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This report is based on a classroom in a Special Education School in Singapore. There are ten students, four males and six females, from 14 to 16 years of age, placed in this senior classroom. Of the male students, two are Chinese and two, Malay. Of the female students, four are Chinese, one, Malay and one, Indian. The names of all students have been changed to the pseudonyms used to protect individual identities.
One of the Malay boys, Fandi, and two of the Chinese girls, Susan and Sharon, come from low-income families and depend on financial assistance provided by the school for their daily allowance. The mothers of these three students are divorced and single. According to these students, their single parents do not have time to care for their well-being and needs or to talk to them. The rest of the students live with both parents, and one or two siblings. Two Chinese male students come from high income household. One of the Malay boys, Rahim, and the remaining four girls (two Chinese, one Malay, and one Indian) come from a middle income household.
Three of the students, Fandi, Tammy and Susan, are learning skills targeted at primary four standards in mainstream schools. Four students, Sharon, Shasha, May and Linda are learning skills targeted at primary two standards. The remaining three, Rahim, Jason and Thomas are learning skills aimed at pre-primary students in the mainstream. All the students do have difficulties in decoding and recognizing words, recalling mathematical facts, untidy handwriting, short attention span and a strong need for rote and slow-paced learning.
Rahim, Jason and Thomas are reserved, take longer time to complete their task and have difficulties in comprehending what is said to them and in communicating with peers. Fandi, likes to dominate and bully his peers, especially reserved students mentioned. He even resorts to physical and verbal abuse when victims rebel and do not comply to his wishes. Sharon, Shasha, May and Linda always clique together. They show togetherness by showing bad moods and tamtrums or refusing to participate when one in the clique gets scolded or when punished. Susan and Tammy often pass derogatory remarks to other girls in the class, especially about looks, such as being fat and having acne problems.
Self Concept and Self Esteem and implications for learning and teaching your class
According to Frydenberg (1997), self concept is "the perceptions that an individual has of themselves" (pp. 75) while self esteem is "the value or judgments made of themselves and their actions" (pp.75 - 76). The perception of self is drawn from various areas such as academic ability, social acceptance, physical attractiveness, and athletic ability (Frydenberg, 1997). Self-concept is the underlying factor that determines the behaviour and the choices one makes. A person who has poor self-concept has higher chances of making impulsive choices which may affect their growth and development (Lansdown and Walker, 1991).
Self-esteem, as Berk (2006) describes, is the subjective evaluation or judgment of how one feels about the components of self-concept. Branwhite (2000) explains that self-esteem affects the way one learns, works and builds relationships. He highlights that people with high self-esteem are generally more confident and less influenced by their peers. Branwhite (2000) believes that there is a close relationship between self-concept and self-esteem and that people with low self-esteem have damaged self-concept.
Some researchers, however, do not make the distinction between self-concept and self-esteem as they believe that self concept is in itself evaluative (Frydenberg, 1997).
Fandi, Tammy and Susan display high academic self-esteem compared to the rest of the students within the class. They are more participative in class activities and respond to questions and guide their classmates in assignments and experiments. When having combined lessons with any other senior class, however, these students withdraw and become dependent on their peers from other classes for answers and suggestions for fear of make mistakes in front of their peers. This shows that their self-concept and self-esteem is highly influenced by the presence and judgment of peers. More hands-on tasks are assigned where they are allowed to experiment, explore and construct their own learning. Each student could then verbally share their findings with their classmates. In written assignments, students are provided with opportunities to correct their mistakes before being graded by teacher. This may improve students' self esteem as it removes the fear of making mistakes and allows them to learn through discussion with peers and teachers.
Due to communication difficulties, Rahim, Jason and Thomas are not well-liked, isolated and prefer to work independently. Their poor social acceptance contributes to their low self esteem. To build on their social competence, these students engage in pair work to they learn how to start a conversation, praise their partner and practice politeness.
As relationships with their peers are built, improving these students' self-esteem, group size can be increased to consist of three or four students. As group interactions increase, students will be able to learn and benefit from their more competent peers as well as learn to get along with them.
