Wrong, wrong, wrong. Establishing, is the wrong word, why build something to let then crumble?
The idea of having an activity at the beginning of the year to build a classroom community (e.g find someone who ....can juggle) is described by Kathy Greely as lame. How is this going to affect the people leaving our classrooms, how will it affect their academic success?
The solution is not to think in terms of only establishing a classroom community, but how to maintain and strengthen it.
I have been increasingly concerned over one of my classes of late, it is a class that has a few disaffected students whose behaviour has had to be managed. I'm not adverse to a bit of behaviour management, but in terms of affecting student learning, I'd rather focus my energies elsewhere. I must admit I've had to work hard to establish the basic behaviours in this class. However, a few months after I started writing this post I am seeing a wonderful improvement not only in behaviour, but how they are with one another and how they approach their studies. I'm really pleased for them,
So what did I do to improve the situation. On reflection the following strategies have been most helpful, in no particular order they are:
1. What good learners do? Agree it, refer to it, amend it.
I do this with every class at the start of the year, but the craft is then to use it regularly, when things are going well and when things are not going so well. I'd say this is possibly the central pillar to my classroom practise.
Changing groups. Regularly, with the clear stated purpose of we work with everyone in our community, We can learn from and help everyone else learn. The consistency of this approach is key, and not being tempted by groupings that appear to work.
3.Learning intentions, be explicit.
Make aspects of how you want students to be as part of lesson success criteria, whether it's a learner attribute or how they are as part of the community.
4. Show how it happens in your organisation. How do the adults do it.
We are very fortunate to have glass walls in the offices and work areas so students get to see how the staff interact. However, they are oblivious to this unless it is pointed out to them.
5. Maintain a no put down zone. Vigorously defend each students to make mistakes safely in public, without fear of someone ridiculing them. Praise effort and thank students for their ideas, and use them as useful start points to teaching.
5. Public critique and public exhibition.
This is based upon the previous one. However, I think these are an ideal place to strengthen the community. Be sure always to use the Feedback norms, in every session.
Inviting outside visitor in to see student work communicates in no uncertain terms that what the students are learning is important beyond their classrooms
6. Refer to the students locality.
Establishing a sense of pride of the school and the wider location is good way to help students feel connected to where they are from. This can be a big motivator. I often frame projects to do this.
7. Debrief and feedback.
White hat feedback is best as it's non judgemental. This places the responsibility back with the students. Photographs, quotes, tally, contribution pie charts are all recommended to help do this. I have found these cards helpful in making very clear how I expect the students to act.
8. Establish Quality Criteria for the behaviours that you want, the nature of establishing and agreeing these is in itself useful in developing the community you want. Although these are done by negotiation (and rightly so) they have the huge benefit of having sophisticated behaviours in child friendly language.
My interest in the idea of sharing pedagogical purposes comes directly with the contact I have had with the Project for Enhancing Effective Learning at Monash University in Australia. Now each of these teachers were very active in establishing learning agendas with their classes. The impact they were having was inspiring. Each classroom tool can have a purpose beyond delivering content, and this needs to be shared.
I suppose the purpose of this website is collate, crystalise and open dialogues about how to increase this within classrooms. As the quote from Carl Bereiter illustrates this classroom methodology can empower our students.