Creating class rules

In an attempt to encourage children to take control of their behavior, Kathryn Castle, Oklahoma State University, and Karen Rogers, Orvis Risner Elementary School, Edmond, Oklahoma, had the third graders in Ms. Rogers1 class create their own rules of behavior. Castle and Rogers believe that challenging students to write the rules that govern the social life of the classroom can foster autonomy and stimulate moral reasoning and prosocial behavior (group problem-solving, cooperative work and play).

In their study, Castle and Rogers discovered that children write almost the same rules as teachers. By doing it themselves, however, children gain a valuable experience.

After discussing the already-established school rules, Rogers led the class in a discussion of what the class rules should be. The children were immediately, actively involved. Rogers wrote rules on the board as children offered them. She let the discussion continue as long as children remained interested. She reports that the extended time spent thinking about and discussing rules actually saved time in the long run, because the children were more likely to remember the rules and understand their importance.

The children discussed each rule as it was suggested, relating it to personal experiences. The teacher contributed examples of rule infractions and consequences along with the children. The children also discussed the fact that though rules were broken by accident sometimes, this often resulted in injuries or property damage. The idea of restitution emerged as a way of correcting behavior. During this discussion the children debated every suggested rule. By the time the class ended they had created a list of 27 rules and voted that it was sufficient.

Their long list indicates that the students tried to write a set of rules that would cover every circumstance. In their second discussion Rogers asked the class to consider whether the number of rules could be reduced. Children compared the rules and decided either to erase one of the rules or come up with a better rule to cover both situations. Rogers reported that the children became very excited when they made a relevant connection between rules. The idea of a general principle or overarching rule began to emerge. Eventually, the children found that the rules “Be kind” and “Be a good role model” covered a large number of rules. Rogers cautions that students younger than third grade would probably end their discussions with a large number of rules rather than being able to develop more all-encompassing ones. In the end, there were only four rules on her third-graders’ list.

Castle and Rogers conclude that creating classroom rules together can be a very meaningful learning experience for children and teachers, one that helps establish a positive sense of community within the class

“Rule-Creating in a Constructivist Classroom Community”, Childhood Education, Volume 70, Number 2. pp.77-8.

Published in ERN, February/March 1994, Volume 7, Number 2.

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