Thursday, May 29, 2008


Through the combination of my previous thoughts and these readings (for Tuesday's class) I feel as though a successful classroom relies on the fact that no member of the classroom community should be passive. Teacher-centered approaches to learning allow students to be passive which may result in a less meaningful and retentive form of education. Similarly student-centered approaches allow the teachers to be more passive which may result in students not gaining the knowledge they need to make them successful in future endeavors. So what is the best way to foster a strong classroom community?

I had a history teacher in high school who constructed a constitution at the beginning of the school year. As a class we made the rules that we believed were important to make a classroom successful. We then learned about the constitution and if it has been successful in the United States. Immediately we were able to make connections to how and why the constitution was or was not successful. Our conclusion, though we were just 10th graders, seems very sophisticated now. We concluded that The United States Constitution was successful only for those who it was written, in particular white Americans. When our teacher asked why this was true we deduced that, in the same way, our classroom community constitution would not work for any other class. For the rest of the year the kids in this class became my close friends because we had developed a community that reached outside the classroom and connected, for us, the theory of a constitution and the practice of a constitution. The teacher allowed us to develop the community on our own through open discussions in class and an online forum where we discussed readings, put up relevant comics, and proposed ideas. Was this critical literacy or classroom community of learners? I feel both but then where is the separation?

Anyways, Like any other American student I have had many classes that revolved around teacher’s lectures. These classrooms leave nothing in my memory. I feel as though they did not change my life, my views on the world, or anything about me. Gutierrez and Rosoff stated that cultural community is a coordinated group of people with some traditions and understandings in common (p. 21) and my history class gave us a sense of this cultural community while teacher-based lectures did not.

Now as I start teaching I hope to have classes that feel like a community and are able to have no barriers during discussions. I’m unsure on how to create this community in a mathematics classroom though. I suppose constructing a constitution would be a start but, unlike a history classroom, the connections to social practice will not be there. Rosoff suggests that “both mature members of the community and less mature members are conceived as active,” (p. 213) but I am lost in where that boundary line should be drawn especially in a mathematics classroom. Math generally has one and only one correct answer to a problem there is no debate, as there may be in history and English classes. So when I put a problem on the bored to be solved I see an individual solving the problem not a “community”.


Grace Butler said...

Several people have mentioned math as a difficult subject because it's a matter of right and wrong. Either you get the correct answer or you don't. In my opinion, though, this need not exclude the community of learners and a multi-tiered participation. For example, one high school math teacher I had allowed students to collaborate on homework. I also had a physics teacher who would put a problem on the board and send up one student to actually write out the work, but it was the responsibility of the entire class to find the answer. There may be a right and a wrong answer, but the social learner concept is all about how students are learning. As students got more practiced and developed a clearer understanding of the concepts, they were able to participate more towards finding the right answers.

Lisabeth said...

I agree with Grace - although math does focus on 'correct' answers, there is always room for collaboration and differing levels of participation by all.

And even thought there is one correct answer, why did the teachers always ask us to "show our work"? I would argue not to be nags, but to look at our process - how did we approach a problem?

One of the fantastic things about math is that there is usually more than one way to approach a problem. I think providing students multiple opportunities to explain their process and how they approached a problem lends itself well to building a community, much like your history teacher with the class consititution.