What Do Students Say About Choice in Writing?

Nov 11, 2011 by

I recently posted a blog entry about three reasons I think we should allow students to choose many of their own writing topics: 1) engagement  2) agency 3) independence.  In a subsequent post I wrote about how we can balance student choice with required writing.

Today I would like to share the viewpoints of a couple of student writers.  The first is an excerpt from a letter I received several years ago from a former student.  I had the pleasure of teaching Chelsea as a second-grader and then looping with her to third grade.  A few years later she sent me an e-mail about how things were going for her in middle school.  Here is what she had to say…

“I learned this year in sixth grade most of the things I learned in second and third grade.  Ever since leaving ________ School, the level of teaching has gotten worse.  I’m glad I learned everything in your class.  In Language Arts it’s especially bad—we are not encouraged to write and any creative writing assignments we may have are graded with a checklist dictating how many sentences we should have and even what we are to write about.  I really miss your class where creative writing meant we actually got to write about what we chose.”

Chelsea was a gifted writer.  She was capable of selecting writing topics that mattered to her and motivated her as a second- and third-grader.  Yet, when she was in middle school, she was not trusted to find her own meaningful topics.  And she noticed the difference.  She noticed enough to send me this unsolicited e-mail.

The next writer’s story I would like to share is my daughter’s.  She has loved to make up and “write” stories since she was three years old.  She is now 17.  Over the years she has had writing teachers with a variety of teaching styles and philosophies.  She and I have talked often about the impact that choice has on her writing.  One criteria that she uses to determine how well she likes a teacher is how much choice they give her when choosing topics for projects.

While she is an excellent student and cares about getting good grades, she is more intrinsically motivated to do a good job with her work because she cares about it or is personally invested in it.  And like the little hunter in last week’s post, Lauryn is passionate.  Her greatest passion is for dance.  One of her goals is to try out for the show “So You Think You Can Dance”  when she is 18.  She eats, sleeps, breathes dance.  And when given the choice, she writes and draws dance, too.

During her years of schooling, she has examined dance from every angle.  She has written personal narratives and poems.  She has drawn and painted dance.  When assigned to make a Movie Maker video on the topic of “Power”, she chose “The Power of Dance.”  In her science class last year, she chose to research how a dancer’s body changes food into energy to perform.    In her technology class she created a poster about dance (see below). Each time she worked on one of these projects she was so engaged because the topic was meaningful to her.  She wasn’t writing or creating for a grade.  She was writing for herself and her audience.

When students care about their topics,
they write more and they write better.

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Below are just a few samples of Lauryn’s writing and artwork—all on one topic.  I hope they will inspire you to help your students find topics they are passionate about.

Dance-Related Artwork

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2011-11-11 17.47.03

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Dance Art 001

ME ON THE KODAK STAGE!!!!_edited-2

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