How To Remind Students That They Choose Their Behaviors

By Tony Kline, Ph.D.

simple truth:

Responsible decision-makers proactively think through choices.

research tells us:

Everyday we have the opportunity to help encourage our students to be responsible decision-makers, instead of merely being obedient to our expectations.  It's imperative that we positively reinforce students' positive choices and redirect inappropriate behaviors.  How we go about reinforcing their behaviors is key to building students' self-control and awareness in their decisions making.  Research suggests that when students increase their social emotional intelligence, which includes self-awareness and responsible decision-making, they are more likely to have higher academic and social outcomes.  One subtle, yet powerful way to encourage these pro-social behaviors is to include one word when we redirect.  That word is "choose."

Often our student feedback accurately identifies their behavior, though we may forget to include that they made the behavior choice that met or did not meet expectations.  Yes, the actions students take are a choice.  And reminding students of this concept is important.  For example, we may share that "Riley, you just interrupted Julio's explanation to the class."  To that student who interrupted, that explanation overlooks that fact that he had the option to interrupt or remain silent.  Instead, by adding the word "chose" into our feedback, students are more likely to recognize that there were options in their behavior.  An example of this suggested language could sound like, "Riley, you just chose to interrupt Julio's explanation to the class."  When students recognize that they have choices in their behavior, this can be an empowering realization, especially for those who have inconsistent self-control.

try this:

  • Assess our classroom language to determine how often we remind students that they have choices in the behavior

  • Strive to explicitly share that students made a choice when sharing feedback

  • An example of reinforcing a positive choice, "You chose to reread your paragraph to better understand the author's meaning. 
    Great readers use that strategy, congrats!"

  • An example of reinforcing a positive choice, "You chose to help pick up his dropped materials, thank you for being a helpful friend."

  • An example of acknowledging a negative choice, "You chose to run down the hallway, even though our expectation is to walk."

  • An example of acknowledging a negative choice, "You chose to spend your group time talking about information that is unrelated to your project."

review & share this:

How do you help students critically think through choices?  Leave your comments below.

For additional reading and referenced research, click here.