Monday, September 10, 2012

Reading Research Monday: The Effects of Student Choice

The Positive Effects of Choice

Multiple studies from a variety sources specifically examine student choice as it relates to reading.  From these studies, many positive effects of choice are seen.

The March/April 2010 issue of Adolescent Literacy in Perspective discusses how providing students choice in reading gives them:

  • A sense of control
  • A sense of purpose
  • A sense of competence
A study of sixth graders by Kelly Peirpont from the University of Dayton comes to similar conclusions in The Effects of Student Choice on Reading Attitude and Comprehension.  Through qualitative and quantitative data, Peirpont finds that with choice:

  • Students have an increased level of enthusiasm for reading
  • There are fewer classroom management issues during class time devoted to reading instruction
  • Comprehension of texts read increases
  • Students attitudes toward reading become more positive

The Negative Effects of Choice

In his 2003 book The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, Barry Schwartz argues that the daily decisions people make have become increasingly complex due to the amount of choices available. There is a general assumption that more choice is better, but as Schwartz argues, there is ultimately a tipping point where the benefits of choice give way to "choice overload" that can lead to anxiety and stress.

While Schwartz's book is not directly related to student choice in reading materials, the underlying principle is still applicable.  When presented with too many choices, students can become anxious, nervous, and stressed about making a decision. 

Applications for the Classroom

With regard to the negative effects of choice, teachers can offset "choice overload" by assisting students as they make decisions about their reading materials.  It is important to take students' ages into consideration.  A sixteen year old will be able to better handle choosing a book from a vast library than a six year old.  For younger students, structuring classrooms libraries by genre can help them make decisions based on their interests and reduce choice-related stress.  In a genre based library, books within each genre can still have small labels on them indicating the reading level of the book to ensure a good match for students.

Older students will be more able to peruse a library and find a book they like.  However, many older students will still appreciate if a teacher pulls books that might be of high interest to them or if a teacher provides a list of books organized by interest.  This allows students a guide if they are feeling overwhelmed by choice while still allowing freedom for those who want a completely independent decision.

Often teachers can find structuring lessons difficult when allowing student choice.  This can be countered by finding a common ground between some choice and some structure with activities like student-selected materials for literature circles.  This allows a group of students to make reading choices together, thus empowering them and allowing them to take ownership of their reading while allowing teachers to develop lessons, teach literacy skills, and build students' reading abilities.

Ultimately, allowing choice in students' reading materials will equate to more students actually reading.  How many students pretend to read?  How many use websites like sparknotes?  How many ask their friends for details?  How many just don't care?  By engaging students with literature and non-fiction that they find personally interesting student learning, motivation, and comprehension increases.

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