I love rules and I love following them, unless that rule is stupid.
I once knew a group of young adult guys who banded together to rent a house. In their late teens and freed from the shackles of living with their parents, they decided they didn’t want to be weighed down with lots of house rules. They would share all the expenses for groceries, cleaning supplies, and toilet paper, but they would do it without anything written down or tracked. The group went grocery shopping together and split the expense of stocking the house with food and supplies when they moved in. After that, the only rule for replenishing those supplies was that the last person to use an item before it was depleted was responsible for replacing it.
It’s not hard to anticipate what came next. Within a month, there were almost-empty containers of everything throughout the fridge and cupboards — a milk container with about a tablespoon of milk in it, a peanut butter container with a teaspoon left, a cereal box with a few lone Cheerios rattling around the bottom. Eventually, when there was no food or toilet paper, and all that remained was a group of very frustrated roommates, a new system was devised. The problem was that the young adults had no experience living in a community. What looked like an easy solution on paper was a nightmare in real life.
You don’t have to be a rebel at heart to resist rules and constraints. Many of the best systems in schools evolve organically, out of needs as they arise. The trick is knowing which rules are going to be needed from the start, and which are best to reconsider as time goes on. Rules and norms are established in the first days of school, reinforced for a few weeks, and then sometimes forgotten until something goes wrong.
Teachers often find that a rule that works well one year falls apart the next. It could be a new group of students come in with different social norms. Sometimes it’s new furniture or technology that changes the pecking order for preferred spaces to work in classrooms, or favorite tools to use in projects.
When I was working with preservice teachers, I would set aside time during the fifth or sixth week of school to note what wasn’t working well in my classes — anything from how long it took us to get started, to groups that seemed to be churning their wheels during discussions. The week after my observation, I would list three or four trouble areas I’d come up with, and then ask the group to add any other issues I may have missed. The preservice teachers then worked in small groups, with each group coming up with potential solutions to one of the problems. We’d hear out the suggestions, vote on fixes, and then implement the new rules and norms. This was always one of my favorite activities each fall, because it gave me a window into how the students were coming together as a community, as well as a glimpse at their future as smart, compassionate, and problem-solving teachers leading classrooms of their own someday.
Depending on where you live, you are somewhere between two weeks and two months into the school year. Maybe it’s a good time to turn an objective eye on your classroom to figure out which rules are working and which might need a revamp. The more you let your students in on the process, the more invested they will be in making the new rules work.
This week we look at fostering independence in student groups. Plus more as always — enjoy!
Founder, Choice Literacy
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How can you support the “outliers” in classrooms — students with unique needs or profiles who don’t neatly fit into any instructional group? Shari Frost offers some strategies:
Kathy Provost and her colleagues are disappointed with test scores and realize that the quality of student conversations in their classrooms needs a lift:
Google tried to create the perfect team, with some surprising discoveries along the way:
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Tara Barnett and Kate Mills develop a process of pre-assessment, careful planning, and systematic record keeping to up the value of their small groups:
Gigi McAllister tries student-led discussion groups in her fourth-grade classroom, with disastrous results. She regroups the following year with multiple lessons, anchor charts, and preparation to ensure success:
In this week’s video, you can watch Gigi assist a group of students who are trying out bookmarks of discussion prompts for literature groups:
In an encore video, Linda Karamatic observes a second-grade boys book club using tokens as a cue for turn taking, and then discusses her observations with the students:
That’s all for this week!