Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Class Meets: Student voice

Giving my students a voice has been one of my goals this year. Talking circles (such as Brags and Drags) have always been a part of my classroom since I began my career many a few years ago. This year, I decided to add another element to my classroom, and we use "campfire" time to have class meetings. class meets

This is the cover that a student designed for our meeting binder. The quote says "Sometimes you have to see people as a crayon. They might not be your favourite colour, buy you need them to complete the picture."

How awesome.

In the binder, students record any issues that have come up in the classroom and school. When we get together as a class, we then bring up any of the issues that have been recorded, plus others that have arisen.

Two or three mornings a week, I call for a campfire. Students circle up their chairs, making sure everyone is a part of the circle. They are so efficient at this now that it takes under a minute. We begin by passing a speaking object (a feather or a talking stick - which recognizes our Ojibway talking circle roots). The meeting begins with students sharing compliments about others. The only rule for compliments is that it isn't to be something superficial (e.g. "I like Mary's shirt"). Athletic accomplishments, acts of kindness, perseverance... all get recognized here by their peers.

After we do a round of compliments, then we bring up issues. At the beginning of the year, it was like pulling teeth to get people to speak up about problems. They often just simmered in the background. Now, it is much easier to get them to talk. Whoever has an issue shares the problem with the group. If the issue is with a specific student or group of students, then those individuals are required to speak next, and give "their side".  After that, others in the class get to speak up and share their perspective on the conflict, and we get to the next steps.

More often than not, the issue is quickly resolved, there is an apology, and we move on. Sometimes, however, there is a class-wide debate on resolution. Only once or twice this year have I had to step in and give a consequence - and it was only when the issue was big enough to require a referral to the Principal.

Has the class meet solved everything? Of course not - when you have 26 adolescents sharing a small space, there will always be conflict. However, it has greatly diminished the "bystander" effect in class, and given students a forum to speak up and have a voice. They are learning to manage themselves as group much better.

Now, when our Principal needs to address something with my class, she checks to see when our next "class meet" is taking place and she comes and joins our circle. It's amazing to see the dialogue taking place and eliminates the talking-at-students, which adolescents all seem to tune out anyway. I must admit, though, each class meeting I am on tenter-hooks to see if I am going to have to speak to the issue of my workspace. Somehow, my never-used desk has become a storage facility for piles of papers...

1 comment:

  1. […] year, we have started class meetings  and have had a binder to record issues.  Time to bring that notion up to the 21st […]