Today was the first day of school. I was no where near ready for what I wanted my classroom to look like. I spent most of the two workshop weeks trying to get schedules and other random back to school items figured out. I tend to lend my assistance outside of my room and leave it for the end of the week. Regardless of whether or not I was ready, the students came!
It was great to see the 8th grade students again and hear about the fantastic time they had during the summer break. One thing that I am very excited about this year is that I get to have an all 8th grade homeroom. I really hope that I can use this as an opportunity to build the 8th grade community and develop some leadership skills within the young men and women I spend my days.
I believe that many classrooms begin the year by writing a social contract or a series of rules for the students to follow.
Allowing the students to write the classroom expectations is a powerful activity that provides them with ownership over the learning environment. However, when done poorly this strategy provides little to no buy-in from the students.
I’ve completed this activity in a variety of methods over the years that I have been teaching. I remember the first year being a big flop and subsequent years having it slowly improve. I was pleased with how this particular activity progressed this year.
- I gave each table a stack of quarter sheets of paper. Students responded to the prompt “What gets in the way of learning in the classroom?” on each paper. They wrote one thing on a sheet of paper then took another piece of paper and wrote another thing on that paper. They kept writing for about 8 minutes.
- I had students turn in these concerns and mixed them up. I then passed the concerns back out to tables. They read the set of concerns they received and attempted to write a rule/expectation to address the concern.
- They were asked to group concerns that matched up with each other.
- Once they had written rules to cover all of their concerns, tables shared with each other and combined their rules together from 8-10 rules back down to 4-5 rules.
- Students then shared their rules back out with the class. We recorded all of the rules on the board and combined them to create 4-5 expectations for our classroom.
- Students then nominated their peers to participate in a summit where all the homerooms will gather together to share their expectations and create a final set of expectations for the entire middle school.
At the end of this process, we have a social contract that students and teachers are expected to follow. We create posters with these expectations and students sign off on the social contract agreeing to follow the expectations. We hang these in our classrooms and they stay there for the entire year. We also write these on the top of our Take A Break forms that students fill out when they have to use the buddy room.