September 10, 2018

By Gerard Dawson

“Classroom culture” is one of those vague terms that can send shivers down a teacher’s spine. One mention by an administrator or thought leader, and it’s easy for your eyes to glaze over and your ears to shut. But the truth is, improving classroom culture consists of concrete steps that teachers can take to ensure a better learning environment for their students. While the results may not be easy to collect data about, they can certainly be felt. Here are some of the first steps I recommend.

Make Sure Every Voice is Heard

Classroom culture is largely about the way that teachers and students communicate and the way that students communicate with each other. In both cases, culture cannot be optimized until all students are participating in discussions and sharing their voices. If some students feel silenced, then they will not contribute and miss out on valuable learning experiences. When certain students feel uncomfortable speaking, class can become stale and boring, since teachers and students know that only a few voices will do all the talking.

When all students’ voices are consistently heard in the classroom, then teachers have the chance to push students in their speaking abilities, even using tools like cold calling to maximize participation and formatively assess the class.  Seventeen-year veteran teacher Stacey Ryan acknowledges the connection between hearing every voice and assessing student abilities in her piece, “3 Tech Tools that Inspire Collaboration.” She writes, “By capturing students’ learning in a small-group setting and without the teacher at their side, I am able to hear my students think aloud and readily verbalize what they know.” Stacey uses small audio devices offered by Lightspeed, which allow her to listen in on students’ small-group discussions.

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Gerard Dawson

Gerard Dawson

Gerard Dawson is an English and journalism teacher at Hightstown (NJ) High School, the author of Hacking Literacy: 5 Ways to Turn Any Classroom into a Culture of Readers, and a contributor to The Best Lesson Series: Literature. Follow him on Twitter: @GerardDawson3.

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