Creating Class Rules: A Beginning to Creating Community
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This simple shared-writing activity can establish a foundation for ongoing community-building in the classroom. It engages students in thinking about the process of learning and the behavioral and community needs which support a productive classroom environment. At the beginning of the school year, students are led through a discussion designed to establish goals and needs for the classroom. Students first respond to the prompt: "Why are we here?" After listing and discussing their ideas, they respond to the prompt: "What do we need?" Students refer back to their first list of reasons in order to what they need to meet those goals. This activity encourages students to become contributing, consensus-building members of their classrooms.
Books about Friends, Relationships, Community: Use books from this booklist to reinforce the idea of community and friendship in the classroom.
From Theory to Practice
In his article "Building Community through Poetry: A Role for Imagination in the Classroom", Chapman Hood Frazier states: "good teaching involves creating an environment that supports students and allows them to explore, discover, and question their assumptions about the class, the content, the world, and their perceptions in a situation of mutual support." Giving students the opportunity to provide input on classroom goals and expectations helps them become productive participants in community building and may help increase their intellectual as well as social development. In Beyond Discipline: From Compliance to Community, Alfie Kohn contrasts the idea of controlling students' behavior with an approach where students work together to create caring classroom communities. The underlying premise is that complying with someone else's expectations for how to act fails to help students develop socially or morally.
Common Core Standards
This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.
This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.
NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts
- 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).
Materials and Technology
- Chart paper and colored markers
- List of Books about Friends, Relationships, and Community
- participate in group discussions about learning.
- identify and agree on classroom goals and needs.
- refer to established goals on a long-term basis in a variety of ongoing classroom events and activities.
- Gather students together for discussion. Have them brainstorm some ideas about why they come to school, using as many leading questions as necessary (e.g., "Why are we here?" "What do we do at school?" "Do you enjoy being with friends at school?"). Be sure to lead students into addressing the social as well as academic aspects of school, such as making friends and learning from other people.
- Put up a chart paper and write, "Why Are We Here?" at the top. Tell students you would like to make a list of their reasons for coming to school. Using the prompt, "Why are we here?" make a list of students’ responses on the chart. If students suggest something that is already covered by a list item, stop and talk about the items; you want to avoid having a list that is extremely long and overly complex. A workable list might have as many as ten items listed. Make sure that the list includes both academic and social purposes for coming to school.
- Possible student responses may include items such as the following:
- learn to read
- write stories
- make friends
- share with others
- learn to read
- When the list is complete, review and talk about each item. Make a last call for anything that might be missing from the list. If students have not included "fun" somewhere on the list, you might want to add it on as your contribution. Inform students that they will be using the list the next day to help them think about what we all need to do inside and outside the classroom to make sure we accomplish all the things on the chart.
- Gather students together for discussion. Review the list of items on the chart from Session One. Have a short discussion about what you might see students doing in a classroom where everyone is able to learn.
- Put up a second chart paper next to the first one. Write "What Do We Need?" at the top. Have students read the first item on yesterday’s chart, and ask what they will need to do in order to achieve that goal. For example, if the first item is "read books," you might ask them what the classroom needs to sound like if people want to be reading, or what people would be doing if they were sitting close to someone who is trying to read. Since the goal is to have students create the expectations, leading questions should only be used if students are having a hard time understanding what they are being asked to do.
- Refer to each item on the first chart to help students create the second chart. There will not be a one-to-one correlation of items from chart to chart; rather, you will want to make sure that enough needs are listed to support all items on the first chart.
- When both charts are complete, have students read each item aloud, either in turn or as a group. Ask for a last call for anything that might be missing from either chart.
- Post both charts in a visible area. These two charts will become the official "classroom guidelines," to be returned to periodically throughout the year as situations arise that call for different "needs" to meet expanding goals.
- Focus the "guidelines" on specific areas in the classroom, for example the reading corner or the computer area. Students could brainstorm (with some teacher guidance) what would be appropriate use of the computer(s), especially if the number of terminals is limited.
- Have students who give suggestions do the actual chart writing. If spelling is an issue, the charts can be proofread and rewritten on another day before posting them on the wall.
- For older students, use "Where Do We Want To Go?" and "How Do We Get There?" as the brainstorm prompts.
- Use the charts as resources to support classroom meetings in which social conflicts are addressed.
Student Assessment / Reflections
This activity isn't necessarily graded, but anecdotal evidence may be used to reinforce the value of the official documents the class has created. These could include:
- teacher observation of student participation in the initial group discussions.
- ongoing student reference and suggested additions/revisions to information on both charts.
- student participation in classroom meetings or discussions which address student learning needs.
- student reflective writing (journals, problem reports, etc.) which refer to chart information.