All of us, who visit schools, or who have worked as teachers, at one time or another have become aware of the significant effect the physical environment can have on learning. As learners, we all try to construct learning and working environment, that contain both artefacts and psychological features that emancipate us, and thus support our learning and study. Pupils and teachers alike frequently complain about the noise, temperature, lighting, space, furniture, seating arrangements and materials that constitute the physical aspects of a classroom environment. There are also complaints, often by principals, but increasingly by teachers and parents, about psycho-social elements of classrooms. That is, the amount and nature of classroom talk, the use of groups, the role expectations of teachers and pupils. The appropriateness of the psycho-social and physical objects and conditions inherent in classrooms affect the teacher's and pupil's ability to concentrate, to think and/or attend to classroom activities. Classroom environment, language acquisition and teacher thinking research reinforces the role teacher's play in creating effective learning environments. Close-up examinations of 'life in classrooms,' beginning with Jackson (1968), indicate how teachers can arrange the physical and psycho-social environment in ways that make them more effective scaffolds for pupil learning. Consequently, the nature of the physical environment is viewed as one determinant of a teacher's effectiveness, i.e., their ability to facilitate pupil learning. In addition, research has also shown that the content and nature of the physical classroom environment -the learning facilities, the instructional materials, the equipment used, and the displays of pupil work- amount to a public statement of the beliefs about teaching and learning that each respective teacher holds (Sipco, 1996; Tessmer & Harris, 1992). This presentation will report findings of a study that explored 70 primary classrooms in Hong Kong. The study sought to determine how the classroom environments supported learning, and what messages were being implicitly sent to pupils about language teaching and learning. Observational records were made of the environmental, self-related and symbolic elements that existed in each classroom. Teacher interviews were also conducted to determine their personal views about second language learning, and the importance of the learning environment. Findings reveal highly structured classroom environments largely devoid of displays, visual stimuli or self (student) related elements. Messages identified relate to teacher control and responsibility for learning, an emphasis on neatness, accuracy and conformity, learning by memorisation, and a seemingly devaluing of English language, and written language in general. When combined, the messages indicate an implicit 'didactic' model of teaching (Rowland, 1987) being used. The implications of these messages for pupils, teachers and teacher educators are far reaching and will be discussed.
|Published - 1997