Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Classroom Issues/Student Dynamics
|“||I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence, I can reach for; perfection is God's business.||”|
—Michael J Fox
When organizing a successful classroom, student dynamics is one of the most important key element to factor into the classroom equation. This process is extremely difficult due to the wide variety of learners in the student pool. First time teachers are faced with differences in culture, race, gender, social class, advanced students, inclusion students, physically disabled, and the list continues to mind boggling proportions. There are educators that support “solutions” to the problems in student dynamics such as separating the genders, advanced classes, and isolating student economic factors. These attempts have been made, but the dynamic factors still remained as a top element in the structure and maintenance of the classroom, and its impact on learning.
The different dynamics of a classroom are in a constant state of flux. A teacher, be it a first year teacher or a thirty year teacher, cannot predict the student dynamics of a classroom before entering it. When a classroom is finally set up to the teacher’s liking there are always the unexpected factors that occur. Some of these factors come in the form of new students, student social change, loosing students, and mental state of the student. Each new change creates an entirely new dynamic structure which needs to be dealt with in a manner of understanding and acceptance. “Frustration, misapprehensions, and inter-cultural conflict are a more likely outcome if teachers do not deal with diversity in a sensitive manner” (Roux 2001). Each individual that enters the classroom brings their own personality and preconceptions of other dynamics.
Dangers Of Stereotyping Students
Society’s preconceptions are mired with stereotyping, and pre-judging students in regards to their race, gender, and social class. Stereotyping can occur from the students as well as from the school professionals. It is the classroom teacher’s job to make sure that these influences do not manifest themselves in the classroom so as to foster a more ideal learning environment. “Studies that focus on the dynamics of classroom interaction report that teachers discriminate against students who are not white, male, and middle class” (Garcia 1984). These discriminations are not based on a prejudice of race or gender, but rather it is based on low education expectations due to preconceived stereotypes. Society is pushing towards the norm of a white male middle class. Any student that does not fit this description are sometimes considered as an unfavorable element in the classroom.
To escape this trend, educators need to remain open minded towards each of their students. The students entire personal makeup needs to be considered. Educators would not consider a Mennonite or an Amish child being as disadvantaged as a child from a poor home. Both types of students may be coping without the middle class necessities, such as electricity, but it is the poor child that will be held in a prejudged contempt by certain sectors of society. “Through my experience, many educators cannot cope with the idea that students exist without running water and/or electricity in their homes. Some teachers think that there is no reason to make a child live without these necessities. They do not take into consideration that this is a free country and people can choose to live the way that they want to, but it seems that middle class standards are the main standard of comparison towards their students in schools today” (Griffin 2002).
Educators need to take steps in understanding the whole student, so that preconceived stereotypes can be replaced by an understanding of each students unique social position. Not all students have a bed or a table in their house and not all have a parental figure in the home for many hours of the day, but society has a preconceived notion that this is common place in every American household. The economic status of a student needs to be considered when examining the classroom dynamics and its learning structure. “After the influence of the family, researcher James Coleman concluded 40 years ago, the single most important factor determining student achievement is the socioeconomic status of the school a child attends. In a large-scale government-sponsored study, Coleman found that all children do better in middle-class schools—whatever the schools’ racial makeup“ (Kahlenberg 2006). Classroom discrimination does not end with the economic status of a student, but extends to their race, religion, academic abilities, and countless other differentiating factors.
Fostering Educational Growth In Students
If a student does not receive the proper guidance and mentoring, then the student may never desire to succeed at their education. The proper mixture of dynamics in the classroom is essential to instill and foster educational growth among all types of learners. Without this influential mixture from other culture, gender, and social classes the student body as a whole would suffer. Each dynamic has value to offer to the other dynamics. Embracing a diverse classroom helps educators to avoid furthering ethnocentrism. “Most humans by choice or necessity seek out others who feel, think, and believe as they do, especially for intimate social and personal relationships” (Garcia). It is ethnocentrism that has given educators the issues of clicks. Clicks can be applied to any group or tight knit unit of people who have a common bond due to a shared dynamic. Breaking down the barriers erected by clicks is hard, but it is necessary to create a diverse yet conductive educational atmosphere for all students.
Some educators consider mixing the genders in the classroom to be the strongest area of concern. Males and females are treated differently even if on a subconscious level. Often, educators can be quoted with statements such as “He’s hyper because boys will be boys” or “She’s quiet because girls are shy and withdrawn”. These labels have been applied consistently by society, even if unconsciously, and these labels have long-term effects on students outside of the classroom. “The negative messages teachers imply can have several effects on female students. When combined with social influences, they can lead female students to expect less of their abilities, whereas; beginning in middle school, male students begin to show a higher self-confidence in their intellectual and career abilities” (Barnett 1991).
These factors have led some education institutions to separate the genders into different classrooms and in some cases into different schools. This is not a new concept as it has been used by many private schools throughout educational history. Can this concept work in the classroom and be conductive towards educational goals? Some preliminary research seems to support separating the genders in the public education sectors. Starting in 1999 the Jefferson Leadership Academies (Long Beach, Los Angeles) became the first public middle school in the country to offer separate classes for boys and girls. Educators found that girls started to have more self-confidence in the classroom, while boys started to have less negative in-class behaviors. “Student grade point averages for students who had previously attended Jefferson in either grades 6 or 7 increased for all students, male and female, in both grades 7 and 8 under the single gender academy configuration” (Sharpe 2000).
