Sunday, December 20, 2009

Classroom Norms

I had an interesting experience setting classroom norms and rules in one of my classrooms at the beginning of the year. I'm reminded of this episode as we get closer to student teaching, because I will have to reset norms with my students. At the beginning of the year, I used a process that one of the other classroom teachers used, and that my cooperating teacher wanted to try out. It involved asking students in groups to come up with classroom norms that would allow them to do their best learning. From the group lists, one class list was generated. And then from this list each group picked one that was most important, to create a class list of norms. There was a discussion (pretty quick) to determine if anything important was missing or should be taken off. Then the prescribed process was to okay each norm by having all students raise their hand to signal their agreement to the norm. If they didn’t raise their hand, then there was a discussion about why and what should be done to modify the norm to make it acceptable. I received pushback during the hand-raising portion from several students. Several students refused to raise their hands and didn’t have a response when asked why they didn’t want to agree with the norms. One particular student said it felt like “middle school,” because so many of the norms were obvious (like respect, communicate). On the fly we modified the procedure so that everyone could raise their hand for the entire group of norms. Looking back at the process I would agree with my students’ complaints. The process did feel very artificial. First, the students didn’t really come up with any norms that I wouldn’t have come up with myself, and they weren’t all that well detailed, explained, or justified. It felt like students were just repeating words that they had been trained to say. Also, they didn’t have any real sense of having power over the situation. Did they know (or did I know) how much they could actually influence the norms? Finally, the hand-raising process was slow and tedious and students didn’t really have any choice but to accept; it felt like coercion. When I think back to classes and seminars I’ve taken, the norms are either implicit or the teacher lists some possible norms and then asks for input, which accelerates the whole process. I think using a similar process could have worked with this group of students.

No comments: