Module

1: How can you create an effective learning environment?

Module overview

Welcome to module 1: How can you create an effective learning environment?

The module is divided into six sessions:

Throughout the module, there will be opportunities for you to reflect on your current practice and to consider ways you can enhance what you are already doing in the classroom.

Introduction

The 2014 Sutton Trust report, ‘What Makes Great Teaching’, highlights the importance of effective classroom environments:

A teacher’s abilities to make efficient use of lesson time, to coordinate classroom resources and space, and to manage students’ behaviour with clear rules that are consistently enforced, are all relevant to maximising the learning that can take place. These environmental factors are necessary for good learning…

Coe et al, 2014, page 3

While all teachers would agree about the importance of a calm and purposeful teaching environment, there are often challenges and barriers to achieving this consistently with pupils. This module will explore what effective learning environments look like and strategies that you can use to achieve them.

Listen to Tom Bennett – behaviour advisor to the Department for Education and founder of researchED – talk about what makes an effective learning environment and why they are so important to effective teaching. Whilst watching the video, consider the following questions:

  • How should effective learning environments make pupils feel?
  • What do you need to teach in order to create an effective learning environment?
  • Why are norms and routines important to establish?
  • Why are consequences important?

What are effective learning environments and why are they important?

Video transcript

So, what are effective learning environments? Essentially, they have to be built on the value of trust. Children need to know that they are trusted, and they’re valued. They need to feel that the classrooms they’re in are somewhere where they feel safe, looked after and respected. Now that doesn’t mean having some kind of gushing synthetic form of over-warmth. What it does mean is that children need to know what they need to do in classrooms and that involves teaching them, first of all, the norms of the classroom, being really explicit about what is normal behaviour in the classroom and in that way we show them high expectations, which is another way of showing them that we care about them because what it means is that we think they’re capable of achieving these expectations. So, we must be super explicit about the norms of the room, not just the rules, although that forms part of it, but what normal behaviour should look like in a classroom – don’t make them guess it. In a room full of thirty children, you’ll have thirty different ideas about what normal good behaviour looks like, so teach them the norms.

If you want them to think that it’s normal to work hard, then mention it constantly and demonstrate it by your actions. If you want them to think that it’s normal to be kind or to share or to take turns or be compassionate with one another, then make that the norm too. Talk about it, demonstrate it and explain it. If you look at a good early years environment for example, dealing with the most young children, what we find is the children at that age know very little and must be instructed almost entirely to do the things which are normal for the room, which means lots of unpicking and unpacking and demonstrating what, for example, sharing and waiting your turn actually looks like. So that’s norms, and then we can develop that even more and say that a good learning environment needs to be built on routines.

Now, a routine is simply another version of a norm but a far more explicit version. What it tends to be is a set sequence of behaviours – do this, then do this, then do this. And again, the reason why children need to know what routines are is because they need to know what’s expected of them in the classroom – don’t make them guess it. You might know what you think good behaviour looks like but they don’t know what you think good behaviour looks like, and perhaps 80% of the class might know absolutely well how to behave in your lessons but don’t make them guess. The word ‘behave’ means lots of things to lots of different people.

And thirdly, the thing that really ties this together is that children need to know not just what’s expected of them in order to behave, but also what will happen to them if they do or don’t behave in the way that you expect of them. Now, traditionally in many classrooms that can involve some form of mild sanction to act as a deterrent or mild reward to act as an incentive, but of course your response to consequences can be much more complex than that. You might for instance just want to have a quiet word with them, you might want to call parents, you might want to say nothing or do nothing, you might want to try and unpick and unpack if there’s any reasons why they’re behaving that way, but the key thing here is that children need to feel that their actions matter, which means they have to have consequences, which means you have to notice it and that can mean lots and lots of different things.

If you have a whole-school consequence system, what’s terribly important is you use it as consistently as possible. This makes it fair and this makes it easier for children to understand. If you feel there’s a reason why the children should be excepted from the consequence, then that’s fine, but the exception itself must be exceptional and it must be logical, and it must be consistent. If a child has got for example Tourette’s syndrome, then you might for example let them off the consequence for swearing, as long as the class understands what the situation is with the child and why they’re being made an exception of.

So those three things: norms, routines and effective consistent consequences, are the structure, the scaffold, the skeleton upon which you build the classroom and what should infuse all of these three aspects is that the children need to feel valued. They need to feel like they matter. They need to feel like what they do matters in the classroom because, once children feel like they matter in the classroom, then they start to relax. They start to realize that they should conform to the norms and the routines and listen to the consequences of the classroom. If they don’t feel like they matter, then they won’t, and again I stress this doesn’t mean by gushing or over-praising children. It could be something as simple as saying to them ‘I value you all, I value your education, I want you to be safe, happy and I want you to flourish. In order for that to happen, we’re all going to have to follow certain rules, consistencies and norms.’ That’s the type of message you want to communicate to children and the beauty of that is you can do it in your own personality and with your own style. If your natural instinct is to be warm and friendly with children, by all means be warm and friendly with children, as long as they know that there are boundaries. Children crave boundaries and they also hate boundaries, and that tension, which sounds like a paradox, is perhaps at the heart of what it means to be a human, and particularly what it means to be a growing human, and particularly what it means to be an adult or a teacher in charge of that flourishing.

Many would agree about the importance of a calm and purposeful teaching environment; however, there are often challenges and barriers to achieving this consistently with all pupils.

In this module, you will explore what effective learning environments look like and what strategies you can use to achieve them.

Related ECF strands

Managing behaviour

7.1 Establishing and reinforcing routines, including through positive reinforcement, can help create an effective learning environment.

7j. Reinforcing routines (e.g. by articulating the link between time on task and success).