What simple change can I make to my teaching environment to improve learning?
We asked Independent Thinking Associate and author Claire Gadsby and this is what she had to say
Scroll down for the full transcript of Claire's great answer
So, today we are thinking about simple, single changes that you can make to your learning environment in order to improve the learning for your students.
I'll draw attention to the very deliberate irony - I’m presenting to you about exciting, learning environments with a deliberately blank white wall behind me so, forgive me for that!
But, perhaps as I’m talking you could be challenging yourself to imagine the things that I’m describing appearing on the boring wall behind me and the difference that that might make to engagement.
So, I’m going to start today by hitting you with a statistic, are you ready?!
2,100 days or ten and a half thousand hours - that's an enormous number and it represents the amount of time that a student spends in a physical classroom environment, between the ages of 5 and 16.
I'll just say it again 2,100 days/ten and a half thousand hours!
In other words, a huge chunk of your childhood confined to a physical space and, what interests me enormously, is how we can start as educators to use that learning environment to impact positively on teaching and learning.
An Extension Of You
My first tip is to begin to think of your physical learning environment as an extension of you and your personality - all the things you believe in, all the things you would fight for as an educator, what really matters for you and your students and the question is; can people see that by looking at your classroom environment?
Now, I’m not suggesting the funky mug that you've got in the corner, the film poster… I don't mean that level of personality but I mean your beliefs and your philosophies.
Hook a Child’s Eye
For example, if you're a teacher that tells me that you care passionately about creativity, about problem solving and about high levels of challenge for your students then I'd be scanning your classroom looking for the evidence of that - what is it that hooks a child's eye as they step into your learning arena?
Is there a big challenge question sitting on that wall or something that in a moment of daydreaming would snag a child's eye and with their imagination they would start thinking about that question, they would be provoked by perhaps a controversial statement.
I love to use those with the students to give them something that they're going to respond to, but with passion and energy - you want the gut response, the heart response, the head response. Watch children come at you when you put something controversial in front of them.
Now, as I’m describing physical learning environments, I’m aware of the other big irony as I’m talking to you in the middle of a global pandemic where most teaching is happening online for most of us, but I would argue these same principles are just as applicable to online teaching and possibly even more so.
So, when I say wall or classroom, please just substitute that for PowerPoint slide, virtual environment and the same principles can and do apply.
Wake the Sleeping Giant
So, first and foremost it's an extension of you and the things that you believe in and then second thing to say is that we can really, really wake up this sleeping giant that is the learning environment.
The Reggio Emilia approach to education, for example, describes three teachers; the teacher teacher, pupils as teachers and the physical environment as the third teacher.
I find that a tremendously exciting notion. The fact that this thing that's around us, that perhaps we've not considered, has yet to reach its full potential when it comes to challenging learners as an active learning component.
What Have the Egyptians Ever Done For Us?
Can I give you one very specific example?
We all know how important vocabulary is and the research just to remind us says that ‘There is no single bigger cause of academic underachievement, than pupils lack of appropriate vocabulary’, emphasize that word appropriate.
So, let's just imagine I’m teaching in key stage two and I’m looking at the topic of the Egyptians and, a really important word would be ‘pyramid’.
In the first teaching, I want them to read the word ‘pyramid’. We'll read it several times and we'll get familiar with that word.
But, there comes a point when the functional act of reading the word is a relatively low tariff and a low challenge activity.
So, let's assume that the next time the kids rock up to my lesson, online or in person, they aren't confronted by the word ‘pyramid’ any more as that prompt has gone, and they now simply have a challenge – P______.
Now, the brain doesn't like a blank. Automatically those students see ‘P’ and a long gap and they're remembering, they're trying to generate that word ‘’pyramid and, that's something that any one of us could do really easily as we take away a word and we start to challenge from the first letter.
This is based on Robert Bjork's important work about memory and long-term learning, through the principle of generation.
So, that's a tremendously easy thing to do.
I'd also be wanting to remind you of the idea of red herrings in learning.
So, in my classroom environment, on my PowerPoint screen, I’m also going to be routinely dropping in things that aren't right.
They're factually inaccurate and the challenge to all of my students, all of the time, is can you prove me wrong? Can you spot my very deliberate mistake?
I’m going to try and catch you out because surely my job as an educator in 2021 is as much to do with helping them to be critical consumers of information, wised-up citizens, as it is anything else.
I've run out of time as there's only five seconds left - it was so great to talk to you and I hope there's something there to intrigue you!
Do let me know how else I can help you with making learning effective in terms of environment and, keep safe and well everybody take care!"
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