Feeling Supported in Your Classroom

Below is a paper have been working on for grad school. It skims the surface of some goals my school has for how to better implement our curriculum and increase student achievement: classroom learning environment. How can we shape a supportive school culture?

Somehow, within every classroom, curriculum is transformed from a one-dimensional document into a pathway towards the acquisition of state and county standards. There are many factors which impact this pathway, including “physical, cultural, temporal, economic, organizational, political-legal, and personal … that can make or break a curriculum” (Posner, 2004, p. 191).  These “frame factors” play a vital role in decisions regarding how resources are managed and utilized during curriculum implementation. These decisions can either foster or impede student growth.

During development, a curriculum must acknowledge all frame factors in order to be successful. One frame factor, which greatly impacts student-centered learning, is that of culture. Posner states that “a curriculum depends on two different sets of cultural factors, the culture within the school and the culture of the community in which the school exists” (Posner, 2004, p. 200). Positive, child centered interactions among staff, students, and parents can construct a strong school culture. While this is vital, so too is the culture formed within each classroom; the classroom learning environment.  At the root of an effective classroom learning environment one will observe the student cognition paradigm. Waxman and Huang (1997) state that this idea “maintains that how students perceive and react to their learning tasks and classroom instruction may be more important in terms of influencing student outcomes than the observed quality of teaching behaviors” (p.14).

The effects of classroom learning environment can be noted in research performed by Waxman and Huang, documented in an article entitled, Classroom Instruction and Learning Environment Differences between Effective and Ineffective Urban Elementary Schools for African American Students. This study focused on student outcomes, related to classroom learning environments. Waxman and Huang noticed that, “despite being located in economically poor neighborhoods and communities, some schools do exceptionally well,” and that is it important to “know why these schools succeed while similar schools from equally stressful environments do not” (p. 8).  Systematic classroom observation within a set of eight urban elementary schools, randomly picked from a south central metropolitan region in the United States, lead this study’s data collection. In addition to this, student surveys “that examined their motivation and perceptions of their learning environment,” were completed by 914 students (p. 21). Waxman and Huang set out to understand how the frame factor of classroom learning environment, directly effects the implementation of curriculum and as a result, student achievement.

How a student perceives the support he or she is receiving, or not, plays a large role in the classroom learning environment. In addition to this factor, Pickett and Fraser (2010), within their article entitled, Creating and Assessing Positive Classroom Learning Environments, note other ideals that construct a classroom learning environment. These ideals include:

Student Cohesiveness: Extent to which students know, help, and are supportive of one another.

Teacher Support: Extent, to which the teacher helps, befriends, trusts, and is interested in students.

Involvement: Extent to which students have attentive interest, participate in discussions, do additional work, and enjoy the class.

Investigation: Emphasis on the skills and process of inquiry and their use in problem solving and investigation.

Task Orientation: Extent to which it is important to complete activities planned and to stay focused on the subject matter.

Cooperation: Extent to which students cooperate rather than compete with one another on learning tasks.

Equity: Extent to which students are treated equally by the teacher. (p. 322)

Waxman and Huang note one final ideal of a classroom learning environment which played a major role in the outcome of their study. This ideal is that of rule clarity; the extent to which rules are clearly stated in their class and the students are aware of the consequences of breaking the rules.

When one contemplates a traditional style of teaching, he or she may agree with Posner that this environment entails “teacher-centered instruction employing lecture and recitation methods in whole-group settings” (Posner, 2004, p. 202).  This structure of classroom learning environment was found by Waxman and Huang to denote ineffective implementation of the curriculum. “One of the most important findings in this study,” is related to the “amount and types of interactions that were found in the classrooms,” between students and teachers (p.30).  In ineffective schools, it was found that students interacted with teachers less than 33% of the time, and spent a majority of instruction in a generally passive manner (i.e. watching or listening). In stark contrast, students in effective schools interacted with teachers 60% of the time and were observed working more in individualized settings. Students within effective schools, as concluded from student surveys, perceived their classroom as a positive learning environment and also noted higher motivation than students in ineffective schools.

