A group of students recently reflected on why discussions in one of their classes had consistently gone badly. They concluded that it was not because they did not want to talk or because the teacher was poor at leading discussions, but because there were more chairs than students and it was awkward to talk to others across empty chairs. The classroom environment offers a range of features that impact learning, including:
- furniture layouts and equipment
- images on screens or wall displays
- gestures and postures
- sound and silence
These factors are not just a passive backdrop to the ideas being learned. The classroom environment communicates our vision of education and enables learning—but sometimes it hinders and undermines our goals. While some aspects of the classroom environment may be beyond our control, what we choose to do with the environment can make a significant difference to what is learned.
The learning environment helps create an atmosphere that frames learning. Creating the right atmosphere is about creating the “feel” that matches and supports what is learned. A lesson aiming for wonder can be ruined by a dull ambience. A lesson focused on peace and reflection needs a calm mood. Atmosphere can be established through the intentional use of things such as:
- music, noise, or silence. Could the addition of music add a sense of beauty? Could a pause for silence aid reflection?
- lighting, color, images. Might temporarily subdued lighting help frame a time for quiet reflection? Could a vivid picture help to anchor a discussion?
- body language and posture. Could sitting among the group rather than standing at the front model humility and help the flow of a challenging discussion?
FASTly activities often focus not just on the ideas to be learned or discussed, but on how the classroom environment can help guide learning. For instance,
- using a different room layout leads students to focus on helping one another to review in preparation for a test and to reflect on interdependence. Activity: Rotating Review #2
- having the teacher stand in different places for different parts of the lesson helps communicate the differences between deistic and theistic views of how God relates to the world. Activity: A Self-Emptying God?
- focal images help make the strengths and weaknesses of a conflict model of faith and science more concrete in preparation for discussion. Activity: Embracing Differences
As you engage with the various activity maps, look out for ways in which the classroom environment is included as an intentional part of the plan.