The Relation of Global First-Grade Classroom Environment to Structural Classroom Features and Teacher and Student Behaviors
We observed 827 first-grade classrooms in 747 schools in 32 states in order to describe classroom activities and child-teacher interactions, dimensions of the global classroom environment, and their relations to structural aspects of the classroom and to child behaviors. Classrooms were observed for approximately 3 hours starting at the beginning of the school day with an intention of observing during academic instruction, particularly in reading. Time-samplings of activities, teacher behaviors, and child behaviors as well as global ratings of teacher-child interactions and the classroom environment were obtained. The most frequently observed forms of activity were structured teacher-directed activity and whole-class instruction. As expected, the largest portion of time was allocated to literacy-related activities. There was wide variation in the frequency of most activities across classrooms. Global ratings also demonstrated significant variability across classrooms and were described by 2 dimensions: instructional support for learning and emotional support. Neither dimension was related to class size or child-adult ratio. Classrooms were observed to provide more emotional support when there were more adults present. Students' 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 and emotional support. Teachers' total years of experience were unrelated to ratings of support in the classroom. Years of experience teaching first grade did predict more time devoted to academic activities, albeit to a modest degree. Teachers with more post-high school education provided more emotional support and devoted more time to academic activities. Taken together, these findings demonstrated that first grade is a highly variable experience for children in the United States and that attempts to assess and improve child readiness should recognize this.