Perceptions of Learning Environment in Rural and Urban Classrooms
By Bikkar S. Randhawa and Julian O. Michayluk
SSTA Research Centre Report #25 (1973): 7 pages, $11
 
Review of Literature
Differences in classroom learning climate apparently do exist among variable areas of course content and among different grade levels. These differences are rated by pupils (Anderson, 1971; Yamamoto, Thomas, & Karns, 1969) or recorded by the trained observers (Olson, 1971), and presumably related to their receptivity to learning the central concepts in each course.
Teacher Sex and Classroom Learning Climate
Rural Pupils Compared with Urban Pupils
Socio Economic Status
Assessment of Classroom Climate
Conclusion
  Back to: School Improvement

The SSTA Research Centre grants permission to reproduce up to three copies of each report for personal use. Each copy must acknowledge the author and the SSTA Research Centre as the source. A complete and authorized copy of each report is available from the SSTA Research Centre.
The opinions and recommendations expressed in this report are those of the author and may not be in agreement with SSTA officers or trustees, but are offered as being worthy of consideration by those responsible for making decisions.


Review of Literature

Differences in classroom learning climate apparently do exist among variable areas of course content and among different grade levels. These differences are rated by pupils (Anderson, 1971; Yamamoto, Thomas, & Karns, 1969) or recorded by the trained observers (Olson, 1971), and presumably related to their receptivity to learning the central concepts in each course.

In the Olson's study (1971), he only reported a significant relationship between variables such as subjects taught, grade level, and the "indicators of quality" test. Unfortunately no further information in detail was given about the results he found and the instrument "indicator of qualtiy" he used in his summary article.

Teacher Sex and Classroom Learning Culture

Pupils who achieve well in one teacher's classroom may achieve poorly in another teacher's class. Similarly, in any classroom some pupils achieve well, while others, equally intelligent, achieve porrly. This might imply pupils' attitudes toward teachers' sex and their classroom behaviours affect their achievement and the classroom climate. Thus, previous research on pupils' attitiudes toward teachers' sex and their classroom behaviours is reviewed in this section only briefly.

Anderson (1971) indicated that teacher sex was unrelated to pupils' perceptions of the learning climate within their classes. Also, he reported that the teacher sex-course content interaction was not statistically significant. Male and female teachers did not have significantly different effects on classroom learning climate in the four subject areas (science, mathematics, humanities, and French).

Olson (1971) suggested that teacher sex was found to be insignificant as predictor of the general quality of the educational process in any school classroom at both elementary and secondary grade levels.

An extensive research effort by Ryans (1960) investigated teachers' classroom behaviours. The sample employed was 6,179 teachers from 1,747 elementary and secondary schools (837 elementary, 910 secondary). The teachers were classified according to grade, subject taught, and sex.

In obtaining estimates of teacher classroom behaviour, systematic observation and immediate assessment of ongoing teacher behaviour by trained observers were employed. Thus, data on teacher performance were obtained from the standpoint of both behaviour in process and the immediate products of teacher behaviour.

Meanwhile, Ryans' study (1960) also investigated various other teacher characteristic domains -- teacher personality. Ryans (1960) stated that "what the teacher does in the classroom -- the actual performance -- naturally is of prime concern. Certain conative and cognitive characteristics of the teacher, however, also may be imprtant." In order to investigate teacher personality, questionnaires were employed in his study.

Ryans (1960) yielded some broad but perhaps useful generalizations. In his study, observational data suggested that in contrast to men, women teachers at the secondary level scored higher on scales which characterized clssroom behaviour as understanding-and-friendly, responsible-and-businesslike, and stimulating-and-imaginative. Questionnaire data suggested that women teachers had more favourable attitiudes towards pupils, democratic classroom practices, permissive educational viewpoints and verbal understanding. Men teachers scored significantly higher with respect to emotional stability than did women teachers in the secondary school.

In terms of subject-matter areas, two groups were used: the one was the Englisg-social studies group; the other, the mathematics-science group. Within English-social studies group, differences between men and women were found with only two significant trends -- for women teachers to score higher relative to responsible, systematic classroom behaviour, and men teachers to score higher with regard to emotional adjustment. Within mathematics-science group, teacher sex differences resembled the characteristics generally found among secondart teachers as described above.

Many other studies have shown that teacher personality is related to classroom climate and sex, there should be some relationship between teacher sex and classroom learning climate. Furthermore, it should be emphasized that teacher personality is itself related to course content, as certain personality types are more apt to teach different subject areas.

In summary, Anderson's study (1971) showed that there were not statistically significant interactions between teacher's sex and course content. Also, Olson's tudy (1971) reported that teacher's sex was insignificant as predictor of the general quality of the educational process in the classroom. As a whole, both studies demonstrated that male and female teachers did not have significantly different effects on classroom learning climate in the subject-matter areas.


Table of Contents


Rural Pupils Compared with Urdan Pupils in Learning Environment

During the last few years, a considerable amouint of material was written about the rural pupils and their situation which caused the pupils in rural areas to become disadvantaged, but little of it was based upon research. Although adequate research design is lacking in many of the previous studies, they do tend to give the best picture available of the rural pupils.

