Classroom Culture and Content Delivery
ESTABLISHING A SHARED CLASSROOM CULTURE
Once you get into the classroom, building community and cohesion among the members of the class will help you to create a positive classroom culture. But how are you and your students, essentially a group of strangers, supposed to become a community? While it might seem daunting, a few easy steps can make it feel intimate even on the first day.
Build Classroom Community: From the very first class, use introductions and icebreakers as a way to build the community in the classroom. This TATP resource Community Building: Getting to Know your Class provides eleven simple community-building activities. For your part, learning students’ names can decrease anonymity and make students accountable to the group. Community Building: Getting to Know your Class also offers some suggestions for ways to learn students’ names over time or at least be able to call on students by name with the help of name cards. And encourage your students to learn each others’ names too. In classes of fifty or more students, you can create classroom community by having students regularly participate in small-group activities. This fosters peer-to-peer learning. For classes of all sizes, suggest that students study together or share contact information so that they can reach each other outside of class.
Create Respectful Classroom Etiquette: Once you have established some community in the classroom, you can also invite students to help shape how that community will run. For example, collaborate with students to create guidelines for respectful classroom etiquette. This can either be done as a discussion, for classes with less than fifty students, or facilitated through a questionnaire (on paper or online), for classes with more than fifty students. Making students part of this process will likely increase their sense of responsibility toward their classmates. Include yourself in the classroom community by also telling students what they can expect from you.
Facilitate Respectful and Thoughtful Discussions: Discussion of this nature requires planning, but when done well, it can stimulate conversations that benefit both the smallest and largest class sizes. Facilitating conversations in which students add to each other’s comments and you add to theirs is more beneficial than competing for one right answer. In a class of fifty or less, this is fairly easy to facilitate in the classroom. For classes of fifty students or more, this might be easier to facilitate online. By prioritizing ideas over the need to be right, you can encourage collaboration rather than competition among students. For example, have students read different parts of the readings or perform different parts of a problem. Then they will need to collaborate to put all the ideas or solutions together. You can stimulate diverse discussion by occasionally asking open-ended questions that do not have one right answer so that students can all contribute something without making anyone else necessarily wrong. Students ought to have the chance to support each other as well as challenge each other. Providing space for students to respectfully disagree with their classmates and with you will develop their critical thinking capacity. When possible, engage students in shaping the course of discussion. For example, have students develop discussion questions and share them in advance on Quercus.
Be a role model of community-building values: You can do this by being inclusive in your own behaviour and interactions. And make sure that all rules for the students also apply to you. When responding to students answers, try substituting answers like, “yes, but…” for responses like “yes, and….” One word swap can make all the difference to a student who was nervous about speaking up in the first place, and can do a lot to foster feelings of inclusion for all students in the class. Take every opportunity you have to share your community-building values in class, on the syllabus, and on Quercus.
THE FIRST CLASS
Now that you have your course set up and have your lesson plan ready to go, it is time to get ready for the first class! Taking the leap into the first class can be daunting – but your careful preparation has put you in a good position for success. To give you just a few more tips on preparing for the first class, take a look at the TATP handout The First Class, which offers suggestions for handling first-class nerves, how to explain core course policies to your students, and setting the stage for an engaging learning environment. The CTSI also provides tips on First Class Strategies.