By Maggie Patton When I was in middle school, I remember reading Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place, Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, and Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl. My favorite genre to read was nonfiction. I was fascinated by American and European history and loved learning about other people’s lives. However, I also remember how anxious I became whenever I walked into my English Language Arts class the day after we had been assigned to read a chapter out of whatever book we were reading. I knew a quiz was coming. I was prepared and knew exactly what was going on. However, I still knew I would not do well on the quiz. Instead of being quizzed on important themes, ideas, or characters, the miniature quizzes consisted of questions related to irrelevant details—like what a character had eaten for dinner or what color the curtains in the living room were. I was discouraged and frustrated by this, but there wasn’t much I could do. The rest of the class seemed to do fine on the quizzes, so I felt unintelligent and singled out. I began to hate reading for class and stopped reading for class altogether because I viewed it as a waste of my time.
When I reached high school, I knew my grades mattered much more than they had in middle school, and I was focused on getting into college. I was terrified to take English my freshman year—afraid that this class would be like all of my other English classes. I remember being assigned to read George Orwell’s Animal Farm, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. But instead of being required to take quizzes or tests on these books, my teacher informed us we had choices. Each book had a project assigned with it, but there were multiple project options. I was incredibly relieved to learn this, and it instilled in me the confidence I needed to succeed. One of the project options was a paper, and another was a test. Some of the other options required more creativity. There was an option for every type of learner. We also completed a research paper that semester, so I became confident in my research abilities. Not only did I succeed in that class, but I also enjoyed taking it because of the amount of freedom I was given.
The rest of my English teachers in high school also designed their classes in a similar way, and by the end of high school, English was my favorite subject. I developed a deep love for reading and writing. Although I was not required to take quizzes or tests, my teachers still ensured we were prepared to take standardized tests, and I still succeeded on those. With this, there are several questions that require consideration. Should we give students a choice? What are some of the implications of this? Could it be difficult in some states or districts to do this while still following standards? These are important questions to consider when creating lesson plans to ensure students are prepared and succeed.