Characteristics of a positive learning environment
Creating a positive learning environment has overwhelmingly beneficial outcomes.
As you already know, a positive learning environment is vital to the success and happiness of your students and staff. Covid-19 will undoubtedly alter the way schools teach and learn. So many existing practices aimed at improving pupil wellbeing and boosting attainment will need a rethink. Luckily, you’ll have many of the tools you need at your disposal already, it’s just about re-jigging them to fit in a Covid-19 learning environment!
Here we’ll explore some common characteristics of a positive learning environment:
“Narrative imagining — story — is the fundamental instrument of thought. Rational capacities depend upon it. It is our chief means of looking into the future, or predicting, of planning, and of explaining.” – Mark Turner, cognitive scientist, linguist, and author.
We are never too old for a story. In fact, we all engage in story telling every day, recounting experiences, sharing thoughts and forming collective opinions. And storytelling can also form the basis of a positive learning environment for children too. For younger pupils, storytelling is key to cultivating healthy imaginations. We’ve talked before about how pupils with good imaginations can advance their all-round cognitive development and progress in all areas of the curriculum.
In a positive learning environment, students are encouraged to develop a natural enthusiasm for storytelling.
Exposing pupils of all ages to plentiful opportunities to see you read and to read, share and discuss books is vital. It also helps to make sure the books you use in class cover a wide range of backgrounds, genders, ethnicities, themes, storylines and genres to appeal to all pupils. Relevancy is key – while there will always be a place for the classics, it’s refreshing to include some newer and perhaps more topical works within your curriculum. This stimulates conversation and encourages pupils to discuss stories that resonate with their modern experiences.
Visually bringing texts alive is also a great way to encourage storytelling. For example, you can carry out activities that allow pupils to draw what they see in their mind when you read to them. Or you might encourage them to explain in their own words what they see in images, with no captions or descriptions.
There are mixed views about the value of playing music in the classroom. Some teachers believe it can aid concentration and help students focus on their learning. While others feel it’s a distraction. It really depends on the type of music you use and how or when you choose to play it. Some relaxing classical music works well as students are doing extended writing, answering questions on paper or computers or reading texts. It can also minimise noise and disruption from their surroundings.
However, there’s a place for louder, more upbeat music in the classroom too! If you’re trying to energise students, illustrate an emphatic point or illicit emotions, playing louder music can jolt their focus onto the subject at hand, or help them express their feelings.
You can encourage pupils to get involved too and ask them to bring along pieces of music that best match the topics you’re covering in the classroom. For example, what song would they choose to best depict their feelings about the World Wars? What track represents how they feel about the Covid-19, technology, events in History or the future? Music can evoke a range of emotions and is often connected to a positive learning environment.
Additional learning spaces
Social distancing will result in some different looking classrooms for pupils returning to school after lockdown. With pupils all facing forward and spread apart from each other, gone are the days of small groups of tables or students sitting comfortably together on beanbags and cushions. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get creative with your learning spaces.
For a start, many schools are turning to previously unused areas to create additional learning areas. Outdoor learning has become even more of a focus too. Similarly, stairwells, school halls, the school library and playing fields can all serve as additional spaces to support positive learning. In fact, almost any area of your school can be set up for learning with the right atmosphere and design.
In many industries, from technology to finance, we’re witnessing a big increase in personalisation and more humanised content. These days, websites, adverts and branding are all focused on people, rather than things. And brands spend millions of pounds each year to feature famous sportspeople, film stars and influencers in their adverts and branding campaigns. The reason is simple; people want a human connection.
The same applies to learning. Students connect best to their curriculum when they can feel an emotional attachment to what they’re learning about. For example, teachers often recount the story of an apple falling on Isaac Newton’s head to explain the concept of gravity. This resonates with students because it’s a simple, quite humorous story about a person that they can relate to. They’ll naturally want to know more about this poor chap – what happened next?! This leads to a discussion about the theory of gravity and how a simple experience shaped the Scientific knowledge and understanding we have today.
It’s a super exercise that can be used across multiple other subjects and theories too and links well with the benefits of storytelling mentioned earlier. Discussing people’s experiences in this way is useful for students of all ages and can adjust their mindset to one of positivity and enthusiasm for learning.
Using quotes from inspirational people can also help facilitate a positive learning environment. At Promote Your School, we’re often asked to install wall murals featuring famous quotes from inspirational people. Inspirational quotes can inspire students to take a positive interest in the content and fuels a natural enthusiasm for the subject matter.
Your school values play a big part in building a positive learning environment. In this time of uncertainty for students, your school values provide a solid foundation – and some much needed consistency. It’s helpful to find ways of reminding pupils about the values they’re expected to uphold. And this doesn’t only apply when they’re in the classroom. A strong set of school values will echo within students’ actions and behaviour at home, with family and in the community.
School values set the tone for learning too. They remind pupils that they’re in a safe environment that supports their academic and personal development. School values can also support pupil wellbeing. For example, if students feel safe and happy, they’ll be better equipped for positive learning. Sharing your school values visually in key places around your school can help create a positive learning environment for students.
At Promote Your School, we have 20 years’ experience in education. We specialise in bespoke design for school, colleges and universities. We’ve helped hundreds of schools create positive learning environments through Wall Art. Take a look at some of our previous projects. Or get in touch to find out how we can help you achieve your school improvement goals using beautiful, bespoke design.