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In the Classroom: Setting House Rules

By Craig McKinney, AVID Teacher and Staff Developer

With more than 4,900 schools adopting AVID, we thought it would be fun to share what’s going on in AVID classrooms across the country.  Here is what one school is doing. What are you doing to enrich your classrooms?  Share your ideas and best practices in the comment section below.  Need more space?  Contact us and we may feature your AVID idea in a future blog.

“Since I’m the first person to pass ‘Go’ with a roll of double sixes, I get to send one person of my choice to jail.  I choose you!”

“What?  That’s not a rule!”

“Well, that’s how we play it at our house.”

Everyone plays Monopoly a little bit differently.  This is a lesson I learned the hard way. Every family has its own set of house rules. Some let you take a ride from one railroad you own to another. Others use Free Parking as some kind of jackpot space which awards cash to anyone who lands on it. At some homes, you receive a salary bump each time your little metal iron or battleship passes “Go.” Elsewhere, picky restrictions don’t allow you to mortgage properties if you find yourself in a financial crunch.

It’s important to go over the house rules before you start playing, or you may wind up with some confusion or even some conflict.  

The same holds true for collaborative classroom strategies. If you open class by saying, “Okay, get in a circle for a Socratic Seminar,” and then just set the students free on their discussion, you’re likely to run into some problems as no clear expectations have been set. Even if students claim to know how to participate in a Socratic Seminar because they’ve done them elsewhere, it’s important that you spend a minute letting your students know the rules of the game in your classroom.  
Here are a few rules I like to go over in my class to make sure my discussion has the right “tenor”:

Three, then me: If you speak, three others get to speak before you do again.
Encourage others to participate.
Nonverbal communication should be positive. Listen to your classmates!
On-topic: Don’t let the conversation drift off-track.
Refer back to the text.
Support others; this is a discussion, not a debate.  

Of course, you get to make up your own house rules to help your Socratic Seminars run smoothly and meet your instructional goals. Make sure you go over them beforehand.  And, for added effectiveness, leave some time to debrief at the end so you can improve on the process next time.

Craig McKinney teaches Humanities at Shepton High School in Plano, Texas. A Dallas-area native, Craig attended Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, where he received degrees in English and sociology. He earned his master’s degree at the University of North Texas. During his 21-year teaching career at Shepton, Craig has taught English, Humanities, Latin, and the AVID Elective. As part of his contribution to Shepton’s AVID site team, Craig spreads AVID strategies schoolwide through staff in-services and by writing a weekly Wednesday WICOR e-mail. When he’s not teaching ninth and tenth graders, Craig works as an AVID staff developer. He also bakes a mean loaf of sourdough bread, serves as an officer of his university’s local alumni association, and loves herb gardening, attending cultural events, and playing board games.  

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