The other day I was asked which component of classroom management was the most underrated. My answer was easy…Choice! There are far too many teachers who engage in power struggles that could be avoided by giving the student some options.
Freedom vs. Choice…what's the difference?
Of course, choice is not the same as freedom. You might give students freedom to share their research or a book report in lots of different ways. Good teachers regularly build in opportunities for freedom as a differentiation strategy that engages learners. Unlike freedom, which is an instructional approach, choice is a management tool.
Digging Deeper into Choice
Choice can be a hard concept for many of us…especially in the heat of the moment. However, providing students, especially challenging students, a choice lets them feel in control of their classroom experience. Realistically, you are the one giving the options so YOU are really in control, but they don't need to know that, right?
In the next section, I'll share a few tips that have been really helpful in my classroom when it came to incorporating choice into my management strategy. Yes, it was hard at first because it really did feel like I was giving up control. As a result, it took me some time to really get confident with this strategy. Once I embraced it
The positive is, once I embraced it, choice was the single most effective strategy in my toolbox for avoiding the many conflicts that some of my most challenging students attempted to engage in. It was no longer my way or the highway in the eyes of my students. Instead, they saw our classroom as a place where they had control. It also made it easier for them to understand that when a choice wasn't given, they needed to respect that boundary. I can honestly say the simple changes I'm about to share completely transformed my classroom management and the culture in our room.
3 Tips for Effectively using Choice for Management
1. Take the Reins, But Give Options
Have a student who consistently pushes your buttons? This is my very favorite strategy for these kids. Give them choices…but make sure they are both choices YOU are okay with. (Bonus points if the second option is a little less appealing.) For example, when that student who likes to avoid work, despite being capable, is getting nothing done, say something like, “You can work on this assignment now or you can finish it during recess. Which would you like to do?”
2. Don't Wait Forever
So, you've given them two options…and they are calling your bluff and not choosing. This is the moment where a time limit is your friend. The offer of choice is on the table for a limited time. Put a time limit on it with the caveat that if they haven't decided when you get back, then you get to pick. Then, walk away and come back to get the student's answer. Still no answer? You now pick the option that is less desired.
Many times students will come around and start complying. What does this sound like in the classroom? Your conversation may go something like this: “You can be focused and read for five minutes now, or you can spend 10 minutes reading when the rest of us are (insert fun activity you will be doing here).” If they decide to do the right thing right that moment, GREAT!
If not, then follow up with, “I am going to give you two minutes to decide. I'll be back to find out what you picked, but I want you to know if you don't have a decision, I am going to pick for you, and I will pick the 10 minutes during (fun activity you mentioned before).”
3. If You Say It, Mean It
As a mom, I screw this one up all the time. I am full of empty threats some days. As a result, my (strong-willed) daughter and I butt heads so much more often than we need to. The same thing happens if you do this in the classroom. Once one kid realizes you don't plan to follow through, you're toast. Therefore, you can't make threats you don't plan to keep.
If you say you are going to call a parent or take away five minutes of recess, then you have to follow through…even if you don't really want to. Similarly, if you say you'll give extra recess or read for a few extra minutes before lunch, then you need to do this, too! Students thrive on knowing what to expect. When you don't follow through, students notice and remember. This is so important for relationship building because students need to trust that you mean what you say.
Getting started with Choice
Getting started with choice can be as simple as being
more aware. Paying attention to opportunities to
give students options or create (and follow-through on) a realistic consequence are both really simple ways to get started with choice in your classroom.
Even if you haven't been doing this so far this school year, it is never too late to start…and it will definitely be worth it in the long run. You'll find you have more energy and patience when you aren't engaging in the constant struggle for maintaining control…and as a result, you'll be more in control of your classroom than ever!
If you want more great ideas for improving classroom management, be sure to check out the rest of the series here.
I hope this article has been helpful as you consider how to build choice into your management strategy. If you’d like more ideas from The Third Wheel, be sure to follow me using the links below:
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