Differentiating the Learning Environment
Learning goals, subject content, resources, learning activities and assessment all contribute to the learning environment. However, there are a number of other factors that influence the overall learning experience for the student, and some of these factors can also be arranged in flexible ways in order to make learning more meaningful and accessible for all students.
Flexible use of Physical Space
Students have different preferences when it comes to factors like level of noise, light or posture in the classroom. While it is impossible to cater for all possibilities all of the time, teachers can plan for some variation. For example, students who have trouble focusing when there is noise could be allowed to use headphones while they work on an independent task. Students who do not work well seated for a long time could be provided space to stand up at frequent intervals, or perhaps even furniture that allows them to work standing.
Sometimes students benefit from working in “like” groups – with students of similar readiness, interests or learning preferences. Other times they benefit from “unlike” grouping, where they support and are supported by students who have complimentary strengths or interests. Another consideration is how much students are expected to work together. Some students might need more independent time than others.
All students need teacher support, but how much and the form that the support takes is not the same. Some students need a high level of direction and monitoring, others need more space to innovate and find their way. Some students need a high level of affirmation, while others thrive on challenge and new ideas. There is no short-cut to identifying how to differentiate the support you offer students. It requires the teacher to get to know students and build a relationship of trust with each one.
What other features of the learning environment could a teacher intentionally vary in order to make learning more meaningful and accessible to all students? Share your thoughts in the comments.