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7: Classroom Management and the Learning Environment

  • Page ID
    10860
  • This is an excerpt from a professional journal kept by one of us (Kelvin Seifert) when he was teaching kindergarten:

    20XX-11-14: Today my student Carol sat in the circle, watching others while we all played Duck, Duck, Goose (in this game, one student is outside the circle, tags another student who then chases the first person around the circle). Carol's turn had already passed. Apparently she was bored, because she flopped on her back, smiling broadly, rolling around luxuriously on the floor in the path of the other runners. Several classmates noticed her, smiled or giggled, began flopping down as well. One chaser tripped over a "flopper".

    "Sit up, Carol", said I, the ever-vigilant teacher. "You're in the way." But no result. I repeated this twice, firmly; then moved to pick her up.

    Instantly Carol ran to the far side of the gym, still smiling broadly. Then her best friend ran off with her. Now a whole new game was launched, or really two games: "Run-from-the-teacher" and "Enjoy-being-watched-by-everybody". A lot more exciting, unfortunately, than Duck, Duck, Goose!

    An excerpt from Kelvin's same journal several years later, when he was teaching math in high school:

    20XX-3-4: The same four students sat in the back again today, as usual. They seem to look in every direction except at me, even when I'm explaining material that they need to know. The way they smile and whisper to each other, it seems almost like they are "in love" with each other, though I can't be sure who loves whom the most.

    Others— students not part of the foursome— seem to react variously. Some seem annoyed, turn the other way, avoid talking with the group, and so on. But others seem almost envious— as if they want to be part of the "in" group, too, and were impressed with the foursome's ability to get away with being inattentive and almost rude. Either way, I think a lot of other students are being distracted.

    Twice during the period today, I happened to notice members of the group passing a note, and then giggling and looking at me. By the end, I had had enough of this sort of thing, so I kept them in briefly after class and asked one of them to read the note. They looked a bit embarrassed and hesitant, but eventually one of them opened the note and read it out loud. "Choose one", it said. "Mr Seifert looks (1) old , (2) stupid , or (3) clueless ."

    Kelvin's experiences in managing these very different classrooms taught him what every teacher knows or else quickly learns: management matters a lot. But his experiences also taught him that management is about more than correcting the misbehaviors of individuals, more than just discipline. Classroom management is also about orchestrating or coordinating entire sets or sequences of learning activities so that everyone, misbehaving or not, learns as easily and productively as possible. Educators sometimes therefore describe good management as the creation of a positive learning environment, because the term calls attention to the totality of activities and people in a classroom, as well as to their goals and expectations about learning (Jones & Jones, 2007). When one of us (Kelvin) was teaching, he used both terms almost interchangeably, though in speaking of management he more often was referring to individual students' behavior and learning, and in speaking of the learning environment he more often meant the overall "feel" of the class as a whole.