Two courses down, two to go. The following summarises study and thoughts for week 2 of the Supportive Learning Environments course.

Attitudes and perceptions

Unliked the PCK course, it doesn’t appear that this course offers an overview of what we’ll be covering, at least not beyond the title “Attitudes and perceptions”.

It does appear will be spending more time on the Dimensions of Learning. And if I knew DoL better I would probably have recognised the topics title as being Dimension 1 of DoL. It appears I have more to internalise. We do get some focus questions

  • How can the teacher create a positive classroom climate?
  • How can the teacher encourage positive attitudes towards classroom tasks?
  • What significance do the emotional/social aspects of school life have on learning?

In terms of reading 29 pages of DoL.

DoL – Dimension 1 – Attitudes and perceptions

Not all that surprisingly, the chapter on DoL#1 has two main sections

  1. Help students develop positive attitudes and perceptions (PA&P) about classroom climate.
  2. Help students develop PA&P about classroom tasks.

Funnily enough matching the first two focus questions. Each of these major sections get divided further into sections and then strategies.

PA&P and classroom climate

  1. Help students understand that A&T about classroom climate influence learning.
    Including that it is a shared responsibility (teacher and student) to keep attitudes positive. Given that I have a questioning nature I often come across as cynical of negative, hell when folk get really silly I will be cynical and negative. Shall be interesting to see how I go with encouraging and maintaining positive attitudes. I especially dislike the “example” in the margin of a primary school principal resorting to motivational posters.

    So strategies include giving examples either based on my experience, hypothetical or of famous people using positive attitudes to improve learning and get them talking and thinking abou it.

    Feel accepted by teachers and peers – the next grouping of strategies

  2. Establish a relationship with each student in the class
    i.e. show that you know them and their interests.
  3. Monitor and attend to your own attitudes.
    Avoid bias either way toward students. Oh dear, practicing a form of positive visualisation (Matty Hayden eat your heart out).
  4. Engage in equitable and positive classroom behaviour.
    This one seems to be the practical implementation of the previous one. Various tactics to include all students. e.g. meet the eyes of all, move around the room, give enough wait time…
  5. Recognise and provide for students’ individual differences.
    A no brainer.
  6. Respond positively to students’ incorrect responses or lack of response.
    i.e. if they feel you think they are stupid for being wrong this builds fear of failure into them. Helping my 6yo son with his homework the last couple of days has highlight the importance of this to me.
  7. Vary the positive reinforcement offered when students give the correct response.
    Too much praise can be a problem, some students don’t like it. Various alternatives given.
  8. Structure opportunities for students to work with peers.
    i.e. good group work and encourage feelings of acceptance. Emphasis on the good.
  9. Provide opportunities for students to get to know and accept each other.
    i.e help them break out of the existing social networks and establish new ones, offer opportunities throughout the year. I can see how many of the suggested strategies could be problematic in some contexts.
  10. Help students develop their ability to use their own strategies for gaining acceptance from their teachers and peers.
    Separate strategies, though a lot in common, for teachers and students. Get students talking about strategies and approaches.

    Experience a sense of comfort and order

  11. Frequently and systematically use activities that involve physical movement.
    Keep ’em moving.
  12. Introduce the concept of “bracketing”.
    Essentially the conscious process of putting aside distracting thoughts to focus on something specific. e.g. after lunch, putting thought about the fight that happened until after class. Various strategies to get the students to engage in this practice.
  13. Establish and communicate classroom rules and procedures.
    Factory/assembly line setting much? The idea is that regularity/order help learning. The students knowing what to expect. Get them involved in setting etc.
  14. Be aware of malicious teasing or threats insight or outside of the classroom and take steps to stop such behaviour.
  15. Have students identify their own standards for comfort and order.

I have to admit to some reservations about the focus on acceptance. I can see how being an outcast is likely to be detrimental to learning, but this push for acceptance might have its own problems.

