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The Power Of Choice

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I’ve previously posted on the idea of giving students choices (see The Art of Choosing) and I’ve also written about it in my new book, Helping Students Motivate Themselves.

A new study re-emphasizes the importance of choice in the classroom for most students. The Science Daily reports on it in Power and Choice Are Interchangeable: It’s All About Controlling Your Life.

Here’s an excerpt:

Having power over others and having choices in your own life share a critical foundation: control, according to a new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The paper finds that people are willing to trade one source of control for the other. For example, if people lack power, they clamor for choice, and if they have an abundance of choice they don’t strive as much for power.

There are many things we can do in the classroom to help our students feel like they have power by involving them in decision-making on issues like seating or even room arrangement. But those efforts can appear tiny in the face of facts like so many of our students coming from family situations where they have little power (immigrant children who were moved to an entirely new country as the result of a family decision) or coming from low-income families who may feel like they have little power to confront countless economic and social challenges.

However, in addition to our possibly feeble efforts to help engage them in feeling powerful, we can certainly emphasize offering choices — the kinds of homework they have to do, the types of presentations they can organize, the essay topics they can respond to….

The pay-off can be students who are happier and more open to learning and to accepting challenges — not to mention an easier classroom management situation for the teacher.

Power and freedom, according to William Glasser, are two of the five basic human needs.

It’s certainly not an either/or decision for teachers but, jeez, offering choices can be so relatively painless — why wouldn’t we do it?

A lot.

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

2 Comments

  1. Larry,

    Excellent post. Really crucial this and it should be a steady drumbeat infecting our educational system(s). I’d even go much further than you and say every student should have a say and be part of their “educational plan”. Especially in ESL, for the reasons you note but also because as “language”, we are not a content laden subject but can form our curriculum from a wide variety of “life” and sources. Students should have a say over that.

    And it is painless, so true.

    David

  2. I think it is so important that students have choice in their life. It is so easy as a teacher to work choice into the school day. Sometimes it is as simple as saying – you have these two assignments to complete, but you choose the order. Every small choice adds up to more engaged students.

    Sacha
    http://luria-learning.blogspot.com/

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