Tag Archives: class community

Building a Genuinely Social Class Community

This term I (Clive) have two wonderful graduate classes, each with 25 students. One is on Foundations of Curriculum Studies and the other Reflective Professional Development. As part of the community building effort we go to the pub after class three times during the twelve week term (that evening we finish the class half an hour early). This week we had our second pub visit in both classes.

As always, I was impressed with how enjoyable it was and how much we got to know about each other. Only about half the students came, due to the frigid weather, family responsibilities, and school classes early the next day. But it was nevertheless entirely worthwhile.

Other strategies to build a social culture include: sitting in a large circle for most of the evening; having the students say each other’s names around the room each time we meet; chatting and joking at the beginning of the class and at other times; each student giving a brief presentation on their emerging essay topic (2 or 3 presentations a week) with responses from the 3 students sitting to their left or right; small-group discussions on interesting topics, with everyone in each group reporting back. All this leaves less time for me to talk, but I find the students say at least 90% of what I would have said; and anyway, I get to choose the weekly topics and readings.

It is only a 36 hour course, shorter than most school courses, yet a real bond is formed. The social atmosphere adds greatly to the enjoyment of the course and the discussions are deepened. It may not seem very “academic,” but I wouldn’t do it any other way!


Getting to Know Our Students

I (Clive) have long believed in having a warm, friendly class community and a good IMG_3114teacher-student relationship. However, my understanding of what this means continues to grow. This term in my graduate course with 22 students I seemed to develop a closer bond with my students than ever before.

As time went by, each would greet me in a friendly, open way with a smile on their face. They told me more personal information about themselves (often in emails about why they couldn’t be at class that evening!) Before and after class, at the break or in emails, they shared with me (and I discussed with them) individual matters, e.g., interest in going on to doctoral work; wanting to teach high school rather than elementary; wanting to take an individual reading course; moving from the public to the private school sector; the struggles of teaching while raising 3 children; not really wanting to be a teacher.

I found this closer relationship had several advantages:

  • There was a higher energy level in our engagement
  • Our interactions – and the class experience generally – were more enjoyable
  • Attendance was higher
  • I could better understand “where they were coming from”

This was quite apart from the help they received by discussing their individual concerns.


Sometimes people worry about an overly close relationship between teachers and students. However, a sensible teacher can figure out what is appropriate and what is not; and in general I feel we are still far too removed from our students. We need to be constantly developing appropriate links with our students, rather than being afraid of links in general.

In terms of appropriateness, one important point is to avoid having favorites. We should go out of our way to have meaningful conversations with – and hence get to know – every single student in our class. They will really appreciate it and our own teaching experience will be enhanced.


The Irony with Inquiry: Preparing pre-service teachers for the real world of classrooms

I (Yiola) am terribly excited about this week. This week my dear friend Julia, who is now a seasoned administrator in a local school board, will be visiting my pre-service classroom to share her insights on assessment, evaluation and reporting in the elementary schools.  I invited Julia to my class because I want students to hear from an administrator  the expectations and specifications for assessing and reporting on student learning. I look forward to presenting with Julia – going back and forth between what we talk about in class about best practice and what the day to day expectations are in schools for teachers. The process of assessment, of course, goes hand in hand, with instruction and pedagogy. And so, Julia and I got to talking…

It seems that so much of “real life” practice is still about the paper/pencil test or the worksheet. It also seems that while the ideas of inquiry pedagogy are “out there” and there are impressions of its practice, that when it comes to assessing students’ learning, there is the inclination to revert back to traditional methods.

I call this post “The Irony with Inquiry” because I spend much of my time framing my courses through an inquiry lens and using concrete examples of inquiry pedagogy from my own research (because it IS our there) and yet so much of what student-teachers see and experience in their placements is not connected to inquiry.   How then can we expect teachers to move their learning and practice forward?  We know from Hattie’s meta-analysis of thousands of studies of student achievement that the number one factor is the teacher.  It seems to me then that teacher knowledge and teacher development is just so important. And yet, this irony that manifests itself in theory vs. practice is out there.

Julia explains the reality when she described the following: we see new teachers stepping in and they are filled with wonderful ideas and good pedagogy and they want to do so many things all at once. The new teachers hit the ground, not running but, sprinting… there is limited time to think and so they ask their teaching partners or colleagues how to proceed. They are sometimes handed tests and worksheets to help them get through the first months of teaching. These worksheets become familiar and it is hard to develop new practices. 

Clare and Clive and our team of researchers have documented similar examples of the pressures and time crunches of early years teachers.

I tell student teachers to not try to do everything well at once but to focus on one domain at a time. Sometimes I wonder if even this is too hard to accomplish.

I am looking forward to this class, to the candid discussions that may arise, and to coming to some understanding of how we can better reconcile the ironies new teachers face.

Classroom management: Beginning teachers’ challenge

An interesting article I (yiola) found on classroom /behaviour management.


I believe that until you experience teaching it is hard to fully understand what it means to build a safe, secure learning environment that builds intrinsic motivation and confidence in children.

