Classroom Norms – for students & TEACHERS.

This GIF will give away my age. This TV show, Cheers, started running on NBC while I was in Middle School and ended during the first years of my teaching career & went on to live in re-run world. Back in the day this was ‘must-see TV’.

Cheers. Where everyone knows your name.

On the show ‘Cheers’, every time one of the main characters walked into the bar at the center of the show, the patrons of the bar would yell his name ‘NORM!’. (the theme song included the lyrics ‘where everyone knows your name’). The bartender Sam would then ask Norm, “What are you up to, Norm?“, followed by a witty comeback from Norm and then the show would proceed.

I feel like there is a good math problem in this quip.

SIDE NOTE: I’d love it if my students felt like our classroom was a place ‘where everyone knows your name.’. My goal each fall is to first do things to build relationships with students, study my students and their cultures and build a community of math learners who will support each other as we work to build our positive mathematical identities.

The reason I chose to start this blog post with a GIF from Cheers is the character’s name is ‘NORM’ and another thing I want to always do each fall is use classroom ‘NORMS’ that create a safe place for students to take risks with predictable ways of functioning in our classroom culture.

There are parts of what I do in building classroom norms that are co-created with students, but this post is about the 4 rules/norms that will support all of us in creating a classroom culture that honors students making meaning of mathematics for themselves and owning their learning. My norms are set up to build positive student mathematical identities in my students (knowing 2/3 to 3/4 of my students enter my classroom having some negative views of mathematics).

SIDE NOTE: I am a big fan of Sophie Kasahara, a 3rd year teacher in St. Paul , MN. These are the 3 rules she built classroom norms around in her classroom this week. So great, right? There is not one set of norms that is best – what follows is where my norms have morphed into in my 29 years in education.


My Personal Goals for my Classroom

I loved this blog post by Dan Meyer. A couple of years ago I stole a quote from this post & used it as my teams goal and posted it near my desk. This is what I want for my classroom. I want to create in my students a culture of being addicted, ADDICTED, to being puzzled-confused-struggling so that they can feel the catharsis that comes from being unpuzzled-having an a-ha moment. In my classroom this cycle is something I have students experience everyday. At the beginning of the year the cycle duration is short – sometimes only 10 seconds – and we build up our willingness to be puzzled to longer and longer durations as the year goes on. (READ this post about what I do related to this the first day of quarter 2 – 22 min)

In addition to the cycle of puzzled/unpuzzled. These are my 5 wishes for my students and my classroom that I do 50+ things to create in the first 3 weeks of school. Many of those things I’ve blogged about elsewhere in my blog.

Part of accomplishing these 5 goals is the poster of 4 norms I keep on my wall (2 feet by 3 feet). These are the norms students see the most and the ones I reference everyday with my students. I’ve recently been using it in PD with teachers and I get asked for it often – so thus I am blogging about it today. Below I will make these 4 norms come alive a bit and tell you why and how I use them with students – and also how they influence the choices I make as a teacher in planning lessons. First up….the blue one – 50 minutes.

NOTE: You can get an editable version of the poster above by scrolling to the end of this post and clicking the orange button.

Norm #1: 50 MINUTES

Student Norm #1

This is the first rule, and only rule, in my classroom. We do math for 50 minutes every day. Why 50? This is the full length of class. If I had 75 minutes, then the rule would be 75. If I had 46 minutes, the rule would be 46. We do math for the full 50 minutes of class every day.

Anything that gets in the way of our whole class doing math for 50 minutes will annoy me – meaning I will intervene. If you are tardy to class – that is not a full 50 minutes. If you forget a pencil and can’t solve the problem yourself, – that is not 50 minutes of math (note: It is easy to solve your lack of writing utensil and paper in my classroom). If you are on your cell phone for non-math reasons, then you are not doing math for 50 minutes (my students can use phones for mathy reasons – read more HERE). … etc….Ultimately, we do math and this one rule covers everything I need it to cover. If students have a phone out for non-mathy reasons, I simply point at the 50 minute sign and walk away – phones go away. When students pack up with 5 minutes left of class I point at the number 50 and they unpack.

Teacher Version of Norm #1

Norms for me! Norms for teachers come first.

