Decision making is the focus of this week’s Learning and Thinking Skills, as we continue our exploration of developing ‘independent enquirers’pdf-6110155

Decision Making Templates.pdf

The model of enquiry shared previously – the Enquiry Wheel – shows the main stages of a generic enquiry process together with related ‘thinking tools’ to support each stage. These thinking tools can be used in practical, structured activities that help make the skills of enquiry ‘visible’ and explicit to students. As students grow in confidence, however, and become ready to take more responsibility for mapping out the process they will follow, the Enquiry Wheel can serve as a useful toolkit that students can learn to use independently.

In our last issue we looked at the Evaluation Target Board – a thinking tool designed to help students critically evaluate their sources of information, so as to reach conclusions about its value for their enquiry. This time we will look at decision making. In particular we will explore how Decision Making Frames can be used to:

  • Make the process of decision making explicit and challenge pupils to explore what they think ‘effective decision making’ means;
  • Guide students to decide what action they might take, or recommend others to take, as a result of their enquiry;
  • Help students to focus on and uncover the attitudes and values that inform their own decision making and that of others.

Decision Making Frame: preparation
Before sharing a Decision Making Frame with your pupils, challenge them to come up with their own list of ingredients that are essential for ‘making good decisions’. You can support this process by providing them with a humorous, ethical or everyday dilemma for them to solve in small groups – one where competing responses or solutions are likely. One useful source of ethical dilemmas for older students can be found at:

After some thinking time, the students will be keen to share their creative and ingenious solutions, but the most crucial role to be played by the teacher is to help the students think back over how they came to their ‘decisions’. Jerome Bruner describes this as ‘going meta’ or ‘turning around on what one has learned.’ In this case, ‘going meta’ would involve helping students to put their decision making processes into words, so that they can be shared, evaluated and developed further. In this way, students will also develop a sense of ownership over the criteria that they will use to evaluate their own decision making and that of others.

Once your students have developed their own concept of effective decision making, you can share the Decision Making Frame with them and ask them whether they think it would help them to meet all the criteria they came up with during the dilemma exercise. After experimenting with using the frame (see instructions below), students may decide to add further criteria to their list, adapt the frame, or even create a better frame for others to use.

You can also encourage students to talk about the different decisions they make each day as well as the important ‘life decisions’ that we all face, in order to get them thinking about whether decision making in all these contexts is the same: Where would the type of decision making encouraged by the frame be useful and necessary, and where would it not? For further talking points see ‘Decision Making Frame: talking about thinking’ below.

Thinking tool: Decision Making Frame
Decision Making Frames can scaffold the decision making process in a number of ways: they can encourage students to consider whether and why a decision is necessary; examine a range of competing perspectives, options or theories; then weigh up the pros and cons of each option in order to arrive at a reasoned decision. In doing so it slows down the decision making process, and helps to prevent a rush to judgement or snap decision. Click here to download the Decision Making Frame.

Decision Making Frame: instructions

1. Negotiate with your students a key question to guide their decision making. This could relate to an action they might take, or recommend others to take, as a result of their enquiry, e.g. ‘What should be done about child labour?’

2. Ask them to decide upon three possible options in response to the question. Example responses from a year 9 class included: ‘Ban it completely, world-wide immediately!’ ‘Let it continue – people rely on it.’ ‘Enforce existing laws – regulate it properly.’ ‘Introduce alternative income programmes.’

Where relevant, these options could reflect the viewpoints of different interest groups. This would enable you to explore with your students not only the different opinions held, but also the different values underpinning different standpoints, i.e. those more deep-rooted, persistent beliefs about what is really important to people and organisations, whether social, economic, environmental, aesthetic, or moral.

Enquiries that focus on values are essentially about conflicts of values. It is, of course, important to investigate different opinions about an issue and the evidence in favour of different viewpoints, but issues are not resolved merely by rational argument about the facts of a case. Issues are also debated through arguments about what is believed to be most important.

The question of ‘Who has the power to decide?’ and the whole issue of power relations in decision making may also be relevant here.

3. Ask students to evaluate each option by weighing up the pros and cons – including some consideration of what the consequences of each option might be.

To continue the example above, if this was done from the perspective of different interest groups, possible perspectives to explore might include the children themselves, their families, the local economy, the national government and so on.

4. Students use their thinking, as recorded on the grid, to reach a final decision and justify it to other groups.

Decision Making Frame: teaching tips
Allow more experienced learners to formulate the key question or ‘problem’ that demands a decision, and the various options for themselves. With less experienced students, the options could be negotiated as a whole class, or one or more options could be provided for them.

The decision making grid provides a visible record of the students’ thinking that can later be used to scaffold a piece of extended writing.

Examples of different contexts for the use of this thinking tool as part of an enquiry process include:

  • A moral or ethical dilemma in PSHEE, English, R.E. or geography: What would you do?
  • Conflicting interpretations in history: What’s the most likely explanation?
  • A competing set of theories in science: Which is the most likely theory?
  • Reflection on a tactical dilemma in a football match (or other sport): What’s the best course of action?
  • Deciding in citizenship what action to take to improve the local environment: Which problem is the most pressing?

Decision Making Frame: talking about thinking
In the course of the lesson and in the plenary, your students may find the following words useful:

opinion viewpoint perspective beliefoptions alternatives pros/cons advantages/disadvantages argument on the one hand/on the other hand consequences/implicationsevaluate on balance


Questions to help students to reflect upon their decision making process might include:

How did we come to our decision? Who influenced the decision and how? How could a better decision have been made? How did we deal with disagreement?

Would we do the activity differently if we were asked to do it again?

Useful questions to help students consider the importance of context when making decisions include:

Is decision making outside school any different? Can a quick decision ever be a good decision?

Are snap decisions sometimes the best?

Questions that focus attention on values might include:

What attitudes do different people/organisations have about this issue?Why do they think like this? What evidence is there to support their views?What is important to them? What are their underpinning values?What conflicts in values are there? Who has the power to decide?What do I think about the issue? (What is my opinion or feeling?)What is important to me? (Which values are important for me?)

What do I think should be done? What could I do about it?

The thinking tools and strategies shared in recent issues have all been related to the different stages of a generic model of enquiry. Next time we will look at how students can be guided into a deeper exploration of a particular subject’s ‘way of knowing’ – that is, its way of creating new knowledge and understanding in the world, whether through a model of enquiry, a cycle of investigation or a model of the creative process.

* Bruner, J. (1996) The Culture of Education (Harvard University Press) p.88

This e-bulletin issue was first published in November 2008

About the author: Anne de A’Echevarria is the author of the award winning ‘Thinking Through School’. Previously a teacher, PGCE tutor and head of ‘Thinking for Learning’, a research and development team partnered with Newcastle University, she now works as a freelance education consultant and writer.