I believe, in teacher education, we teach all that the article describes, yet students do not always see this out in the field. There are many reasons for this theory/bridge gap. Regardless of the gap, it is important that in teacher education we continue to prepare our teacher with best practice and provide them with both the “how” and the “why” of it.

What I love is that we do not even call it “classroom management” at all… at the lab school it is only about building a learning environment that focuses on engagement, safety and securing of the individual.  The idea of “managing” children is counter productive to the philosophy of building creative, innovative, independent and confident children.

Fuji Kindergarten

Takaharu Tezuka is the architect behind Fuji Kindergarten, deemed by some as the best Kindergarten in the world. Tezuka followed around his own young children to inform his school design. He designed a school which encourages pupils to move, play, dream, imagine, and grow.

Thu-Hoang Ha, author from Ideas.Ted.Com describe the schools’ most notable features:

  1. Circular playground lets the kids run forever

“We designed the school as a circle, with a kind of endless circulation. When we started, I had no preconceived notions. Studying other kindergartens was like looking in the rearview mirror of a car: Even if you look very closely, you can’t see anything in front.”


  1. Pupils can slide to class

slide to class

  1. Pupils can climb to class

climb to class

  1. Intentional Distractions

“The kids love to look through the skylights from the roof. ‘Where’s my friend?’ ‘What’s going on underneath in class?’ And when you look down, you always see kids looking up from below. Here, distraction is supposed to happen. There are no walls between classrooms, so noise floats freely from one class to the other, and from outside to inside. We consider noise very important. When you put children in a quiet box, some of them get really nervous.”


Read more here: http://ideas.ted.com/inside-the-worlds-best-kindergarten/

Watch a video on the Fuji School here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rd7mR3lb3yg

When Caring Fuels Creativity

Students at a public school in Brampton Ontario are developing an app to help one of their classmates with autism learn math. One of the young developers, Priya Joshi explained that her classmate’s struggle with math was “our inspiration” so “we asked him some questions and that’s how everything started.” The FIRST Lego League, an international science and technology competition for young people, recognized the students’ design achievement with the rookie team award. Next month the students travel to Waterloo Ontario for the provincial level of the competition. Watch these inspiring students discuss the project at: http://www.cbc.ca/m/news/canada/toronto/sir-isaac-brock-students-make-autism-math-app-1.2934090


They Made Me Eat My Words!

Each fall and spring I (Clive) invite the students – 65 this year – in my teacher education Clive Beckcohort program to an evening potluck at our house. Most of them come, some with their spouses or significant others, and we are deluged with food – especially desserts! It is a great opportunity for them to get to know each other better and for me to finally learn all their names. It also models the type of community building and teacher-student relationship that I think is so important in any school or university class.

We had the fall party a couple of weeks ago just after our fourth class together, which was on practice teaching and the theory-practice relationship generally (sounds dull I know). One thing I had discussed with them was the importance of bringing our theories about life and education down to earth, using practical ideas that we remind ourselves of in the heat of the moment. I told them how one of the teachers in our research project was having difficulty with her class last year, so she wrote “don’t take it personally” in capital letters (DTIP) on her wrist and found it helped.

Two of the students with special IT talents arranged to have a slab cream cake made, decorated with a photo of me in blue along with three of these sayings: another was “you can’t do and be everything.” They brought the cake to the party and put it on display, and we all hoed in when dessert time came. I didn’t mind having to eat my words, they were delicious!

Including All Students in the Conversation

I (Clive) am a great believer in whole-class and small-group discussion. However, three and four years ago I was terrorized by a series of individual students who dominated discussion in class, speaking at least 50% of the time – they would have talked 90% if I’d let them. I’m sure they did the same in their small group, if I wasn’t in the group.
This forced me to develop a set of techniques for giving everyone a turn. They’re simple but effective. Most students appreciate them, and they’ve enabled me to relax and not always be cutting people off (though I still have to be firm). I wish someone had introduced me to them long ago.

     The techniques assume the class is no larger than 35 (I have any bigger class divided up) and is seated in a large circle (I arrange the seating before the students come in). They also assume that students get a lot of “air time” in class, otherwise it’s impossible for everyone to have a turn.

Here are the techniques:

  • Going around the room, with each student (or every 2nd or 3rd student) saying what they think about the topic in hand (don’t worry if you don’t get all the way round).
  •      Discussion in 2s and 3s around the room, followed by reporting from each group.
  • Numbering off to form small groups, followed by discussion and reporting back.
  • Individual prepared presentations (ungraded, maximum 4 minutes) – 2 to 4 per class – with 3 people to the left or right of the presenter responding.
  •       Whole-class discussion after a “mini-lesson” from me, with a speakers list formed as people put up their hands.

I find students are very glad to be called on in these ways: no one has ever declined. And the approach greatly strengthens community as we hear from and get to know everyone, including many who’ve been largely “voiceless” throughout their school and university career. It fosters oral literacy and results in truly inclusive education.

If anyone has other strategies, please let me know!