A welcoming learning space is important

7 Oct

Moi wrote in Helping at-risk children start a home library: Justin Minkel, who teaches 2nd and 3rd grade at Jones Elementary in northwest Arkansas. He is the 2007 Arkansas Teacher of the Year, a 2011 National Board-certified teacher, and a member of the Teacher Leaders Network reports in the Education Week article, The Home Library Effect: Transforming At-Risk Readers about his library project.

Melinda started 2nd grade with everything against her. She lives in poverty, her mom is not literate in English or Spanish, and she was severely abused at the age of 6. At the beginning of the year, she owned only one book.
Despite these barriers, Melinda made extraordinary academic progress. She moved from a kindergarten level (a four on the Developmental Reading Assessment) to a 4th grade level (a 40) in the two years she was in my class. Her demeanor changed: She began smiling and laughing more often, and she became a confident scholar.
Part of the reason for Melinda’s growth is elusive—that combination of resiliency, strength, and utter grit that awes those of us lucky enough to teach these remarkable children. But another reason for her success is simple—instead of one book at home, Melinda now has a home library of 40 books.
The Project
We called our classroom adventure “The 1,000 Books Project.” Each of the 25 children in my class received 40 books over the course of 2nd and 3rd grade, for a total of 1,000 new books in their homes.
The project was simple to launch. Scholastic donated 20 books per child, and I purchased the other 20 through a combination of my own funds, support from individuals and local organizations, and bonus points. The kids received three types of books each month: copies of class read-alouds, guided reading books, and individual choices selected from Scholastic’s website.
Working with family members, each child chose a space to become a home library, ranging from a cardboard box decorated with stickers to a wooden bookcase. Through class discussions and our class blog, the students talked about everything from how they organized their libraries to their favorite reading buddy at home.
The total cost for each student’s home library was less than $50 each year, a small investment to move a struggling reader from frustration to confidence.
Growing Readers
These 25 students made more progress in their reading than I have experienced with any other class. By the end of the project’s second year, they had exceeded the district expectation for growth by an average of nine levels on the DRA and five points on the computerized Measures of Academic Progress reading test. And they made this growth despite formidable obstacles to academic success—20 of the 25 are English language learners, and all but one live in poverty.

Given the moderate expense of Minkel’s project, the academic gains are important for his children. https://drwilda.com/2012/06/13/helping-at-risk-children-start-a-home-library/

Kevin D. Washburn posted at Smart Blog on Education, Looking around: Creating a learning environment (even without a teacher):
I’ve spent years refining my teaching based on neurocognitive research, but I’ve given the environments in which I teach far less study and attention. My visit to a Montessori school reminded me that an optimal learning environment promotes exploring, thinking, and creating — whether the teacher is in the room or not.

