Environment Matters! Today's scholars are bombarded by media and messaging across print and digital means. Today's teachers want to ensure that classroom walls reach and teach today's 21st-century scholars. Our students are more likely to benefit from the classroom environment if they are empowered to create content that pushes learning beyond the school building.In the classrooms I have observed over the years, I have found the most successful classroom environments to host:
Highlight Student Work Products that Show Growth AND Exemplary Performance: Students enjoy learning from each other. And they are more engaged and motivated if they know their work is "the star of the show." Some of the most formidable student-work samples came from students who worked incredibly hard to grow based upon teacher feedback and held cultural capital in their classroom. Again—some students are more apt to learn from each other before they may learn from us (smile).
Incorporate Interactive Wall Displays that Scream—"Come Learn With Me": Prior to the launch of morning meetings, some of my early-childhood teachers ask survey questions that are posted on easel paper and will connect to integrated studies later. For example, if you are doing a unit of study on traditional literature, a teacher may inquire which building material would serve as the best defense against an angry wolf who wants to blow your house down. Students are able to find materials in their classroom and put them into a collection jar or draw pictures on Post-it notes and add them to the easel chart. Open-ended questions work well because they solicit a wide range of answers. I have seen teachers also incorporated Gallery Walks, Interactive Word Walls, and Carousels.
Student-Friendly and Student-Generated Learning Tools: Today's classroom-learning-community environment must be a hub for independent process and production while also aiding in supportive collaborative student-engagement experiences. In other words, when students are deep in learning, there must be displays of useful tools such as number lines and number charts to support computational accuracy and process; or a wall of annotated poems by poetic device to generate figurative-language genius among student poets; or even a genius bar with QR codes for digital sites students can use to create their next graphic novel, video documentary on the almost extinct snow leopard, or a focus-group talk with kids living with illnesses aided by ancient Chinese medicine that advance learning beyond the classroom teacher. When teachers empower student voice and agency in the teaching and learning process in the form of tools, resources, and exemplars—magic happens!
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