Creating a community of learners in the classroom

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The list below represents what a group of experienced UVic Teaching Assistants (TAs) have identified as important aspects of how TAs can build community in their classroom. Not all suggestions below may be applicable in all departments on campus. Please use the list as a guide only as this list is not exhaustive but encompasses a diverse array of aspects.

What is a community of learners?

Community of learners (or learning community) can be understood as a unit where learners from different backgrounds, cultures, practices, and beliefs come together to form a non-tangible space where everyone is respected, welcomed, and have been given an opportunity to learn and reflect on the learning processes. TAs could also be a part of a learning community; however, their primary responsibility is to create a positive space for learners and encourage participation. 

Why build a learning community in classroom?

Building a learning community helps learners learn and contribute in meaningful ways. Learners and TAs, engage in the community and create a positive impact on each other’s lives. A learning community may teach learners to collaborate with one another, be responsible, practice social skills, and solve problems collectively and collaboratively.

Four ways to build community

Create community values chart together

This is also called “ways of being together” or “classroom rules.” In the first class, a TA may ask each student to think and answer the question, “what value do I bring to my community of learners?” In the past, Teaching Assistant Consultants (TACs) have used boards in Zoom or a shared space in Microsoft Teams, or a discussion forum on Brightspace to record everyone’s responses, which has worked well. You could also use a dry erase board, chalkboard, or flipchart paper to record the values students share. This becomes a visual of community values that will be referred to throughout the term, especially during reflection activities.

Use icebreakers and community building activities

Use them at the beginning of each class for at least five times in a term (potentially first three weeks and then two during the rest of the term). Icebreakers like finding common interests, hobbies, or experiences may connect people in positive ways. These activities can also be adapted to focus on learning the course material.

Engage learners in active learning

Create a buddy system and space during class time where learners may interact with each other. Activities could include reflecting on reading, discussing assignments or course material, and /or working on a collective project together. As a TA, you can occasionally pop into (if on Zoom and using breakout rooms) or move around to (if in-person) different groups (it is like micro communities within a macro classroom community). You may also want to hold a debate competition where at least two groups brainstorm ideas and support their teams to compete with the other team.

Encourage peer learning and peer feedback

Assign learners to comment on each other’s reflections (or learning summaries – one-minute paper or discussion entry). Design the feedback form to ensure that peer feedback is constructive, supportive, and connected to course intended learning outcomes.

Additional suggestions for creating a community of learners

Learn student names

  • Write down interesting aspects of the student that you learn through icebreakers or other activities, and use that as a guide when interacting with students
  • Say their name when you speak to them to help remember – the three times rule
  • Use a seating plan for two weeks to help you put names to faces
  • Construct tent cards for each student with their name in front of them and then a fun-fact about them on the reverse

Create a community

  • Find out what the group has in common and integrate that into lessons
  • Set up discussion groups online
  • Group work allows students to create their own small community in class
  • Share your research with students, it helps involve them with you and the material
  • Integrate relevant popular media when appropriate
  • It is important to know how to create community without using names in case you forget and you want to be polite

This guide was developed during the Teaching Assistant Consultants’ (TACs) seminars for the academic year 2009-2010 and updated in 2020-2021.

About this post

This post was last updated:

August 8, 2022

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