Archive for the ‘ Positive Learning Environment ’ Category

Introverted Students, Positive Learning Environments, and Classroom Management

This journal entry gives insights on introverted students. How do we create a positive learning environment for them? How do we manage the classroom so that they are included and recognized? After completing this entry, I actually found an additional related resource that would be worth visiting: http://www.transformativeclassroom.com/more.php?axi

Objective

“In the Ted Talks video,(http://www.ted.com/talks/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts.html), Susan Cain shares her insight on introversion. Here’s the summary from the Ted Talks website:

In a culture where being social and outgoing are prized above all else, it can be difficult, even shameful, to be an introvert. But, as Susan Cain argues in this passionate talk, introverts bring extraordinary talents and abilities to the world, and should be encouraged and celebrated.

Cain discusses how school and work environments are geared towards stimulating extroverts, and ignore the low-key stimulation that introverts need.

Here’s the full video:

Reflective

Upon watching the video above, I thought, “Oh, thank goodness! Someone has finally said it!”

Interpretive

Much like Cain, I am more introverted, and have felt the pressures to be more extroverted. For instance, once upon a time, I was once in an impromptu meeting with senior executives to discuss the development of a training program. After the meeting, I emailed them some additional thoughts I had on what was said. Their reply was a professional scolding for not sharing these thoughts during the meeting. The senior executives used negative reinforcement to promote extroversion when I felt that I should have been given positive feedback for further exploring the ideas in a deeper manner– a natural activity for an introvert.

I didn’t always identify myself as an introvert. For a long time, I was in denial about this characteristic. This denial came from my need to be accepted in a society that values extroverts. I did everything I could to be a social and personable individual and ignored the uncomfortable feeling of being in a high-stimulation environment.

Because of the pressures to be extroverted, I chose to study Marketing and Communication in university. I thought that if I were surrounded by extroverts (typical of the Marketing and Communication disciplines) that I would somehow transform into a social butterfly. I also thought that I could become an outgoing individual if I studied these disciplines because the subject matter was about about interacting with the public and strangers.

When I obtained my degree, and started my career, I ended up being an educator (software trainer). The pressure to build rapport with strangers (i.e. my clients/learners) was so great that I had gone as far as Googling, “how to make small talk”. I suppose this search itself demonstrates how much of an introvert I am — engaging in research and deep thought ABOUT socializing versus taking the more extroverted approach and heading into a crowd and thriving from the energy and potential experience.

I believe at this point I realized that I was more of an introvert than an extrovert. The evidence was surmounting:

  • I prefer individual activities in my free time like reading, knitting, running, and yoga.
  • I find that I am mentally exhausted after socializing. Even being around large crowds of people is tiresome.
  • I find high-stimulation environments distracting.
  • I tend not to ask others about themselves as I feel that I would be intruding.

Now that I’ve watched Cain’s talk and have recognized the pressures that society has put on introverts, I feel the need to modify my teaching approach to create a positive learning environment that fosters both extroverts and introverts.

Currently, in my training sessions, introverted students are pressured to be extroverted in order to be considered good performers. All class activities are collaborative in nature. There are no activities where learners are independent (unless you get a session with one student). In the sessions, the trainers are constantly passing mouse control to students and facilitating group discussions.

Decisional

In creating a balanced menu of learning activities, my department will need to adopt and create tasks that stimulate introverts and extroverts. For example, we could pose a discussion question for learners to take with them to think about outside of the training session. In the next session, we would have students communicate their findings. The chance to reflect and think critically outside of class would satisfy the yearning of introverts to engage in deep thought, and the presentation of information in the following session would satisfy the stimulation that extroverts need. This is just one example. I feel my training team will need an arsenal of these activities. I will set up a brainstorming meeting. (By the way, I like how these journals give me so many great ideas for my team. My team members are often excited when I let them know my findings from these entries.)

However, what I should point out is that no individual is completely introverted or completely extroverted. So likely, these activities would not cause severe cases of anxiety in students.

Another action item would be to create a pre-course quiz that would actually let students know if they are more on the introverted or extroverted side. I know that many assume they are more of one over the other, but sometimes these results can be surprising. This information can be revealing because students who are actually more introverted may discover that they are actually behaving like extroverts because of societal pressures (which can be stressful for introverts). This can provide them with insight about how they learn best and give them a sense of ownership in helping the trainers mold the session to their needs. This empowers students to learn the way they want – which is an intrinsic motivator.

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Positive Learning Environment: Developing Strategies


More on the purpose of this video later!

Adult Learner Characteristics and Positive Learning Environments

Before you forge ahead and develop or utilize strategies that encourage a positive learning environment for adult learners, you should first understand the characteristics of adult learners. According to the ReproLine Reading Room (http://www.reproline.jhu.edu/english/6read/6issues/6jtn/v6/tn0305trng.htm), Adult Learners are characterized as per the left column of the following table (this is directly from the webpage). In the column to the right, I’ve provided some actionable itemsto satisfy adult learner needs to create a positive learning environment.

