This post is contributed by Laura MacKay, Chapter Six Facilitator.
Principle: Students’ current level of development interacts with the social, emotional, and intellectual climate of the course to impact learning.
This chapter of How Learning Works addresses how learning is influenced by the interactive effects of holistic student development and classroom climate. Students vary from one another and from class to class. This is what makes teaching exciting and always changing. But this also has pitfalls unless educators proactively work towards creating a supportive classroom climate that intentionally acknowledges and addresses differences. The educational environment is often focused on student intellectual development but students are also rapidly growing and changing socially and emotionally. While educators have less impact on student development according to the authors, they can shape the climate of the classroom in ways that address holistic development and enhance learning.
A number of theories are presented that describe changes in how students perceive and understand the world around them and the ways in which this impacts the class environment. Strong emphasis is placed on students’ development of identity and how this can lead to the formation of ingroups and outgroups and the development of prejudice, discrimination, and stereotypes. The classroom can be a place where students feel invisible, or marginalized, or discriminated against, or supported, or inclusive. How educators structure the class climate will impact learning.
According to DeSurra and Church (1994) classroom climate is best understood on a continuum:
Classroom climate is determined by:
- Faculty-student and student-student interactions
A negative class climate hinders learning whereas a positive environment strengthens learning. Educators have a great deal of control over classroom climate. HLW suggest several strategies that encourage student development and create a productive classroom environment.
- Make uncertainty safe
- Resist a single right answer
- Incorporate evidence into performance and grading criteria
- Examine your assumptions about students
- Be mindful of low-ability cues
- Do not ask individuals to speak for an entire group
- Reduce anonymity
- Model inclusive language, behaviour, and attitudes
- Use multiple and diverse examples
- Establish and reinforce ground rules for interaction
- Make sure course content does not marginalize students
- Use the syllabus and first day of class to establish the course climate
- Set up process to get feedback on the climate
- Anticipate and prepare for potentially sensitive issues
- Address tensions early
- Turn discord and tension into a learning opportunity
- Facilitate active listening
Instead of looking to the above strategies as a checklist, it may be helpful to consider your learning environment as more of an ecosystem with interacting components between yourself, your students, and the course content. As one component changes, the learning environment changes.
To reflect on this chapter and prepare for the upcoming book club meeting you may wish to comment on the following:
- The focus in this chapter is on young adults (17-24). How might this principle apply to older learners? What might be different?
- What explicitly inclusive approaches do you use to foster a more positive classroom climate?
- Do you see the principle of learning in this chapter applying to online class climate? How might it be similar or different?
- Much of the discussion around the stages of development, in particular in relation to social identity, has a negative connotation. In what ways might social identity be construed as positive?
To encourage participation, those who share a comment/post this week will have their name entered into the Chapter Six draw for a $25 CAD gift certificate for Chapters Indigo. Read the contest guidelines here. Good luck!\
The Book Club chat on Chapter Six will take place on Friday, Nov. 2nd at 10 AM PST. Check out the schedule and how to connect with the group.