Inside: Students need to learn how to take charge of their learning. This involves developing independence and metacognition…along with some focused classroom norms that give students a voice.
I taught freshmen for eleven years before transitioning to middle school. At the high school level, I also worked with sophomores and seniors, but I was always drawn to freshmen. After being in a middle school for several years, I’ve noticed some similarities among 6th – 9th graders.
At these ages, students tend to need some targeted executive functioning support. Creating classroom norms is an ideal place to start. Once we have them, we can refer back to them throughout the year. And, if we include students in developing ways they can take charge of their learning, they’ll own whatever we collectively create.
Consider these two approaches:
1. Our classroom norms, which everyone will be expected to follow, are…
2. I would love to begin developing our classroom community together by creating a safe and productive learning space we will all enjoy. Would you be willing to help develop some classroom norms to make that possible?
Norms are different from classroom rules in that students participate in drafting them. They’re generally positive, inclusive, and productive. Including students when writing classroom norms is more time consuming than simply doing it ourselves. But, in the long run, it will save us time by reducing classroom management issues and adding dividends to our relationships with students.
HOW TO CREATE CLASSROOM NORMS
Make sure students know the significance of what you are asking them to do. They are helping to establish the tone for how the class will run for the entire year! You care about them. You want their ideas. Their voices matter. Including them in the creation process means they will remember these norms…and act upon them more regularly.
In face-to-face situations with students, I create classroom norms using big paper and stations. In groups, students rotate from station to station and, after reading the heading on each big paper, contribute ideas to that huge sticky note.
Virtually, you could do this same thing through Google Slides, Padlet, or a discussion post on your LMS. Label each slide with a different heading you would have used on the big paper, and then have students take some time to contribute to each slide.
In any setting, classroom meetings are the perfect place to create classroom norms with students. It helps to build community. Feel free to show them my example and use it to create classroom norms for your own unique circumstances.
To choose headings for your big paper or virtual slides, I suggest digging into your classroom rules.
Example: Come prepared. Be respectful. Take charge of your learning.
Using these labels to create classroom norms is a way to expand the rules into specifics. If a classroom rule is too broad and students don’t really understand the behaviors and attitudes inherent in that rule, how can they buy into it? What does it look, sound, and feel like to come prepared? to be respectful? to take charge of your learning?
At first, I was leery. What if students don’t develop the norms I want them to establish? What if it takes too long? We have to abandon these “what ifs.” Relationships and classroom community are built through discussion, through getting to know one another, and by valuing each person in the physical or virtual room. Relationship-building conversations can take time, but they will allow us to cover more ground in a positive environment in the long run.
And, if the norms students create don’t include your ideas, it’s okay. You can mix your ideas with theirs. I love what all of you came up with. I’m going to reflect on all of these tonight and see if there is anything else we might be missing. We can revisit these tomorrow and discuss the updated version. Then, create your succinct list that includes the major ideas students brought up combined with your most important norms, and share the new chart with students the next day.
EXAMPLE CLASSROOM NORMS
It can be helpful to brainstorm classroom norm options with other teachers. I’ll share some examples I’ve used before when teaching students to take charge of their learning. Feel free to adapt some of them for your own classroom.
- Bring a charged device (iPad, Chrome book, etc.).
- Bring an independent reading book every day.
- Be in your seat, ready to learn, when the bell rings.
- Double-check your work and the assignment directions.
- Bring a positive attitude.
- Listen while others are speaking, and respect others’ concentration during independent work time.
- Use your planner to stay organized.
- Stay focused during lessons and work time.
- Do your work yourself, and do your best.
- Have grit. Don’t give up!
- Participate constructively.
- Be a leader.
- Be honest.
- Use your time wisely.
- Ask questions.
- Talk with the teacher.
- Use your resources (book, videos, etc.).
- Be kind and encourage your peers.
- Take notes and study them.
- Have a growth mindset. Enjoy. your learning. Be thankful!
REVISIT THE NORMS OFTEN
As you are teaching, make sure to display the norms in a prominent location. Face to face, this may mean an anchor chart on a focal point wall. Virtually, you may want to create a GIF that scrolls through all of the norms individually. TallTweets is a great website that transitions Google Slides to GIFs for free. Or, display the classroom norms behind you during Google Meet or Zoom sessions.
Any time students (or you!) stray from the agreed upon classroom norms, refer back to them, and re-establish the goal. Talk about the impact of straying from those norms. How does it impact the class? How does it affect individual students?
With classroom norms, students know what is expected. Traditionally and remotely, clarity of expectations can impact teacher credibility. Asking students to help define the learning environment in a way that supports their own self-advocacy skills is powerful. And? It’s never too late to start.
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