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Essential Criteria For An Ideal Learning Environment English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 2193 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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After World War II, while the bomb damaged parliamentary buildings were being reconstructed, Winston Churchill urged that design of the great oratory halls remain as before. Fearing that a different plan might diminish the importance of their traditional form of debate, he stated, we shape our buildings and then they shape us.

His statement raises an important question: Does the man made environment affect how we live and act within it? Commercial, retail and entertainment industries pay close attention to the formation of space. We often judge the quality of a restaurant prior to sampling the cuisine. We are then surprised or justified in our opinions of the quality of a product based on the surroundings within which we experience it.

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Do schools and classroom spaces enhance or detract from the learning process? Learning is essentially a mental process. So why do we bother with how the classroom looks or feels? Educational philosopher John Dewey urged that the learning environment be humane and attentive to individual children rather than be a form of mass instruction. Exceptional teachers however, sometimes boast of their ability to practice their art anywhere and under adverse circumstances.

A fundamental question must be asked: “How does one learn?” Early discoveries by noted Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget and more recent theories explored by educator Howard Gardner have expanded the more traditional views of the process of learning. Age, sex, culture and individual character greatly influence not only one’s ability to learn but indicate a multitude of ways that an individual potentially can learn. Learning is no longer considered merely an accumulation of knowledge but rather the understanding or ability to construct knowledge in meaningful ways for a particular purpose or solution to a well defined problem.

The individual style of a teacher, the curriculum being presented, the maturity and learning ability of the individual student must each be accommodated within the classroom space. If these are thoughtfully considered, the new learning environments will enhance, not hinder the learning process. As more is discovered about the learning process, the curriculum and style of pedagogy will periodically be updated, adapted and re-evaluated. The classroom space will also undergo a similar scrutiny. The physical environment then, should not be constructed to manipulate or influence a particular style of teaching or learning, but rather be responsive to and adaptive by individual teacher and student needs.

Over the past fifteen years, I have worked with several educators to design, build and remodel dozens of educational facilities. The past two years were spent in observing and researching teaching practices through a master’s thesis study. I have concluded that the following six (6) general categories include criteria which are essential components necessary for meeting the demands of learning based schools. Both the designer and the teacher should understand and be aware of these qualities to ensure their careful consideration to construct an optimum learning environment.

1. Size, Shape and Scale:

The size of a room affects the possible arrangement of activities within it. Generally, the larger the room, the more flexibility and the smaller, the more intimate. A rectangular shaped room affords more interactive visibility between occupants whereas “L” shaped ones or ones with alcoves allow for variety of privacy to individual learners. Movable wall devices can accommodate many different shapes. Scientific observations indicate that the student builds confidence through achievement. The ability to relate to elements within a room affords a degree of self empowering through scale that is relative. Size and locations of counters, windows, furniture and storage elements all should be considered or be adapted to the scale of the user(s).

2. Acoustical Quality and Noise Control:

Acoustical liveliness is a product of room configuration (parallel walls), surface finishes (hard, soft), material density (solid, hollow) and air tightness (sound transfer). A room designed for music is constructed very differently from one designed for quiet conversation. Shower spaces are great for singing but poor for conducting discussions. If group activities are more prevalent than a single lecture source, rooms should more sound absorptive. Learning is hampered when the teacher or students do not have a common language or when students are unfamiliar with a strange concept if the spoken words are not heard or clearly enunciated. Hard walls such as glass or marker boards should not oppose each other but rather be opposite an open storage areas of differing heights and depths. Disturbing “echoes” or “flutters” can also be mitigated by angling walls at least 5 degrees out of their original parallel plane. Carpet on floors and acoustical ceilings cut down on reverberation (sound that continues to bounce). Massive walls or ones with sound insulation prevent exterior noise transfer but only if there is no air gap (walls only to the bottom of suspended ceilings do not help). If windows or doors must be opened for ventilation, a low frequency sound can be used to mask conversations or exterior noise which may disturb individual discussions.

3. Illumination and Views:

High energy costs caused the design and production of efficient lighting systems for both business and school facilities. Incandescent fixtures have been replaced by fluorescent fixtures as the most common electric light source within classrooms. The human need and desire for natural sunlight and for views to adjacent spaces (for orientation) requires that the two illumination sources be balanced for a variety of activities. Because daylight varies with the season, time of day, weather and position of glazing, controls are necessary for its admission into the interior. Electric light sources are more easily controlled not only when balancing with sunlight but for the specific tasks that need illumination. Glare caused by the imbalance of light sources within one’s field of view or bounced off of a reflective surface (marker board or computer monitor) is one of the major causes of irritation and is a detriment to learning. Knowledge of the extreme ratio of daylight to electric light (as great as 500:1) requires that control devices for reflecting, shading or blocking be carefully considered. Reflectivity of surface finishes, arrangement and location of light sources as well as their method for diffusion within the classroom all play an important role in the comfort for the student and teacher for the purpose of learning.

