Making Good Choices
Decision making is an important skill in life. We make hundreds of decisions a day. Most are trivial and have no lasting impact on our lives while others can be life-changing. All educators strive to help learners become good decision makers.
Marzano (2000) describes the steps of good decision making:
- Think of as many alternatives as you can.
- Think about the good and bad points of each alternative.
- Think about the likelihood of success of the best alternatives.
- Choose the best alternative based on its value and likelihood of success.
Perhaps, the most important stage of decision making is the first one, coming up with alternative responses. People often fail to consider all the possible alternatives when contemplating a decision. They think, “I can do x or I can do y,” never thinking that there might also be a possible z or a, or b or even a 1a or a 2b (Swartz 2000). Important decisions are rarely simple, and the best alternative may only come after careful deliberation. Brainstorming is one technique for generating a large number of alternative responses for decisions.
Once a group of reasonable alternatives has been collected, good decision makers must weigh the benefits and drawbacks to each one in order to make a sound choice. Knowledge plays an important role in this stage of making decisions. Having complete information is essential to making a good decision.
Immature learners often focus on only short-term consequences and also may fail to consider the effect their choices will have on others. It is also a characteristic of human nature that once we come to a decision we think is reasonable, we are unlikely to seriously consider a better one that may come to our attention. We may in fact refuse to accept any evidence that does not support our decision, even if it is credible (Langer, 1989). “Premature cognitive commitments are like photographs in which meaning rather than motion is frozen” (Swartz, 2000, p. 55).
Teaching Decision Making
Many teachers have claimed they were “teaching” their learners decision making by giving them decision-type problems to solve. This method has been found to be the least effective in helping learners learn skills for making good decisions (Swartz).
Effective teaching and learning in making decisions involves specifying a skill to emphasize in a learning activity, or stage of a project. Many different skills may be appropriate, but teaching one skill at a time in depth will produce greater results. Swartz recommends asking oral questions as learners work on decisions, having them work in small groups, making graphic organizers to guide them in the process, and asking them to describe and reflect on their strategies during and after making the decision. Skills taught in this way are likely to transfer to new situations if learners are reminded of the strategies they have studied in the past when they confront new decisions.
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