Transforming Education: Environment (ERE part 1)

Jan 11, 2019

 You can listen to this episode and download its mp3 from my podcast for free:

SUMMARY

This video discusses the first piece of the ERE framework, ENVIRONMENT. The idea is that everything we do as educators to shape our students’ outcomes can be categorized into one of these three areas: Environments, Relationships, and Experiences.

Rick goes over the three key distinctions that educators need to think about in the physical environment that we provide for our students.

The first distinction involves layout. Rick will walk you through what to look for when analyzing the OVERALL LAYOUT of your student’s space in your center or classroom. This includes how it is laid out, what types of areas you have available and which areas are next to which. He will even have you working on your “ideal” floor plan and how to be flexible and trying new ideas. Rick also covers students’ personal spaces, as well as the need for interest and contrasting experiences for your students, including visual, tactile and auditory. Each should have their own place in the layout of the environment.

The second thing that Rick covers is the “LOOK” of your environment. Most of us don’t put a lot of thought into it, but it has probably the biggest effect on the subconscious mind of our students and that is the visual experience of our environments, the LOOK. Rick discusses our pedagogy and psychology classes and their use of modalities – the visual, auditory, and kinesthetic –we know that every learner operates optimally with different mixtures of those three.  However, on the quantitative scale, the modality that by far gets the most “brain attention” is the visual modality. So, with that in mind, we need to remember to add intention to the visual elements within our environment.

Finally, Rick talks about what he likes to call LOCATION, or if you want to get technical the “Kinesthetic Coordination” of the environment.  He discusses making sure that the loud stays with the loud, and the quiet stays with the quiet, making sure your environment reflects your expectations of behavior, and making sure that you LITERALLY spend time with your students’ visual perspective. He also covers the secret key on how to properly display your students work, both for optimum visual appeal, but also for the best impact on your student’s experience.

So many times, we focus on the curriculum that we forget how important the environment is to the growth and development of children and youth. This video takes educators to the next phase of optimizing their environment for the students in their care.

Watch the video above to get the full training.

  

INSPIRATIONAL QUOTES

     

 TRANSCRIPT:

Hey! It’s Rick Rood from Transforming Education!

Today, we’re going to be looking at one of the three aspects of the ERE.  You may remember the ERE is an organizational tool or framework developed by the School of Education at Concordia University in St. Paul, way back in the 90s.  The ERE stands for E: Environment, R: Relationships, and E: Experiences. 

The idea is that everything we do as educators to shape our students’ outcomes can be categorized into one of these three: Environments, Relationships, and Experiences.

So, today, we’re going to be narrowing it down and looking at the first E – Environments.

First, let’s define exactly what it is we’re talking about when we talk about environments.  For the purpose of today’s discussion, the ENVIRONMENT simply refers to any and all physical objects in the students’ space, in the classroom, or in the interest center.  That’s the key to remember – when we’re talking about the environment in today’s discussions, we’re sticking to physical objects only.

We’re going to go over three key distinctions when we think about the physical environment that we provide for our students.

The first distinction we want to talk about is the layout. We really want to look at the OVERALL LAYOUT of our students’ space in our center or classroom.  How exactly is it laid out?  Do certain interest areas flow into each other without encroaching? Do you have an active area, whether it’s manipulatives, or dress-up play? Keep a look out for games with too many items for the space? 

I remember one classroom set up that we had, we had just received a VERY generous donation of Legos.  A few weeks in, what happened was we started finding these Legos all over the classroom!  They were in the scissor box, they were behind the fish tank, they were on the bookshelf, they were on the game shelf … they were literally EVERYWHERE!  And so, we observed, and we figured out that we had too many Legos for the space.  We took a look and noticed that during the time when the kids were allowed to take the Legos out, there simply wasn’t enough space in that part of the room to accommodate all the Lego structures being built, so, what happened is, bit by bit, day by day, these Legos got scattered throughout the room, as kids moved them around to build in open spaces. Definitely an unintended consequence.

So, why are we talking about Legos?  Understand that the environment isn’t just the floor plan and the chairs and the tables and such… the environment includes all the physical THINGS in the classroom – that means pencils, scissors, easels, and, yep, Legos as well.

Other things to be aware of when you’re looking at the overall layout of your students’ environment: do you have any open “runways”?  Children, as you know, are naturally energetic, and when their presented with a large wide open space, will often exercise their large motor capabilities, and start running.  And that’s fine if the wide open space is outside… but if it’s in the classroom, you may suddenly find yourself having to constantly remind students to walk while their inside.  Much easier to take an eagle-eye perspective and preempt the unwanted behavior by setting up the students’ space so that the only wide open “runways” that they can find are outside!

Another thing to look for, do your students have a sense of their own personal space in the classroom?  Have you set up a place that they can securely keep their own belongings and their artwork?  Looking around your environment, do you offer different “feels” to the classroom – like do you have light and dark?  Do you have hard and soft contrasts, both in furniture and flooring?  How about quiet and loud?  Each should have their own place in the layout of the environment.

