Academic journal article Middle Grades Research Journal

Investigating Middle School Students' Perceptions of Their Learning Environments through Drawings

Academic journal article Middle Grades Research Journal

Investigating Middle School Students' Perceptions of Their Learning Environments through Drawings

Article excerpt

School reform efforts in the past decade have focused mainly on legislative mandates and initiatives concerned with assessing teacher, leader, and student effectiveness, teacher and leader preparation programs, and yearly progress benchmarks. The quality of data on teacha- ing and learning that frame these initiatives has increasingly been brought into question, sparking new conversations about the kinds of research educators and scholars need to pursue to inform improvement efforts in P-12 classrooms (Cochran-Smith & Zeichner, 2005). Research suggests that learning environments that exemplify effective instruction (pedagogy), supportive teacher-student and peer relationships, and positive classroom climate leads to increased student engagement and motivation (Allen & Bowles, 2012; Anderman, Andrzejewski, & Allen, 2011; Beghetto, 2007; Wang, & Holcombe 2010; Wentzel, 2010). Currently, most of the research related to learning environments depicts adults' (e.g., teachers and administrators) voices (Storz, 2008), which leaves out key stakeholders in the educational process-the students themselves. Students' accounts of their learning environments most often depict factors within teachers' areas of influence (Ares & Gorrell, 2002), an area that seems ripe for investigating what is actually happening in P-12 classrooms.

We believe the inclusion of youth voices can be a powerful contributor to reform efforts (Haney et al., 2004; Patrick, Ryan, & Kaplan, 2007) by providing insight into instructional approaches that either enhance or hinder learning (Ares & Gorrell, 2002; Freiberg & Stein, 1999; Nieto, 1994). While research exploring youths' perspectives of their learning environment often includes students from diverse backgrounds, the dearth of literature that examines perceptions of students based on service delivery model (gifted, general, and special education) creates an opportunity to address this gap. We believe that exploring middle grades students' perceptions of their learning environment, which we have defined to include pedagogy, interactions (teacher-student and student-student), and climate, and how such perceptions may differ based on service delivery model (i.e., gifted, special education, or general education settings), increases educators' chances of producing a positive impact on the academic experience of all students.


Students ' Perceptions of Learning Environments

The literature depicts contrasting views of the learning environment, which we define to include instruction (pedagogy), interactions (teacher-student; peer), and classroom climate. Teachers most often portray their classrooms as egalitarian settings in which students are held to high expectations in environments that are student centered and in which active learning is occurring (Ben-Peretz, Mendelson, & Krön, 2003). Students' perceptions, on the other hand, describe learning environments consistent with Freire's (1978) concept of "banking education" (p. 73) in which information is deposited into passive learners and which consist of highly routinized learning activities (Ares & Gorrell, 2002). Similar to Ben-Peretz et al. (2003), Cushman and Rodgers (2008) report that perceptions of the learning environment by middle grades students more closely depict researchers' observations of classroom settings than teachers' perceptions of the same settings. This finding supports obtaining middle grades learners' feedback on the learning environment.

In their study of middle school students in Canada, Lapointe, Legault, and Batiste (2005), found that students' attitudes toward learning and performance in mathematics classrooms was influenced by their perceptions of their teachers. General education and gifted education students in the same investigation experienced greater achievement and motivation in classes where educators were perceived as helpful, caring, thoughtful, and friendly. …

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