Every classroom would be a little less complete and a whole lot more chaotic without a list of classroom rules.
On full display with large, bold letters, every class I’ve ever been in has its code of conduct on display for its students. Rules help students understand what is expected of them in the classroom, but I wonder, is there a way to make them even more effective?
If you removed your list of rules tomorrow, could your students tell you what your rules were? Maybe they could remember one or two rules, but I’d wager they couldn’t recite the full list.
I think it’s possible to have students memorize all of the class rules and comprehend them, too. I’m not talking about a new trendy teaching style or any kind of iPad app, but a method that’s been used for thousands of years.
In their latest book, Think Like a Freak, authors Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner make a point on the efficacy of storytelling, using the Bible as an example. They ask the reader to list the ten commandments from memory, a task only 14% of people surveyed successfully performed.
They argue that these kinds of cold, instructional lists mesh poorly with human memory. The authors point out that we are much more inclined to remember details about stories like Adam and Eve, Noah, Moses, and so on. These stories have a key human element and give us something to attach to. The authors explain that stories “…stick with us; they move us; they persuade us to consider the constancy and frailties of the human experience in a way that mere rules cannot.”
Aesop’s fables accomplish similar means as the bible by attaching colorful tales of talking animals to proverbs. It’s no wonder they have lasted through the generations and adults can still recite such timeless phrases as “slow and steady wins the race”. Stories helped us understand the principles as children and they’ve hooked us ever since.
You might have to dig around a bit to find stories that match up well with your specific classroom rules, but it should be worth it, especially for the stories about concepts like respect. Respect for yourself and others is more nuanced than “raise your hand to speak”, and might require a story that students can remember more easily.
A fable unit in your curriculum could be a perfect time to utilize morals and work in your classroom rules. It could help your students build connections to the text and understand what is expected of them at school.
Of course, having children memorize rules for the sake of memorizing rules does little good.
Another benefit of using a story is that students can empathize with the characters. When they understand how a character feels in a certain situation, they can better discuss why these classroom rules are needed.
I think the time-tested approach of Aesop and his contemporaries is something that could work to help my students comprehend and connect to the classroom rules on a deeper level.
Have you tried using stories to help students understand why your classroom has the rules it does? What other ways have you used storytelling and literature in your teaching? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.
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