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The impact of middle school students' perceptions of the classroom learning environment on achievement in mathematics

Elizabeth A Schaper, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This study examined learning environments in middle school mathematics classes through the perspectives of high and low achieving students. The goal of the study was to determine which classroom learning environment factors are experienced differently by high achievers than they are by lower achieving students. The "What is Happening in Class" questionnaire and results of a standards-based mathematics assessment were used to identify participants with high mathematics achievement and relatively favorable perceptions of their classroom learning environment and students with low mathematics achievement and relatively unfavorable perceptions of their mathematics classroom learning environment. Participants were interviewed in focus groups and selected participants were also interviewed individually. Results revealed that four aspects of the mathematics classroom learning may impact achievement because they can be experienced differently by students who are high and low achievers. These aspects of the learning environment are teacher support, equity, student cohesiveness and task orientation. Teacher support was linked to perceived affiliation with the teacher. Both low and high achievers indicated that teachers seem to be more affiliated with students who are high achievers that answer questions correctly and with students who comply with classroom rules. The equity issues identified by students were related to the amount and type of support that learners get to meet their learning needs. Lower achieving students perceived that it was harder for them to get attention and support for learning needs than did higher achieving students because they perceive that much of classroom attention is directed at praising students for what they already know how to do rather than for new learning. Students described strong preferences for working in self-selected groups. High achieving students were more likely to be able to name and describe classroom processes, tasks, and expectations than were lower achieving students. This study affirms the need for teachers of middle school mathematics to be attentive to pedagogical choices, classroom norms, and the nature of classroom opportunities. The study identifies status issues that arise from certain types of mathematics pedagogy and calls for transparency in classroom norms and strategic grouping practices to improve learning opportunities for lower achieving students.

Subject Area

Mathematics education|Curriculum development

Recommended Citation

Schaper, Elizabeth A, "The impact of middle school students' perceptions of the classroom learning environment on achievement in mathematics" (2008). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3325139.