OPENING CLASSROOMS: INSTRUCTIONAL PRACTICES AND STUDENT EXPERIENCE AS PREDICTORS OF OPEN CLASSROOM CLIMATE FOR DISCUSSION
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Since the 1970’s, work on civic education has identified the importance of open classroom climate for discussion (OCC), or “the extent to which students experience their classrooms as places to investigate issues and explore their opinions and those of their peers,” as one of the most effective practices to support political socialization, build civic knowledge, and develop citizenship. Further, there is evidence that access to OCC is not equitably distributed, and that urban or underprivileged students are most likely to miss out. While policy could play a role in increasing access to OCC, relatively little work exists on the determinants of open classroom climates themselves, especially the role of teacher instructional practices. This study seeks to identify the relationships between teacher instructional practices and OCC in secondary social studies settings using a mixed methods explanatory sequential design. First, I use the 1999 IEA CivEd dataset in order to identify which teacher instructional practices are the strongest predictors of student perceptions of an open classroom climate for discussion. Second, I examine whether and to what extent these effects are moderated by students’ socioeconomic backgrounds. Overall, I find that teacher practices can and do predict student perceptions of OCC, and that some of these relationships vary by student socioeconomic background. Finally, I undertake a qualitative study in Miami Dade County Public Schools to explore how the behaviors, relationships, and beliefs of students and teachers within classrooms define when and how teacher practices allow an open climate to manifest. I find that before teachers can focus on using instructional practice to foster OCC, they must separately create an environment in which students feel safe and respected.