At Maneuvering the Middle, we are all reading Project Based Teaching by Suzie Boss and John Larmers. Throughout the next few months, we will be discussing what we are learning as we read the book. There are 7 best practices for Project Best Teaching, and today we are covering building a strong classroom culture.
If you are interested in incorporating more projects in your classroom, then grab the book and follow along.
The world is turning to collaborative projects. At Maneuvering the Middle, everyone works on teams to complete various projects. None of our work is done in isolation.
Why Culture Matters
”Positive culture doesn’t get built with a one-day team builder. It’s an ongoing effort to create an inclusive community of learners.”
Classroom culture is necessary in order for students to feel safe making mistakes and asking questions that are required during Project Based Learning. We have a whole post about how to make your classroom feel positive and safe, so be sure to check it out.
4 Strategies for Building Strong Culture
After reading through the strategies for building strong classroom culture for Project Based Learning, I was so relieved to read nothing brand new. If you are a teacher reading a blog post about teaching, you are probably already doing many of these things!
1. Beliefs and Values
In this section of the book, many teachers that the authors have interviewed share examples of how they show students their core values and beliefs. Examples include: asking students for feedback about what they like or would change about class so students feel like their voice matters, reminding students that they are all capable of solving big problems, and providing projects that are relevant to students’ lives.
2. Shared Norms
“Norms … are shared agreements about how classmates and teachers treat one another and what they value as a community of learners.”
I agree that the most valuable norms are the norms that students have a say in. Creating buy-in is crucial in any classroom! These should be posted and repeated often by both teachers and students. Here are examples of norms I used in my classroom:
- Everyone contributes
- Respect each other
- Share the mic
- Follow directions
- Good attitudes only
I love how Todd Finley establishes norms in his classroom. He has students brainstorm examples of actions that have impeded learning. Here is an example from his classroom:
- Example: If students laugh when I make a mistake, I don’t want to participate.
- Norm to counteract: We learn from mistakes.
3. Physical Environment
Your classroom environment also contributes to a strong classroom culture. Make sure students have access to technology and other tools that will help support their learning. Here are 4 ideas that Project Based Teaching recommends considering:
- Flexible seating and arrangements that support working in partners and groups
- A project wall: “By dedicating a bulletin board… to the project currently underway, you create a central location to manage information, highlight upcoming deadlines and milestones, remind students of the driving question, capture need-to-knows, and point to resources.” A digital space could serve this purpose too.
- Sentence starters: Since student voice is so important in project based learning, it is important to provide support for ALL students. These sentence stems can help students engage with each other productively and appropriately.
4. Evidence of the messy middle: Keep rough drafts and unfinished work visible. It provides opportunities for questions, discussion, and feedback.
Routines and Habits for a Student Centered Classroom
We are no stranger to routines and procedures! Routines and procedures increase learning time. Here are the routines and procedures that are necessary for PBL (or truly any classroom):
- Active listening – all voices in a group are heard and valued
- Providing feedback – how to give and receive feedback in a way that is helpful and kind
- Morning meetings – check in time with class that helps strengthen relationships
- Thinking routines – like “think-pair-share”
- Closers – ending class with shout outs or to state a class norm
If you are interested in a PBL classroom, start small with a small team building challenge.
- Community Counts is a great place to start – it helps building relationships between students and teacher and student to student
“If you build that culture early, students will be ready to tackle longer, more content-heavy projects later in the school year.”
To learn more about incorporating project based learning into your classroom, check out Project Based Teaching.
Do you use project based learning in your classroom? What are ways you build your classroom culture?