Using “Norming” in the classroom

There are some things about being a professor that they don’t tell you… one of my favorite things was figuring out that the classroom is like one big social laboratory, where you are the boss.   Building a “class culture” comes with the territory.   Every class is different – but of course, that’s also what keeps it interesting.

Besides, I like playing with people’s heads.   Ask my friends.

<maniacal laughter>

“Norming” is the process where people get to know that it is okay to do something.   As soon as a behavior is classified as “normal”, then people tend to think of it as okay, and is a wonderful tool to break down some of peoples emotional barriers towards mathematics.

I have met some extremely tough characters in my classroom – including some people who you wouldn’t want to mess with out on the street.    Many of my students have been people who have serious survival skills.   And these are the same people who can also have a panic attack if you ask them to do a problem on the board.   From day one, it is my responsibility to make learning something that can be fun and to make asking questions not a sign of weakness but an asset that makes the entire classroom a better place.

One of the attitudes I have to overcome frequently while teaching developmental mathematics is that making mistakes is an indication that they can’t succeed in math, or worse that they are of sub-par intelligence.   Of course, this isn’t the case – everyone makes mistakes while learning mathematics.   It’s just part of the process… but it is necessary to let your students know that.  I have found that it is worthwhile to answer commentary about some of these mistakes with “you know, I see what you are trying for.   It is normal to make this sort of mistake…”    Giving students a sense of belonging in a classroom is critical.    As an instructor, you have a great deal of power in your student’s lives.

Students are more likely to keep trying if they believe that the mistakes they are making are normal.   It is crucial to them to let them know that the class is a place where trying things and making mistakes is needed.   Encouraged even!

But I still like to mess with people.

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