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How to Create a Continuous Learning Environment in the New Year

January 3rd, 2020 | 4 min. read

By Josie Stanley

January is finally here! Coming back to the classroom after a long winter break can be difficult for children and teachers. Children often struggle with jumping back into routines and getting readjusted to the rhythms of the classroom environment. For teachers, it may be difficult to get back into the classroom as well as reengage their students in their daily work. In Room to Learn: Elementary Classrooms Designed for Interactive Explorations, Pam Evanshen, EdD, and Janet Faulk, EdD offer strategies for using the physical environment to support continous learning.

Engage Children through Peripherals

One of the best ways to get children motivated to continue to learn is to offer visual representation of the things they have learned in the past. Researcher Clare Ulrich discovered that children function and learn better when their work or projects are represented around the classroom.Show the artifacts of their explorations, and encourage them to examine each others’ work. Seeing examples of what their peers have learned can draw them into new avenues of exploration.  Here are a few tips for engaging students through their peripherals.

  • Honor children’s work. Hanging up children’s work products may seem like a simple idea, but this method is proven to stimulate and celebrate the learning process. Display the steps children have taken to develop their understandings of a topic of exploration or to find a solution to a problem. With concrete examples of the process, children can absorb the idea that learning takes time and is worth the effort.
  • Send positive messages through displays of children’s work. It is important for a child to see their work being appreciated. This promotes the idea that each assignment is valued and recognized and encourages children to continue learning. Position displays of children’s artifacts in ways that invite examination. For example, you can simply hang at children’s eye level a child-created diagram of a butterfly or display their journal entries with their drawings on a table where the children can examine them at their leisure.
  • Use children’s work to represent and support their learning. Young children need to see concrete examples of their learning to support their understanding of abstract ideas. For example, while the children may not get to visit Mars, they can learn about the planet and express their understandings in a visual form, such as drawing, diagram, or model.
  • Think about the classroom as a piece of real estate. The classroom environment houses dozens of individuals a day and often is a small space. For a classroom to be both a visual and dynamic environment that utilizes space efficiently, a teacher may choose to display artifacts in a rotating fashion. Give children a “stake” in the property by displaying their personal work.

Engage Children through Documentation of Learning

Documentation of the learning process could include a step-by-step interpretation on how a thought process or analysis is formed. For example, post the questions who? what? where? how? and why? and invite discussion and exploration to find answers to these questions on a given topic. Think about the following tips as you document the learning in your classroom.

  • Use peripherals to help children connect with the learning process. Frequently change your classroom environment to reflect the learning taking place. For example, if children are exploring plant growth, display child-created representations of seeds, sprouts, and plants. Provide real plants and seeds for children to examine. Post children’s questions and then encourage them to search for answers. In an article referenced in Room to Learn, Lilian Katz and Sylvia Chard explain that lesson-specific peripherals can celebrate the learning process and support children in their learning of a new topic.
  • Use child-created peripherals and artifacts to assess children’s learning. Use the children’s expressions of their understandings to evaluate children’s learning outcomes and progress. The assessment process then will inform your teaching. Use data, observations, work samples, video, projects, and portfolios as tools to assess learning. 
  • Use peripherals to represent and document parts of the learning process. Use examples from children’s work to discuss concepts and ways of knowing. For example, use an excerpt from a child’s journal to show children a way to represent seed growth. Show the children an example of a drawing that a child created to express her understanding of the parts of a butterfly. Display a list of questions or observations that the classroom comes up with. These artifacts can then assist students to develop their own processes based off of the group discussions.

Engage Children through Peripherals Representative of Learning

Ignite excitement and help children build their learning by connecting new topics to what they already know. Use the displays in your classroom as more than decoration. Child-created artifacts can spark questions, ignite curiosity, and open up new avenues of exploration. Before you display a peripheral, authors Pamela Evanshen and Janet Faulk advise that you ask, “What is the purpose and benefit of this display for learning?”

  • Use peripherals to help children connect what they know with new content. When teachers are promoting continuous learning, it is important for them to provide displays of knowledge that a student has gained to help them use those concepts with new lessons. A simple example of this would be to provide peripherals of previous learning about insects to inform an exploration into arachnids. Help children draw connections by talking about how insects are like and unlike spiders. The comparison is bound to spark questions.
  • Use peripherals to increase the children’s engagement. Interactive peripherals are a good way to keep children active with the material displayed around the room. For example, child-created clay models of insects could inform how children create models of spiders.

Environments are a complex interaction of physical elements, including sensory components, design and organization, aesthetics, nurturing attributes, and pedagogical resourses.  Research shows that these elements can work together to improve early learning, self-efficacy, and higher-order thinking skills. Pamela Evanshen, EdD, and Janet Faulk, EdD, have developed an environment rating scale -- Assessing the Pillars of the Physical Environment for Academic Learning (APPEAL)-- to help educational professionals evaluate and improve the design and use of elementary learning environments. For more information on revinventing leaning spaces to acheive the best child outcomes, read Room to Learn: Elemenary Classrooms Designed for Intereactive Explorations.

Author(s)Janet Faulk, EdD, Pamela Evanshen, EdD

Josie Stanley

A graduate of University of North Alabama with a BS in Mass Communication with a concentration in Journalism and Multimedia, Josie Stanley served as digital marketing specialist for Gryphon House from 2019-2022.