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Classroom Climate

What is classroom climate?
Why is classroom climate important?
What factors influence classroom climate?
How can you know if the classroom climate is productive?
How can you manage the classroom climate?

What is classroom climate?

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).

Why is classroom climate important?

  • 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 impacts on learning (Hall, 1982).
  • Incivilities that are not addressed properly not only negatively impact learning within the course in which it is experienced, but may also negatively influence a student's success at an institution (Hirschy & Braxton, 2004).

What factors influence 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 impact 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 encouragement 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 impact 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 includes the course materials, examples and metaphors, case studies and project assignments used to illustrate the ideas being taught. Content that includes a variety of perspectives or is representative of multiple views is more conducive to a positive climate.

How can you know 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 techniques you can use to gauge 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:
  • Collect 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:

Chain notes

  • Pass out blank index cards to all students.
  • Explain that you want to collect 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).
  • Direct students to respond anonymously to the question only when the envelope comes to them.
  • Collect the responses to tally the results and report on your findings in the next class.

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.
  • Use Qualtrics Cornell’s free survey software, and send the survey via email. Explain the purpose of the survey, ensure anonymity and indicate how long it should take to finish it. Refrain from making it too long.
  • Summarize findings in your next class and describe any changes you might make as a result of the feedback.

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

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.

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.

Assignment Assessments

  • Choose 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 such as Qualtrics

How can you manage classroom climate?

CTE Faculty Seminar Session Materials

CTE Managing Classroom Conflict (CU NetID required to access. Link redirects to login page.) pdf

References

Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M.W., DiPietro, M. & Lovett, M.C. (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.

Cashin, W. E. (2010). Effective lectures (Idea Paper No. 46). Manhattan, Kansas: Kansas State University, Center for Faculty Development and Evaluation.

Hall, S. (1982). The classroom climate: A chilly one for women? Washington D.C.: Association of American Colleges.

Hirschy, A.S. & Braxton, J.M. (2004). Effects of student classroom incivilities on students. New Directions for Teaching and Learning (99), 67-76.

Salazar, M., Norton, A., & Tuitt, F. (2009). Weaving promising practices for inclusive excellence into the higher education classroom. In L.B. Nilson and J.E. Miller (Eds.) To Improve the Academy. (pp. 208-226). Jossey-Bass.

Warren, L. (2000). Managing Hot Moments in the Classroom. Retrieved from: http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/html/icb.topic58474/hotmoments.html