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As a student intern in my present classroom, I have been seeing many instances of children having disruptive behaviors such as talking out without turn, having arguments, shouting, running in the class, having tantrums, not focusing on their work, and disturbing other children. It made me wonder whether it could be related to the classroom environment. “The environment “tell” children how to act and respond. Children respond differently to the environment. An effectively designed classroom has the potential for positively influencing all areas of children’s development: physical, social/emotional, and cognitive” (Isbell, & Exelby,2001, p.23). The purpose of my research paper was to understand whether the classroom environment impacted the behavior of the children to be disruptive. The three reasons that I wanted to do this research was to find out if the environment in the classroom in terms of curriculum, noise level, clutter in the class, not enough physical space for the materials, and teacher attitudes was a factor in their behavior, how it influenced the learning and development of the children, and what measures I could take to tackle these behaviors.
“There is always a tension between providing opportunities for children to develop self-control, autonomy, initiative, and competence while simultaneously sustaining an orderly, productive learning environment” (Kaiser & Rasminsky,2017). When children start school, they are exposed for the very first time to the other members of their own age group and go through a lot of social and emotional growth. There are many factors that can affect the behavior of the children in the classroom. It may be their inherent nature, their home environment, family structure, or school environments. The classroom is a place where children spend most of their time learning and have social interaction with their peers in their daily activities. The classroom not only has physical aspects such as noise level, classroom layout, furniture placement, materials, but also social and emotional interactions with the children and the teachers in it. “The relationship between the social context and the physical space is reciprocal. Because each influences the other, the physical environment provides important clues for the people within the space” (Kaiser & Rasminsky,2017). I’ve seen kids act in a disruptive way when it’s too noisy and loud, when there’s restricted physical space to move around, less teacher’s attention, materials cluttered, and children’s groups are at one place. Observation 1: – I observed a child in our classroom who had a small bouncy ball in his hand and two girls accidently stumbled on him. The space wasn’t large enough for all three to do their activities in. The child pulled one of the girl’s shirts in anger and she nearly fell over. I asked the child why he was pulling the girl’s shirt and he said, “She was pushing me.” In this situation, I noticed that the teachers were not around when this happened, the area was overcrowded, and it triggered the child’s angry response as he thought the girls were deliberately pushing him. “Teachers are not often trained in modifying the class environment to encourage academic encouragement and discourage disruptive behavior” (Guardino and Fullerton, 2019).
In my classroom, when the children are doing activities that are open-ended and unstructured, the noise levels can get very loud, room can get very cluttered and there are many children in one area. Because of this, when the situation gets out of control, the children tend to get into confrontations, conflicts, verbal altercations, and resort to aggression. The children who are trying to focus and concentrate on their own work and activity cannot do so, because their environment now has too much chaos and noise in their environment. I noticed that in my classroom, we did not have a separate math, science, writing, and language literacy area. There was one area where all the materials were, children would gather, pour the various works out from the different bins in the same area, and make it very cluttered and messy. Because of this, the children didn’t have enough space and would run over each other’s work, have conflicts, didn’t cooperate, didn’t share, and didn’t include or take opinion from others. “When classroom are organized and laid out in ways that makes sense, young children are more like to engage in productive play and to display fewer behavior problems”(Bruski, 2013, pg.48).
I also observed children behave aggressively or act out when they are not able to speak the common language. The common language didn’t make sense to them and the learning environment was confusing for the children. The children were not able to communicate about what they were interested in doing. “Children who find themselves in a strange environment are likely to feel confused, isolated, alienated, conflicted, and less competent” (Kaiser & Rasminsky,2017). I have seen an Asian child who was from China go up to a group of children and tear their paper when the other children were not paying attention to him – the reason was that he was not able to talk in English and was trying to communicate.
Teacher interaction is another important element in the behavior of the children in their environment. Classrooms that have a warm atmosphere with teachers who are caring and are reciprocal to the children needs are more resilient and better able to cope with stress and anxiety. Observation 2: – I observed a child in our classroom named “Y” trying to prove his point and make rules, the other kid who was listening to him didn’t want to follow his rule and “Y” got frustrated and started crying. He went up to the teacher and while crying started to tell her of the issue. Due to some reason, the teacher just asked him to stand in the corner and vent it out. I was watching this child and the more the teacher requested him to move away, the louder he got. He was crying so loudly that the teachers thought he might throw up. I felt the need to take the child and step out of the classroom so that he could get some fresh air, get out of the environment that was causing him extreme stress, and then listen to him. He calmed down and we both went inside and worked on a puzzle together.
