Frank has been an educator for over 10 years. He has a doctorate degree in education with a concentration in curriculum and instruction.
Think about the classrooms you experienced as a student. Maybe you remember sitting and listening as the teacher did most of the talking, or maybe you and your peers were challenged with problem-solving activities. Perhaps your tests were all rote memorization of the learned information, or maybe you kept a portfolio of your work that your teacher assessed with one-on-one feedback.
Learning environments vary from classroom to classroom and context to context. There are four types of learning environments, each with unique elements. Learning environments can be student- or learner-centered; knowledge-centered; assessment-centered; and community-centered.
Learner-centered environments pay close attention to the needs of the student. Students bring culture, beliefs, attitudes, skills, and knowledge to the learning environment. A learner-centered teacher builds on the conceptual and cultural knowledge of each student. The classroom is often involved in discussion, where the students do much of the talking and construct their own meaning based on prior knowledge and experiences. The teacher acts as a bridge between new learning and what students already know.
Knowledge-centered environments focus on helping students learn information with deep understanding so students can use it in new situations and contexts. Teachers who believe in knowledge-centered classrooms believe rote memorization does not lead to true understanding and only helps students learn at the surface. Deep learning involves learning through problem-solving.
An example of this type of learning environment is one where a teacher directly teaches a concept, such as how to find area and perimeter. The teacher would then take this concept one step further, connecting this new knowledge to a real-life scenario. Maybe the school needs new tile floors. The students would actually measure the area and perimeter of the classroom and the hallway, using the measurements to calculate how much tile would need to be ordered. This would give them the understanding that these new math skills are used in real jobs, such as installing tile.
To be effective, learning environments must also be assessment-centered, which stress the importance of feedback to learning. Students need opportunities to get feedback so they can revise their work. Assessments must match learning goals. Formative, or classroom assessment, used to improve teaching and learning, is a constant source of feedback throughout the context of a course. Examples include teacher comments on work and quick checks for understanding in the classroom. Summative, or end-of-unit or course assessment, measures what students have learned by the end of a period of learning activities. Examples include state-wide assessment tests and teacher-made end-of-unit exams.
Research suggests learning thrives in community-centered environments. Community-centered classrooms involve the entire campus coming together around a set of common expectations. Community-centered learning environments are classrooms where students can make mistakes and feel safe doing so. An important component of a community-centered classroom is student discussion. Competition with one another doesn't exist in this environment. Students feel secure in this environment and learn from one another.
The community extends beyond the classroom and school to include the students' homes and the larger community. Teachers, students, parents, and school staff share a set of norms that value high expectations and learning.
The types of learning environments described often overlap, depending on the students in each classroom. Sometimes, students may require more direct teaching from the teacher, while other students may do better with the teacher as a facilitator and students doing most of the discussion. Every classroom will be different, so keeping all four learning environments in mind will help aid you in implementing the best strategies for your students. This may include a combination of all four to create your own unique learning environment.
The four learning environments have distinctive characteristics, yet each strives to meet the needs of students.
- Learner-centered environments use students' existing knowledge to build new information. Students' beliefs affect how they interpret what they learn, and their prior knowledge can sometimes stifle learning as well. Begin with students' cultural practices, beliefs, and academic knowledge to teach them effectively.
- Knowledge-centered environments help students gain deeper understanding instead of promoting rote memorization of disconnected information. Once students gain understanding, they can transfer knowledge to new contexts and real-life situations.
- Assessment-centered environments stress the importance of feedback in learning. Assessments reflect the goals and objectives in formative and summative form.
- Community-centered environments revolve around a common set of expectations and promote a sense of community. Learning and high expectations are valued, while helping students feel safe and free to make mistakes is essential.
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