The 50 minute norm for my students would never work if I, the teacher, did not hold myself to the same rules and expectations as my students. For that reason, I have recreated all my rules into a “NORMS FOR TEACHERS” poster -teacher meaning me, Sara Van Der Werf. The rules/norms in my class only work as well as I teach and model them and consistently follow them myself both in how I plan for each class and enforce all of us following the expectations.

Teacher Norm 1 of 4

If I expect my students to work on math for 50 minutes every class period, then I need to do the same. Math class starts the moment the bell rings. I have something ready for students to do. The routines are clear, consistent and taught. I have multiple plans set up for all possibilities in the hour. If I have extra time, I have a plan. If I am running late on time I have a plan. 50 minutes of math means I don’t give ‘work on homework’ time the last 10-20 minutes of class. If I want my students to practice in class, then I will call it a classwork.

Norm #2: Make your thinking Visual

Student Norm #2

This norm has transformed my students willingness to engage in work more than anything else. This norm has exponentially given my more pieces of formative assessment data than anything else I’ve done. I start teaching this one week 1 of school. This norm has replaced me ever saying things like “Show your Work” in my class. BYW – this phrase in students minds equates to ‘show me the steps you did to get the answer. make them clear and in order and circle your answer when you are done….and oh yeah, don’t forget to check your work‘. Too many students know they can’t do this when you ask them, so many do not even try. The phrase, ‘Show your Work’ – has too much negative baggage with it – so I changed this phrase to…….

Norm #2 ask students to always, always make their thinking visual. Don’t assume that students know what you mean by this statement. Do a looks like/sounds like chart to teach it. (What doe making your thinking visual look like? What does making your thinking visual sound like?) Take photos of student work (I love the CamScanner app on my phone for this – it removes shadows and is super editable for this girl who went to college with a type-writer). Show students exemplars of what it means to make your thinking visual.

Messy thinking exemplar

Notice the words in white in the red box. I take and show students pictures of messy work, calculations, drawings, underlining and circling important words…..etc. To make this easier for students I always have a box of markers and highlighters at every group to help students who prefer using those tools. I model what this looks like in notebooks. I model what this looks like when we are working on tasks (by the way – I devalue answer getting and making your mathematical thinking visible is totally valued more).

On tests I give zero points unless you make your thinking visible on each problem, even if you got the correct answer (this includes multiple select problems). It only takes the first assessment for me to give a few zeros (don’t worry, my students can retake any assessment) on problems without visible thinking and only answers for students to stop doing this. If you demand that their thinking is visible, guess what, they will make it visible. WARNING though – the time it took my students to take assessments vastly increased due to showing their thinking…but guess what else increased? Their achievement. Making their thinking visible slowed them down and they started getting more things correct. I don’t demand visible thinking look a certain way – a lot of times it is messy. I just want evidence of how they are thinking about a task or a problem. And again, this is something I model for students – using their own work from the first assessment. Future assessments are automatically better with a 5 minute modeling of what I am looking for. Note: I do not use pictures of the perfect printing, color coded work of my obsessive students that most can not attain.

Making your thinking visible is not just about what you write down. It also has to do with what you are saying out loud. I expect every student to talk out loud about their thinking every day. This is great formative assessment for me. I listen in and learn a lot about what they get and what they don’t understand, yet. It helps me adjust my teaching.

PRO TIP: Next to my big poster on my wall – I surround the red box with taped up exemplars of making thinking visual. This allows me just to point at this when I am redirecting a student/class to do better with this norm.

Teacher Version of Norm #2

Teacher Norm #2

Again, this norm would not work for students if I, the teacher, did not first take ownership for modeling this. I do this by thinking aloud all my invisible decisions I make related to math. My invisible wonderings. My invisible mistakes. My invisible steps. Some of the invisible things I make visible verbally, but I also make things visible in annotating everything we do together in class. The other thing I make visible and name are the strategies and models I use to understand calculations and other math work. I use tape diagrams, area models, open number lines, graphs, equations, tables, and so, so many more.

One other thing I do to support this norm is to select tasks that have an entry point for all students (I find tasks that are in students ‘zone of proximal development’). In addition to this, I start most tasks asking some type of safe questions (like notice/wonder) so students have a beginning point for making their thinking visible.

