Social Education
Volume 62 Number 1
January 1998

Classroom Management in a Social Studies Learning Community

Jere Brophy and Janet Alleman

Good classroom management implies more than eliciting student cooperation in maintaining order. It also implies that worthwhile learning activities engaging to students are taking place continuously in the classroom. In a well-managed classroom, the teacher prepares a physical environment suitable for learning, develops rules of conduct, maintains student attention and participation in group lessons, and monitors student assignments and progress toward the desired learning outcomes. The procedures for attaining these goals include:

Most of the research on which classroom management principles are based has taken place in traditional classrooms characterized by transmission approaches to teaching, that is, where the teacher acts as the transmitter of knowledge.1 Recently, however, interest has been growing in classrooms based on social constructivist, or learning community, views of teaching as a collaborative effort.
In a learning community based on social constructivist theory, the teacher acts as a collaborator in the production of knowledge within the classroom. The premise is that when teachers help students construct knowledge through social interaction, classroom discourse will deepen through more reflective discussion. The learning community teacher asks divergent questions meant to stimulate thought and help students develop an understanding of powerful ideas that anchor different networks of knowledge. Students in turn strive to make sense of what they are learning by relating it to both prior knowledge and the understandings of other students.
Classrooms based on social constructivism are person-centered environments that promote active, participatory, and connected learning. Especially in social studies classrooms, teachers and students collaborate to develop rules, often formalizing them into a classroom constitution. Discipline emanates mostly from the self as teachers and students share leadership roles. The spirit is one of collegiality: helping, sharing, working together, listening, and supporting in a caring manner. The goal is for members to feel valued, personally connected to one another, and committed to everyone’s growth and learning.

Research on Social Constructivism
To date, little research exists on models of social studies teaching based explicitly on the principles of social constructivism. However, the concept of a learning community is very compatible with other traditions in the field. Elementary social education models have often featured attempts to develop prosocial values and the disposition toward civic participation in students. Many secondary models have emphasized student engagement in critical thinking and decision making about social and civic issues. The NCSS position statement on powerful teaching and learning in the social studies calls for meaningful, integrative, value-based, challenging, and active learning.2 All of these models imply the social construction of knowledge within a learning community context.
In Powerful Social Studies for Elementary Students, we include chapters on constructing knowledge through classroom discourse and on methods for socializing students into a cohesive learning community. These include encouraging students to speak their minds, listen respectfully to the contributions of others, and engage in reflective discussions and decision making.3
At the elementary level, Kathleen Roth has provided case studies of two fifth-grade social studies classes that implemented an explicit learning community model.4 The secondary classrooms that Fred Newmann has described as exhibiting thoughtfulness also fit the model of a learning community.5 In these classrooms, discussion typically centered on the sustained examination of a few topics rather than superficial coverage of many; teachers gave students time to think before answering questions, while also pressing them to clarify or justify their assertions; teachers modeled interest in students’ ideas as well as offering thoughtful approaches to problem solving; and students tended to generate more original and unconventional ideas as the discourse proceeded.

Managing a Learning Community
In moving toward the constructivist view of learning, the question arises: can teachers use established principles of classroom management to socialize students into more collaborative roles and more active learning? The answer is a qualified yes. These principles seem just as applicable to social constructivist views as to transmission approaches if they are interpreted appropriately. Unfortunately, the principles are often presented as no more than techniques for eliciting student compliance with teacher demands—an approach that does not fit well with helping students to become more autonomous and self-regulated learners. It is more important than ever to emphasize the body of research indicating that the most successful classroom teachers focus on establishing effective learning environments rather than functioning primarily as disciplinarians.
Teachers need to engage in thoughtful analysis to determine how to apply basic principles of good classroom management to emerging instructional innovations. To ensure that the principles support the goals of constructivist or other nontraditional approaches to teaching, a teacher can (1) begin by identifying what students are expected to do in order to engage optimally in learning activities, and (2) work backwards from this description of desirable student roles to determine what forms of managerial instruction or assistance may be needed. Successful management of a learning community requires teaching students a broader range of roles than is required of them in more traditional classrooms (see Table 1).
Social constructivist approaches to teaching emphasize the importance of establishing shared values and procedures for the construction of knowledge. Students learn not only how to work on assignments individually, but also how to participate in collaborative dialogues and work together in cooperative activities. Collaborative dialogue involves students speaking in turn, listening politely to others, and keeping their criticisms constructive—but goes beyond these aspects of discourse to responding thoughtfully to others, offering contributions that advance the discussion, and citing relevant arguments and evidence to support one’s position. When students work cooperatively in pairs or small groups, collaboration means making sure that everyone understands the goals of the activity, participates equally in carrying them out, and receives the intended learning benefits.
Constructivist teachers encourage students to take increasing responsibility for organizing and directing their own learning. Students cannot learn self-regulation if the teacher continuously cues and directs their learning activities. If developing self-regulation is taken seriously as a goal, students must be taught the cognitive and metacognitive skills needed to function as autonomous learners—for example, identifying goals and setting priorities, managing time wisely, planning work strategies and monitoring their effectiveness, and responding appropriately when difficulties are encountered. Students may at first need a great deal of explanation, modeling, and cueing of what to do; as they develop expertise, however, the teacher can reduce the intensity of this “scaffolding” and provide more opportunities for students to regulate their own learning.
Ensuring that students benefit from a learning community approach requires the familiar management strategies of articulating clear expectations, modeling or providing instruction in desired ways of acting, and applying sufficient pressure to compel changes in behavior when students fail to respond to more positive methods. The teacher retains ultimate control in the classroom and, when necessary, exerts authority by articulating and enforcing managerial guidance. However, this guidance emphasizes thoughtful, goal-oriented learning, not mindless compliance with rules.

