Imagine a classroom in which every student is engaged, learning, and succeeding throughout the entire class block. Too often that scenario is simply not reality. Every learner is different. Every student learns best under slightly different conditions. However, there are a few variables that we can control to create an environment in our classrooms that is most effective for our learners each year.
Value of the Teacher
We live in a technology-filled world where students can learn all of their content online. Students can now access literature, mathematical formulas, and research that were once difficult to bring into a classroom. Entire degree programs are offered online by colleges and universities all over the world. However, the teacher plays a valuable and necessary role in the learning of each student in the classroom.
Teachers build relationships with their students. These relationships build trust. A student is much more likely to learn new content from an adult they trust than a computer program. When a teacher works hard to show he or she cares about each student, it pays off! Students feel cared for and are more willing to work hard for that teachers.
Teachers also make sound instructional decisions by guiding and filtering resources. While it is fantastic that students can access so many ideas and so much research online, it can be overwhelming to sift through it all to determine what is worth reading. Teachers can determine the value of an online resource much faster and bring into the classroom resources that match the curriculum taught.
A teacher is also the one who creates the learning environment. While they are an integral part of the environment, they are also the driving force behind the decisions. The teacher sets the classroom flow. The teacher determines the role of the students as passive or active throughout each lesson. Without an effective teacher who pays attention to the environment he or she is creating, the entire classroom could fall into chaos.
Allow Student Choices
Many researchers are citing student choice as a top way to increase the effectiveness of your learning environment. Student choice can be as simple as student seating or as complicated as allowing students to investigate topics of personal interest.
While most teachers must stick to the curriculum assigned by the school system, there is always flexibility in how to approach the content. Teachers can offer students a choice of how to research the content, how to represent their new understandings, and how to present their learning to their peers. When students have the ability to make some decisions, they take greater ownership of their learning which increases motivation and perseverance.
Bring Music Into Your Classroom
Even in the non-musical classroom, integrating music is proven to greatly influence the performance of students. Many researchers focused on brain-based learning, have cited a strong connection between creating music in the classroom and student achievement.
Music also houses sensory information. For example, have you ever heard a song on the radio, and it transported you to another day and time in your memory? Many teachers are learning how to tap into our brain’s ability to connect ideas, feelings, and emotions to a song. For some students, using music in the classroom opens a wide door of educational creativity.
In addition to playing music in the background as students work, researchers are also praising the use of music as an instructional tool. Teachers are finding more and more creative ways to introduce content through song. Using our content-based songs and music videos allows students to feel comfortable in their learning environment and have a little fun while they learn. While the passive act of music listening certainly has learning benefits, the most effective learning occurs when students create songs of their own.
Provide Beneficial Feedback
Every teacher assesses his or her students, but far fewer effectively give feedback. “Good job” or “Try harder next time” are not examples of feedback that make a difference with students. When a teacher gives very specific feedback that encourages growth by suggesting next steps or gives specific praise, student outcomes change.
The following example is an effective form of feedback: “Nice job on your narrative. Your characters were developed well by describing what they say and do. Each character went through some sort of change throughout the story. Next time, consider introducing some character traits through dialogue between the characters. See me if you need a mentor text describing this technique.”
Encourage Goal Setting and Growth Mindsets
Another great way to increase effectiveness in your learning environment is with goal setting. When students set their own learning goals, they are more motivated to work towards them. They create action plans outlining the steps they need to take to reach their goals.
This entire process creates a growth mindset. Students and teachers see that each student is capable of moving forward and making progress. Barriers are attacked, and new goals are set to continue growth.
Promote Self-Efficacy (For Teachers and Students)
When a student believes in their ability to succeed, or a teacher believes in their ability to positively impact the learning of the students, the effectiveness of the classroom skyrockets. Researcher John Hattie determined that teacher efficacy and student self-efficacy were the top factors contributing to student learning effectiveness.
Make Sure Students Feel Safe
One of the greatest factors contributing to the effectiveness of the learning environment is the perception of safety for students. In a physical sense, students need to be aware of how to best protect themselves in the case of an attack. Unfortunately, our students see all too often the aftermath of school tragedies. It is necessary to explain a plan of action to students in preparation of event that hopefully will never occur.
Likewise, students must perceive that they are safe emotionally and mentally. We must create an environment or culture within our classrooms that allow students to make mistakes, take risks, and understand that failure is simply another step along the journey.
By making a few small changes, a teacher can greatly impact the effectiveness of his or her learning environment. It has far less to do with how long a teacher has been teaching, and far more to do with the intentionality of the teacher. Creating a highly effective learning environment takes careful thought and implementation of strategies. Fortunately, these are changes we are all capable of putting in place. In fact, when it comes to student outcomes, we can’t afford to not make these changes.