School is a place to learn. That's the basic principle we teach our children from the first day we send them to school, and it's the driving force behind the quest the create the best learning environment for them. We build new schools, hire good teachers, regularly evaluate new teaching styles and constantly tweak our classrooms to create the best learning environment for the students.
Yet despite our constant focus on finding what's best, the search still continues. After all, we are constantly learning more about what helps them learn. So, let's examine the importance of effective learning environments, and how to create one of your own.
Assess the effectiveness of your space
To know what you might want to change in your classrooms, you need to know just how effective your learning environment is. The education blog, teachthought, has identified various signs – beyond test results – that you can look for to assess how well your students are learning. First off, if your students are asking more questions than you are, that's a sign they're engaged.
Speaking of being engaged, it's another good sign if you know your students well. The better you know your students, the more likely it is that you've created a space to facilitate those connections. This is an increasingly important priority to embrace, as trends toward personalized learning highlight the need to know your students so that you know how to reach them.
While you consider how well you're able to teach each individual student, you should also determine whether students know where they stand in terms of expectations for behavior and academics. If students persistently express a disconnect between the way they perceive themselves and the way they actually perform or behave, then there's a lack of clarity that could probably be improved. Your classroom space could be full of opportunities to facilitate that kind of change.
An 'essential piece' of classroom management
Once you've got a better handle on how effective your learning environment is, it's time to look at ways to improve it, no matter how effective it is already.
TeachHUB.com, a professional development blog for teachers, calls the physical setup of your learning environment an “essential piece” of classroom management. TeachHUB backs that up by citing a study from the University of Salford in the United Kingdom that found a well-designed classroom can boost student achievement by 25 percent.
One of the biggest ways you can change your classroom is through seating arrangements. When you think about it, student seating takes up the majority of space in a classroom, so it's critical to think about the way desks, tables and chairs are arranged. The configuration you choose can go a long way toward putting students in the right mindset.
For teacher-focused activities, the desks should face the front of the room. On the other hand, if the day's lesson calls for students to interact with each other, you might want to arrange the desks into clusters or semicircles.
Teaching to all learners
When arranging the seating, think about students' social, emotional and practical needs, too. Some students might do best seated near the door. Others might do better by the window, or in the front of the class – or in the back, for that matter.
This is what they mean when they say you must teach to all learners. Medical conditions, mental or physical disabilities, emotional issues or scheduling complications could all be factors influencing who sits where.
Considering the impact the seating arrangement has on classroom dynamics, consider establishing a firm seating chart. Students benefit from the sense of calm brought by predictability, and seating charts can help provide that feeling while also establishing a sense of order.
To that point, don't forget to create an area in the classroom dedicated to you, the teacher. Claim a spot near an outlet for your computer, and in a corner where you can scan the whole classroom. Preferably, pick a location next to a window. The natural light will do wonders for your eyes and general mental outlook.
It will also make your life easier to make clear what kinds of behavior are allowed in what parts of the room, TeachHUB advises. Students could be instructed to keep quiet in the classroom library, for instance, while the active learning area across the room allows for more boisterous behavior.
You can make your expectations yet more clear by placing classroom items in a well-organized manner. That way, when students get up to fetch the stapler, for instance, they know where it is, and know they can't get away with wandering the room.
Use the walls
You've only got so much real estate on which to mold young minds, so don't waste space. Use every square foot of your classroom to support learning, including the walls. TeachHUB is to the rescue again with suggestions for what to do with them.
You can use the walls to convey practical information such as assignments and classroom procedures, or use them as places for quotes, posters or classroom awards. Literacy resources such as word walls are another possibility.
The benefit of modern environments
Many of the above changes can be accomplished by setting aside a little time after school or on the weekend. Other changes, meanwhile, require more time to make happen, and probably more money.
A study of Washington, D.C., schools showed the investment can be worth it, though. Looking at students in kindergarten through eighth grade, the nine-school study found a substantial benefit to a modernized learning environment. general modernization of the environment.
The study examined factors such as thermal comfort, air quality, acoustics, and daylight, finding that students were 25% more proud to go to school in the modernized buildings where those factors were prioritized. Meanwhile, students were 16% happier, 18% calmer, 17% healthier and 16% more ready to learn in the modernized classrooms.
Take advantage of technology
The upshot of all this analysis is that students who are more at ease tend to learn better. One way to promote such peace of mind is to assure them there's a plan in case of an emergency in the building.
Technology is playing an increasing role in how buildings respond to potential emergencies, be they fires, severe weather or lockdown scenarios. Integrated communications and emergency systems such as American Time's EverAlert make it easier for staff to coordinate responses to these emergencies.
EverAlert uses audio messages, tones, and screens placed throughout the building to disseminate vital information such as exit routes, shelter areas, and other special instructions. Additionally, certain aspects of an emergency response, such as the notification of authorities, can be automated with EverAlert.
The system also comes in handy during non-emergencies as a means to deliver everyday information such as lunch schedules and announcements, again contributing to the sense of calm and order that is so important to student success.