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Classroom Climate

Classroom Climate

18 June, 2016

Amborse et. al. (2010) define classroom climate as “the intellectual, social, emotional, and physical environments in which our students learn. Climate is determined by a constellation of interacting factors that include faculty-student interaction, the tone instructors set, instances of stereotyping or tokenism, the course demographics (for example, relative size of racial and other social groups enrolled in the course), student-student interaction, and the range of perspectives represented in the course content and materials” (p.170).

Importance of Classroom Climate

  • Classroom climate is affected not only by blatant instances of inequality directed towards a person or group of people, but also by smaller, more subtle “micro-inequities” that can accumulate to have significant negative effects on learning (Hall, 1982).
  • Incivilities that are not addressed properly not only adversely impact learning within the course in which it is experienced, but may also negatively affect a student’s success at an institution (Hirschy & Braxton, 2004).

Factors influencing classroom climate

The following is borrowed heavily from Ambrose et. al. (2010, p. 173-179).

  • Stereotypes cause alienation and marginalization among those who are the target of unfair generalizations. In fact, just the threat of stereotypes, what Steele & Aronson (1995) tokened “stereotype threat,” can affect learning negatively. Students who have experienced stereotypes or expect to be viewed or judged in a certain way may encounter tensions and cognitive disturbances that interfere with learning.
  • The tone of a class environment is influenced strongly by the instructor. Studies show that students approach faculty who express motivation more so than faculty who come off as punitive. Tone can be set by instructors through their interactions with students and through other modes of communication including syllabus.
  • Student-student interactions during and outside of class affect the overall climate. However, the ways in which instructors and those in authority deal with negative interactions has more of an influence on student learning.
  • Faculty-student interactions also play a role. Students who felt that their instructor was approachable, had concern for minority student issues and treated students as individuals and with respect reported a better course climate (Astin, 1993).
  • Content involves the course materials, examples and metaphors, case studies and project assignments used to present the ideas being taught. Content that includes various perspectives or is representative of multiple views is more conducive to a positive climate.

Knowing if the classroom climate is productive

In addition to being reflective about the events that take place in your class on a regular basis, there are strategies you can use to measure your classroom’s climate. Ask for feedback directly from your students on their experiences in your course. This also serves to heighten students’ awareness of their own study practices. A number of classroom assessment techniques (CATs) (Angelo & Cross, 1993) are designed to do just that:

Inquire about the classroom climate:

  • Pass out index cards to all students
  • Prompt students to respond anonymously to one or both of the following questions:
  • I feel comfortable participating in this course: a) always b) often c) sometimes d) rarely e) never.
  • One or two things that would make me feel more comfortable in this class would be:
  • Gather the responses and study them for common themes.
  • Address your findings in the next session and explain to students what changes you will make, if any.

Inquire about students’ reactions to the teacher or the method of instruction:

  1. Chain notes
    • Pass out blank index cards to all students.
    • Explain that you want to gather honest responses to a question regarding student learning or attention in your class.
    • Take a large envelope and write a question on it.
    • Questions can address their reactions to your teaching, such as:
  • What are you focusing on right now?
  • On a scale of 1-5 how would you rate your level of (concentration/interest/engagement) right now (5 being the highest).
  • Guide students to respond anonymously to the question only when the envelope comes to them.
  • Gather the responses to tally the results and report on your findings in the next class.
  1. Electronic Feedback
  • To inquire about students’ perceptions of your teaching, prepare an anonymous online survey to send to students electronically.
  • Create questions based on teaching practices you want to know about, and that you can and are willing to change (in the event that your feedback indicates this).
  • Let students know what you are doing and why you are doing it.
  • Summarize findings in your next class and describe any modification you might make as a result of the feedback.

Inquire about students’ experience with the course materials, readings and assignments:

  1. Reading Rating Sheets
  • Ask students to fill out short questionnaires on the class readings.
  • Questions can address the clarity and usefulness of the reading, how closely the student read it, how interesting it was, and if students think the reading should be used again next term (why or why not?).
  • Ask students to fill out the small questionnaires directly after they have read, or at the beginning of the next class.
  • Explain that their response will be taken into consideration in your course design decisions.
  1. Group Work Evaluations
    • If you had students working in groups and want to know whether you facilitated that process effectively, you can conduct a group work evaluation.
    • Create a short survey asking how effectively the group worked together. Questions may include:
  • How well do you think your group worked together on this assignment? (Provide Likert scale options, i.e., “Strongly Agree” to “Strongly Disagree.”)
  • Out of x members, how many contributed adequately?
  • Out of x members, how many were prepared to do this assignment well?
  • Give an example of something you learned from another member in the group.
  • Give one example of something you taught other members in the group.
  • What is one change your group could make to improve?
  • Answering these questions also has the benefit of increasing students’ meta-cognitive skills in relation to working with groups.
  1. Assignment Assessments
  • Select an assignment that you plan to use again.
  • Create a few questions regarding this assignment’s value in relation to student learning.
  • Create a short assessment form for students to fill out in class or electronically through an online survey service

Managing Classroom Climate

  • Integrate diversity into your course and use inclusive teaching practices.
  • Use icebreakers and collaborative learning to give students the chance to get to know one another.
  • Include diversity and disabilities statements in your syllabus.
  • Address incivilities right away.
  • Set ground rules.
  • Check in on classroom climate periodically.
  • Make efforts to connect with students.