Using student choice and student voice

In Week 5 of Term 1, 2017 I had been having a challenging time with my Year 9 Social Studies class on Wednesday afternoons during period 5 in particular. As this class was right after lunch students would scatter in 5-10 minutes after the bell really unsettled. The unsettled nature of the class was particularly problematic as it would take 2 or 3 attempts to get the majority of the class to even come into the class quietly. Once I finally got the class in and seated it would take another few minutes to give instructions for the “Do Now” task I had set. Giving instructions and getting the class into their learning for the lesson was becoming a major battle. Each week that went by my frustration was growing – a 50 minute lesson had been reduced to 20 minutes of actual learning time. I had to change what I was doing.

I discussed the issue with my HOD and explained this was only really happening during the Wednesday period 5 lesson. The other 2 lessons I had with 9tgn were in the mornings on Mondays and Fridays and the class was relatively productive during this time. Together we decided it might be worth accepting the lesson was disruptive and taking time out from the unit plan during this lesson.

From a previous lesson on identity and culture  I knew this class responded well to having an element of choice with their work. I decided to try giving them options that were related to Social Studies and the content they were learning but potentially a little more engaging.

The next lesson I had with the class I decided to use student voice to plan the next Wednesday period 5 lesson. I explained to the class I wanted to give them a choice at the same time as developing the required skills in Social Studies. I asked students to write down suggestions for activities we could do during Wednesday’s lesson that they would enjoy.

While the majority of the suggestions were for things like; play video games and ‘do P.E’. There were a number of suggestions I could incorporate into the lesson such as; drawing and listening to music.

I decided to give the class 4 different options some of which were related to the learning we had been doing in class – students were working in groups undertaking an inquiry into a social issue. Student’s could blog about their topic, continue working on their inquiry, explain the issue by drawing a cartoon, writing a song or a rap or lastly, students could look at a social issue.

Options given to 9tgn

The options provided allowed students to consider their social studies inquiry in a different way. And providing the option of drawing a cartoon allowed me to include students suggestions. I also got the class to create a playlist with their choice of music which we listened to during the Wednesday Period 5 lesson.

Current Issue resource

In this first lesson the majority of the class choose to blog or write a song about their social issue. However, a small group of students opted to continue on with their projects. I noticed students were much more engaged than in the previous lessons and settling the class was a whole lot easier.

After the lesson I asked the class how they felt about the lesson and they explained that having choice and listening to music was a big motivator for them.

In conclusion, providing 9tgn with choice and flexibility is a useful strategy to motivate students and increase engagement. As I continued provided the class with similar options during the Wednesday lessons I found more often than not students would just simply continue on with their projects but enjoyed the relaxed learning environment provided by listening to music.

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