Monday, March 21, 2011

Non-conducive classroom leads to low learning curve

BA ClassroomImage via WikipediaHere is one article that relates the classroom environment to the reception or learning curve of students. Hopefully this can be remedied - and in the long term, solved.

Negative environment leads to lows in classroom

by Shari' N. Welton
March 10, 2011

Students in classrooms lacking sufficient materials and whose teachers feel stressed and unappreciated by colleagues fare worse academically and are more likely to experience mental health issues, according to a study released Wednesday by University of Maryland researchers.

“In essence, we’re looking at the class environment and how that matters for children’s well-being,” said  Melissa A. Milkie, sociology professor at the University of Maryland in College Park, Md.

The study, “Classroom Learning Environments and the Mental Health of First-Grade Children,” appears in the March issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior. The research included a sample of about 10,700 first- graders throughout the U.S. and interviews with their parents and teachers.

Based on a rating system, researchers examined how the classroom environment affected mental health, ranging from learning and interpersonal behavior, to the internalization and externalization of problems.  

Overall, there was an approximate 20 percent increase in these problems in students whose classrooms often or never had adequate resources versus students in classrooms who always had sufficient resources, said Catharine Warner, a sociology doctorate candidate and researcher at the University of Maryland. 

Resources referenced in the study included textbooks, computers, materials for children with disabilities and proper heating and air conditioning.

Researchers evaluated learning problems based on how well students paid attention in class and stayed on task.
Warner said they found the problems were 17 percent higher among students in classrooms without adequate resources.

Also, interpersonal issues rose by about 15 percent in students whose classrooms were often without or completely lacking materials, according to Warner. These issues covered difficulties making friends and expressing feelings.
Internalization included anxiety, loneliness, low self-esteem and sadness.  External problems focused on the rate of students arguing, fighting, disturbing ongoing activities and acting spontaneously.  

Milkie, lead researcher, said the scarcity of  resources was important in evaluating and addressing mental issues in the students involved in the study.  “The teachers need to be provided with adequate resources,” she said. “We found that the greater the inadequacy, the more problems the kids tended to have.” 

Students who never had adequate materials showed an 18 percent increase in problem behaviors compared with students that always had adequate resources, according to Warner.

Of the first-grade teachers surveyed, 22 percent reported rarely or never having adequate resources in the classroom, while only about 4 percent reported always having adequate resources, Warner said.

Gabrielle Herndon, principal of Caroline Sibley School in south suburban Calumet City, said proper resources have also posed problems for her and her staff. “Some school districts give their teachers a whole lot of stuff they can’t use or don’t know how to use,” she said.

The study also highlighted the  “trickle-down effect,”  which Milkie said happens between educators and students.  If teachers are frustrated, overworked or disrespected, they may offer little patience or kindness when interacting with their students. This stress can then transfer to students, according to the study.

“Our belief is that this is a stress crossover,” Milkie said, “If the teachers are stressed from the demands made on them or feel a lack of support, they aren’t as effective as teachers.


The best way to improve negative learning environments is not changing the curriculum. but recruiting effective educators, said Milkie.

Teachers in these early grades are essential because kids are with them most of the day,” Milkie said. “I think leadership within schools is really key, attracting strong principals and enhancing leadership.”

Herndon, former teacher turned principal, said some of the ways she has established a healthy classroom community including making the classroom visually stimulating, showing compassion, establishing relationships with students, enforcing rules and expressing care outside of the classroom.

Despite its importance, the focus for the overall development of students may start with behavior and should be geared toward more than academic performance, according to Milkie.

“Looking at improvements to the well-being of the whole child over test scores would be an improvement in understanding kids’ lives and what’s important for them,” she said.

Taken from Medill Reports, Chicago; source article is below:
Negative environment leads to lows in classroom
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