Give the Class to the Students!!

What??? Give the class to the students?? What does that mean?

Giving the class to the students gives them a sense of ownership in the class and its contents. To give the students the class, a teacher does not just sit back and let the students do as they please. Instead, the teacher talks about what the official expected outcomes are for the class, what he/she would like to cover, and what the students would like to include. As long as some of the students’ input is included in the class curriculum, they will be more apt to put forth more effort for all the academic units. Also, this type of discussion lets students know the types of constraints the teacher has.

If a teacher is reluctant to include students’ input into the curriculum, he or she might consider asking students to rate his/her teaching and the content at the end of each class. The informal survey might also include a place for students to offer suggestions for improvement or for types of activities. For the first minute or two of the next class, the teacher might read some of the suggestions, including outrageous ones. For example, make a joke out of the response that suggests that the class be taught at the local fast food restaurant, discussing the quality of the food. However, suggestions the teacher might work with should be read aloud (even discussed), and the implementation of the idea(s) should be as soon as reasonably possible–preferably that day or the next.

Try this, and you will be amazed at how quickly even the doubting students begin to participate more actively in class discussions and activities. The teacher may also notice that complaints about the activities decline. (Students are reluctant to criticize activities suggested by others for fear that their own ideas may be laughed at.)

Giving students this much ownership in the class does not in any way interfere with the curriculum. English teachers may suddenly find that the students are as tired of the “teaching to the English skills” part of the curriculum as they are, and that the students would much prefer to learn from doing rather than through dry exercises involving parsing sentences.

Any time the students feel that a class or classroom belongs to them at least as much as to the teacher, they become more interested in learning. Or maybe they just open up enough to be willing to learn just a little…

Clearly, allowing the students to own the class involves a lot of trust–first on the part of the teacher, and then on the parts of the students. Tomorrow, I’ll talk a little about building trust between teacher and class.


I would love both pro and con input. Student ownership of their education is an important concept that needs to be discussed. Please post your comments!


Why Do Students Follow Their Own Rules?

In yesterday’s post (Who Writes the Class Rules), I talked about having students write the rules for their class. However, I did not talk about why this is important. Why would students follow their own rules when they break school rules? How different are student-written rules from faculty/administration-written rules?

Students follow their own rules because they came up with them. These rules may not differ qualitatively from the longer lists that adults would write, but they are owned by the students. The students understand what the rules are and what they mean because the rules came from within themselves.

Ownership for students–for any of us, actually–should include not only the rules, but also the class. When students own the class, they are more apt to participate and learn. Tomorrow, I will talk about how to “give” a class to the students.

Please share any comments, ideas, and experiences below. Thanks for sharing my thoughts!

By the way, there are two comments from readers on yesterday’s blog–both relate to classes, but one also addresses the idea of participatory “ownership” in business.


Who Writes the Class Rules?

Who makes the rules in your classroom?

In the majority of classrooms, teachers allow the school rules to prevail, perhaps adding one or two that are specific to the group of students in the class. There are usually so many rules that they are typed out on a single sheet of 8.5 X 11 (sometimes 8.5 X 14!!) paper, in a small font, and tacked onto a bulletin board. Some teachers, realizing that no one can see them, duplicate the lists so that each child has his or her own copy to keep in a binder. Some of the rules are so trite that it is clear they were individualized. So when the teacher scolds a child and tells him/her that a rule has been broken, the student may have trouble discovering exactly which one (or two, or three).

Students are generally pretty aware of acceptable and unacceptable school and class behaviors. Often they get caught up in a moment and end up with an infraction. Except for a teacher, and possibly peers, the student has no one to remind him/her to hold back. The rules on the wall are too far to read, and the notebook was opened to an assignment–not the list of rules.

So how can teachers make seeing and following rules easier on their students? Have the class write its own rules.

“No way!!” say many educators. But the surprise is how readily the students engage in a rule-making session and, more importantly, how well they follow their own rules!

First, set a limit of how many rules they can have. I suggest 5 to 7. If this sounds low, consider that the students should be combining “similar rules” and discussing their similarities as they make suggestions. Seriously, when we read school rules that go on for a page or two, don’t we feel like some are nit-picking? The kids get it–they know what a simple rule like “Keep your hands to yourself” means. It means, “Don’t touch, hit, or hurt anyone, and keep your hands off others’ stuff!” They don’t need a rule for touching, another for hitting, a third for hurting by other means, and a fourth to keep their hands off people’s belongings without permission.

Second, make certain each rule is stated positively. Note that “Keep your hands to yourself” is stated in a “positive” way–that is, there are no Do-nots, Don’ts, Nos, or other words with negative connotations. Help the students rephrase negative-worded rules into positive statements.

Third, help students keep the length of each rule short–no more than five or six words per rule, if possible. The simpler the wording, the less the argument when a rule is broken.

Fourth (and most important!!), encourage the students to generate the rules. Be little more than the person recording and re-writing the rules on the Whiteboard. Let the students make the suggestions, give them time for discussion, and allow them to accept or reject each rule as it comes up.

Once the “general” rules are established and accepted by the class, transfer the rules to a sheet of posterboard, and write the rules out in large letters.

Post the rules at the front of the classroom, high enough to be seen by all of them, but clear of visual obstructions. For the first few days of school, review the rules with the students daily for a minute or two at the beginning of class or the school day. Sometimes, more discussion is needed by some students to clarify included behaviors.

During the first few days of school, instead of coming down hard on students who infringe on the rules, point out to them which of the rules the behavior violated. Allow other students to make constructive criticism or offer a better explanation. Your students may find that they need to add a rule or re-state one to accommodate something no one thought of on the first day. Remember that amendments are made all the time to the Constitution. These rules are the class’ constitution.

Above all, encourage students to help each other keep from breaking rules. Peer pressure can be positive as well as negative.

Have some sort of reward that the class can earn–perhaps 15 minutes of “free time” (make sure you define allowed activities clearly) at the end of Friday’s class if only one person breaks 1 rule during the week, for example. This works better for middle school and high school students who spend limited time in a class each day. For younger children or self-contained classes, the number of broken rules can be higher–at least during the first few weeks of school.

By the way, this also works with college students when class management is a problem.

Let me know what you think of this. If you already do something like this with your classes, share the successes and the unexpected experiences. We’d love to hear from you!!