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1 The Previous Study: Conceptualizing Classroom Space: Studying the Learning Environment

1 The Previous Study: Conceptualizing Classroom Space: Studying the Learning Environment

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164



D. Gabryś-Barker



Literal perceptions of classroom space show a fairly homogeneous picture of the

main dimension of conceptualizing classroom space as purely physical, expressed

as: seating arrangements, walls, windows, equipment, decorations. The results of

the study demonstrated the subjects’ concern for classroom space mostly in relation

to the study and practice of different types of work, when grouping students

becomes an issue. Thus, it is the seating arrangement in the classroom which is

most frequently discussed by the subjects. This seems seriously reductive, as

classroom space means much more than this and can be conceptualized at a much

deeper level of mutual relations between the physical space and mental space of a

teacher and learners, their interactivity and individuality (Gabryś-Barker, 2012).

At the same time, the metaphoric perceptions of classroom space were also

present in the data and expressed the relations between the physical and the mental;

the mental being determined by the physical. The mental space was defined as

interaction between the teacher and learners, and between learners themselves,

individual learner autonomy (“space to breathe”), and more than anything else,

classroom climate. Thus, the study can be seen as contributing to research on

enabling institutions in paying attention to the physical aspects of school/classroom

environment and their relation to mental and affective dimensions which constitute

classroom climate.



5.2



Method: The Present Study



The following section presents the description of my pilot study on EFL pre-service

teachers’ perceptions of classroom climate. The research focus of the present study

is on

• Pre-service EFL teachers’ (trainees) perception of classroom climate and its

significance for the well-being of teachers and learners.

• Trainees’ awareness of the indicators of positive classroom climate and their

understanding of teacher’s and learners’ contribution to it.

• Classroom climate in FL learning experience of trainees.



5.2.1



The Participants, Instruments and Procedure



The subjects participating in the study were fifty-five pre-service teachers of EFL,

who at the time of data collection were involved in their school practice at school.

The discussion of classroom climate was an additional topic included in the syllabus of the B.A and M.A. seminar classes in TEFL didactics at the university.

The tools implemented in the research were:

• a questionnaire on positive classroom climate (pcc) including questions on

defining classroom climate, factors conducive to positive classroom climate,



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165



symptoms of pcc, teacher and learner role, influence of pcc on teacher and

learners (appendix),

• a narrative text: Classroom climate in my FL learning history, which was a

personal reflective essay of 450 words, written in a non-guided free form.

The students were asked to fill in the questionnaire in a classroom time and a

narrative text as a homework assignment.



6 Results and Discussion

6.1



Questionnaire Data



Table 4 presents quantitative responses of the subjects in relation to their perception

of (positive) classroom climate.



6.2



Narrative Texts



The following excerpts illustrate the quantitative data of the study.

• Defining classroom climate

In defining classroom climate, the subjects see both its physical aspects relating to

the environment in which the teaching/learning process occurs and social aspects of

the interaction between the teacher and learners and learners’ willingness to participate in the above process:

Classroom climate is the classroom environment, physical setting as well as social and

emotional aspects of the classroom (s. 9).

Classroom climate is something we can feel, experience and sometimes even touch. It may be

a good or bad spirit of the class. The good spirit encourages you to take part in this small

community, invites you and motivates and the bad spirit frightens you and demotivates (s. 3).

It is not only a physical classroom environment but also a process of building the psychological framework for all the activities that happen in the classroom (…), the classroom

climate is a complex process which involves the active engagement of a teacher and of the

students. Their mutual interaction as well as positive attitudes and willingness to communicate

result in the development of the positive classroom climate (s. 39).

(…) classroom climate does not only refer to some external aspects of the learning process, as

for instance classroom decorations, but more importantly – it is deeply rooted in the emotional

and affective domains of teaching-learning context (s. 38).



