The basic rules or principles on which future actions or behaviour should be based
The definition of ground rules is “the basic rules or principles on which future actions or behaviour should be based” www.dictionary.reference.com. In any teaching or learning environment it is important to establish ground rules to set boundaries for all participants and to create an ideal learning atmosphere, as ‘no group can work successfully without rules that govern interactions and behaviour’ (Minton 2005)..
Ground rules are how the class behaves to each other and determines what is expected. They are usually set at the very beginning of the term, possibly in the first class. However what these ground rules are depends on the type of students i.e. age, ability, reason for being there and the learning environment i.e. subject, subject type and classroom environment. Age is a factor because there is a common thought that older students have different expectations compared to younger due to life experience, but this still may not be the case with a particular class. Ability is partly established beforehand by having application requirements, but sometimes there are none. Therefore it needs to be identified in class in order to let students know that patience may be needed in discussion times. Some students may need subjects repeating and everyone in the group should accept this. Or some students may need to learn in a different style,
There are three different methods of setting ground rules: Teacher imposed, Learner imposed and Negotiated (A and Q Development 2011).
An autocratic method might consist of the teacher implementing a list of rules which are relayed to the class on commencement of the course. These rules would be non-negotiable and possibly displayed in the classroom for the duration of the course. This option would be the most time efficient way of implementing ground rules, which may be useful when delivering to students with learning difficulties or when there is a time constraint.
However, this method is the most likely to cause upset within the learners, as some people can feel patronised or criminalised by the overbearing way in which these rules are established.
If tutor-led, then they should be stated verbally or provided to the learners on a handout or slide, with the opportunity for the learners to respond, add more and negotiate the ‘rules’. This provides good role modelling and a transparency about expectations for behaviours.
Another option may be to encourage the students to use group discussion to establish the rules. This is very helpful for creating a sense of ownership within the students and making them feel included and involved in the decision making process. However using this method, the learners may not recognise some of the important issues that need raising, some of the quieter students may not get involved, and also the process itself can be lengthy and compromise the rest of the session plan.
A third option could be a majority vote system, whereby the teacher proposes a list of potential ground rules, and the learners then vote for the ones they feel are most important. This method is similar to the group discussion method in that it gives the students some sense of ownership over their ground rules.
Typical ground rules might be:
* starting and finishing on time
* coming prepared
* listening to others without interruptions
* saying when you don’t understand
* when anyone is speaking, addressing the whole…
When discussing ground rules with learners it is important for the teacher to establish their own rules which reflect their commitment to the teaching/learning relationship.
Ground rules could incorporate issues being fully prepared for lessons and ensuring I keep good time for classes to start and finish promptly. I would reciprocate learners commitment to completing assignment by making sure that all marking is completed and returned in equally good time. Further rules to ensure students get the most out of their learning experience encompasses my making sure all have an equal voice when expressing opinions. I see ground rules as mutually agreed reciprocal arrangements where others views and needs are appreciated and valued. This creates a safe and respectful space in which all participants have the opportunity to benefit from the learning experience.
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