Choice

We frequently say that we want young people to learn how to make good choices. They will do that if we give them opportunities to choose. That sounds obvious, but it’s quite common as teachers/parents/responsible adults to give kids advice and the choice is whether they want to follow it or not. My French 8 students expressed surprise this morning at being able to walk into my classroom first thing in the morning before the bell. In elementary school they had to wait outside until the teacher opened the door to let them in. They are also discovering that in high school they can choose where to eat lunch, or who to eat lunch with. In younger grades that wasn’t an option for them.

As students get older, giving them the opportunity to evaluate resources and figure out what will work for them can still allow a limited range of options, but gives the element of choice back to the individual student.

Here’s an example of what I mean. One of the goals I have set for my French 11 students is that they will learn how to improve their range of vocabulary. I can encourage them to do that through things they listen to, read and view, but I can also get them to do that through using a tool they are already familiar with in English: a thesaurus. When they write in English and they want a better word, they go to the thesaurus. Why not in French too?

I wrote the addresses of three thesauruses (thesauri?) on the board at the beginning of the lesson, and I asked my students to check out each one and choose a favourite. The choices were:

  1. http://www.synonymes.com/
  2. http://www.crisco.unicaen.fr/des/
  3. http://www.synonymo.fr/

I gave them a few minutes to visit each site and try a couple of searches to see what kind of results they got, and then I asked which one they preferred. They all made different choices, and could tell me reasons why they preferred their choice. Some of their reasons included:

  • This site gave me lots of options and listed them alphabetically.
  • This site gave me a list of the most common synonyms, so I don’t have to look at everything.
  • I don’t like having too many choices, and this site game me just enough.
  • This site used mostly words I know, so I don’t have to wonder which one to use.
  • This site has a layout that I like and it loads quickly on my phone.
  • I like the colour of this site. (Some students laughed at this response, but when I invited them to look around the room and see how many different colours of clothing were represented in the group, they saw the importance of colour.)
  • This site is easy to use and I don’t have to read a lot of options to find out what I want.

Ultimately, I don’t really care which of the three sites an individual student chooses, as long as they are able to find what they are looking for quickly and easily, and they can improve the range of their vocabulary. But if they learn how to critically evaluate a resource as well, that’s a life skill that will take them well beyond my class.

I’ll definitely be looking for more opportunities to do this in the future.

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