How to Create Modern Learning Environments for Your Students
As an educator, you’ve probably heard talk about “modern learning environments.” But what exactly are they? Can they actually provide value to your classroom, or are they just a trend? And how can you find the resources to create an innovative, flexible learning environment in your classroom without breaking the bank?
What are Modern Learning Environments?
While education and curriculum evolve each year, most classrooms have looked the same for decades: rows or groups of desks with a teacher standing at the front. But many teachers have started to question and rethink traditional teaching methods in favor of a more collaborative, experimental classroom.
What Are Some Key Attributes of Effective Learning Environments?
There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to innovation in the classroom. Modern classrooms may include (but are not limited to):
- A collaborative room layout
- Conversational or collaborative lesson plans
- Significant group and partner work
- A culture of positivity and curiosity
- Student devices and one-to-one technology programs
- Presentation technology (like interactive whiteboards)
- Indoor and outdoor learning environments
- Flexible seating options
The Benefits of a Modern Classroom
Modern learning environments can suit all learning styles. While traditional lecture-style classes only cater to auditory and visual learners, modern classrooms make room for everyone. Whether students learn best through experimentation, collaboration, or even kinesthetics, a more flexible classroom can suit all sorts of unique learning needs.
Modern teaching styles promote curiosity and natural learning. In traditional classes, students are expected to listen quietly, and often have to save questions for the end of the lesson, at which point they are even more confused. Modern classes function more conversationally, with frequent opportunities for students to chime in with questions, which capitalizes on their natural curiosity.
Flexible seating encourages comfort and focus. Traditional student desks can be cramped and uncomfortable, and sitting in the same spot all day can cause students to lose focus. By offering a variety of seating options, students can pick what works best for them. Lesson plans that offer group work and a chance to move around can maximize the impact of flexible seating, as they allow students to change their view and their neighbors throughout the day.
The Drawbacks of Flexible Learning Environments
Parents and administration may fear the unknown. One of the reasons that schools have stuck with traditional methods for so long is because they are tried and true. Principals know what they can expect from standardized tests, and parents understand what and how their children are learning. If you research the changes you want to make and have a back-up plan in place, pushback from parents or colleagues should be no problem.
A difficult class may take advantage of their freedom. While modern learning environments can be especially beneficial for those with learning disabilities or behavior problems, some students may need time to adjust to the new set-up. It’s crucial to keep your particular class in mind and be willing to innovate continuously to find the best fit for your students. While every part of an innovative classroom may not be a fit for your students, there are certain pieces that can work for everyone.
Changes can add pressure to your already full plate. Any change you wish to make to your teaching or classroom will take time and effort. Plus, a major change in the way you teach can add extra pressure around your class’s performance or standardized testing and grade benchmarks. Make your changes slowly, and don’t be afraid to wait until the next school year if you need the summer to make major updates to your lesson plans or classroom.
How Can Teachers Create Effective Learning Environments?
Many people think that making their classrooms more innovative will require a lot of time, money, and effort. While new seating or a completely reworked classroom can be a big investment, there are plenty of little ways you can change up your classroom to provide your students with a more innovative learning experience.
Check out these tips to take the first step toward creating a more modern learning environment for your students.
Switch Up Your Room Layout
Many modern learning environments opt for a more collaborative set-up. Try creating pods or a large circle of desks for greater collaboration. Experiment by separating the room into different subject-oriented stations with supplies nearby. You can even try sitting at a student-sized desk amongst your class from time to time to make lessons and discussions feel less like lectures. Consider your space, and don’t be afraid to get creative.
Encourage a Culture of Curiosity
Add a question box to your classroom, and set aside a few minutes at the beginning or the end of the day to answer them. Encourage your students to seek out solutions to their problems rather than doing things for them. And most importantly, make sure students know that there are no “stupid” questions or ideas. Some ideas may not work, but they can spark other ideas that might!
Try New Technologies
If you already have interactive technology in your classroom, great! If not, start searching. If your school can’t provide technology for every student through a one-to-one technology program, see if you can acquire a few iPads or computers for students to share. While finding funding can be difficult, there are grants and even contests that schools can enter to win new technology for their students.
If new technology is not an option, you can also look at refurbished products, or make the most of what you have. Innovative teachers can make the most of any situation—even if they are limited to an hour a week in the computer lab.
Walk the Walk
In order to foster a classroom of innovation, you’ll need to show students by example. Collaborate with your fellow teachers. Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to try something new. The whole point of modern teaching is to learn by doing. Chances are, not all of your ideas will be winners. But the willingness to keep trying will serve as an example to your students that learning is an experience— not an end product.