So, here’s a couple exercises that I want you to do to get to the “next level” in your environmental planning:

First off, grab your notebook or your journal and I want you to go take a hard look at the layout of the environment in your students’ space.  Mark down everything you notice – I want you to give yourself kudos for all the things that are working and take note of the things that might inadvertently be causing problems.

The second exercise is super fun, you can do this in your journal… or when I do it, I like to geek out and put it on some graph paper… take some time, give you self a half hour or so minimum for this.  Trace the outlines of your classroom on that paper and put in all the things that absolutely can’t be moved – like the plumbing and doorways, etc…  but then from this blank state, set out to INTENTIONALLY DESIGN what you think would be the ideal physical environment for your students.  Keep in mind the concepts that we’ve already talked about, and let yourself run with it, have some fun with this!

So, get your notebooks out and get to work!

The second thing that we are going to be talking about today, the key thing, is what I call the LOOK.

Most of us don’t put a lot of thought into it, but it has probably the biggest effect on the subconscious mind of your students and that is the visual experience of our environments, the LOOK.

We’ve learned in our pedagogy and psychology classes about the modalities – the visual, auditory, and kinesthetic –we know that every learner operates optimally with different mixtures of those three.  But, on the quantitative scale, the modality that by far gets the most “brain attention” is the visual modality.

So, with that in mind, we need to remember to add intention to the visual elements within our environment.

Of course, the first thing that comes to mind is color.  Colors and contrasts within the students’ space naturally cues them as to what to pay attention to, and, as teachers we should constantly be experimenting and playing with colors within our classroom to maximize students’ subconscious experiences of the environment.  This is where it really pays off as a teacher to be an experimenter as well.  Find the right balance of the feelings you want to convey and the visuals in your classroom.  Play with colors on bulletin boards and interest centers and walls.  What do you want your space to convey? Really think about that too. Do you want to convey warmth and happiness?  Do you want to convey an environment that promotes peace and quiet learning?  Or maybe you want investigation and social learning?  Play with the colors and see what you can create!

Now of course, we also want to make sure that the environment’s visuals reflect the messaging that you want to convey as a teacher.  Quote posters are just about the best way to not only teach about famous people from the present and past, but to also sculpt attitudes toward learning and life.  Pepper your walls with words, and not only are you playing to your students’ literacy, but you also tap into their imagination, their ethics, you shape their character, and their creativity.

The last, and perhaps most important, thing to remember about visuals in the classroom is that it is really important to reflect the students back to themselves in what’s on your wall.  If you display work that a student has done – that’s what I’m talking about here…. It acknowledges their work AND boosts their self-image.  Now take it one step further and remember this – always display kids’ work AT THEIR EYE LEVEL.  Yeah, it’s great for the parents to come in on parent night and see all the artwork and see all the work they’ve done … but 99% of the time it’s not the parents who are in the classroom… it’s the students!  So, make sure the work is displayed at their own level!

Next level practices in classroom visual design focus on colors, and words, and the students’ own work.  Take on being a “teacher interior designer” and see what magic you can make in your students’ space.

Finally let’s talk about what I like to call LOCATION, or if you want to get technical the “Kinesthetic Coordination” of the environment.

For example, if you have a quiet reading area – is it right next to a busy block or manipulative area?  If so, you might be setting yourself up for problems by having too much noise next to a space that you would like to see as a dedicated “quiet” space.

Remember our earlier talk of runways?  This also falls under Location.  Make sure that if you expect children and youth to be only walking inside, you don’t set them up for failure by giving them wide-open runways.

Now here this is probably the hardest part about location … it was especially hard for me – you have to do your best to try to experience the environment as the child experiences it.  Like I said, it’s hard for me sometimes because I’m Six-foot-three, and sometimes I forget that I see and experience the world from a hugely different perspective than say that of a four-foot-one second grader.

Grab a pair of knee guards if you need ‘em like I do and walk around your environment as a four-footer, or whatever your students’ height is.  But the important thing is this - check out all the different things that you see from this perspective – I’d be willing to bet money that you’ll see a lot of things you don’t normally notice in the physical environment – especially if you’re tall like me!

Again, get out your journal, take some notes about these things and what you experienced, and ideas you want to try.  I really recommend doing this “knee walk” at least four times a year.  If for no other reason than to just keep your perspective on what your students’ perspective is on the environment.

Today, we’ve talked a lot about the first “E” of the ERE – the ENVIRONMENT.  So many times, we focus on the curriculum that we forget how important the environment is to the growth and development of children and youth.

Remember … check your overall layout – take time to dream of “ideal” floor plans, and always be flexible to try new ideas to make your environment better.

Remember that “the LOOK” visuals are the key to the subconscious minds of your students.  Their attitudes about you, your classroom, and their entire experience with you are often tied up in images without words of their environment.  Use colors, use words on the wall, and especially make sure that the students’ work is prominently displayed – at their level!

And third remember, LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION, “kinesthetic coordination” – make sure that the loud stays with the loud, and the quiet stays with the quiet, make sure your environment reflects your expectations of behavior, and make sure that you LITERALLY spend time with your students’ visual perspective.

I want to thank you for exploring environments with me today! I hope you had a good time! I’m Rick Rood, and, together, we’re transforming education.

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