In my role with ER&D, I hear a lot of discussion at the college about the challenges of managing students’ behavior in the classroom. Here is something that I do at the beginning of a course to clarify my and the group’s expectations for classroom behavior.
My syllabus includes my specific policies about technology use in the classroom, student absence, arriving to class late, on-time assignment submission, and other student responsibilities and behaviors that can lead to disruption in the classroom. It’s important that faculty state these policies directly. More powerful in influencing the culture of a class, though, is this Blackboard assignment that I give. After our discussion of the syllabus on the first day of class, I create a Discussion Board assignment for students to complete before the next class. The prompt is “Our individual behavior in a classroom greatly affects the entire group. These behaviors include arriving on time or late to class, cell phone use in the classroom, side conversations, small and large group discussion behaviors, eating and drinking in the classroom, and many others. What are some of your expectations for your and your classmates’ behavior in our class? How does your classmates’ behavior affect you in the classroom? What are your expectations of your instructor?” I then compile their responses to share collectively with the group and to discuss briefly.
Students are grateful to be asked what they need from their classmates and from a classroom environment. I believe that it is powerful for me to be able to say when disruptive behaviors develop in the classroom, “Your classmates made clear early in the semester that they are distracted by side conversations in the classroom” (or by late arrivals, or texting in class, or disrespectful listening, etc.).
If you use this activity, you could include a discussion about proven successful student behaviors. This link leads to just one example of description of these behaviors: http://academic.cuesta.edu/acasupp/as/201.HTM.
I hope that your semester has started well. Enjoy this good work of ours!