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Jul 31

Making the Rules in School

Posted by Pamela Jones in Fair Is Not Equal on Jul 31, 2012

The knowledge our students construct is not only relevant to them personally but is also relevant to the classroom community as a whole! Constructivism, when applied to behavioral intervention, has many faces but one example is the rule-making process. For example, in a constructivist class, the rules would not be imposed upon the students but rather, students would be at the heart of the process—co-constructing the norms that would guide the group on their year-long journey of learning.


When kids take an active part in making the rules, they often feel more of a connection to them and are often more invested members of the classroom community. While co-constructing the norms has implications for all students, it has particular relevance for students who present with emotional and behavioral challenges because they are often lagging in key skills needed to navigate interpersonal and social situations. 

While a constructivist approach to the rules is potentially multifaceted, one such example is starting with your students’ hopes and dreams (as suggested by Charney).  Once the students have identified a specific hope they have for their school year (such as “learning to read” or “being a good friend,” for example), the teacher leads the students in a discussion of how they will need to “be” as individuals and as a group in order to reach those goals. Once the students have identified how they need to be to achieve these goals (possible examples include “kind,” “focused,” etc.), the teacher then helps the students distill this list down to its most salient aspects—identifying categories such as “Be Safe,” “Be Kind,” “Be Clean,” and “Give Your Best Effort.” In many classrooms, the students then sign this document and this chart serves as a living reminder of the process they followed and the commitment they made to adhere to these rules, or norms.

The rules that you and your students create collaboratively should become a living and tangible part of classroom life--adhered to consistently and discussed often. Consistency in following the rules is key if you aim to have students understand and follow them routinely. Also, it's important to note that while you may create separate and specifically-targeted behavior plans for individual students as the need arises, the rule-making process is not one that is (or needs to be) differentiated at this stage. 

Have you co-constructed the rules with your students? If so, what were the benefits? The drawbacks? In what other ways have you applied a constructivist perspective in your practice? Do tell! Inquiring minds want to know.  

tagged collaborative rule-making, constructivism, constructivist, rules
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