Finds Extensive Variations In First-Grade Classrooms
May 13, 2002-- What type of
learning environment best starts young pupils down the path of learning?
in one of the largest studies ever to observe elementary school
classroom instruction say teachers offer a wide range of possible
answers to that question.
researchers visited 827 first-grade classrooms in more than 32 states
as part of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development's
Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development. At each stop, they
spent three hours watching teachers start the day with their pupils.
observers concluded that the extensive variety of experiences in
classroom instruction suggests there is a lack of agreement about
a proper first-grade program.
"The experiences offered to children in first-grade classrooms
are so variable that they may not, across all classrooms, help address
the wide-ranging needs of children," said Robert C. Pianta,
William Clay Parrish Professor in the Curry School of Education
at the University of Virginia.
there is a typical first-grade classroom, then for most
of the morning children are exposed to the teacher leading a large-group,
literacy-related activity, and the social environment is fairly
positive," he said.
was among about 30 researchers who participated in the study, which
is published in the current issue of The Elementary School Journal.
They observed wide variations in everything from emotional support
to academic content.
example, during almost two hours some teachers were observed to
be directly teaching an academic skill during only 10 percent of
the observed minutes while others were teaching an academic skill
during the majority of the period," Pianta said.
report, the first in a series on the nature of childrens experiences
in school and the influences on their development, was conducted
as part of the institutes Study of Early Child Care. The study
follows 1,364 children in a comprehensive effort to determine how
variations in child care are related to childrens development,
including being ready for school. The study of first-grade classrooms
attempted to look at the "other side of school readiness"
the nature of experiences children have in early elementary
the researchers formed positive impressions about the classroom
environments they observed.
"However, more than 15 percent of classrooms were rated as
lacking in literacy instruction or positive emotional climate,"
Pianta said. "And more than 35 percent provide little instructional
feedback to students during lessons."
often, activities were structured, directed by the teacher and involved
whole-class instruction. The largest portion of time was spent on
study also looked at student-teacher ratios, teachers experience
and training, how teachers interacted with the children and the
engagement in academic activities and positive behaviors with peers
were higher, and negative behaviors with peers and teachers were
lower, when classrooms provided more instructional support for learning
and more emotional support," the report says.
amount and degree of variation suggest a need for further research
on how to improve the quality of childrens early schooling,
Lee Graves, (434) 924-6857