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Classroom Climate Plan

by Connie Frady

EDCI 590-Section 02

Summer, 2008

Dr. John Shindler


Introduction

            My name is Connie. I am an elementary school educator. I have earned my MS with CLAD preliminary credential for grades K-8. I am currently working on clearing my credential at California State University, Los Angeles. I have been teaching for a total of 7 years; all at Lenicia B. Weemes Elementary School. Lenicia B. Weemes is part of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Presently I am teaching 1st grade but I have also had the pleasure of teaching both 2nd and 3rd grade students. Lenicia B. Weemes Elementary school is part of the West Adams-University Park Community; one of the oldest neighborhoods in Los Angeles. The school is surrounded by a wealth of educational resources such as the California African-American Museum, California Science Center, and the Natural History Museum. Lenicia B. Weemes Elementary is located a block west of the University of Southern California (USC), south of Jefferson Blvd., and north of Exposition Blvd. Our school population is approximately 1,200 students with approximately 72% Hispanic or Latino, and 28% African-American (not of Hispanic origin). Among the student population at Weemes 45% are English Language Learners. At Weemes Elementary there is a 93% participation in the Free-Lunch program.

 

Problem Identification

            I would like to create a strong sense of community in my classroom. I want my students to learn how to work together and find value in another classmate’s contribution as well as their own. I want students to understand the importance and benefits of being a fair, honest, empathetic community member as well as the consequences that may arise when these ideals are devalued. It is my hope that if I create more community in the classroom in time students will demonstrate more patience, kindness, and respect towards one another, themselves, and their learning community.

Research Questions

·       How do I help students come to understand and then experience values and ideals important to a successful community?

·       In what ways do collaborative group activities foster the classroom community? What new interactions and social skills emerge from these students?

·       What can I do as a teacher to develop a sense of community in the classroom? What actions have I used to discourage the development of Community?

 

Plan of Action

            My study on creating a strong sense of community in the classroom will take place over a three month period. These studies will commence at the start of the school year and conclude at the end of the first reporting period. I have divided my plan of action into three stages. The duration of each stage is one month. The first stage introduces the concept of community to my students. The next stage involves identifying how to effectively use collaborative learning to promote a strong sense of community in the classroom. The final stage of study focuses on my demeanor and interaction with students throughout the day to identify how I promote or discourage the development of community in my classroom.

 

Stage 1

            To begin, I will introduce the concept of community to my young 1st grade students. As mentioned earlier, it is expected that this process will take one month. The first week will focus on understanding community. Henceforth, each week, students will focus on a new community ideal such as responsibility, respectfulness, and empathy. Working in whole group, students will meet with the teacher for 25 minutes a day to discuss this new community ideal.

            I will assess students’ development through formal and informal means. My informal assessments will include observations of students’ responses to questions surrounding our daily discussions. Specifically, I will be looking to see if students are engaged in the topic and making headway in understanding the topic discussion. Formal assessments will take place at the end of each week and will require students to draw a picture which illustrates understanding of the discussed community ideal. At the end of the fourth week, students will demonstrate their understanding of community by working in groups to act out one of the three introduced community ideals.

            The purpose of these whole group discussions is to help students gain a concrete understanding of these inherently abstract ideals. In the past, I assumed students already understood community ideals such as responsibility, respect, and empathy. Students will be expected to begin demonstrating these community ideals in their daily interactions with students and teachers.

            Lastly, I will also involve students in the creation of our Social Contract. I will explain how it relates to Community, and how it will help us to uphold community ideals. Students will be required to take the contract home to review with their parents. I will request the parent’s signature as well as the student’s signature. The purpose of this Social Contract is to support and promote a healthy classroom climate.

 

Stage 2

            The next phase of my studies will involve identifying ways to effectively utilize collaborative group activities in order to foster a strong classroom community. It is expected this process will take approximately one month. To begin, my first week of Stage 2 will involve research on effectively implementing and organizing collaborative learning activities which promote a sense of community. In the 2nd week, I will observe students working collaboratively in contrasting classroom environments: one with a strong sense of community and one lacking a strong sense of community. I expect to identify what skills students use to work successfully in collaborative groups. I also expect to identify how students with challenging behavior react to a positive collaborative group experience. During the 3rd and 4th week of Stage 2, using the research gathered from the last two weeks, I will implement collaborative learning activities. I will observe and take notes on student progress, interactions, and assimilation of community ideals introduced in Stage 1.           

