Urvi Shah’s Class Meeting, High School Social Studies
by Jane Califf
Urvi Shah was a student teacher in an urban high school social studies class with a cooperating teacher who was not supportive. It was a semester when alternative placements were hard to find. She decided she would make the best of her situation and try new ways to solve discipline problems.
One of her classes was unruly, and she saw that few students were listening to her lessons. No matter what she said or did to improve this situation, nothing helped. To resolve this problem, I encouraged her to have a class meeting. Things were going so poorly, she had nothing to lose.
We discussed how such a meeting could unfold. She took up the challenge, and she was very pleased with the outcome. I asked her to write up her experience and send it to two other student teachers, encouraging them to give it a try since they were also having classroom management problems.
Here is her email:
Isabel and Cecilia,
I had a class meeting about two weeks ago. I wasn't planning on having one because I thought it might not work and that the students might just laugh and take it as a joke. The day we had the meeting started off like this:
It was a Friday when I usually give tests or quizzes. One student came in and said, "This is crazy. How do you expect us to know all this stuff in one week? I'm not taking the test. This class sucks. We could do so much to change it.” At that point. I decided that after the test was done, we were going to have a class meeting.
I began by saying "As you all know, I'm not a teacher yet, I'm learning how to be a teacher, and I have a lot to learn. Can you help me with this? What can I improve on?"
As soon as I said this, they started raising their hands and giving me suggestions like: “You need to project your voice more.”
“You need to give us study guides.”
“You need to be more strict.”
I wrote all the suggestions on the board. We went through the list and eliminated the ones that we thought were invalid. Then I told them this:
“If I do all these things, I want something in exchange. I want you to behave and not throw things around the room or shout out. If you have something to say, just raise your hand. When I’m talking, please listen.” I told them I would type up the list and create a contract which they would have to sign. They agreed.
The next day, I came in with the contract and passed it around. Everyone signed. After that, the problem has been very minimal. They do still talk sometimes, but I remind them of the meeting, and they listen. The class is a whole lot better, and I give them 10 minutes at the end of class to just talk because ideally it’s their homeroom time.1
If you have any other questions just email me. Good luck.
I distributed copies of Ms. Shah’s contract at the weekly Student Teacher Seminar to encourage others besides Cecilia and Isabel to try this approach when faced with a problem that cannot be solved by the teacher alone.
Teacher and Student Contract
During our class meeting on Friday, I understood that I had to improve on many things. These are the things we agreed on:
project my voice.
allow enough time to do your work.
have fun activities/games to review for tests. Some suggestions are:
Easter Egg Question Hunt; Family Feud; Charades; Wheel of Fortune
provide a study guide for tests. As a review, the class will help make tests, and I will
pick the best questions to include.2
have light music playing on some days.
allow ten free minutes at the end of class.
Now I need you to pay your half of the deal. I will do all these things that you suggested, but in return, I need you to:
give me your undivided attention.
not shout out in class.3
not throw things around the class.
not shout out at one another.
please respect one another.
If you have something to say, or don’t understand something, raise your hand. What I am trying to say pretty much is, when I am talking, try to pay attention and stay quiet. This is the only way we will all be able to get through the lesson for that day.
If you agree on these terms, please sign below.
Ms. Shah told other teachers about her productive class meeting. A math teacher tried it and reported that it was successful in her class as well.
The impact that Ms. Shah’s efforts had on her class can be seen in how she describes her last day as a student teacher: “The students showed their appreciation by making a huge card and signing it with their thoughts. Mostly every student wrote comments such as ‘Thanks for being a great teacher’ and ‘You changed our lives.’ I still have the card. They also bought me a black ball point pen.”
1The class was at the beginning of the day and joined with homeroom. Most teachers started class during homeroom because they needed that extra 10 minutes to get through lessons because of misbehavior. Also, other teachers did not give homeroom time because it gave the students a reason to be disruptive.
My thinking was different. I thought if I didn’t give them those 10 minutes, I am robbing them of their time and independence. I monitored those 10 minutes and made sure they were not misbehaving (i.e., cursing, hitting, teasing, shouting etc.). I also explained to them that if there was any unruliness, these 10 minutes would be taken away, and we would resume the old classroom style. I never had to take away the 10 minutes because they would calm down when I reminded them of the rules we had made together.
2This worked out well. I picked from various submissions, and I also put in my own questions.
3This refers to their habit of shouting out answers to questions or making comments about the lesson such as “This is stupid.”