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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Empowering Students to Create with the Teacher Classroom Rules or Expectations

When mentoring our pre-service and in-service teachers we need to describe and model both research-based and clinically tested best practices. Accordingly, our mentees should know about (a) the importance of transforming the traditional classroom into a Jewish community of cooperative learners and (b) specific learning activities for community building. Toward this end, we are describing different community building activities designed to prevent or reduce student disruptive classroom behavior. For further explanation of the relationship between community building and reduced student off-task behavior refer to these previous posts. A Three-Dimensional Model for Understanding Student Disruptive Behavior: Part One, The Group and Community Building Approach- What is a Caring Community of Cooperating Learners and Why is it Important to Transform the Classroom Into a Caring Learning Community?

The teacher intervention that follows is a lesson on how to empower students to create classroom rules or expectations that the teacher and the students can honor and follow.

Note: There is an important distinction between a classroom expectation and a classroom rule. The word “expectation “has a positive connotation of living up to a higher standard, whereas the word “rule” implies a negative connotation of punishment and enforcement. Our preference is that students act upon their internalized understanding of Jewish ethical beliefs, rather than follow rules for fear of being punished by the teacher or the administrator of the school.

For additional information about the theory of expectations refer to this previous post.

Empower Students to Create Classroom Rules/Expectations through the APCA Process

Enduring Jewish Knowledge: These middot: Kehillah-community, Areyvut-mutual responsibility, Din V’Rachamim-justice and mercy, Hiddur Pnai Zaken- respect for elders such as the teacher, Kavod-respect, and Shomer Achi-being one’s brother’s keeper

Materials Needed: The handout, APCA Four-Step Process for Consensus Building, and paper on which to write individual, paired, and classroom expectations (See the handouts on the APCA Process and form for writing expectations on the top of this post)


Teachers have many choices regarding how to establish classroom rules including:

· Use the rules of the school

· Use the rules of a seasoned or mentor teacher

· Create your own rules

· Use the rules of the previous year

We would suggest, however, that within a community of learners students should have some say in how the classroom rules are established and enforced. There are a number of methods to encourage student participation in classroom rule-setting, including:

· Invite students to brainstorm the classroom rules

· Invite the class to generate their own rules, and the consequences for breaking those rules

· Conduct a discussion on the meaning of the previous year’s classroom rules


1. The teacher invites students to individually record a personal list of classroom expectations (e.g. students should respect one another and the teacher; students should listen to one another and the teacher; students should not hit others; students should not use inappropriate language in or outside of the classroom, etc.) This list of personal expectations can be recorded on the handout, “What Behaviors Do You Expect from Your Classmates?,” under the heading, “Individual Expectations”. See the handout that follows.

2. Students form dyads and use the APCA (see the graphic at the top of this post) process to generate a paired set of classroom expectations, which are then recorded on the handout under the heading, “Paired Expectations”. At this point, let’s explain the APCA process; The APCA process is a method by which students can respectfully achieve consensus without feeling a sense of resentment or loss of efficacy. Here is how the APCA process works.

Assumption: Two people have their own list of individual expectations regarding how students should behave in the classroom. We will refer to them as Student #1 and Student #2.

Key: A stands for Ask a question

P stands for Paraphrase the speaker’s idea

C stands for Clarify the speaker’s idea

A stands for Add your idea, if you wish

Student #1: (Asks a question.) “Can you tell me one of your expectations regarding student behavior in our classroom?”

Student #2: “Of course, I believe that all students should respect each other and the teacher.”

Student #1: (Paraphrase the speaker’s idea.) “So you’re saying students should respect everyone in the classroom, teacher included. Is that correct?”

Student #2: “Yes, you understand.”

Student #1: (Clarify the speaker’s idea.) “What do you mean by the word ‘respect’?”

Student #2: “I mean students should listen to each other, and not put others down for their ideas. That’s what I mean!”

Student #1: (Add your idea, if you wish.) “Well, I’d like to add to your statement, and say that students should not only listen to each other, and not put others down for their ideas, but should also disagree respectfully.”

Student #2: “I could go along with that addition. So let’s write down what we have agreed to on the Paired Expectations list.” (See handout at the top of this post.)

Then the process continues with Student #2 asking a question such as: “What do you mean by disagree respectfully?”

Once students understand the APCA process, they can create a list of shared classroom expectations. That is, pairs achieve consensus with another pair, who in turn, find common ground with teams of four, then eight until the entire group agrees upon a set of shared classroom behavioral expectations. Through the APCA process of consensus building, and negotiating expectations, students can transform themselves from a class of individuals into a community of cooperative learners.

On the next post we will begin a related topic, how to control the disruptive behavior of certain students by applying a construct, Disciplining by the Numbers.

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