            The purpose of Stage 2 is to prepare and implement effective collaborative learning activities which support students’ current academic development and strengthen their experience of community. Through observation of collaborative group activities and analysis of teacher questionnaires, I expect to identify effective ways in which to organize collaborative activities. For instance, I expect to identify strategies primary teachers use to ensure each students participation within the group. For example, is every student within the small group assigned a job? I expect to discover what teachers do to avoid one student dominating the progression of the group task. I expect to find out what teachers do to ensure students stay on task. In addition, through classroom observations, I expect to identify how a student’s connection with and understanding of community contributes to their collaborative learning experience. I will be looking for how students listen to one another. Is there a culture of listening (Shindler 6-5) present in the classroom? Do students demonstrate a desire to be responsible to the others in the class?

            I feel a collaborative learning environment is important because when students work in groups they become more engaged in the activity and take ownership of their learning. This learner-centered instruction actively teaches responsibility because students have to make choices that are good for the group. Likewise, they are intrinsically motivated by their excitement to demonstrate and share their learning. Finally, students will have a positive learning experience together which in turn will help to foster a sense of belonging and Community.

 

Stage 3

            My third and final stage of study focuses on how I promote the development of community in my classroom throughout the daily challenges and interactions between teacher and student(s) as well as student(s) to student(s). It is expected Stage 3 will last for a total of four weeks. To begin, I will videotape a full week of instruction. I will refer to this videotape as Video A. This videotape will allow me to identify any behaviors I am not aware of which may be detrimental to our classroom community. During the second week of Stage 3, I will review the videotape. As I review the videotape I will be looking for answers to these questions:

·       What strategies am I currently using to deal with a student who continues to talk despite repeated attempts to refocus the student’s attention?

·       Do I consistently clarify my behavioral expectations for my students?

·       Am I allowing myself to be hooked in by certain students; do I have a pain-based response? (Shindler 15-7)

·       Do I implement effective, organized collaborative group activities which promote a sense of community?

·       How often do I employ strategies which will move beyond a power struggle to true conflict resolution?

            In addition, I will identify when I perpetuate dysfunction in my classroom. For example, I will analyze whether I am helping students to develop their own inner motivations or simply teaching students to be motivated by the teacher’s approval or disapproval.

            During the third week of Stage 3, I will begin to apply new strategies in the classroom based on information gathered from my videotapes. During week 3, I will keep a journal on what strategies where used and how they were received by the students. Finally, I will videotape the fourth week of Stage 3. I will refer to this videotape as Video B. I will complete a comparative analysis of Video A and Video B. I expect to identify improvements in my use of positive recognitions and overall ability to create a sense of community in the classroom.

            The purpose of Stage 3 is to gain an awareness of my strengths and weaknesses in regards to promoting a sense of community in the classroom. I expect to identify what I am currently doing to promote or discourage community. In particular, I will focus on behaviors that discourage community and promote dysfunction. Once these behaviors are identified I expect to replace these behaviors and/or strategies with strategies that help promote a sense of belonging and community in the classroom.

            I feel Stage 3 is important because the teacher sets the tone for the class. If I want to have a climate of community in my classroom I will need to create an environment which invites students to build relationships, participate, and become excited about learning. As an educator, I want to know if I am doing something to move students away from this goal. Therefore, self-reflection and analysis of my interaction with my students will allow me to identify any negative behaviors.

 

Data Collection

·       Student Illustration¾

The purpose of this data is for students to demonstrate their concrete understanding of the discussed community ideal by creating an illustration which communicates the meaning of the specified ideal.

o   Assessment will be given to students during Stage 1 at the end of each week; after the community ideal has been thoroughly reviewed and discussed.

·       Group presentation¾

The purpose of this data is for students to demonstrate their concrete understanding of one of the three community ideals by working in small groups to act out a scenario which communicates the meaning of the ideal.

o   Given to students at the end of Stage 1; after all three community ideals have been introduced, reviewed, and discussed.

 

 

·       Research Current Journals/Books¾

The purpose of this data is to provide information on organizing effective, collaborative learning activities. I will identify strategies and organizational ideas which are used to ensure a successful collaborative learning experience for students.

o   This research will take place during week one of Stage 2.

·       Teacher Questionnaire¾

The purpose of this data is to gather advice and tips from teachers on how they organize collaborative learning groups.

o   This research will take place during week one of Stage 2.   