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D. Gabryś-Barker



Table 4 Positive classroom climate (questionnaire data), pcc—positive classroom climate

Category



Comments



% of the

sample



Definition



Atmosphere (positive, productive)

Environment

Other: interaction, attitude to the tasks, attitude to the

teacher

Students’ attitude to classes

Teachers’ attitude to students

Image of the classroom

Relations teacher- students

Friendliness

Relations St-St

Other: teacher feedback, teacher enthusiasm, teacher’s

position in the classroom tolerance, teacher being prepared

and organized, maintaining discipline, learners’ respect for

the teacher, interesting ways of teaching, good conditions

of work for the teacher and learners.

Participation in class

Effect on learning (progress)

Teacher and student motivation

Willingness to learn

Discipline

Students’ feeling of safety

Other: guessing techniques, good communication between

the teacher and students, enjoyment for both the teacher and

students

Teacher as a motivator

Positive attitude

Provider of various activities, creator

Facilitator

Other: teacher as a guide, energetic attitude, being

enthusiastic, a manager, a fair assessor, a partner

Active participation

Willingness to learn

Co-operating with others students

Respecting the teacher

Creating good atmosphere in class

Other: responsibility, being positive and optimistic, full

attendance

Satisfaction

Motivation to teach

Feeling of personal fulfillment

Self-confidence

Enthusiasm to teach

Lack of stress

Other: teacher’s. enjoyment of his/her work, positive

assessment of lessons

Motivational

Low affective filter

Other: feeling of achievement, fondness of the teacher,

being active, development of knowledge, easier and faster

learning



60

15

0.5



Factors conducive to

positive classroom climate



Symptoms/effects of pcc



Teacher’s role



Learners’ role



Effects on

(a) Teacher



(b) Learner(s)



35

33

33

26

15

5

0.5



33

30

29

26

12

5

0.5



25

20

15

10

2

30

20

15

10

3

0.5

45

25

10

10

10

3

0.5

55

15

0.5



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167



• Teacher versus learner role in establishing positive classroom climate

Relying extensively on their experiences as learners in the past, the subjects see the

dominant role of a teacher in creating positive classroom climate and perceive the

learners as only serving a complementary role in this respect. The following

excerpts illustrate this observation:

When it comes to my experience, the crucial factor influencing classroom climate is the

teacher’s attitude towards the learners and towards their job. (…) It depends mainly on the

teachers and it has a huge influence on the learners and their progress (s. 34).

Teachers influence student growth and behaviour. The students’ behaviour affects peer

interaction, and the responsibility for influencing these behaviours is placed with the

instructor. (…) teachers should learn to guide their students, not to alienate them. The safety

of students’ wellbeing is paramount to their development of social ties with peers and their

instructor. (…) Education becomes less of a chore and more enjoyable as growing as a

group can lead to the reduction of students’ acting destructively (s. 39).

The teacher and the students are responsible for classroom climate, but in my opinion the

teacher has to control the lesson in such a way to create a pcc. Being positive in language

learning is like a virus – when you catch it, you are infected with smile, laughter and

courage! (s. 20).

What I learnt by recalling my experiences is that the most important factor in classroom

climate is the teacher and his/her attitude (s. 12).



• Factors conducive to positive classroom climate

The subjects acknowledge the complexity of the construct of classroom climate by

pointing out a multiplicity of factors influencing it. Yet, once again it is the person

of a teacher that comes to the fore. The factors include teacher’s responsibility for

establishing classroom rules, being professional in lesson planning and its execution. At the same time, the trainees emphasise the role of feelings: of security and

spontaneity, avoidance of anxiety. The subjects say:

There are many factors that can influence classroom climate. One of them is quality of the

relationships. This involves interaction between students and a teacher as well as the

interaction between students themselves in and outside of the classroom. (…) it is teacher’s

role to fulfil learners’ potential by considering their needs and treating them as individuals.

Another factor is the smooth running of the classroom, characterised by an orderly environment where teacher’s expectations and standards of personal behaviour are clearly

established and understood by everyone. (…) The varied context provides students with

different tasks and opportunities and is representative of multiple views. (…) (s. 39).

