The Power of Choice

April 13, 2007 at 6:38 pm (all, blogging, children, Education, Educational Leadership, Elementary, ESOL, High School, kids, Middle School, Parents, personal, principals, reading, school, school administration, teachers, Thornebrooke, Uncategorized)

There are varied reasons for providing choices to students. Making choices is a brain-compatible way to learn and it is also a highly successful way to motivate students. In this issue of Performance Learning PLUS, we focus on how you can use the power of choice to help your students increase their personal responsibility. Through making choices students learn to exercise control and participate in self-management.

Begin by offering your students varying degrees of choice. As they gain experience in making choices, expand the possibilities. Your students will gradually become more self-directed and responsible. Read on for more tips about how to use the power of choice in your classroom.

“Your classroom is an ongoing lab in learning how to make choices. It can be a lab where children learn obedience or one where they are issued continuous invitations to accept responsibility. The choice is yours”
— Chick Moorman, educator and author

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DID YOU KNOW?
Research shows that self-regulation arises from students’ awareness that they can make choices in responding to their world and that they will be accountable for their choices (Rozendaal, Minnaert, & Boekaerts, 2005).

Research shows that at-risk students perceive themselves as more involved and more competent when they feel they have greater control over decisions and choices (DiCintio & Gee, 1999).

Research shows that providing students with choices in learning activities increases students’ achievement, engagement, perceived competence, and levels of aspiration (Cordova & Lepper, 1996; Westberg & Archambault, 2004).

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TIPS: Using the Power of Choice

1. Provide decision-making opportunities.
When you provide choices for your students, you give them opportunities to make decisions. Each decision they make builds their sense of personal power and responsibility.

Examples of choices you may offer to your students:

For language arts, place three pictures on the chalkboard and have students choose one to write about.
Give students four different ways to study their spelling words or vocabulary terms.
Make a math assignment that gives students the choice to complete the odd-numbered or even-numbered problems.
Detail what needs to be included in a history report, and allow students to choose the topics.
Assign a science project that allows students to choose one of three different areas.
Give students two choices for how to make up work missed while absent.
Let students make their picture out of red or green paper.
Let students do a demonstration speech on a subject of their choice.
Let students pick which essay question to answer on a test.
Give students the choice to mind map or outline a chapter.
Ask students to read one of three articles and write a report.
Ask students to interview a person of their own choice.
Allow cooperative groups to choose to do a skit, write a commercial, or create an advertisement to demonstrate their learning.
Let each lab group decide which of three different experiments to perform.
Ask students to choose which ten new vocabulary words to include in their papers.
2. Help students personalize choices.
Teach students about the power of choice by helping them see their choices in a personal way. When and where do students make choices in their lives? How do they feel about them? What meaning does making decisions have for them?

Create tasks (written or oral) that help students explore their personal reactions to decision making. These tasks might include any of the following:

List five things that you were able to decide this week. Put them in order of their importance to you.
Make a list of five things that other people decided for you that you would have liked to decide for yourself. Put them in order of their importance to you.
What are some things you may decide about now that you did not get to decide about when you were five years old? Pick one to tell about.
Are there some things you wish you did not have to decide? List them. Pick one and write your reasons for not wanting to make such a decision.
What decisions do you get to make at home? List five. What other decisions would you like to make at home? List five. Why do you think you should be allowed to make these decisions? Write out your reasons.
Write a letter of thanks to someone who gave you an opportunity to make choices.
3. Use “Freedom Phrases” to let students make decisions.

Many times throughout the day, students ask questions that place you in the role of decision maker. They ask things such as:
“May I sharpen my pencil now?”
“Will this book qualify for extra credit?”
“Is it okay if I ask Beth to help me?”

With a simple yes or no, you can answer these common questions quickly and efficiently, or you can use them as opportunities to empower students. If you use a Freedom Phrase such as “you decide,” you can effectively place decision-making responsibilities on students. “You decide” frees you from an authoritarian role by encouraging shared control of the classroom and by getting students in touch with their personal power.

Other Freedom Phrases that work well:
“It is up to you.”
“It is your choice.”
“You choose.”
“You can pick.”
“You get to decide.”
“You make that decision.”
“I am comfortable with whatever you decide.”

Regardless of the phrase you choose, the message to students is one of respect. You are telling them, “I trust your judgment. You are capable of making many of your own decisions. You know what is best for you and for our class.”

Use a Freedom Phrase only when your answer to a student’s question would be “yes.” If it is not okay for the student to ask Beth for help, or if it is not a time when you want students sharpening pencils, simply say no. If you feel strongly about the issue, this is not a time to let students decide. On the other hand, if your inclination is to say yes, then this is an appropriate time to use language that leaves the decision to the student. “You decide” creates an opportunity for students to practice making decisions. It gives them the freedom to make choices. It provides an opportunity for them to experience their own power and to exercise independence.

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