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Classroom Management

Creating a Learning Environment, Setting Expectations, Motivational Climate, Maintaining a Learning Environment, When Problems Occur

Classroom management is the orchestration of the learning environment of a group of individuals within a classroom setting. In the early 1970s classroom management was seen as separate from classroom instruction. Teachers' management decisions were viewed as precursors to instruction, and were treated in the literature as if they were content-free. The image was of a teacher first attending to classroom management, and then beginning instruction without further reference to management decisions. Research in the 1980s, however, demonstrated that management and instruction are not separate, but are inextricably interwoven and complex.

A teacher's classroom-management system communicates information about the teacher's beliefs on content and the learning process. It also circumscribes the kinds of instruction that will take place in a particular classroom. A classroom in which the teacher takes complete responsibility for guiding students' actions constitutes a different learning environment than one in which students are encouraged and taught to assume responsibility for their own behaviors. Content will be approached and understood differently in each of these settings. Furthermore, more intellectually demanding academic work and activities in which students create products or encounter novel problems require complex management decisions. This correlation between instructional activity and management complexity further reinforces the interrelated nature of classroom management and curriculum.

The interwoven nature of classroom management and classroom instruction is especially easy to see from a student perspective. Students have at least two cognitive demands on them at all times: academic task demands (understanding and working with content) and social task demands (interacting with others concerning that content). This means that students must simultaneously work at understanding the content and finding appropriate and effective ways to participate in order to demonstrate that understanding. The teacher must facilitate the learning of these academic and social tasks. Thus from the perspective of what students need to know in order to be successful, management and instruction cannot be separated.

As a result of this broadened definition of classroom management, research has moved away from a focus on controlling behavior and looks instead at teacher actions to create, implement, and maintain a learning environment within the classroom. Everything a teacher does has implications for classroom management, including creating the setting, decorating the room, arranging the chairs, speaking to children and handling their responses, putting routines in place (and then executing, modifying, and reinstituting them), developing rules, and communicating those rules to the students. These are all aspects of classroom management.

Creating a Learning Environment

Creating and implementing a learning environment means careful planning for the start of the school year. The learning environment must be envisioned in both a physical space and a cognitive space. The physical space of the classroom is managed as the teacher prepares the classroom for the students. Is the space warm and inviting? Does the room arrangement match the teacher's philosophy of learning? Do the students have access to necessary materials? Are the distracting features of a room eliminated? Attending to these and similar questions aids a teacher in managing the physical space of the classroom.

Teachers must also consider the cognitive space necessary for a learning environment. This cognitive space is based upon the expectations teachers set for students in the classroom and the process of creating a motivational climate. Effective teachers create and implement classroom management practices that cultivate an engaging classroom environment for their students. Two specific areas of cognitive space that teachers include in their plans are setting expectations (i.e., rules and procedures) and creating a motivational climate.

Setting Expectations

In both elementary and secondary classrooms, the start of the school year is crucial to effective management. A significant aspect of this beginning is the teacher's establishment of expectations for student behavior, which are expressed through rules and procedures. Rules indicate the expectations for behavior in the classroom, and for how one interacts with one's peers and the teacher. Procedures have to do with how things get done. Rules can be, and frequently are, developed with the students' help, which increases the likelihood of compliance.

Ultimately, with or without student input, the teacher must have a picture of what code of behavior is essential for the classroom to function as desired. Both rules and procedures must be taught, practiced, and enforced consistently. Included with the development of rules and procedures is the accountability system of the classroom, which must communicate to students how they are held responsible for the academic work that they do.

Researchers have confirmed that effective classroom managers begin the year by setting expectations. At the elementary school level better managers also consistently analyze classroom tasks, teach going-to-school skills, see the classroom through students' eyes, and monitor student behavior from the beginning of the year. These characteristics are similar at the middle school and junior high level, where better managers also explain rules and procedures, monitor student behavior, develop student accountability for work, communicate information, and organize instruction from the first day of school. Research has shown that teachers whose students demonstrated high task engagement and academic achievement implement a systematic approach toward classroom management at the beginning of the school year. Therefore, one of the critical aspects of managing classrooms effectively, or managing classrooms in ways to enhance student learning, is setting expectations.

Motivational Climate

An essential part of organizing the classroom involves developing a climate in which teachers encourage students to do their best and to be excited about what they are learning. There are two factors that are critical in creating such a motivational climate: value and effort. To be motivated, students must see the worth of the work that they are doing and the work others do. A teacher's demonstration of value shows students how their work is worthwhile and is connected to things that are important for them, including other learning and interests. Effort ties the time, energy, and creativity a student uses to develop the "work," to the value that the work holds. One way that teachers encourage effort is through specific praise, telling students specifically what it is that they are doing that is worthwhile and good. In combination an understanding of the value of academic tasks and the effort necessary to complete these tasks motivate students to learn.

It is possible to create a setting that appears to be well managed, where room arrangement, rules, and procedures are operating well, but where little actual learning takes place. However, when a teacher creates structure and order, as well as a learning environment in which students feel the excitement of learning and success, then the classroom can truly be said to be well managed. At the beginning of the year, teachers must set expectations and create a motivational climate for learning and combine this with orchestrating the physical space in order to both create and implement a successful classroom management system.

