Setting up my room

This is the first time in my teaching career that I’ll have my own classroom and have been thinking hard about how to organize stuff, use wall space, and arrange desks.

One of the things I have struggled with for a long time is how to create a climate in my room where students who are not making sense of the math feel comfortable stopping me or the class discussion to ask a real question.   This is especially a challenge in my district because there exists a really big segment of families who enroll their children in after school math programs.   (I won’t call them extra-curricular because most of them duplicate what is taught in school, except frequently a year or two in advance.  I digress.  Perhaps this is fodder for another post, but in the meantime see this article in the Boston Globe).  These students are pre-exposed and leave everyone else feeling like they are supposed to know stuff they haven’t been taught.  It has had a serious chilling effect in past classrooms and seems to be even more of an issue in my new district.

Also, a feature of my new district is that I have to grade each child separately on their behavior/effort, apart from their academic performance.   This is something I am not really sure how to approach, but my thought it to their grade connect behaviors that support a healthy classroom culture.

I decided to create some posters in my room that explain the behaviors I would like to see in class that I think will help create that culture.  Here’s the actual text (I’ll add a picture when it’s on the wall in my room).  I called them “Ways To Be.”

  • Fair-Minded:  Even if you undersand a new concept, embrace a certain opinion, or feel strongly about your beliefs, remember that other intelligent, thoughtful, and passionate people won’t necessarily agree with you.
  • Fearless:  Don’t be afraid to ask questions, admit you are confused, or make a reasonable guess.
  • Persistent:  Just because you don’t know the path to a solution from the beginning doesn’t mean you won’t be able to figure it out.
  • Inquisitive:  Makes sense of what you learn.  It’s not enough to learn the steps or memorize the facts.  Ask questions until you undertand the reasoning.
  • Reflective:  When you make a mistake, think about what kind of mistake you made, why you made it, and how to avoid it in the future.
  • Focused:  Set goals, and keep your eyes on the prize.

Much of this is derivative of Ron Ritchhart’s book Intellectual Character.   My own kids (the one I gave birth to) think this is completely lame, and I haven’t quite figured out how to connect this to a grade.  I think if I see evidence or examples of these ways to be (e.g. “I couldn’t do #4 on last nights HW, can we go over it?”) on any given day, students would be a +1 for the day.  If I see behavior that runs counter to theses ways to be (“This is SOOOO easy.”), then they get a -1.  Otherwise, they get a 0 which would be a B. The ways to be would only be one aspect of their behavior/effort grade, but I think of it as more important than late homework, etc.  If I do actually implement this, I will report on how it’s working.