Using Choice for Intellectual Development

The bell rings; go to class. Take out your pencils, write your name on the top right of the paper. Answer the questions (correctly!) in the chapter and turn in to be checked.

All of this produces obedient children and potentially good test scores, but it cannot produce thinkers.

There is a well-researched, brilliant pedagogy (for visual art) that I think can be applied to self-contained classrooms as well: Teaching for Artistic Behavior.

The idea: Teach children basic techniques with varying materials, show how to use for the particular subject-matter projects, and let them choose how to do it.

Choose! Will children choose well? Will they work well?

What’s the choice: give it a try or raise a nation of automatons? Even one day of choice per week, even a morning or an afternoon, compels children to think about what they’re doing, instead of simply and mindlessly doing what they’re told.

Will they fool around? Waste time? Misbehave? Do mediocre work?

The research–and many teachers’ classroom practice–say otherwise. My own experience is that students work hard to reach excellence, far harder than they would otherwise.

If you use art projects to teach academics, students must review concepts over and over in order to include them in the project. This type of review is deeper and more lasting.

Eventually, our students will graduate and enter a world of choices. Many of them fall into serious debt, drug use, sometimes aimlessness. We adults like to blame young people for this behaviors, but what if we have contributed to such behaviors by never helping kids make real choices?

We have the chance to do this in our classrooms. We should give it a try.

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