2. ESTABLISHING RULES FOR DISCUSSION
by Felisa Tibbitts, Human Rights Education Associates
Every teacher knows that in order to have an open discussion, it is important to establish an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect in the classroom. One way to help create a "safe" environment, is to have students develop 'Rules for Discussion'. This is best done at the beginning of the school year, when norms of behavior are normally being established, although such rules could be established any time.
In order to create the Rules for Discussion, the teacher might first ask students if they want their classroom to be an environment where students feel free to express themselves and to learn through discussion with the other. (This subject might come up naturally following a difficult discussion in class.) The teacher can suggest that there be a common understanding of the protocol for listening and speaking. The teacher can then ask the students to volunteer some principles for classroom discussion that they think all should follow. She/he should write every idea on a large piece of paper for all to see.
After the students have brainstormed for a short while, the teacher might then look to see if there are any principles that could be combined, and invite discussion or comment. The teacher might propose some principles if they do not come up naturally, such as the following:
listen to the person who is speaking
only one person speaks at a time
raise your hand to be recognized if you want to say something
no interruption when someone is speaking
when you disagree with someone, make sure that you make a difference between criticizing someone's idea and the person themselves
no laughing when a person is saying something (unless they are making a joke)
encourage everyone to participate
Students then agree by consensus that they intend to abide by this list. They are then responsible for applying the rules of this list to themselves and to other members of the class. If serious violations of the list occur, the teacher could negotiate with the students what should be the consequences of rule breaking.
This list should be written on a piece of paper and hung permanently in the classroom for the rest of the year, to be referred to as necessary. The 'living document' may be added to or altered over the course of the year.
© Human Rights Education Associates
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