3 Steps to Building A Learning Community: Vision. Intention. Purpose.
The year is early, and as I shared in my last post, I am celebrating everything! Our time together, the students in our class, the space we inhabit 6 hours a day, the tools in our midst, the choices we have, and the time ahead.
Envisioning the Year Ahead
I am looking ahead. I know the bravery and naive confidence it will take to write a story, spell hard words, organize writing, use ending punctuation, learn new writing techniques, and new genres of writing. The young writers sitting in our classroom will rise above the fears and struggles of being a writer, but it will take intentional planning, repetitive teaching, daily writing, and reteaching. Writing is hard work. Students don’t become writers because we have writing workshop. Writers become writers because teachers have clear intentions and a vision of what’s possible.
As a writer, I need a writing community. My community fosters ideas; it’s where I feel safe talking about writing, sharing drafts, final copies, giving and receiving feedback. Without my writing community, my stories would remain in my head. They wouldn’t be shared beyond my rambling thoughts. Writing brings my stories to life. Sharing my stories allows my stories to live beyond me and change who I am all at the same time. My students need this same feeling of safety and encouragement in their learning community.
Our learning community, like a writing community, is built with intention and purpose. I offer opportunities for choice, decision making, peer collaboration, and problem-solving throughout the day. I am intentional in embedding these possibilities naturally into our routines and procedures.
- Morning and end of day meetings
- Self-scheduled media center visits
- Tool choice
- Workspace choice
- Seating choice (floor, table, bean bag, rocker, scoop chair, standing, lapboards, etc.)
- Working in isolation or with a peer
As a part of our daily meetings, I choose activities designed to foster safety, encourage risk-taking, teach flexible thinking, promote the giving and receiving of feedback, and provide ample opportunities to be supported by peers.
I recently read an article on Edutopia that described the building of a community block tower.
One at a time, students add a block to the tower. Each choice in block size, shape, and placement lives with the student. Peers watch in suspense and cheer as each block is placed. Even when the structure falls, students offer words of support and encouragement to each other.
Each day we take a few minutes to reflect on what we have learned from building the tower;
“I felt really sad when the tower fell, but I knew my friends had my back.”
“You have to build a solid base before you can go tall, or it will fall over.”
“Wow, I thought it was going to fall. You were brave!”
“If you go too tall too quick, your tower will collapse. It needs a base.”
And, the glory, I am beginning to hear students connect what they’ve learned to the academic parts of our day.
“Reading pictures is like having a base to learn to read hard words.”
“Sharing your story on Twitter was like adding a tall block.”
As I’ve watched my students build and rebuild the block tower, I have learned so much about who we are as peers, learners, friends and leaders.
Our learning community has constructed a strong base; we are a community where each and every learner can thrive and take risks knowing their friends will have their back. We have developed a common language and experience. Students have built a learning community much like my writing community; a group of peers who will foster ideas, offer support, provide feedback and help us bring our ideas to life. My student’s thoughts will now live beyond who they are and change who they will become.