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6th Grade Math: The Democratic Classroom

6th Grade Math: The Democratic Classroom
Posted on 11/11/2016
By: Trish Hayes

ClassroomThis year our 6th grade math students have been hard at work studying positive and negative numbers, factors and multiples, exponents and absolute value. They are also hard at work creating and sustaining a “democratic classroom.” This is an innovative concept that I first learned about in my work with the Seattle-based group, Global Visionaries. In many traditional classroom environments, the teacher holds the power and students strive to follow the rules. In a democratic classroom, students help take the lead! Flipping this traditional power dynamic helps foster mutual respect, dignity and equal worth, while offering new pathways to empower and engage students.

What does a democratic classroom look like in practice? Each day our students actively take responsibility for the key tasks necessary to maintain a well-functioning classroom and a rigorous learning environment. Their roles are many, but include students who take charge of trouble-shooting their peer’s technology issues, ensure that planners are up-to-date, manage a complex “Do-Now” system, keep math binders organized, and present learning targets. A student CEO ensures that all of these tasks (and more!) are completed each day and that things keep running smoothly. There is even a student who makes sure that my own math lessons don’t run past the bell (assistance that I desperately need)! Each student in the class has a defined role and they all soon recognize that without everyone’s help our classroom community cannot thrive.

As members of a democracy, we work to constantly evaluate our progress as we strive to improve. We collectively discuss what is going well (whether it is related to how the class is running or how our content learning is progressing) in an effort to identify and acknowledge our strengths. We then focus on how we can do even better. It is often the case that the students provide the best insight into how we can improve our democratic classroom because they are the ones who live and work in it each day.  For example, at the beginning of the year a student proposed the idea of cataloging student questions that needed to be tabled temporarily but should be answered later. She developed a “parking lot” system and now organizes student questions into it as they arise. This month, several students decided to implement a “student of the week” program to better recognize and celebrate individual student successes. In my experience, some of the very best, and most creative, ideas for enhancing the democratic classroom have come from our students.

To find out even more, I encourage all parents to ask their 6th graders about the roles they have played in helping to create and enhance our thriving democratic classroom community!