The Power of Choice as a Classroom Management Tool


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By  Jon Konen

The Daily 5 learning structure is steeped in “choice.” Students’ ability to choose their own reading material is such a motivator that it can empower them to have regency with their learning. We create independent learners by handing over the reins. This same concept can be used with behaviors and classroom management. Teachers might feel as though they’re giving up control when they give their students choice, but actually they are helping their students develop into independent thinkers.

When a student is exhibiting an undesirable behavior, how can a teacher use student choice to change that behavior? The more familiar strategies include moving into closer proximity to the student, looking directly at them, tapping them on the shoulder, or even directly prompting them. But if those strategies don’t work, what can a teacher do next? That next step is what sets teachers who understand how to use student choice apart from teachers who might resort to yelling and punishing their students.

The following scenario provides guidance in how you can offer choice, empower students to make the correct decisions, and set them up for two successes in the next 30 seconds: (1) success at making a choice and (2) actually following through with their choice.

Scenario: A student is causing problems in line by poking other students, talking loudly, and annoying nearby classmates. The teacher has used proximity, called their name, and even called them out on their behavior, but the student continues to misbehave.

At this point, the teacher can try some “choice” language to motivate the student to improve their behavior. Here are some sample choices that could be offered to the student:

  • “You may go to the end of the line and walk correctly, or you may go back to your desk until you are ready to rejoin us in line.”
  • “You may stand here silently and keep your hands and feet to yourself, or you may practice doing that with me at recess.”
  • “You may walk with me as we go, or you may walk correctly at the end of the line by yourself.”
  • “You may choose me as your walking partner, or you may walk ahead of me by yourself.”

The three keys to the “choice” strategy are to (1) avoid using negative language, (2) offer the student two choices that you find acceptable, and (3) empower the student to make their own choice about how to correct their behavior. Usually the student will make the correct choice. If the student is reluctant to make a choice, however, give them a 30-second warning that you are going to make the choice for them and that they might not like your choice.

  • “I am giving you 30 seconds to make a choice. Then I will choose for you, but you might not like my choice . . . In five seconds I will choose for you . . . Go to the end of the line.”   

If the student is still unable to make a decision, you may have to resort to some planned ignoring, practice time at recess, or buddy class time for reflection. As a last resort with a defiant student, you might need further support from a fellow aide, teacher, or even the principal.

Although it might seem that providing students with choice in these situations will take up a lot of your time, it is time well spent. When students are allowed to make their own choices, they begin to own their behavior and become independent problem solvers. If you routinely use this strategy with students, they will better understand how you operate and appreciate the fact that they are in control of their own behavior. 


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