Voice and Choice is an entirely overused phrase in the modern classroom. This not a subtweet of anyone in particular but there is definitely some ‘buzziness’ factor in the phrase. The original intent, I believe, was to indicate some personalization present in a class. Student voices are heard through the choices they make. But like all buzz words, this shorthand has come to cover all manner of sins. The most glaring is what I think of as the ‘Peas or Carrots’ choice. This is when students are presented with two terrible choices and we expect them to be more engaged because they ‘had a say’ in the matter. This isn’t really a choice much less a meaningful choice.
I’ve been preparing lessons on the Gilded Age the last few weeks. This was the time period were the US had extremely wealthy folks like Carnegie and Rockefeller and yet had over half the population was living below the poverty line. It’s one reason for the rise of Labor Unions. With this context in the back of my mind a family friend asked why teachers in South Carolina weren’t doing more to protest the push to go back to full in person teaching even as COVID cases were spiking in our state with the highest rate of transition record being broken 4 straight days. The answered boiled down to ‘I have mortgage and the state could take my teaching license away’. Of course we all want what is best for the students and teaching, unlike some other jobs, can be done remotely for a time with minimal disruption. It is harder but manageable so why dont teachers push harder? Well, it’s pretty obvious that administration and parents aren’t interested. A massive walkout would further alienate public trust and lead to massive repercussion. In other words the option isn’t really there.
Which brings me to consent.
Teachers are not really consenting as much as they are complying. Consent implies the option to say no. I am using this as an example since other instances of consent can be traumatic.
Consent is an important factor in realizing a person’s humanity and yet we often don’t consider this in the classroom. The problem of consent is that it is based on power relationships. Teachers have power in the classroom and lord it over the students. How often are students forced to comply otherwise suffer a grade penalty, or have permission to attend a dance taken away, or be forced into detention (which sounds an awful lot like a short prison sentence now that I’ve typed it). Consent would require students have the option to say no. This both hard to do and incredibly uncomfortable for people that have been taught to be classroom managers rather than community builders!
Instead of the buzz-i-ness of voice and choice students need to have the opportunity for really meaningful choices. Grades should be an illustration of where a student stands in the moment. Now, students will need to demonstrate their knowledge in some way or they will not be able to have that illustration. We can make the relationship more equitable and hopefully gain student consent in the process. Here are a few ideas on how to do so. Let me know what other ideas you have.
- Allow students to demonstrate their learning in a way that the find appropriate.
- Let them be creative in those demonstrations and allow them to help set the criteria for assessment. The Unessay and Multi-Genre Projects work well for this.
- Take late work without a penalty.
- Limit Homework. In fact, try to eliminate homework. If you give it then treat it as a formative assessment that is not graded.
- Allow Retakes.
- Feedback… Lots of Feedback. Then let students improve the grade. Don’t average – change the number.
- Allow for collaboration.
- Get rid of a traditional gradebook. Traditional Gradebooks average initial grades and practice along with assignments that show mastery. This artificially lowers a grade based on assessments that were given when students were in the process of learning! I like XP grading merged with a Standards Based approach (I call it Powered-Up XP)