Maintaining a Learning Environment

A teacher's classroom management decisions do not stop after the planning and establishment that is crucial to beginning the school year. As the school year progresses, classroom management involves maintaining the learning environment through conscientious decision-making concerning students and the classroom.

Teachers in a classroom teach groups of children. Maintaining the learning environment, therefore, requires teachers to focus on group processes. Jacob Kounin's landmark findings from the late 1960s on the management of classroom groups identified that the means by which teachers prevent problems from occurring in the first place differentiated them as more effective managers. Kounin, whose work was reaffirmed by Paul Gump, a noted ecological psychologist in Kansas in the 1980s, identified several strategies that teachers use to elicit high levels of work involvement and low levels of misbehavior. These strategies are: (1) with-it-ness (communicating awareness of student behavior), (2) overlapping (doing more than one thing at once),(3) smoothness and momentum (moving in and out of activities smoothly, with appropriately paced and sequenced instruction), and (4) group alerting (keeping all students attentive in a whole-group focus). These tools help teachers to maintain the flow of instruction. A significant stumbling block to the flow of instruction is in attention to transitions between activities, lessons, subjects, or class periods. It is here that teachers are likely to feel that they are less effective in maintaining the flow of instruction. Effective transitions are structured to move students from one activity to another, both physically and cognitively. The goal of smooth transitions is to ensure that all students have the materials and mind-sets they need for a new activity.

While effective managers work with groups of students, they also are attentive to students' individual behaviors and learning needs. Maintaining a learning environment requires teachers to actively monitor their students. According to classroom management research, active monitoring includes watching student behavior closely, intervening to correct inappropriate behavior before it escalates, dealing consistently with misbehavior, and attending to student learning. In terms of monitoring both student behavior and learning, effective managers regularly survey their class or group and watch for signs of student confusion or inattention. Maintaining effective management involves keeping an eye out for when students appear to be stuck, when they need help, when they need redirection, when they need correction, and when they need encouragement.

Teachers must also check for understanding, both publicly and privately. Maintaining a classroom management system requires the teacher to anticipate student actions and responses in order to be preventive rather than reactive. Excellent classroom managers mentally walk through classroom activities, anticipating areas where students are likely to have difficulty and planning to minimize confusion and maximize the likelihood of success.

Activities planned for these classrooms are paced to ensure that students have enough to do, that assignments reflect an awareness of student attention spans and interests, and that downtime is minimized between assignments or activities. The orientation of the classroom must be purposeful, with a variety of things to be done and ways to get those things done.

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