“A learning environment will happen, whether intentional or not…so why not go about building a positive environment, intentionally.” – Rod Locero
Why Sociograms Are Valuable in Education
Research on social emotional learning suggests that students’ ability to learn is inextricably linked to the classroom environment. In order to feel comfortable trying new things and mastering new skills, kids must first feel safe and supported. A healthy classroom environment isn’t a neat bonus for kids. It’s essential for learning to occur.
So how can teachers nurture a healthy classroom environment?
In addition to observation and practical knowledge, formal data collection on classroom relationships can be instrumental in helping teachers create this positive classroom culture. Sociograms are one tool that can help teachers get valuable data about the class’s social relationships.
How to Create a Sociogram in a Classroom
To construct a class sociogram, ask each pupil to confidentially list two students to work with on an activity. The topic does not matter. In most cases, the social relationships will be relatively constant regardless of the activity. Make sure they put their own name on the top of the paper.
Write up this data as a chart. Different-sized circles, as in the diagram, give visual impact to these relationships and make it easy to discern the various degrees of popularity. This can be done either on a computer, or by hand tracing. Arrows indicate who is choosing whom.
How to Use a Sociogram to Improve Learning
Here are three patterns to look for when breaking down a class sociogram:
Isolates– One of the alerts a teacher gets from this is that there are both boys and girls – the isolates – who no one has chosen or who have only been chosen by another isolate. While it is wise to have a certain degree of philosophical skepticism in making initial assumptions about isolates, they are a cause for concern. You want to make sure they feel connected and supported in the classroom.
Gender– Another alert is the clear division between the boys and the girls. This may or may not be a cause for concern, but regardless, it’s valuable data.
Groups– There are several quite tight groups which may well merit some degree of skepticism. Are these groups “cliques” that exclude others?
If nothing else, the sociogram can be used as a guide for further, more focused, observation.
Beyond the Sociogram- Creating a Positive Environment
The social side of the classroom is perhaps equally important as, and inseparable from, the academic side. The school is the sea. The students are the fish. Only when the sea is healthy and at the right temperature can the fish thrive. Sociograms won’t necessarily give the teacher the answers to classroom social problems, but they can serve as a guide and a useful tool. They can help focus our awareness on students who may not feel connected and need extra attention. It’s simply another useful tool for teachers to use as they try to set up a supportive learning environment for every student.
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Alan Cooper BEd. BA. Dip Tchg. ANZIM, is a former teacher and principal, now education consultant specializing in Thinking Skills, Learning Styles, Multiple Intelligences, Habits of Mind, Emotional Learning, Professional Development Portfolios, Organisational Culture. He is based in New Zealand.