By Kelly Warfield, Editorial director of Teacher Products, Carson-Dellosa™ Publishing Group.
We can all think back on the school environments of our youth and reflect on the classes we preferred, the topics we found most engaging, and the teachers who blew us away. But what about the classroom surroundings that supported that education? Were there specific activities, environments, or rules that seemed more conducive to learning than others? And what about the classrooms of today?
How can we set up our classrooms to the best of our ability with the physical, structural, and psychological support necessary to provide our students with an idyllic learning environment? Through studies, statistics, and trial and error, we’ve learned some things about classroom environments and how they can affect student performance.
Cooperation and Relevance
Creating a cooperative learning environment has both a positive social and educational impact on each participating student. Cooperation is a critical skill that has far-reaching effects and can help your students in the classroom, as well as in their day-to-day lives. Cooperation helps students explore and celebrate the diversity among them, overcome their differences, learn by actively listening, work as a team, develop stronger interpersonal skills, relate to their peers, create new friendships, improve their social interactions, gain additional feedback from their peers, and exchange new ideas. All of these benefits contribute to a better, more comprehensive learning environment.
Successful learning environments also require that learning objectives be relevant to your students and their lives outside of the classroom. Without the ability to explore how information applies to daily life, your students are less likely to engage in their lessons and commit that information to memory.
Astoundingly, research findings suggest that the physical environment can have such an impact on students that it could affect a student’s academic progress by as much as 25%. Color, classroom organization, cleanliness, sufficient supplies, and bright lights can enhance learning experience and boost student achievement. Alternatively, crowded rooms and a high-density of students often results in lower student achievement and a poorer student disposition. Research suggests that students need 2-4 feet of personal space in order to feel satisfactorily uncrowded and get the most out of their learning environment. In addition, students who get involved in the creation of their environment (through artwork, configuration, or participation in the physical dynamics of the classroom) experience a sense of empowerment and community that can help increase their overall motivation.
Disorganized classrooms can take the focus away from learning. Furniture should be in good condition to help students remain comfortable and centered on their studies. Desks and chairs that are in disrepair can be distractingly uncomfortable, and a lack of seating, visibility, and comfort can pull student attention away from lessons. Seating that is well-spaced and comfortable can provide your students with a good vantage point from which to see the entire lesson clearly. Proper seating also gives you the ability to walk freely between desks and provide each student with personal attention when necessary.
Teacher Behavior, Positivity, Motivation, and Clear Structure
The psychological classroom environment is just as important as the physical one. Instructors who exhibit calm and rational behavior can help maintain a supportive environment that encourages student learning. Without the proper support, students risk study anxiety, poor performance, and negative behavior. A supportive and engaging learning environment is a critical ingredient in the recipe for student success.
Positivity is the mainstay of an active and supportive learning environment. Positive actions support a happy learning experience, affect problem-solving and decision-making, lead to better performance and improved social environments, and help each student achieve set goals and perform at his or her best.
Along with positivity, motivation is the fuel on which education runs. Students who feel motivated and proud of their actions will engage in more positive behavior and achieve better results.
Rules and structure are also important. Establishing a consistent code of conduct can help lead students towards success. By outlining positive and negative behaviors and their consequences, you can establish fair and distinct rules under which your students can take their place and learn. By establishing a code of conduct, your classroom can run with a fundamental understanding of expectations between you and your students.
Nutrition is an often overlooked factor in the success of educational surroundings, but it deserves its fair share of attention. Without proper nutritive support, students lack the ability to properly focus on coursework and retain information. Good nutrition builds better learners, and good choices promote better outcomes. Healthy snacks and well-rounded meals support learning, whereas junk foods and meals high in sugar can affect attention, mood, concentration, and motivation. Educational settings should promote healthy, whole foods, not quick-fix foods like candy bars, chips, and sodas.
As educators, we want our students to succeed and receive the best instruction possible. Although lesson plans and educational goals are the foundation of learning, the environment also plays a strong role in the success and support of every student. Materials, décor, furniture, nutrition, positivity, consistency, and clear rules and expectations are all facets of a productive student learning experience and effective classroom setup.
Kelly Warfield is the editorial director of teacher products for Carson-Dellosa™ Publishing Group. Driven by her passion for children and their education, Kelly has been helping children all of her life as a camp counselor, tutor, summer school teacher, classroom volunteer, PTA member, and teacher. Kelly received her bachelor of science in deaf education from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with Birth—12 Deaf and Hard of Hearing Teacher Licensure. Her teaching experience includes second grade, as well as being an elementary school resource room and a self-contained elementary deaf-education class teacher. During her first year as a teacher, Kelly was awarded her school’s Rookie Teacher of the Year Award.