When I think of classroom climate the first thing that comes to my mind is how do the

people feel in the classroom? (…) I believe that the most important factor is the dialogue

between the teacher and the students. It does not really matter whether the topic is strictly

connected with the subject. The most important thing is that people talk to one another and

they are willing to do that (s. 35).

First of all, the teacher should develop classroom rules. The rules should be created to support

safe and controlled behaviour. When the learners know their boundaries and feel safe, they are

able to focus on learning. (…) In order to learn more about a classroom climate and to adjust to

it correctly, teachers should take advantage of students’ written responses to some questions

concerning safety and kindness in the class, e.g., Do you feel safe in the class? (s. 13).



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D. Gabryś-Barker



The feelings related to classroom climate are personal and subjective since every learner has

his/her own needs and preferences. (…). In my opinion, the teacher’s individual approach to

each student, fair grading and positive but constructive feedback are the most important

factors (s. 36).

Another factor that in my opinion plays a vital role for this climate is feeling free and being

spontaneous. It refers to both the teacher and students. The worst thing that can happen in the

classroom is the feeling of anxiety. It makes people stressed out and unwilling to cooperate for

fear of being humiliated or laughed at (s. 35).



• Classroom climate versus age of a learner

One of the factors determining how classroom climate should be established is the

age of the learners, which was expressed by the trainees as in the comment below:

In the primary school the teacher took care of students’ well-being and behaved like a

parent. She always smiled, joked with us and called us by our names. (…) In the lower high

school (…) classroom climate was characterised by competition, alienation, and hostility

(…). The best classroom climate was in the high school. Thanks to mutual respect students

were almost always willing to participate actively during the lessons and on tasks. (…)

Such attitudes promoted positive self-esteem, feeling of security and confidence (s. 9).



• Effects of classroom climate

The following quotations from the trainees are strong statements concerning the

importance of positive classroom climate, as it is perceived to be conducive first of

all to creating motivation, positive attitudes to learning and thus willingness to

participate in the lessons. Positive classroom climate establishes positive affectivity

in the educational context, whereas the opposite:

(…) a negative classroom climate feels hostile, chaotic, and out of control, however, a

positive one feels safe, respectful, welcoming and supportive of student learning (s. 7).

Establishing a positive classroom climate makes students feel much more comfortable,

valued, accepted and secure when trying to get involved in the language learning process.

This is why, when creating a positive classroom environment, teachers should focus on

developing and reinforcing classroom rules and norms, promoting and nurturing positive

peer relationships, nurturing positive relationships with all students and also classroom

decoration and arrangement (s. 30).

I believe that classroom atmosphere had and still has a considerable influence on my

attitude to learning the foreign language. However, my internal motivation and focus on my

aim make me not pay too much attention to it (s. 55).



• Subjects’ experiential comments

The trainees’ own experiential memories of classroom climate(s) in their own

learning histories are both positive and negative, with the latter being more

numerous. The positivity is recalled as related to the effectiveness of teacher, his/her

ability to make foreign language learning pleasant and fun as well as useful and

successful. These comments refer to the cognitive dimensions of learning as is

demonstrated in the quotations below:

The lesson passed very quickly. I left the classroom and felt something warm in my heart.

I realized that an English lesson can be nice, useful and not hard to understand. This day



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169



changed my plans for the future because I passed my final school leaving examination in

English, enrolled in the English college and hoped I would be the teacher who would be

able to share experience and knowledge with pupils (s. 17).

I think my first foreign language lesson was really enjoyable. This lesson showed me that

learning can be pleasant. It is obvious that learning is not only playing and having fun but it

can be tough and difficult. A good first FL lesson encourages students to learn and it creates

a positive attitude towards learning especially when it affects children. The first impression

is essential (s. 5).

(…) The enjoyment connected with peer-teaching was a beautiful experience because I

could be useful for someone and somehow I learnt twice so my knowledge underwent

consolidation (s. 3).