In Conclusion
One basic principle of good classroom management is that it must support instructional goals. A management system with rigid rules that orients students toward passivity and compliance will undoubtedly undercut the potential effects of innovative instruction designed to emphasize active learning, higher order thinking, and the social construction of knowledge.6
Another basic principle is that classroom planning should begin with the identification of outcomes that constitute the goals of instruction. Teachers need to ask: What knowledge, skills, values, and behavioral dispositions must students possess or acquire in order to engage in this learning activity most profitably? The planning process should clearly articulate the desired student roles, which then become both the goal and the rationale for the teacher’s management system. These management principles apply as much to a community of learners as to any other classroom.

1. W. Doyle, “Classroom Organization and Management” in M. Wittrock, ed., Handbook of Research on Teaching, 3rd edition (New York: Macmillan, 1986), 392-431; E. Emmer, “Classroom Management and Discipline” in V. Richardson-Koehler, ed., Educator’s Handbook (New York: Longman, 1987), 233-256; C. Evertson, “Managing Classrooms: A Framework for Teachers” in D. Berliner and B. Rosenshine, eds., Talks to Teachers (New York: Random House, 1987), 54-74; M. Gettinger, “Methods of Proactive Classroom Management,” School Psychology Review 17 (1988): 227-242; T. Good and J. Brophy, Contemporary Educational Psychology, 5th edition (White Plains, NY: Longman, 1995) and Looking in Classrooms, 7th edition (New York: Longman, 1997); V. Jones, “Classroom Management” in J. Sikula, T. Buttery and E. Guyton, eds., Handbook of Research on Teacher Education, Vol. 2 (New York: Macmillan, 1996), 503-521.
2. National Council for the Social Studies, “A Vision of Powerful Teaching and Learning in the Social Studies: Building Social Understanding and Civic Efficacy,” Social Education 57 (1993): 213-223.
3. J. Brophy and J. Alleman, Powerful Social Studies for Elementary Students (Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace, 1996).
4. K. Roth, “Making Learners and Concepts Central: A Learner-centered, Conceptual Change Approach to Fifth-grade American History Planning and Teaching” in J. Brophy, ed., Advances in Research on Teaching, Vol. 6 (Greenwich, CT: JAI Press, 1996), 115-182.
5. F. Newmann, “Qualities of Thoughtful Social Studies Classes: An Empirical Profile,” Journal of Curriculum Studies 22 (1990): 443-461.
6. M. McCaslin and T. Good, “Compliant Cognition: the Misalliance of Management and Instructional Goals in Current School Reform,” Educational Researcher 21 (1992): 4-17.

Jere Brophy is distinguished professor of teacher education at Michigan State University.
Janet Alleman is professor of teacher education and educational administration at Michigan State University.

Table 1
Student Roles that Might Guide Classroom Management Efforts in Social Education Learning Communities

A. Role competencies featured in knowledge transmission classrooms that also apply in social education learning communities.
1. Be in class/seat on time
2. Store personal belongings in their proper place
3. Handle classroom supplies and materials carefully and return them to their proper place after use
4. Have desk cleared and ready to learn when lessons begin
5. Pay attention during lessons and learning activities
6. Participate by volunteering to answer questions
7. Work carefully on in-school and homework assignments
8. If you get stuck, try to work out the problem on your own before asking for help, but do ask for help if you need it
9. Turn in assignments completed and on time
10. Confine conversations to approved times and forms
11. Treat others with politeness and respect

B. Additional role competencies that need to be developed in social education learning communities
1. In whole-class settings, participate as a member of the group as we develop new understandings
2. Act in accordance with the recognition that everyone has something to contribute and you are here to learn as well as to help others learn
3. Listen carefully to what others say and relate it to your own knowledge and experience (Do you agree? Why or why not?)
4. If you are not sure what others mean, ask for clarification
5. In putting forth your own ideas, explain your reasoning by citing relevant evidence and arguments
6. In challenging others’ ideas and responding to challenges to your ideas, focus on the issues and on trying to reach agreement; do not get personal or engage in one-upmanship
7. When working in pairs or small groups, see that each person’s ideas are included and that everyone accomplishes the goal of the activity
8. When helping partners or fellow group members, do not just do the work for them; instead, make sure that they learn what they need to know

©1998 National Council for the Social Studies. All rights reserved.