How to Create a Positive Learning Environment
The debate about the ideal learning environment has been ongoing through the centuries, and the shape and style of classrooms has shifted to meet different needs and follow different visions about learning. What makes this debate exciting is the many learning settings that have developed, from seminars to apprenticeships to mixed-age classrooms and self-paced online courses. There is most likely no single best learning environment, as different elements are conducive to different types of learning, but there are certain things about all positive, inclusive learning environments that help children to thrive.
Positive Classroom Climate
When picturing a learning environment, it’s important to think beyond the physical classroom or space where learning takes place, considering all the things that make up the classroom dynamic. Is there a specific lesson structure or a looser collection of activities? What is the relationship between the teacher and students, and between the students themselves? Do the children know what to expect? Do they look forward to learning? A lot goes on behind the scenes that shapes the classroom climate.
Studies consistently show that stress inhibits learning, both breaking down confidence and making it difficult to retrieve memories. Stress doesn’t just lower test scores, it also discourages kids from engaging with learning activities and builds on an internal sense of helplessness. Meanwhile, a positive learning environment encourages free thought and collaboration, providing a safe space for kids to try new things.
Small Inclusive Groups
Even as classroom sizes grow, there are ways to make learning groups smaller, and there are several reasons to make this a priority. No matter how much thought they put into the lesson plan, a teacher speaking to 30 to 40 kids at once is bound to leave some children in the dust. Only a few kids may raise their hands and it will be tough to tell how the rest are doing with the lesson. By breaking into small groups, the lesson turns into a conversation in which kids can ask each other questions, learn by teaching, and work together using a variety of types of learning. There are different ways groups can be assigned for different projects, such as grouping kids by reading level or intentionally keeping groups mixed, where kids’ unique skills and interests can complement each other.
Flexible Lesson Plans
A lesson should be responsive to the needs and interests of the class, able to adapt or change gear as opportunities arise. One great way to capture the children’s interest is to provide a choice of two activities; these should be genuine choices the class can make together, both supporting the goals of the lesson. The pace and course of the lesson should follow the needs of the class, which is easiest with smaller groups in which everyone feels comfortable communicating. While there may be an overarching goal, such as naming all the states in the United States, the lesson can wander a bit to explore different topics: kids sharing their experiences visiting other states, checking out the climate in different parts of the country, and other things that will make the lesson more meaningful.
Evolving Learning Environment
An environment that’s conducive to learning can look very different as children develop, yet retain the same framework. Kids may learn best when calm and focused, but they can’t stay calm and focused forever. This is why modern schools break up learning times with recess and lunch, ideally in separate spaces so kids know when to pay attention and when to let loose. But seeing the exact same classroom environment each day can also wear away at children’s interest. Keeping things dynamic—sometimes entering the classroom to see mysterious objects or instructions on their desks, sometimes gathering on the floor—makes unique lessons exciting and sparks new interest. Our language development toys are designed to evolve, encouraging kids to interact in new and unique ways while practicing speech and language skills. Keeping things fresh doesn’t just keep kids interested, it supports different types of learning as kids expand on their skills and interests.
In the end, there are more aspects of a positive learning environment than can be quantified. From powerful learning moments to subtle choices in the classroom design, each makes up the classroom climate. From focused, one-on-one tutoring to learning in a large classroom, each learning environment can be made positive by focusing on these elements.
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