Our initial weeks of school encompass establishing a classroom community where children and their viewpoints are valued. From day one, behavioral guidelines are laid. Students play an integral role in developing classroom rules, highlighting expected behaviors to be embraced by each individual therein. This includes being respectful to one another, putting one's best foot forward even during challenging moments, following through with completing and submitting all assignments, and lending a helping hand to others who may need our support. Candid discussions and collaboration are encouraged.
Read aloud sessions—through which multicultural children's literature that emphasizes positive social interaction and problem solving are shared—are incorporated into the daily routine. The children soon embrace that they comprise a classroom community, and each member is there to support one another. Our focus is to explore the world around us, to share our views candidly, to brainstorm together, to experiment with and learn subject matter across discipline, to err, to evaluate our mistakes, and ultimately learn from them. We establish early on that we will be permitted to passionately share our views—to argue our viewpoints with conviction as long as we substantiate the basis of our reasoning, doing so with finesse—not fists. With consistency and positive reinforcement, children internalize that they have a voice, that their voice and viewpoints are valued. Implementing this approach helps to set a tone for respect and accountability among classroom peers: in time, the children internalize that each student is a valued member and contributor to the community, that the way we carry ourselves, the way we speak to one another, constitute skills that will help us navigate life.
The physical classroom layout too is established to reinforce our community philosophy. Depending on class size, tables are situated together in groups of 4 or 5; seats are labeled in accordance with the number of students per table. Students, by seating arrangement, are assigned a designated number. When engaged in classroom team discussions, students by seat-number designation will be provided rotating roles. For example, during a team/small group session, children at each table situated in Seat #1 may be called upon to serve as a recorder for the group; children in Seat #2 may serve as timekeeper, keeping peers abreast of the allotted time to complete an assignment; students in Seat #3 may serve as task master, ensuring that conversations are in accordance with the topic at hand for the group, and so on. (At those tables where more than four students are situated, roles can be shared.) Expectations are established; the foundation for collaborative interaction during strategic moments throughout the course of the school year has been laid.
An Extra Touch.
As we move into our query-based adventure, be prepared to be flexible, noting that lessons may overlap as the unit study progresses. Additionally, note that all writing sessions referred to herein constitutes a writing block. To create a soothing atmosphere during these sessions, have students to vote on whether they would like to listen to background music when they delve into the writing activity. (My students herald a unanimous "yes".) I find that classical music, elevator music, and/or mellow, vintage, and contemporary jazz serve as a pleasant, unifying writing accompaniment.