The Classroom as a Community

Socialization is an important part of education: learning how to get along with people who have different backgrounds and opinions, considering other perspectives, learning to listen to others, compromising, and being exposed to people and ideas one might not have otherwise gotten the opportunity to engage with.  These are all important lessons to learn, which are not content-related.  I strongly believe that each individual student makes up an integral part of the classroom community.  Proof of this exists when you notice how the dynamics of a classroom change when even a single child is absent, or when a new student joins the room.  Every child comes to school bringing his or her background, culture, personality, beliefs, and prior knowledge, and each child has something unique and special to offer to the classroom.

I believe that this individuality should be shared and embraced, but students also need to learn how their actions affect (both positively and negatively) the rest of the class.  In my classroom, students are encouraged to learn from one another and help each other.  There is an “ask three before me” rule, in which a child with a question needs to ask three of his or her peers before coming to ask me for help.  This way, students begin to learn from one another, and to see how they can help each other.  In my student teaching classroom, the students are arranged in four-person teams (See Artifact CC1), and are often encouraged to work cooperatively with their teammates.  Teams can earn tallies for good behavior, for being prepared, or for having assignments turned in.  At the end of the month, the team with the most tallies gets a reward.  Sometimes it is a small toy; it may be extra recess time, or being allowed to eat lunch in the classroom for an afternoon.  Since they are earning points for a team, and they are not individual points, students begin to see how their actions have consequences for, not just themselves, but for others as well.

Working in teams has many advantages.  It provides the opportunity for students to learn from others’ strengths and allow them to help their peers.  It also teaches teamwork and cooperation, which are important life skills.  While students are given plenty of opportunities to work independently, they also are given assignments to work with their teams.  For example, in Reading students sometimes answer comprehension questions from the story they read in their cooperative teams.  Each student must write the answer to a question, but teams are required to talk about the question together (See Artifact CC2).  For my Social Studies Showcase Unit Plan, the initial zoning activity students did had them working in their cooperative teams to fill in a zoning map as a front-end assessment (See Artifact CC3).  These activities allow students to bounce ideas off each other, and to make decisions about how to complete the assignment as a group, again, building teamwork and decision-making skills.

Of course, not every child works well in teams.  Some students just cannot handle it.  In such cases, students have the opportunity to make their desk into an “island,” in which they move it away from their team, and sit by themselves.  There are no enforced negative consequences for choosing to make an island, but it does mean that the student who has moved cannot engage in the typically permitted chatting in the teams until he or she moves back.  However, I always make sure to offer students the opportunity to move to make the classroom a safe and comfortable learning environment for all students.

Another way the classroom exists as a community is by including the students in the decision-making.  At the very beginning of the year, students helped make expectations charts for the classroom, the hallway, and the bathroom (See Artifact CC4).  These expectations are posted in the appropriate areas around our room.  The important thing is that students offered suggestions, the expectations were written using second grade terms, and the entire class was involved in the decision making and creating of the expectations.  By including students in such actions, they are able to feel like they have some control, the rules are going to be more meaningful, and students are going to feel like they are part of the classroom community because they have helped create that community.

In working together, being provided with opportunities to create rules and expectations, and being encouraged to share their strengths, abilities, personalities, and challenges with one another, students are taught to recognize that their actions have consequences for both themselves and others, learn that they have a strong support system of peers in their own classroom, and are provided with the opportunity to apply their knowledge of how the classroom community works to the “real world.”

Classroom as a Community - The First Day of School

Students working together to complete a math assignment.