Developing and Fostering a Positive Classroom Community
Developing and fostering a positive classroom community for grades 4-6 with a focus on the social cohesiveness and development of the group is possible with attention to community building, communication norms and skills, collaborative activities and development of compassion. With these skills developed, it is also possible to naturally confront the bullying issue.
Creating Caring Classrooms, by Kathleen Gould Lundy and Larry Swartz, is the primary source for this page. The book is packed with games, black line masters and activities and is a very worthwhile resource. Hyperlinks indicate other sources used.
20 practices for establish a groundwork for creating classroom as a community:
1. Write end-of-summer letter to families 2. Prepare a welcoming environment
3. Create a space that works 4. Greet the students by name 5. Connect with the parents
6. Set class rules and routines 7. Plan together
8. Agree on positive classroom symbols 9. Determine how to begin and end
10. Go, Team, Go! (create a class name) 11. Establish a forum
12. Hold class meetings 13. Involve the students in communication with families
14. Engage in outreach beyond the classroom 15. Encourage leadership
16. Reward group accomplishment 17. Promote high expectations
18. Help students play together
19. Troubled water: Build a bridge (plan for what to do when collaboration breaks down)
20. Foster independence
Games and Activities that build community
- Name games
- Glyphs or some other personal identity activities
- Telling stories
- Sharing personal artifacts
- Teacher read-aloud stories on cooperation and community
Events that build classroom community
Teachers' actions make a big impact on classroom community
Without positive communication it is impossible to develop a positive classroom environment where students feel comfortable to express themselves and participate in all activities. It is essential to explicitly teach students to respect each other by listening carefully and take turns in group talk. One way to do this is to have rotating group roles (see below). Giving students practice in many types of communication (not just presentations) is crucial to developing their skills.
Games and activities to foster communication
- Games that encourage talk (Fortunately/Unfortunately, collaborative crosswords and other word games)
- Oral communication events like impromptu speech making, joke and riddle telling
- Interviewing: communication with a purpose
Group roles for shared leadership
Group composition needs to be chosen carefully to match the activity
- Social: students choose who they work with
- Interest: Students work together based on topic interest
- Gender: there is a balance of males and females
- Ability (homogeneous or heterogeneous)
Once you have built community in your classroom and developed communication skills and norms of behaviour in groups, authentic inquiry in small groups that require collaboration will be more successful. Students will work collaboratively together if they have a personal connection to the work and feel they have a voice.
It is impossible to effectively summarize (here) all the great work out there on collaboration. The content in this section is mostly from Comprehension and Collaboration: Inquiry Circles in Action, by Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels.
Small groups are awesome
- Small groups are lifelike.
- In small groups, we are smarter.
- In small groups, diversity is an asset.
- Small groups make engaged, interactive learning possible.
- Small groups allow us to differentiate instruction.
- Employers increasingly require small-group skills
- Well-structured small-group work enhances students student achievement.
How do you build effective small groups?
Explicitly teach what the social strategies of small-group learning look and sound like (and do not look or sound like!)
- Be responsible to the group
- Listen actively
- Speak up
- Share the air and encourage others
- Support your views and findings
- Show tolerance and respect
- Reflect and correct
Activities to build collaboration
"A collaborative classroom encourages debate, interaction, thoughtfulness, problem solving, and ambiguous response." Creating Caring Classrooms
- photo contest
- creating a monster
- group story making
- choral dramatization
- literature circles
- collaborative writing
Building compassion in students can feel like a daunting task. How do you influence students to build empathy and caring for others?
"Telling personal stories often increases compassion in classrooms as students being to see that suffering and loss bind people to one another and make us more aware of the human condition in all of its complexity."
While acknowledging that many factors such as home life, community, culture and media influence beliefs and attitudes, Creating Caring Classrooms has many strategies for building compassion--they all revolve around storytelling:
- literature circles
- media events
- responding to compassion stories through talking, writing, art and/or drama
- developing a personal philosophy through quotations about compassion
- celebrating and advocating for diversity
- together, find ways to act compassionately
Sometimes compassion and positive behaviour do not come naturally to students (or anyone). Edutopia has an interesting article about creating a safe learning environment. In this article, they describe how to help students develop intrinsic motivation through the Positive Action Program.
In this program, students learn that feeling good about themselves comes from positive actions:
- "We have a thought.
- We act consistently with that thought.
- We experience a feeling about ourselves based on the action."
- This produces another thought, perpetuating the cycle.
When our thoughts are negative, we need to recognize the negative thought then replace it with a positive thought. Reinforcement from the teacher in the form of a badge, sticker or certificate can be beneficial--but only if the teacher explains that the reward is only a reminder of the positive feelings they made themselves feel.
How powerful is it to be able to teach young students that they have control over their thoughts and feelings?