” It today’s world, where most people carry a device in their pocket with access to unlimited information, it is more important for students to know themselves as learners and be able to learn than it is to simply acquire information. While content acquisition is still an important skill, the actual content acquired is less important than it once was. (pg. 4)
In her graduate classes, Dr. Katie Novak often says “the smartest person in the room is Siri.” This is a brave new world in education! And if we don’t take on the challenge of teaching our students in ways that might help them develop these skills, we are doing them a huge disservice. This is not easy, of course–we have to change our practice, our choices, our materials, our classrooms…..phew! Starting with finding ways to bring choice to our practice, in ways small and large, is a good way to begin the process.
Starting in Choice
…good choice is not formulaic. It is highly flexible, designed to meet the particular learning needs of students given the particular content at hand. (Learning to Choose, Choosing to Learn, pg. 8)
One of my early attempts at choice came in the form of choice homework, that, is giving students a set of homework options on a given topic. From there, we have moved on to offering choice daily in homework and, from there, to the “By the End of” documents with a focus on choice in teacher instruction. Throughout this progression, I have found Anderson to be right-on as he describes the impact of building a teaching practice around choice.
Because this zone [of proximal development] is where learning is most pleasurable, when teachers empower students to choose elements of their work, they tend to settle into this zone on their own. They know their own abilities better than teachers ever can and want to be engaged in appropriately challenging work, so they will self-differentiate when conditions are right. (Learning to Choose, Choosing to Learn, pg. 14)
How often have you found this to be true for yourself as an adult? When I started learning to weave, I wanted to know EVERYTHING and to absorb it as quickly as my brain could handle it. I couldn’t get projects onto my loom quickly enough and I scoured used bookstores for old and new texts, each one answering parts of questions I didn’t even realize I had until I saw the answers.
What would this look like in school?
Too often in schools, teachers own the work. We create and teach lessons, dole out assignments, and assess the results, leaving students feeling like worker bees, dutifully completing assigned tasks with little power or control. However, when we give choice, we both empower students and help them develop and take more responsibility for their own learning. (Learning to Choose, Choosing to Learn, pg. 16)
I know that I have been working on and with choice for a few years now, but I also know that choice–providing choice, valuing choice–is just a start. In talking with Dr. Novak about my own practice, I have identified that I need to do much more work on having students reflect on their choices, reflect on the efficacy of their choices, reflect on the results and causes. That is how we move beyond choice into change.