Sharon is an overweight student. She has low self-esteem due to her body size. Moreover, she often receives negative remarks about her looks from her peers, especially Susan and Tammy. Thus, Sharon is reluctant to engage in sports activity as she feels embarrassed about her body. She gets angry with herself when she is the last to complete a sports activity. Sharon also feels that people are looking or laughing at her and does not make friends easily. To increase Susan's self-esteem, the whole class can be involved. All students made health related goals such as plans to exercise everyday and for healthy eating. At the end of every week, goals were reviewed and each student was given an opportunity to write at least three positive things about their friends and post it on the bulletin board. These strategies helped in building not only Susan's but also self-esteem of the rest of the students as they read positive comments from their peers and also began to see the improvements in their health regardless body size. With the improved self-esteem, all students participate actively in activities and are able to construct their own learning.
Stages of moral development and implications for learning and teaching your class
Kohlberg's theory of moral understanding has six stages organized into three levels (Lansdown and Walker, 1991). Stage one, the punishment and obedience orientation and stage two, the instrumental purpose orientation, are at the preconventional level. At this level, individuals assume that they must obey rules that are set by authority figures without questioning and their behaviour is driven by the anticipation of pleasure or pain (Berk, 2006). Stage three, the "good boy-good girl" orientation and stage four, the social-order-maintaining orientation, are at the conventional level. At this level, individuals accept and obey rules to promote social harmony as they are aware of shared feelings and expectations of close personal ties. In addition, they develop a "member of society" perspective where they believe that rules must be obeyed at all times in order to maintain societal order (Berk, 2006). Stage five, the social-contract orientation and stage six, the universal ethical principle orientation are at the postconventional level. At this level, individuals are concerned about values and principles that make a good society and seek equality in laws as they emphasis basic rights (Berk, 2006).
Rahim, Jason and Thomas may be functioning at the first and second stage of the preconventional level. They accept rules without questioning their teachers and are impressed with peers who have authority. For instance, they would obey rules set by prefects or team leaders. They are also motivated by rewards and punishment, exhibiting behaviors for rewards and avoiding behaviors that could result in punishment. These students fail to understand the underlying importance of acceptable behaviour because of their focus on rewards. Also, they fail to understand the intention of rules when they obey them without questioning. In classroom discussions, students can experience opportunities to reason and evaluate situations, for example, when rules are followed or not followed. Students can learn and understand the reasons for the existence of rules as well. These discussions can facilitate students' moral understanding and development.
The remaining of the students seems to be in the third stage of Kohlberg's theory of moral development. They are concerned about what their friends think of them and often seek approval from their friends. They are easily influenced by their peers and want to be seen as a good person who is loyal, respectful and trustworthy. Thus, they would follow what their peers want them to do without thinking whether it is right or wrong. This peer influence affects their learning as they fail to think for themselves and depend on their peers. In classroom discussions, ethical questions and issues can be raised. Students debate upon various viewpoints and learn that there can be many ideas and justifications to any single ethical, moral situation or dilemma. Students also have the opportunity to express and understand the value of their own personal values and opinions.
Relationships with peers and implications for learning and teaching your class
According to Krause, Bonchner and Duchesne (2006), peer relationships assist in developing various dimensions such as the self-esteem, identity development and cognitive and moral development of a child. The relationships with peers become more important during the transition from middle childhood to adolescence (Berk, 2006). Shucksmith, Hendry, Love and Glendinning (1993) believe that adolescences are in search of their identity as they experience uncertainty of what adult life is about. They often develop their own values and beliefs by evaluating the perspectives of others. It is during adolescence that peer acceptance and popularity become important (Krause et al., 2006).
Peer acceptance refers to the extent to which a child is accepted by a group of individuals (Berk, 2006). According to Thompson, Arora and Sharp (2002), pressure to gain peer acceptance can lead to an increase in bullying behaviour among children. They added that children who are victims of bullies in school can become bullies as well. Train (1995) explains that bullies are aggressive and are aware when they hurt others. He believes that bullies are not only individuals, but can be groups too. He highlights that bullying takes place when one child or group is stronger and conscious of the other's weakness.
