Co-constructing lessons, student voice and student choice – Level 2 Geography, 2017

Throughout 2017 I had my level 2 geography class last period on a Friday. Attendance of this class was generally pretty bad….only a few students would turn up. At the start of the year it was hot and hard to motivate students to work. I decided to embrace this and accept that students (much like teachers) were generally exhausted at the end of the week. This class was usually pretty hard working the rest of the week and so I often would give the class a bit of a choice about work.

I would check in with them at the beginning of the lesson and ask them what they wanted to do. Sometimes they wanted to watch documentaries and others they were keen to just get on with assessments or finish up work from the day before. I found that providing this choice actually improved my p6 on Friday attendance (more students started to come). Additionally, this strengthened my relationship with a number of students who seemed to really appreciate this choice.

While this may seem like lost learning time – I would usually relate the task to geography more broadly. E.g. documentaries where they were asked to apply key geographical concepts. We also watch Philadelphia  as part of our HIV/AIDS unit. Sometimes I would give them mapping tasks that involved colouring in which they always found fun but improved their geographical knowledge as well.

This approach is something I have continued with my Level 1 (jump start) class – level 1 who I will see in period 6 2018. We usually watch a documentary on Fridays that are related to geographical issues. However, this approach also seems to encourage students to make their own choices about their work. An example of this was last Friday I gave the class some choices about the documentary they watched (Dawn Raids, A tale of 2 cities or Inside Child Poverty). The class choose to watch the child poverty documentary because they knew this was their first assessment in 2018.

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Co-constructing classroom rules and expectations

At the start of the year or when I first meet my classes I set classroom expectations and rules with the class. Rather than coming up with a set of rules that the class must obey I turn this in to a class discussion. As a class we set the rules together.

I did this with my Year 9 tutor class at the start of the year and I found this a really useful approach to establishing rules and expectations. It allows member of the class to discuss what is important to them and what helps with learning. We take this opportunity to discuss things like eating and drinking in class (ok if they clean up), headphones (ok if they take them out when others are talking or for instructions etc. As a class we often decide what should be done if a student is late. For example with my Year 10 class we decided 5 minutes late was ok but any time after that will be made up at interval. Students then have a tenancy to follow these rules because they are given some agency in creating them but also because the process has been co-constructed as well.

Furthermore, at times throughout the year we could revisit the rules this was especially valuable for classes I was having behavioral issue in because I could gently remind the class these were their rules.

In summary, co-constructing class rules with students is a useful way to establish a safe, culturally responsive learning environment.