Lately, I’ve been thinking about classroom culture, specifically math classroom culture. I want to create a culture of asking questions, learning from mistakes, sharing ideas, and justifying answers. Basically, I want my students to participate in rich mathematical discourse, and to do this, I am going to have to create an environment in which they feel safe enough to contribute.
One thing I tried while student teaching was to create a class mission statement. I had the students brainstorm ideas about what our class’s goals and purposes should be, and then we came up with some sort of summary to be the class mission. I didn’t do a great job with this activity and never referred to the mission statement again, but it was a small step in the right direction.
My cooperating teacher had group work norms posted on the wall, and I really liked that idea. I think they could be especially effective if we kept returning to them as class. My cooperating teacher suggested picking one to focus on every day, so I would announce one at the start of group work and tell the kids to keep it in mind as they worked. I didn’t do it every day, but I thought it helped the days when I did it. When I worked as an AVID tutor, I also began each tutorial session with an expectation.
So one thing I definitely want to put on my walls this year is a set of classroom norms. Some really good ones from my cooperating teacher’s wall were: “Reach consensus, not majority rule”, “Ask your group before you ask your teacher”, “Criticize ideas, not people”, and “Ask for reasons, not answers”. I’m definitely going to use those. They are similar to the ones Ilana Horn just posted on her awesome blog, Teaching Math Culture. Sarah Hagan at Math Equals Love also just posted the pdfs of the classroom norms she’s going to put on her wall, so check those out.
It’s also important to keep referring back to the norms. They aren’t just going to magically become part of my classroom, so, as I mentioned earlier, I want to pick one to have the kids focus on each day. We’ll see how that goes. If I’m really good, I might figure out some way to get the kids to reflect at the end of class on how they did with that norm.
How do you create classroom culture? Do you use norms? Which ones have worked in your classroom?