The negativity is remembered as feelings of oppression and repression, lack of

enthusiasm and generally creating a hostile learning environment. These experiences relate to the affectivity of a classroom setting, which is pointed out in the

following excerpts:

My teachers did not create a proper environment, where all the learners could express their

opinion. After some time, I noticed that the lessons were not always attractive, the teacher

had knowledge but did not encourage me to speak, I do not remember any engaging

activities, usually students did not feel secure and relaxed during classes and the teacher did

not show enthusiasm (s. 22).

There was an uncomfortable silence, we could not talk, make any gestures and move in the

classroom. I had a sense of being there as punishment. Fear made me unable to work. Fortyfive minutes of agony (s. 16).

(…) learning foreign languages in Polish schools is a very difficult task, because most of

them lack the good climate and many young people gradually lose their motivation

throughout the process of learning. In order to succeed, the learner needs to be intrinsically

motivated and really patient, because the environment is usually harsh (s. 4).



6.3



Discussion



The subjects’ understanding of classroom climate refers to the cognitive as well as

affective dimensions of teacher’s and subjects’ functioning in a classroom environment, with the latter (affective) constituting the major category. On the cognitive

level, the effects of positive classroom climate are seen in learners’ visible progress

and their active participation in classes. On the affective level, it is learners’

motivation to learn and participate actively in classes as well as teacher’s motivation always to be not only well-prepared for but also satisfied in the job. This

strongly expressed affectivity consists in the emphasis put on the role of attitudes of

both teacher’s and learners’, the willingness to learn on the part of learners and

openness and friendliness on the part of the teacher, and, above all, on creating

appropriate interactions between the teacher and learners and between the learners



170



D. Gabryś-Barker



themselves. Also, the physicality of the environment (classroom) is believed to be a

defining aspect of a positive classroom climate.

In their narrative comments, the subjects emphasize that positive classroom

climate turns a class into a group which forms a small community: “growing as a

group can lead to the reduction of students’ acting destructively” (s. 39). What is

interesting is that although both the teacher and learners are seen as agents in

developing a positive and productive climate, it is predominantly the teacher who is

declared to have the greater responsibility of a controller, a manager and also a

guide and a facilitator. These are the different dimensions of teacher activity in class

that contribute to the promotion of a positive classroom climate.

It is assumed by the trainees that it is the teacher who decides about the quality of a

dialogue or an interaction that occurs in the classroom. The subjects believe that only

well-organised lessons, fair grading and an individual approach to learners that the

teacher alone can institute which guarantee a positive climate for learning. It also

appears that classroom rules established by the teacher and not the learners are

essential for this to occur. These comments seem to express a rather traditional view, in

which learners appear to be passive recipients of what is more or less imposed upon

them. Additionally, the subjects express a strong belief that it is the teacher’s duty to

investigate the issues connected with classroom climate in his/her class, by occasionally questioning the members of the group about how they feel in class. Only then

they can be comfortable, feel valued and secure in their learning environment.

Comparing the questionnaire data and narrative data, it can be observed that the

focus on learners’ responsibility for classroom climate is expressed strongly only in

the former, emerging from the more structured way of expressing one’s views that

most questionnaires demand. When asked to reflect in an open reflective narrative,

the subjects seem to focus almost entirely on the teachers as the creators and

facilitators of classroom climate. This is also visible in the comments on their past

positive and negative experiences of classroom climate at different levels of education, in which teachers are either blamed or praised for how they coped with or

ignored the issues concerning classroom climate. What comes as a surprise is that the

trainees, future FL teachers, do not appear to be aware of the role a foreign language

itself can play in establishing a positive classroom climate. As a vehicle for communication, for instance, off-task interaction between the teacher and learners can be

a factor contributing to the development of more individually-oriented contacts, and

thus an individualized approach to learners.

Also comparing the comments with the categories presented by Fraser et al.

(1986) or more recently by Dwyer et al. (2004), the trainees do not acknowledge the

role of student cohesiveness, satisfaction (enjoyment), innovation or individualization (learner decisions, autonomy). Additionally, no reflection is offered as to the

degree of connectedness between the students themselves (bonds, common ground,

caring and sharing).



