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Creating a positive classroom culture

Burnett

Strategies for creating a classroom culture in which students move at their own pace, take ownership for their learning, and support one another

Beginning of the year

Contracts

Starting the year with an explicit class contract helps establish norms and set expectations. To cultivate values like individual improvement, hard work, and camaraderie, consider including the following in your contract:

  • We all learn concepts at different paces
  • We take responsibility for our own learning, and we try our best
  • We help each other out. When someone is struggling with a concept we already know, we’ll help him or her understand it
  • See an example of a class contract from Los Altos

Discussions

When introducing Khan Academy, some teachers encourage students to share their thoughts on how learning on KA will be different than their previous math classes. During this conversation, teachers can correct any misconceptions, identify potential opportunities and challenges, and prompt students to think creatively.

This discussion could segue into a class contract (see above). We’ve seen this conversation begin with a formal presentation, while other conversations have been informal. Questions to be covered in such a conversation could include:

  • Think about your previous math classes. How might your experience be similar or different than another student in this math class?
  • What are some advantages to using Khan Academy?
  • What are some challenges we might face by using Khan Academy?
  • How can we meet those challenges?

Throughout the year

These strategies can help reinforce and maintain the classroom culture throughout the year.

Praise

We've seen teachers reinforce class values of hard work and individual improvement by regularly complimenting students who put in extra effort or achieve their goals. Some great strategies we've seen: encouraging spontaneous applause from the whole class when a student completes a goal that's been particularly challenging for him/her, having students share accomplishments or challenges from the day or week at the end of class, and praising students for tutoring their peers.

Rewarding individual improvement

Teachers can signal the importance of individual improvement by grading students based on their own goals (at least partly) rather than solely on grade-level standards.

Prioritizing individual improvement over grade-based content means that some students may race ahead, while others spend time filling gaps in their knowledge rather than focusing on grade-level standards. In the short term, these students may not perform as well on grade-level assessments but may ultimately become better math students thanks to their strong foundation.

Suggested lessons

To set the culture and learning environment for your class, here are suggested lesson topics that Khan Academy teachers recommend as most helpful to creating a positive classroom culture

INTRODUCING KHAN ACADEMY

You can set the stage for your classroom in setting a tone of respect when using KA and technology. It is important for students to understand that everyone learns differently and has different “swiss cheese holes.” There is no need to feel embarrassed about filling in these gaps, instead, the emphasis should be placed on meeting goals, regardless of what those specific goals may be.

USING A JOURNAL/INTERACTIVE NOTEBOOK

Some teachers might find it useful to have a consistent source of documentation for each student, whether it’s a journal, notebook, binder, etc. This journal can be used to keep track of which videos students have watched and which exercises have been worked on; it can be a space for scratch work; it can be a place to keep track of goals and progress; and it can be a place for students to reflect on their learning - what questions they have, new vocabulary terms, etc. See how one teacher explained notebooks to her students

RULES FOR USING TECHNOLOGY

Each school has different rules and procedures concerning technology. We encourage teachers to start off the year explaining these rules and procedures and getting appropriate forms signed. Previous teachers have also used this as an opportunity to discuss social responsibility with having e-mail accounts and the difference between a work e-mail account and a personal e-mail account.

HOW TO SET YOUR OWN GOALS

Although the requirements for setting personal goals will vary depending on teacher, classroom, and school, this is a hallmark of using KA. For this reason, we suggest teaching students how to read their own data and how to set reasonable goals on their own. This way, students become self-motivated and can have a conversation with their teachers during goal-setting sessions about their own progress.

HOW TO BE AN EXCELLENT PEER TUTOR

Social interaction is another key component of using KA, and we expect and hope that students will be learning from each other. For many classrooms, it will be essential to explicitly teach students how to be a good peer tutor to their peers. This can include a brainstorming session of characteristics they would like in an excellent tutor (e.g. they don’t just tell me the answer, the ask me questions that guide me to the answer, they are encouraging and positive, etc.). See the video on peer tutoring for more details.

HOW TO WATCH A KA VIDEO

In order to take full advantage of KA videos, it might be necessary to explicitly teach students how to watch a KA video. This includes taking notes and stopping and replaying parts that are not clear. Teachers can model active listening by watching a video on a higher concept so that students can observe the learning and note-taking process.

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