Part of the Process’ blog and her reference to Jennifer Orr’s blog both have me thinking about the degree to which classroom community is linked to the teacher. The teacher should orchestrate the building of the community at the onset of the school year and facilitate the ongoing maintenance of it, but it should not fall apart when the teacher is not there. How in the world do you ensure this does not happen? I don’t have the answers yet, but some thoughts I had while reading the article “Talking in Class” by Johnston, Ivey, and Faulkner, for my literacy teaching methods course come to mind. The students in the classroom referred to in this article have been taught through modeling by the teacher how to have classroom discussions and one on one conversations in such a way that evokes thinking and debate, all of the while maintaining respect for one another and a safe atmosphere. Similar focus on non-judgmental language and open ended questioning being used to both further learning and create a safe atmosphere for exploring and failing on the often bumpy road to success are explicitly written about in Classroom Discussions: Using Math Talk to Help Students Learn. “The notion of community is not simply about such things as . . .negotiating class plans and policies . . If we intend to capitalize on the possibilities that social spaces offer for learning, we can say things to help children attend to each other, see each other as resources, and build relationships” (2011, Johnson et. al, p.237). In other words students need to be responsible to one another in a strong learning community, not just to themselves and their teacher.
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?
The initial answer to this question is obviously so that students can hear their teacher and fellow students during teaching and discussion and so that students can concentrate while working. I agree that students need to be quiet and orderly during those times so that everyone has an opportunity to learn. What about when they line up? What about when they walk through the hallways if there are not other classes nearby to disturb? What about at lunch time?
I have questioned this when teachers leave first graders waiting and standing in line until everyone is quiet, which actually seems to make it more difficult for the students to be quiet the longer they stand there. I have questioned this as I am expected to keep students quiet as I lead them through the first floor of a school at a time when all of the classes on that floor are headed to lunch or recess. I have questioned this when I see a stop light for noise level in the lunch room (located a fair distance from classrooms) which is there to warn students when they are becoming too loud. A friend recently told me that at her daughter’s school a new principal is now not allowing the students to talk at all during lunch and has discontinued the movies that used to be shown in the lunch room on Fridays.
Maybe as I continue to work in school I will come to understand logical reasons for these choices. Right now, I am of the opinion that we need to be fair judges of each situation and not just assume we are doing a fabulous job because we have a roomful or hallway full or lunchroom full of quiet children. Of course, I do not want bedlam, but these are children – social beings – just like the rest of us. I certainly would not want to have to eat silently when lunching with my friends!