I personally feel the first week of school is the most important week of teaching. The community you create your first week will impact how students feel in your classroom all year long. This is especially true if you teach students with learning disabilities in math or students who struggle with math. We cannot use math strategies for struggling learners until our classroom community has been intentionally created first. Continue reading to find four reasons why classroom culture matters and how you can build positive classroom culture in your math classroom.
What is classroom culture?
Before we talk about why classroom culture matters, let’s also define what classroom culture is. I like this quote from Joan Young in her book, Encouragement in the Classroom:
“Classroom environment is one of the most important factors affecting student learning. Simply put, students learn better when they view the learning environment as positive and supportive. A positive environment is one in which students feel a sense of belonging, trust others, and feel encouraged to tackle challenges, take risks, and ask questions.”
What stands out to me is that a classroom culture, and a positive classroom culture more specifically is one where
Students feel a sense of belonging
Students trust others
Students feel encouraged to tackle challenges, take risks, and ask questions
Stop and think to yourself for a moment… if you’re a student with a learning disability in math or a student who struggles with math… are those three components being built - intentionally built - in your classroom? Before we look at effective math teaching strategies, as in how to make the mathematics accessible in our classrooms, we must first build a positive classroom culture.
4 Reasons Why Classroom Culture Matters For Students Who Struggle With Math
#1) Students have to feel seen, known, and heard in order to increase motivation
One of the biggest challenges I hear from teachers in my client work, is that students don’t persevere in mathematics, that they lack motivation. Building a positive classroom culture will go a VERY long way in encouraging perseverance and motivation of our students who struggle. The more seen, known, and heard our students feel - and then validated by you - the more they will be willing to put in effort all year long.
#2) Students have to learn about you
Students who have failed math multiple times are looking to see if you’re different.
Are you going to give up on them? Are you going to be fair? Are you going to respect them? Are you going to judge them for failing math the year before? Do you care that they don’t have their multiplication facts memorized?
You need to use activities your first week that will allow your students to learn what your answers are to these types of questions.
#3) Students have to learn about each other
Students need to get to know their classmates. Yes, they need to know if they have things in common with each other like favorite colors, dream jobs, and number of pets, but students who have been historically underserved in traditional mathematics also need to know the following...
Will my classmates respect me? Will they laugh if I get something wrong? Will they judge me for counting on my fingers? Did they also fail math last year?
#4) Students have to share their past math experiences
Students are eager to share their love or hate of math with you and their peers. They may have deeply rooted math anxiety and it’s vital that students have an opportunity to share this with you - and if possible, their peers as well.
How to build this kind of positive math classroom culture
Register for the free 3-Part Math Motivation challenge and get immediate access to three 10 minute videos that take you through creating 3 activities to use your first week. Registration is only open for a limited time and you can click here to see if it's still open.
If registration is closed for the challenge, you can also check out these made for you first week activities specifically made for students who struggle in 6th-12th grade mathematics! Click here to learn more about the bundle!
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