Changing Behaviors by Changing the Classroom Environment

By Guardino, Caroline A.; Fullerton, Elizabeth | Teaching Exceptional Children, July 1, 2010 | Go to article overview

Changing Behaviors by Changing the Classroom Environment

Guardino, Caroline A., Fullerton, Elizabeth, Teaching Exceptional Children

One challenge teachers face is disruptive behavior in their classrooms. In a 2004 survey, 75% of teachers noted that they would spend more time teaching and teaching effectively if they had less disruptive behavior in their classrooms (Public Agenda, 2004). Disruptive behavior (e.g., speaking without permission, getting out of seat) often interferes with students' engagement in the learning process. Another challenge for teachers is to find classroom management strategies that are proactive, preventative, and relatively easy to implement, and which provide minimal disruption to the classroom.

Researchers have investigated the relationship between the classroom environment, student behavior, and academic engagement (Hood-Smith & Leffingwell. 1983; Visser, 2001). A wellorganized classroom permits more positive interactions between teachers and children, reducing the probability that challenging behaviors will occur (Martella, Nelson, & Marchand-Martella, 2003). Additionally, modifying the classroom environment may serve as a direct intervention for children who demonstrate ongoing disruptive behavior (Conroy, Davis, Fox, & Brown, 2002). Although the well-designed classroom has proven benefits, there is little research on the impact environmental modifications have on behavior and learning (Guardino, 2009; Schilling & Schwartz, 2004).

Environmental modifications are a preventative, whole-class approach (Emmer & Stough, 2001) that may decrease chronic behavior problems, prevent behavior problems for students who are at risk, and allow children with minimal or no problem behavior to access learning without interruption. Although environmental modifications are an essential part of classroom management, many teachers are not aware of the process of implementing them. Assessing the classroom environment as to its impact on student behavior and implementing changes to that environment is a three-stage process (see Figure 1). The first step is for the teacher to observe the students within the classroom environment, noting where and when disruptive behavior is occurring and how different areas of the classroom are utilized. For example, are students unable to work without distraction from peers and the environment? Are students interrupting the lesson because materials are unorganized and inaccessible?

After observation, the teacher should review possible options for modifying problem areas in the classroom. Classroom space can be modified in a variety of ways (Bullard, 2010; Guardino, 2008; Lawry, Danko, & Strain, 1999). including

* Arranging classroom furniture to define learning areas.

* Improving accessibility and availability of materials.

* Delineating traffic patterns.

* Improving organization of materials.

For example, if students are distracted by peers, the teacher could use desk carrels (see Figure 2); if the outside environment causes distractions, desks can be rearranged so students' desks don't face the windows. If materials are inaccessible, each student may need individual storage space (e.g., chair bags, desks with compartments; see Figure 3).

After modifying the classroom environment, teachers should self-critique using the follow-up questions in Figure 1. When teachers ask themselves questions such as "Are my students consistently using desk carrels during individual work time?" or "Do the students have all the materials they need throughout the day in their individual storage space?", they are able to understand what modifications are working and if they need to implement additional changes.

Case Study; Ms. Thompson's Inclusive Classroom

Ms. Thompson teaches at an elementary school in an urban area of the southeastern United States. Of the school's nearly 1,000 students, about 90% are eligible for free or reduced lunch. The school has failed to make annual yearly progress, as required by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, tor the past 6 years. …

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