After teaching kindergarten for almost 5 years, one of the areas I have grown the most as a teacher is giving choices. I use them everywhere in the classroom, day in and day out.
The Choice of Where to Sit
After my students enter the classroom and do their attendance on the Smart board, they are expected to sit on the carpet and wait for morning prayer and announcements. When I was transforming my room into a more Reggio-inspired space, I chose a neutral colored carpet with no lines, patterns, or pictures.
This means that they have no designated “personal space bubble” as I’ve heard many kindergarten teachers call it. I have no tape, no circle, no name plates or anything like that on my carpet. They are aware they can’t sit on top of each other, but I always give them the choice of where to sit. Different groups act differently. Some choose random spots, some make rows, and some make circles. Just like adults at church, PD days, or in the lunch room, children like to choose the same spot next to the same people as much as they can. Why would I take that choice away from them? The only place I appreciate a seating plan is at a wedding. I HAVE found that I need to remind certain groups of students more than others when it comes to my expectations regarding their behavior if they choose their own spot. This year, I remind my students everyday by saying the following: “The spot that you choose is the spot you choose to look at listen, if you choose not to look and listen, I will choose a spot for you.” After having said that, the ball is in THEIR court to behave and respect the person who is speaking. If I FORGET to say my expectations at the beginning of the day, then it is almost mostly my fault that they didn’t respect the guidelines of choosing their own spot. Also, by NOT saying it, I am giving them an inch and they most usually take a mile.
If they continue to chat or disrespect the speaker, I gently ask them to take my hand and I move them to another spot on the carpet. I don’t ask them to go choose another spot on the carpet, because they already were given the choice of a spot in the first place and chose to lose that privilege. Remember, I also told them that if they choose not to respect the speaker, I WILL CHOOSE ANOTHER SPOT FOR THEM. And as a teacher, I need to follow through on that.
The Choice of How to Sit
I also give my students lots of choice of HOW to sit. I’m not one of those “criss cross, applesauce” teachers and I also don’t have an “anchor chart” (and the only reason I know what an anchor chart is is because of Pinterest) with a visual of criss crossed legs and hands in the lap, etc. If your students need a visual and you are comfortable with that, by all means GO FOR IT! It’s just not my style, and each teacher to their own. This year with so many students, we can’t by any means spread out on our bellies or else I would have kids touching the far back wall of the classroom, so I usually do ask them to contain their listening position as much as they can. If a student is on their knees, on their tummy, wants to sit on the couch, or a chair…I let them. Frequently, if I see a student is having a difficult time listening to the speaker, or are chatting their partner’s ear off, during large group activities, I will crouch beside them and say “I understand you are having some uncomfortable feelings about respecting the person who is listening. You have two choices. You can sit on the carpet with your friends and respect the person who is speaking, or you can sit on a chair next to the carpet and respect the person who is speaking. Which one would you like?” That way, the option of NOT RESPECTING THE SPEAKER isn’t there. They know that is not an option. This technique works great every. Single. Time.
The Choice of When to Eat
I abandoned the idea of everyone eating at the same time A LONG TIME AGO. And it was one of the best decisions I ever made. During the year, I went from everyone eating at the same time to making the snack station a centre (which I know my pals @happycampergirl and @mattBgomez have done) to just letting the students eat whenever they want. Adults eat whenever they want, within reason, so why not the students? They DEFINITELY aren’t hungry all at the same time, so why should I choose when they eat? Simple. I don’t choose anymore. Lots of teachers ask me “Don’t you get in trouble from parents if a student doesn’t finish their whole snack or chooses not to eat?!” My response: “Ummmm, no. My job is to help them learn how to self-regulate themselves and choose what they need and when. And that sounds like babysitting, and I’m not a babysitter.” My students all get their snack from their backpack on their own (after asking in French), eat what they want, and then clean up after themselves. One less thing for me to worry about.
The Choice of How to Behave
I also find choices work well when we are leaving the classroom to go somewhere or when I need to remind my students of my expectations in general.
Ex: “When we go to the library, are we going to walk or run?”
Ex: “When you go put your snack away, are you going to yell or whisper with your friend?”
Ex: “When we walk to the gym, are we going to sit on the black circle, or stand on the green line?”
This is perfect because I have had students in the past who can’t verbalized the correct answer. When you give them a choice of two, the answer is clearer. And for your behavior students, you have given them an extra reminder without singling them out.
Choices also work well when dealing with emotional events. I had a student the other day who was upset because they had to go out for recess and it was too cold. (Pffffft, in CANADA right?) I talked to them for a bit about how recess was so much fun and how all their friends were going outside and blah blah blah and the WHOLE NINE YARDS but they were having none of it. The student started to get a little annoyed with me, and to be quite frank, they got a little mean! I explained to them how I was trying my best to cheer them up and the recess would be fun as soon as they got out there. The student’s face stayed the same, was upset, and still refused to go outside. Listen people, it was like minus 9 degrees. I gave the student two choices and said to them: “I am trying my best to help you and I understand you still have uncomfortable feelings about going outside. Unfortunately, at recess time, all the students need to go outside so that their teachers can have their snack too. You have two choices. You can get ready with me and I will help you put on all your outside gear. Or you can get ready with Mme X (an EA). Which would you like to do?” The choice of NOT going outside wasn’t there, so naturally the student quickly chose to get read with me since they knew me and they didn’t know the other teacher. Teacher WIN.
The Choice of Answers for Language Learners
Teaching French immersion means I have on average 0-2 kids per year who know any French language before entering the classroom. Sometimes they know the answer they would like to express, but they don’t know the answer in French! I like to give them a choice if answers to help them it. For example, the other day we were celebrating a birthday party in the class. The little girl had brought cupcakes. Here is how our conversation went.
Me: “Quelle couleur aimerais-tu?” (What colour would you like?)
Me: “Quelle couleur?”
Me: “Quelle couleur?”
Me: “Aimerais-tu bleu ou rose?”
I helped that student verbalize her answer in French and helping her succeed by giving her the choice between two colours.
The Choice of What to Play
During the day, I also give my students the choice of what to play. I mentioned in a previous blog post about how I have my class divided into two so that I can work with half and my EA can work with half. The students are then broken up into even smaller groups within that half group (did I confuse you yet?) and while they are waiting to work with me or my EA, they can play. I don’t have cards or stations or centers or buddies or times or visual schedule choices or anything of that nature. It’s just play. Play is SO SO SO SO important and they are only with me for a half day, so I give them as much time for play as I can. “But what if they want to play the same thing all the time for days and days and days on end with the same people?!” some teachers ask. And I’m not gonna lie, I worried about this too. It then I looked. And I observed. They were engaged. They were speaking. They were collaborating. They were using social skills. They were laughing. They were smiling. They were being kids. They were not misbehaving, saying mean things, running around like chickens on Red Bull (weeeeeelll sometimes that happens, but what can you do) and so I just left it at that. Happy kids enjoying what they chose to do. Kids being kids. Purposefully.