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Building a Learning Community

Guest writer, Steve Wick, discusses the importance of creating a connected and collaborative classroom environment.

Can you remember who you were, before the world told you who you should be?” ― Charles Bukowski

We are back! It is awesome to see students again!
A week before school started, I discovered an Edutopia article about community building in the classroom. Relationships Matter More Than Rules - Community building in the classroom starts on day one. Try these strategies to begin forging strong relationships.

This article inspired me to rethink how I start the year, so last week I welcomed my students to the 2017 - 18 School year with a collection of activities that I hope will help us build a more powerful learning community. Here are a few reflections on my first week of getting to know my students.

Day 1: Note Cards and Seating Charts
Students chose their own seats as they walked in the room.
I enjoyed this more than telling them where to sit. It was also good to observe who chose which locations and which groups. It is taking me a bit longer to learn some names without the alphabetical order I've used in the past. I plan to use a few times to get them collaborating and communicating with random groups.

Each student received a notecard and I asked them to respond to the question, "What do I need to know?"
I was purposefully vague, to get them thinking. Maybe I was a bit too vague because the students were all over the place. Some talked about themselves, some talked about me, and some added some randomness to my reading. There were even quite a few who did not include their names. I initially felt this was a failure, but I was able to adjust and follow up with an activity on day 2.

Reboot the Noggin Episode 1 - Critical Thinking and Collaboration Activity
Instead of jumping into content or classroom stuff, I decided to start the year with this activity. It took a bit to get the students collaborating and it was more difficult as the groups got bigger. We had a great discussion about engagement in larger groups. I am hoping we can build on this for future whole class collaboration.

Day 2: Questions to Start the School Year, Communication Resources, and YouVideo Project

Questions to start the school year
We started our day having a conversation about the note cards not telling me much of what I needed to know. We had fun with some of the note card comments from day 1. (All names were changed to protect the innocent.) Inspired by Tom Murray's post, I followed up the note card activity with a Google Form asking more specific questions. I think our fail forward discussion about the day 1 note cards inspired my students. I received some of the best responses ever to the questions in a getting to know you survey.

Sharing who you are with Flipgrid video responses
I've done something similar before, but I updated our YouVideo activity to engage students in some digital communication. I really enjoyed the creative use of props this year and I am looking forward to having my students figure out what the props tell us about each student. Students will be partnered with a Give 1 Get 1 Activity that asked them to talk to someone they don't know well and share something important to them. I will assign students groups based on the Give 1 Get 1 Activity and they will respond to the YouVideo Flipgrids with their video responses.

Digital communication resources
Updated some of our digital engagement communication resources. Looking forward to expanding our use of these resources throughout the year.

Day 3: This is Water Video and Classroom Norms

Perspective and Empathy
Watched "This is Water" and discussed empathy and perspective. Students engaged in the video, but I  had to work really hard to get the discussion going. Maybe it was a Monday thing? I still have some work to do to get students taking ownership of the conversation. I am hoping our 1st HyperDoc will continue to support the process of shifting their mindset from teacher-let to student-owned.

Classroom norms discussion and Padlet
Students participated in a think-pair-share to get the discussion started about how we can maintain a culture of learning. I followed up with this slide deck based on the discussions and asked them to share what was missing in a classroom Padlet.

Day 4: Attendance Questions

Getting to know names and personalities with attendance questions.
A posted a quick question on the board and we went around the room with every student giving a short response. I went traditional teacher and asked them a classic question, "What is one thing that will stick to your 2017 summer memories?". I plan on using these attendance questions on Tuesdays and Thursdays to continue building our learning community.

The Future
We will continue to build on these activities as we move forward as a community of learners. Up next will be a student-centered HyperDoc to get them adjusted to a more learner-centered classroom.