“Creating and Maintaining a Class Culture”
from November 15, 2017
On November 15, language teachers from grades K-8, and beyond, met for the biweekly #EarlyLang chat. Participants discussed how to define and foster classroom culture, how to encourage students to “buy in” to the idea of classroom culture, and how to make all children feel included and part of the community.
Q1: How do you define classroom culture for an #earlylang classroom? Are there key ingredients?
Two main themes appeared in responses to this question. The first was to create a safe and welcoming environment. For any language learning classroom, this is crucial. Students must feel safe in order to take risks; learning a new language is all about risks and experimenting with language structure. Some key quotes:
- @ jacklyn_tobin, “Being sure students know they are allowed to make mistakes. I tell students regularly how when they learned how to speak they made lots of mistakes.”
- @MoyerWorldLang “I think that students feeling safe to take risks is key! It is hard to get them to feel like being wrong is ok. Many want to be perfect the first time.”
- @MundodePepita replied, “Making them feel safe enough to be able to put this aside is such a foundational piece of a language classroom.”
The other main theme was consistency and routines. Young learners especially need a predictable schedule in order to settle down and learn. Routines tie into the first theme, when a student knows what to expect, he or she feels safe.
Some participants also mentioned the physical set-up of the classroom. Suggestions including a deskless classroom, visuals depicting what students are learning, and making the room fun and inspiring.
Q2: How do you develop/foster a classroom community?
Classroom community begins on the first day. Teachers can help develop a sense of community by smiling and being positive with students from the beginning. An icebreaker or greeting activity early in the school year can help students feel a connection to each other. Participants also noted the importance of setting expectations and establishing norms then practicing and enforcing them consistently. Other suggestions included classroom jobs, using the Kagan approach (https://classroommanagementtheory.weebly.com/spencer-kagan.html) and having a system of positive incentives such as Class Dojo.
Q3: How do you ensure all students are motivated to “buy into” the classroom culture you have established?
Motivating students is the key to success in all aspects of education. Encouraging their participation in the classroom culture is no different. Suggestions were as varied as the students we teach. Making connections with students, both through one-on-one time in class and through non TL conversations was suggested as a way to reach those who may not seem “all in.” Class jobs, like secretary for the day, can make students feel more connected and motivate them to be an active community member. Other strategies include Secret Student (https://www.teachcreatemotivate.com/secret-studen/) and building activities around student interest.
Q4: In what ways do you help students see the value of belonging & contributing to the class community?
The teacher sets the tone for the class community. As @MaChristinaRV said, “Showing up with a positive attitude to class is important. The teacher permeates the atmosphere of the learning environment and it’s contagious!” It works outside of class, too. One participant runs a Spanish club that allows connections that may not happen in class. Another mentors a student in other classes to create a relationship and help the student bring his or her talent to the #earlylang classroom. Other suggestions included team-building activities at the beginning of the year and being consistent in dealing with all students including/especially the difficult ones.
Q5: How do you ensure all kids feel included in the class community?
Some great suggestions included:
- @MoyerWorldlang “I have an extra credit opportunity where students can bring anything with Spanish on it and I will hang it up in my classroom. Kids I never expected like to be able to share something without having to talk in front of everyone.”
- @MaryLotusCN “This is pretty basic, but communicating 1-1 with Ss works, it is the kid version of small talk. The challenge for me is to remember something about each student, i.e. who has a dog, who has siblings, etc.”
- @ doriecp, “I love popping in to see Ss during their other specials. So many times I’ve been able to say “I didn’t know you were such a great [artist]!” and then I find ways for them use that talent in Spanish class.”
Other participants shared success through the use of positive incentives that allow students to earn rewards like principal for the day, videos of students who showed school pride that are sent home, and using high fives.
Reflaction (reflection + action)
Actions steps focused on classroom set up and teacher actions to make students feel included. Several participants mentioned plans to try the deskless classroom setup. Others discussed ways to connect to students such as watching for quieter students and making sure to talk with them and getting down to the student’s level at times.
Thank you to all who participated in this #EarlyLang chat! Thank you to our lead moderator, Julie, (@mundodepepita) for leading the chat and to our co-moderator, Dorie, (@doriecp) for helping guide the conversation. Thanks also to Valerie Shull (@windycitysenora) for creating the graphics. The next chat is December 6, 2017 at 8 pm EST. Hope to see you there. For those in the United States, enjoy your time off as we reflect on all we are grateful for. Don’t forget to include yourself and all you do for students. To paraphrase Manuel Scott, one of the original Freedom Writers, “On your worst day, you still might be a student’s best hope.” Thanks for all you do to help students and the profession.
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