PA&P about classroom tasks

Learners must

  1. Perceive tasks as valuable or interesting.
  2. Believe they have the ability and resources to complete tasks.
  3. Clearly understand what they are being asked to do.

Strategies include

  1. Help students understand that learning is influenced by A&T related to classroom tasks.
    Slight modification of 1st strategy above. In fact, almost a direct copy.

    Perceive tasks as valuable and interesting

  2. Establish a sense of academic trust.
    i.e. students have consistent experience with you the teacher as someone who always sets tasks that a valuable or interesting.
  3. Help students understand how specific knowledge is valuable.
    So, again some commonality. Get the students to identify the connection. Relate it to real life. Preview latter tasks where “all is revealed”.
  4. Use a variety of ways to engage students in classroom tasks.
    Show interest as the teacher, anecdotes, student choice, authentic tasks…
  5. Create classroom tasks that relate to students’ interests and goals.
    Gives an example of a student inventory which asks questions like, if it were possible: what would you like to do? Where would you like to go? What period of history would you live in? What projects are you working on? What would you like to work on?

    Believe they have the ability and resources to complete tasks

  6. Provide appropriate feedback.
  7. Teacher students to use positive self-talk.
    Mmmm, get students to turn ‘I hate this class’ into “I love this class”, even if they don’t believe it.
  8. Help students recognise that they have the abilities to complete a particular task.
    Essentially strategies to show them they have done the preparation, got the knowledge.
  9. Help students understand that believing in their ability to complete a task includes believing that they have the ability to get the help and resources needed.
    i.e. make it okay to ask questions or for help.

    Understand and be clear about tasks

  10. Help students be clear about the directions and demands of the task.
  11. Provide students with clarity about the knowledge that the task addresses.
  12. Provide students with clear expectations of performance levels for tasks.

So, my first experience with DoL. I can see the value, there is nothing new here, but it is structured in a way to help, especially if used consistently across an organisation. I can, however, see how it could become another straight jacket and another set of expectations to be gamed.

What next

Mmm, seems the guide might be missing something. It’s referring to something from the text, but doesn’t say what.

Oh well, question asked on forum, moving on.

The key to classroom management

Now onto this article by Marzano and Marzano – “The key to classroom management”.

Some focus questions

  • According to this article, what is the keystone for all other aspects of behaviour management?
    A Marzano (2003) study found the quality of student-teacher relationships to be the keystone. Teachers with high-quality relationships ahd 31% fewer discipline problems etc.
  • List the characteristics of effective teacher-student relationships.
    Not teacher’s personality, or that the student sees the teacher as a friend. Instead characterised by specific teaching behaviours: show appropriate levels of dominance; exhibit appropriate levels of co-operation; and, are aware of high-needs students.
  • What is meant by “appropriate levels of dominance”? Can you link this approach to other teaching styles described in earlier models that we have studied?
    Where dominance means the ability for the teacher to provide clear purpose and strong guidance regarding bother learning and student behaviour.

    There are connections with some of the strategies in DoL#1, but also elsewhere (e.g. “Time on task” and “High expectations” etc. in the C&G 7 Principles)

  • What are some of the key strategies teachers can use to maintain this “appropriate level of dominance”?
    Establishing clear behaviours expectations and learning goals, and exhibiting assertive behaviour. With various strategies listed under each of those.

On the importance of what teachers do

Research has shown us that teachers’ actions in their classrooms have twice the impact on student achievement as do school policies regarding curriculum, assessment, staff collegiality, and community involvement

And classroom management is one of the most important jobs. With one meta-analysis found it had the largest effect on student achievement.

Does bring up the notion of flexible goals in “appropriate levels of cooperation”.

