Community-Building in the ECS classroom


#1

Does anyone else struggle (or has struggled) with a classroom that’s just DEAD?

You ask them to discuss. Crickets. You ask someone to volunteer answers. Crickets. It’s not that they don’t do work necessarily. It’s like they’re allergic to each other, which then causes this environment in which students aren’t very comfortable speaking out in class, etc. It’s also harder to have them pair/share or do any sort of group project.

Through using some collaborative learning (Kagan) structures, I can get them to share with each other, and I can get them to share out loud (I almost never ask for volunteers), but it seems to happen pretty mechanically. The problem I have is that the students just don’t seem to like each other. Or at least they’re not comfortable with each other.

Some possible reasons my ECS class overall does not seem to like to work with each other (apart from a few pockets of buddies here and there):

  1. The students range from 9-12th grade. There is an approximately equal number of 10th, 11th, and 12th graders. Sometimes students aren’t comfortable with interacting with students from other grades.
  2. The majority of the students are 9th grade boys. I know, it’s strange, because you’d think a bunch of 9th grade boys would be more on the rowdy side. Nope. There’s a handful of squirrels, but most act like they left their brains at home.
  3. My ECS class is first period. Still asleep?
  4. Maybe I haven’t provided much in terms of structure to foster an environment in which students can appreciate each other. I have tried to do this with activities in the beginning of the year, such as group competitions (in which I was careful not to make it too competitive, and focused on collaboration in groups). I always try to maintain a positive, encouraging demeanor (but I wouldn’t be surprised if sometimes my frustration with their silence shows).

I understand that perhaps my students are just… kinda dead… by personality. However, I feel they must have personalities that offer more than what I’m seeing in class. I’m sure there’s more I can do to foster this. This is my second year teaching ECS and last year my ECS class was also more on the dead side compared to my physics and APCS classes. Last year my ECS class was also first period, but it wasn’t as dead as this year. There were more key students who were willing to share out in class and coax out conversations from their peers.

Does anyone have specific strategies, structures, or activities I can try that might help build a stronger sense of community in my classroom?

Thanks!


#2

Frank –

I think all of your reasons are just and probable. It’s a message that’s tough for teenagers to understand, and I’ve had to work through it with both classes and tennis teams – you don’t have to be best friends, but in the context of this situation, you need to work together.

The only thing that comes to mind that has worked for me before is to change the structure in which they communicate. Have them share a Google doc or respond to a forum (like this!) and see if some kids who usually don’t share open up a little. I’ve found that the students that take this class are comfortable on a computer, more or less, and are more willing to answer questions in a digital group…that’s something you can build on.

Let us know if anything works! I’m sure there’s a lot of people with this question!


#3

It can be frustrating to listen to silence every day. I agree that first period tends to be low energy no matter what class or teacher. I think most students are used to teacher-centered, high stakes learning environment and they have become risk adverse. No one wants to ask the dumb question or worse – be wrong. Learning is messy and mistakes are opportunities to learn.

I wonder how your students would respond to some team-building exercises that get them moving and thinking like tallest tower. I would recommend very low stakes at first. As they learn to trust each other, the activities can be more personal and reflective.

Andrea