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.
This past Friday I experienced the “Marketplace” in my son’s second grade classroom. Students had been preparing their wares to sell for weeks prior, and they also had learned a considerable amount of new vocabulary such as consumer, price-point, target audience, and return policy. Equally important was how they earned their own money to spend (or not) on other’s goods in the “Marketplace.” This money, called Hero Bucks, was earned by doing their classroom jobs without being reminded and by being an extraordinary citizen. Students could also be “fined” if they were not demonstrating good citizenship. The Hero bucks system is working to maintain a positive class environment and reflects the community in which the students live, which is a social studies theme for the year. It was evident in the class discussion afterwards that the students had learned a lot about pricing and marketing from their first “Marketplace” experience, and it will be interesting to see what changes they make for the next sale date right before the holidays.
The Hero Bucks and “Marketplace” system was something this new to second grade teacher had been doing for years with her fifth grade students. She and other teachers thought this system would be too complicated and sophisticated for second graders. However, the classroom management system the second grade team had been using, the “flip your card” / “go for the green,” system had the students walking on egg shells, did not really have a positive reinforcement aspect to it, and was giving the teacher nightmares about her students feeling humiliated. (She seriously told us that she was having these nightmares). She reflected on alternative systems, thought about her group of students, and decided to try her old system. To her delight, the system is working even better with the second graders than it did with her fifth graders so far. She is finding many links between their learning goals regarding community, and she has been introducing them to more advanced math concepts such as averaging (how much money the average classmate had to spend at the market place) in order to decide price points for the students’ wares. (They are not expected to perform this more advanced math independently, but they do it together as a class). This is a great example of a teacher raising expectations for her students, reflecting on what is successful and not in her class, and packing learning into every nook and cranny of a very engaging activity. My son is so excited by it all that he came home on Friday and immediately started making ornaments to sell at the next Marketplace even though it is five weeks away.