Rules, Boundaries, and FUN!
We personally believe that having some good rules sets appropriate boundaries and actually “frees” students to relax, feel safe, and have fun. It is like having toddlers playing safely inside the fence, with the mother watching from the porch. They can play in the sandbox, swing, ride trikes and run, knowing that they are safely within their own yard.
The opposite is also true. If teachers are too permissive, the boundaries are unknown. The students know that they can get away with a lot, and will always be testing the teachers to see how much more ground they can gain. Not only does this almost always lead to a downward spiral of character and morals, but also the sense of “safeness” is lost, the teacher has lost control (whether they will admit it or not), and there is usually a loss of innocence.
We personally choose to have a no-talking policy. (For more information on this read Ron Clark’s 55 Essential Rules. Make sure you read the story about the green food coloring too.)
PLEASE DO NOT MISUNDERSTAND-- our students do talk whenever they raise their hands and are given permission to do so. They are permitted to write little notes, or point to borrow an eraser or whatever, as long as there are not tissue boxes flying across the room.
This is extremely important to us for two reasons.
1. We have several grades in three different rooms. It would be chaos if the teacher were teaching the 3rd graders while the 4th, 5th, and 6th graders were all having conversations.
2. It frees us up to have an unbelievable amount of fun without worrying that things will get out of hand, or that we will interrupt the other classes in our school.
Here are a few ways students can be in a stimulating, interesting, mind-stretching, SILENT environment and still have incredible fun.
1. They can play Scrabble, Bananagrams, or chess using hand signals, including ones for checking each other’s spelling in the dictionary.
2. During a study hall period, IF all their work is done and their grades are good, they can go to the couch and read, or do the “puzzle-of-the-week”.
3. You can take students almost anywhere if they stay in a line, safely cross streets, and are not loud and rude in restaurants or museums. It is a JOY to take well-behaved, quiet students to interesting places. (At one point in our career we had taken a group that was pretty new to us to a natural science museum. The younger class did very well, even pointing out to me the okapi and gorilla we had studied in our African unit. The older boys, however, horrified us. They were fake-shooting the already-dead taxidermied animals behind glass cases. To make things worse, they laughed. We had a little talk after that one. We should have had a little talk before, but honestly, we would have never thought to say, “Oh, yes, and make sure you don’t fake-shoot the already dead stuffed taxidermy animals.”)
4. Studies show that students learn TWICE as much if they are laughing and enjoying what they learn as they learn. Learning can be very fun. If situations stay controlled, they can all giggle, stop when the teacher gives the signal (a musical cut-off), and then go on with the lesson. If things are out of control they laugh and goof off and it is very difficult to get them focused again.
5. Students can read, study, do a “brain-game” or other activity without any interruption from others. This is a must in a multi-grade classroom.
As long as things stay quiet and controlled, it is possible to allow more unusual things to happen, such as letting the cat or parakeet someone brought for “science” to stay in the school all day. (The cat did get lost for awhile inside our couch. :-)
Starting This Whole Thing Out Correctly: The First Day of School
Everyone stays outside until we have explained the rules. This way, we begin from the very start to get used to the school being a quiet, fun, wonderful place to learn. We usually only have a few warnings the first week and very few violations the rest of the year. The “punishment” is that they have to stay inside for lunch, or for recess if the offense merits it.