Building a Learning Powered Environment

Starting in a new school and new classroom brings new opportunities and ways of thinking. Over the last few months, I have been grappling with how to make my learning environment accessible and useful to the learners in my classroom and how to use it to send messages to the children about how they are learning (as well as what they are learning). In the process, I have been asking myself:

“How can I making thinking and learning visible to my learners?”


“How can I involve my children in developing their learning environment?” (It is theirs, after all).


“How can make my learning environment ‘speak Learnish’ and send messages about what is valued in this classroom?”


“How can I make the environment flexible and work for a range of learning experiences and learning preferences?”

My classroom environment is very much a work in progress,will grow and adapt throughout the year and into next year as well. I have tried things that haven’t quite worked, some that have and others that need further development. This is my journey so far …

Modelling myself as a learner

Modelling yourself as a learner is powerful on several levels. It enables children to see learning as a lifelong process – not just something that happens in school – and it provides the opportunity to make the struggles of learning visible to children. Apart from regularly sharing my struggles in learning with the children (currently via my challenges in learning to rock climb), I have a display on my whiteboard with the words I am learning in Thai. The children love to chip into this and teach me new words. It has been really useful to make comparisons to what they are learning and model good learning habits; for example, by saying:

“Look, you are learning numbers to 10 in English, and I am learning them in Thai. I’m really having to practise to remember them.”

It is also an opportunity to celebrate the many languages the children can already collectively speak and breaks down the hierarchy between teacher and learner (“We are all learners in here”).

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Arranging tables to facilitate feedback, group learning and shared success criteria

Flexible learning environments ensure that children have access to different ways of learning at different times and can self-regulate when to use these environments. Being mindful of the furniture and how the classroom is set up, makes sure no space is wasted and everything in theclassroom is purposeful. More on this later …

Having visited some of the best learning powered schools in the UK, I have been inspired to think carefully about how I set up the furniture in my classroom – which arrangements lend themselves best collaboration? To pair learning? To independence? To feedback? Below are some examples of desk arrangements I have tried. We found that the L-shaped desks worked best for teacher feedback as you could easily access all children and make eye-contact. Small clustered desks were great for collaboration and the sharing of ideas and resources. We also now have individual desks the children have asked for a quieter space, perhaps for writing and reading. Children love the nook in our classroom as a quiet, private reading space.

Involving the children in their learning environment

When I have put up displays and anchor charts, I have consulted the children where they think they would be most useful and effective and why. This not only empowers the children and values their opinion, but means they pay more attention to what is put on the walls.

Below is a photo of the writing desk the children had requested. I wrote on the table: “What would you like on your writing table?” The children were instantly abuzz with writing down their ideas. It will take a bit of time to resource and stock some items (any idea where to buy glitter highlighters?! Or if they even exist?!) but we could instantly put out books and book covers, which the children excitedly used the next day. The fact that they had asked for them and we had responded to their request made it more meaningful and motivating to them.

We have a shared area within our year one building – I would love to further involve the children in developing this and adapting the environment in relation to current motivations and topics.

Showing “the guts of learning”

When we have displayed children’s learning, we have also unpicked and shown the process of that learning. In this way, the children can see the steps, perseverance, reflection and collaboration that went into the finished product. It demystifies the process of learning and shows that any learning that is worthwhile takes effort and sometimes several attempts.  Here some examples of the process of learning towards making collaborative posters on Diwali.

Displays to encourage self-evaluation

We have begun to use Learning Ladders and Learning Wheels (see https://www.thisisbalance.co.uk/)for the children to self-reflect. We use the Learning Ladder as a planning and reflection tool in relation to challenge. See here more on the thinking behind the Learning Ladder and how to set it up. We have talked about how the ‘sweetspot’ is to be in the Learning or Practise Zones. Children have come up with some astute comments about how challenging their learning was:


“To begin with I was overstretched. My learning was too tricky and I didn’t think I could do it. Then, I asked a friend to help and I got into the Learning Zone.”


“I was in the Practise Zone, then I started to get it and it got too easy. To keep myself in the Practise Zone, I thought of a new challenge and started practising that.”

We have only just started using the Learning Wheel. We have used it at the end of learning to reflect on whether or not children feel they have mastered the learning intention. Next term, we will incorporate it further into teaching and learning.

Displays to make values integral to the classroom

I have written in more detail about ‘Kind Hands’ here. I have used an interactive display like this with every class I have taught. It unpicks kindness for children – what it looks, feels and sounds like and makes kindness an integral part of the classroom ethos. Children value kindness and love to be on kind hands. I have noticed a positive effect on engagement and self-esteem in children who, at the beginning of the year, chose to opt out of learning. There are times of the day that run really smoothly, such as snacktime, because the children have got into the habit of helping out (collecting the bin, get cups for other children, making spaces for  their friends) – because these ‘acts of kindness’have been noticed and labelled through ‘Kind Hands’, children have felt good about them and they have become part of what we do every day.

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How to get unstuck

Based on the ideas in Guy Claxton’s latest book, TheLearning Power Approach, we have been discussing how to get unstuck if learning is too challenging. This year, I have been looking at how to unpick that for each skill. We are building a ‘how to get unstuck reading’ and a ‘how to get unstuck writing’ wall, as well as ‘strategies for problem-solving in maths’.Here are two examples, one from my own class and one from one of our stunning Year Two teachers, Kimberley Powell.

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What next?

The joy of teaching and the joy of the LPA is that there is always more that can be done – inspiration sparks inspiration and I am very lucky to be surrounded by many impressive learning environments and great ideas. Here are just a couple I hope to incorporate next term:

Calm learning environments:

Calm, clear learning environments breed calm, clear thinking and learning. Stripping back clutter and ‘noise’ will enable children to focus on what is important. This is part of the first Design Principle in Powering UpLearners, “Make your classroom a safe and interesting place to be a learner”.

Neutral colours and tones, as well as natural light and plants, create a calm, safe feeling in a classroom. Below are some examples of clear, calm classroom, from Kimberley Powell, Year Two teacher. Next term, I aim to declutter, bring in some plants and creat more of a cosy feel to my classroom:

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Levels of challenge – Early Years

Our Early Years setting is stunning. Environments are enabling, open-ended and inspiring. One idea that caught my eye from one of our leading practitioners, Sarah Gaugan, is to add levels of challenge into the learning environment as well as lessons (see here for the thinking behind self-adjusted challenge). One example, is to add levels of challenge into the junk modelling area in relation to joining (for example, sellotape might be a ‘one chilli challenge’ and split pins might be a ‘two chilli challenge).

Find out more ….

For more ideas on developing Learning Environments, as well as how to create self-regulated challenge and self-evaluation, Powering Up Children is now available for pre-order on Amazon:

https://amzn.to/2QoCS1a

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