Something I heard at PCMI, credited to Benjamin Walker, is “you don’t build culture with a firehose, you build it with a turkey baster.” Culture isn’t something that’s established all at once or through the brilliance of one great activity, it’s the sum of all the little things that make a class unique. Planning for culture is less about the first day than it is the micro-moves that reinforce classroom norms the second week and halfway through October and the last week in December. Culture is about patience and small choices, day in and day out.
Breaking the Didactic Contract
Also at PCMI, Peter Liljedahl spoke about the non-negotiated norms of classrooms everywhere. Students come in, sit down, face front. Students write in their notebooks what is written on the board. Students complete work on pieces of paper put in front of them. In exchange, teachers don’t require students to think very hard or do any math they have not been shown how to do. These norms are so entrenched that they need to be broken in radical ways, beginning at the start of the first class, to create a classroom where students are willing to think.
I see a compelling argument from each perspective, and I’m not sure how to reconcile them.