Now that the traditional one-size-fits-all attitude toward learning styles has changed, classrooms don’t look much like they used to. Gone are the straight rows of forward-facing desks, the dusty and boring ABC posters and the ominous teacher’s desk that dominated the front of the room. Kids Enabled talked to teachers about how changes in the classroom are making it easier for kids with learning differences to experience success.
Today’s teachers are thinking outside of the box – the box that we used to call the classroom. In thinking about the ideal classroom for children with learning differences, Kids Enabled decided to go straight to the source and interviewed local educators on what they believe makes a classroom ideal for learning. Creating a learning-friendly environment involves not only the structural elements of a classroom such as desk placement and color choice, but thoughtful and informed consideration of the diversity of learning styles as well. While perfection is not possible in an imperfect world, there are many accommodations that make learning more fun and less difficult for children with learning differences.
Even simple adjustments can enhance a learning environment. Peggy Price, an educator at Coralwood School in DeKalb County, says it plainly, “It’s the little things.” Many classroom teachers start with changing the lighting from glaring, fluorescent lights to table or floor lamps and natural sunlight from the windows. Since lighting can influence both mood and performance, many teachers strive to create both well-lit and dimly lit areas to allow for different stimulation levels of their students.
Similarly, color choice has been shown to influence attitudes, behavior and learning. It has even been found that color affects attention span and sense of time. Educational planner Kathie Engelbrecht insists that, “Color is important and it can have benefits for the classroom…The mental stimulation passively received by the color…helps the student and teacher stay focused.” Younger kids are stimulated by bright colors while older students respond better to blue and green since those colors are less stimulating. Knowing that color does make a difference helps teachers make informed decisions about how to decorate the classroom.
Silence is golden (not!)
The old assumption is that children need silence in order to concentrate and learn. Today’s research shows that a little bit of background or “white” noise can actually help some children concentrate. Educator Liz Walsh of The Howard School states, “It’s important to be mindful of individual children’s preferences. Choose moments of silence in the classroom, and offer individual children the option of working with headphones and music.”
The use of music in the classroom can positively affect the learning atmosphere. Some teachers play non-distracting, quiet background music to get the creative juices flowing. Matthew Carden, a teacher at the Orion School, uses music in the background during certain activities such as handwriting or art and found that Sinatra was a hit with the kids! Students engaged in creative activities can benefit from harmonious and calming tunes. In contrast, other activities may need more upbeat tempos to help students maintain focus. In the afternoon, students often need more, not less, stimulation. Some teachers interviewed used music and dance to help the children get exercise after lunch, which helps their concentration levels in the afternoon.