Norm #3: Solve Multiple Ways & Make Connections

Student Norm #3

I have worked hard to remove speed as a value in my class. One way I’ve done this is to take the focus of tasks off of the answer. Because of this and because of the 50 minute norm (we do math for 50 minutes) – you don’t get to quit thinking just because you have a solution. I expect all students to solve things more than one way – especially if they have time to do so. I give lots of private think time to students at the start of most tasks and I expect all of us to make connections among the variety of ways students solved the task. A lot of how this plays out in my classroom is related to my implementation of the 5 practices for orchestrating a discussion (book by Peg Smith).

This norm also encompasses my students making connections among different representations (graphs/words/equations/tables/context/models…) of the math we are studying. So one way that a student can do a problem another way is to show the solution with another representation. Making connections among these representations comes from the questions I and my students ask each other.

Teacher Version of Norm #3

Teacher Norm #3

My part of this norm has 3 parts…

  • I will select tasks that have multiple ways to solve the problem and I will take the focus off the answer.
  • I will model the use of multiple representations every day. For example, with functions – in my district we use the graphic below. I will always use at least 2 of the 5 forms when I represent a function.
  • I will ask questions that help my students connect representations. The power of the graphic below are the arrows in the middle – that’s where the questions come into play.

All of this relates to the 5 practices –

  • I will ANTICIPATE all the ways students may think about and solve a task, including misconceptions.
  • I will MONITOR students as they work looking for evidence of the pathways I’ve anticipated.
  • I will SELECT students to share their thinking
  • I will SEQUENCE the order the students will share.
  • I will CONNECT the work of the students who have presented.

Norm #4: Convince Me! (or Give Evidence)

I love this one. This phrase has worked way better for me than ‘show your work’ or ‘explain your thinking’. This norm is related to me taking the focus off of answer getting. In fact, especially at the start of the year, I give the answer to my students to tasks and say “Convince Me that this is the correct solution”. The orange box says ‘and be prepared to convince my mother’ because the levels of convincing needed to convince my mom are higher in students mind than convincing me or my neighbor. On the poster in my room I even have a picture of my mom, Mary VanDerWerf. Some years my poster says ‘and be prepared to convince our principal, Mr. Aponte’ -though I don’t recommend you do this unless you tell your principal.

This norm is about students justifying their reasoning. It is about convincing themselves that the answer they have is correct rather than relying on my to confirm their answer. In the spirit of Fawn Nguyen, I don’t give out answers to problems. I work to break my students addiction to the race to the answer. I am getting them addicted to puzzlement and justifying their thinking for themselves. We do use other students work and our connections to this to help us all become convinced.

NOTE #1: I have been toying with the idea of changing this norm to ‘Give Evidence’ vs ‘Convice Me’. I can’t decide. Do you have an opinion? If so, comment below.

Note #2: If you want to get better at this norm, I recommend reading Robert Kaplinsky’s ‘Levels of Convincing‘ blog post and I also recommend getting Chris Luzniak’s new book ‘Up for Debate‘. Both of these gentleman have made me better at having my students become better at justifying their reasoning.

Teacher Version of Norm #4

Teacher Norm #4

The one thing that I want to highlight here for us teachers is to not assume you know what students are saying when the start explaining their thinking. Always ask clarifying questions. I say often, “Say more about that…” or “How did you think about __________”. There are many, many times that when I say/ask this and don’t assume I know what they mean, students reveal something I was not expecting.

The best PD for you and your PLC this fall will be to watch and discuss Max Ray’s ignite titled ‘Why 2>4‘. Listen to it. Talk about it. Think about how this will make you better at implementing the ‘Convince Me’ norm in your class. What are you waiting for? The video is only 5 minutes in length. It’s brilliant.

Get my Classroom Norm Posters (Editable Word Docs)

If you like my classroom norms, but would like to alter them to meet your needs, you can click the orange button below and download your own copies (Word Doc) of both the Student and Teacher Versions of the posters shown above. As always, I love hearing from you. What norms do you model and teach in your classroom?

Sara VanDerWerf

I am Sara Van Der Werf, a 24-year mathematics teacher in Minneapolis Public Schools. I have taught math in grades 7-12 as well as spent several years leading mathematics at the district office. I currently teach Advanced Algebra at South High School and I'm also the current President of the Minnesota Council of Teachers of Mathematics (MCTM). I am passionate about encouraging and connecting with mathematics teachers. I'd love to connect via twitter.  Join the community.  Tweet me @saravdwerf.

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