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171



7 Conclusions and Implications

Relatively negative experiences concerning classroom climate, as expressed by the

trainees in this study, mean that perhaps it should become an obligatory theme in

training courses and introduced into the feedback the trainees receive from their

mentors and supervisors. It may be especially important for these future teachers’

affective functioning in their classrooms.

The findings demonstrate possible ways of enhancing classroom climate through

creating mutually-agreed-upon forms of classroom codes of conduct between the

teacher and the learners. In essence, the so-called code of conduct puts responsibility for what happens in the classroom equally on the teacher and learners as it is

both of them that have well-defined rights and duties. These rules can be grounded

in positive psychology assumptions about personal well-being, and not just on

formal regulations.

Analysing the understanding and approaches to classroom climate in the overviewed studies and in this study data, it can be observed that a school (and a class as

its microstructure) should appear to be a positive and enabling institution. To

function as such, it needs to demonstrate the strengths comparable to those that

Seligman considers to be character strengths, which in this case would also contribute to both learner and teacher well-being:

Wisdom and Knowledge developing creativity, curiosity, a desire to learn

Courage

encouraging persistence, authenticity, enthusiasm

Humanity

expressing feelings of kindness, generosity and compassion, emotional intelligence

Justice

creating conditions for fairness, autonomy

Temperance

promoting learners’ self-regulation, modesty

Transcendence

introducing humour, appreciation of aesthetics, optimistic attitudes, spiritual values.

If we first of all consider the teacher to be an agent of change, we have to focus on

his/her role as a facilitator expressed in the different dimensions of facilitation

(Table 5).

Table 5 The six dimensions of facilitation (based on Heron, 2002, p. 6)

Dimension



Focus



1.

2.



Planning

Meaning



3.

4.

5.

6.



Confronting

Feeling

Structuring

Valuing



How shall the group acquire its objectives and its programme?

How shall meaning be given to and found in the experiences and actions

of group members?

How shall the group’s consciousness be raised about these matters?

How shall the life of feeling and emotion within the group be handled?

How can the group’s learning be structured?

How can such a climate of personal value, integrity and respect be

created?



172



D. Gabryś-Barker



Table 6 How to manage classroom climate and how to check it periodically (based on Cornell

Centre for Teaching Excellence)

Managing

classroom climate



Checking in on

classroom climate



• Incorporate diversity into your course and use inclusive teaching

practices

• Use icebreakers and collaborative learning to give students the

opportunity to get to know one another

• Include diversity and disabilities statements in your syllabus

• Address incivilities right away

• Establish ground rules

• Check in on classroom climate periodically.

• Make efforts to connect with students.

• Inquire about the classroom climate (index cards for students to

respond how comfortable they feel, provide feedback to

responses)

• Inquire about students’ reactions to the teacher or the method of

instruction (chain notes, electronic feedback)

• Inquire about students’ experience with the course materials,

readings and assignments

• Reading Rating Sheets

• Group Work Evaluations

• Assignment Assessments



Also the Cornell Centre for Teaching Excellence, an online source focusing on

the teacher as the major agent of positive classroom climate, offers advice on how to

manage classroom climate. It additionally emphasizes the need to review it periodically, as was pointed out in one of the trainees’ comment:

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 (Cornell Centre for

Teaching Excellence, online) (Table 6).



Considering training programmes for future teachers, it is often emphasized that

reflectivity is the key phrase at every stage of their professional development and if

introduced early, at the pre-service stage, it develops student teachers’ different

perception of what teaching stands for and what their role as teachers is (GabryśBarker, 2012). As one of the trainees in this study said:

As teachers we should draw conclusions from our own experience and remember that the

relationship that we establish with the learners, and being well-organised are crucial factors

for successful work (s. 25).



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173



Appendix

Positive Classroom Climate (A Questionnaire)

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.



Define classroom climate in your own words (3–4 sentences):

Enumerate factors conducive to positive classroom climate:

What are the symptoms of positive classroom climate?

What is teacher’s role in developing positive classroom climate?

What is learners’ role in developing positive classroom climate?

What are the effects of positive classroom climate on

• a teacher

• learners



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