I remember this one particular day when a group of first grade boys were gathered around me and a nonfiction book about reptiles. Their arms draped leisurely over mine as we noticed and read interesting facts. I remember looking at the clock and my agenda thinking, "We need to move on." But then I looked around at their little faces and really stopped to listen in. The thinking and talking that this group of boys was doing was meaningful and important. Free choice time had won the battle and our quest to learn about reptiles ensued.
So why didn’t I make free choice time a permanent part of my teaching day? Don’t all the greats say that whatever you decide to teach (or not teach) is a reflection of your belief system? By not making this a daily part of my schedule I was sending a message to my students about what I really valued. Now that I’m a little more seasoned my beliefs are a lot clearer. I’m still working out how it might go (Ideas for Units of Study for Choice Time Workshop and other tidbits coming soon!). But for now,
Here’s what I do know:
During free choice time kids are engaged and on-task doing what kids do best: exploring, inventing, imagining. But after going to a wonderful workshop at Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Project about learning more about our ELLs language acquisition skills by conferring with them during free play, I think the possibilities are even greater, especially for our littlest students who are developing their oral languages skills.
So I did a little research and came across a little book about choice workshop (it was exactly what I was looking for!). In this book the authors make the case for free choice time but in a format just like the reader’s and writer’s workshops. Enter Choice Time Workshop!
During a Choice Time Workshop
-teachers can model how to plan and problem solve with others
-teachers can teach into the language abilities of their students
-students can practice appropriate ways to play with others
-students benefit from the consistency of the workshop structure (kids love structure and consistency!)
-teachers can collect language samples of ELLs
-teachers serve as language models for ELLs