While in the throes of a narrative writing unit my students asked, do we really have to write non-fiction narrative about ourselves? We like writing make-believe stories so much better. And I thought about it... Why not? As long as they are still writing narratives, still learning writing skills and meeting standards and expectations, who cares what the stories are about. In fact, shouldn't I be encouraging curiosity and creativity? And so it began, the students had the freedom to write any type of narrative fiction or nonfiction they desired. And guess what? They were happily engaged rather than drudging along doing the minimum possible.
But then it was my turn. Having noticed that my students were loving graphic novels, I offered the use of comic book paper. It's so simple, yet seemingly silly and insignificant. Well, not to my students. With the addition of comic book paper, I had non-writers writing during recess time, I had children who had once cried because it was writing time cry because they had missed the free time to write on their own. There were comic book making birthday parties, collaborative comic books, and comic books copied and sold to raise money for charity.
The best part, my students began to see themselves as writers, not as kids who had to write during writing time, but authors in their own right. Once they were confident in the graphic novel and comic book genre, they expanded their horizons and wrote nonfiction and how-to books. They wrote books about topics they were studying in class or just interested in. The only genre they never really explored... the personal narrative.
Don't get me wrong, they still had to learn to write a personal narrative, but by giving my students the freedom and responsibility to choose for themselves, I helped them see themselves as writers with important gifts to share with the world. Now THAT is why student choice matters!