 Adult Learner Need Positive Learning Environment – Actionable Items
Require learning to be relevant. Are highly motivated if they believe learning is relevant Ask students at the beginning of the class what they would hope to accomplish with the completion of the course. This not only helps them identify the relevance of the course, but also gives them a sense of responsibility for their own education. This sense of responsibility is an intrinsic motivatorThrough the use of class participation, or reflection type activities like journals, have the learner relay how a course concept can be used outside of the classroom.Need to be recognized as individuals with unique backgrounds, experiences and learning needs Must maintain their self-esteem Have high expectations for themselves and their trainer Have personal needs that must be taken into consideration
Need participation and active involvement in the learning process See posts about active learning by clicking on the Active Learning category in the sidebar.
Desire a variety of learning experiences Ensure you use more than one form of instructional strategy. Ensure that you mix both group and individual activities to create a balance and to satisfy different student personalities. For example, group work and individual reports. Consider other factors, like Group work that is comprised of a presentation component, and group work that involves only in-group discussions.
Desire positive feedback Let students know when they’ve done a good job, that they’ve brought up interesting points, that they’ve asked good question or that they’re on the right track. If constructive feedback were only created, students may focus on where they are lacking and not also where they have done well. This can affect their self esteem.
Have personal concerns and need an atmosphere of safety Involve the learner in creating this atmosphere. Have discussions about what kind of classroom atmosphere would be ideal. This creates a sense of commitment to that type of environment for all learners. You may also decide to show an inspiring video like the one at the top of the post.
Need to be recognized as individuals with unique backgrounds, experiences and learning needs validate their experiences. Adult learners bring varying experiences into the classroom and their perspectives are shaped by their experiences. Ask them questions in relation to course concepts. Let them know how valuable their experiences are in enhancing learning for all.
Must maintain their self-esteem Do not criticize learners. This is related to positive feedback and validation.
Have high expectations for themselves and their trainer Can have course activities around what they are expecting from themselves and from the instructor in the course.
Have personal needs that must be taken into consideration As an instructor, we must understand that the adult learner has other commitments like family, health, work, etc. Discuss course expectations like the number of hours per week to commit and provide sample schedules to illustrate

You will notice that the strategies for a positive learning environment has ties to motivation and active learning as well. Remember this post on motivation? There were four factors that were discussed by Nick Place that would motivate adults 1) Inclusion, 2) Meaning, 3) Attitude, 4) Competence. Most of these factors fit in with the Adult Learner characteristics in the table below. Thus, what motivates adults, also helps create a Positive Learning Environment.

Six Aspects of Positive Learning Environments and Strategies

Another resource that may aid you in developing a Positive Learning Environment is page 6 of this PDF from the Australian Government, Department of Health and Ageing: http://www.rhef.com.au/wp-content/uploads/a_guide_to_facilitating_adult_learning.pdf

This PDF discusses how we should satisfy the Social, Physical, Emotional, Cognitive and Holistic aspects to create a Positive Learning Environment. It also includes some approaches that you could use!

For example, to satisfy the Social aspect (the human need to be a part of the social setting), consider using Welcome signs and introductory activities. This brings me to ice breakers. Here’s a resource for ice breakers if you need some ideas: http://wilderdom.com/games/Icebreakers.html

An icebreaker activity I’ve done before is to have students create superhero names in relation to the subject matter. For example, if I were to train them on how to use a software named “KP Software”, they may create names like KP Storm, or KP Whiz, KP Fire, etc. To add an element of collaboration, I have them create a name for their neighbor. The purpose of this activity is to also create a sense of commitment to becoming an expert at using the software.

Perhaps we will look at these 5 aspects in more detail at a later post!

Positive Learning Environment – Why is it Important?

Why is a positive learning environment important for learners? Well, an environment where students do not feel accepted or respected is a distraction from learning. A positive learning environment means that a student feels comfortable, has a sense of rapport with their teacher and peers, and believes they can be successful (Elizabeth F. Barkley, 2010. Student Engagement Techniques) According to Barkley (2010), a positive learning leads to endorphins in the blood which in turn gives feelings of euphoria and stimulates the frontal lobe. Essentially, learning becomes a pleasurable experience rather than of one where the student fights or flees.

Building a sense of community in the classroom is necessary to foster healthy attitudes towards learning.

Imagine a negative environment where students feel anxious, and disrespected by their teacher and peers. The environment could become very competitive. Imagine trying to employ techniques of active learning where collaborative learning and support is necessary. The environment would be not foster this approach. As well, students would unlikely be intrinsically motivated when they are feeling the impacts of a negative learning environment.

In this TedTalks video, Shawn Achor talks about how a happiness means success and not the other way around. This places an emphasis on what educators need to do: create a sense of positivity in students to encourage their success.

Here’s an excerpt of Achor’s speech:

If you can raise somebody’s level of positivity in the present, then their brain experiences what we now call a happiness advantage, which is your brain at positive performs significantly better than it does at negative, neutral or stressed.

Achor gives us some ideas as to how to provide someone with a happiness advantage:

  • writing down three things you are gracious for everyday for 21 days
  • journaling about one positive experience you’ve had over the past 24 hours
  • exercising
  • meditation
  • random acts of kindness

Some of these things could be incorporated into the classroom. For example, journaling about a positive outcome from the course each day. This could be something the student has learned. Random act of kindness could mean having students do something nice for another student in the class whether it be providing positive feedback, helping another understand a course concept, etc.

Looking for other ways to create a positive learning environment? Look for related posts by clicking on the Positive Learning Environment category in the sidebar.