The Learning Environment program standard stipulates that a teacher must be able to “foster and manage a safe and inclusive learning environment that takes into account physical, emotional and intellectual wellbeing” (SPU Program Standard 5). My Classroom Management course has helped me determine that such a safe space is created through clear classroom expectations, presented to students on the very first day of class. Such expectations create a structure that allows for intellectual liberty and genuine exchange. Within this structure students assume responsibility for their own learning. In my AP U.S History course, for instance, my mentor teacher detailed all of the expectations and procedures of her classroom in a detailed syllabus that she asked students to read on the very first day of school.
In particular, the classroom syllabus addresses Quiz Day Fridays. On Fridays, students are expected to arrive to class having read the textbook chapter for the week. They are also expected to have handed in their “Key Terms”– which ask students to identify and explain the significance of events, people, and concepts that appear in the chapter – at 8am that morning to be stamped in as in “on time.” These key terms are returned to the students at the start of class.
While the Friday schedule is well detailed in the syllabus, students learned that very first Friday exactly how things were done. As Wong and Wong explain, in a well managed classroom, “Students know what is expected of them and are generally successful” (85) and that first Friday our students learned the ins-and-outs of Quiz Day Fridays.
So here’s what it looks like. Students walk into the class and are given five review questions right off the bat regarding concepts from the week’s chapter (one such review sheet is pictured above). With their table partner, students begin right away about answering the questions, and are expected to write a paragraph response to the question they find the hardest to answer. Component 5.3 explains that the systems “for performing noninstructional duties are well established with students assuming considerable responsibility for efficient operation,” and students do just this as they set about investigation on their own. Fay and Funk explain that students “have a strong need for control,” and giving students the freedom to answer these tough questions by themselves and choose which question they would like to answer in more detail gives them a sense of ownership and choice within all of the structure of our classroom (28). Students really do cherish that sense of control and choice.
After half an hour we review the question(s) students grappled with most as a class. Students then get into their “quiz formation” (we sound a little bit like drill sergeants when we call out for students to get in “quiz formation,” hence the photograph of my mentor and her mighty gavel pictured above). Students are old experts by now at their “quiz formation.” They separate their tables, sit on either side of them, place a backpack in the middle between them, and then await patiently for their scantrons and quizzes. As Component 5.2 stipulates, the transitions on these quiz days (and every day) “are seamless with students assum[ing] responsibility in ensuring their efficient operation” (SPU Program Standard 5).
Quiz Day Fridays have allowed me insight into just how important it is to practice these types of routines and procedures. The students like knowing exactly what to expect. The structure of these Fridays actually allow students a great deal of liberty as they go about exploring these review questions on their own and take ownership of each and every transition. I believe my ability to explain and model these expectations for students has developed significantly and I know that I will create clear and established routines such as those used on Quiz Day Fridays in my future classroom.
The effect of this type of structured safe space on student learning is considerable. I watch every week in amazement as these students approach their individual learning in genuine and self-motivated ways. In moving forward, I’m curious to see how I can bring the efficiency and effectiveness of Quiz Day Fridays to other days of the week when I myself am in front of the classroom. I want students to start each day by writing the day’s date and the topic at hand in their Table of Contents for their notebook, and immediately turn to a piece of blank paper — titling it with the date and day’s topic again — ready to take notes and participate in the day’s activities.
I am lucky to have a mentor teacher that has already made expectations for the class so clear. I get to ride on her coattails for now, but the real challenge will come in establishing this type of efficiency and structure on day one in my very own classroom next year.
Fay, Jim & Funk, David. (1995). Teaching with love and logic: Taking control of the classroom. Golden, CO: The Love and Logic Press, Inc.
Wong, Harry K. & Wong, Rosemary T. (2009). The first days of school: How to be an effective teacher. Mountain View, CA: Harry K. Wong Publications, Inc.