How to Create a Student-Centered Environment

How to Create a Student-Centered Environment

Stepping into my very first classroom just months after graduating from college, I was overwhelmed by mounds of old posters, textbooks, worksheets, and holiday decorations. Do teachers really need all this stuff to teach kids?

According to the Association for Psychological Science, the answer is a resounding no. In fact, their study found that having highly decorated walls contributed to more distraction, off-task behavior, and a decrease in learning gains.

Surprised? Think of the environment as the third teacher in your classroom. Your learning environment should promote well-being, collaboration, and a positive morale. Here are some tips to help you create a student centered environment this school year.

Work together.

Get your student’s input before changing the classroom environment.

  • Discuss how students learn best. At the beginning of the year, ask your students how they would like to see the desks arranged. Useful questions include: What table/seat arrangements work best for group work? What about individual work? Do you like to sit down when you are working or do you prefer to stand? Should we put the seats in a circle or in rows? Can we work together to change the arrangement when we switch from individual to group work? What roles can we each play?
  • Make it a design project. As an ice-breaker activity, put the students in groups and challenge them to create a classroom design. Have the students share their design with the classroom and vote on a winner.
  • Reach out. Create a wish list with your students of items that would make your classroom atmosphere even better. Ideas include: a couch, games, bean bag chairs, soft LED lights, christmas lights, an armchair, a few separate tables for group meetings, and canvases for students to paint. Send the wish list home with the students and post it up outside your classroom. If your family is getting rid of something or having a yard sale, ask if they would be interested in donating an item to your class. Ask the students to write thank you posters or letters for generous donations.

Promote calm and peace.

Just as your home provides safety and comfort from the stresses of the world, many students come to school in hopes of finding a place to heal from hard home lives.

  • Change the lights. Headache, anyone? Fluorescent lights can make learning difficult for students with sensory issues. Try ditching the hard, bright lights for something softer. Ask your administrators if you can change the lightbulbs in your classroom, or turn the lights off and let natural light from outside shine in. No windows? Turn off the overhead lights and buy some inexpensive floor lamps from thrift stores and garage sales.
  • Create a peace corner. Encourage mindful moments. Set up a place in your class where students can go if they are angry, sad, or just need some alone time.
  • Bring in some plants. Adopting a few plants will benefit your classroom environment. Plants make the air cleaner and cool down your classroom’s temperature. Plus, by assigning students to care for the plants, you’ll give them age-appropriate responsibility and the opportunity to develop confidence and pride as their plants grow.
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