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Building a Strong Classroom Community
In a previous article, I discussed the essence of classroom community building. Building and maintaining a strong classroom community is an important aspect of the elementary school teacher's job.
Building a strong classroom does not translate to a teacher-centered environment where students are tightly regulated and operate under a reward-consequence system of government. In a classroom with this type of environment, children only learn to get along in order to avoid punishment and gain reward.
Instead, every teacher needs to use character education activities regularly to instill a natural sense of community built on real love, respect, friendship, teamwork, honesty, and support of fellow peers.
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Developing a Character Curriculum
I started my 5th grade classroom year with friendship at the center of our character curriculum. I continued in October by presenting various themes to the students and had them choose which theme they thought would be a good one for October. The majority vote was for "teamwork and cooperation."
I told the children that we should acknowledge the feelings of those children whose choice of theme was not selected. However, teamwork and cooperation was a great choice because in a student-centered environment, teamwork and cooperation are extremely important.
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A Lesson on Silent Conversations
The first activity I chose to do was silent conversations. This was a great activity because it blended science, writing, and cooperative learning practice.
At the beginning of the lesson I referred to conversations and times of sharing we had as a whole group during our science study on ecosystems. I reminded them of all the things we got to see and do on our trip to the local nature preserve. I then announced that they were going to be paired with another student in the class, and that each student's job was to have a "silent conversation."
I told them that each pair was going to have a loose leaf piece of paper, and that the topic of their conversations was going to be "The trip to the Nature Preserve." The rule was that they could not talk with one another, instead, they had to exchange dialogue by passing the paper between them, and writing their comments down on the paper.
I put them in their pairs, started a timer for ten minutes, and told them to converse. For the next ten minutes the children wrote back and forth to one another about their trip....what they saw, how they liked the trip, and what they learned. I later saved their written conversations in their portfolio and I inquired (once we were again in the whole group) about the importance of each person's role in the conversation by asking questions like "What if one of you in the pair didn't respond during the task?" "Did anyone have difficulty in the task?"
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The silent conversation activity is great because it allows the teacher to integrate. The conversation topic can be anything, which means it can be connected to any curriculum area. Repeat this activity several times through the year and see how the mechanics improve as they become more and more familiar with it.