One of the criticisms I have heard about constructivism is that students are allowed to much freedom and discipline is impossible to maintain.  I would argue that, while students are given more freedom, discipline is easier to maintain once the classroom is fully functioning.  As I said in an earlier blog, the teacher must be patient, especially at the beginning of the process, as students are not used to this type of classroom.  In addition to teaching students how to behave in a constructivist classroom, the teacher needs to help students unlearn classroom behaviors taught in past years of schooling.  The key to being successful is to develop relationships with students and to help them develop relationships with each other.

I believe that classroom management is much easier if you are connected to your students regardless of the type of classroom you are in.  I remember having to step in front of a high school student who was bigger than I am in order to prevent a fight from starting.  He stopped immediately and stepped outside of the room we were in.  Later he told me that the only reason he stopped was because of the respect he had for me.  If I hadn't built that relationship, violence between students would have occurred.  I'm in my sixth year as the night school teacher at my program and I have never had an incidence of violence in the night program.  I attribute this to the relationships I have been able to build.

In order to build relationships with my students, I make an effort to get to know them as real people.  I ask them about what is going on in their lives.  We talk about music, movies, books, etc.  We talk about what they did on the weekend.  I also let them see me as a real person.  I talk with them about what is going on in my life.  I share my excitement and frustrations about what is going on with my family with them.  I talk about the music, movies, books, etc. that I like.  Once these connections are built, it is much easier to help students stay on task.  They respond much better to me when I speak to them.

There are several specific processes for building group dynamics mentioned in the books listed in my second post.  I especially recommend the book by Richard and Patricia Schmuck for how to build the dynamics of a constructivist classroom.  I won't go through all of these here, but I do want to share a few general highlights:
  • start by working on creating those relationships; content is secondary in the early days
  • develop specific group roles and procedures and consciously teach those to your students
  • assign specific roles within those groups
  • develop class rules with your students instead of for them
  • provide them procecures and opportunities for working through their own problems

 

Given time to learn how things work in a constructivist classroom, students will, I believe, thrive.  They will actively manage more of their own discipline with continued instructor guidance.  They will, I believe, accept the new freedom by actively taking on the increased responsibility which must come with it
12/6/2011

Acknowledging the personal dignity of every student is a critical part of being a teacher. When we take the time to build a relationship as a partner and guide, we can often short-circuit the power struggles that come when students feel powerless.

When students feel intellectually and emotionally safe in a classroom, they are free to take more risks--to get things wrong--and to try again.

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