Physical bullying, verbal bullying, bullying by gestures and exclusion bullying are some forms of bullying that take place in the school. Fandi often gets into fights, cause physical injury and make threatening gestures to his peers. He would also challenge and defy his teachers and student authority such as prefects. Other students in the school do think he is "cool" because he dares to behave in such ways. He is popular among the students who are as aggressive as him. They see him as one of their own who demonstrates similar characteristic and attitudes just like them. As he befriends other bullies easily and is accepted by this particular group of peers, Fandi also engages in group bullying of other vulnerable peers. Within the classroom, Rahim, Jason and Thomas become victims to Fandi's bullying as they are shy and timid. In addition, these victims, who are low in moral development, obey his instructions with no attempt to stand their grounds. They fear to seek help from teachers, parents or friends as they avoid punishment from him.
Tammy and Susan also often bully their peers. Unlike Fandi, they bully indirectly and by exclusion. They pass nasty remarks targeting peers who are socially withdrawn or have problems with physical appearance, such as acne or overweight like Sharon. They would exclude these students by not talking to them or not engaging them in activities. Tammy and Susan would also tease, spread rumors, gossip and pass negative criticisms, for example, to others about their victim's appearance or about not being able to complete certain tasks assigned. Within the classroom, Sharon, Shasha, May and Linda are the victims. The victims result in having low self-esteem, feel embarrassed of their appearance and rejected by their peers. They make little or no effort to make friends.
According to Porter (2007), group cohesion is necessary in classrooms as it provides social and emotional supports for individuals. Cohesive classrooms can promote positive whole-group feeling among their students, thus increasing positive peer relationships. Porter (2007) also highlighted cohesive classrooms also improve students learning, their self-esteem and confidence. However, with the issue of bullying within the classroom, three different groups can be observed within the classroom. The bullies, Fandi, Tammy and Susan form one group. The victims form two groups, one, Rahim, Jason and Thomas, and two, Sharon, Shasha, May and Linda. There are little interactions between these groups. The students in the groups prefer to interact and engage in activities within their own groups. The victims of the bullies demonstrated lower self-esteem compared to the bullies and were frequently absent from school. The victims were often frustrated and angry that they could not achieve on tasks that their bullies could. Thus, it is important to generate positive interaction of the students and between groups, to eliminate the lack of class cohesion.
Small group learning such as cooperative learning is used to encourage interaction among these students. Students are rotated among the groups so that each student is given an opportunity to work students from other groups. Initially, when bullies and victims were mixed in a group, bullying did take place. For instance, when Fandi, Rahim, Tammy and Linda were placed in a group, Fandi and Tammy would bully Rahim and Linda. The victims began feeling rejected, scared and isolated. As the teacher intervened and showed support for the victims, the self-esteem of Rahim and Linda began to increase. With the teacher's continued support and encouragement, the victims are more willing to participate in group activities and discussions. As bullies and victims work together in groups to achieve common goals set by the teacher, there is increasing active engagement and conversation in these new groups. In addition to increasing cohesion, there is increased learning as weaker peers are able benefit from the more competent peers and more positive attitudes towards learning as the competent peers help the weaker ones.
Circle time is an activity where students and teacher spend a certain amount of time together discussing issues (Sullivan, 2000). According to Sullivan (2000), circle time allows the class to see itself as a whole and provide a sense of safety and trust as students share their feelings and experiences. As Sullivan (2000) highlights, the practice of circle time with the class twice every week has improved the relationship and communication among the students of the class, even between bullies and victims. Students would take turns during circle time to share difficulties faced in school or in class and their feelings about people in school or bullying. Circle time also allows for the brainstorming of solutions to bullying situations. Through these discussions, the students demonstrate improved self-esteem which allows them to actively participate and engage in their learning and exhibit improved relationships with their peers.
In conclusion, the teaching and learning that takes place in a classroom is affected by and can affect the self concept and esteem, moral development and relationships between peers of students in the classroom. These aspects of personal and social development seem to be interdependent. For instance, the moral development can affect how students relate to their peers, like how the victims respond to their victims. This in turn, affects their self esteem and self concept. Their self esteem and self concept can affect how students relate to their peers, like how some students feel rejected and prefer not to make friends. Also, when they are existing poor relationships among students, self esteem can be decreased as in the cases of bullying in class. For teaching students so as to improve on their personal and social development, class activities and discussions can be a great tool to evaluate feelings, situations, encourage personal views and brainstorm solutions. These activities should be targeted at not only the individual but the whole class, increasing class cohesion and learning.