When I was in high school, I had an English teacher who gave us a lot of liberty with our assignments. We chose which books we wanted to read, we selected how we wanted to do her assignments, and we also got to choose some of the direction we wanted the class to go.
Mrs. Barber loved working through books as a class. For my sophomore year, she selected which books we would read. She deviated away from the classics and instead selected biographies, autobiographies, and historical works, both fiction and nonfiction.
Come my junior and senior years, she actually gave us choice on which novels we wanted to read as a class. She openly took suggestions from students and decided it by a vote. I believe that is how we ended up reading Night by Elie Wiesel.
Mrs. Barber guided us in our selections. Sometimes, she would include a choice or two of her own and explained why she thought they would benefit our class. When we had four or five options, she would have the class vote on which book we wanted.
I really enjoyed that we had some choice about what books we read. It made us feel good when we chose a book that the majority of the class enjoyed. It also helped us understand better the process of choosing books for entire groups of people when other books failed.
127 Hours by Aron Ralston is one of the books that failed. I’ve never genuinely been so mad I’ve wanted to murder, but this book accomplished that for me. Someone from the class saw the movie and heard that it was a book first, so he pushed it through and won the vote. I think only two or three students from the class actually enjoyed the book.
That experience taught us that there are books out there not suited for us, and that the process for choosing books suitable for classrooms is not as easy as we take it for. I personally felt more compassion toward Mrs. Barber knowing what she does for her students.
I really loved having choice in my high school English classroom. It made me feel like I was in charge of my learning process instead of being told “this is what you need to know.” When I become a teacher, I will be implementing as much choice as I can so my students feel more liberty in their learning than slavery.