Here are a few questions I’m now asking myself:
Are there objects within the learning space that capture interest while fully engaging learners in exploring critical concepts?
Every classroom should have books (see Question 2), but sometimes the mind learns better in more physically active ways. Remember the Rubik’s Cube craze, launched by a toy designed “to help explain three-dimensional geometry”?1 Children and adults — possibly one-fifth of the world’s population in the mid-1980‘s — spent hours a day handling and thinking about how to solve the colorful and confounding puzzle. Every twist prompted a new challenge or success as young minds worked to solidify all six of the cube’s sides. The relationships between the sides of a cube had never before captured such attention and thought.
In Montessori classrooms, the materials were often less complex in construction than the Rubik’s Cube, but they proved equally engaging and thought-provoking. They were simple enough to use but still intriguing in the ideas they helped children explore. Many simultaneously occupied hand and mind.
Are there ample materials to spark individual exploration, learning and mind-enriching entertainment?
I’m old enough now that students from my first years of teaching — fourth-graders — are adults. Several have found me via social media and a few have met me for lunch when I’ve been nearby. Almost every one of them remembers one thing about my classroom: books! I was inspired by a college professor whose office looked like a great children’s library, and I set out to give my classroom the same feel. The longest wall in the classroom held its windows and my book collection. In those pages, students discovered the inhabitants — and food — of Redwall, met children who sneaked gold past Nazi soldiers via sleds, and were shocked by the literal and metaphorical wolves of Willoughby Chase. The environment was rich with potential, and many students who came into fourth grade thinking they didn’t like to read went into fifth grade possessing a rich background in children’s literature. While I did what I could to stoke such interest, it was the presence of the books in the classroom that made the difference. They allowed students to wander, to wonder, and to discover worlds on their own.
Is there a sufficient variety of materials to allow students to process material in self-selected ways?
Technology is great. It connects us to resources, and even experts, around the world. It’s incredibly mobile, available and almost intuitive to use, and yet … sometimes human energy rather than battery power fosters better learning.
I recently taught a course focused on merging what we know about learning from neurocognitive research with the potential represented by wise use of educational technology. In one activity, the participants follow a sequence of actions to construct new understandings of a recent historic event and the background of one individual who played a significant role in it. Throughout the activity, the participants are free, invited and encouraged to use any technological tools they’d like, for any purpose, and at any time. After all, the purpose of the course is to get teachers comfortable in using technology more widely in their classrooms. Throughout the search for related information, phones, tablets and laptops are the center of activity. The same is true when the participants reach the point of producing evidence of their learning. However, in between these activities, the tool-of-choice shifts. During processing, the overtly thinking-centric steps in the sequence, most participants turn away from their screens and make a beeline for more “traditional” tools. Paper, pencils, chart paper, markers, crayons, sticky notes, index cards — these are tools most still reach for when thinking is the target activity. This proves true regardless of age. Young teachers, the early twenty-somethings, and experienced teachers, the beyond-twenty-somethings, prefer a utensil other than a phone in their hands when they need to sort out new knowledge and examine it for patterns. Eventually, the sorted facts and discovered patterns get presented to others via technology, but when cognition is the thing, other tools prevail.
This is NOT to say that no one uses technology to sort information. In fact, a few do — or at least they start that way. I’ve witnessed several young teachers begin with a phone or tablet in their hands only to abandon it when they realize the “traditional” tools promote greater efficiency and flexibility, and possibly improved thinking.
Sure, technology has a place in the classroom these days. But when choosing materials to have on-hand within the learning environment, remember that sometimes the mind prefers to process ideas with a pencil (or crayon, or marker) in-hand.
In “Unthink,” artist and writer Erik Wahl reminds readers that in childhood we were free to sculpt our “days into works of art…filled with joy, enthusiasm, and fulfillment.” He explains that we operated that way because we needed to be “mass collectors of information,” because we were “cross-training for the many scenarios life would eventually toss at us in rapid succession.” For such training, we needed environments that were “rich, vibrant, and imagination-fostering.”2
Our classrooms should be environments that equip and enable such cross-training.
Look around. What is in your learning environment now?
What should be there?

Scientists are studying what makes a good learning environment.

Looking around: Creating a learning environment (even without a teacher) describes a good learning environment in Learning Environments:

A well organised environment is:
•Vibrant and flexible
•Responsive to children and their changing needs, interests and abilities
•One that invites experiences, interactions, risk taking, discovery, connections to nature, conversations, play and collaboration
•One that has a sense of place and purpose for resources, materials and experiences
•Consistent and predictable
•Well resourced and well maintained
•Interesting and engaging (absorbs children in complex, deep learning experiences rather than shallow or superficial experiences)
•Contains open-ended, complex materials that can be used in many ways and can be used again and again without becoming boring
•Contains a balance of experiences/types of experiences.

Click to access Environment-makeover-campbell-street-workshop-240312.pdf

The University of Illinois Extension has some good advice for helping children with study habits. In Study Habits and Homework he University of Illinois recommends:

Parents can certainly play a major role in providing the encouragement, environment, and materials necessary for successful studying to take place.
Some general things adults can do, include:

•Establish a routine for meals, bedtime and study/homework
•Provide books, supplies, and a special place for studying
•Encourage the child to “ready” himself for studying (refocus attention and relax)
•Offer to study with the child periodically (call out spelling words or do flash cards)
An established study routine is very important, especially for younger school age children. If a child knows, for example, that he is expected to do homework immediately after supper prior to watching television, he will be better able to adjust and ready himself than if he is allowed to do homework any time he pleases.
Connected to the idea of a study routine is the concept of a homework chart….
All children need their own place at home to do homework. The space does not need to
Remember, learning styles differ from child to child, so the study place should allow for these differences. Parents can take a walk through the house with their child to find that special corner that is just right. http://urbanext.illinois.edu/succeed/habits.cfm

This is fairly traditional advice, but experiment to find out what works for your child. The goal is to develop a love of learning.

10 Characteristics Of A Highly Effective Learning Environment

Creating a good learning environment

Creating the Optimal Learning Environment

Creating a LEARNING-CENTERED Environment– http://www.dialogueonlearning.tc3.edu/model/environment/introduction-grp.htm


More research about the importance of reading

The slow reading movement

The importance of the skill of handwriting in the school curriculum

Where information leads to Hope. © Dr. Wilda.com

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