Classroom Culture and Environment
The classroom environment includes both the classroom culture (the social-emotional tone or climate in the room), and the physical environment (the materials and design of the room). Both reflect and support children’s development and learning.
Classroom culture, environment, and literacy learning are closely linked. Children need safe and predictable classrooms to try out new skills in reading, writing, listening, and speaking. They need organized spaces to learn independently and with each other. They need rich print to make their learning visible, and rich conversations to explore new ideas. Most importantly, they need caring communities that promote cooperation, independence, and joyful learning.
Messages the Classroom Culture and Environment Send to Children
We can design our classroom culture and environment to support children’s growth and development, and meet the needs of all our children. Our classrooms send powerful messages to children about what it means to learn, a child’s place in the community, and the child’s own capabilities.
|Positive Message||How the classroom culture and environment conveys these messages|
“This is a safe and comfortable place.”
Children learn best when they are in a safe and comfortable environment.
Teach children responsibilities such as “I am safe with my body” and “I use kind and caring words.”
Design the room with visibility in mind. The children should be able to see the teacher, and the teacher should be able to see the children.
Create welcoming, comfortable, cozy spaces. Make sure furniture is in good condition and the room is clean, tidy and uncluttered.
“I am capable of taking care of myself and the classroom.”
Children are capable. They can contribute to the classroom and take ownership of their actions and learning.
Create classroom responsibilities and procedures with the children. Let them have a say in what responsibilities are needed in the community.
Teach procedures such as “We put things back where they belong,” “We know how to use materials,” and “We know how to use anchor charts to help us learn.”
Organize and label materials and shelves.
Keep materials where children can reach and access them.
Keep anchor charts and other print resources at eye level.
Books are available to meet the interests and levels of all the children.
“I can make friends and share.”
Children need secure, consistent relationships with teachers and peers. Children learn social skills such as making friends, sharing, and cooperating together in school.
Teach cooperation skills such as, “We know how to take turns,” “How to read with a buddy” and “We know how to discuss our thinking with our friends.”
Create a large group space with a rug big enough to accommodate the whole class.
Create areas for small groups and pairs to work together cooperatively.
“I belong here and I am valued.”
Children, like all people, are at their best when they feel valued and have a sense of belonging.
Celebrate the unique differences, experiences and cultural capacity children bring to the classroom.
Include pictures, books and materials that reflect the children, their families, and their communities in the classroom.
Post children’s writing and other work throughout the classroom. Make sure that all children are included, whatever their developmental level.
Design the environment to meet the needs of all students.
Use the words “we,” “us,” and “our” to send the message that everyone contributes to the community.
“I can do interesting work here.”
Learning is joyful. School should instill a life-long love of reading, writing, and thinking in children.
Collect books that reflect a variety of genres, interests, authors and levels.
Create learning stations that have a variety of materials for children to explore and investigate.
Let children have a voice in what they are learning about and how they are learning it.
Provide frequent opportunities for children to discuss ideas, thoughts, and opinion. Teach them skills needed for accountable talk and active listening.
Frequently Asked Questions
My children don’t treat the books in the classroom well. What should I do?
Children need lots of opportunities to browse and read books all around the room to grow as readers. Help them learn how to care for books as part of their responsibilities in your classroom. Create and teach procedures around borrowing and returning books, how to handle and turn pages carefully and what to do if a book gets hurt. Co-create anchor charts on how to treat books. Give them lots of practice and be consistent with your expectations. Offer praise as the children grow in their book handling skills. Keep in mind that there will be some natural wear and tear if books are “well-loved.”
Do I really need to get rid of my teacher’s desk?
The use of space is a major consideration in creating the literacy environment. The teacher’s desk was an essential part of the classroom in the days when it held attendance books, grade books, lesson plan books, and student records. Now, all of those tools and resources are in digital format in almost every classroom, so the teacher’s desk has become more of a nostalgic symbol. Let’s move into the 21st century! Classroom space is precious real estate. A teacher’s desk can be as large as 60” x 30.” That is enough space for a writing center, a listening center, or an expansion of the classroom library to include more comfy chairs. We want our classrooms to be child-centered and to show that children’s learning is the first priority. The decision to keep or get rid of your desk is ultimately up to you. Take the time you need to make the choice that is right for you. If you decide to get rid of your desk, take the time you need to find an accessible place to neatly stash your “teacher stuff” and to feel good about making the decision to devote more space to learning.
My literacy block is crammed! How can I fit everything in?
When we teach with a sense of urgency, we are mindful of using time effectively and efficiently. If you are feeling that there are simply not enough minutes available, consider the following steps. First, critically examine all of the activities currently in your literacy block. For each activity, say to yourself, “What is it about this activity that will make my students better readers and writers?” If you don’t have a good answer, eliminate it. Make sure that you are using simple, predictable routines so time isn’t lost with transitions. Then use multi-leveled, multi-purpose instructional strategies such as Message Time Plus. In a Message Time Plus lesson, you can address spelling, sight words, vocabulary, phonics, reading, and writing in approximately 20 minutes. Organizing instruction in the workshop model also increases efficiency. Finally, find more time for literacy instruction outside of the literacy block. For example, you can read aloud an informational book during content area instruction.
It takes forever for my children to come to the rug and settle down. How can I make my transitions run more smoothly?
We know that every minute in the school day counts. We don’t want to end up losing what may accumulate to hours of instructional time due to sloppy transitions. Procedures and routines are the foundation of successful literacy instruction. Plan and teach procedural lessons for “coming to the rug.” Co-create an anchor chart with your students on rug procedures. Post the anchor chart at the children’s eye level near the rug. Reread and review the rug procedures every time you conduct a lesson on the rug. Celebrate and praise the children who are following the “rug procedures.” Songs that include prompts for expected behaviors often work well. When things seem to be falling apart, it’s time to go back and reteach the procedural lesson. Reinforcement, practice, and reflection will help the rug routine become automatic.
I don’t like the way my children talk to each other. What can I do about it?
Creating a classroom community that promotes kindness, responsibility, and respect is critical to our work. First of all, it is important that we model the use of positive language ourselves. Children learn what we do much faster than they learn what we say. Be mindful of how you talk to children. Then address the issue of the children’s use of language to each other head on. Revisit your “class promise.” You might even consider rereading the promise daily to ensure that the message is getting across. If you haven’t written a class promise, do it. Explicitly teach lessons on “The Power of Three” – Take Care of Yourself, Take Care of Others, and Take Care of Our Classroom. Regularly convene class meetings that address how to treat others. Engage children in role play on how to respond in contentious situations. Read aloud and discuss books on the topic. Recognize and celebrate children who use kind words.
My children don’t follow the rules. What should I do?
We want children to see their classroom as a place where they have shared responsibilities. Emphasize responsibilities rather than rules. Keep the classroom a safe and happy place by teaching and practicing procedures and routines. Post co-created anchor charts to help the children remember what they should do and how it should be done. “Rule breaking” often occurs during periods of time when there is no clear directive on where to be and what to do. Revisit the “class promise” that was coauthored with the children if you have one; if not, co-create one. Remind them reasonably often that they have signed the class promise. The Power of Three lessons reinforce the children’s responsibilities for themselves, others, and the classroom. Have honest conversations about responsibility in class meetings. Engage the children in problem solving.