Very little education research, if any, examines the impact of environmental factors on learning with regard increasing knowledge, skills or motivation to be successful. It’s not something you will find in the EEF toolkit or written about in school leadership.
A synthesis of evidence across other countries reveals almost nothing about inspiring displays, language prompts as resources or the creative design of space to maximise collaboration amongst pupils.
A high quality learning environment has the potential to shift possibilities, raise aspiration and demands deep commitment to learning. We are speaking about environment being:
- an enabler
- a model for greater depth thinking
- a carefully planned reference point for pupils to help free working memory slots by building long term memory associations
- the silent teacher
- inspiring to children.
The spaces in which we spend most of our time give important messages about what we value most. We cannot separate our personal values from their manifestation in our classrooms. What we see, think and feel are the true measure of a values base. We experience this ourselves every time we visit a historic building or place of special interest.
For our most disadvantaged pupils, this is an essential element of education – too often overlooked. When we provide our pupils with the very best, when we show them a future they may not otherwise have access to, we take pupils to a place where new possibilities are revealed.
The learning environment also communicates the inner belief system of teachers and pupils. What we see in the work of students or in the way classrooms are set up for learning provides valuable assessment for learning about what is going on inside peoples’ minds. As important, just as we need to ensure pupils are continuously engaged in a dialogue and surrounded by excellence, so too do leaders need to ensure staff are engaged in the same process. Ron Berger writes that:
“the most important assessment that goes on in a school isn’t done to students but goes on inside students. Every student walks around with a picture of what is acceptable, what is good enough. Each time he works on something he looks at it and assesses it. Is this good enough? Do I feel comfortable handing this in? Does it meet my standards? Changing assessment at this level should be the most important assessment goal of every school. How do we get inside students’ heads and turn up the knob that regulates quality and effort.”(An Ethic of Excellence)
Does our learning environment communicate not just low expectations but also an apathy towards teaching and learning which transcended the whole community? Coats and bags not on coat pegs, pupil name labels scratched on with pens, plastic pencil pots with half chewed pencils; along corridors, displays of children’s learning lacking imagination and creativity. Some displays were torn and contained minimum standards of learning rather than the very best. Nor was there any sense of consistency between learning spaces.
A connected approach to planning for high quality learning, placing environment at the centre of learning, shifts the focus of learning away from surface learning towards deeper levels of understanding. A beautiful learning environment creates the opportunities or conditions that inspire excellence.
This could also be described as the culture and climate created in an organisation, which values specific skills or attitudes leading to success. The learning environment is an extraordinary crucible for expertise and should be given higher priority when creating a school wide pedagogical framework. Here’s why:
- Just as an art gallery or museum exhibition quality learning spaces inspire curiosity across learning domains – often raising questions and provoking deeper enquiry
- Learning walls or modelled displays can make the ‘whole’ learning concept visible and provides a rich context for learning. This helps pupils see where the intended learning aspires to be
- The environment builds greater depth of knowledge. When pupils can make physical connections between the learning spaces (e.g. learning walls) and learning concepts, this helps push working memory learning into long term memory, freeing up learning slots, increasing cognitive bandwidth
- Outstanding classrooms model the expectation required for excellence to be reached. They also provide reference points to help pupils develop learning strategies like reasoning skills
It is hard to separate the environment from teaching or planning – it communicates more than just the learning content. It represents the blending of content and pedagogy so that an understanding of how learning is organised, represented and adapted is made visible. There is also a link between mastery learning and how the environment is used as a resource for challenging pupils to gain deeper levels of understanding. When connected to a learning philosophy, the environment can:
The following questions are worth thinking about-
- Does our school have a clear vision for how the environment is used to promote learning?
- How do the spaces within our school promote curiosity, pedagogy and excellence?
- What key messages do our school learning environments provide?
- How effectively do learning environments model expertise?
On another more superficial level, the image of school is crucial; first impressions last; beautiful areas elicit positive thoughts from those walking around the school. We get lots of positive thoughts when people come into Lark Hall, but not a lot of take-up after the event. If the environment is just merely a factor here, then we need to address this.
When someone walks into a classroom or discovery zone at Lark Hall, the ethos of teaching and learning should shine through; through the learning walls, independent learning opportunities and evidence of PSCD and BLP, as well as clear evidence of what the current topic is. Learning environments must be meaningful and purposeful. This also means that all classrooms must always be tidy and well organised to ensure that purposeful learning can take place.
