How CHOICE can Improve Student Behavior

This is a perfect time to reflect on the previous school year and re-evaluate lessons, curriculum, and procedures, but what about spending a little time reflecting on classroom management?  When I first began teaching, I spent WAY more time designing eye-catching posters and killer lesson plans than I did setting goals for successful classroom management and planning how I was going to create the climate I desired.  I guess I figured that if my room looked amazing and my lessons were top notch, my students would be so awestruck that they couldn’t possibly misbehave… boy did I have that backward!

I quickly learned that if you don’t take time to establish a positive classroom climate, you will not achieve the level of learning and creating you want.  Since my very first year, I have designated time each summer to review my classroom management plans, research new ideas, and set goals for the upcoming school year.  If consistency truly is key, what better time to kick off a new classroom management plan than at the beginning of a new school year?  Each year I try to consider:

  • What strategies worked?
  • What areas need improvement?
  • How do I respond to the students?
  • How do the students respond to me?
  • What are my goals for the climate of my classroom?

There are a million different ideas and plans out there to try.  This is simply one piece of a classroom management plan that has worked for me.  It is a blend of Love and Logic by Charles and Jim Fay and Choice Theory by William Glasser.  In a nutshell, the idea is to give the student TWO CHOICES, both of which are acceptable to the teacher and then WAIT for the student to choose.

Here is a little sample of what that might look like in action.  In this scenario, Jimmy is splattering paint and dousing his neighbor’s painting.

Teacher: Jimmy, can you use your paintbrush correctly, like we talked about at the beginning of class, and finish your painting or would you rather sit at this individual desk and finish your painting with crayons instead of paint?

Make sure to present the options with not even a hint of emotion, much like a waitress would ask if you would like soup or salad.  Then, and this is the most important part, wait for the student to verbalize his or her answer.  Often we ask questions, especially about behavior, as a way to hint at what we want students to do, but we don’t expect them to respond or give them any time to think.  For this theory to work, the student has to verbalize an answer.  Sometimes it is hard to wait him out and often, he is startled that you really want an answer, but it is all part of the student making a choice and owning it!

Jimmy: I can use my paintbrush correctly.

Teacher: Great!  If you do start to splatter again, I will know that you have changed your mind and have chosen to sit at the individual desk and use crayons, right?

Jimmy: OK.

Now, hopefully, Jimmy continues to create a beautiful painting without infringing on the rights of his tablemates, but if he doesn’t you will need to follow through with the second choice.  Often, all it takes is a look from you and the student will move to the individual desk and use crayons (or whatever your second option would be).   There are always a couple of what I like to call “scientists” who have to test your theory and more importantly your consistency.  Be prepared to sacrifice a lamb or two at the beginning of the school year, but stick to your guns!  It will pay out in the long run.  Just make sure you present the student with two options that you are prepared to follow through with.  (Hint: make a list of choices so you aren’t always shooting from the hip and avoid ideas that take a lot of your time and energy.)

What I like about this process is that it is specific to each situation and each student, and is appropriate for all ages, K-12.  The options can always change to fit the situation and behavior.  There are no points, stickers or tallies involved, just good old options, choices and consequences.  Because really, we aren’t the only ones who know what good behavior should look like!

Do you have  Classroom Management “gem” to share?

Have you ever experienced a classroom management nightmare where nothing worked?  Do tell!

Heather Crockett

Heather is AOE’s Dean of the Institution and an expert in differentiation, curriculum development, and assessment. She is a veteran teacher in the art room and at the graduate level.


  • erica

    How many times have we all done this! Mostly because it works. Classroom teachers have the advantage of more time, recess, special parties etc. but we have the advantage of high interest lessons with awesome supplies. I always use supplies as leverage, especially clay. I make the expectations clear and simple take the clay if they are broken. By the time clean up time comes, the whole room knows I mean business, and the atmosphere is focused so it goes efficiently. 

    You are so right about sticking to your guns in the beginning though. It is important to set the tone of work in the room to extinguish any unwanted behaviors before they become a problem. 

    • erica

      I have to add. . . It might sound a little harsh, but when you have 25-30 kids in a classroom it is what helps the kids who are on task without reminders enjoy their art time as well.

      • Good point!  Our lessons and materials can be motivators for good behavior.

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  • Carol Cohen

    My students work in 4 person cooperative teams. Each member of the teams has a job. The teams are part of the teaching of colors. There are warm and cool colored teams and neutrals. Seat 1in the team is the sec. – he/she gets and returns the workbooks. Seat 2 is the legs and he/she gets and returns the supplies. Seat 3 is the enforcer who get the team quiet and cleans the table. Seat 4 is the CEO who is responsible for getting and putting away work in progress and also makes sure names are on they groups papers when he turns them in. This works well because the students take responsibility for themselves.