I spent the majority of my first class of the semester – or I should say, the students spent the majority of their first class creating community norms, or classroom guidelines. This exercise was valuable for a number of reasons.
First, it gives the students ownership over the classroom experience. Rather than dictating rules and guidelines myself, the students developed them collaboratively.
Second, it is an exercise in metacognition. I encouraged students to think about effective learning environments, which means they had to think about how they learn.
Third, it’s possible we will touch on some sensitive or controversial topics this year and I want the students to have a set of guidelines that they can return to in the case that discussions get heated. That they developed these guidelines themselves means I can re-direct without resorting to “because I’m the professor, that’s why.” Instead, I can refer back to the student-generated norms to address conflict in the classroom.
How I did it?
I’m sure there are a number of ways to do this exercise. Here’s what I did:
- I had the students think individually for 2-3 minutes about what makes an “effective learning environment” for them. I suggested they consider past learning environments and what made some effective and others not.
- Next, I gave small groups a large sticky sheet and some sharpies and asked them to come to a group consensus on six community norms.
- I had each group rotate to a different group’s sticky note and put a star next to norms they agreed with and a question mark next to norms they wanted to discuss further.
- As a class, we discussed the norms marked with a question mark and tried to reach consensus.
- I took the groups’ lists back and made one master list that I will display in class, at least for a few weeks as a reminder.
What norms did they identify?
Exactly what I would have listed myself, and then some. The image to the right is the merged list that I made. The focus was on respectful and inclusive participation, with some variation in the language used to express those ideas.
I hope that this encouraged the students to take ownership over the learning environment and I look forward to seeing how this exercise shapes participation this semester.