TEACHING STANDARD: "Learning Environments" discussed by elementary and secondary teachers


UEA’s Educators Taking the Lead initiative is designed to support member success in the new educator evaluation process by focusing on effective teaching practices and instructional quality. February 2014’s focus is Standard 3: Learning Environments (PDF).

Standard 3: Learning Environments

“The teacher works with learners to create environments that support individual and collaborative learning, positive social interactions, active engagement in learning, and self-motivation.”

By Jennifer McKenna, 10th- to 12th-grade English teacher

Bean bags, camp chairs and dog beds are the new additions to my classroom this year. While my students appreciate the comfortable reading spaces, they don’t realize that they are part of a carefully planned, positive learning environment.

One daily component of my class is Silent Sustained Reading (SSR). This is a common activity in English classrooms, but it’s not something that I felt successful with until this year. When I considered Utah Effective Teaching Standard 3, I took a closer look at procedures and activities that would increase student engagement, social interaction and collaboration. The results of my “new” SSR affirm the importance of meeting this standard.

SSR has instituted a reading routine for my students. At the beginning of each class, we (myself included) read our independent novels or articles for 20 minutes. Next, we respond to our reading via, thereby extending the learning beyond the classroom. Lastly, we discuss our reading experiences in small groups, which promotes respectful interactions.

SSR allows my students to take control over their own learning. They select their own reading material—some listen to audio books, some read biographies and others read online news articles. They select their independent reading spaces and set their own pace.

SSR incorporates all language modalities of speaking, listening, reading and writing. Each day, my students know that they are expected to participate in each segment of SSR.

Standard 3 reminds us to plan activities that foster student engagement in individual and collaborative situations. Though my students are reluctant to leave their bean bags when we transition to instruction, they recognize the special, concentrated and dedicated time that we devote to reading every day. Now, instead of asking “When are we done reading?” my students ask, “Can we keep reading?” That is what Standard 3 is all about.

By Launa Nelson, fifth-grade teacher

I believe that creating a strong and effective learning environment has a lot to do with students “buying in” to what we, as teachers, are doing. I love for my students to have ownership in our classroom. One way I like to create opportunities for ownership is to allow my students to help set up our discipline plan at the beginning of the year. My students brainstorm what “awesome students” do and what “awesome teachers” do. We make a long list, and I write up all the details in a contract that we all sign. When a student breaks the contract, they understand that their behavior is what mandates the consequence. My students reference our class contract throughout the year. One year, when imposing taxes on my students (as part of our Revolutionary War unit), one of my students was adamant that I was breaking our class contract! 

We also enjoy having class meetings each Friday. When problems, suggestions, concerns or fun discussion ideas come up, I ask students to put them in our class meeting box. During class meetings, everyone has a chance to share their opinion. Class meetings are centered on respectful discussion. When I see behavior problems creeping into the classroom, I add them to our class meeting box. As a class, we make a plan together to fix the problem. My students are the ones who set the consequences for behavior. I make suggestions for consequences, but students vote and ultimately make the decision. Some teachers may worry about giving their students so much power, but I’m always very impressed with consequences set by my students. They usually vote to set much stricter consequences than I would!

As we learn about the structure of our government, my students run for office and draft bills that they would like to implement as laws in our classroom. If these bills are passed in both the House and the Senate, they are sent to the president (me) to possibly be signed into law. Each year, I sign a few new bills into law and new policies and procedures are implemented in my classroom. My students love having a say in our classroom! They feel ownership, love and respect, all because they are such an integral part of how our classroom runs

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