What Impact Can Effective Classroom Dynamics Have on Instruction, Student Engagement And

What Impact Can Effective Classroom Dynamics Have on Instruction, Student Engagement And

Classroom Dynamics

The question:

What impact can effective Classroom Dynamics have on instruction, student engagement and learning?

The answer:

Attending to Classroom Dynamicsin lesson planning and delivery affords a greater opportunity for engagement in meaningful learning that will improve student achievement.

This report is organized into the following four sections:

1. Classroom Dynamics Described

2. HPEDSB Professional Learning Model

3. Summary of Findings

3.1 Visual Cues

3.2 Learning Tools

3.3 Teaching Collaboration

3.4 Differentiated Instruction


1. Classroom Dynamics Described

“Classroom Dynamics includes establishing and maintaining conditions that allow students to engage in powerful learning through deliberate and purposeful planning, actions, and responses.”

Three broad categories were considered for Classroom Dynamics:

  1. Classroom Management
  2. Classroom Set-Up; and
  3. Relationships

Classrooms are complex systems having many “Classroom Management” considerations that can range from tracking and responding to lates to implementing strategies that allow students returning from an absence to efficiently access lesson materials. Project teachers noted that explicitly planning with Classroom Dynamics in mind can change the culture of their classrooms.

“Classroom Set-Up” considerations include procedures for distributing and collecting manipulatives and technology and establishing visual cues in a classroom.

The “Relationships” category includes considerations such as developing protocols for classroom behaviour, collecting data to understand student strengths, needs and interests and parental contact.

2. hpedsb professional learning model

Teachers from five secondary schools in Hastings and Prince Edward DSB engaged in a Professional Learning Cycle. The Plan, Act, Observe, Reflectframework was used.

The goal of the first meeting of the group was to develop a common understanding of the Professional Learning Cycle and dimensions of Classroom Dynamics including a self-reflection on currentpractices. Teachers then engaged in focus-setting, co-planning, lesson delivery and shared monitoring of student and teacher learning.Reflection on the impact of Classroom Dynamics was carried out with Professional Learning Cycle facilitators post-implementation.

3. Summary of Findings

During the Plan phase of the Professional Learning Cycle, teachers matched student learning needs to their own professional learning needs and interests to determine focus areas for Classroom Dynamics. Four Classroom Dynamics inquiries were completed:

3.1 Visual Cues in the Classroom

3.2 Learning Tools

3.3 The Collaboration Learning Skill

3.4 Data Driven Differentiation

A summary of each inquiry follows.

3.1 Visual Cues

Visual cues in a classroom may include word walls, Learning Skills descriptors, Learning Goals displays, math process posters, anchor charts, instructions, exemplars, etc. This Classroom Dynamics inquiry on Visual Cues examined:

  1. the role of word walls in the development of academic vocabulary; and
  2. the role of visual cues in improving the quality of communication in student solutions.

Prior to a pre-quiz, students received instruction and completed learning tasks on slope and equations of the line. Visual cues were not used extensively during this instruction. The pre-quiz indicated that, although students had an understanding of the slope concept, limited academic vocabulary was used.

Word walls were then used during instruction and a post quiz was given. It was noted that when word walls were both posted and referenced in instruction the use of academic vocabulary increased dramatically as shown in the graphic below.

Students were also asked to “compare” representations (e.g. compare algebraic and graphical representations) in both the pre and post-quizzes. The degree to which students explicitly communicated and named the comparing process in their solutions (i.e. students specifically referring to “determining attributes” for comparison, “selecting mathematical tools” to compare representations etc.) was noted.

Explicit communication of the “compare” process improved with the use of visual cues (i.e. “Compare” strategy posters). In the pre-quiz,71% of students completed mathematicallyaccurate comparisons with 22% explicitlycommunicating elements of the compare process while in the post-quiz, 93% of students completed mathematically accurate comparisons with an increase to 41% of students explicitlynaming elements of the compare process.

3.2 Learning Tools

One area of Classroom Dynamics that often does not get a lot of thought in secondary classrooms is Classroom Set-up. In today’s math classrooms with a focus on problem-solving, which often involves the useof technology and manipulatives, the set-up and management of the classroom is an important consideration to allow:

  • Smooth, non-disruptive transitions from one activity to another; and
  • Availability of various tools to facilitate student choice to meet their individual needs.

