An oldie (1993) but a goodie from Alfie Kohn. What does it really mean when when students have the power of choice instead of being powerless? Why is it important, and what kinds of things can students really decide?
To be sure, there is nothing new about the idea that students should be able to participate, individually and collectively, in making decisions. This conviction has long played a role in schools designated as progressive, democratic, open, free, experimental, or alternative; in educational philosophies called developmental, constructivist, holistic, or learner-centered; in specific innovations such as whole-language learning, discovery-based science, or authentic assessment; and in the daily practice of teachers whose natural instinct is to treat children with respect.
But if the concept is not exactly novel, neither do we usually take the time to tease this element out of various traditions and examine it in its own right. Why is it so important that children have a chance to make decisions about their learning? How might this opportunity be provided with regard to academic matters as well as other aspects of school life? What limits on students’ right to choose are necessary, and what restrictions compromise the idea too deeply? Finally, what barriers might account for the fact that students so rarely feel a sense of self-determination today? A close inspection of these issues will reveal that the question of choice is both more complex and more compelling than many educators seem to assume.
The rest of the article is well worth reading!