Bringing Responsibility and Choice into the Classroom - Social Emotional Workshop

Bringing Responsibility and Choice into the Classroom

By Laura Driscoll | Social Emotional Skills

Mar 26
young students eager to participate

Responsibility and choice is the degree to which teachers allow students to make responsible decisions about their work in their classroom.

Why It's Important

Making student responsibility and choice a part of your classroom helps students:

  • gain a better understanding of themselves as learners, 
  • struggle and plan in a controlled setting, 
  • and stay engaged with their work.

It does not mean that students are calling the shots. Think of it like bowling. The goal is to knock down all the pins. Students can choose their ball, you can put bumpers in the gutter. The end goal doesn't change, but how they get there and their say in that path will change.

Ideas for the Classroom

Development of Classroom Norms

This one is probably familiar. Students should be involved at the beginning of the year and throughout the year in developing and enforcing classroom norms. 

This is everything from your positively phrased classroom rules to procedures to consequences. 

Allowing students to have meaningful input into the development of norms helps them buy into the system and respect it.

Students can have input into how often classroom jobs are changed or how seats are picked. They can even have a say in the norms for consequences. What is a fair consequence for pushing another student or not finishing work constantly?

Event Planners

Have classroom or community events? Put those students to work. 

Providing students with the opportunity to plan class breakfasts or celebrations gives them ownership and pride over the event, as well as their work that is being showcased at those events.

In one of my previous schools, a different grade was responsible for planning the monthly community meeting each month. Students decided the schedule, contacted speakers, wrote skits. 

It was their event.

Seating Choice

Let's talk flexible seating. I'm not a fan. Well, I'm a skeptical fan. I think the aspect of providing students with responsibility and choice is fantastic. Students get to figure out where they feel comfortable and choose a space that will let them accomplish their goals. 

On the other hand, I can feel every occupational therapist shudder from here. Especially for younger students, seating is best when students are in a 90-90-90 position. Meaning they look like a chair when they sit. 

If you are a flexible seating skeptic like me, consider when you can allow students to pick their work spaces. During partner work? Writer's workshop? Can students use clipboards? Read on the rug?

Pre-flexible seating, I had a teacher who would mark a box on the floor for a student to stand or sit in while working. It allowed the fidgety young boy to move around while still having limits. Responsibility and choice are key to accommodations like this.

Peer-Tutoring

Peer-tutoring has a large evidence base behind it and is a useful practice to incorporate. 

A wonderful additional benefit is that students feel responsible when sharing their learning with another student, and they feel responsible for that student's learning. 

Homework Choice

Homework is the worst. Teachers hate it. Parents hate it. Kids hate it. It doesn't have a large evidence base. But we are bizarrely stuck with it. 

One thing you can do to help with homework engagement and completion is to give students choice over what they complete. 

Students can complete 10 math problems, 2 out of 3 questions, or 1 kind of spelling work. 

Choice Boards

Using game formats like tic-tac-toe or bingo, enter work to be completed in each box. Student can choose what assignments they want to complete based on your guidelines or even just the order they want to complete it in.  

Celebrations

I mentioned letting students plan classroom events. They can also have input into how student work celebrations are done. Do students want their final writing product celebrated by being put on the bulletin board, during a writing breakfast with their parents, or maybe with another classroom.

Test Questions

Same as with homework and classwork, you can allow students to choose a certain number of questions to complete from a test. They can be broken into sections or for the whole test or the type of question. 

This gives the student responsibility and choice over their work and performance. 

Provide the Guardrails

So choice does not equal Lord of the Flies, but switching to a classroom with more student input can be daunting. It can also be ripe for mistakes. 

Limit Choices

Students can struggle if they are given too many choices. If students are struggling to make a choice, consider limiting the number of options. 

This is also helpful for your planning. If you are trying to gently guide them down a path, you can't give them eight options for every assignment. Two or three is sufficient. 

And sometimes there is just one choice and that is fine too.

Clear Expectations

Say students are planning an event in class, they are going to need clear expectations and structure about what the requirements are and what is not allowed.

Same with choice around independent projects. Provide clear expectations using things like rubrics, due dates, and reflection questions. 

Turn Back Now

When students are provided with choice, they might make the wrong choice. That's the fun, right?

Know the point that students have to turn back and start again if they aren't happy with their choice. For a project, when do they have to pick a final topic by? When picking seating, when can they can choose somewhere else?

How can you foster a community where responsibility and choice are integrated? What benefits do you see for your classroom or school?

Other teaching practices that promote Social Emotional Learning

young students eager to participate

About the Author

Laura is a former school psychologist passionately trying to bring social-emotional learning to every student at every tier. Click here for hands-on resources for the classroom and counseling.

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