At what point do classroom norms become abnorms?

Last week I observed a second grade classroom where I was a bit overwhelmed with all of the classroom norms.  Perhaps I was overwhelmed, because I was not part of the process when these norms were established at the beginning of the year. When I arrived in the classroom, the teacher was handing out papers for the students’ mail boxes. She and most of the students sang a “you’ve got mail song” which I believe is from “Elmo’s World.” It is possible that this song makes students aware that the teacher is handing out something that needs to go home, but I am not sure of its purpose. Once the class settled down and began their science exploration, the teacher quite often said, “Scientists!” followed by some instruction. Whenever the teacher said this, the students were to stop whatever they were doing and place their hands on top of their heads. The teacher forewarned us that she would probably do this about twenty times during the class to establish the habit for safety during science, and she did not disappoint. During discussion, after a student spoke, everyone was to say that particular student’s name and clap once. I found that this sudden burst of group noise interrupted my thoughts about what the student had just said. The teacher did often repeat what the student said which was helpful. Not wanting to be a bad example though, I began focusing on joining the class in saying the student’s name (even though I do not know many of their names yet) and doing my clap, which decreased my ability to think about what the student had contributed even further. My guess is that this practice of saying the student’s name and giving a clap is intended to make students pay attention to what their classmates are saying and to support one another. However, I couldn’t help wonder if the students’ abilities to process their peer’s comments were not being interrupted, just as mine was, by all of this saying classmate’s names on the fly, clapping, and putting one’s hands on the head. Some time I hope to have a conversation with the teacher about her reasons for practicing these norms and to what degree she thinks they work for her students. It may be that the students love them and that she sees their attention more focused. In the meantime, what are your thoughts? What practices to maintain students’ attention have you seen that work or don’t work in classrooms?  

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2 thoughts on “At what point do classroom norms become abnorms?

  1. I’ll be right there with you, asking about all of this. The only thing I can think of is that all these rituals are mechanisms for keeping their attention – I know that the table I was at, at least, contained some fairly rambunctious 2nd-graders, and it seems like the rituals were working, at least, to refocus their attention. I know that for one or two of the students I was working directly with: if they’d been allowed to just let their wheels spin, we wouldn’t have gotten much science done; and the “thanking” ritual does actually seem to function at least as a method for getting kids to listen to each other.

    I guess what I’m assuming/hoping is that all of these practices are…essentially temporary crutches to teach normal in-class conduct; I wonder if this teacher has a plan to eventually “wean” her students off these rituals, so that they have a chance to focus on what those rituals are actually pointing them towards – the task, or each other’s thoughts, or what have you.

  2. I appreciated hearing your perspective on that lessons we experienced. I, too, found it a bit disconcerting and disruptive. It will be interesting to see what this week brings. It will be some of our cohort members leading the lesson and yet I feel I do not really understand all the classroom norms and lessons in just that one period. It felt a bit chaotic to me, but then again there were 6 new teachers in the room and that can change the culture a bit, too.

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