The way in which a teacher establishes his or her classroom learning environment can pave way to active acquisition of the curriculum through planned learning experiences. By fostering student-centered talk and support, the implementations of curriculum truly becomes three-dimensional as students question and gather information in an active state. In contrast to this, a teacher-centered learning environment, in which students passively listen and recite information, does little to promote learning outcomes. This frame factor greatly influences how curriculum is implemented in classrooms across the country. A classroom with clear learning expectations, rules, support, and cooperative communication can mold the implementation of a curriculum into an active, fun, and engaging experience.

References

Pickett, L., & Fraser, B. (2010). Creating and assessing positive classroom learning environments. Childhood Education, 86(5), 3-14.

Posner, G. (2004). Analyzing the curriculum. New York: McGraw Hill.

Waxman, H., & Huang, S. (1997). Classroom instruction and learning environment differences between effective and ineffective urban elementary schools for african american students. Urban Education, 32, 7-44.

Proud to be an American!

Every year, I have waited to teach The Pledge of Allegiance. After our unpacking routine, my students make their way to the front carpet for our Morning Meeting. This is a time when my kiddos can sing Good Morning to a fellow Kinder, share their thoughts on daily life, and read about the day ahead. Within the next few weeks we will also begin to say The Pledge of Allegiance- only after they have grown to understand the significance of the words they are pledging.

This post comes as I am grappling with low test scores and grad school readings.

First, a must address my grad school readings- then you will easily see the connection to my low test scores. Just a few months back, I dove into the grad school world. My first class is an Overview to Contemporary School Curriculum. School curriculum is my life from 6:45 AM- 4:00 PM, 5 days a week. One would think before this class, that I would have had an idea of what School Curriculum was. Unfortunately I did not.

My recent readings: published professional articles, review the history of school curriculum. The history is long and clearly follows the political roller coaster of the United States. In 1918 The Cardinal Principals of Education were: 1.Health 2.Command of fundamental processes. 3.Worthy home membership. 4.Vocation. 5.Citizenship. 6.Worthy use of leisure. 7.Ethical character. In the 1950’s there was Cognitive Revolution as The Space Race ensued. And as we all know too well, the 2000’s brought us No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and testing alongside each political measure.

No where, in ANY of my readings have the thoughts of non-white men been shared. I am finding that our curriculum has a history, a Caucasian American history.

Why are my Kinders not taken into account when this curriculum is continuously developed? Why is it expected that students enter our school system with proficient English? Why do these “non-proficient” students continuously fall behind their peers? Why is our curriculum not embracing the dozens of different cultures that step into the school building? Why do I feel like I need to produce a cookie cutter kid? Why do I feel like a bad teacher if my test scores fall below the average?

I know, I have a million questions. All of which I would like my Kinders to answer as I listen to their stories about attending their cousin’s quinceanera, the roast of a big animal to celebrate a new baby in the family, or attending mass for Eid. These kiddos are the future, like it or not. They are American born and are the definition of liberty and justice for all. In my classroom, no matter what the curriculum, we will celebrate our differences, learn from our struggles, and build a loving community.

It’s Three O’Clock Somewhere!

“3 o’clock is always too late or too early for anything you want to do.”

Jean-Paul Sarte

That- is why I am starting this blog at 7 PM on a Saturday night… 3 years into my teaching career.

3 o’clock on any given week day draws close to the conclusion of another tally mark on the Calendar Math bulletin board. The classroom is a bit chaotic as my Kinders flock to the coat rack, drop Wednesday folders, and fit in every last word about “the new toy that I got after my wiggly tooth falled out.”

As the chaos calms to a forced mum on the front carpet, we sit criss-cross apple sauce in a circle. I become secretly filled with excitement, in anticipation of another hilarious and non-english proficient conclusion to my pass the secret message game. These little guys try so hard to listen and pass the exact tag line provided but almost every day, we end up breaking out in a belly-filled roar due to the silly and often questionable phrases they manufacture.

I consider myself lucky and blessed to work with such wonderful children and co-teachers. I could write on and on about them for days. I could write about their five-year-old hardships, friendships, and leggo sailing ship creations. But instead, I have been inspired to write about their effect on me.

It is way past 3 o’clock on a Friday (Thank Goodness!), but it is better late than never to begin my journey sharing how these pint sized Kinders shift my thinking day in and day out.