YOUR OWN CLASSROOM COURT Appropriate for grades 5-12. OVERVIEW: This activity is meant for teachers who would like to allow their students to have a more active role in setting classroom rules, in decision-making, and as a means of settling differences. PURPOSE: To allow students the opportunity to further their knowledge of the law and its legal proceedings. To experience "trial by a jury of your peers" in simple matters. To give each student a job in the courtroom and to vary these positions throughout the year. OBJECTIVES: Student will be able to explain and identify the names of jobs available in a typical courtroom. ACTIVITIES: In order for the classroom court to work, you, the teacher must keep in mind that you are the one who is responsible for the class. You must clearly decide how much weight you want the court to have. One way to help you decide is to talk to one of your fellow teachers or your principal. As a class, decide on appropriate sentences for guilty verdicts. Again, you must be the voice of reason. After you have agreed upon the sentences, post them in the classroom so that everyone can refer to them. Next you will need to define the offices of the court and the length of office. Some possibilities for jobs are: Judges, jury, bailiff, court reporter, defense attorney, prosecuting attorney, and substitutes. It is necessary to have substitutes to take the place of an officer who might be absent on court day. It might be a very good idea to present your courtroom to the parents in a letter or at open house. Ask for their input, maybe some of them could be good resource people. Try to present this as close to the beginning of a court session as possible. Keep your administration informed as to what you are doing. After you feel comfortable with the model ask them to sit in on a case. Hold nominations for positions. Decide on an appropriate number of names for each position. Draw up a very simple ballot and have a secret ballot. This might be a way a parent could help out in the classroom or you may wish to count them yourself. Stress that just because you weren't picked this time you will have other chances throughout the year. Have a very simple "swearing-in" ceremony for all court officials. Set a particular day for holding court. Perhaps you might like it every Wednesday afternoon or every Friday morning. But do set a specific time as the students will begin to prepare their cases and need to know when to be ready with their information. You will probably like to go through a few Mock Trials first to give the class a taste of what is to come. After each court case evaluate students' performance. The first couple of times you may wish to do this with the whole class as your listeners. If you are really energetic, you can give written feedback to each of the officers, after each case. Be sure that the court sentences agreed upon by the class are followed. Set a time limit when the sentences must be served. Your curt report will have to document everything. This will be the main source of information regarding each case. The court records must remain in school. You may wish to lock them up so they are kept in a safe place. That way if someone is absent, you will still have the information necessary to proceed. RESOURCES/MATERIALS NEEDED: No special resources are needed. TYING IT ALL TOGETHER: 1. Ask the student how they feel the court is going. Try to do this at least once a month. Don't be afraid to admit something isn't working. The students may have some very creative ways to improve the proceedings. 2. What do you as the teacher perceive to be the greatest component of the court? What is the greatest weakness? How will you work on maintaining the good while also working on trying to correct the weaknesses? 3. Did you accomplish your goals? Was the experience fun? What would you change in the future? What might be some of your recommendations to others setting up their classroom courthouse?