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Video transcript

Presenter intro: Peps McCrea

We want our classrooms to feel like good places. We want the classroom environment to be positive, secure, and safe. We want all pupils to know that their efforts will be acknowledged, their successes will be celebrated, and that they can learn from their mistakes. Teachers can create this positive environment and within it pupils can thrive.

Presenter main

A positive environment is one in which all pupils are supported to learn and develop, whatever their starting points.

The teacher has high expectations of their ability and they’re able to focus on their learning without getting distracted, encountering barriers or worrying about making mistakes. They are provided with helpful strategies to self-regulate their emotions.

All of this together helps to create a positive and inclusive environment that helps all pupils to be successful.

There are many ways in which teachers can build a positive learning environment. Establishing effective routines and expectations provides an important foundation. This means your routines are running smoothly, you set clear expectations, including the positive behaviours that you want to see, and you are consistent in your approach. For example, before asking a question to the class you might remind them that making mistakes is normal and that everyone is expected to try. Or before taking individual responses, you might remind the rest of the class to think about how they can help if someone gets the answer wrong. We want to create an environment in which making mistakes and learning from them are a big part of the daily routine and it can be helpful to include this in your expectations.

it’s also important to explicitly teach the sorts of behaviours that create a positive learning environment and support pupil learning. This will involve identifying the behaviours that you want to see and thinking of ways to teach them to pupils. In a primary setting, for example, you might want pupils to be able to express what they are feeling and so teach them about a range of different emotions to expand their emotional vocabulary, as well as physiological symptoms like sweating palms or more rapid breathing. These physiological symptoms are often signs of certain emotions and pupils need to recognize them so that they know what to do when they occur. Another strategy is to teach pupils how to use a sentence stem that helps them to express their feelings. I feel something because. Being able to name and describe emotions is an important first step in being able to self-regulate them.

Teachers also need to model the positive behaviours that will support learning. Teachers are role models who can influence the attitudes, values, and behaviours of their pupils. This includes being polite, respectful, and courteous to all pupils, modelling what to do when they find a task difficult or modelling what to do when they make a mistake. For example, a teacher might say,"I know this task will feel difficult, but I’m going to attempt it, and if I get the answer wrong, I can fix it.  Mistakes are normal and this will help with my learning much more than if I don’t attempt it at all." What teachers do in the classroom can have a big impact on what their pupils do.

As well as modelling positive behaviours, teachers can reinforce positive behaviours by drawing attention to them. Teachers need to look out for positive behaviours from all pupils and acknowledge them when they occur, such as packing away their books neatly, reading over their work to check for spelling errors, or offering a toy to another child to play with. A simple neutral description of the positive behaviour works well. Teachers can praise behaviours that exceed their expectations. If a pupil works especially hard on a task, a teacher might say something like,"Well done for persevering through that second task, even though it was really challenging." Drawing attention to effort rather than ability is an important feature of a positive learning environment.

Of course, creating a positive learning environment doesn’t mean that we avoid all negatives. There may well be times when it’s appropriate and necessary to provide a sanction to a pupil, especially any behaviour or bullying that threatens emotional safety. Equally, over-praising pupils for simply meeting rather than exceeding your expectations can backfire as it might cause pupils to try less hard in the future. But, if we want our pupils to do their best work, we need to build an environment that is positive, predictable, and safe.

Teachers have a huge influence on pupils. It’s in their grasp to create an environment where pupils succeed.

Exemplification framing

Let’s look at a model of how you can actively build a positive learning environment. you’re about to watch an example of how to respond to a pupil error. As you watch, pay particular attention to the following:

  • Shows that making mistakes and learning from them are part of the daily routine
  • Creates a culture of respect and trust

Exemplification: Ambition Institute coach

One way in which teachers can build a positive learning environment is to make pupils feel safe enough to reveal errors. I’m going to model a way of responding to mistakes. I’m teaching a year nine maths class and they have just been practicing how to calculate percentage increase using the multiplier method.

“Okay, I want to find out how much you understand about using the multiplier method to calculate percentage increase, and as I said before we started working, I’m going to call on some individuals to share their answers but also their thinking process.

Now remember, we haven’t done this before and there are quite a few steps, so you might have made some mistakes. don’t worry if you have, that is normal and this will give you a chance to correct those mistakes.

Now for those of you who are listening to people as they feed back their answers, I want you to be thinking about whether you think the answer is correct or not and be thinking about why. So we’ve all got a really important job to do here so let’s try our best.

Okay, Anna, can you tell me what answer you got?

[Pupil gives incorrect answer]

Okay, can you tell me how you got that answer? [Teacher uses same neutral tone]

[Pupil explains their process and teacher writes it up on the board]

Okay, thank you. we’re going to come back to that.

Josh, can you tell me what answer you got?

[Pupil gives correct answer]

And can you tell me how you got that answer? [Teacher uses same neutral tone]

[Pupil explains their process and teacher writes it up on the board]

Okay, thank you Anna and Josh. I now understand a lot more about how you’re thinking.

Anna, you made a couple of mistakes. Put your hands up around the classroom if, as you listened, you realized that you also made a couple of mistakes.

[A number of pupils put their hands up]

Yeah, so we’re going to go through this process again now. we’re going to identify where we went wrong and then we’re going to correct our thinking.”

In this model, making mistakes and learning from them is just a normal part of what we do. I told pupils that it’s likely that some of them will have made mistakes because this is new and challenging material. Anticipating mistakes helps both teachers and pupils to react in a neutral way when they occur. Mistakes are not surprising, they are to be expected. I also asked each pupil to explain their thinking so that we can identify the mistake clearly. I’m not just interested in whether the pupils got the answer right or wrong. Instead, I want to understand why they have given this answer. I want to understand their thinking.

This model also demonstrated a way of creating a culture of respect and trust in the classroom. I reacted to both pupils who gave their answer in the same way, thanking them and using a neutral tone. I didn’t comment on their answer at this stage. Also, I reminded all pupils that they could learn a lot by listening to someone else’s response, even if it’s wrong. I’m making it clear that in this classroom we value the contributions that every pupil makes.

This is one example of how you can create a positive learning environment but it won’t be as effective on its own. Positive learning environments grow through an accumulation of small steps that teachers can plan and practise. Over time, and with a consistent approach, they can ensure that classrooms are a safe place for all pupils to learn.

Presenter key ideas

In this video we’ve thought about what a positive learning environment might look like and some of the ways in which teachers can achieve this. Before we finish, have a look at the key ideas. Which of these are best illustrated by the model?

  • Creating a positive environment where making mistakes and learning from them and the need for effort and perseverance are part of the daily routine
  • Acknowledging and praising pupil effort and emphasising progress being made
  • Creating a culture of respect and trust in the classroom that supports all pupils to succeed (e.g. by modelling the types of courteous behaviour expected of pupils)

Presenter summary

Creating a positive environment is an essential task for all teachers. It can have a profound impact on pupils’ attitudes to learning and success at school. We need to think carefully about this environment and take small, purposeful steps to ensure that it works for all pupils.