Every teacher should strive to create inclusive classroom environments that address the needs of diverse learners, especially in elementary schools.
All children have different struggles and personal problems to overcome, so it’s important to make the classroom a positive place for them, as opposed to being another place of stress. Healthy classrooms provide an excellent environment for learning and can serve to uplift your students.
It can be challenging, though, to create an environment that works to the benefit of all students. One child experiencing classroom struggles could place an entire class at a disadvantage. These problems come in the form of disruptions, tantrums, lack of understanding, and general disrespect.
While each group of students will be different, there are a few great ways to make your classroom work for the benefit of all students.
Create a Comfortable Environment
Adjust the decorations and layout of your classroom to fit the age group that you will be teaching. Most teachers pride themselves on having an interesting and engaging room layout, and that is a great thing because the atmosphere of the room has a distinct effect on students’ quality of learning.
Test your memory. Think back to your preschool and elementary school days. Can you remember that far into the past? You likely have strangely distinct memories of how you felt in those settings. Maybe something about story time, the reading corner, or the layout of the room made you feel comfortable or perhaps, uncomfortable.
When thinking of that specific classroom, see if you notice whether it was more interesting or comfortable than other classrooms you have been in. The atmosphere of the room does have an important effect on the students in them. Why is the classroom environment a major component in the student achievement equation? Let’s think about the fact that our students are spending around 180 days in school, IN THE SAME ROOM.
Teach Positivity in the Classroom
You can only keep an eye on so many children at once. You are the leader of the environment and should set rules and examples to facilitate positive interactions among your students.
One of your first goals of the school year should be to educate your students about the social interactions that are acceptable in the classroom. Emphasize the importance of empathy and lay the groundwork for different emotions and how to recognize them.
Each regular activity should be accompanied by corresponding rules and behaviors that are acceptable for the situation. For example, emphasize the importance of student choice and voice by setting the classroom expectation for students to communicate their choice to spend time reading a book if you have a designated time for independent reading. Children are often entering the first social experiences of their lives and have little idea of how to interact with their peers.
If you set an example of kindness, cooperation, and empathy, your students will generally follow your lead. A cooperative classroom will set a foundation for each student to feel comfortable expressing themselves, using their imaginations, and learning the material without unnecessary distractions.
Provide Opportunities for Students to Engage With One Another
Social engagement in the classroom is incredibly important. Not only are students allowed to get to know one another and solve problems socially, but they are able to release pent-up energy in a healthy way.
Classrooms that rely on strict lecturing are ineffective because they don’t allow any sort of self-expression or engagement with peers. Social learning allows students to engage with the material in unique and exciting ways, which includes the ideas of others, allowing students to expand their social concepts and grow their skills.
Group activities boost social skills, build friendships, and improve understanding of class material. Research shows that the more times students are exposed to material, the better they understand it. Their understanding is further improved if the material is taught in different forms, such as one reading, one video, and one in-class activity involving physical objects.
Providing socially-based, group activities will improve student engagement, their understanding of class material, and general levels of cooperation.
Emphasize the Relevance of Materials
Students will not take class time seriously if they do not understand the importance of what they’re learning. Stress the real-life applications of the class-content and do it in various ways.
It’s easy to do this with younger students because what they are learning is almost universally applicable. For example, numbers, letters, and shapes all have immediate relevance to daily life.
When you move on to subjects like social studies or English, making connections will be a little more difficult. Why should a 12-year-old need to read To Kill a Mocking Bird? That’s for you to understand and explain.
If particular concepts aren’t being taken seriously, manipulate the lessons in a way that relates to your students. Historical facts can often seem dry and meaningless to students. But if you make a connection from the Pony Express to the invention of telephone wires and iPads, you may spark their interest in learning.
Keep a Close Eye on Classroom Dynamics
Classroom dynamics are always changing, and in doing so, they affect the quality of your classroom environment. Internal social issues like an argument between students or even the products that students bring into class can change the flow of an entire day.
Being vigilant about classroom dynamics can be the difference between a great semester and a train wreck. Children feed off of each other, develop cliques, and will follow the examples of their peers. This means that you could lose your role as a respected mentor if you let the classroom get out of hand.
It seems drastic, but classroom dynamics are sensitive and must be examined closely. Try keeping a journal of general trends or arguments in the classroom. You can keep an eye on this journal and check for concerning patterns in class behavior.
It’s also important to mend differences between your students. Negative interactions among students can cause severe emotional difficulties, sometimes even leading to a student being afraid to come to class. If you can catch a situation unfolding and make each party understand what went wrong, who was hurt, and why it happened, you can prevent significant personal difficulties for your students.
In your efforts to create a healthy classroom environment, remember that, at the end of the day, you have the power to maneuver the class in any direction you choose. You can do it! If you are in need of some support, you can reach us HERE and even schedule a free call to determine your needs. We encourage you to reach out!
Author: Dr. Chandra Williams is the expert at turning around low performing districts and schools to close achievement gaps for students in school districts across the country resulting in double digit growth in reading and math. Learn more about her at www.CSAS.co.