Examining the (Socially Constructed) Classroom Reality
As it Relates to Classroom Management
Each classroom has its own “reality.” The same group of students, if they were to move from one room and teacher to another, could experience a distinctly different reality. Each class may feel different, students may experience a different level of motivation, or a different expectation for what is acceptable, and very often they may find themselves consequently acting entirely differently in these different settings. This can be true even if the explicit expectations (i.e., rules, stated expectations, stated curriculum, and school policies) are essentially the same in the two situations. While much of what varies from class to class is on the level of the explicit and stated, there is much of this “classroom reality” that is socially constructed and thus below the level of the explicit. For a quick affirmation of this principle, ask a few teachers what they expect their class to be and feel like, and then observe the actual classes. Most teachers suggest that they want about the same types of things, but what actually manifests itself looks significantly different from one class to another. For example, many classes appear very productive, while others appear chaotic, and some feel very warm, while others feel hostile, etc. And while much of what any class will be like (especially early in a year) is determined by what the students come into the class with, the primary variable in the equation is the teacher. The teacher’s choices, words, actions, and affect help create the classroom reality day after day. As Ginott suggests, to a very great extent, the teacher “creates the weather” in the room.
While there are many inter-related factors that contribute to any classroom’s “socially constructed reality,” there are a few factors that can be examined separately. The handouts provided in class will help make sense of each of these separate factors in more depth.
In any society, there are implicit relationships that exist to help promote functional behavior between adults and children. Your handout outlines 3 of those relationships or social frames. First, there should be a relationship between freedom and responsibility. Children/students should be given freedom to the extent that they are responsible. Second, there should be a relationship between achievement and being rewarded. Children should be given recognition and rewards when they try and/or are successful. Third, there should be a relationship between students showing loyalty and respect and adults giving back caring and respect. One could say that any society, household or class is more or less “functional” to the extent that these frames operate successfully.
Teacher use of Power
All teachers need to use some form of power to achieve their goals. Power is in a sense “the right to ask others to do something.” As teachers we need to ask students to do many things in a day, and we need to make our requests out of some basis of power. Power comes in many forms, and the forms that one chooses should be consistent with the talents and values one possesses, as well as what will achieve the best learning outcomes for one’s students. Your handout outlines 5 types of teacher power that researchers suggest exist in any classroom. They all need to operate to some degree, but some will be emphasized and utilized more than others for most of us. These 5 types of power are Position, Attractive/Referent, Reward, Coercive and Legitimate.
Common “language” exchanged
It could be said that our language defines our reality. We need words to explain what is. The language in the classroom is a powerful influence and defines the very nature of what is going on. This idea may sound very abstract, but examine the language in a classroom. As you listen and observe, ask yourself these questions; “What is acceptable to talk about in this class?” “What is the purpose of the language used?” “What emotional climate is being created by the use of the language?” “Is the language used consistent with the messages being sent?” Examine the language used by the 3 teachers in the handout. It is very possible that they all desire about the same explicit outcomes, but do you think their language exchanges will produce similar results?
We all have biases, experiences, personalities, and life-views that affect the way we look at other people. Since it could be said that, “we teach who we are,” those internal values play themselves out in subtle and not so subtle ways. Each teacher must ask him or herself if they treat different types of students differently and/or have different expectations for students based on preconceived notions. Examine any classroom and observe if the commonly manifested stereotypes and biases found in society at large are recreated in the classroom reality. It is doubtful that if a conspicuous and substantial effort is not made to redefine expectations to develop a more equitable and conscious climate, they will be.
Interaction of personality/learning style types
After taking the PLSI you should have some grasp of your learning style. And after our discussion you should be aware of the finding that, if we as teachers do nothing at all to be sensitive to learning style differences, then students who are similar to us type-wise will like our courses better and get better grades. And those who are most different will be, in effect, penalized because of their type. Each teacher must ask themselves the question, is her/his classroom reality one where all learning styles are valued and given a chance to express themselves, or will there be inherent frustration and repression for certain types? The more learning style thinking is brought to the level of awareness the less it will be part of the hidden curriculum and the better it can be addressed purposefully.
The “Hidden Curriculum”
The hidden curriculum could be defined as what is learned in totality by students minus what is planned for, and it contains many of the areas mentioned earlier to some extent. But it also includes how what we do in our classes effects students. There is that which we intend to teach, and then there is that which our teaching choices and behaviors actually teach. What we do each day defines “reality” for our students. What we assess defines that which is valuable to our students. The systems that we choose to use prepare students to be part of the broader systems in society.