Many a professional book or PD session promotes offering choice as an effective behavior management strategy. This suggestion is usually accompanied by other vague but valid suggestions like avoid power struggles or help students calm down. What they don’t tend to tell you is how…
So here’s the how. Practical ways to offer choice that have worked for me. Teacher-tested and kid-approved.
~Offer Choices BEFORE Behavior Escalates
Choices, like everything, work better before kids get mad or defensive. It is always okay to offer choice but offering before behavior escalates helps kids be more responsive. It also helps teachers feel less like they are bargaining. A kid is making loud noises while you are talking? Say, you may sit quietly on the carpet or go sit in your chair. A kid is refusing to work? Say, would you like to write your name or read the directions?
~Plan Acceptable Choices in Advance
For those tough to handle students or situations, plan some choices out ahead of time. It can be tricky to think of choices in the heat of the moment especially when kids are less than cooperative. Building in acceptable choices can help teachers feel more in charge while respecting kids. For example, maybe kids can read alone or with a partner. Or they can sit on the carpet or their desk to complete their math page.
~ Use Choices to Distract
Choices can work wonders to distract and redirect kids to what you want them to do without nagging them. A kid isn’t cleaning up after writing? Say, Are you going to put your crayons away first or your paper?
~Offer Choices You Will Be Happy With
Offer choices that you will actually like if the kids do choose to do it. If possible you should like both choices equally. If there is clearly a right and wrong choice, you aren’t setting kids up for success. The same goes for a choice that is punitive. A kid is frustrated with work and starting to shut down? Say, would you like to ask a friend to help or get a drink of water and try again?
~ Use an Invitational but Firm Tone
This goes right along with offering choices you can live with. Present choices as awesome opportunities. A little firmness helps kids know that while they have options, their options are limited to what is safe and respectful. Your teaching style will dictate if you want to be super excited about the choices or more cool and nonchalant. Positive is all that matters.
~Keep it Simple
Offer two choices. It is not your job to dream up every possible action kids can take.
These strategies help both the kids and I be empowered in our classroom. We collaborate and I am able to set the boundaries and limits the kids need. Offering choice makes both the kids and I think and problem solve.