04.Learning Environment

Create a learning environment that speaks “learnish”

It makes sense to maximise the learning environment to reflect the learning habits you are aiming to develop with your children. Think to yourself

  • What learning habits are we focusing on?
  • How can we bring these to life in the classroom environment?
  • How can we use the learning environment to capitalise on and deepen these habits of mind?

I have found the more deeply I think about how to maximise my learning environment, the more it gives back to our learning. You can make you learning environment more “Learning Powered” by thinking about it on several levels:

  • How can we arrange the furniture to deepening learning habits? Could some areas encourage collaborative learning? How? Could there be spaces to learn quietly and independently? How do the arrangement of desks affect learning? This blogpost about West Thornton Academy’s approach to learning power explores this in more depth.
  • What can we put on the walls that will maximise learning power? How can we make these tools interactive?
  • How can we involve the children in this process? What ideas do they have?

Here is an example of involving the children in planning their learning environment. It’s dead simple. We needed a space to write (what was meant as our writing table had been taken over as a modelling and creation table!). I moved a table to a quiet space in our classroom and wrote on the table, “What would you like on your writing table?” The children were frantic to add ideas (side note – top tip – cover tables with plastic so children can write on the them – it’s a revelation!). Cue – great writing opportunity and immediate ownership over their classroom (and a much-used writing area to follow!)

Child writes on table to respond to prompt, "What would you like on your writing table?" Gives children ownership over their learning environment.

Here is another example of giving children ownership over their learning environment and building on challenge. During a maths starter called “Number Talks” – I must write a blogpost on this because it is BRILLIANT for critical thinking and open-ended, multiple answers – this child pondered,

“Does a hexagon and 6 triangles always make a star?”

What a gem! Absolutely brilliant question – so we planned it into our learning environment and added it as an exploration in our tuff spot. Here he is talking about his idea:

So, get creative with your learning environment. Try to look at it through a new lens. Think, “How can I boost learning power?” I love it when people contact me with ideas – please do get in touch with any brainwaves!

Below are a few ideas I have used in various classrooms to boost learning power. This is just looking at what to put on the walls – think how much further you can go if you think about furniture layout and classroom design. The possibilities are endless!

The Learning Ladder and Kind Hands

Thanks to Julian Swindale at Sefton Park School, Bristol

Developing empathy and reflectiveness. Promoting a relish of challenge (see more here).

I have found the Learning Ladder an absolute essential in every classroom I have taught. In fact, I even found a way of using this when teaching adults English in Argentina! This is how I set it up in my current class, but you can think of your own creative ways of doing it:

Take an individual photo of each child in your class (and each adult – very important for modelling being a good learner!). Also, take a whole class one – very powerful! Velcro them to one wall. On another wall, laminate children’s handprints and attach a “Learning Ladder”. When the children spot someone being kind, they can move their face onto Kind Hands. The Learning Ladder is used to reflect on the level of challenge in their learning. Kind Hands is a great way to help children build up an understanding of kindness and empathy and, as long as you value it and review it regularly with the class, ensures kindness is embedded into the classroom ethos. This not only teaches children kindness and empathy but makes your life much easier as there will be fewer niggles in your classroom (well, that’s what I’ve found anyway)!

Here is a year one child talking about Kind Hands in our classroom:

And another one talking about how we use our learning ladder:

The Journey of Learning

Based on John Hattie’s research into Visible Learning, Guy Claxton suggests creating a learning environment that doesn’t only show finished pieces of learning, but the learning process as well. He refers to this as “the guts of learning”. Doing this develops a positive attitude to making, learning from and building on mistakes. It also shows that you don’t only value the finished product, but the process of learning as well. Worked examples, like Ron Berger’s “Austin’s Butterfly” bring to life the process of learning and revising for children. If you haven’t already seen it, it’s well worth its 6 minute’s worth! At St Bernard’s school, in Ellesmere Port, they have an example of Austin’s Butterfly on their hall displays. You could also do this will children’s learning. There is an example of a part of such a display on the page on “Ownership“.

Display in classroom environment showing the journey of writing
Finished posters.

Various walls in my classroom show the journey of learning. Some are large scale plans of an up-and-coming project like a performance or End of Unit Outcome, some show the process of solving a maths problem or working towards an overall writing goal. This display shows “the guts of learning” towards making non-fiction pages. We discussed as a class the kinds of things we would need to do to make an awesome fact page. We noticed and explored non-fiction texts, jotted down notes on our favourite facts, planned the format of our pages like graphic designers, then started to draft and redraft paragraphs and text boxes before putting everything together. This display shows the process of that planning. The children were involved in every stage and we took time to reflect as we went. Now the children can be proud of the eye-catching and informative pages they produce as well as the effort and learning that went into them. 

A Planning Wall

Learning environment display showing a planning wall.

Each topic we did at Christchurch Infants had a “finale”. The children knew about this at the beginning of the topic and we planned towards it. This developed their planning and revising skills. One display in my classroom showed the children’s plans and photos of us following out each part of the plan. This gives the children ownership over their learning – each idea is valued and carried out (see more on ownership here). If it isn’t, we talk about why not (e.g. the idea isn’t practical in some way). The example above shows our planning towards a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.

Plays and performances have developed by using the learning environment. As the children write the script, develop characters and design and revise props, the walls then grow with their ideas.

A Learning Muscle wall

Once you have got to grips with speaking “Learnish” your next steps will be to go deeper into each learning disposition/muscle so that the children can understand how to stretch them. One way of helping children to understand what good collaboration looks like, or what good perseverance looks like, is to create a display, picking that learning muscle apart. I take photos “catching” the children being good learners. We then have a circle time with the children to discuss their ideas of what a good collaborator looks like, for example. This creates an instant display that can be referred back to during any learning.

Mistake of the week!

This display was thrown up quickly, so it isn’t the most beautiful display in my classroom! The idea is the most important though. Each week (or fortnight! – whenever it comes up!), I notice when children have a positive attitude to making mistakes. We celebrate as a class and display their learning on the Mistake of the Week board. This raises the profile of making mistakes and you often here children shouting, “Yes! I made a mistake!” and if you’re lucky, “That means my brain just grew!”

I love this quote from Thomas Edison about the value of mistake-making:

“You must learn to fail intelligently. Failing is one of the greatest arts in the world. One fails forward towards success.”

Thomas Edison

You could also think about how your learning environment extends beyond the classroom. For example, how could you use your windows to involve parents in developing their child’s learning power? How could you build on and develop “Learnish” in your classroom? (There are some ideas on this later on in the site, but you might want to have a think about this yourself before moving on!)

Hand holding book - Powering Up Children


You can now order Powering Up Children from amazon. A comprehensive guide to learning power with real teaching examples, and action steps to gently incorporate these principles into your own classroom.

3 thoughts

  • Becky! me encantó tu escalera del aprendizaje!! voy a ponerla en práctica, estoy con primer grado otra vez y es una excelente idea. También adoré verar en todo tu blog que Argentina está tan presente en tu corazón! A tus seguidores, pude experimentar de primera mano las habilidades de Becky como teacher, y como aprendiz de español! Una verdadera genia.
    Love you and as Elvis said, “You’re always on my mind!” sobre todo cuando algo se me complica con los chicos, ¿cómo lo haría Becky? es lo primero que se me pasa por la cabeza y luego florecen ideas!

    Con cariño. Leni.!!

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