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Creating a supportive learning environment

A supportive learning environment is less about the physical classroom and resources (though these are important) than it is about values and relationships.

In a genuinely supportive learning environment, every student feels valued, included, and empowered.

For this to happen, each student needs to know that their story matters. For teachers, this means listening, and taking the time and appropriate opportunities to learn:

  • where their students have come from
  • where they are now
  • where they want to head in the future.

Effective teachers do not teach lessons; they teach students.

Decisions relating to programme design, texts, resources, and contexts are made on the basis of sound knowledge about the students in the class: knowledge about their students’ linguistic background, their ethnicity, their turangawaewae, the expectations of their parents and whānau, their hobbies, their skills, their prior learning and so on. These factors all contribute to the formation of each student’s identity – who they are and how they see themselves.

Finding out about your students is just part of the broad inquiry cycle that also involves consciously planning and implementing programmes of learning that are designed specifically for them. The resources you use will be selected as part of this same inquiry.

See snapshot 4: Learning through poetry and snapshot 9: I am not Esther for examples of how teachers made resource decisions based on their knowledge of their students.

At the start of the school year

Here are some steps you could take at the start of a new school year to begin to create a supportive learning environment:

Creating a learner profile

Start building a learner profile (paper based or digital) for each student. In it, you might keep track of:

  • English curriculum progress (See, for example, progression in ideas)
  • key competencies progress
  • the student’s learning goals.

How could you and your students update these during the year? How could your students share their profiles with their families?

Enabling eLearning: ePortfolios
Learn about e-portfolios. You may be able to create an e-portfolio using your school’s Learning Management System or LMS (for example, Knowledge Net, Moodle, Ultranet). Encourage your students to individualise their portfolios; for example, by linking comments or work to a music video to track or illustrate a particular learning episode.

Teachers and students at Mt Roskill Grammar School have been exploring how to enhance learning through the use of online environments. They are using a Learning Management System to organise and share resources. Teachers have also identified the value of designing tasks and opportunities that encourage reflective thought.

Taihape High School investigated the collaborative development of e-portfolios to engage whānau in a learning partnership with students.

Building relationships with your students

How might you go about building relationships with your students that will communicate your belief that all students have the capacity to be learners and achievers?

  • Are there ways in which you and your students could introduce yourselves, sharing who you are, where you are from, your likes, dislikes, and hopes and dreams for the future? Could you do this orally through, for example, a mihimihi or talanoa?
  • What about bringing or creating and sharing visual stories, collages, or artifacts? Could your students make, for example, mind maps, mosaics, tapa, korowai, siapo, taniko, tivaevae, pounamu design, or coat of arms?
  • Could you ask your students to share their role models, and what sort of person they aspire to be? Who do they look up to in their community? What are their strengths and needs? What are they passionate about (it may not be English!)? How could you use this information to make English learning relevant for your students?

Read snapshot 5: Video gaming as a context, to learn how one teacher inspired his students to learn in English simply by using a context that motivated them.

  • Can you use your students’ personal reading or viewing to recognise and affirm their sense of identity and belonging?

Building relationships between students

How could you build relationships between students so they feel safe and valued?

  • Challenge students with an unfamiliar text that is open to different interpretations. Discuss possible meanings, accept all responses, and encourage students. How can you acknowledge, respect, and value their voice?
  • Could you use your school’s Learning Management System to create a discussion forum (for example, what feature film should we study this year)? How might you engage students in responding to each other’s posts?
  • Do you have strategies that will allow students to get to get to know each other and you?

From such activities, collate information about your students’ writing, speaking, and presenting skills.

Read snapshot 10: Theme-based programme design to see how one school based an entire English programme around a single theme that was of particular interest to the students.

Last updated September 14, 2020