Classroom environment or classroom ecology refers to the general and overall climate and atmosphere of a classroom. Teachers create, provide, or facilitate the classroom environment for learning. Effective classroom environments of the 21st-century will ultimately be substantially different from those of the industrial era. The range of attributes constituting classroom-environmental contextual factors and variables can be characterized as physical, material, personal/interpersonal, school/institutional and social/psychosocial. The instructional variables of a classroom environment refer to all of the features that influence the nature of teacher and student performance. A positive classroom environment provides advantageous conditions for effective student learning, whereas a negative classroom environment results in disadvantageous conditions that may cause students not to succeed. Research has found that teachers who have established orderly and enabling classroom environments are those who are most likely to teach for understanding and meaning.
Keywords Classroom Climate; Classroom Ecology; Classroom Environment; Climate Variables; Contextual Domains; Instructional Variables; Learning Incentives; Personal Variables; Student Contextual Variables; Teachers' Contextual Variables; Teaching
Many researchers describe the elements of the physical environment that impact the learning culture, including the shape and arrangement of the classroom, the grouping of the students in the available space, and the learning materials available for students’ use. Teachers who use these elements strategically encourage students to participate enthusiastically in the learning process (Faulk & Evanshen, 2013). The environment of a classroom should enable students to master intended learnings. All students should have the same conditions while learning and demonstrating their competence. A classroom should stimulate purposeful student activity and allow for a depth and range of activities that facilitate learning. Teachers should honor various approaches to learning, and balance the interests of individuals with the group as a whole. The classroom elements that teachers can employ daily to help achieve desired learning outcomes include time, space, resources, student groupings, instructional or learning strategies, partnerships, and presentation or teaching strategies.
A classroom can be thought of as a living organism, much like how biologists think of the ecosystem of a pond. Like a pond, "the classroom is bounded in space and time and contains within it a number of relatively autonomous components that interact with one another in a mostly purposeful fashion" (Smith, Smith, & De Lisi, 2001, p. 7). Classroom environment - also called classroom ecology - describes the overall climate or atmosphere of a classroom. This environment is created by the interplay of the physical dimensions of a classroom with the interpersonal interactions between students and teachers. As such, a classroom's environment can have a strong influence on the teaching and learning that occurs within it (Posner, 1989; Smith, Smith, & De Lisi, 2001).
Each class has a collective personality that is made up of individual students' needs and interests, and every student contributes to a class's "personality" (Smith, Smith, & De Lisi, 2001). Teachers create, provide, and facilitate the classroom environment according to this unique class personality. A positive classroom environment unites students as they work, achieve, and grow. When teachers set up the proper classroom environment, students can develop competence in intellectual endeavors (Herber, 1978; Posner, 1989; Smith, Smith, & De Lisi, 2001).
For much of the 19th century, teachers in U.S. elementary school classrooms held a strong degree of control over the classroom setting (Stevens & Wood, 1987). Class rules and procedures were strict: teachers generally told students where and when to sit, stand, and hang their coats. Desks were arranged in straight rows to serve the lecture-based instructional model as well as practical custodial needs. Although the efficacy of the lecture-based instructional model has since been found wanting, the same classroom structure has characterized U.S. public education for more than a century (Estes & Vaughn, 1985; Herber, 1978; Stevens & Wood, 1987).
Although classroom environments of the 19th and 20th centuries were relatively static, effective classroom-learning environments of the 21st-century will ultimately be substantially different from those of the Industrial era. The "same old classroom" no longer meets the requirements of visionary educators, and as Fielding (2006) stated, the future will belong to students who look in directions other than straight ahead.
A classroom environment includes contextual factors such as the related circumstances, conditions, and situations of teaching and learning-school size, class size, educational level of students, number of students, absenteeism rate of students and many others. Teachers must assess and address these environmental variables (Joint Committee on Standards for Educational Evaluation, 1988).
Environmental variables can be organized into contextual domains. Among the hierarchy of contextual domains in education are
• The individual or personal domain,
• The school or institutional domain, and
• The schooling or societal domain (Stevens & Wood, 1987).
