Hallmark of a good learning environment

Siddharth Rajgarhia, chief learner and director, DPS Varanasi/Nashik/Lava Nagpur

Learning is a durable change in behavior or in the ability to behave in a particular way, which is the result of practice or some other form of experience (Schunk). Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (Eds.). (2000) identify an ideal learning environment and according to the author as well the alignment of the three circles (learner centred, knowledge centred and assessment centred) with the belief system and norms of the community is essential for building a progressive learning environment that is constantly propelling learners forward in their quest for becoming lifelong learners. A learning environment that is at the intersection of the three circles will pay important attention to many factors.

First let’s look at how the learner-centred circle should be aligned. A good learner-centered environment pays careful attention to knowledge, skills, attitudes and beliefs that learners bring to the education setting (Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (Eds.). (2000). Diagnostic teaching starts from the current structure of the child’s knowledge and information of where to start is gained through enquiry, observation and conversation. Many good teachers also look at the end result or products of student activity to understand the thinking process of students. A good learner-centred environment has teachers who appreciate that students construct their own meaning by drawing upon the perceptions, beliefs and cultural differences that accompany them to the classroom. In a good learner-centred classroom, the teacher has her eye out on both the subject matter and the students, she always looks out for what the student can do and what their interests and passions are. Good teachers make reason for learners by getting to know students’ prior experiences and levels of understanding. This often serves as the foundation on which bridges of new understanding are built. 

A knowledge-centred environment emphasises on students’ understanding and the ability to transfer knowledge (Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (Eds.). (2000). Wilson, S. M. & Peterson, P. L. (2006) also shares that deep understanding allows students to transform factual knowledge to usable one and with understanding learning lasts a lifetime. The intersection point for a learner centred and knowledge centred environments are when learning begins with a concern for students initial preconceptions about the subject matter at hand and the learning is focused on understanding disciplines rather than merely emphasising memorisation of facts. A knowledge-centred environment is deeply connected to sense-making and exposes students to major features of a domain as they arise naturally in problem situations.

Assessments should provide opportunities for feedback and revision (Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (Eds.). (2000). What is being assessed should be in line with the learning goals. In an assessment centred environment teachers should look for opportunities to make students’ thought process visible and provide appropriate feedback. The author also believes that assessments at the end of the learning path/process does not essentially allow students to change their thinking so a good assessment-centred environment should provide more opportunities for formative assessments where periodic teacher feedback allows students to change their thought process. To enable students to gain insight into their learning and understanding, frequent feedback is critical (Wilson, S. M. & Peterson, P. L. ,2006). 

The author believes that when the three circles intersect, teachers start out by identifying prior experience and understanding of the students, they teach for understanding rather than memorisation and fact finding and students are able to transfer the acquired knowledge to a different context. Assessments allow the liberty to teachers to provide frequent and timely feedback that in turn allows students to change their thinking. The author also believes that to move to such an environment the entire system needs to be looked at objectively and small ongoing changes need to be made. For starters, teachers need to be mindful of the students’ prior knowledge before starting a fresh unit of study, more emphasis should be placed on understanding and critical thinking in the classroom; this can only happen when the focus also shifts to the same while assessing. The assessments need to change drastically at the broader level, less importance should be given to high stakes testing and more importance to formative assessments. 

Learning is a process that leads to change, which occurs as a result of new information and experience and increases the potential of improved performance and future learning (Gagné Robert, 1985). The author believes that it’s very important to allow children to build new bridges of understanding and the same can only happen when the teacher is mindful of students’ prior experiences and understanding. This really highlights the importance of having positive relationships with students (Plevin, R., 2020) and the author shares with experience that such positive relationships provide a gold mine worth of information to the teacher that helps him/her cater to the needs of each learner.

Also read:

Creating stimulating learning environments

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