How to Achieve the Optimal Learning Environment in the Classroom
While many theories exist for how the classroom environment directly attributes to student success, there are common threads that you can use in your classroom practice no matter what level of learner you teach. Whether you are influenced by the historical lab school movement of John Dewey, the innovative early childhood work of Maria Montessori, or more modern theorists such as Howard Gardner, one thing is certain: classroom environment has been a subject of teacher consciousness for probably as long as there have been schools.
Consider the following:
Physical Classroom Space
As teachers, we expect that students come into our spaces ready to learn, but are the spaces conducive to teaching?
When possible the classroom should be lit with natural light and have at least a few windows that open. Although many climate controlled buildings do exist, the preference is for natural light and windows that open. The temperature should be on the cooler side; about 66-68 degrees Fahrenheit is optimal in winter to keep germ transmission down and also to prevent sleepiness in the classroom. Students should be encouraged to wear layers to regulate individual comfort levels.
Students of all ages come in various sizes and shapes so it is important to provide a variety of height chairs. Many modern schools opt for tables with various size chairs to increase comfort and promote group work.
By thoughtfully arranging the classroom, you can also control foot traffic patterns, set up work areas, organize hall pass processes, plan for work collection flow, and allow for the seating needs of a variety of learners. Some students will require individual seating, or might even need special accommodations that you will need to attend to in your classroom arrangement. When you are going to change the arrangement, let the students know ahead of time and if possible, involve them in the process.
In general best practice data shows that students respond best to clean lines, clear surfaces, and streamlined visual stimuli. Keep wall colors muted and soft. Display items for a unit in a clear, logical, and neat way. Use part of your wall space to celebrate student success; part of it to display housekeeping details; and part of it to support your current unit.
Involve students in a sense of classroom ownership through letting them discuss and post a short set of rules or norms that everyone signs and works towards. Involve students in setting up the classroom for your new units as much as possible. (Tennis balls on the bottom of chairs and table legs can help with this.) Creating a positive buzz about what you are getting ready to cover is one way to promote positive student interactions. Students of all ages generally respond well to being included in the process of enhancing the learning environment. Ownership over their environment has a positive effect on their learning.
How you set up the workflow procedures in your classroom, as well as how you decorate the physical space all contribute to the tone of your classroom environment. Being mindful of your student groupings, how you arrange your work centers, the level of productive noise you nurture, and the way you circulate among students during class time set the tone for learning. When you walk into a classroom that has productive tone, you can feel it. Veteran teachers will tell you that a positive classroom environment is carefully and strategically constructed. Skilled teachers spend years learning how to make the classroom environment their number one discipline tool.
Although nearly all best practice theory models call for small group interaction and hands-on learning, the reality of most teachers is that the numbers in the classroom can pose challenges to orchestrating best practice methods.
Taking a close and critical look at your classroom environment can help you create an arranged order that can boost intellectual engagement of student work groups. Carefully arranging the physical space with intent toward ordered work flow will help support your overall educational goals. Allowing students the opportunity to contribute toward the ownership of the classroom space will support discipline and group problem-solving. Taken all together, a more detailed orchestration of the classroom environment will set a positive and powerful tone of learning that will be clear to not only to you, but to your students, and to visitors.
Veteran teachers can tell you that having the knowledge and skills to create a productive classroom environment is the magic piece of the puzzle that complements all the pedagogical knowledge and turns pretty good classrooms into great ones.
Article supplied by Karen Lederer from Dominican University’s Masters in Elementary Education.