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Who owns the learning environment?

December 15, 2006

Hello again,
I don’t know if it is still de rigeur but there was a time when a lot of teachers insisted on playing music in the background while a class was in progress. Okay, it was never as bad as supermarket or restaurant ‘musak’, indeed it was often the best from the Baroque Period. But I often wondered whether students had a say in this use of music. For myself, music...

... is an intense experience. If I hear Bach, then it blots out all other experiences. So, for me the theory that such music assists learning at some subliminal level just doesn’t work. I do, of course, acknowledge that some learners might find that it helps.

How often do we as the people in charge of the classroom consult with students about their learning environment? Of course classrooms come in all guises from the ultra-modern purpose built, to the pokey side room where light and air are at a premium. Yet really, no matter what the original space is like, there is nothing to stop the learners making it their own. They could decide how to arrange the furniture, where to position the board and other aids, what to display on the walls and even to have background sounds, whether music or New-Agey nature effects.

I think the issue of organising the learning environment would make a useful classroom project, allowing student to discuss and plan and then to carry out the practical work themselves. By the way, I was prompted to reflect on this because of what a teacher based in the UK told me recently. She had wanted to decorate the classroom for Christmas. Her Principal, however, forbade it, saying that, as not all students were Christians, this might be offensive. I bridle at this for two reasons. Firstly, the celebration of Christmas is one of the few festivals that virtually all the inhabitants of these islands participate in and so it is entirely reasonable for students to experience some of the ways in which we mark it. But, secondly, I thought how arrogant this Principal was: why not ask the students how they felt instead of assuming that they would take offence? Now, in general, I believe that religion should be kept out of the classroom, but I would argue that the celebration of Christmas is so general that we should be able to make some festive gestures.

Do let me know what you think?

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  1. Eva Murray Says:

    Dear Brenda,

    Thank you so much for your thoughts and wise insights. I really enjoy reading your newsletters and I learn at lot from them. I absolutely agree with you regarding acknowledging Christmas. In Sydney, a suburban council recently 'outlawed' hotcross buns at Easter fearing the sign of the cross may offend newly arrived Muslims. What nonsense! Culture should be shared - particularly in the ESL classroom as cultural exchange in this arena is such a fantastic source of language development. "I'll show you mine (festive traditions) - if you show me yours." That's how the ESL classroom should work - with loads of input from the students.

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