Keeping the genders together is also seen as a necessary component in the development of young learners. Students need to develop their adaptive learning and behaviors in a wide variety of situations that they will eventually face in the adult world. Development of these skills begin at home, but are supported in the education environments. Separating the genders may lead to a deficiency in these skills. “Some programs that are based on social and emotional learning theories show great promise in providing a solid foundation of social skills aimed at helping children to cope with many challenges in their lives” (Elias 1995). The educator needs to balance both academics with social and emotional development. This is considered by many as the wider range of responsibility for educators towards their students. Middle school children seem especially prone to experiencing difficulties in these areas of gender relationships. This may be due to the onset of puberty. Some schools of thought centers on the idea that gender separation should occur only during the middle school years, while others maintain that any separation is detrimental to the development of the student.
Advanced Learners In The Classroom
Separating the students do not stop at gender and economics, but also delves into the realm of academics. One particular aspect of academics that needs to be examined is in regards to the advanced learners of society. There are some educators that maintain having a strong mixture of higher and lower functioning academic students in the same classroom is necessary. This stance is based on the belief that the lower functioning students will benefit and advance to higher standards by being in the same environment as an advanced learner. This is also considered important for the socialization development of the advanced learners.
The need then turns to creating an environment that will foster ideal learning for all academic levels in the classroom. Recent emphasis has been placed on “No Child Left Behind Programs,” but this may be hurting our more advanced learners by not challenging them enough in the regular classroom. “Unfortunately, instruction in the regular classroom setting is generally not tailored to meet their unique needs. This situation is putting gifted students at risk of failing to achieve their potential. Achievement scores are below what might be expected from our brightest population provide the evidence” (Archambault, Brown, Emmons, Hallmark, Westberg & Zhang 1993).
Regular classroom instruction may be failing our advanced learners, but it is our new generation genius’s that may be suffering academically the most. When considering this possibility, one has to consider if the child is gifted or truly at genius level. One way that the public school systems have helped genius level students in the past have been separate education programs, skipping grades, or helping students to advance to college when and if appropriate. Not every school system adheres to these methods however. One reported case in Longview, Texas involved a fourteen-year-old girl who was comfortably above an IQ of 145. “Many school systems are wary of grade skipping even though research shows that it usually works well both academically and socially for gifted students--and that holding them back can lead to isolation and under-achievement” (Cloud 2007). The school system was apprehensive of skipping her in grades even though she was performing about three grade levels higher than her peers. The hesitation stems from the educational need to support social and maturity growth.
Educators need to set up classrooms that are innovative to every aspect of the learning dynamics. Some of the education processes that have been tried and true in the past may now be defunct. Classroom teachers need to be not only versatile in their application methods, but also at being open minded to extreme differences in the student dynamics. School systems need to make preliminary changes, but the implementation of these changes have to occur with the classroom teacher. Society also needs to allow for these changes to occur, but this acceptance depends upon society’s need to let go of preconceived stereotypes. “If we tend to teach as we were taught, and if society resists school change, then how can teachers make significant classroom innovations” (Hunter 1977). It has been a long process to reach all dynamics of the student population but the process is far from complete. Student dynamics does impact learning and it will be up to dedicated teachers to try and reach every student that enters their classroom.
Multiple Choice Questions
Click to reveal the answer.
Click to reveal a sample response.
- Archambault, F., Westberg, K., Brown, S., Hallmark, B., Zhang, W., & Emmons, C.. (1993). Classroom Practices Used With Gifted Third and Fourth Grade Students. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 16(2), 13-28. Retrieved September 11, 2007, from http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_pric/is_199212/ai_1760472674
- Barnett, Marva. (1991). Teaching at the University of Virginia. A Handbook for Faculty and Teaching Assistants. Retrieved September 11, 2007, from http://trc.virginia.edu/Publications/Diversity/II_Classroom_Dynamics.htm
- Cloud, John. (2007). Are We Failing Our Geniuses?. Time. Retrieved September 11, 2007, from http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1653653,00.html
- Elias, M.J. (1995). Primary Prevention as Health and Social Competence Promotion. Journal of Primary Prevention, 16(1), 5–24. Retrieved September 11, 2007, http://open-circle.org/files/OC_Middle_School_Study.pdf
- Garcia, Ricardo (1984). Countering Classroom Discrimination. Theory into Practice, 23 (2), 104-109. Retrieved September 11, 2007, from http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0040-5841(198421)23%3A2%3C104%3ACCD%3E2.0.CO%3B2-X
- Hunter, Elizabeth. (1977). Changing the Dynamics of the Classroom. Theory Into Practice, 16 (4), 290-295. Retrieved September 11, 2007, from http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_pric/is_199212/ai_1760472674
- Kahlenberg, Richard. (2006). Integration by Income. American School Board Journal, Retrieved September 11, 2007, from http://www.equaleducation.org/commentary.asp?opedid=1332
- NY Department of Social Services School Based Community Intervention Caseworker Supervisor’s Experience with Educators and their Views on Economically Disadvantaged Students (Griffin, Lisa R., personal interview, August 11, 2002).
- Roux, Johann Le (2001). Social dynamics of the multicultural classroom. Intercultural Education, 12 (3), 1467-5986. Retrieved September 11, 2007, from http://www.informaworld.com/10.1080/14675980120087480
- Sharpe, Wesley. (2000). Single-Gender Classes: Are They Better?. Retrieved September 11, 2007, http://www.education-world.com/a_curr/curr215.shtml