|Structuring the Environment to Promote Social Competence|
Structuring the Environment to Promote Social Competence
Strategies for Successful Learning, Volume 5, Number 2, November 2011
Brought to you by Learning Disabilities Worldwide (LDW®) through the generosity of Saint Joseph's University.
The deliberate organization of a classroom environment can provide students with visual clues to positively influence their social competence. The management of physical space to encourage functional independence is known as structuring. “Structuring is the management of time, space, and materials to promote social competence” (Kostelnik, Gregory, Soderman, & Whiren, 2012, p. 258). Environmental structuring seeks to alleviate students’ difficulties in three ways: by proactively anticipating and pre-planning for difficulties, problem solving on the spot, and for adjustments that will enhance communication for the maintenance of on-task behavior. Although as educators we would like to be able to anticipate all possible situations, we know that each mix of students is unique and it is important to be flexible in the way we approach working with students. In addition, each teacher must take into account the specific developmental considerations associated with the age of the student, the number of students in the classroom and the inclusive characteristics of the class when planning classroom time, space and materials.
Planning Classroom Time
Organizing segments of time into an orderly, predictable schedule for students supports their ability to act autonomously. Predictability reduces the need for constant guidance and contributes to a student’s sense of security, especially when there are clearly defined behavioral expectations that accompany the daily schedule. There are many points to consider when constructing a classroom schedule:
This kind of careful planning erases the anxiety that many students experience associated with not knowing what will happen next. Additionally, the daily schedule forces teachers to take into account the specific learning and behavioral needs of each student in the classroom. With increased accountability requirements, teachers with a well thought out schedule can plan for school based Response to Intervention (RTI) initiatives for the small group instruction associated with students experiencing learning and attentional disabilities.
Planning Classroom Space
Research has found that many classroom discipline problems can be tied to either the arrangement of furnishings and space within the classroom or the selection of materials available for students to use (Weinstein & Mignano, 2007). Classrooms should foster a sense of belonging and connection to the other students in the class as well as to the teacher. Personalizing space by utilizing bulletin boards to display children’s work and other material in an uncluttered manner can help children feel more comfortable and be a part of the classroom community. Whenever the teacher can modify aspects of the classroom interior to meet student needs, there will be a benefit to all due to the reduction of disruptive behavior and the promotion of social competence. Some aspects that teachers may want to plan for include modifications to the following:
Planning Classroom Materials
By providing interesting classroom materials teachers can encourage curiosity, learning and competent behavior in their students. Materials must be developmentally appropriate and reflective of the range of competence demonstrated in inclusive settings. When selecting materials to add into a classroom, above and beyond the books and materials provided by the school, teachers should consider the following as a guide:
· Safety- Evaluate the safety of the materials; s the item sturdy or will it break easily, can the item be used without close adult supervision, and will it require ongoing maintenance in order to function appropriately.
· Size- Size of items should be considered for safety purposes for young children, such as is the item a choking hazard? Additionally, reflect on whether the equipment adds to the comfort and ease of use by the students such as in balls, scissors, etc. Will using the items in the classroom frustrate or tire the students and are the materials too big or too small?
· Quantity- Reflect on whether there are enough materials for all the students to use or will they need to share? Is the item something that can be shared easily or will sharing promote disruptive, competitive behavior?
· Storage- Does the classroom have adequate space to store the material? Can it be displayed in a safe attractive manner to encourage students to use the material or will it need to be locked away for lack of space, safety concerns, or issues of destruction and theft?
With proper consideration, the organization of time, space and material can promote the development of social competence in students. Teachers are encouraged to reflect on their current classroom structures to determine whether they have set up the environment to maintain on-task behavior, whether they have anticipated and planned for difficulties, and if given the circumstances they can problem solve on the spot and make adjustments that will enhance each student’s social competence.
Evans, G. W. (2006). Child development and the physical environment. Annual Reviews in Psychology, 57, 423-451.
Jaago, Z. E., & Tanner, K.(1999). The influence of the school facility on student achievement. Unpublished paper, College of Education Research Abstracts and Reports, University of Georgia, Athens, GA.
Kostelnik, Gregory, Soderman, & Whiren.(2012). Guiding children’s social development and learning, Seventh Edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.
Weinstein, C.S., & Mignano, A.J.(2007). Elementary classroom management: Lessons from research and practice. New York: McGraw-Hill.