Some of the changes that I made with the above activities during my classroom assessment were to redirect the children, who had a difficult time controlling their bodies by removing them from the chaotic setting and redirecting them to an activity that they would enjoy and concentrate on. I also requested the children to discover a quiet place to calm down, or to read a book. I realized that when that the children were disruptive, they had difficult time controlling their impulses, hard time focusing and would not listening. To calm their bodies down, I asked my teacher to have an activity that they could touch, feel, like sensory and tactile materials such as playdough, sand box, and artwork. I also redirected children who were wondering around and were not sure what to do next by introducing new and challenging materials. When I asked them to try it out, they were interested, focused, and seemed to enjoy working on it. I felt that if we had some more challenging activities in the class then I would not have to redirect them. I found that when children had activities that were structured yet independent, they seemed to reduce the behavioral issues. Having them work in groups of two or more was more productive and helped them to cooperate and utilize their critical thinking skills. I also made the area clutter free by removing materials that were not needed.
Sometimes the children are unable to convey their feelings, frustrations or emotions in words, and express it by behaving in a disruptive way. It could be in the form of crying, being aloof, not listening, or ignoring. In these circumstances, I discovered that it would be better to channel their behavior in a more productive manner by listening to their situation and proceeding to address it in a calm way.
Data collection: For my data, I observed the interactions of the children during different times of the day for a total of 10-minute intervals. I also observed and made notes of children playing during free play and during group activities. I observed the children and made my notes on a word document about the environment, such as noise level, number of kids in the group, activity, the area where they were working, teacher attitudes and intervention, and the intensity of the behavior.
After interpreting the data and through my classroom observations, I felt that the environment had an impact on a child’s behavior. Through the research paper, I was able to have a much closer look at the connection between the environment in the class and the impact it was having on the children’s behavior. It led me to the realize that classroom environment was a significant factor impacting the child’s learning in a very profound way. I decided that I would make the classroom environment warm and welcoming, free of clutter, and create enough space for the children to move so that they would have less conflict and behavioral issues. I would make the classroom environment effective and engaging by having developmentally appropriate materials and changing them frequently. I would create a clutter free environment with less traffic disruptions in areas where children are working. “If the classroom environment is well-organized with open pathways then the children are able to move freely to the activities. When space is poorly organized, children depend on the teacher for guidance and the teacher’s behavior becomes directive” (‘(PDF) Classroom Design and How It Influences Behavior,’ 1993). I would encourage the children to work in groups so that they can learn to respect each other’s space and value each other’s opinion. I would set up a code of conduct and reinforce positive behavior as soon as I notice it and show them visual representation of the same.
My next step aligns well with this quote. “Practices that focus on teaching children routines and expectations, giving clear directions and feedback, and arranging the social and physical environment lead to higher levels of child engagement and fewer problem behaviors” (Level 2 of the Teaching Pyramid). I would collaborate with my lead teacher and try to incorporate some of the above strategies and ideas so that we have a classroom environment that is conducive to learning and minimizing distractions and behaviors.
- Bruski, N. (2013). The Insightful Teacher: Reflective Strategies to Shape Your Early Childhood Classroom. Gryphon House.
- Guardino, C. and Fullerton, E. (2019). Changing behaviors by changing the classroom environment. [eBook] Available at: http://http:www.uvm.edu/~cdci/best/pbswebsite/Resources/ChangingBehaviors.pdf [Accessed 5 Jun. 2019].
- Isbell, R. and B. Exelby, 2001. Early learning environments that work. MD, Beltsville: Gryphon House, Inc.
- (PDF) Classroom Design and How It Influences Behavior. (1993, June 1). Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/234575793_Classroom_Design_and_How_It_Influences_Behavior
- Kaiser. B., & Rasminsky, J. S. (2017). Challenging behavior in young children: Understanding, preventing, and responding effectively. Boston: Pearson.
- Disruptive behaviors in children: What parents should know. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.schn.health.nsw.gov.au/fact-sheets/disruptive-behaviours-in-children-what-parents-should-know