I’ve been thinking a lot about learning environments lately, and the impact of biological stressors on learning. As a Reading Specialist, I don’t have my own classroom. I do have a shared classroom space, but I tend to use it just as a workspace in the morning, as it’s shared by a number of different people. The Learning Resource Teacher also runs groups out of this room, and I realize that there’s a limit of how many different groups can operate in the same room at the same time. While I love to be able to go into classrooms and support within the space, sometimes withdrawal works best to meet different needs. The question remains: where is the best place to work?
The First Environment: A Classroom Space
The first group that I work with has a combination of Grade 1 and Grade 2 students. The classroom that I share for my desk space is available during this time. It works out well, as it’s located in the pod right next to the Grade 1 and Grade 1/2 classroom. While the room is largely empty minus different sitting options and work spaces, there is a shelf of games at the front of the classroom near the SMART Board. I didn’t think anything of these games at the time. I loved all of the clean lines and minimal wall displays. The room also has different areas, with a perfect gathering space near the SMART Board, as well as a few different desk and table spaces. The students noticed the games right away though. Boy were they distracting! Children spoke about when they played games at home. “Would we be playing these games? What about that one? How do you play?” The questions never seemed to stop. I spoke to the Learning Resource Teacher about this, and she found a tablecloth to cover the shelf. The students still see the outline of the games underneath it, but asked fewer questions. It was interesting to see how the location of these games was dysregulating for kids and seemed to dominate many conversations with them.
The Second Environment: A Before And After Care Classroom Space
We have a classroom on the second floor, which is used as a Before and After Care room. It’s free during most of the day, and since my Grade 3/4 group of students is on the second floor, it’s an ideal space to meet. Since the room is set-up for Before and After Care, there are often toys and art supplies left out for easy access. This would be perfect for the students in the YMCA Program, but they are incredibly distracting for my students. At first, I considered these stressors, and decided to meet on the ground at the other side of the room. There are big counters surrounding this space, and students could use the large whiteboards as a vertical writing surface on these counters. These boards definitely helped reduce stress for the students, and assisted them in focusing on reading and writing instead of on toys and games.
I’m excited by these: little notebooks for each grade (colour-coded by grade) that I can use with each child for progress monitoring. This also acts like a portfolio for writing and noting progress over time.❤️ Plus lots of dry-erase markers for use on the vertical surfaces.❤️ pic.twitter.com/0rEUDTHSeU— 𝘼𝙫𝙞𝙫𝙖 𝘿𝙪𝙣𝙨𝙞𝙜𝙚𝙧 (@avivaloca) October 7, 2023
There was another problem though. The big gathering space in this back part of the classroom was too large for these Grade 3/4 students. Instead of spreading out over the space, they tended to use this area to lie down, move around, and distract each other. I could tell that the environment was not meeting their needs. Now what? On Friday, I went upstairs a few minutes early and moved the chairs in the classroom. The chairs were now grouped in front of the whiteboard. Having defined spaces seemed to assist students with focusing and participating. Sitting on chairs instead of on the floor, also seemed to reduce movement. This really made me think about “the environment as the third teacher.” How do we modify the environment to support the needs of our learners?
The Third Environment: Under The Stairs
When I take my Grade 2 group, there are limited consistent spaces available in the school. The spaces that might be free are also likely to be very dysregulating for these children, as there is a lot of extra furniture in these rooms, additional noise, or unpredictable movement. This is why I looked at the space under the stairs. I make sure to not bring any permanent fixtures into this area. I limit materials to something that we can easily grab and move with us if needed. I also ensure that there is space for easy movement around us. We do not block any exits or entrances. Strangely though, this stair space might be the best area where I teach.
- The walls are bare.
- The stairwell is largely an unused one, so the noise is minimal.
- The space is large enough to easily accommodate all of us and different work areas.
The stairwell might be the greatest place for targeted group instruction. ❤️ I think a targeted group is not always about size, but instead, area(s) of focus. Going to DI this even more tomorrow. Loved how these kids were engaged & excited to come back again. ❤️❤️❤️ pic.twitter.com/mI0JywUqyu— 𝘼𝙫𝙞𝙫𝙖 𝘿𝙪𝙣𝙨𝙞𝙜𝙚𝙧 (@avivaloca) October 11, 2023
While I am contemplating other learning spaces as the year progresses — especially as we need to use more materials — I would almost want to mimic what we have in this stairwell in another space.
We often think about the environment in a kindergarten classroom, but what about beyond that? The last week has me reflecting on the impact that our learning spaces can have on kids. How do we ensure success for all? What small changes might have big impact? It’s interesting to think about the environment when you are in a role in which you share learning spaces. Even with limited control over the environment, there are definitely things we can all do to reduce biological stressors for students.
A Quick Update
Since writing this post, my Grade 2 group is now convening in a new location. We will be back in my “first environment” due to the growing size of this group and the need for additional materials. Since this group is larger, I’m interested in seeing how we use the classroom space, and reduce the stressors while supporting student learning. I’m grateful for the educator who is going to relocate her group at the time, so that we can use this room. It definitely “takes a village to raise a child!”