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.
An experienced teacher was advising me about a specific method of read-a-loud called “text to self” this week and pointed out that, especially with this particular method, I need to relate to the text personally and think those connections out loud to the students as I read the book to them. (My connections to the books I had been thinking of reading to the students all had to do with my own two children rather than to myself). The purpose of thinking these connections out loud is to model how good readers stop and ask questions, think about, and connect or define what they do not connect with in the text as they are reading. It occurred to me that making subject matter personal to the students, or even as in this particular case, revealing how it is personal to the teacher could be the key to engaging students in any subject area. Perhaps this is why I never had a favorite subject in school; it really depended on the teacher. Maybe those teachers were the ones who found a way to connect material to me personally or who were brave enough to reveal how they connected to it. The focus should be on the students’ learning and self-expression of that learning, but the teacher revealing her or himself every so often teaches students that the classroom is not only a safe place to “put yourself out there” but how making a personal connection makes subject matter more relevant and interesting. Even as people around the world spend more time behind screens, they are doing so in order to make personal connections by either expressing themselves personally or by learning from others’ expression. So, create a safe space and make it all personal for your students and for yourself.