Schubert (1986) classifies the range of attributes of learning environments into five different dimensions:
• Physical, such as the tables, desks and chairs
• Material, such as curricular and instructional materials used
• Interpersonal, the ways in which the students and teacher are poised to interact
• Institutional, meaning the style of governance of the school, and
• Psychosocial, meaning the culture or atmosphere of the school.
From Schubert's perspective, these characteristics focus on environmental features that are internal to specific teaching-learning situations and do not apply to wider contexts such as community and socioeconomic surroundings.
Classroom Physical Settings
Classrooms are dynamic and complex physical settings (Joint Committee on Standards for Educational Evaluation, 1988). The physical surroundings of the educational setting and learning environment, including available usable space and adjacent space or storage, may be relatively staid or quite evocative.
In contemplating the design of a classroom as an educational setting, four criteria should be kept in mind:
• Adequacy, or spatial planning
• Suitability, or the types of activities that will take place in the classroom
• Efficiency, or the operational characteristics of a classroom, and
• Economy or the cost of creating the desired environment (Castaldi, 1977; Ornstein & Hunkins, 1988).
The physical classroom setting includes the basic four-wall classroom and any and all elaborations beyond it. This environment includes factors such as the architectural arrangement, seating and grouping patterns, furnishings and accommodations, including materials and equipment. It includes the types and combinations of fixed and moveable chairs and the presence or absence of learning centers. The furniture, desks and other physical features within a classroom can be arranged and rearranged so as to serve a variety of instructional needs (Estes & Vaughn, 1985; Stevens & Wood, 1987).
The physical classroom environment also includes the general physical atmosphere-factors such as room temperature, air circulation and ventilation, lighting, acoustics, outside noise, furniture noise, and even smells. Noisy and distracting surroundings, inadequate lighting, or unusually high or low temperatures can all interfere with student learning. Although some characteristics of the physical surrounding of a teacher's classroom may be out of his or her control, many factors of the teaching setting (e.g., lighting, temperature) can be controlled or improved upon (Dallmann, Rouch, Char, & DeBoer, 1982; Estes & Vaughn, 1985; Fielding, 2006; Posner, 1989).
The physical layout and appearance of a classroom reflects a teacher's personal perspective and conveys a powerful message to students. Along with the physical arrangement of a classroom, a teacher should consider how the room is decorated. The emphasis in decorating a classroom should be on functionality, for as Marzano (2003) notes, a teacher's job is not to create a "pretty" environment but to create a "learning environment." The physical features of classrooms such as bulletin boards and wall space can be used for creative, aesthetic, or instructional purposes at any grade level (Estes & Vaughn, 1985; Marzano, 2003; Posner, 1989; Stevens & Wood, 1987; Tomlinson & McTighe, 2006).
A classroom operates within certain influences and constraints that may be outside the control of the teacher. These include general geographic and social characteristics such as economic trends and societal dynamics. They also include the general circumstances of a neighborhood or school; community characteristics and community expectations; the economic status of the community; and the state of communication between teachers and parents (Joint Committee, 1988; Mamchak & Mamchak, 1976; Posner, 1989; Stevens & Wood, 1987). Mills & Keddie found that, across many parts of the world, the student population is becoming increasingly diverse, bringing to classrooms divergent racial, ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic experiences (Mills & Keddie, 2012). Additionally, the number of students assigned to a teacher, the turnover of students in a teacher's classroom during the school year, and the ethnicity of the student body, the students' first languages, and their fluency in English all contribute to the classroom environment (Stevens & Wood, 1987). Many of these influences are outside the teacher's control.
Other factors influencing the environment which may be outside of a teacher’s control are amounts of time and space available, as well as the kinds of equipment, textbooks, and technologies to which they have access (Joint Committee, 1988; National Academy Press, 2001).
Another important factor is the availability of support services. Support services can take the form of professional support, the expertise and contributions of colleague, or...
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