Fostering a Reflective Classroom

We believe that a Facing History and Ourselves classroom is in many ways a microcosm of democracy—a place where explicit rules and implicit norms protect everyone’s right to speak; where different perspectives can be heard and valued; where members take responsibility for themselves, each other, and the group as a whole; and where each member has a stake and a voice in collective decisions. You may have already established rules and guidelines with your students to help bring about these characteristics in your classroom. If not, it is essential at the beginning of your Facing History course of study to facilitate the beginning of a supportive, reflective classroom community. Once established, both you and your students will need to continue to nurture the reflective community on an ongoing basis through the ways that you participate and respond to each other.

We believe that a reflective, supportive classroom community is fostered by:

  • creating a sense of trust and openness
  • encouraging participants to speak and listen to each other
  • making space and time for silent reflection
  • offering multiple avenues for participation and learning
  • helping students appreciate the points of view, talents, and contributions of less vocal members

Creating Classroom Contracts

One way to help classroom communities establish shared norms is by discussing them openly through a process called “contracting.” Some teachers already customarily create classroom contracts with their students at the start of each course. If you do not typically do so, we recommend that before beginning your class’s journey through this Facing History unit, you engage the students in the process of creating one. Contracts typically include several clearly defined rules or expectations for participation, and consequences for those who do not fulfill their obligations as members of the learning community. Any contract created collaboratively by students and the teacher together should be consistent with the classroom rules already established by the teacher. Many Facing History teachers differentiate their own classroom rules, which are non-negotiable, from the guidelines set forth in the classroom contract, which are negotiated by the students with the teacher’s guidance. Some sample guidelines that might be included in a class contract are provided below.

We have also found that the classroom environment is enhanced by emphasizing journal writing and employing multiple formats for facilitating large and small group discussions. Throughout this unit, we suggest specific teaching strategies designed to encourage students’ critical thinking and encourage each of them to share their ideas. Find detailed descriptions and additional examples in these teaching strategies.

We encourage you to frequently remind your students that, regardless of the classroom strategy you are using or the topic you are addressing, it is essential that their participation honors the contract they helped create and follows your own classroom rules. In addition, we strongly recommend that you post the contract in a prominent location in your classroom and that when students stray from the guidelines set forth in the contract you refer to the specific language in the contract when you redirect to them. You might find that when one student strays from the guidelines of the contract, other students will respond by citing the specific expectations listed in the contract.

Consider the following list of guidelines for your classroom contract. As you work together to create your own, we encourage you to include (or modify) any or all of the items on this list:

  • Listen with respect. Try to understand what someone is saying before rushing to judgment.
  • Make comments using “I” statements. (“I disagree with what you said. Here’s what I think . . .”)
  • If you do not feel safe making a comment or asking a question, write the thought down. You can ask the teacher after class to help you find a safe way to share the idea.
  • If someone says an idea or question that helps your own learning, say “thank you.”
  • If someone says something that hurts or offends you, do not attack the person. Acknowledge that the comment—not the person—hurt your feeling and explain why.
  • Put-downs are never okay.
  • If you don’t understand something, ask a question.
  • Think with your head and your heart.
  • Share talking time—provide room for others to speak.
  • Do not interrupt others while they are speaking.
  • Write down thoughts, in a journal or notebook, if you don’t have time to say them during our time together.

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