Peggy Lyons

Principal or Asst Prin - Elem

Calgary, AB


  • Posted 6 Years ago
  • 6.6k

What Your Rules Say About You


Rules, rules, rules, everyone knows the key to success in school is to follow the rules.

Unfortunately, this belief persists in many of todays classrooms and schools.  Next time you are in a classroom take a look at the posted rules.  Are they rules such as “no talking while the teacher is talking, stay in your desk during work time, raise your hand if you need help?”  If so, I think these rules say a lot about the teacher, the work environment and the level of meaningful engaging tasks.  They imply that the teacher is the only one who holds the knowledge, the teacher will give you great wisdom and knowledge if only you will listen and the work you undertake will be solitary and designed to measure how well you listen.

Rules for Students Fall 2009-2

Rules for Students Fall 2009-2 (Photo credit: mick62)

Why is it that some classrooms need these types of rules and some do not?  For the teachers that do not post these types of rules what is the difference?  How can they manage without them?

One answer to these questions is to take a look at the type of tasks the student is being asked to undertake.  To analyze the planning and preparation the teacher has given to design tasks which result in high levels of student engagement.

Think of it this way, if a teacher designs tasks that engage the student in meaningful learning will the student be wandering around the classroom disrupting others, off task, doing any of the other million things teachers often complain about?

But just what goes into meaningful learning and task design that results in high levels of student engagement?

I would like to give credit to the amazing staff at Erin Wood School in Calgary AB who worked together yesterday to answer this question.  When analyzing student engagement, and tasks that result in high levels of student engagement we were able to effectively answer the question, “What are the attributes of tasks that result in meaningful learning and high(er) levels of student engagement?”

Tasks resulting in higher levels of student engagement consist of these attributes:

  • Meaningful or related to the student’s life or interests;
  • Working together with peers;
  • Incorporates games;
  • Created by the student (authentic);
  • Result in a piece of work the student is proud of and wants to share;
  • Challenging (but not so challenging it is unattainable);
  • Considers learning styles;
  • Allows for student choice;
  • Can be extended by students;

Tasks resulting in lower levels of student engagement consists of these attributes:

  • Easy and quick to complete (requires low levels of thinking);
  • Is teacher designed (such as a worksheet);
  • Has right or wrong answers;
  • Considers none or all of the attributes of high engaging tasks.

When considering student engagement and the types of tasks students are asked to complete, I wonder if students who are given tasks designed to be highly meaningful and engaging do teachers really need to post rules such as “stay in your desk during work time?”  Do these such rules imply that you have just entered a classroom of low-engaging task design?  In my opinion, teachers who strive to design meaningful tasks that engage students are more likely to post “Work hard and do your best, or Respect yourself and others.” on the walls of their classroom.

Read more at my personal blog

1 Comment

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25 Feb 12, 03:12 PM

Your take on rules sounds a lot like it comes from a teacher in a Results Only Learning Environment. The results-only system is one that builds trust between the student and the teacher. It involves a workshop setting, project-based learning the elimination of rules and consequences.

As you suggest, when students are engaged in activities that they choose and spend time collaborating on learning, there is no time for disruptive behavior.

I surveyed my students at the end of last year and asked them why there are never any discipline issues in our class. More than 90 percent chose "Students are too engaged in learning to be disruptive."

Thanks for a thoughtful post.


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