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 It is a major variable shaping the degree to which each student’s psychological needs are met during class time.

4. When the climate goes beyond meeting safety and security needs and develops strength on the important dimensions of climate—community, risk-taking, and influence—learning accelerates.

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CLASSROOM CLIMATE: WHAT IS IT?

This is our operational definition of classroom climate: “the feelings and beliefs students have, and the cumulative patterns of behavior that result from those feelings and beliefs regarding community and mutual support, risk-taking and confidence, and influence and control.” Community and mutual support are defined as an individual’s feelings in relation to a group—feelings of accep- tance, inclusion, membership, and maybe friendship and affection. Risk-taking and confidence represent an internal, personal dimension that is influenced significantly by the reactions of others to one’s behaviors. Putdowns and sar- casm, however subtle they may be, reduce one’s confidence that it is safe to risk thinking and trying. A classroom climate that rewards effort and persistence, de-emphasizes speed, and helps students learn that errors are merely opportu- nities for learning, not signs of personal deficiency. Influence and control rep- resent the dimension of class climate that pertains to personal efficacy, defined as one’s power to produce effects. It answers the following questions: To what degree do I, as an individual, get to make my presence felt legitimately in help- ing things function here? How am I empowered to be a player, an influencer, someone who matters, as opposed to a silent cipher whose existence makes no observable difference in the flow of life in the room, to say nothing of making choices about how I spend my own time? All three of these dimensions of class climate matter for student learning.

These three major strands of classroom climate are summarized in Figure 16.2, which treats each as a developmental aspect of climate. Developmental in that there are stages of sophistication and maturity for each of the three strands, so a teacher planning to strengthen any of them would do well to plan activities and new practices with the stages in mind. The stages for the first strand, com- munity and mutual support, are well treated in the developmental literature (Aspy & Roebuck, 1977; Johnson & Johnson, 1995a; Wood, 1994a). The stages in the other two strands are more hypothetical, though their elements are sup- ported individually by research. The sections that follow examine each strand separately and describe the meaning of each element in it. We also describe specific strategies and practices teachers can use to develop them.

 

 

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Community and Mutual Support

CREATING A CLIMATE OF HIGH ACHIEVEMENT FOR ALL STUDENTS

Confidence and Risk-Taking

Influence and Control

Believing That . . . Mistakes = Empowering students Knowing others Mistakes help vs. sign of weakness to influence the pace of the class

Greeting, acknowledging, Care, perseverance, Speed counts Negotiating the rules listening, responding, and craftsmanship vs. Faster = Smarter of the “classroom and affirming count game”

Group identity, Good students Good students do Teaching students to responsibility, and solicit help and vs. it by themselves use the principles of interdependence lots of feedback learning and other learning strategies

Cooperative learning, Effort and effective Inborn intelligence = Students using social skills, class strategies = main vs. main determinant knowledge of learning meetings, group determinants of of success style and making dynamics success choices

Problem-solving and Everyone is Only the few Students and their conflict resolution capable of vs. bright can achieve communities as high achievement at a high level sources of knowledge

Figure 16.2 Climate of High Achievement for All Students

 

 

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COMMUNITY AND MUTUAL SUPPORT

This dimension of climate describes the degree of inclusion, affiliation, and mutual support students feel with one another. When it is well developed, the student can say, “I feel accepted and included here. People are on my side. I can help others, and they will help me.”

Within this dimension are five levels of development, each paired with a char- acteristic statement:

1. Knowing others: “I know these people and they know me.”

2. Greeting, acknowledging, listening, responding, and affirming: “I feel accepted and included. People respect me, and I respect them.”

3. Group identity, responsibility, and interdependence: “I’m a member of this group. We need each other and want each other to succeed.”

4. Cooperative learning, social skills, group meetings, and group dynam- ics: “I can help others, and they will help me.”