4. Temperature, Humidity and Ventilation:

Several studies indicate that teachers rather than students are more upset by temperature fluctuations within a classroom. Test scores are not adversely affected by temperatures except under extreme conditions. Students generally like the temperature slightly cooler (5 degrees to 10 degrees) than do teachers. Traditionally, boy’s or men’s clothing insulates their bodies slightly better than does girl’s or women’s clothing. Because the temperature, humidity and ventilation of an enclosed space will depend on a number of factors including the configuration and materials of the building, amount of glazing, size and volume of the space, number of occupants and their current state of activity as well as the heating and cooling system, flexibility for manipulating that system is extremely important for comfort. If the teacher must override existing controls by opening doors or windows to augment their comfort, the system is self defeated and the teacher probably agitated (i.e. not doing the best teaching). Controls should be independent for each space and be simple to operate.

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5. Communication, Electrical Power and Technology:

The advent of electrically powered devices over the past four decades has increasingly invaded the home, business and educational environments. From satellite broadcasts to surfing the Internet, learning opportunities are constantly changing. Regardless of the individual pedagogy or curriculum utilized, a variety of electronic tools now augment and have become integral to the classroom. The business community has pioneered and developed flexible systems that are easily planned and readily available now within the classroom environment. Audio and data transfer systems are simple to network and upgrade when necessary. Raceways or conduits provided at regular intervals allow present and future planning of communication, power and technology. Floor (power and data) outlets should be avoided because of the possibility of maintenance or tripping hazards. Counter height and surface outlets, overhead poles or retractable coils provide needed flexibility.

6. Material Finishes, Textures and Colours:

More controversy is evoked over the colour or texture of a finish material than any other aspect of its use. Studies indicate that 25 % of the population view or perceive colour differently than do the remaining majority. Colours not only evoke cultural style but have historic and symbolic references as well. Bright and light colours tend to advance and dim or dark colours tend to recede. Smooth surfaces appear harder than do rough textures. Self esteem affects an individuals learning progress. Since much of the work displayed within a classroom is student work, ease of display is extremely important. Surface colours must be none competing with exhibited work. Tack able wall surfaces are created with either sound absorbent (tack able) board or vinyl wall material wrapped around a durable surface and then adhered to the substrate. Finishes within reach of students should be cleanable, durable and/or replaceable. Apart from the finish of materials, the perception of newness or cleanliness also affects learning. Equivalent schools were observed as one was repainted and the other was not. Attendance and test scores improved dramatically in the facility which was simply refinished.

Conclusions on Interrelationships:

It is obvious that all of these criteria are interrelated. A small habitable space with a large amount of glazing with southern exposure (in the northern hemisphere) will most likely be bright and warm on a clear day. If a window is opened adjacent to a playground, noise will penetrate the room. If walls are finished with a glossy paint over hard surfaces such as plaster, speech will be difficult to understand especially as more individuals speak simultaneously. If a marker or chalk board is opposite an exterior window, it will be difficult to see because of the resultant glare. If floors are finished with a composition tile which was intended for easier maintenance, the room will reverberate and be livelier than if finished with carpet. If the carpet colour is plain and either very light or dark, it will quickly appear to be dirty.

There is nothing new or remarkable about these environmental considerations. We consider most of them when using our native “common sense”. We often make individual adjustments to our living and learning space(s) to be more functional or comfortable. However, sometimes these adjustments may diminish an others opportunity for learning. Tin foil or shades on windows reduce occasions for a view of the sky, a beautiful sunset, the landscape or an outside object used to illustrate a particular lesson. Shrinking the height of an existing classroom to reduce heating or cooling costs may alter the sound qualities or prevent the display of student work. Brightly coloured walls or high light levels may increase glare and possibly unwanted heat gain through lamp radiation. Hard cleanable surfaces may simplify maintenance tasks but increase reverberation or prevent teacher or student displays and consequently provide an atmosphere which is unpleasant to learn or teach within. All of these well intended decisions resulted in unintentional problems which are known to affect childrens’ learning ability or make education more difficult.

When planning or remodelling a classroom environment, a successful (subjective) learning space requires that both the educator and environmental designer understand the affects of each criteria quality with respect to learning as well as each criteria’s interrelationship to each other.

A good classroom must include the possibility for individual control as well as provide a well proportioned, stimulating and comfortable learning space which takes advantage of local character, solar orientation, appropriate views, and proper functional interaction with adjoining learning elements and strong connections with the surrounding community. Allowing teachers to easily adapt learning environments to their individual pedagogical style(s) will increase the opportunity for student learning.


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