Recently I was speaking with some students; they were talking about how schools are the exact opposite of what life is really like.  They argued life is about interacting and sharing ideas with people.  Schools, they said, impose rules and regulations making this impossible.

It’s hard to argue against that position when looking closely at a schools social structure.   Many social interactions in schools are punishable offenses.  For example, students are not allowed to talk too much in class; otherwise it is called disruption and will land you in the in-school suspension room (ISS) for the remainder of the period.  Texting or using an electronic device, that’s a big one – one full day of ISS.  Meeting your friends out in the halls to talk or socialize when you are supposed to be in class, more ISS.

As educators, we have all told a parent or two, “your daughter likes to socialize more than she likes to do her work.”

I can relate.  I continually had my name written on the board with a frown face next to it in elementary school for too much socializing in class and I spent a lot of time in the ISS room for too much socializing and not going to class in high school.  Socializing always made me feel better than calculus.  So did smoking in the bathroom but that’s another story.

It seems pretty basic; the higher the social competence the better a child is at coping with life (Garmezy & Masten, 1986; Luthar & Zigler, 1991).  The better a student’s coping skills the more likely he or she will be able to navigate this crazy and complex world.  So why are ignoring social skills and social concerns in schools?  More importantly, why are we impeding socialization by forbidding students to be social in school?  Why is punishment prescribed to students who are too social?

I can only assert my own professional opinion after working in the field for a few years, which is we are terrified.  We are afraid of what students will do.  So we ban talking, texting and socializing in and out of the classroom.  In addition, as educators we are used to being in control.  We feel we couldn’t possibly give some of that control to the students.  If we did totally chaos would ensue.

Please trust me on this; students aren’t listening and are completely tuned out when forced to sit in a lecture for more than 10 minutes and that’s pushing it.  They are texting, they are sleeping and they are disengaged every minute they are restricted from doing the one thing that makes every human being tick: social interaction.

The solution: relinquish control and embrace socialization in class.  Start small by allowing students to interact with on another.  In our podcast Qualitative Research with Dr. Greene she talks about a strategy she uses called Birds of a Feather.  She puts signs up on group tables or desks that say Karate, ballet, BMX, gymnastics, and other things kids actually LIKE to do. Then she allows students to sit where their interests lay.  Then students talk about it together and get to know one another. Another way to use this strategy is by using class concepts and content.  This activity will cultivate an authentic connection to the material.

This strategy can be applied to all levels of students.  Start slow, and if it flops try it again.  We all know complex strategies like Birds of a Feather aren’t executed perfectly the first time employed.  And get the kids involved in the planning of this activity.  Don’t just assume you know what they are interested it.  Ask them before you make the group categories.  Kids will tell you what they are interested in; all you have to do is ask.  You may be sorry you asked but they will certainly tell you.

I am willing to bet if as educators we relinquished control and actually embraced too much socializing, we would see an increase in student participation and understanding.  Because isn’t that why we are here, to learn from each other?