In this study, teachers were interested in determining whether student engagement increased by creating tasks, particularly consolidation tasks, emphasizing the use of different learning tools. The teachers monitored student engagement during the completion of these tasks, and then compared this engagement to activities that used more traditional paper-pencil tasks. Engagement was measured by observing, in five-second increments from one student to the next, and recording whether they were engaged. Some of the learning tools used include geoboards, linking cubes, algebra tiles, dry-erase boards with a Cartesian Plane, graphing calculator technology, and a document camera.

In general, the use of a different learning tool did increase student engagement as compared to paper-pencil only tasks (see chart below for summary from one classroom).

One of the teachers observed that introduction of a learning tool signalled a transition that seemed to re-engage students. However, the task itself was an important variable: if it was too difficult or involved at the end of a lesson, students struggled to engage. Also, one teacher observed that students often chose to use paper-pencil instead of a learning tool, but then disengaged, which may indicate that a longer-term emphasis on valuing learning tools is required.


In the Plan phase of the Professional Learning Cycle, many teachers in the workgroup identified their students’ as having both social and academic needs to work collaboratively in math class. In general, however, it was noted that many students did not yet have the effective collaboration skills needed to ensure that group work resulted in accountable talk.

A theme woven through the Classroom Dynamics resources is the need for clear teacher to student (and student to teacher) communication. Teachers participating in this inquiry grounded their work in clear communication to students about roles, tasks, responsibilities and expectations during groupwork. Specifically, criteria for effective groupwork, connected to Learning Skills,was co-developedwith students in advance of completing tasks and then students were asked to self-assess at the end of a learning task.

In one of the Collaboration Learning Skill focused classrooms, students utilized web-based chats during a summative assessment (Assessment Of Learning) to demonstrate questioning and collaboration skills. Students completed the pencil-paper based assessment in a computer lab while being live online with access to a chat where general questions about strategies and concepts could be asked about test questions.

Leading up to the summative, students completed three formative (Assessment For Learning) tasks with explicit instruction on how to collaborate effectively by questioning peers about general strategies rather than telling a step by step algorithm.

In each of the three collaborative formative tasks, students completed part of the task independently prior to working in a group to demonstrate the power of collaboration. The opportunity to collaborate online in a media assisted environment during the summative proved to be both highly motivating and engaging for students.

3.4 Differentiated Instruction

Classroom Dynamics plays a critical role in differentiating instruction effectively. One of the project teachers, having identified vastly different levels of readiness for algebraic reasoning, focused on using Classroom Dynamics considerations to differentiate based on readiness. The specific Classroom Dynamics indicators related to this strategy are:

  • Knowing which students are not engaged and the reason(s) why; and
  • Prepare activities and/or groupings considering student readiness.

In a unit of study on algebraic models and equation-solving in a Grade 9 Applied classroom, the project teacher decided to use assessment data several times throughout the unit to regularly provide students with two tiers of learning tasks with the intent of improving engagement as students were met with learning tasks appropriate for their own learning trajectory.

To evaluate the effectiveness of the strategy, the unit test score was compared to mid-term grade. Greater than 50% of students showed an improvement in Achievement Level from mid-term to unit test after receiving differentiated instruction.


Educators participating in this project identify Classroom Dynamics as a critical component of effective classroom instruction that leads to meaningful learning by all students.

Even small changes in Classroom Dynamics, such as the Learning Tools word wall shown below, can have a tremendous impact on improving student independence and developing a responsibility for learning.

It is recommended that:

  • Visual cues, such as word walls and anchor charts, be posted and referenced in instruction to improve academic vocabulary and the quality of explicit mathematical communication;
  • Students co-develop effective collaboration criteria, receive explicit instruction on collaboration skills then practice and reflect on how well they are working in groups;
  • Teachers continue to work on classroom set-up to allow access to, and student choice of, learning tools, and to create tasks that allow for their use;
  • Differentiation by readiness, where appropriate, be used to improve engagement and student achievement by giving students learning tasks appropriate for their academic readiness; and
  • Teachers give serious consideration to conducting professional learning in a job-embedded professional learning cycle similar to what was used in this project to set a focus and monitor progress in a collaborative environment.

For more details on this Classroom Dynamics project contact HPEDSB project facilitator Richard Long .