What is the best learning environment?

Our traditional classrooms with desks in rows, with hard seats, is that a good learning environment? Probably not! Most classrooms are small, with hard floors, white walls, and 30-plus student desks. The desk traditionally are in rows facing forward, recent trends have teachers moving them around more but with limits due to class size. My current classroom is pretty big. I have large science lab tables that seat 2 student per table. I have them arranged in groups of 3, with two tables facing each other and one table at the end facing the front of the room. This seating arrangement creates seating for 36 students in my room. Luckily my largest class is 34. Recently, a few students complained because they were having problems focusing on learning. We talked about where they wanted to sit. In the end they concluded that there was not an ideal space in the room for them.

I got to thinking, where would I want to sit? Where would I learn best?  For me, I learn best alone in a quiet warm room while sitting or laying on a soft chair/sofa. Putting a sofa in a science room doesn’t work on so many levels and my room is usually far from quiet. So how do schools create idea learning environments that meet the needs of the students? What does this environment look like?

I remember at the end of a college course years ago, I was asked to create a plan for my ideal classroom. It should be large, with flexible seating. Carpeted area for students to sit on the floor. Book cases full of leveled reading materials. Muted colors on walls. A space that makes whole group instruction work, as well as areas to divide up the class for group and individual instruction. Nooks available for students who need a quiet out of the way space. Comfortable seating.

Many of these items are missing in my room, and many other teachers rooms. Schools just can’t afford the space or materials to create the “ideal” space. Our student are learning to deal with the less than ideal learning conditions. I am okay with it. Making do with what you have is valuable learning for students too. Teachers, administrators, society  need to keep in mind that the learning conditions might have impact on students performance. As a society we need to attempt to create the best learning environments in our schools.

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