Teaching and learning do not happen in a bubble. The process is affected by the world beyond the classroom. Contextual factors, a way to categorize these outside effects, are attributes of the community, the students, and the school itself that may affect the process of teaching and learning. To succeed in their classrooms, teachers must engage in contextual planning by anticipating the needs of their students based on their contextual information.
Contextual Information About Location
Information about a school’s community setting can be broken down into several contextual factors. The community where a school is located will play an enormous role in a student’s attitude toward school. It may also predict how equipped they are emotionally and literally (with supplies) for the work.
Teachers should get to know their school's community by understanding its geographic location, how strongly the community supports education and most importantly, its socioeconomic makeup. Poverty plays a large role in a student’s classroom experience.
Contextual planning for schools with economically disadvantaged student populations should take into consideration that students may not be able to bring their own supplies. Many students in economically disadvantaged homes do not have computers to use to do homework, and many of their parents work, so they will not be able to attend after-school functions.
When it comes to classroom management, teachers based in urban or rural schools with many economically disadvantaged homes can avoid student disciplinary problems by anticipating students' needs. But if disciplinary issues do occur, calling parents may not help because they cannot attend student-teacher conferences.
Contextual Information About Students
Contextual factors affecting individual students include age, gender, culture and personal interests. Teachers should anticipate student needs based on these attributes. For example, younger students may not be able to pay attention to activities as long as older students can.
Contextual planning for individual student attributes may include modifications to the length and variety of activities the teacher plans. Another example of planning for individual contexts comes in the form of anticipating the needs of students of different cultures when choosing an activity. Some cultures value teamwork over competitiveness, so a teacher with a less-competitive class would not use winning to incentivize her lessons.
When it comes to classroom management, teachers should develop systems that match their population of students. More competitive students may respond well to conditioning systems that reward positive behavior with points. But less-competitive students might benefit from an approach that rewards group activities and teamwork.
Contextual Information About the School
Teachers should keep in mind contextual factors about the school and classroom environment. Contextual factors from the classroom environment include the dimensions of the physical space, its layout and the available equipment.
Contextual planning for a new, spacious school building that is outfitted with the latest technology will look very different from planning for an older school with divider walls and limited supplies. Contextual planning is all about anticipation. Teachers should consider the needs of their students, their available space and supplies when planning any lesson. Failing to anticipate student needs will increase the likelihood of disciplinary problems, which occur more often when students feel their learning environment has become unstable.
Rebecca Renner is a teacher and college professor from Florida. She loves teaching about literature, and she writes about books for Book Riot, Real Simple, Electric Literature and more.