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Effective Learning Environments
Effective Learning Environments

In developing curriculum, Randolph School teachers often reference Yardsticks, a book published by the Northeast Foundation for Children, that offers descriptions of children's social, physical, and academic development at each age, from 4 to 14. These developmental "yardsticks" are not benchmarks or standards for children to meet, but rather general guiding ideas to help teachers and parents understand children's growth.

Randolph teachers also create environments that promote individual and collaborative learning experiences for children. The National Research Council’s study, How People Learn, describes four characteristics of effective learning environments.

The first element, Learner Centered, refers to a learning environment that elicits students’ interests and understandings and begins with what students already know and think. Student questions are valued and students learn how to ask questions, seek answers, share new ideas and reflect on the process.

The second characteristic, Knowledge Centered, focuses on what is to be learned and why it is to be learned and provides children with multiple pathways to reach beyond themselves and do their best work. Curriculum is presented in an inquiry based, integrated project approach which builds skills, concepts and content knowledge within a larger context that increases student comprehension and access to what they've learned.

The third aspect, Assessment Centered, provides for ongoing assessment that is embedded within the curriculum and based upon real work. Various types of documentation as well as teacher-supported self-reflection provide frequent opportunities for student thinking and learning to be made visible; ongoing assessment informs future learning and instruction. Teaching teams collaborate to enhance classroom practice.

The final characteristic, Community Centered, fosters an atmosphere of collaboration and cooperation and encourages questioning, respect and intellectual risk-taking by all members of the community. The social curriculum includes the development of teamwork and appreciation for each individual's contribution to the community.

National Research Council. How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2000.

Wood, Chip. Yardsticks: Children in the Classroom, Ages 4-14. Turner Falls, MA: Northeast Foundation for Children, 2007.