I talk about community a lot both on my blog and in professional circles (see also Community). I spend a lot of time building and sustaining community in my classes because I believe it is essential to learning especially learning to write. Here are three reasons you should make community a priority too.
Community Helps Students
School can be tough. Learning can be challenging. Even good students need all the support they can get and a class community provides that support. Humans all need emotional and cognitive and physical support – especially when we are engaged in learning. Creating a class community means that students are more willing to offer these things to their classmates from a quick pat on the back if someone seems down to help understanding an assignment to lending someone a pencil. Community members offer each other comfort when things are rough, either personally or academically. Community members encourage each other in tough times and celebrate each other in good times.
Community Helps Learning
If you have a strong class community that interacts as a regular part of class then you have a built-in support system for students struggling with issues both large and small. The community can often trouble shoot these problems before the instructor even knows they exist. As trust grows and students feel comfortable sharing their struggles and challenges as well as coping strategies and solutions then students realize that their problems are often not unique and their strengths are recognized by others which can be a great boost to confidence and empowerment. Another benefit of trust and encouragement is that students in a supportive class community are more willing to take risks which often results in greater personal and academic growth. When students share their stories and lessons with each other then everyone wins.
Community Helps Teachers
A class community makes teaching easier. I run my classes using a workshop model which is only possible (OK, less labor-intensive) because I work hard to create and sustain a strong writing community. The beauty of the workshop model in a strong community is that writers have a wealth of resources offering help , feedback, models, and inspiration. This means that all our writing and discussion has a real audience and an authentic purpose because it is never about me (the instructor).
Another benefit to teachers is that more material can be covered if you use the community. I like to crowdsource a lot of the work in my classroom from covering the reading to building an archive of professional writing models. This makes less work for me and provides more learning opportunities for students (see Group Learning Document and Paper Trail), but this type of collaboration is only possible (effective) in a community where students are accountable to each other.
My class community also makes assessment a lot easier (see Easing the Pain of Grading). Almost all of their class participation is based on the assessment of their peers and the entire community participates in developing our assessment tools. I have found that a class community that respects all members and accepts its responsibilities for that community has fewer discipline problems and higher engagement.
Do you agree that class community is an essential tool for learning and teaching? What benefits to class community have you seen at work in your classroom?