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Revitalizing the Learning Journey: Mid-Year Classroom Norms Check-In

Introduction

Up here in the Northern Hemisphere, we've entered the stretch of the school year where teachers and students are likely experiencing some fatigue. The holidays seem long ago, and the end of the year sometimes feels forever away. Let's check in. How's your school year going? How would you describe the culture of your classroom? What strategies and practices have you been using?


A big part of learner-centered culture is thinking through the roles of teachers and students in a classroom. Sometimes we only consider our own actions and responsibilities, but for something to be genuinely learner-centered, our students need to be our partners. Here's how we've described this previously:

Sometimes we only consider our own actions and responsibilities, but for something to be genuinely learner-centered, our students need to be our partners.

Role of Teachers and Students

Teachers and students collaboratively establish and revisit working agreements, engaging in meaningful discourse while the teacher fosters learning by posing probing questions and assigning challenging tasks with tailored support, allowing students to shoulder the cognitive load actively.


So The Role of Ts & Ss Has More Of:

And Less of:

  • The class creating and revisiting working agreements

  • Students engaging in discourse with one another

  • The teacher saying things like, "Can you say more about that?" "Why do you think this is the case?" "What criteria do you use…?"

  • The teacher setting the stage for learning with a developmentally appropriate challenging task but providing necessary support for student success

  • Students taking on the cognitive load

  • Class rules that the teacher creates without student input

  • Students directing their responses only to the teacher in discussions

  • The teacher saying things like, "That is correct"

  • Over or under scaffolding of tasks

  • The teacher being responsible for most of the thinking in class


Creating Norms

At the beginning of the school year, I heard from several folks that they wanted to create shared classroom norms to catalyze that learner-centered culture. Creating shared norms is a fairly ... err... NORMal place to start in creating a learner-centered culture. (I'm sorry for the pun. I just had to do it!) Just in case you're unfamiliar, our eBook, Connecting Together, has some guidance on norms:


"Classroom norms are shared expectations and procedures of a class to help structure interaction, ensure fairness, and create a safe climate for all. It becomes a collaborative process with shared responsibility and ownership that everyone self-regulates, instead of the teacher making and enforcing behavior expectations."


Here's an example of how to create shared norms with your students. (By the way, it's never too late in the year to try this!)

Getting Ready

You will need chart paper, markers, and stickers (3 to 5 per person). Using chart paper, create a blank poster for each group of 3-4 students with the following headings: Individual, Student to Student, Teacher to Student/Student to Teacher, Everyone in the Shared Space.


How to Do It

  1. Share context and purpose with the class, letting them know the goal is to reach a consensus on classroom norms & working agreements.

  2. Allow learners to reflect individually first. Some questions you might ask:

    1. When do you learn best? What is going on around you? What does it look like? 

    2. What makes it hard for you to learn? What is going on around you? What does it look like?

    3. We want everyone to feel safe and comfortable to learn in this space. How should we behave and treat each other? What can you agree to do?

  3. Place learners in small teams of 3-4 to share their responses. They should identify common themes and trends.

  4. Distribute chart paper, markers, and stickers. Each team writes their own classroom norms on the chart paper, sorting them into the four areas:

    1. Individual

    2. Student to Student

    3. Teacher to Student/Student to Teacher

    4. Everyone in the Shared Space.

  5. Have teams do a walkabout to visit all the posters. As teams visit posters, they should note the types of working agreements.

  6. After reviewing all the posters, students should conduct a second walkabout. This time, individuals should have their stickers in hand. Each person gets to “vote” with their stickers: they should place a sticker next to a specific statement they are willing to agree to. Individuals should repeat this until they have used all of their stickers.

  7. Any statement without votes can be eliminated from the upcoming discussion. The teacher facilitates a discussion to reach a class consensus on the norms and working agreements. Use the number of votes as a means to guide the discussion.

  8. Capture the final version of these norms on a poster that remains visible in the classroom.


Revisiting Norms

I want to let you in on a secret: the real magic lies not just in creating these norms but in giving them a regular check-up, kind of like updating your favorite playlist. Successful classrooms aren't afraid to hit the repeat button on norm revisiting and, when needed, throw in a remix. I've visited countless classrooms across the world, and in the most dynamic ones, revisiting norms isn't just a routine check-in with class rules posted that are posted on the walls. In these classrooms, the norms become the heartbeat that keeps the community alive and thriving.

I want to let you in on a secret: the real magic lies not just in creating these norms but in giving them a regular check-up, kind of like updating your favorite playlist.

If you haven't done so recently, now is the ideal time to revisit norms with your learners, and I'd love to offer some ideas and reflective prompts to help:

Timing

Individual/Small Group/Whole Group

Prompt

As a journal prompt at the start of class

Individual

"Choose a norm from our chart that you will focus on today. How will you contribute to bringing that norm to life?"

At the start of class

Individual and then Whole Group

(Distribute green and yellow sticky dots to students) "Review our norms and consider how we've been growing and learning together. - Then, put one green sticky dot next to a norm we're practicing well. - Also, put one yellow sticky dot next to a norm on which we can improve." Facilitate a discussion around their thoughts.

As a table discussion at the start of class and then a facilitated discussion at the end.

Small Group and then Whole Group

"Each person in your team will be responsible for collecting evidence for a different norm today. Each person should be focused on a different norm. At the end of the day, you'll note whether the evidence shows that we're strong in that norm or whether it's an area in which we can improve." Facilitate a discussion around their thoughts.

Before a learning event in class (discussion protocol, lab, interviews, work time, etc.)

Small Group and then Whole Group

"We're about to engage in _________. Discuss with your team which of our norms will be important to keep in mind today?" Facilitate a discussion around their thoughts.

As an exit ticket towards the end of class

Individual with a Whole Group debrief the next day

"Review the norms we created together. Then, respond to these questions on two separate sticky notes:

  • Which norm is going well?

  • Which norm can we improve on?"

A discussion towards the end of a class period

Whole Group

"What do we want to add to our norms to ensure we continue to grow as a community and be more productive?"


Using the prompts above to revisit classroom norms will give your students space to reflect on their own growth and the classroom culture. It also says to them, "It's okay to notice when things aren't okay. We'll all work together to improve those things." Hopefully, this reflective practice will carry over into their personal lives, so they have one more tool to continue to build healthy relationships outside of school. After all, isn't helping our students be the best version of themselves what teaching is all about?


Conclusion

What practices do you use to keep classroom norms alive? Be sure to let us know! If you're looking for more ideas, check out our previous blog post, Culture: the Secret Sauce of Learner-Centered Success.

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