Below is an excerpt from a Q&A with Pamela Evanshen and Janet Faulk following the publication of their book, A Room to Learn. For the complete interview, click here.
Q: Why did the two of you decide to join forces and write A Room to Learn? What do you hope to accomplish with its publication?
A: We share common interests in providing quality environments and developmentally effective learning experiences for primary-aged children. We believe that teachers need additional access to scientifically based research about the impact that a classroom environment has on teaching and learning. We wanted to write a book that showed practical applications of some of the principles set forth by research. We also wanted to capture some of the information we gathered through our work in redesigning classroom environments. We hope this publication will be a useful tool for professional development for both the experienced teacher and those preparing to enter the teaching profession.
Q: What suggestions can you offer teachers trying to create an exciting learning environment in the face of widespread budget and salary cuts?
A: Cost is often a concern for classroom makeovers. We have found that MANY classrooms have, believe it or not, too much in them. When we work with teachers who want to reshape their environments, we begin by looking critically at the “hardscape” of the classroom. We ask teachers to consider the function of the furniture in their room and to ask themselves: What is absolutely necessary for supporting my instruction and my students’ learning? Then we look at the aesthetics of the room. Sometimes, small changes can make a big impact in the room. Many times, our classroom furniture can be refurbished or repurposed. Varied types of lighting can change the appearance of the classroom and updates like pillows for a reading center can usually be made or purchased at a reasonable cost. Coherence of color is important for creating a calming classroom environment. You can get a lot of “bang for your buck” with paint because the color scheme has a big impact on the total appearance of the room. A fresh coat of paint on the walls can create a calming backdrop for display of student work. Paint can also be used to revitalize the furniture and improve the appearance of tired corkboards. Working with a team of teachers to upgrade classroom environments often results in a helpful pooling resources. These group makeovers create a bit of “buzz” among parents who will often offer a variety of resources for the project. We have also had classrooms become “adopted” by community organizations.
Q: Throughout the book, you talk about how an environment impacts several different types of learning. Could you go into a little more detail about the research that supports this theory?
A: As stated in Chapter 1 - The Philosophical Foundation, classrooms based upon the theories of Piaget, Vygotsky and Dewey operate under the philosophy of teaching and learning called constructivism. Teachers support children’s development by thoughtfully tailoring the environment and activities to promote the children’s engagement in active learning (Bredekamp & Copple, 1997). As noted on page 26, researchers such as Dr. Marion Diamond, neuroscientist and researcher from the University of California at Berkeley, found that stimulation from enriched experiences and environments promotes positive brain development. Educators such as Leslie Hart (1998) and Eric Jensen (2000) have bridged theory and practice and promote the creation of positive physical and psychological environments to enhance learning. Throughout the chapters on the different types of learning readers will find research to support the suggestions and ideas presented within the chapter.
Q: If you could give teachers one piece of advice when it comes to decorating their classrooms, what would it be?
A: The first piece of advice would be: Don’t decorate your room. Use your room as a tool for supporting learning. Create many types of spaces so that the design of the room supports your learners in achieving specific learning goals. When putting something on the wall, for example, teachers should consider carefully the following questions: How will this __________ support student understanding of the current learning objectives? How will this _________ extend my students’ understanding of the current learning objective? OR How will this _________ celebrate my students’ learning?
Q: At the beginning of this book, both of you (Pam and Janet) included your own personal reflections about the reasons behind your decision to publish this book. Would you like to talk about that decision a little bit more?
A: We have both worked as teachers and administrators in elementary schools and professors in higher education. In these positions, we have recognized that there is a gap in educating teachers about the role of the classroom environment for differentiating instruction for all learners. [Pam] served as a consultant for several years working with principals and teachers regarding best practices and how the environment can support teaching and learning. We both worked together in an elementary school where [Janet] served as principal, to implement the principles set forth in the book school-wide. During the last ten years, we have developed a variety of tools for assessing classroom environments. These tools have helped quantify the elements of the environment and provided teachers with concrete targets for improving their instructional environment.