The Value of Student Choice

(Posted on 20/09/16)

“Until you know the learners, how can you know the essential questions?” (Onore and Lubetsky, 1992 ). 

At Chester International School, we believe in developing in depth conversations and partnerships with our students and ensuring that we have true student voice and student choice in our Studio. Students are “yearning to have a voice in their own schooling” (Johnston & Nicholls, 1995) and Rabone and Wilson (1997) reported that it increases “student pride, motivation, participation and performance” and this active participation greatly improves the learning environment (Luke & Hunter, 2000; Vygotsky, 1978). As such, as we design our school to open in 2017, we will host Student Forums with our Founding Students on a regular basis to make some key decisions. We are excited that our first forum will open next week to discuss Dress Code in the school, Enrichment Electives and school lunches.

“How many jobs really exist where you have a uniform? Not that many to be honest. In most workplaces the onus is on staff to be presentable and appropriately dressed. This is not as easy as it sounds. Dressing appropriately requires being able to make choices from a selection of clothing. Dressing without revealing too much. Dressing so you can perform the tasks you do. Dressing so that you won’t be too hot or too cold. All these things require you to choose. To decide. How does removing the experience of choosing prepare children for life in which they will have to make responsible choices?” ( Debra Kidd, 2016).

Co-construction can be a positive way to develop motivation, sense of belonging in a school, personalized learning and engaged teaching professionals. It will contribute to our relevant and forward-looking curriculum which reflect students’ questions and curiosities resulting in “authentic learning tasks for meaningful learning” (Applefield, Huber & Moallem, 2001). We want to build on prior knowledge, discover our students’ interests, what they do well and give flexibility in learning activities (Frey, 1998). 

There is a growing disconnect in education in England between classroom provision and what interests and motivates students (Gilby et al. 2008) and co-construction allows students to have ownership over their learning and they “are motivated, have control and are responsible for their learning” (Cook, 1992).  Researchers found that students in school with co-construction models were “confident, engaged and articulate about their learning” (Learning Futures Report, 2011). 

Our teachers are highly qualified professionals and they will be designing our bespoke curriculum as a one-size-fits-all curriculum does not offer the scope for school and educators to offer all students an education which is appropriate for their individual needs. (Bailey, 2000; Darling-Hammond, 1998). By allocating curriculum decision- making power to teachers and their students in a decentralized system, Fullan (2007) believes that teachers would be able to exercise ‘innovativeness’ in curriculum design, teaching and learning methodologies and curriculum content. We want space at Chester International School to innovate the curriculum towards ‘non-predetermined directions’. 

Given that here at Chester International School, we are hoping to develop our students into leaders and changemakers in a complex world, we need to offer them as many opportunities as possible, to develop skills for the journey ahead rather than building “standardized schools with standardized visions of success to produce standardized human beings” (Barone, 1993).