What Your Rules Say About You

Rules, rules, rules, everyone knows the key to success in school is to follow the rules.

Unfortunately, this belief persists in many of todays classrooms and schools.  Next time you are in a classroom take a look at the posted rules.  Are they rules such as “no talking while the teacher is talking, stay in your desk during work time, raise your hand if you need help?”  If so, I think these rules say a lot about the teacher, the work environment and the level of meaningful engaging tasks.  They imply that the teacher is the only one who holds the knowledge, the teacher will give you great wisdom and knowledge if only you will listen and the work you undertake will be solitary and designed to measure how well you listen.

Rules for Students Fall 2009-2

Rules for Students Fall 2009-2 (Photo credit: mick62)

Why is it that some classrooms need these types of rules and some do not?  For the teachers that do not post these types of rules what is the difference?  How can they manage without them?

One answer to these questions is to take a look at the type of tasks the student is being asked to undertake.  To analyze the planning and preparation the teacher has given to design tasks which result in high levels of student engagement.

Think of it this way, if a teacher designs tasks that engage the student in meaningful learning will the student be wandering around the classroom disrupting others, off task, doing any of the other million things teachers often complain about?

But just what goes into meaningful learning and task design that results in high levels of student engagement?

I would like to give credit to the amazing staff at Erin Wood School in Calgary AB who worked together yesterday to answer this question.  When analyzing student engagement, and tasks that result in high levels of student engagement we were able to effectively answer the question, “What are the attributes of tasks that result in meaningful learning and high(er) levels of student engagement?”

Tasks resulting in higher levels of student engagement consist of these attributes:

  • Meaningful or related to the student’s life or interests;
  • Working together with peers;
  • Incorporates games;
  • Created by the student (authentic);
  • Result in a piece of work the student is proud of and wants to share;
  • Challenging (but not so challenging it is unattainable);
  • Considers learning styles;
  • Allows for student choice;
  • Can be extended by students;

Tasks resulting in lower levels of student engagement consists of these attributes:

  • Easy and quick to complete (requires low levels of thinking);
  • Is teacher designed (such as a worksheet);
  • Has right or wrong answers;
  • Considers none or all of the attributes of high engaging tasks.

When considering student engagement and the types of tasks students are asked to complete, I wonder if students who are given tasks designed to be highly meaningful and engaging do teachers really need to post rules such as “stay in your desk during work time?”  Do these such rules imply that you have just entered a classroom of low-engaging task design?  In my opinion, teachers who strive to design meaningful tasks that engage students are more likely to post “Work hard and do your best, or Respect yourself and others.” on the walls of their classroom.

Leave a comment


  1. Andrea R.

     /  February 4, 2012

    I agree…one important point though is to define what “respect” looks and sounds like in the classroom. I strongly feel that if someone (teacher or other student) is speaking during a whole group meeting, the other students should listen quietly. This is but one example of respectful behaviour. In our class we posted that “Listening Rocks!” because the students had a difficult time managing this. So they came up with “rules” about how to be better listeners. We refer to it every so often when a few forget- usually it is the kids that point to the wall, not me.

    • Christina

       /  February 5, 2012

      Absolutely! Defining what “respect” looks like and sounds like in the classroom is important and, as you pointed out, what is key is that the students are voicing how they define it. How a “rule” is expressed sets the tone in the classroom. “Listening Rocks!” is really the same as “silence while others are talking” but is said with words that are engaging for the students and in a language that makes that goal attainable. When we use this attainable language the result is just that, “it is the kids that point to the wall, not me.”

  2. Yaaaaaay. Biggest Fan Alert! Lol 🙂

  3. I use our school rules: be safe, be fair and be responsible in my room. I like the idea of behaviour being guided by principles, not lists of do’s and dont’s.

    Your list of tasks that increase engagement is great – I’ll be checking my own practise against it. Thanks for the inspiration!

  4. Great post! I would agree. I think the more rules that a teacher puts in place, the more he/she is attempting to control students and the classroom environment. We all know, however, that a controlled class of students is not the same as an engaged class of students. Most often, the students who are asked to leave class as a result of inappropriate behaviour have acted in one of the ways you’ve mentioned. Wandering, disruptive, off-task, unfocused, distracted…these are all indicators of disengagement.

    The teachers who engage their students seem to do it so naturally,although we know there is a lot of preparation necessary for this to happen. The teachers who struggle to engage students are unfortunately too often preoccupied with maintaining control that they do not invest enough time and effort into developing strategies and activities that will contribute to higher levels of enegagement.

    The whole notion of engagement is multi-faceted. I applaud you for tackling he challenge with your teachers.


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