15 Responses

  1. Austin Young

    The main problem with letting students behave socially in the classroom (giving them that ‘control’) is that they chose to socialize around non-academic topics. What they did this weekend, what new movie is coming out, which celebrity is doing what, etc etc. The question we should be asking is why don’t students talk about what they are learning with one another? Especially, during actual class time. It’s not that the topics we cover in school are inherently boring, on the contrary most are incredibly interesting. Learning about the psyche of prisoners in psychology, the French Revolution in history, or the origins of life in science, these common features of class time can serve as exciting basis for conversation – for social interaction. Unfortunately, the current social environment in school does not make students feel like these things are important to their lives, nor are they presented in a manner that attaches feeling or establishes any relationship between the student and the material. We have ‘relationships’ with celebrities we’ll never meet, what if educators could forge relationships between students and their topics of study? Then, by nature, students would begin to socialize with other students around their studies creating a learning environment much more powerful than the current state of things. Of course, that task is an incredible burden upon the teacher in a room with 30 kids. With 15, 10 kids or less more engaging instruction, I would imagine, is easier. In a smaller room, this model of teaching becomes more reachable. Students are less afraid to raise their hand and speak, there are fewer interruptions, and therefore the teacher will have an easier time initiating a session of social learning. Go back to the original teacher in western culture, Socrates. The real power behind asking the students the questions (instead of the other way around) is that it forces a conversation between oneself to reach an answer. Social learning magnifies the power of conversation among the whole group- so long as everyone is engaged. With no technology or email, the ancient Greeks fostered one of the most successful systems of education. The truth is that they did not have a “system” of education. Learning was a social experience, dependent upon curiosity, and completed in the company of a small group; not a room stuffed to the brim with bored, sleep deprived, teenagers. If we can get kids interested or inspired, they’ll listen, they’ll talk, and they’ll learn.

    • Kathleen Jasper

      I agree that school should be centered on scholarly concepts. And yes, when given free reign students will talk about what they are doing over the weekend and other non-school related issues. However, that’s ok. It is ok while working in a group to go off topic and talk about things directly related to life. As adults, we do it all the time. I continually work with other educators and in the middle of a group task someone will say, “how are your kids,” or, “what do you have planned for this weekend.” We do not operate in isolation; therefore we should not expect students to thrive in isolation.

      Also, letting students get to know each other with non-school related subjects, as mentioned in the Birds of a Feather activity, is a way to get students comfortable with socializing. Once you get that established, then students can engage in social learning about the French Revolution. Baby steps.

      I love what you said about teachers forging the same relationships with students as students form with celebrities. That is very powerful. I suspect if we made school more engaging and interesting, students would see their teachers more than just information givers. I still think of many of my college professors, both past and present, as rock stars.

  2. Annmarie Ferry

    I am trying Dr. Greene’s strategy as soon as we return!!!! I agree with Austin that students do tend to socialize about off topic tasks, but establishing norms and facilitating on-topic conversation on the teacher’s part will help (and maybe threatening to make them suffer through the old format…just kidding). I have run conversation based lessons with success…it just takes patience and an open mind! And, maybe, just maybe, my students will figure out a way to tie supposedly off-topic comments to what we are discussing in class. They have to see the relevance to their own lives to give a rat’s behind. That is where we as teachers fail them big time. Forgive me, kids. I do my best, but as Maya Angelou says, “when you know better, do better.” That’s my resolution and promise for 2014!

    • Kathleen Jasper

      Yes, Dr. Greene is one of my rock stars as I stated above in my reply to Austin’s comment. An open-mind as you say is part of relinquishing control. It’s not that we give the kids the keys to the classroom and we say,”here you go; you’re in charge.” Relinquishing control means allowing things to happen in an organic way, which is how conversations and social situations happen. Thanks for being here, Annmarie!

  3. webpage

    Good daу! I just wish to give you a huge thumbs up for tthe еxcellent
    information you havе here on this post. I will be returning to youг wbsitе
    fоr more soon.

    • Kathleen Jasper

      Thank you so much! We appreciate your support! We post two blogs a week and a podcast every week as well. So glad you’re here!

  4. webpage

    I will immediatelу clutch уour rss feed as I can’t
    in findіng your email subscrіptіοn hyperlink оr e-newsletter serѵice.
    Do you have any? Kindly allow me realize so that I may subscribe.


  5. mcmurdo north face

    I amm curious tо find out what blog platform you happen to be
    working with? I’m experiеncing some minor security issuеs with
    my latest blog and I would like to find something more sеcure.
    Do you have any solutions?

  6. parajumpers

    I аm extremely imрressed with уour writing skills as well as with the layout on your weblog.

    Is this a paid theme or did you customіze it yourself?
    Either way keep up the excellent quality writing, it’s rare to see a nice blog like this one these days.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.