Maintaining a Learning Environment

A teacher's classroom management decisions do not stop after the planning and establishment that is crucial to beginning the school year. As the school year progresses, classroom management involves maintaining the learning environment through conscientious decision-making concerning students and the classroom.

Teachers in a classroom teach groups of children. Maintaining the learning environment, therefore, requires teachers to focus on group processes. Jacob Kounin's landmark findings from the late 1960s on the management of classroom groups identified that the means by which teachers prevent problems from occurring in the first place differentiated them as more effective managers. Kounin, whose work was reaffirmed by Paul Gump, a noted ecological psychologist in Kansas in the 1980s, identified several strategies that teachers use to elicit high levels of work involvement and low levels of misbehavior. These strategies are: (1) with-it-ness (communicating awareness of student behavior), (2) overlapping (doing more than one thing at once),(3) smoothness and momentum (moving in and out of activities smoothly, with appropriately paced and sequenced instruction), and (4) group alerting (keeping all students attentive in a whole-group focus). These tools help teachers to maintain the flow of instruction. A significant stumbling block to the flow of instruction is in attention to transitions between activities, lessons, subjects, or class periods. It is here that teachers are likely to feel that they are less effective in maintaining the flow of instruction. Effective transitions are structured to move students from one activity to another, both physically and cognitively. The goal of smooth transitions is to ensure that all students have the materials and mind-sets they need for a new activity.

While effective managers work with groups of students, they also are attentive to students' individual behaviors and learning needs. Maintaining a learning environment requires teachers to actively monitor their students. According to classroom management research, active monitoring includes watching student behavior closely, intervening to correct inappropriate behavior before it escalates, dealing consistently with misbehavior, and attending to student learning. In terms of monitoring both student behavior and learning, effective managers regularly survey their class or group and watch for signs of student confusion or inattention. Maintaining effective management involves keeping an eye out for when students appear to be stuck, when they need help, when they need redirection, when they need correction, and when they need encouragement.

Teachers must also check for understanding, both publicly and privately. Maintaining a classroom management system requires the teacher to anticipate student actions and responses in order to be preventive rather than reactive. Excellent classroom managers mentally walk through classroom activities, anticipating areas where students are likely to have difficulty and planning to minimize confusion and maximize the likelihood of success.

Activities planned for these classrooms are paced to ensure that students have enough to do, that assignments reflect an awareness of student attention spans and interests, and that downtime is minimized between assignments or activities. The orientation of the classroom must be purposeful, with a variety of things to be done and ways to get those things done.

When Problems Occur

Though effective managers anticipate and monitor student behavior and learning, misbehavior and misunderstanding do occur. When inappropriate behavior occurs, effective managers handle it promptly to keep it from continuing and spreading. Though teachers can handle most misbehavior unobtrusively with techniques such as physical proximity or eye contact, more serious misbehavior requires more direct intervention. The success of intervention depends on orderly structures having been created and implemented at the beginning of the school year.

When students have misunderstandings about academic content or instruction effective managers look for ways to reteach content and to improve the clarity of their communication. In research studies teachers in classrooms that run smoothly score high on measures of instructional clarity. That is, they describe their objectives clearly, give precise instructions for assignments, and respond to student questions with understandable explanations. Classroom communication, teachers' clarity of instructions and understanding of students' needs, is particularly important in maintaining the interconnectedness of management and instruction. This communication is central as teacher and students make visible all of the aspects of the classroom that build a community. Maintenance of a learning environment combines a teacher's careful attention to group dynamics, individual student needs, and clear communication.

In order to create and support a learning-centered environment where teaching for understanding and the construction of meaning are valued, students must be very comfortable and feel that their contributions are valued. In addition, students must value the contributions of others, value the diversity within the classroom, and give their best effort because they see it as the right thing to do or something that they want to do. The uniqueness of each classroom and the variety and complexity of tasks that teachers face make it impossible to prescribe specific techniques for every situation. In each classroom there will be a variety of skills, backgrounds, languages, and inclinations to cooperate. Teachers, particularly beginning teachers who may not have the repertoire of experiences and skills they need to be able to teach diverse classes, require administrative support to identify and nurture the interconnectedness of instruction and classroom management.

A close look at how class activities evolve reveals the need for a classroom management system that is visible, established, monitored, modified, refined, and reestablished. While teachers work with students who have different dispositions and abilities, they must be prepared to create, implement, and maintain an environment in which learning is the center.

Research-based programs have been developed that aid teachers in coming to an understanding of what it means to be an effective classroom manager. Evertson and Harris, based upon the research of Evertson and others, have created one such educational program aimed at the professional development of teachers. Their program encourages teachers to create a conceptual and practical understanding of management and organization through exploration of teachers' expectations, student accountability systems, and instructional strategies. Freiberg and colleagues have developed another such program, which also creates a preventive approach to classroom management through attention to school-wide perspectives and student responsibility. Both programs have demonstrated their effectiveness in improving teachers' practice and students' academic achievement and behavior. Teachers empowered with an understanding of the complexity and multidimensionality of classroom management make a difference in the lives of their students.


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Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comEducation Encyclopedia: Classroom Management - Creating a Learning Environment to Association for Science Education (ASE)