A classroom culture is defined by signals in the environment, the practices of the teacher, and the response of the students to those practices. My high school classroom culture in Larkspur, California, clearly reflects Habits of Mind, Understanding by Design, and differentiated instruction. The cultural characteristics include simply getting started with the Habits of Mind, using the interactive notebook, engaging in the Socratic seminar, and recording the process of a writing workshop. The Habits of Mind provide a guide for how students behave intelligently when they don't know what to do. In our high school, too many of our students don't know how to "do school."
The physical layout of the classroom instantly communicates values and methodology. In my room, students sit at tables of three or four. Students typically change groups after each grading period. The formation of a cooperative group begins as the individuals share contact information. Students can then contact each other for details of an assignment that students diligently record in their planners. The foursomes, easily converted to dyads, collaborate through note sharing, discussions, jigsaws, and small-group projects or presentations. By the end of the first semester, all students have worked closely with each other. From that first exchange of contact information, students begin participating in the habit of thinking interdependently, a fundamental intelligent behavior required for students to acquire understanding as they read challenging text and discuss and write about complex ideas. These small groups also provide an opportunity for all students—particularly English language learners and special needs students—to interact in groups with diverse abilities and learning styles.