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Tuesday, 24 June 2014

The Road to Outstanding Part Two - The Learning Environment

This is part of a series of posts taken from the new advice from Ofsted about the ways teaching should be measured, taking us away from single lessons as the sole measure. 

Step two on the road to outstanding leads us to the importance of the learning environment. A lot of what is said in this blog post will translate to KS1 and KS2 including the references to 'outdoor provision' which in KS2 does still have some relevance.

Outstanding teachers look for outstanding, they take risks constantly reviewing and revising their practice. They move thinking away from the conventional classroom layout shown in the picture above and think more about how to adapt the room or physical layout of the learning environment to maximise learning.  There is no 'wrong' place to learn, learning can take place indoors, outdoors and in the community.

The classroom environment can be a learning tool and is a fundamentally important means of engaging children. It can create a sense of ownership and be used to support and promote learning as well as celebrating children’s achievements. With thought, planning and effort, an effective environment is used as an interactive resource supporting teaching, learning and assessment. 

There are several things to consider in order to maximise the indoor learning environment:

A rich print environment with a reading area, up to date and relevant displays, prompts to support learning, learning walls and children's independent work, celebrating achievement on display. 

Organisation and presentation of resources should encourage choice, independence,
self-sufficiency and responsible use by pupils. Systems should be in place allowing children
ease of access to resources and places to leave work for completion or marking.

Space and layout of furniture conducive to high quality learning, dialogue and collaboration 
between pupils.  The space should be divided into defined areas. Where possible establish
visual boundaries. In developing a floor plan, considering the fixed elements of the physical
setting and traffic flow allowing ease of access around the room. Provide space for
investigative, collaborative learning yet where possible providing quiet areas for reading etc.
Modify the areas throughout the year changing it to suit different topics, moving or pushing back
furniture to suit the needs of the lessons. The classroom should be an inclusive environment
which meet the different needs and learning styles of pupils. Pupils with A.S.D may need a
calm place or space to work independently away from others.

Learning outside the classroom is highly motivating. Learning in the school grounds stimulates
interest, curiosity and passion for ‘doing’. It activities broadens young people’s horizons,
enabling them to develop new skills and build relationships.

The ‘outdoors’ can be interpreted in a range of ways within education, from outdoor learning
environments in the EYFS to Forest Schools or any outdoor space which encourages playing
and exploring, active learning, creating and thinking critically.  There is a  list of organisations
such as Play England, Forest Schools, Eco Schools, Learning through Landscapes, the
National Trust and Growing Schools. The outdoors, however, is no longer the realm
of progressive or creative schools but part of the mainstream approach to education and
preparation for the workplace. The outstanding teacher embraces the notion of outdoor
learning no matter what year group they teach or how much outdoor space they have. 

Things to consider in order to maximise the outdoor learning environment:

Planning for outdoor learning - Organising learning in relation to learning outside the classroom activities is fundamentally no different from organising any other kind of learning. It starts with your appreciation that the learning you want to enable may be better achieved outside the ‘sort of’ classroom normally used. That is an important step in every teacher’s thinking. The outstanding teacher asks ‘What do I want my students to learn?’ and ‘Where is the best place for them to learn it?’ Be creative and innovative with your planning, thinking outside of the box. Will you organise a percentage of curriculum time for learning outside the classroom in every subject or a regular ‘slot’ in the week?

Using the space available  - This is again about being creative within the boundaries of your own physical setting. However, no matter how large or small your outdoor space is there will be opportunities for outdoor learning. Do you have a door straight to the outdoors where a table or tarpaulin could be placed? If no direct access do you have a pond? Gardens? Perhaps you have no more than a concrete playground so how could this be transformed into an outdoor learning space?

We are approaching the time of year when teachers all of the country are preparing to say goodbye to their new class with one eye on their incoming class. Use the opportunity of this new academic year to transform your learning environment into one where outstanding teaching and learning takes place!