Learning Culture and the Classroom
Kayleigh Axford considers what creates a successful classroom environment
From the moment we stepped into teaching, we all notice that we do something different to the person in the classroom next door. Good or Bad, these differences are essential to a student’s development and relationships. How you create your classroom and the learning experience is individual to each teacher and each student. Here are some tops tips from lessons I have be lucky to see from my Teaching and Learning background and some of my own practices that I am glad make me different.
Some of the best lessons I have seen start with a smiling teacher at the door; the one who knows the students, ‘How was the English test you were worried about?’ ‘Did you get your photography coursework done?’ The little things go a long way and this one is certainly king!
Nail. It. Early. Whatever this looks like to you: bags in a certain place, certain equipment displayed, the student handing out the books and, most importantly, that seating plan. Just a few weeks of reminding early on can lead to a year of success. I think this is one of the most important factors in classroom management, everyone should know how to get the best of every lesson, and that starts with a routine that means the learning can become reality immediately. Don’t flake on this, if you see something out of place or out of the routine pick it up, make the expectation clear.
Smile and allow mistakes
A smile that reassures students it's ok to make mistakes; that is what learning is all about after all. I have some lines I use non-stop, ‘Who cares if you get it wrong-you’re human.’ ‘Answer every question on that test, you have nothing to lose, it’s just me reading it’. That classroom environment and relationship can’t be put on as a show for an observer, it’s your culture and your routine that stand out when an observer walks in. Be enthusiastic about what you teach, it is contagious, Pick that dull subject in your spec and find a way to make you and them love it; you would be amazed how the feel of the room completely changes.
Around 15% of students on average manage to get through the school day without being asked a single challenging question by a teacher- they don’t fit into the PP, High Ability or AEN bracket and somehow these students often become your key students in year 11 for Progress 8. Go into a lesson prepared with whom you are going to question, prepare a list of students that you can tick to make sure that over a few lessons every student gets a chance to participate in questioning.
Take a risk to make something engaging! Teachers can turn classrooms into anything from the solar system to the entire set of a musical. If you are teaching health- ask if you can borrow the cookery room even if you are teaching it in PSHE; ask PE if you can borrow resources to take the lesson outside if you are teaching the ecosystem. Ask Science if you can have a heart to dissect if you are teaching body systems. These are the hooks, the engaging factor, that keeps students cross curricular and open to learning things in different ways.
Keeping on the track
The simple things go a long way to keep behaviour management low: have timers, success criteria and extensions to make sure everyone has a goal and purpose to achieve. There should never be a moment where a student is not doing something that challenges them. The best lessons I have seen have every moment as purposeful learning; simple tasks that just kill time can be spotted a mile off and students often become disengaged as this point in the lesson.
However your lesson ends, keep the routine going. Have a plan; always end on a ‘think about this question’, a cliff-hanger that makes students think further when they leave the room. Never miss the consolidation phase, it will make the questioning next lesson more challenging and purposeful. Have a clear cut expectation: stand behind your chairs, be seated or wait at the back of the room. Avoid the ‘door hangers’, don’t let students creep towards the door, keep your expectations king and ensure that the bell doesn’t dictate the start of a sprint out of the classroom.
Whatever your ‘thing’ is that makes your classroom different, embrace it and make sure that it is beneficial to students, it makes a differences to their learning and it sparks enthusiasm for you and them!