Case Study: Contextual Factors

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I did my student teaching of Biological Science at Airport High School, in West Columbia, South Carolina. Airport High School is within the Lexington District Two School Community. The district has 17 schools and approximately 8,800 students. Two of the 17 schools are high schools. The district is composed 57.8% White, 33.5% African American, 6.0% Hispanic, and 2% other. Two environmental contextual factors include socioeconomics and the community population. The socio-economic status of the community consists mainly of a middle to low class population. Due to the low socio-economic status, the school is provided with programs, such as free or reduced lunches. The intent of this program is to enable a way for student to get meals, thus meeting the basic need of hunger. Meeting the need of hunger will enable the student to concentrate in class and learn the material. The community population has been growing over the years. Many new schools have been established to meet this demand. However, due to lack of funds to build and staff a sufficient number of schools to support the community, each schools population has increased.

The district shows support for the educational needs of all students. The district has developed a parenting and family service program called STAR. STAR is an acronym for Starting Together…Arriving Ready. The program is an early learning program for parents and their children birth to five years old. It helps give a head start on children learning for qualified families meeting the need criteria. Some of the needs criteria are based off of the family's primary language and household income level. Statics have indicated that students coming from lower income families or English as a second language have more difficulty in schools. This program will help provide them with a starting foundation. Lexington County is composed of 5 school districts. The district I taught at happens to be the lowest socioeconomic district and receives less funding than the other districts. This obviously affects the teaching- learning process as they have less teachers and less funds to purchase needed items for the classrooms in the district. This often leads to students sharing books or the district not being able to purchase computers or other materials.

The school is geographically located near the state's capital and less than a mile from the Columbia Metropolitan Airport. At times, planes will fly close to the roof of the school causing a disruption in the class room. The noise disrupts the students thought and causes classroom talking. Both of these have a negative effect on the learning process. The schools population is higher than average. As stated above, the community has tried to respond to a growing population by building new schools. Airport High School, the teacher to student ratio is about double what the recommended ratio should be. This places a strain on classroom management and ultimately affects the amount of individual attention a teacher can give to a student.

Classroom factors that can affect the teaching and learning process are physical features of the classroom, availability of technology equipment and resources, extent of parental involvement, and the classroom subject. Due to a lack of teachers, classrooms have to be combined. Once they are combined the classroom may be at capacity for the number of students. The rooms can become cramped for space and desk being closer together to fit everyone in. Combining classes may mean that college preparation and honors class student may be in the same room. This has an effect on the teaching-learning process as the teacher has to adapt a style of teaching and testing that will reach both levels. A second classroom factor is the availability of technology equipment and resources. For a biological science class a laboratory is needed for the study. I have found that the budget was insufficient to provide each student adequate equipment and resources to perform some of the required labs. To accommodate this, the labs were completed in small group settings or set up as a single demonstration. Many families I encountered had both parents working or the student may come from a single parent home. Because of this, the parents may only be somewhat active in the student learning as they do not feel they have the time to be involved. The classroom subject of biology was a new concept to many students. It was introducing ideas and terminology they had never heard before. This slowed the teaching-learning process because many things had to be introduced a little at a time and often repeated.

Student contextual factors such as age, developmental levels, culture and special needs affect the instruction and assessment of learning. In high schools the students are at an age where they feel and act as if they already know everything. Some may act disengaged or disinterested. There may be students with different developmental levels in one class room. Some students may have individual learning plans and have to leave the room to take a test with a counselor. A teacher could have special education students in the classroom that need modifications. Cultural beliefs may prohibit a student from performing a dissection in a lab. All of these are factors that a teacher must think about in the development of their plans and assessments.

Student's skill and prior knowledge can also influence how a teacher plans their learning goals, instruction, and assessment. Teachers are required first to gather information about the students' prior learning and connect the content and skills to the student's conceptual framework for learning. A teacher must remember all, or possible, contextual factors that are present in the school, district, and community in which the work. By understanding and knowing the contextual factors a teacher can better prepare their classroom instruction so that all students are learning.