June 2019 BLOG
At Crookhorn we put tremendous value in the way our classrooms look and how they should help our students learn. Over the last three years, we have had the ‘clear the clutter’ campaign to make sure our classrooms are clean, tidy and professional and I think this has had a significant influence on how our classrooms look today. We have also asked our teachers to really consider what is displayed on the walls, so they support students and teachers with some key, fundamental aspects of their learning.
Classroom environments can both support and enrich the learning of all children. As well as being rich, enabling and welcoming, the classroom environment can be a learning tool, a way of engaging children and building the class community. It can create a sense of ownership and be used to support and promote learning as well as celebrating children’s work. With thought and planning an effective classroom environment is used as an interactive resource supporting teaching, learning and assessment.
I think the first consideration when planning the learning environment for your classroom is that what you put up around the room can really help set the mood of your room. It’s no secret that schools can be quite daunting places for many students. Having a calm, visually appealing learning environment can go a long way to helping students feel welcome and valued. We have promoted the fact that our classrooms should be SEN friendly, especially with the fact that 25% of our cohorts have recognised barriers to learning. Natalie has done training for us recently on some of the strategies and I urge you to look back over the Power Point I have attached to familiarise yourself with her guidance. The key ideas being for us to analyse our seating plans carefully to make sure the SEN students are in an appropriate place so teachers can easily access them and key vocab with definitions on the walls which students can quickly access.
The second consideration is that we should consider displays as learning tools and not distractions. One of the best things about children, in my opinion, is their ability to absorb knowledge like a sponge. It’s vital that students are exposed to content in as many ways as possible while they’re at College. We know that students can often absorb information subconsciously from visual prompts when they are tested in other spaces. Whether it be information walls, thought-provoking posters, or simple diagrams, your students will appreciate the reminders when their knowledge and understanding requires consolidation.
That being said – you can’t just jam-pack your walls with information! Research also suggests that you can, in fact, have too much of a good thing. Research by Fisher, Goodwin and Seltman showed that children can be more distracted by the visual environment, spend more time off task and demonstrate smaller learning gains when the walls were highly decorated than when the decorations were removed. It is important to avoid clutter! Keep at least 20 percent of your wall space clear, and leave ample space between displays so they don’t look disorganized. Resist the temptation to keep adding displays; it’s better to swap them rather than keep adding more.
So what do you do? How do you find the right balance?
If you are going to be teaching and directing your students’ attention toward a particular place quite regularly (such as the whiteboard), it’s a good idea to limit the content around this area. This allows students to more easily focus their attention on you. This area should be restricted to just the vital learning tools that you often need students to remember!
The areas where children will not be receiving direct instruction, such as the side walls and the back of the classroom are often spaces that can be used. It is important to direct the students to the relevant learning wall when appropriate.
It is essential that any print placed on your walls can be read! If in doubt, do the squint test. Stand about six feet away from your board and squint at it. If you can’t see the key words or read the definitions of what the key words mean then there is very little chance the students can either which means then the learning wall becomes redundant.
When creating a language-rich classroom, learning walls are particularly valuable. The language used within them sets the standard for the vocabulary we want our students to use. So, what are some good ideas for language-rich displays?
Word walls have long been a classroom staple, but how do we decide which words to showcase? An effective display should be clearly organised; it shouldn’t just be a messy collage of random terms. The words we want to focus are referred to as tier 2 and tier 3 words (Academic word list). Tier 2 vocabulary consists of tricky words that are regularly used by mature language users, found and used in any subject across the curriculum. Tier 3 vocabulary, on the other hand, refers to subject-specific terminology, like onomatopoeia or evaporation. A great idea is to build your walls around tier 2 or 3 words that relate to themes or topics that you are exploring in class. If you are teaching maths and doing averages you might want to create a learning wall around tier 3 terms like ‘median’, ‘mode’ and ‘range’.
One of the best ways of preparing your class for new language is through familiarising them with common roots and affixes. Once a student understands that the prefix ‘min-’ means ‘small’, they’ll be able to independently see the links between words like “minion” and “minor”. There are many strategies and templates you can get from the internet which can be used to help you plan out a learning wall for promoting these words.
It was noted by OFSTED that our learning walls are very effective resources to support and check that students understand the work. They also stated that classrooms are used well by pupils, particularly pupils with SEND to help them with their work. Our learning environments are crucial to making sure students are supported in the classroom but they are only effective if you refer to them, you make them relevant to your learners and they are easy to access for all students.
My thanks as always for taking the time to read this and if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask.