At the beginning of the school year, it is vital to establish classroom norms and expectations as soon as students walk into your room. While some teachers will use the old-fashioned strategy of “not smiling at the students until Thanksgiving,” this is not a great start to building the community you want for your ELA classroom. Students need to feel safe in order to try new things and be willing to make mistakes. So, how does a teacher create this community environment?
Develop Classroom Rules
Classroom rules and expectations should be displayed in the classroom, so students are able to reference them throughout the year. By having this visual tool, teachers are able to practice and reference the expectations, but also have one-on-one talking points with students that are struggling to follow the classroom rules. This is a great time to work on reflection with students focusing on behaviors that ensure you have a safe classroom. These rules should help students, but also be realistic for their age and grade level. Every student should feel respected by their teacher and peers, so they can thrive in your classroom environment. This should always be your focus when creating classroom rules and expectations.
Have you ever tried creating classroom rules as a class? This is a great way to get student input and create ownership of the rules. This allows students to directly reflect on rules that are needed in order to create a positive, uplifting classroom environment. It also gives students the chance to feel a sense of belonging and reflect on their own behaviors because they were part of the rule-making process.
Create Clear Routines
There should be clear routines that are modeled and practiced from the beginning and throughout the year. Students should know what they are doing when the class period begins to when it ends – a posted daily agenda can help facilitate this by being a quick reference for students. Students love routine and are more successful when they know what the class period will look like. If you want to learn more about classroom routines, check out this post: How to Get Started with Routines and Procedures in Your Middle School Classroom.
There are several ways to ensure your students are focused and ready to learn when they walk in your room. One thing that has been encouraged in the education community is to have your classroom objectives clearly written somewhere in your classroom. This can show students what they will be focusing on this day, which may help students that struggle with anxiety to know what is taking place during the class period. In addition to this, daily warm ups (or bellringers) that are related to ELA skills is a good way to get students focused on learning. You can also have a mental health check in for students, so you are able to understand how your students are coming to you that day.
If you are teaching independent learning or group projects, it is beneficial to have a list to help students stay organized with clear checkpoints. As a teacher, you should have a clear understanding of what the students should be doing, so you know what routines should be taking place. This creates a flow in the classroom where students can reference and ask questions depending on what steps they are on.
Build in Breaks
Throughout the class period, there should be various activities to keep students on task and focused. Students have a lot of energy, and they may struggle to learn if they’re sitting at their desk all period. By creating opportunities for students to move or transition to different activities, they will receive the breaks needed to stay focused on learning.
Encourage Students to Ask Questions
Many students struggle with the confidence to ask questions. By setting clear expectations and rules, this is only the beginning of creating a classroom setting where students feel safe and trust their questions and opinions will be heard and accepted. This may need to be modeled in order to show how it is okay to ask questions. You can model this by showing what questions you may think of while presenting new information to the students. You may have students come up with questions in a smaller group before having students create questions on their own. You could have students practice asking questions by writing them on a sticky note first. By modeling, students are able to see that it is okay to ask questions when they don’t understand and feel comfortable amongst their peers.
If you are going to encourage students to ask questions, it is important for you, as the teacher, to be approachable. You can designate time during your class period to walk around and individually meet with students to give them an ample amount of opportunities to ask questions. Along with this, students should have opportunities in the lesson to ask clarifying questions.
Provide Immediate Feedback
Feedback is a critical component of the learning process and the more immediate it is, the more likely students will be able to use that feedback. Students will be able to immediately use your feedback to refine their work, ask clarifying questions, or continue moving forward. This does not mean that you have to give grades immediately to students; rather, students can receive a quick note or verbal feedback as they are working.
It is also effective to allow students to give feedback to each other, but this environment needs to be directly related to your classroom rules and expectations. Students can bring new ideas to one another, but they can also be some of the biggest supporters in learning. It is important, however, that you have modeled effective, substantive conversations, and students understand how to properly agree and disagree through the feedback process. If you have modeled your expectations on giving and receiving feedback, behaviors are easier to correct in order to ensure this is a time for growth and learning.
Each classroom structure will vary depending on your teaching style, but it is important to build a strong community where students feel safe to learn and make mistakes. Through routines, modeling, and organization, students will effectively learn in a classroom because they will know expectations and routines that are directly used in the classroom. Once you have established a classroom routine, it is much easier to create lessons filled with content-rich curriculum and various activities.