MARA WESTLING ALLODI
A TWO-LEVEL ANALYSIS OF CLASSROOM CLIMATE IN RELATION TO SOCIAL CONTEXT, GROUP COMPOSITION, AND ORGANIZATION OF SPECIAL SUPPORT
Received 13 June 2001; accepted (in revised form) 25 July 2002 ABSTRACT. This study investigated classroom climate in relation to social context, heterogeneity (disability, multiculturalism) inclass composition, and the occurrence of differentiated learning environments for children who need special support. Pupils aged 8–12 (679 from 39 classes in Swedish compulsory schools) responded to a questionnaire about classroom climate. Eighty of these students receive special support at school using various modalities. Multilevel factor analysis was applied to data to estimate differences withinand between groups. Three significant climate factors were found. They pertained to the level of friction, satisfaction, and cohesiveness in the classroom. Social context was related to these three factors and to the occurrence of differentiated learning environments. The inclusion of pupils with disabilities appears to be related to less friction and higher cohesiveness among children. The articleproposes increased interventions aimed at improving the school climate in disadvantaged neighborhoods. It also suggests that aspects of the placement of pupils with disabilities and of the organization of special support should be considered as indicators in studies of school effectiveness. KEY WORDS: classroom environment, disabilities, educational organization, heterogeneous grouping, inclusiveschools, multilevel factor analysis, special education
1. INTRODUCTION 1.1. Classroom Climate
Several authors have investigated the psychosocial aspects of learning environments in various educational systems. Field theory (Lewin, 1997), social cognitive theory (Bandura, 1986), and Bronfrenbrenner’s (1979) ecological model of human development have been theoretical frames of reference forstudies of group climate. Studies of communication processes in the classroom have also been based on Watzalawick’s theory of human communication (Créton, Wubbels & Hooymayers, 1993). The classroom environment can be described as a system based on four variables: the physical environment, organizational aspects, teacher characteristics, and pupil characteristics (Moos, 1979). The classroom climateLearning Environments Research 5: 253–274, 2002. © 2002 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
MARA WESTLING ALLODI
is a mediator between these variables and is shaped through interactions among pupils and between the teacher and pupils. It is affected by the orientation, quality, and quantity of interactions and intercommunication, in turn affecting pupilsatisfaction, self-concept, and learning processes. Based upon this theoretical model, several instruments have been developed to explore these aspects. Some studies have investigated psychosocial aspects (climate) in the group or classroom or relationships between climate and teaching strategies, attitudes or organizational factors (e.g. group composition and size). Others have investigated the correlationbetween climate and learning outcomes (Fraser, 1986, 1998). Comparative studies of school effectiveness have also shown the value of assessing the psychosocial environment in schools and classrooms, by asking pupils their opinions, in order to evaluate interventions (Freiberg, 1996). The results of such studies (Anderson, 1989) show that pupil assessments of the classroom climate are morerealistic than those of teachers. Later studies have also shown that the climate is a powerful communicator of values, attitudes, and norms. The teacher’s behavior has the greatest impact, because it becomes a model for relationships in the group. Several studies demonstrate that a democratic climate in the school and in the classroom promotes democratic values in children, and contributes to the...