Creating an Environment for Individual & Group Learning

Instructor: Sharon Linde
One important aspect teachers need to focus on is creating an environment that supports different types of learning. This lesson explains how to create learning environments where students can construct knowledge in groups and individually.

What Are Learning Environments?

When you were a young student, you probably didn't put much thought into your learning environment, the space and framework you worked in. If you were like most children, you were more interested in your friends and when you got to eat lunch. Educators, however, know the importance of creating a learning environment that supports diverse opportunities for growth.

Take Matt, for example. He's a teacher who puts a lot of time and energy into thinking about the learning environment he creates for his students. Matt wants to create a community of learners, children who eagerly engage with content and each other, make sense of teaching, and are motivated to learn. A learning environment starts with the physical space in a classroom but extends to much more. Let's peek in on Matt's students.

Aspects of Learning Environments

It's math time and the classroom hums with active learning. Some students are working collaboratively, solving a problem at a table, others individually at their desks, and another group is using technology. Matt circulates the classroom to support students as they construct their knowledge of fractions. This is no accident; in fact, Matt set up his learning environment to:

  • Allow all students ways to make sense of new ideas
  • Engage his students in decision-making
  • Solve problems
  • Experience inquiry learning

Matt just finished a mini-lesson on fractions. Some of his students are making sense of their new concepts by working collaboratively on solving sample problems. Others are working independently to create their own understanding. Each student has opportunities to solve problems and make decisions about this new concept in a way that works for them. He supports inquiry learning, a method that poses problems to students and allows them to gather information in order to understand. Whether working in a group or individually, the environment supports student learning. You can see this in two ways - the physical and psychosocial classroom environment.

The Physical Environment

The physical space in Matt's classroom is set up to support learning in many ways. He has tables with chairs and a large carpet where groups of children can meet. He also has seating and quiet learning spots for individual learning. Some of these desks are arranged in partner pairs, and all can be easily moved to welcome differing groupings. Finally, he has a table at which he supports small groups of learners. This arrangement allows him to teach to the whole group, then send students off to work in small groups or individually.

He stocks his classroom with supplies that support inquiry learning - manipulatives, technology, and plenty of learning support materials like books, are readily available. His room is lit in a way that allows for a more subdued atmosphere, using lamps and natural lighting, as well as overhead light for more active learning. He made sure to separate activities that may be noisier, like pencil sharpening or collaborative group areas, from quieter areas, like the classroom library. This way, students can focus on their work without distractions.

The Psychosocial Environment

Another important aspect Matt plans for when designing his classroom environment is the psychosocial, or the psychological and social factors that impact student achievement. In other words, psychological aspects like feelings, actions and thoughts, and social encounters, like friendships, peer and adult relationships, and classroom culture impact how students learn. If the psychosocial environment is disruptive, it prevents students from feeling safe and open to learning. When the psychosocial environment is warm and inviting, students feel enabled to take chances and secure in their experiences.

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