The Characteristics of an Effective Learning Environment

How much can a child learn by simply looking at a bucketful of water? Nothing much. But, make him/her float a few ducks and he/she will identify the colours; hand him/her a thermometer and he/she will learn to study the temperature of the water; ask him/her to pour some soap into the water and he/she will learn what dissolving means. You could make an endless stream of knowledge accessible for children by providing them with enablers suiting the situations that they cherish regularly. But when can you achieve that? Definitely only when you are thorough in the subject matter you want to teach.

A teacher's knowledge of a subject is undoubtedly one of the most important aspects in determining his/her effectiveness in a class. You cannot make anything fun for your students if you are not sure of something yourself. But how can one make learning fun and also effective for children? Well, for a start, you will have to prepare a tight lesson plan, after aptly assessing what the children know and what they need to be taught, and come up with innovative ideas to teach in the class. To do that, you could adopt different avenues, such as using the interactive white board (IWB) or some web-/computer-based learning material, making the children participate in relevant team/individual activities, singing along poems/songs related to a lesson, etc. All you should aim at is to keep the children busy, also with the satisfaction of learning something new through every avenue you pursue.

Let us say, you want to teach oscillation in a class. You could take the children to a park and demonstrate it with the help of a swing. That way, children will grasp the concept much faster compared to a classroom session of explanation with examples and would also be encouraged to apply their knowledge to achieve more productive tasks. Then, you could graduate to introducing a working simulation to demonstrate the concept. For the case of oscillation, you could create a lab with every possible equipment children come across in everyday life that would also swing in a periodic motion — clock, bell, wind chime, punch doll, etc. By letting children play around with the objects, you will have ensured that they absorb all the characteristics associated with the concept. And then, you could give them a reinforcing exercise as a project to work on at home. It is only after the children are abundantly familiar with the working of a concept will they be able to explain it well, just like how much a teacher's aptitude matters for him/her to reach out to the students.

Not all that we might want to teach would be conceptual on its own. For instance, you might want to teach the process of filling a simple form. The course that teachers normally take is to make the children memorise the details they will have to report in the form. This kind of activity is bound to bore children. So, to keep them interested, a teacher could first understand the need for filling the form, express it in the form of a situation, and ask the children to come up with the kind of details that a person would need to provide to satisfy the situation. This will kindle the critical thinking potential in the children and, for all we know, they might come up with a list much more comprehensive and relevant than the form we have in hand.

The tools that we use to teach will bring out an effective response if they are successful in stimulating children's critical thinking abilities. For that, we will have to make children come up with relevant questions for themselves and others. To ask a measured question at the right time is more important than to give the right answer for a question. As a teacher, you must ensure that children develop that quality. When a teacher appeals to children, he/she becomes their role model. You could capitalise on this tendency of children and practise asking measured, relevant questions at appropriate moments to make them inculcate it as a habit. However, you will have to ensure that your discussions don't lead to an endless supply of questions without any leeway for answers. But then, it is always good to end discussions with a question, leaving the students guessing what will come next. This will keep them curious till the next meeting.

Effective teaching includes the use of pedagogical strategies appropriate to the age and the capabilities of the children in a class. As much as it is important that you ensure to reach out to every child in the class, you must also assess them appropriately to ensure that the learning has been complete. But then, you must keep in mind that assessments are meant to be designed in such a way that children are kept interested in answering the questions and, at the same time, they are tested on all of what they are supposed to know about. From the outset, you must set high standards of learning as well as high performance expectations.

A teacher is only an enabler of an effective learning environment. To be effectively engaged, children require being able to interact and jell with their surroundings. For that reason, you will need to ensure that you build a niche for them in the school — with classrooms that have cupboards for the children to keep the materials they work with, soft boards for the children to display their creations on, large windows that let in enough light and air and also allow the children to enjoy the sight of the beautiful outside; a library that contains not only books but also CDs/DVDs and the creation of the students in the form of paintings, posters, etc.; subject-specific laboratories that allow the children to experiment in; a large garden, with enough comfortable seating arrangement, for the children to read, learn, and engage in the open. Such factors will definitely help the children to try out more, which will lead to a higher standard of performance.

When the standard of performance in a class is high, the children display good discipline as well. It is an automatic outcome. Yet, you must be prepared to counter any form of indiscipline in the class, in a non-violent way. From the beginning, be a friend to all the children and allow them to feel reassured that you are there to sort out any of their problems.