How to Improve Your Learning Environment in Three Steps
Making schools exciting and contemporary places to learn can seem like a daunting task. How is an under-funded public school going to be able to afford the resources to compete with schools who have rooms filled with the newest tech, on-site theatres, state of the art laboratories, and endless art supplies?
Well the good news is it doesn’t have to be expensive to make the classroom a better place to learn, in fact it can be totally free! Here are our recommendations to update your classroom today.
1. Make it feel like home
‘One day I realized that it’s true for me, when I’m relaxed I learn better. A better environment feels like home,’ says Metin Ferhatoglu, Director of Technology at Robert College in Istanbul.
It seems obvious, but we all learn better when we’re relaxed. You might not necessarily be able to afford comfy chairs or be able to let students wear their own clothing instead of school uniforms, but there are small ways to make the classroom more homey.
‘(in my school) they wouldn’t wear shoes on the carpet. I see schools like that all over the world that make students feel really relaxed,’ says Ferhatoglu.
It can be as simple as allowing students to take off their shoes or sitting in groups rather than in straight rows facing the front. Or perhaps, when they’re doing group work you can allow them to work wherever they would like in the school, as long as they’re not disturbing anyone, and then come back at a certain time to present their work to the class.
By allowing a little freedom you can instantly create a better atmosphere which makes it easier and more natural for learning to happen.
2. Let them collaborate
This is particularly true for older school children, but can be used in lower grades to help build social and collaborative skills. One of the main draws of school is to see friends. Many children aren’t enthused by what they’re learning and they may not seem to care, however they do want to see their friends and hang out. So why not incorporate this into learning to make it seem more fun and accessible?
‘Adolescent students come to school because their friends are there - they are rarely in school for school. We have to take into consideration that they want to be together, and so they should be given the possibility to learn together collaboratively.’ says CEO and founder of Paths to Maths, Maarit Rossi.
This again can be implemented in your next class. Reworking a lesson plan to include group work or individual work where they can collaborate if they want to, not only allows children to socialise – which is really what they’d rather be doing – but to also take leadership of their own learning.
It can also strengthen the relationship between the teacher and the student. As Rafe Esquith, founder of the Hobart Shakespeareans, explains, ‘I think the most important emotion in the classroom is trust. (...) When I give students trust, they are so grateful that they don’t break it. They’re honored to have it.’
It’s easy to not notice but rarely do we give school children trust and freedom to take ownership of their learning. Which is understandable, we can worry that if we give them too much freedom they won’t do the work, will get bad grades and then you – the teacher – will not have done your job properly.
However, if you approach teenage students as if they are adults who are capable of their own work, which they are, they will appreciate being approached as a contemporary rather than beneath the teacher. It’s a balancing act of refocusing the relationship into one of trust and mutual appreciation. Tricky to do, but not impossible!
3. Make it relatable
Most of the time in school students don’t really understand why they’re learning something. The focus too often is on getting good grades so that they can go onto a good university or build a stable career. The subjects themselves are remote and inaccessible, just a means to moving on to something better, rather than helping to shape their knowledge and their skill sets.
Education needs to take the people who it’s for, the school children, into account. As Valerie Hannon, Director of the Innovation Unit, explains, ‘Personalization means that the passions and interests of young people as well as their choices and their voice are really taken into account. I think a personalized learning environment will be one where young people feel valued, feel known, feel that their interests are important and where learning is anywhere and everywhere.’
The teacher’s role in this is paramount. Jennifer Camulli, Head of Coordinated Student Services at the International School of Macao, talked about this in her interview with us, ‘teachers need to be flexible and innovative in the classroom. They need to understand how to take a certain lesson and adapt it to the individual students in the class.’
Rafe Esquith, Founder of the Hobart Shakespeareans, told us how he has made his subject relevant in his own classroom, ‘The role of a teacher is to make learning fun and to show the children the relevance of the reading to their own life. A great book is not about the characters in the book, it’s about you. (...) That’s the teacher’s role – connecting the work and making it relevant to the children’s lives.’
By involving children in the topic they’re studying you enrich the learning experience. Not only do they feel heard and important, they get to take ownership of their understanding and can go on to independently tackle a subject as they understand why they’re studying it and how it relates to them.
Sometimes environments aren’t just about the physical, but the mental. Surely the most important environment for learning is an active imagination and mind?
Johan Brand, Founder of Kahoot!, one of the fastest growing learning brands in the world, spoke to us about the potential of the classroom. ‘The beautiful thing about theatre, games, or cinema – all these storytelling devices – is that you’re creating a world in between the sets, imagining things. The classroom can do the same thing. It can be a place where a problem is connected to a feeling. It can be acted out in different ways. That’s what a learning environment is – a trusted space where you can set your imagination free.’
If you can take your class outside, then take them outside! If you have access to immersive technology, then great – utilize it. But the most important way to make learning happen is to create the environment that makes it easiest to occur. That doesn’t mean a lot of tech or being outside all of the time, but to make it relatable, make kids comfortable, and to let them discover things together and independently. These are the foundations to make learning happen, everything else is just the icing on the cake.
Find more from our interviewees here:
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