Some of the more specific things to be seen in the learning environment are:
We agree that our displays need to have consistent guidelines to ensure a high quality. They should be accessible to all children and reflect their voice as well as progressing the learning. Our displays represent the cross curricular way of learning and always seek to be engaging, purposeful, informative and thought provoking. At Lark Hall we hold high value in our displays around our school environment and have agreed on their purpose and an essential checklist for guidance.
Purpose of displays
- To celebrate children’s work and their successes and show pride in our school and our learning allowing children to be proud of their achievements
- To signpost the learning journey undertaken and support children’s learning by clearly stating success criteria
- Enable children to ‘capitalise’ on Maths, Literacy and Topic learning walls
- To create a bright and welcoming learning environment
- To represent a range of curriculum areas
- PSCD on displays to ensure it is ingrained in all curriculum areas
- Literacy/Topic learning walls using pre-cursive and cursive font
- Three of the larger boards are given over to celebrating and showcasing exemplary children’s work (mainly writing) from Autumn, Spring and Summer terms. These displays are updated each term on a rolling basis. So if you’re taking over a room in Sept the displays will showcase work from the previous academic year.
Essential Checklist for Displays
- Hessian displays, with black borders for the whole board and black borders for each piece of work
- To include a range of visuals such as work, photos, quotes, key questions and explanations
- Evidence of who the display is by, including names under children’s work
- Published work should be double backed and trimmed neatly
- All other elements of the display should also be backed and trimmed with neat edges
- The display should not exceed the borders
- Interactive where possible
- For display boards in communal areas work should be published and not marked by teachers
Resources in the classroom
- Clearly labelled and stored appropriately, with items used daily available at children’s tables.
- Should be used to encourage independence in learning and represent all learners taking into account the following; language symbols and bilingual labels, ethnicity of children and whether children are left or right handed.
- Communication friendly resources including communicate in print to support children’s speech and language development
- Learning values should account for the maintenance and upkeep of resources and be clearly displayed.
- Furniture arranged to allow safe movement within classroom
- Classroom doors should only have a welcome sign. A board or window space will be assigned for welcome displays with children’s photos.
- Each class should have a designated working wall that shows the progress of the learning throughout a half term.
- Visual timetables and full dates in all classes (In Spanish as well)
- Where appropriate, all language displayed to have relevant pictures (see ELKLAN resources)
● Exemplary in appearance, tidy, organised and welcoming representing and good example to the children
● Labelled with appropriate resources available to aid children’s learning
● Clear organisation to demarcate any work coming in and work/letters going home
Library/ Book Area
The library is fundamental for inspiring a love of reading, engaging the children in book talk and motivating independent learning. Each year group has a library with a varied range of age appropriate books (including reference books) and resources such as comfortable seating to enthuse and comfort children when reading quietly. There are ipads available with stories for EAL children to develop their language skills and a range of role play and puppets to use to develop speaking and listening skills. There are libraries in each of Year 1 – Year 6 and reading spaces in the Early Years Foundation Stage where books are ordered and organised. Below are some key points for the environment in the book corner:
- Author focus each term with books available based on the school’s reading spine
- Posters about books and love of reading
- Keywords displayed
- Range of books on show for browsing
- Comics and magazines and any other resources to enthuse all learners
- Reviews and recommended reads to share
- Book talk prompts
- Interactive and promoting different genres
- Class books made during themed weeks
EYFS LEARNING ENVIRONMENT
All classrooms should have:
- A message centre/ writing area- preferably somewhere central in the room.
- A maths mat with a range of interesting counters.
- A playdough table (with opportunities for ‘cake making’).
- A well stocked home corner.
- Opportunities for interest-led role play that changes frequently depending on interest e.g hair salon, baby clinic. These are usually more successful when based on real experiences.
- A construction area with large and small blocks.
- A small world area. These are usually more successful when they look as realistic as possible.
- A messy play tray/station- shaving foam, spaghetti etc.
- An art table.
- Junk modelling opportunities.
- Reflection area
- Book corner
- Opportunities for scientific exploration
In order to support transition and continued learning through play, the Year 1 Discovery Zone should also reflect these EYFS points whilst meeting the expectations of Years 2-6 in their classroom environments.
Download a copy of this policy:
Learning Environment Policy