In This Issue

Consultation in a public elementary classroom in Querétaro, Mexico

Three graduate students provide consultation in Spanish to a third grade classroom teacher

By Cindy Adame-Hernandez, Ivonne Estrella, and Brenda Alicia Gámez

Abstract: This column will focus on the experience of three graduate students providing consultation in Spanish to a third grade classroom teacher at a public elementary school in Querétaro, Mexico. The opportunity to provide consultation services in Mexico as a practicum experience was made available by the doctoral school psychology program at Texas A&M University. In order to maximize the three-week study abroad experience, each week of the practicum had a distinct focus that provided a cumulative end to the experience. During the first week, observations were conducted and a plan was developed to address the referral problem; during the second week, interventions were implemented; and finally the third week consisted of modeling interventions and a fidelity check of the interventions.

The Texas A&M University school psychology doctoral program offers students an opportunity to consult with teachers in Mexican schools through a three-week study abroad program in Querétaro, Mexico. The study abroad program consists of a field practicum in Mexican schools, Spanish language and cultural classes, and field trips designed to enhance awareness and appreciation of Mexican culture. As part of the practicum students have the opportunity to observe, consult, and collaborate with school staff and teachers. Embedded within the experience is the opportunity for students to learn about a different culture and educational system while providing psychological services gained from their knowledge and experience working in American schools. This column will focus on three graduate students’ experience providing consultation in Spanish to a third grade classroom teacher at a public elementary school in Querétaro, Mexico.

In order to make our time most efficient in Mexico, principals of the targeted schools were asked to identify classroom or individual student cases in need of consultation. Due to our short three-week stay, each week of the practicum was given a specific focus. The first week consisted of observations, conceptualization of the case and the development of a plan that addressed the referral problem. The second week involved implementing interventions to address the areas of concern. Lastly, the third week consisted of modeling the interventions and gathering data about intervention fidelity.

Classroom Background

The targeted public elementary school was located in one of the eighteen districts in Querétaro, Mexico, which consists of 356 elementary schools (Unidad de Servicios para la Educación Básica en el Estado de Querétaro, 2012). The public elementary school included grades first through sixth with one teacher per classroom. The school building was used for two separate school shifts, morning and afternoon, with each shift containing different school personnel and students. Our work was conducted during the morning shift in a third grade classroom referred due to significant classroom management concerns. The classroom consisted of 36 students and one female teacher with 30 years of teaching experience.

Observations

During the first week, observations and a teacher interview were conducted to determine problem areas. Observations revealed that indeed there were critical classroom management issues that interfered with students’ academic progress. Specifically, related to the physical environment of the classroom: desk placement was disorganized with some desks facing the window or the wall, consistent seating was not enforced, no incentive system was in place, rules were not posted, and classroom routines were absent. Additionally, students did not raise their hands to speak, continually left their seats and the classroom without permission, and tossed objects across the classroom. As a result, a majority of students were observed to be off-task during instructional time, often disturbing their ontask peers. Furthermore, the classroom noise level was high which led to the teacher and students speaking in increasingly louder voices. Absent from the observations were positive praise towards students for appropriate behaviors and consistent discipline or redirection towards students who misbehaved. After discussing the observations with the teacher and ensuring her willing participation, it was agreed that the areas to be addressed would be: desk organization, assigned seating, classroom rules, classroom jobs, student hand raising, noise level control, effective praise, and consistent classroom monitoring.

Implementation of Interventions

After the problem areas were identified, specific interventions were developed and implemented in the classroom during the second week. First, to address the random seat placement, all 36 desks were organized into an equal number of rows placed strategically to direct students’ attention to the front of the classroom. Space was allotted between rows to allow walking space to enhance monitoring of students and ease of circulation. A seating chart was established that included a boy/girl arrangement in order to reduce distractions among students and lower the noise level. Secondly, once the structural needs of the classroom were addressed, specific rules for behavior were established. The rules, which included positive statements about remaining in assigned seats and being respectful toward one another, were identified with teacher and student collaboration and placed in front of the classroom.

Though these interventions were put into place, subsequent observations revealed that students continued to leave their seats without permission primarily seeking teacher assistance or attention. To remedy this, indexsized cards were made that contained a red side and a green side. The purpose of the cards was to reduce out of seat behavior by providing the students with a means to gain access to the teacher when they needed help without having to go to her or call out. Students who were working and did not need help were encouraged to place the green side of the card on their desks; however, when they had a question or needed assistance from the teacher they were asked to turn the card to the red side. The teacher was asked to observe student use of the cards in order to provide help to those students who had the red side of their card facing up. This intervention had the added benefit of encouraging the teacher to monitor student behavior as they worked by circulating the classroom.

Further, in order to give students a greater sense of responsibility and ownership of classroom activities, classroom jobs were established. Jobs included “line leader,” and “classroom monitor” as well as other tasks frequently engaged in classrooms. The job chart was placed in front of the classroom and the students were expected to complete the designated jobs daily.

During the last week it was observed that even with the changes and modifications in place, the classroom noise level continued to be higher than desired and students were not receiving praise for appropriate behavior. To address the high noise level, a colored chart was introduced that consisted of a visual display of appropriate voice levels for the classroom. Six different colors were used to indicate different voice levels; ranging from silence and whisper to “recess or outside voice.” A clip was used to indicate the appropriate noise level by providing a visual cue instead of a verbal cue from the teacher. The final intervention involved a system of reinforcement for appropriate and desired behavior. The teacher was shown how to reward students for following the established rules and noise level expectations (Hart, 2010). Students were given the opportunity to earn rewards that varied from praise to tangible rewards such as stickers. Finally, in order to increase fidelity of implementation from the teacher the interventions were modeled for her during one morning with a focus on circulating the classroom and providing praise to students. This allowed the teacher to observe the interventions and then practice them independently. When the students were at recess, the teacher received feedback on her performance.

Results

The last week of our time at the school was intended for gathering data about intervention fidelity. Due to the many interventions that were implemented and after attempting to gather fidelity data, it became clear that the teacher needed support in implementing the interventions as intended. Instead, we focused on modeling the interventions for the teacher and assisting her in carrying out the interventions on her own. By our final day, it was evident that the classroom environment had drastically changed from the first observation. The students were mostly seated in their seats, using the red/green cards, receiving praise from the teacher, and using appropriate voice levels. Most importantly, students were completing their assignments and listening to the teacher. Although, it may not have been to the ideal degree, the classroom environment had significantly improved and the teacher had gained additional strategies for behavior management that she previously did not use.

Conclusion

At the end of our practicum in the school, we wrote a report in Spanish to the principaldetailing our work in the school that ended with additional recommendations for the teacher to continue to improve her classroom management skills. Specifically, it was recommended that she be consistent with the interventions implemented in order for them to be effective (Simonsen, Myers, & DeLuca, 2010), as this had been a weakness during the final observations. She was encouraged to monitor student behavior by taking into account appropriate student use of the red/green cards and by praising those students who met her expectations. Other recommendations focused on providing her with strategies to gain and maintain student attention.

Since our return to the United States, we have been asked several times whether we would recommend this experience to others and, without question, we most certainly would. Not only were we able to apply our classroom knowledge and skills in a different country and in a different language, we were able to help one teacher gain skills in classroom management, a difficult area for any educator (Hammerness, 2011; Wubbels, 2011). We hope that this one teacher will share her knowledge with her colleagues and continue to apply the skills in her future classrooms; after all, our intention was to “give psychology away” (Miller, 1969).

References

Hammerness, K. (2011). Classroom management in the United States: A view from New York City. Teaching Education, 22, 151-167.

Hart, R. (2010). Classroom behavior management: Educational psychologists’ views on effective practice. Emotional and Behavioral Difficulties, 14, 353-371.

Miller, G. A. (1969). Psychology as a means of promoting human welfare. American Psychologist, 24, 1063–1075.

Simonsen, B., Myers, D., & DeLuca, C. (2010). Teaching teachers to use prompts, opportunities to respond, and specific praise. Teacher Education and Special Education, 33, 300-318.

Unidad de Servicios para la Educación Básica en el Estado de Querétaro. (2012). Estadística del Sistema Educativo Estatal.

Wubbels, T. (2011). An international perspective on classroom management: What should prospective teachers learn? Teaching Education, 22, 113-131.

About the Authors

Cindy Adame-Hernandez is a fourth year graduate student pursuing a doctoral degree in school psychology at Texas A&M University. Cindy is the recipient of the Doctoral Training Grant (DTELL) which emphasizes building cross-cultural competencies to better serve English Language Learners and their families. Her research interests focus on the home literacy environment of Spanish-speaking Hispanic families.

Ivonne Estrella is a fourth year graduate student pursuing a doctoral degree in school psychology at Texas A&M University. Ivonne is a recipient of the Doctoral Training Grant (DTELL). Her research interests focus on the self-efficacy of teachers who work with English Language Learners.

Brenda A. Gámez is a fourth year graduate student pursuing a doctoral degree in school psychology at Texas A&M University. She is a recipient of the Graduate Diversity Fellowship Award and the Doctoral Training Grant (DTELL). Her research interests include early literacy among English Language Learners and the effect of teacher language on children's vocabulary.

Note: The work conducted at the school could not have been possible without the assistance of our professor Dr. Anita McCormick and graduate students Andrea Dennison, Catharina Carvalho, and Fara.