5. Problem-solving and conflict resolution: “We can solve problems that arise between us.”

These relationships of warmth and inclusion don’t get built by accident or by themselves. Teachers contribute through their behaviors to the strength and texture of the climate of inclusion and affiliation that students experience (Cabello & Terrell, 1993). This includes their verbal interaction patterns with individual students, their means of handling conflicts between students, the cooperative structures they introduce for interaction among students, and their explicit teaching of social skills.

Knowing Others

Gene Stanford, a high school English teacher, identified this strand of class- room climate as a developmental continuum in his 1977 book, Developing Effective Classroom Groups. He realized that the foundation of being a group member was knowing something about the others in the group. As a result, he regularly did brief “get acquainted” activities (21 are listed in his book) in the early months of the school year with students in his classes.

Teachers who periodically take a few minutes several times each week to do these activities do not report time problems keeping up with the curriculum

 

 

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or studying what is required. These modest frontend investments in building community increase efficiency and time on task in the long run. This is true for the other levels of community building in this strand.

Dozens of books are available with excellent “get acquainted” activities (Bennett & Smilanich, 1994; Seigle & Macklem, 1993; Shaw, 1992; Stanford, 1977) that are active and enjoyable. In “People Bingo” or the version called “Find a Person Who,” students mingle and try to get signatures in boxes of a grid where facts are listed about others in the group, for example, “Spent a year outside the U.S.” Each student has to find the person matched to that fact and get his or her sig- nature in that box. Some activities are lengthier, like structured interviews of partners. After the interview, the partners introduce each other to the class or to a small group based on the interview.

One of our favorites has always been “Artifact Bags,” which is just as popular among groups of adults as it is among fifth graders. Participants bring in unla- beled shopping bags containing five items that represent something about their lives or interests. At each session, one participant chooses a bag at random and displays the items in it one at a time to the other participants, who are sitting in a circle. Participants try to guess who the owner is. After the fifth item is shown and described by the person who has been picking from the bag (some items may be too small for all to see thoroughly when just held up), the group makes a collective guess. Then the real owner reveals himself or herself and explains the significance of each item. There may be time to do two or three people at each session. The popularity of this activity with adults signals how little opportunity there is in schools and school districts as workplaces to come to know one’s colleagues. One doesn’t have to take the whole faculty away on a retreat to pay attention to group and relationship building.

Community building strategies gain importance in the overall picture of class- room climate building for students as the forces of scheduling and course struc- tures assume more importance starting in the sixth grade. These forces deper- sonalize and fracture the sense of community for students.

Greeting, Listening, Responding, Acknowledging, and Affirming

Have you ever noticed that in some settings (sometimes in whole towns) people look you in the eye, smile, and greet you when you walk by or enter their space? Beyond simply getting students information about each other, we should work on creating the conditions and teaching the skills of acknowledging and re- sponding to one another. People who are greeted and acknowledged regularly feel affirmed and tend to be more available for learning. In the morning meet-

 

 

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ing structure at the Greenfield Center School in Greenfield, Massachusetts, the first activity uses one of the dozens of formats available for having the children greet one other around the circle. This is not a practice confined to the primary grades. Positive greeting is a form of acknowledgment worth fostering at any age. Wood (1994b) writes:

It is important for students [of grades 4, 5, and 6] to not only greet each other in the morning, but to learn to greet any member of the class in a friendly and interested way. Issues of gender, cliques, and best friends are developmental milestones for 9–13-year-olds. Greetings help students to work on these issues in a safe structure every morning. It is the entry point for the teacher in her social curriculum each morning. (p. 162)

A sample greeting activity appropriate for the elementary grades is a ball toss greeting, which can be varied so that it will be challenging and build coop- eration for older children. It begins with the children standing in a circle and greeting each other one at a time by tossing a ball. For example, Leslie starts the greeting by saying, “Good morning, John!” and then tosses the ball to John. He returns Leslie’s greeting, then chooses another child in the circle to greet and toss the ball to. When the ball has been tossed to everyone except Leslie, it finishes by returning to her with a greeting. In a variation, the ball goes around one more time silently (with no greeting or talking) repeating the pattern it just made. Children will enjoy doing it several times this way and competing against the clock (Stephenson & Watrous, 1993).

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