Rituals are special. They are something that you revisit and they are unique to your classroom community. Every year I establish rituals with my class. Some are purposeful and some just happen as an organic response to the day to day life in our room.
Rituals can be things that are silly or serious. They can be soothing or celebratory. For example, every week I make time for book chat time where students just mill around with their current reading book and chat with friends. They get ideas for things to read or they help each other select some new books. The fourth grade teachers at our school have “coffee time” every week. Parents bring in juice donations and once a week the students spend 15 minutes drinking juice and reading their Time for Kids magazine for the week. Another ritual is the writing celebration. At the end of every unit we find some way to share our work and celebrate what everyone has accomplished. I’m sure that I have rituals that I don’t even realize…
In Writing Through the Tween Years Bruce Morgan details a ritual that he does with his class called Days of our Lives. For every day one students illustrates and writes about something they did that day. He then hangs the cards chronologically on the wall. I love this idea! What a great way to chronicle the year. If you have technology available then you could do something like Shuttercal which is a site where you upload one photo for each calendar day. Students could take turns with the class camera to document something important each day of school like a great lesson, science experiment, presentation, or field trip.
One ritual I stick to every week is the class meeting. Class meetings can be tricky because you want to make sure it’s a positive time where students are focused on problem solving and noticing each others good qualities. Developmentally fifth graders are very in tune to issues of fairness and equity so this is a good time for them to talk through issues in the classroom. They also bring up troubles at from home or with outside friends and help each other problem solve. What’s worked for me is starting and ending with compliments. I do keep track. When issues are raised there are no names involved and we speak about the problem in a general way. I let the other students offer suggestions but my language is usually around developing coping skills. I ask questions like; What did you do? How do you think you can handle that in the future? What can I help you with? Although my goal is to get them to handle things as they arise, they find the ritual of the class meeting very soothing.
I distinguish rituals, procedures, and rules from each other. (I’ll talk about the last two in subsequent posts.) To me rituals are emotional and special. They are little things that give a class personality over time. One year I had a class that decided that every time someone made a mistake in math that helped us learn we needed to honor it. A student suggested that they shake their hands in a silent clap. Pretty soon students were shaking their hands during math all the time when they agreed or thought a classmate’s comment was helpful to them. I tried it with another class…didn’t work. The hand shaking was unique to that group of students because they came up with it and they felt safe enough with each other to do it.
What rituals do you use with your students to build a community of learners?