·       Observation/Field Notes¾

The notes acquired during observation have a three-fold purpose. First, they will be used to identify effective and ineffective ways to implement and apply collaborative learning activities. Secondly, I want to identify the skills students use while participating in a collaborative learning event. Lastly, I will note my students’ progress in applying community values to their collaborative group experiences.

o   These observations will take place during weeks 2-4, of Stage 2.

·       Video A¾

The purpose of this data is to identify how I approach the everyday challenges and teacher-student interactions to determine how I promote and discourage a sense of community in the classroom. Also, this data will be used in a comparative analysis to assist in documenting my growth in promoting Community.

o   The video taping will occur the 1st week of Stage 3. The video tape will be reviewed during the 2nd week of Stage 3.

·       Video B¾

This video will be used in a comparative analysis between Video A and Video B. The purpose of the analysis is to document my growth in using strategies which build and promote a sense of community.

o   The video taping will occur the 4th week of Stage 3. In addition, during this 4th week, the video tape (Video B) will be reviewed and compared with Video A.

 

Analysis of Data

            The analysis of my data reveals some distinct patterns. First, students’ behavior in collaborative groups indicates that students do benefit from having a formal introduction to and understanding of community ideals. An analysis of students’ illustrations and group presentations indicate students’ initial understanding of these community values. Furthermore, field notes indicate students’ assimilation of these community values when engaged in Stage 2 collaborative activities. Specifically, students demonstrated behaviors indicative of a Culture of Listening. (Shindler 6-5) For instance, when ideas were presented by fellow group members, students’ offered their attention. Furthermore, in most groups each student offered some form of participation indicating a sense of responsibility to the group. As a result each student felt apart of the collective accomplishment and found value in the classroom community.

            In addition, I observed a pattern emerge between my implementation of collaborative activities in Stage 2 and my observations of other teachers’ implementation of collaborative activities also in Stage 2. This data revealed a high majority of collaborative group activities progressed successfully in classrooms where students had been taught to value community ideals. In contrast, in classrooms where community ideals where not valued, a high majority of collaborative groups struggled to get through the project due to student-student conflicts and overall lack of organization. From these results, I will determine collaborative group activities are most successful when they are implemented in an organized manner within a classroom which upholds established community ideals.

            Lastly, from the comparative analysis of Video A and Video B I have determined the teacher’s response to daily challenges and student-teacher interactions is foundational to building a strong sense of community in the classroom. In Video A, the teacher’s motivational strategies and behavioral comments did not lend themselves to promoting a healthy classroom community. Students did not feel empowered by the learning experience. In direct contrast, were the new strategies and instructional approaches implemented in Video B. For instance, collaborative learning activities were used as well as positive recognitions, consistent clarification of behavioral expectations, and the implementation of logical consequences. These new approaches allowed students to experience self-responsibility and a sense of belonging. These positive experiences build upon each other and ultimately work together to create a sense of community and a healthy classroom climate.

 

Plan for Future Action

Through analysis, data revealed a clear connection between a classroom which values community, and the students’ ability to successfully collaborate and complete a group activity.  Therefore based on this information, I would like to extend this study and focus on students who exhibit extreme Negative-Identity Behavior Patterns (Shindler 15-4). I would like to observe to what degree a student, with negative behavior, absorbs positive social and/or behavioral skills, when s/he is consistently surrounded by classmates that uphold community ideals.

 

Goals

·       I want to promote student responsibility.

·       I use a social contract to which students are accountable.

·       I implement and model a process for conflict resolution; moving beyond my need to defend my own ego thus avoiding potential power struggle situations.

·       I use positive recognitions which clarify my behavioral expectations.

·       I implement group activities to engage students’ learning and foster a feeling of community and personal responsibility.

·       I strive to convey clear, concise directions.

·       I implement consistent consequences based on students’ behavior.

·       I effectively implement intrinsic and extrinsic motivational strategies.

 

Mission Statement

            I am an educator committed to facilitating and engaging all students in their academic and social development so they may reach their highest potential. I use current teaching strategies and instructional approaches to communicate standards-based lessons within a classroom climate which promotes and values community and personal responsibility.