The problems of the disadvantages for the pupils in the rural areas are not only limited to geographical location, but all factors, such as socioeconomic status, aspirations and social class, and educational achievement ane interrelated.


Table of Contents


Socio Economic Status

A review of the available research relevant to the pupils showed that they are affected by several seneral areas to become disadvantaged. The low socioeconomic status is a characteristic of prime importance, particularily in view of the relationship between economic status and school achievement for rural as well as urban children.

To the researcher's knowledge, no longitudinal studies with adequate samples and controls comparing the educational and occupational achievement of pupils in the rural areas with that of pupils in the urban areas, have been published.

An element of reciprocal stimulation is present in the relationship a pupil experiencees with his environment. Pupils are responsive to social and school stimuli, while at the same time they initiate social behaviour to which parents and school personnel respond. And the social behaviour of the pupil is modifiable by the responses to his behaviour of those around him. Depending on whether such responses are positive (reinforcing) or negative (inhibiting), the pupil's future responses, goals, and values will be influenced and determined. The extent and character of such determination will vary between pupils, and will depend upon the sum of the natural and aquired characteristics which the pupil brings to the learning situation, whether that situation be social, emotional, intellectual, or educaitonal.


Table of Contents


Assessment of Classroom Climate

At the present time there are two main approaches to the assessment of classroom learning climate, one based on the students' perception toward classroom climate which reflect the relationship of the students to the subjects studied, to one another, to the organizational properties of the class and to the physical environment, e.g., Learning Environment Inventory and the other on students' observations of general kinds of activities which characterize their class, e.g., Class Activities Questionnaire.

Students' observation as an approach for assessment of classroom activities has been used by many studies. Ehman (1970) and Remmers (1963) indicated that students' observation appraoch provides an accurate picture of the classroom environment.

Similarly, Goldberg pointed out that the validity of using students' observation as an appraoch for determining differential student reaction to teacher and classroom activities stems from the fact that students observe more of the teacher's typical behaviour than is usually available to the outside observer. In addition, students are directly involved in the classroom activities.

However, there are two major shortcomings in most observation studies. One is the pooling of all pupils' ratings, without consideration of individual differences in pupils' perceptions, despite the fact that extensive research has shown that individual personality factors influence perception. The other is the use of broad variables e.g., "liking the teacher." Such global variables do little to clarify the complexity of the classroom learning environment.

The assessment of learning environments is not an easy matter due to the complexity of the phenomenon under investigation, the number possible approaches that can be taken, and the conceptual and methodological difficulties within each appraoch. The contention here is that the difficulties involved can be reduced, delimited, and at least partially solve by appropriate representation of the problem in terms ofmodes for assessing and evaluating classroom learning environment.


Table of Contents


Conclusion

Affective variables are being recognized as potential predictors of achievement. This recognition brings with it the responsibility for assessing the affective variables. Instruments for assessing these behaviours are mushrooming and the psychometric characteristics of the various instruments available are being linked to the theoretical models. It is not surprising, therefore, that out of this vigorous development of instruments for measuring affective behaviours the environments of educational institutions and classrooms bcame the locus of attention of several researchers over the past decade or so.

Several techniques for determining the classroom learning climate have been examined in this report -- all of which have strengths and limitations. Observations techniques, for example, are good in that trained observers are employed to make a record of interaction manifest during the period of observation on specified areas of concern. These same techniques are bad in the sense that the observer brings with him a new element (membership) into the group which would alter, to a degree, the behaviour pattern of the group -- the observations as such become artifactual and contrived. However, hidden cameras have been employed in some studies to take samples of interaction in the classrooms which are later analyzed ising various approaches. These observational devices would certainly eliminate the intruder interference effect but have to be ethically justified.

Students' responses on questionnaires and inventories have been used as a measure of perception of environment from the inhabitants of typical environments. Such responses have been both acclaimed and ridiculed. Praise came from those quarters which recognized student responses as a realistic and reliable revelation of the environment the student was enduring. On the other hand, the student responses were ridiculed as irresponsible, shot-gun, and unrealistic manifestation of feelings with a strong emotive bias. Whatever the case, it should be realized that the observational approach is uneconomical and time consuming whereas the latter is economical and fast for the purpose of data collection. Finances and expediency are additional factors in selecting a certain approach for collecting data on the classroom learning climates. Those researchers who would like to use an inventory approach for collecting data on classrooms as sampling units might profit from Walberg's randomization scheme (1970) in case additional data on the sampling units are needed.

Since classroom learning climate is an interation phenomenon, it is important that the developmental history of each member of the group, personality variables, cognitive variables, socio-economic status, sex, and other variables which would seem to interact with the behaviours of the participants of a certain environment be taken into account. The question that is confronting all educators these days is the optimal use of physical and human resources. Who can do the best job of teaching a subject X in a school Y which is located in a middle class suburb, to a grade Z with an enrollment of 30--? Such a question can only be answered if systematic research is done in the realm of all those variables. Treatment-aptitude interaction studies have made a modest start toward this end. An examination of the characteristics of teachers, pupils, and schools in terms of output criteria is essential in order that guidelines can be established for the proper development of available resources. Studies in the area of classroom learning climate will provide the necessary information for such decisions.


Table of Contents


Back to: School Improvement