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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

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?

Comments (17)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

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Carol Parker's picture
Carol Parker
7/8 Drama, Film, Honors & Regular Language Arts

Thank you.
This is a wonderful and creative idea.
I also integrate social issues and history into ELA,
and you have stimulated my thinking.
Thanks, again!

Zack Hill's picture
Zack Hill
5th Grade Teacher from Saint Petersburg, FL

I really like how you use the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution to develop classroom rules with students. I especially like that there is a set of rules at the beginning which they can challenge in a way that promotes critical thinking. I could see this giving students a real appreciation for what our forefathers accomplished. It also seems like a nice balance between student autonomy and a structure within to work. I was wondering something about the final outcome. Do you end up with 2 sets of rules, yours and theirs? Also, do different periods have different class rules?

Lindsey's picture

Mr. Provenzano,
I just clicked over to your school web site. Can you elaborate a little bit more about the live blogging you have your students do? I'd love to hear more about it!

Danielle's picture

The idea of having students create their own rules is an excellent way for the students to have a say in their classroom. It gives students a sense of responsibility, since they were the ones who created the rules. In my education program we have been told to create a democratic classroom and to allow our students to have a say in the classroom policies/rules. I think your idea not only creates a democratic classroom but ties in an important learning topic that demonstrates to students the importance of our constitution and bill of rights.

Mike Anderson's picture
Mike Anderson
Educator, Consultant, Author

Thanks so much for sharing this great idea. Creating rules with students is such a powerful way to help them understand that rules have a positive purpose in a learning environment. I've seen some schools create schoolwide rules using a constitutional convention. Each class develops their own rules and then sends a delegate with a copy of their rules to a schoolwide convention. The principal helps students combine and condense their various rules into a schoolwide set that can guide behavior throughout the school, especially in those areas that typically need consistency: cafeteria, hallways, playground, etc. If anyone is interested in a great resource that outlines a process for creating schoolwide rules, check out: Responsive School Discipline, by Chip Wood and Babs Freeman-Loftis!

Nicholas Provenzano's picture
Nicholas Provenzano
High School English Teacher/The Nerdy Teacher
Blogger 2014

[quote]Mr. Provenzano,

I just clicked over to your school web site. Can you elaborate a little bit more about the live blogging you have your students do? I'd love to hear more about it![/quote]

Here is a link to my site that will provide more details on how I put together class blogging, but I'll try and give a condensed answer here.

I set up class blogs using KidBlog.org and gave every student a log in and password. Students rotate through the alphabet to take turns blogging for the day. They are responsible for taking notes on what is going on in class. I set up a special area and had net books the kids could use. My students loved the concept and it worked very well. The class blogs were not graded and the students were told it was just a class expectation.

My blog has a ton more details. If you have any other questions, feel free to email me at OneNerdyTeacher@Gmail.com.

Thanks for reading this post on Edutopia. Please share it with others. :-)

- Nick

Nicholas Provenzano's picture
Nicholas Provenzano
High School English Teacher/The Nerdy Teacher
Blogger 2014

[quote]I really like how you use the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution to develop classroom rules with students. I especially like that there is a set of rules at the beginning which they can challenge in a way that promotes critical thinking. I could see this giving students a real appreciation for what our forefathers accomplished. It also seems like a nice balance between student autonomy and a structure within to work. I was wondering something about the final outcome. Do you end up with 2 sets of rules, yours and theirs? Also, do different periods have different class rules?[/quote]

I incorporate their rules into the standard class rules for one complete set.

Each class comes up with their own rules, so their will always be different rules for different classes, but they are always posted on the wall and not far off.

It's great to show the different classes the other set of rules. It starts good discussion.

I hope this answered your questions. Feel free to drop me a line if you have more questions at OneNerdyTeacher@Gmail.com.

Thanks,

Nick

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