Classroom Climate
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Classroom Climate

The social and emotional forces that
Derek talked about come together from every student and from the instructor to create a course climate as part of the
affected domain. I actually don’t see the affected domain
as separate from the cognitive domain in that they influence each other quite a lot and I will give an
illustration of that in the following story. Chris is a brilliant student who is taking– was taking at the time–a statistics class and the instructor one day did an activity that is, in general, good pedagogy, it’s commendable and the instructor passed around a series of index cards asking the students to record their
height and then check whether they were male or
female. So the good part of this is that it’s always generates motivation when
you collect your own students’ data and then you use it to illustrate the topic so the students feel invested. Except what went wrong today for Chris. I surmised that at the time the semester that this story
happened, the instructor was going to use this data to put box plots on the board of an Excel about heights for males and females and then
compare them and then maybe introduce probably a t-test for the difference of two means. I don’t know for sure because
Chris actually doesn’t really remember what
happened in class that day because as soon as this card was
passed around an internal monologue started for Chris. Chris is part of a growing number of students, of people in general, who identify as gender queer.
Chris does not identify as male or female. Maybe neither, maybe both, maybe a third gender altogether. So Chris did not have
a whole lot options on this card and so this is
sort of the thought process that happened: “Oh my god I can’t believe
this happened. What am I gonna do now? He is expecting me to put something up. Oh I don’t want to pick male. I don’t want to pick female. Maybe I should just leave it blank. Oh but
then he is gonna ask why did people leave it blank? What if he scolds me? Maybe I should just draw another box in there and call it neither and check that… oh but then they’re gonna make fun of me…I don’t know…what if he’s prejudiced? What if this then counts against my grade somehow? Oh my god he’s coming back. I need to figure out what to do. Oh I’m such a coward. I should’ve…why didn’t I just check my birth gender? I should’ve done something different. I don’t know. I can’t believe I did that. I’m so
disappointed in myself … I hate myself. Maybe I should stop this course.” So that’s what happened the way Chris recounted it to me. Emotional interference happened and it interfered with cognitive processes and it was very
distracting from the content at hand. Chris was not
able to focus and learn the formulas untouched even though Chris been doing
well in the course and had no problems whatsoever. It just happened that a well-meaning instructor created conditions that made Chris feel not included in the course and so because this has serious consequences on learning we should think about this a
little more. Research on climate started in the 80s and it was part of gender studies about
documenting, especially for women in STEM, the chilly climate is what they called
it at the time which included blatant examples of even
sexual harassment and groping in the classroom. Fortunately, those things really don’t happen anymore but have shaped how people think about these issues. They
think about chilly climate ideas as a deplorable thing that
should never happen, that thankfully is not happening at the blatant level anymore and then if it happens a little
bit the women or any other group of students or any other
individual student gets a little picked on a little maybe by some innocuous things and it’s just
incredible. But instead research later researchers
confirmed, have demonstrated that chilly climate
actually affects learning, affects critical thinking, affects persistence in the major and in school, it affects preparation for professional career through a serious of mediating mechanisms. First and foremost this idea of generating emotions
like in the story that I just said … if a course generates emotions that have to do with frustration, maybe shame, or guilt, or anger that is not going to involve students opportunities for learning as
opposed to a course that generates surprise and excitement and affirmation for students. Climate regulates the circulation of knowledge. If some students are shutting themselves off from discussion, you’re not providing
perspectives that might benefit everybody else in the
classroom. This impacts the development of skills that we all care about such
as leadership skills and citizenship skills. It can channel
energies away from learning or toward it. Let’s
take the case of LGBT students in the closet who are worried about monitoring their speech so they’re using non gender-specific
pronouns in discussions and avoid mentioning web sites or activities that they did or places
that they were that might reveal things that they
don’t want to be revealed. That’s where their mental energies
are going and each little mental calculus that’s
happening in that direction is energy that is not spent on learning. And climate communicates expectations placed on students and ultimately power dynamics. Where we walk in with already ideas–fixed ideas–about who was going to be smart and successful in this class, who was going to be dependable, who was going to be making excuses, who
is going to be trustworthy.

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