 

Technical Management

            I want to improve on my ability to gain 100% attention and use of cue. In the past, I have used the Give Me Five Technique. This involves a visual cue as well as verbal cues. I say Give Me Five and put my hand up in the air while saying aloud the following steps: 1) Eyes on the Speaker. 2) Quiet. 3) Be still. 4) Hands free. 5) Listen. I find this technique works well to gain their attention.  However, the process of saying the steps aloud takes too long and sometimes I say the steps in the wrong order. In addition, I have trouble when I begin to transition out of needing 100% attention. Occasionally, I forget to tell the students something and need to interrupt them, so I would use the cue again to get their attention. I recognize this lessens the effect of the cue.  Frequently, after giving the cue, I would ask students to quiet down saying, “Quiet!” or “Please stop talking.” This does not take positive action or clarify the expectation (Shindler 6-9). Consequently, I will now use rhythmic clapping to establish 100% attention. I prefer this procedure because it is interactive and immediate. I will introduce this procedure to students on the first day of school. I will inform students of the purpose of this procedure and what I expect them to do when they hear this clapping. We will rehearse this procedure daily until students demonstrate complete understanding. If I do not receive students’ attention after this initial attempt I will go through a series of steps:

1)    Stop and wait for 100% attention.

2)    Use clarifying statements which redirect behavior and avoid using statements which recognize negative behaviors. For example I may say, “We are all listening attentively right now.”

3)    Apply logical consequences to students’ behavior.

                        In addition, I want to improve on managing directions. I will approach giving directions with the expectation that directions will happen once. As a result, I will need to make every effort to convey clear, concise directions; not always an easy task for me. I will tell my students it is essential they ask questions if they do not understand the directions. To communicate directions I will utilize the process suggested on page 6-12 in Transformative Classroom Management by Dr. John Shindler. The process follows:

1)    Use cue (clapping out a rhythm) to gather 100% attention

2)    Explain finish word: Begin!

3)    Give the directions.

4)    Call for questions and check for students’ understanding.

5)    Use finish word (to cue students they may begin.)

            I would like to improve on daily procedures and transitions in the classroom. For instance, I want students to transition quickly from reading on the carpet to working at their desk. Moreover, I would like to improve on the manner in which students prepare to line-up, distribute pencils, and participate in daily opening/closing activities. To achieve this goal I will use a systematic approach (Shindler 6-16) to introduce students to the appropriate procedure. The process follows:

1)    Teach the procedure

2)    Practice it until it is demonstrated

3)    Use positive recognitions to shape students behavior

4)    Celebrate students’ success

5)    Provide additional opportunities to practice as needed

            In the inevitable event that the students’ ability to carry out the procedure breaks down I will provide non-personal, logical consequences. For example, if students are not lining up correctly or putting their backpacks away in an undesirable manner I will need to clarify the expectation. Then students will go back and do the procedure again.

 

Motivation

            In the past, my motivational plans have included sticker cards and group points which are turned in for prizes as well as Friday free-time and treats. Also, I promoted self-improvement and frequently used personal praise. Essentially, my plan for motivation included mostly extrinsic forms. I have always felt unsatisfied with these forms of motivation but I wasn’t aware of other options. My dissatisfaction took the form of frustration with the students. Inevitably, towards mid-year it would become clear that students were motivated by the prize. Once the opportunity for a prize had been dangled in front of the students the undesirable behavior would change. However, seconds later this same behavior would reappear. I felt my students were taking advantage of my generosity; as the school doesn’t supply these prizes. I would often end up feeling unappreciated and resentful towards my students. Consequently, I created an atmosphere where students were motivated by my approval or disapproval. In retrospect, I realize I did not help them to become self-motivated learners. Therefore, I welcome the opportunity to articulate a new plan for motivation.

            It is my intention to create a motivational plan that guides students to build a foundation for inner motivation and personal satisfaction. That being said, I also see value in using some extrinsic forms of motivation in an effective, intentional manner. When dealing with 1st grade students, it is beneficial to shape the desired behavior immediately. This is best achieved though extrinsic rewards. My new plan for building motivation will focus on 4 strategies: positive recognitions which clarify the desired behavior, instructional design, self-improvement, and some extrinsic forms of motivation: such as stickers and grades.

            I will use positive recognitions to focus on the whole group, particular individuals or a specific collaborative group. I may say, “I appreciate that you are putting so much care and attention into your manuscript writing, it will pay off when we write sentences.” (Shindler 5-8)

Or I may say, “We are all giving Anthony our undivided attention right now.” (Shindler 5-9) I expect these positive recognitions to help clarify my behavioral expectations, shape a particular student’s (or groups’) behavior, or help a student recognize an accomplishment. I will avoid using personal praise statements which do not recognize the desired behavior and take away from students’ internal locus of control.

