Practical Tips for Teachers
Looking for a way to reduce power struggles and engage your students’ cooperation? One of the easiest ways to accommodate their need for autonomy or control in their lives is to offer some options in your assignments and projects—always within limits for safety and sanity! This strategy works with kids of all ages (including your own at home), and can be equally effective in working with adults as well.
Here are a few things to consider:
• Choices build responsibility and commitment, and communicate your respect for students’ needs and preferences.
• Choices, like boundaries, are motivational tools that encourage cooperation through input and empowerment. Offer choices in the absence of desirable student behavior, to encourage the students to perform a particular behavior they are not currently demonstrating.
• Present available options in a positive manner. Be careful that the choice doesn’t end up spoken as “do it or else.”
• Be honest. Make sure that all options you offer are acceptable. Avoid setting the students up to people-please by choosing the right option or reading your mind.
• Make sure there are no wrong choices: If you don’t want the student to choose something, don’t make it an option. (For example, if you want them to do the outline first, offer sequence options about the other activities—after the outline is finished.)
• Make sure the choices you offer are clear and specific. Asking a child to “Select a meaningful learning activity,” leaves you open for some pretty broad interpretations. Instead, define choices with clearly-stated limits. “Select one meaningful learning activity from the five on the board” is much easier for the student to understand—and perform successfully.
• Start simple. If a student is having difficulty making decisions, it may be that there are too many options or that the limits are too broad or unclear.
• If a student is having difficulty with even a simple choice, add another limit if necessary, by asking him to choose within a certain amount of time (after which you get to help him choose). Be patient. Some young students and well-conditioned order-takers need time and practice to develop confidence in their ability to choose.
• Increase options as the students can handle them, either by widening the range of choices you offer or by making the options more complex.
• Depending on your goals, schedule, and resources, you might leave room for students to change their minds if they are disappointed with a choice they’ve made. If time and management require the student to make a choice and stick with it, make that clear when you present the available options. Reassure the students that they can “try again later (or tomorrow or next week).”
• As they become more capable, encourage the students to participate in setting up choices (or negotiate an alternative assignment, for example) whenever possible. Clear limits are especially important in such cases; you might also want to suggest that they present their ideas to you, verbally or (better yet) in writing, for a final OK before they act.
• If students suggest a choice that you think is inappropriate, tell them your concerns and ask if they can come up with another idea. (Stating “That won’t work for me,” is a terrific way to get this message across without attacking the student.) Reiterate your criteria if necessary. If something is just plain non-negotiable, say so, but help the student look for acceptable options available within those limits.
Excerpted and adapted from The Win-Win Classroom, revised edition, by Dr. Jane Bluestein © 2008, Corwin Publishing, Thousand Oaks, CA.
© 2008, 2012, 2022, Dr. Jane Bluestein
Guidelines for Reinforcing Positive Behavior
Dealing Successfully with your Students’ Parents
Getting Away with Success
Motivating Cooperative Behavior
Handling Negative Student Behavior
Please support this site: This website is an ongoing labor of love, with a fair number of expenses involved. Your support will help offset the cost of continual training, technical assistance, and translators, allowing me to continue to maintain the site, add helpful and inspiring new content and links, and keep the site ad-free. Donate here…