Sharing our thoughts and ideas with friends is so important to all of us. I recently discussed an Amy Tan book that I had just finished reading with the members of my small book club. After reading the book, I thought that I had a pretty solid interpretation and opinion of the story but during our discussion, I realized that there were many aspects of the text that I hadn’t even thought about. When I got back home, I went right back to the book to reread particular passages that my friends referred to in our conversation. I needed to revise a bit of my original interpretation and assessment of the book!
Children too need time to share their discoveries, their artwork, their constructions and their dramatic play experiences. After Choice Time, it’s so productive and supportive of children’s ability to listen and respond to others experiences and ideas if we leave time for a group share meeting. Perhaps something unexpected or exciting happened at the art center or an exciting discovery was made at the water table. Was a new math game invented at the math center?
When the children and teacher meet for post-Choice Time-share children might be encouraged and enticed into choosing an activity the next day that they hadn’t previously considered trying. We are also reaffirming by sharing peer examples the idea that, during Choice Time, we honor and encourage innovation, collaboration and exploration.
As my good friend, Julie Diamond, wrote in a note to me, interest in trying new centers “can be further expanded when teachers find places in the room to display work after the meeting – time discussion”.
Keeping the discussed work up for a while allows children to continue this discussion, ask each other questions, think of what they might possibly do at the same center. It’s also a good idea to have areas of the classroom where Choice Time projects can be displayed…an empty shelf, a bulletin board, even a homemade shelf. My colleague, Connie Norgren, created shelves for her children’s woodworking projects by using pieces of cardboard and string. She hung these temporary display shelves on a pegboard. (see photo)
In some ways, Choice Time follows the workshop structure that is used by the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. We begin at a group meeting with a brief ‘minilesson’, then the children have time for their ‘independent’ play and explorations, and we bring closure with our share meeting. It’s absurd to have to justify exploration and play for young children. However, if you have difficultly ‘justifying’ this very important part of the early childhood curriculum, you could call it “ Investigative Workshop” or “Exploration Workshop” instead of Choice Time. If that’s what it takes to make it work for you, go for it!
What fascinating insights!
The thing that I notice from teaching upper grades these last six years is that we seem to be taking choice of all kinds out of the curriculum. I imagine it’s because the kind of teaching that’s most measurable is the kind that yields something measurable to assess, which most easily happens when you’re deliberately and specifically teaching something.
I’m sure that has brought many benefits, but I also notice that when children have authentic choice (not the kind of managed choice where they’d honestly rather not choose any option they’re offered), they work with vastly more enthusiasm and energy. I also think, but couldn’t prove, that they work more skillfully under these circumstances.
The problem I’ve found is that choice can be difficult to manage because it looks and feels – and on occasion is – anarchic. So on the one hand choice feels very powerful because of what it releases in the children. And on the other hand choice feels profoundly challenging to harness and assess. I’d be so curious to know your thoughts!
Well, I’ll have to stretch my thinking somewhat to think about fifth graders and choice. First of all, I’m not against ‘direct instruction’ as part of the school day. In fact, it is, in my opinion, important to do at the right time. However, I really do think that children, even in fifth grade, need time to make choices, explore ideas and materials and work cooperatively on self-directed projects.
When I was teaching kindergarten at P.S. 321, my class ‘partnered’ with Adele Schroeter’s 4th grade class. The first few years, we worked at being reading buddies. After awhile, though, Adele realized that she was not having enough time to cover all of her curriculum. We decided, instead, to become inquiry buddies. The first year of this experiment, Adele and I met during the summer to think about how this would work. We thought that most of the children probably had some time at the beach and we decided to do a joint study of the seashore. We mapped out all of the possibilities that we could think of for this study, including places we might visit, experts who could be interviewed, books children could read on the subject, possible projects, etc. Our big idea was to concentrate on ecological issues. When we began working with the children, however, they changed the direction of this inquiry. The children, kindergarteners and 4th graders, were much more interested in the animals that lived in the sea and rivers. We eventually worked out a compromise but the big emphasis ended up being on sea life.
