Computer programmers make choices on your behalf. Usually the “default settings” are configured in a way that most people would want them, or at least are set so that the computer program is the simplest to operate. Advanced computer users are quick to start making changes to the default settings: they want programs installed in specific places, they want different programs to open certain files, and they want programs to behave in a precise way. Altogether, they take control of their computer and tweak it to improve how it operates.
As I prepare for the first day of a new school year, I have been thinking about the “default settings” for a classroom. When students enter my classroom each day throughout the first week, I feel like I’m installing a new program on my computer. As I install the program I make choices on how the program will run – I can modify the default settings. This process of modifying the default settings of a classroom is what makes teachers into “advanced users.”
Students already have default settings pre-programmed from day one. In my case, these settings are the result of over 10 years of formal schooling, and from the social pressures of being a teenager. Here’s one example: Grade 9 students don’t like to share ideas publicly. Why? Because in their 10 years of learning, they have had relatively little opportunity to do so. In addition, they have learned that it is best to protect yourself at all costs from looking awkward, vulnerable, or different. As an “advanced user,” I know that if I hope to have discussions, debates, and active participation in my class, I will need to change this default setting.
These are some of the new default settings that I want my classroom to have:
- contribution is always valued
- struggling is okay – readiness, resilience, and resourcefulness pave the road to success
- collaboration is key – working with new/different people is useful and interesting
- character counts (“it’s nice to be nice”)
In my first week of school, the emphasis is not on curriculum but on building community. Expose your students to the type of learning environments you want to use throughout the year. Provide time for students to learn each others’ names; Get students to talk and share their experiences; Make them form groups – many different groups; Get students to move around. Each activity that students participate in slowly changes the default settings. Here is an example of activity I use to create a classroom expectations video with my students.
After a week of moving around, sharing, praising, and collaborating, I have changed the default settings of my classroom. Students then come to class with a different mentality – A mentality I can really work with!
Image Credit: Lollyman