Sunday, April 6, 2014

Feeling Connected in the Classroom

         

            Back to the topic of creating a sense of community in the classroom. Sorry it’s taken me so long. In an earlier post I outlined the six variables that constituted community in neighborhood studies and were also found to relate to the classroom: connection, participation, safety, support, belonging, and empowerment.
            Now I’d like to take one variable at a time and mention some ways we found useful in promoting that construct in the classroom. The study was done in a college class of about 30 students but I think the ideas with some modification would work with larger or smaller classes whether college, high school, or elementary. Please let me know if you think so. Also mention in the comment section other ideas for promoting each of these variables. If you’re willing to do that we could come up with a set of protocols that would really help other teachers. I’m sure that my own ideas are just a simple beginning so please add your ideas, things that you have found that help in creating a community.
            Today I’ll focus on connection and suggest three interventions that worked well for us. Connection for our purposes can be defined by the question: “To what extent do you know other people in the class and socialize with them?”
            1) On the first day of class I encouraged students to get to know the people sitting around them. They were then given five minutes to begin this process and told that on the final exam they would receive an extra three points for knowing something important about the parson who sat next to them on the first day. I used to do the same thing in the huge intro course (622 students).
            2) I would assign community “roles” to student volunteers; a projectionist who would show films that I got from IT (or later show me how to use the so called “smart room,” since I am technologically challenged.); a librarian, who on their way to class would get or return a film or a book I needed; a time-keeper, who from the back of the room would raise their hand to signal that we had only five minutes left; and finally, a censor, who would wave a hand back and forth if my language might be considered off color. I always asked for a volunteer from a very conservative background to be censor. Early on, I hadn’t realized that some of my language was offensive to a minority of the students. Comments that would make most of the class laugh might make a few cringe. Reminding me to respect that sensitive minority was the role of the censor.
            3) Acknowledge birthdays in class, including my own.
            Next week we can examine the variable of participation and suggest some ways of increasing participation, even for the shy student. In the meantime, please add your own comments below. Happy teaching.