Teaching Strategies for Decision Making

I started using this problem-solving strategy with students to help them see that there were positive and negative consequences to any solution they presented to a problem they were experiencing. Originally, it was used to help students who were dealing with anger towards another adult or student, and who were gravitating towards poor choices.

I discovered, over time, that this tool is a great way to help students with any decision making process. Here’s how it works…

Who: Student with a problem.
What: The use of the flowchart as a way to brainstorm, analyze, and choose solutions to problems.
When:  Teacher and student are experiencing a conflict or discipline issue.

The student must make a decision and is having difficulty doing so. For example, a student must choose courses to take next semester or must decide what after-school activity to do; how to handle a difficult situation; or how to choose between any two options.
Why: All too often, students make decisions without thinking through the positive and negative consequences of those decisions. This flowchart allows students to work with an adult to come up with the best solution for the student.

Critical factor: Adults are encouraged to guide the student through this process without passing judgment, or trying to convince the youth that certain pros and cons are better than others, or certain decisions need to be made. It is imperative that the adult help the students come up with pros and cons, but not make the decision for the child or pressure the child to think of things in any one way.

Accommodation: Students may fill this chart out on their own, or an adult may scribe for the student.

For example, a student would come to me upset because another student bullied him. The first solution students would often choose was fighting. So, I would sit down with the student, list the problem on a piece of paper, create a T-chart, and start asking questions. If the first possible solution for that student was to beat up the antagonizer, I would simply write that down at the top of the first T-chart.

Next, I would ask the student to list the advantages of beating up the student they were angry with. Usually, they came up with this list quite easily. I happily wrote these solutions down without passing judgment or discouraging their choices. I have learned through years of working with angry adolescents that the last thing they were willing to hear was my lecture on how they should behave and what better choices they might have available.

The next step was to write down the disadvantages of that solution. This is the part where students usually ran into trouble. Oftentimes, they could not think of any disadvantages, or they did not want to admit or list them.

If students could not come up with potential consequences to their solution, I would ask if they would like me to offer possible consequences. Typically, a student would allow me to suggest negative consequences for discussion. Again, I was careful not to get into parental lecture mode. Instead, I would simply list real consequences. And unless the student could provide evidence that that consequence was not a likely threat, they were written down.

Then, without further ado, we went on to another solution and repeated the process. This tool in the teaching strategies tool-kit led students through the process successfully. The key to success: I typically found that having three viable solutions was all that was needed to start discussing which of the solutions provided the student with the best possible outcome.

Excerpted from Special Needs in the General Classroom, 500+ Teaching Strategies for Differentiating Instruction

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