Using learning maps to foster sense of belonging in elementary students
Teachers have always known about the importance of positive adult and peer relationships in the classroom. However, time and curriculum pressures can lead some teachers to avoid developing an interconnected learning environment that enhances students' sense of belonging. The purpose of this study was to explore how to foster an elementary classroom learning environment that develops a rich sense of student belonging. The researcher was also examining their teaching experience in this process, especially related to refining their practice with academic and social collaborative learning. The researcher sought to answer two questions: 1) What is the experience of a teacher using various teaching practices including student learning maps and collaborative learning to advance their capability of fostering students' sense of belonging? and 2) To what extent can learning maps act as an indicator of change in students' sense of belonging? The researcher's three sources for data were a literature review on sense of belonging and collaborative learning, a researcher's reflective journal over five months, and action research producing a series of three student learning maps completed over the same time. Analysis of the data revealed academic and social benefits of students' sense of belonging, effective strategies for collaborative learning, and the researcher's teaching experience in fostering sense of belonging in their students. It is proposed that learning maps, while having many limitations, can be used to indicate change in students' sense of belonging through examining changes on student's maps over time in a ratio of students' areas for growth compared to students' strengths and connections. Finally, the researcher explains that their own journey as a new teacher with collaborative learning and sense of belonging mirrors the experience of his own students.