Creating Classroom Rules with a Bill of Student RightsJuly 21, 2011 | Nicholas Provenzano
I am a Social Studies and English teacher by trade. I have a fondness for American Literature and History because they are woven together very closely. Indeed, they are two facets of the same innovative and collaborative process: Determining how our newly formed nation would function. When it comes to important American documents, I find myself teaching them in a government class and a literature class.
The Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution are great guides for setting up classroom rules. By using them as a template, your students can also have a hand in creating the classroom environment.
In all of my classes, I have a basic set of rules regarding language, materials, homework, tests, etc. I place all of these in a syllabus and give a copy to each student. Within the first few weeks of school, we cover The Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. We dive into the complaints the colonists had with the crown and discuss which side had the right to be angry.
After that discussion, I let the students create a Student Declaration of Independence using the US version as a guide. The students are allowed to take issue with any or all of my class rules and the rules of the school as a whole. It is always interesting to see what students take issue with over the years. After this project, we cover the US Constitution.
After reading the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, I issue a challenge to the students. I tell them to come up with their own set of laws (rules) to govern their class period. The laws need to be reasonable and as President, I have the right to veto any law that is against school/district policy. They are only allowed to present five laws, so they need to be careful what they choose to present.
Students then break into groups and come up with different laws they want to present. Some focus on later work or extra credit. Others are about being late to class or class parties. Since students have the code of conduct in a planner they were all issued at the start of the year, they can check to see if their proposed laws break school or district policy. The class is active for a few days as kids work together to negotiate which laws they want to present and how they intend to argue for their laws. It is an exciting atmosphere.
Once all of the laws are presented, I take a day to review them and create a poster board, for each class, listing my laws and their new laws. These poster boards hang on the walls for the entire year for all to see.
It is always fun to see other classes kick themselves for not thinking of a specific law that another class presented.
It is important to let students be part of the process when creating classroom rules. When students can take ownership of something, they take it more seriously. Over the years, my kids have had a good time, and never disputed any of the rules for the year. There was a mutual respect when it came to discipline because they had a hand in creating the rules.
How do you get students to participate in creating a positive classroom atmosphere?