While delivering content have you paid attention to the context?

While content delivery is important. Classroom content is even more important, it constitutes the makeup of the class and the students. It excludes teachers and teaching styles. It helps in reducing learning inequities.



As an educator are you used to seeing varying learning outcomes and aptitudes in students? Do you know that the reason behind these varying results maybe something known as “Classroom Context”? Classroom context is rarely discussed, and yet understanding it is the single most important thing that we can do for creating ideal learning environments for students.

So what is this ‘Classroom Context’? Gregory Palardy, Assistant Professor of Education at the University of California, Riverside, offers an excellent definition of classroom context. According to him, context defines a classroom, its characteristics, such as “the composition of the student body, classroom structures, and resources.” However, it excludes teachers or their ability to teach.

Gregory Palardy conducted a study that found that black or Hispanic children are often assigned to a less-effective classroom rather than on a random basis thus giving rise to many achievement inequities. Thus, it is important for schools to examine how they assign children to classrooms and to make sure that the context for minority students is conducive to their achievement.

Why Is Context Important?


Closing or eradicating the achievement gap is the single biggest incentive to consider context. In this excellent article, researchers Julianne Turner and Debra Meyer offer 4 more reasons.

1) Context Helps Us Understand Students

Context is not dependent on teaching, but on student learning. Educators should consider the students existing levels of knowledge and how it influences their learning styles. It is important, for instance, to deeply consider what attitudes do the students have regarding classroom interaction. If a student has been marginalized in a previous classroom, that attitude will certainly carry forward and need reshaping.

2) Context Helps Us Frame the Learning

The context of a subject needs to be considered as it helps define a frame of learning. For instance, a concrete answer may be preferred in the sciences or mathematics, but perhaps not as desired in a humanities class. Setting different contexts for every subject can help students prepare for different classes. This also affects a student’s attitude towards learning and achievement in general.


3) Context Helps Us Define (or Redefine) Success

Context not only makes educators rethink the way children are assigned to classrooms but also define what is success in the classroom. For example, a class that focuses on improvement, for instance, may demonstrate a positive context and higher achievement than one that does not. Again, the context a student brings to class needs to be considered to set appropriate goals.

4) Context Helps Us Become Better Educators

As educators, context helps us introspect our teaching methods and consequently improve them. A 1990 study published in the Elementary School Journal reports about a teacher who adjusted her teaching strategies after discovering that some students were achieving high scores on a mathematical concept, they failed to demonstrate an understanding of that concept. Their knowledge was entirely rote, and they were not associating with the core concepts. Getting to know our students and the context from which they come helps us think effectively how to reach them and help them develop.

How to Create Deeper Context?


Completely overhauling the school system and policy to create deeper context may be difficult but certainly not impossible. Examining classroom characteristics like class size and access to special-need teachers, can strengthen context.  Lower student-to-teacher ratios to offer struggling students individualized attention. The Palardy study indicated that minority students did not have the same access to special-education teachers, leading to a high achievement gap among minority students.

Developing a growth mindset also creates a meaningful context. When the classroom goals focus on success or failure, students end up categorizing themselves as achievers or failures. Conversely, a growth mindset focuses less on academic achievement and more on a student’s ability to work hard and work with constructs in his mind. It focuses on making connections with the material and participating in class.

As an educator what can be your role in the Classroom?

Even if you have little or no say in the class size or grading structure, there are other ways you can create a richer context in your classroom.

1) Encourage formation of small-group or create more one-on-one learning opportunities


If you have a large class, break students into small groups, or work with students individually. On one hand, this will help you build stronger relationships with your students while on the other, you can tune into their learning abilities and the strengths that their individual contexts give them.

2) Consider classroom arrangement

Does the present arrangements of desks encourage learning or is it designed like an instructional class? Do they seem to favor one student over another? For instance, a circular arrangement of desks places students on the same level, eliminates the “front-row overachievers.”

3) Show students that you are approachable

Knowing students’ names is not the same thing as actually knowing them. Show that you are genuinely interested in them by learning something about each one of them, maybe their hobbies, their aspirations, interest etc.  Make connections between these trivia and the learning concepts by asking them to somehow integrate it into their daily school activity like a presentation, a research paper and so on. This sends out a positive signal that you are interested in your students and also helps make learning more relevant to them. When students know that they actually matter to a teacher, they’ll be eager to belt out their best performance.


4) Teach them to become learners

By implementing Universal Design for Learning Guidelines, you can actually teach students to become better learners, this will serve has a life skill which will move with them as they progress to different classrooms. This may help alleviate future achievement issues if they find themselves in a future classroom that is not as context-friendly.

To summarise, context is a very real issue for today’s classrooms that can help reduce the achievement gap among minority students. Fortunately, the solution is available at a micro-level as well by creating a more learner-centered environment. You can create a richer environments in your own classroom that will serve students throughout their educational career.



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