Children don’t naturally know what the expectations are and how they should follow them. They need to be explicitly taught this. Teachers should be helping kids make good choices by teaching them the difference between expected and unexpected behaviors.
When Helping Kids Make Good Choices, Language matters
Personally, I never use the phrases “good choice” or “bad choice” when speaking to my students. I don’t want to label their behaviors as good or bad. I don’t want them to ever internalize those labels and believe that they are good or bad. Instead, I like to use the phrases “expected choices” and “unexpected choices”. This language helps for so many reasons. First, it asks the child to think about the situation they are in. For example, running is actually expected outside at recess, but it is unexpected while in the classroom. It also emphasizes that students learn these expectations. And when students don’t follow them, they are making an unexpected choice. Finally, it encourages students to think about how others react to their decision.
Language also matters when helping children make good choices. You must tell young children what you expect of them, because they don’t automatically understand. For example, always state what you want to see of them in the positive. Instead of “don’t run!” say, “walk!” This simple language shift helps children to understand what is expected of them, instead of just what NOT to do. You can see more teacher language reminders here.
Why do we make expected choices?
We make expected choices so that everyone can be safe, have fun, and learn. Students need to be explicitly taught this -they don’t just automatically know this. They need to see that it makes our friends happy when we make expected choices. When students make unexpected choices, their peers are surprised, confused, scared, and unsure of what to do. We also talk a lot about how the unexpected choices take away other students’ learning.
For example, if a child keeps blurting out on the rug and I have to keep stopping the lesson to remind them the expectations, then the other students are missing the important learning that is happening. When students start to realize that what they do affects others, they start to realize the importance of making expected choices. Taking other people’s perspectives is not developmentally natural for young children. This must be taught and practiced and over time they start to understand that other people can have different thoughts and feelings from themselves.
How to make expected choices?
Students not only need to understand why we make expected choices but how we make expected choices. When helping kids make good choices, I always first start with having them identify which choices are expected and which are unexpected. We sort through different scenarios and examples and children label the choice expected or unexpected. Once they have a good understanding of what expected choices are versus unexpected choices, then I pose different scenarios and ask students what they would do in that situation. It helps to do all of this explicit teaching at a set time, as opposed to only in response to unexpected behaviors. This way they have the foundation set when you do have to discuss with them about their choices.
What Should Danny Do
One of the best books for working with students on expected and unexpected choices is What Should Danny Do. There is a whole series and you can see them, and other read alouds about helping kids make good choices, in my Amazon storefront. This series is a choose your own adventure book where students decide if Danny should make an expected choice or an unexpected choice. Then they see what the consequences are to those choices.
Usually when we read this book the first time, the children are used to teachers asking them what characters should do in books (hint- teachers always want the expected choice). However, after reading it once through that way, I start over and ask the children what would happen if Danny makes an unexpected choice. At first, students aren’t so sure about making the character do something unexpected, but after we read on and they see the different consequences, they really enjoy seeing what happens to Danny and how they can decide what happens to him! The book series repeats that children have “The Power to Choose”. This is a great reminder to students about the importance of making expected choices.
Students don’t just come to school knowing what behaviors are expected – they need to be taught them! When helping kids make good choices, teachers need to teach them what expected and unexpected choices are, how to make the expected choices, and why we make expected choices. All of this explicit teaching will help students to make more and more expected choices in your classroom.
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