Even a casual observer of student life at Arbor School will quickly notice that our children have a great deal of freedom to pursue their own curiosity. Every day in the K-1 Primaries begins with a period called Choice Time. Each new grade brings another crack at a major independent project. (See our Cambium issue “Independent Inquiry.”) Our eighth-graders devote a full year to a Senior Project on a topic of personal interest, whether writing a novel, apprenticing to a blacksmith, or learning to fly a glider.
Today we're publishing a new issue of Cambium that focuses on choice as it plays out within the curriculum, in service of teaching literacy or mathematics, P.E. or research skills. Choice turns out to be a vehicle for developing a great many habits and attitudes we prize: independence, yes, but also self-motivation, open-mindedness, collaboration, effort, willingness to dig deep and tackle difficult material. Giving students multiple points of entry into any unit of study is necessary in our mixed-age classrooms, but providing them with choice also helps us ensure that everyone is genuinely engaged and moving toward our greater academic aims.
Teaching for depth as well as granting students leeway requires constant recalibration on the part of the teacher. Knowing when to draw in the reins is as important as sensing when to give students more freedom; our teachers all discuss the real constraints they put in place to guide students toward choices that will lead to productivity and growth. But we always begin by trusting a student’s assessment of the right level of difficulty, the most intriguing topic, or the most promising way forward. His choices give us invaluable insight into the person he is becoming, and those glimpses allow us to make our own choices about how best to support him toward the fullest realization of his individual self.
The articles in these pages invite you to consider the place of choice in opening the school day, in getting to know fascinating characters from history, in using the library, in advancing through algebra, and in participating in P.E. We hope it will provoke thought about where’s there’s room for choice in your own interactions with children and we welcome an exchange of ideas.