            I will motivate students through my instructional design. I will incorporate more of a constructivist approach (Inquiry-based approach) to my mathematics, science, and social studies lessons. The purpose of these lessons will be to engage the students in their learning; allowing them to forge their own discoveries led by their natural curiosities. I expect students to feel empowered from these experiences, thus creating more of a self-directed learner.

            It is my goal to help each child recognize their competence and believe in their ability to participate with energy in their learning process. Therefore, I will motivate students through self-improvement. This form of motivation will be difficult to nurture in 1st grade students. It will take time, consistency and patience. To implement this form of motivation I will recognize students’ incremental achievements. I will provide assistance (such as small group tutoring) to help students achieve the goals they have set for themselves. In addition, I want to increase the frequency in which I use performance-based rubrics to grade assignments. The purpose of this is to help students view grades as an assessment of their effort and energy towards the assignment versus a labeling of their ability in the subject.

            Finally, I will give students stickers in recognition of good behavior. However, I will now give these stickers out randomly and immediately after the behavior takes place. For example, I may say, “I asked you to put away your art supplies and take out your anthologies, this table did it right away without being asked again, so they will get a sticker.” (Shindler 7-9) In this instance, the desired behavior is first mentioned then the reward, thus the focus is on the behavior. The reward is secondary.

 

Whole Class

            To promote social and communal bonds within the classroom I will use 4 different strategies: tribal councils, collaborative group activities, implement a social contract with consistency and integrity, and utilize win-win conflict resolution. In creating opportunities for communal bonds among students, I expect students to feel a sense of belonging and responsibility to their community members.

            To begin, tribal councils will be used to give students a working knowledge of community ideals. As mentioned earlier in my Action Plan, students will meet daily for 4 weeks, 25 minutes a day to discuss and learn about community ideals. The expectation will be that students will successfully contribute to the classroom community due to their true understanding of community ideals such as responsibility, respect, empathy, and effort. Later these tribal councils can be used to provide students with a forum for voicing their opinions on classroom procedures, assignments, field trips, and other suggestions or concerns. 

            I will implement collaborative group activities wherein each group member will take on a role/job important to the groups’ success. One reason for these collaborative activities is to create a forum for students to experience an event together, thus forming a sense of responsibility to the group and larger community. Furthermore, in this environment students have an opportunity to practice conflict resolution skills.

            I view the social contract as a tool to help guide students toward personal responsibility and accountability to others. I expect students to view their self-generated social contract as a behavioral guide to help remind them of the agreements they have made in regards to what students should expect from one another. My social contract will be a document which will be signed by the parent, teacher, and student. However, I am aware that the degree in which students value the document will depend on my effective implementation of the social contract. Once, the substance of the contract is confirmed it must be implemented immediately and consequences (which articulate cause and effect) must be carried out accordingly. I will remind students that the contract is “about the welfare of the participants and not the wishes of the teacher.” (Shindler 11-1)

            My last strategy for promoting social and communal bonds will be to employ a system for conflict resolution. The purpose of this system will be to give students a foundation from which to develop problem-solving skills. I will utilize the 6-step approach by Naomi Drew, referred to in Transformative Classroom Management (Shindler 14-5).

These 6-steps include:

1)    Cool off¾Help students become aware of their emotional response; their fight or flight reaction

2)    Use “I messages” to tell what’s bothering you¾Students report their experience.  

3)    Each person restates what they heard the other person say¾This step ensures clear communications and invites students to empathize with one another.

4)    Take responsibility¾Encourage students to make things better in the future.

5)    Brainstorm solutions that satisfy both people¾Guide students to stick with the process of creating a resolution that satisfies both individuals.

6)    Affirm, forgive, or thank¾Students recognize the effort it took to come to a resolution and recognize their growth; didn’t resort to fight or flight reaction.  

(Taken from, Hope and Healing by Naomi Drew)

            Finally, my strategy for dealing with a student who demonstrates difficult behavior patterns involves different interventions. First, I will identify what is at the heart of the student’s negativity pattern. In other words, what is the student trying to gain from the undesirable behavior? Next, I will identify and remove elements which trigger the student’s negativity pattern. For example, if the student demonstrates a Best/Best Worst/Inferiority Complex Negativity Pattern (Shindler 15-11) it would be wise to reduce the competitive elements in the classroom. In addition, I will need to keep my own anger at bay and avoid using a pain-based response to the student’s behavior. Finally, I will implement logical and non-personal consequences when the student violates our classroom’s social contract.