Upon first glance, effective learning environments may be viewed simply as classrooms that are conducive to receiving instruction. Perhaps this means good lighting, little distracting noise, supplies at the ready, etc. In reality, learning environments encompass much more than the physical surroundings in a classroom. Learning environments impact the social, emotional, physical and academic well-being of students. Schools are now realizing that “the elements that make up school climate—including peer relationships, students’ sense of safety and security, and the disciplinary policies and practices they confront each day—play a crucial part in laying the groundwork for academic success.” (Editorial, 2013).
Three types of learning environments are student centered, assessment centered, and knowledge centered. (National Research Council, 2000) A student focused learning environment accounts for the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and beliefs that students bring with them to the classroom. Such environments foster respect, feelings of safety, and positive rapport among class members. (p. 133-136) In this artifact I have described three students who will serve as focus students and will be featured in lesson descriptions that illustrate aspects of the learning environment described in this Meta-Reflection. This entire series can be found through this link on WordPress. The student description blog referenced previously demonstrates a student centered environment as each child’s learning style and personality is considered. Further, the classroom dialogue recorded throughout this series of blogs reflects positive interactions and a safe environment. A safe environment is particularly important for one student, Kelsey (pseudonym), who tends to stay back and not take educational risks. To further illustrate a student centered environment, this blog features the use of a KWL chart prior to a visit to a pumpkin farm. Through this activity I was able to promote student centered learning as we gathered information that students brought with them to the activity.
An environment that provides for open ended dialogue encourages students to become more articulate and further develops their language. Student thoughts and voices should be honored in the classroom. One way this can be encouraged is through an online discussion forum. Catlin Tucker in Education Week (2012) suggests that online forums can empower students who would otherwise not speak out to participate and allow their voices to be heard. Student voices should also be heard and valued outside of the immediate classroom. Stu Silberman (2012) considers this notion when he suggests that student opinions be heard in regards to teacher evaluations.
A knowledge centered environment fosters student learning that stretches their knowledge base and promotes transfer of learning to new contexts. (National Research Council, 2000, p. 136) In this artifact students engage in a lesson on patterns and must transfer past learning to a new situation. Students also engage in a knowledge centered environment as they work through an unfamiliar and challenging math problem using higher order thinking skills in this artifact. Here students received minimal guidance and had access to manipulatives to guide their own learning.
Different learning environments serve different purposes and the effectiveness of each environment is dependent upon the characteristics of the learner as well as the content. I have become much more aware of the importance of considering the environment in which students receive new knowledge and am inspired to do all I can to create fertile ground so their knowledge can take root.
Editorial: “Schools aim to craft environment for learning” [Editorial]. (January 4, 2013). Education Week, Retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2013/01/10/16execsum.h32.html?qs=learning+environment
National Research Council. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind experience and school (expanded ed.). Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
Silverman, S. (2012, October 9). The importance of student voices. In Education Week. Retrieved August 24, 2013, from http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/engagement_and_reform/2012/10/_the_importance_of_student_voices.html?qs=student+voices
Tucker, C. (2012, September 25). Giving every student a voice through online discussion. In Education Week. Retrieved August 24, 2013, from http://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2012/09/25/fp_tucker_voice.html?qs=student+communication