As part of this study,we took a boat ride in Jamaica Bay, visited the NY Aquarium and also the Marine Biology department at Kingsborough Community College. After a few months, groups of partnerships (k and 4) each picked a sea animal to study together in greater depth and they decided, after weeks of ‘study’, on how they were going to share their new information with the class. Some groups made elaborate posters, another group made a video presentation, another group acted out their presentation. I think that the children gained so much from this experience, over and above learning about sea animals. Among other things, they learned that they could direct their own inquiry about something that really interested them, they learned about research, interviewing techniques, and working cooperatively. They were doing reading, writing, science and math. And…they were having a lot of fun!
Adele and I, other years, did a bridge study together, a waterway study and a huge survey of all the birthdays of everyone in P.S. 321.
In terms of “anarchy”, it is possible (and actually necessary) to have a structure that helps guide children when they are doing this kind of work. I’ve watched second-graders work on projects where they designed and created buildings out of a variety of materials. They made blueprint plans (lots of work at group decision making!), tried following their plans using the materials that they chose, made revisions when things weren’t working, wrote descriptions of their project and of the process of creating their buildings. There were ‘rules’ for different aspects of the project. The teacher had expectations but she also left most of the decision making up to the children. They had to do measuring, writing, reading books for construction ideas, etc. The room certainly wasn’t silent. There was a lot of talking and laughing. The teacher(s) – this was a Cooperative Team Teaching room at the Brooklyn New School- conferred with the different groups and, at times, had to remind particular children about some behavioral issues. I was, however, surprised at how infrequently this teacher intervention was needed.
I realize that there are a multitude of ‘have-to’s” that are imposed on teachers today. Nevertheless, I also think that it’s crucial that the school day be filled with fun, excitement and interesting challenges that are right for all of the children. If we, the educators, don’t stand up for this, then who will?
I love this blog! How I wish that more classes included Choice Time every day. Here is my blog:
In my combined first and second grade, Choice Time for children’s self-initiated learning was an important part of each day, a time to participate and explore in the learning centers – a time to learn on their own. There were math, science, art, writing, and book centers. Each of five centers provided appropriate activities and materials to invite and nurture a child’s joy in discovery and excitement about learning. Concrete experiences serve as a background for new insights and understandings in the world around them. These, in turn, not only kept their minds active but provided an extra basis for abstract thought that would be a benefit throughout all academic areas. The materials in each center were enough to capture the interest of the very brightest students and yet still be appealing to slower or younger children.
Few materials were offered at first in each center increasing as their growth in responsibility progressed. Vital to the smooth functioning of the class, the amount of freedom or choices that children were allowed to have were coexistent and contingent upon the amount of responsibility they were able to assume. Then there was great harmony. Of course, sometimes a child was disruptive or interfering with others and had to be dealt with but the ability to handle numerous choices must be apparent with most of the class. We had very few rules – no fooling around or wasting time and everyone should be busy.
Children were involved for the first thirty to forty minutes each day (while individual students were met for writing and math) followed by an afternoon evaluation time. Projects that could be saved were put on my desk to show and explore with the whole class after lunch and recess. Those that couldn’t be saved, such as constructions in the math center, were shared and discussed just before clean-up time. During the evaluation time, a whole range of ideas were explored with positive comments, constructive suggestions offered, problems discussed and solved, new ideas and concepts introduced, and books read about the displays. In this way, the whole class was involved with others’ projects leading to more understanding for the next day’s investigations.
Important aspects concerning concept development during Choice Time included opportunities for increasing each child’s cognitive development; that concepts developed in the math, science, and art centers overlap one another providing opportunities for cognitive development while participating in any of the three; and the concepts formed in these three centers are the very tools required for successful achievement
in reading, writing, math, science, and social studies. And there’s no limit to young children’s vast enthusiasm for learning.
Choice Time is a time to further develop abilities necessary for good to excellent achievement in all academic areas. And opportunities in a school program are unlikely to allow such advances in concept attainment as there are in a Choice Time with learning centers.
A complete description with materials and activities of all five learning centers are in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on http://www.amazon.com