How to create an environment that fosters learning

Our surroundings and the people in them have a lot to do with our behavior. Think about the way you act in different environments. What you do or say at home may differ significantly from what you do or say at work.

Post by Erin Devine | november 30th, 2014
How you behave at home or work may differ significantly from how you behave on the subway or in the grocery store or while you are driving. Singing out loud may be an acceptable activity when you are alone in the car but singing out loud in the grocery store may cause a variety of reactions from other people (e.g., moving away from you, rolling eyes at you, yelling at you…) in the environment. What we do and talk about with co-workers probably significantly varies from what we do and talk about with close friends or family or significant others.   

Consider our teaching environments

Teachers of students of all abilities attempt to set up surroundings to maximize student learning. Depending on the age, ability level, and skills students are learning environments may vary greatly. However, as a teacher we can easily do a lot to increase student success in a classroom.  By identifying sources of disorganization, clutter, or over-stimulation may reduce or eliminate many classroom problems.  Removing extra furniture or limiting use of overhead paging systems may be helpful.     

Limit distractions for all students in three easy steps

One easy step to limiting distractions includes managing or limiting loud noises (e.g., limiting loud timers, having students use headphones when using a computer or a tablet, and limiting loud conversations, carpeting the floor or using sound absorbing materials on the wall may also help…).  

A second easy step to limiting distractions is to limit crowded times and locations.  When eating meals, transitioning within the classroom or to a different locale in the school, playing on the playground, standing in line, or going on field trips are all examples of times and locations that may be crowded.  Explicitly teaching the expected behavior in each location may be helpful for many students (e.g., “When we walk to the cafeteria we walk single file with our hands by our side and stay 2 feet behind your friend in front of you.”).  It may also be helpful to limit the number of students in a specific classroom location (e.g., “ 3 in the book nook”) at a time to eliminate overcrowding.   

A third easy step to limiting distractions is to minimize clutter. Many teachers spend a lot of time designing and decorating their classrooms.  A situation may occur where a teacher has designed the classroom to a point that the decorations are a distraction.  By bringing unnecessary furniture or materials into a classroom you may be increasing distractions.  It may also be possible that you lay out all the materials you need for the week in the classroom.  Although this may help you stay organized it may be that too many materials lead to student distraction.   

What about students who engage in challenging behavior?

Disorganized or cluttered environments may easily distract students of all abilities.  By limiting distractions you may be able to increase on-task behavior of all students.  Some students in your classroom may, at times, display challenging behavior.  One example of challenging behavior is disruptive behaviors such as yelling, name-calling, or throwing materials.  A different example of challenging behavior is dangerous behavior such as aggression in the form of punching/biting/scratching/kicking a peer or staff or self-injurious behavior such as head banging/eye poking/self-biting.  Although there are probably lots of reasons the student behaves in these manners setting up the environment in order to limit dangerous behavior is incredibly important.  Teachers who have witnessed dangerous behavior in their classrooms know that a typical classroom contains many objects that are potentially dangerous.  By containing many of these potentially dangerous objects (e.g., scissors, staplers, pens, pencils…) teachers may successfully limit the impact these objects may have to endanger students and staff.  For example, instead of keeping scissors on a student’s desk keep scissors in a drawer or closet.  You may be able to lock the door to the drawer or closet if you need to.  Unnecessary decorations (e.g., push pins hanging paintings on the wall) could also potentially become dangerous objects.  When students start to become upset or start to show signs of agitation re-arranging the environment may be necessary.  By being proactive we can make the environment safer.           

Additional tips:

  • Having a calming area of the classroom may be helpful in some situations
  • Knowing why a student aggresses or is self-injurious is helpful
  • Setting clear expectations of what safe and appropriate behavior looks like in a school setting may help all students


About the author:
Erin Devine is a licensed special education teacher and board certified behavior analyst (BCBA).  She is currently a master trainer/consultant with QBS, Inc where she teaches Safety-Care to professionals around the country.  The Safety-Care curriculum is designed to provide a set of skills and strategies that allow staff in a variety of settings to safely and humanely provide support to individuals who may sometimes exhibit distruptive or dangerous behavior.  She wishes she and her staff had access to Safety-Care when she taught in a public school.

If you want to know more about the topic and/or Erin, please feel free to drop her a line at: info@qbscompanies.com


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sunday, september 25. 2016 - (week 38)