Today, I wanted to share one of my favorite first day of school activities with you as I know many of you have either started back up or will be soon. Each year, the citizens of Eberopolis take part in drafting their own class constitution. I think that it's very important for the students to feel like they have a say in creating the norms by which our class will operate, and by the time they reach 4th grade, they have enough experience with school and its expectations to have a sense for what will work and what won't. I also find that the process of writing our class constitution helps me gauge what my class will be like. One year, for example, I had a class of students who felt that reading was so important that we needed to have 30 minutes of independent reading time written into our class constitution. (I don't need to tell you how rare and awesome that class was...I also don't think they were ALL that enthusiastic about reading, but none of them dared to be the kid who spoke up against reading on that first day of school.) Most years, I get classes who propose having 30 minutes of recess instead. Either way, I get a sense of what they enjoy and what some of their priorities are.
This year, I incorporated some ideas that I'd seen on other blogs and also tried to make it fit within some of the lingo of the IB programme we use. One of the big ideas connected with our Primary Years Programme is the action cycle -- the idea that we can choose a cause or a problem to address, act in a way that addresses the issue, and then reflect on our actions and the process. This choose-act-reflect cycle can apply to pretty much anything, and this year, it applied to our constitution writing.
On the first day of school, I asked the students to divide a piece of paper into four quadrants.
Quadrant 1: Choose and describe the kind of classroom you'd like to have. Be as detailed and specific as possible.
Quadrant 2: Choose and describe the kind of teacher you'd like to have. Try to use specific words and examples, not just vague adjectives like "nice" or "fun."
Quadrant 3: Choose and describe the kind of student you'd like to be this year. What are some of your goals?
Quadrant 4: What are some specific things that could be done to make your choices possible?
After they had a few minutes to write, we moved into the "Action" stage where they were able to share some of their suggestions for how we could achieve their ideas this year. At this stage, they were just brainstorming and sharing possibilities, so we weren't really worried about writing "rules," per se.
Here's a sample of some of their suggestions:
Once I felt like everyone had some input into the process, I had the students reflect on the list (Choose-Act-Reflect) to make sure we had everything we needed and weren't leaving out something important. Originally, I'd intended to finish writing the constitution that day, but I ran out of time, so that became a good stopping point.
On day 2, we talked about some of the reflections, and then we started brainstorming ways that we could combine some of the suggestions into our class constitution. It took a bit of word-smithing, and I was pleased to see that I have some kids who are quite good with that this year. For example, when we were stuck deciding between the words "be careful of yourself and your surroundings" and "be respectful," one student thought that the word "mindful" incorporated both concepts. It was fantastic.
In the end, we drafted a fairly simple constitution that only had 3 "rules," but I was happy with the outcome.
classroom economy, students know what is expected and that our expectations of each other are high.
How do you establish rules and expectations in your classroom? Any tips for the constitutional process? Feel free to share in the comment section.