Learning environments

I have been researching what a positive and good learning environment looks like. There are two aspects that affect the learning environment in a classroom:

  1. The environment created by the teacher
  2. The physical environment

Environment created by the teacher

Let me start with a great notion by Dr Ginott, who eloquently expresses how important the role of the teacher is in setting the “climate in the classroom”:

Peter Goss and Julie Sonneman from the Grattan Institute have written a report called “Engaging students: creating classrooms that improve learning” They identify the following key aspects of a successful and engaging classroom:

  • High expectations
  • Strong teacher-student relationships
  • Clarity and structure in instruction
  • Active learning
  • Encouragement and constructive praise
  • Consistent corrections and consequences

The importance of high expectations  by the teacher is also echoed by  John Hattie’s meta-analyses, which seems to wax and wane in the education world. Hattie also points to teachers having “collective efficacy” as the factor which has the highest impact on student succes.

Physical environment

There is some research available that the physical environment also plays a role in learning, but most of the research focuses on early-childhood settings which I doubt extrapolates to highschool students.

  • Reggio Emilia founder Loris Malaguzzi  said: “There are three teachers of children: adults, other children, and their physical environment.”
  • Also by authors writing about Reggio Emilia (Edwards, Gandini, and Foreman, 1998, p.177): “In order to act as an educator for the child, the environment has to be flexible: It must undergo frequent modification by the children and the teachers in order to remain up to date and responsive to their need to be protagonists in constructing their knowledge. All the things that surround people in the school and which they can use — the objects, the materials, and the structures — are not seen as passive elements, but on the contrary, are seen as elements that condition and are conditioned by the actions of the children and adults who are active in it.”

A must-read on the physical learning environment is a post by Ollie Lovell, (http://www.ollielovell.com/tot/classroomdisplays/) who uses a widely reported study from 2014 entitled “Visual Environment, Attention Allocation, and Learning in Young Children: When Too Much of a Good Thing May Be Bad” (Fisher et al., 2014) which found that kindergarten-aged children were distracted by a heavily decorated classroom.  It’s a problematic study though: the sample size was small and the children were young, which makes it hard to apply to teenagers.

The article How Comfortable Classrooms Lead to a Better Student Community focusses on the effects of the built environment on student learning:  “Features of any architectural environment can have an influence certain brain processes such as those involved in stress, emotion and memory (Edelstein 2009).  Unfortunately I cannot change the built environment so I am focussing my research on what I can influence: What is on the walls.

An interesting study (via Clarissa Grandi)  found that the following  physical aspects of a classroom on student academic achievement:

I distilled this into the following, and tried to make it applicable to the physical environment at my school. Some of this is also inspired by a blog post on Responsive Classrooms: 

  • The walls reflect the learning. Classroom displays connect with, emerge from, and expand students’ knowledge about topics studied
  • Wall space is shared by all users of that classroom.
  • Most of the classroom displays are works created by students.
    Other general and relevant displays complement the learning.
  • Displays are kept fresh and useful. Involve students in maintenance of the classroom and the displays. Keep some older work as a reminder or for revision.

How Comfortable Classrooms Lead to a Better Student Community