## Creating a Community of Learners – It’s Just Good Teaching

On Wednesday I taught my 2-hour elementary algebra class. We were covering linear inequalities and reviewing for the upcoming graphing exam. Since I am participating in a Faculty Inquiry Group (FIG) that focuses on the importance of the sense of community in the classroom, I am constantly thinking about how my “lecture” will contribute to that. Here’s how it went on Wednesday.

Lecture Portion

• I started by walking through two examples of graphing a linear inequality. I discussed efficient techniques for graphing the line, how to determine whether the line should be solid or dashed, how to select a test point, and how to determine which half-plane to shade.
• I then presented two more examples in which I told the students which step to perform and then had them check with a partner before moving on to the next step. If students struggled with a step, their partner or someone from an adjacent pair helped to explain the step in their own words.
• I finished with two examples in which the students worked them out completely without prompting, checking with a partner once they had both finished. Again, if a student had struggled with the problem, they got help from their partner or another group member.

My opinion is that this is not necessarily just “community based instruction”, it’s good teaching in general. It gets away from the standard “sage on the stage” lecture that our students typically do not learn from. A good class section in one in which students are encouraged to think, to participate, and to communicate. A good class section needs to address students of different learning styles, not just one style. It addresses styles that are not necessarily your preferred learning style, or the way you were taught.

Review Session

The second portion of the class was spent reviewing for the upcoming exam. I put a problem on the board, and asked the students to silently think about the strategy they would employ on this problem. After a moment of reflection, I then had them talk about their strategies within their group. After a couple of minutes I asked for their strategies, and shared my thoughts. After we were comfortable with this type of problem, we moved on to the next type.

As we left class, I felt confident that they understood how to approach all of these problems. I think that the discussion with members of their group was the most rewarding part of the session. I noticed very few students sitting there not engaged when they should be thinking, and the participation during the discussion was outstanding. I’ll know whether this actually worked when they take their exams on Monday, but I have a good feeling.

If the goal of teaching is to get students engaged, participating in class, thinking and communicating mathematically, then this activity was a success. Even if creating a community of learners is not your goal as an instructor, I hope that you will see that such activities are an effective way to teach our students.

Summary

Do you have any classroom strategies that you use that encourage the creation of a community of learners? If so, please leave a comment or reach me through the contact page at my web site – georgewoodbury.com.

-George

I am a math instructor at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, CA. Each Thursday I will be blogging about the importance of community in the classroom. If there’s a particular topic you’d like me to address, or if you have a question or a comment, please let me know. You can reach me through the contact page on my website – http://georgewoodbury.com.

• 1. Diane Bauman  |  September 23, 2010 at 10:40 am

Great ideas! I love how you are aware now of your community of learners in every class. Its great to be aware and intentional about class and I thank you for reminding me.

I find that most days I have too much material to cover and can’t quite take the time to have them work in groups like that, but the times that I have done it I’ve definitely felt it was beneficial.