Awareness of high needs students

Defines 5 categories and some sub-categories of types of high needs students

  1. Passive students – refrain from criticism, reward small successes, safe classroom climate
    • Fear of failure
    • Fear of relations
  2. Agressive students – behaviour contracts, immediate rewards/punishment, …surely more than that?
    • Hostile
    • Oppositional
    • Covert
  3. Attention problems – teaching skills and basic concentration, help with task decomposition, reward, peer tutor
    • Hyperactive
    • Inattentive
  4. Perfectionists – encourage more realistic standards, help accept mistakes, opportunities to tutor others.
  5. Socially inept – counsel about behaviours.

Social and Emotional learning

And now a Powerpoint set from CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning).

Some focus questions

  • How similar or different do you believe this to be from the Australian context?
    In terms of how well the statistics match the Australian context I really couldn’t say. Anecdotally (i.e. solely on my limited experience) I would not be surprised. Given the apparent prevalence of SEL programs in Australian schools (e.g. Queensland it would appear likely.
  • What are some of the practical ideas for how to solve problems with students in a collaborative way?
    There doesn’t seem to be a direct response to this question in the powerpoint. There are a range of ideas mentioned in the DoL literature.

One of the core beliefs of CASEL is the “create a responsible society member” purpose of schools.

15-20% of US students experience social, emotional and mental health problems. 25-30% have school adjustment problems. Rising to 60% in low SOE districts. Link between this maladjustment and later serious problem behaviours. 70-80% of students not getting right mental health services. More stats on risk behaviours (28.3% had 5 or more alcoholic drinks in a couple of hours) and development assets (e.g. 24% think teachers care about me)

Some additional questions arise from the CASEL claims about the ability to “to recognize and manage emotions, develop caring and concern for others, establish positive relationships, make responsible decisions, and handle challenging situations effectively” as skills that can be taught.

  • How do you respond to such claims?
    To some extent I see these skills as similar to other skills. i.e. it can be learnt and taught. However, they are not the types of skills traditional thought of in a school setting, a setting that tends to place emphasis on the academic or cognitive skills. Given the existence of programs like this it would appear obvious that many people think it can be taught and CASEL’s basis on scientific research gives that assumption some rigour. I think one reason such skills are likely to be more difficult to teach is that not as many folk have set down to analyse these skills and develop insights that can be understood and taught. I imagine this is the purpose of organisations like CASEL.
  • Do you think it is the responsibility of teachers to try to foster these skills in the students they teach?
    Yes, if only because students with those skills will be able to learn much more effectively and be “easier” to teach. If you accept the “prepare good citizens” purpose for school then that provides additional support for the idea that it is the responsibility of teachers to foster these skills.
  • What have your own attitudes and perceptions been towards formal education?
    I have generally succeeded at formal education, played the game. Though my initial forays into undergraduate education suffered due to some poor attitudes and perceptions. 20+ years on, I am wondering how the difference in attitude and perceptions will play out in this program. Being somewhat older and somewhat more opinionated, I have had to (at times) make an effort to be a little more open and reflective on issues that I would generally have ruled out.
  • Can you recall particular teachers who helped you develop positive attitudes? If so, how did they achieve this?
    No, but I think that says more about the length of time since I completed formal education and my memory. Rickie’s slightly repeated use of the “resist impulsivity” DoL mantra during the residential school did cause me to reflect a bit on my behaviour.
  • To what extent is the teacher responsible for the establishment of a positive classroom environment?
    Fairly significant, given the hoped for greater level of knowledge and the responsibility for creating the learning environment I would see the teacher as being largely responsible. That said there remains some responsibility for the student, the parents and especially the school administration (and possibly others) in contributing to both the class environment and the broader environment in which it operates. No classroom environment is an island.
  • What is your reaction to the strategies suggested in Dimensions of Learning?
    There is nothing new there. I was aware of much of it. A small number of the strategies I find a little questionable, but hold my final conclusions in abeyance. Simply getting students to say positive things is not, to me, sufficient. Another reaction is that much of the research evidence supporting these strategies is getting quite old. It makes me wonder if there is more recent research that changes or expands the nature of these strategies.