In their book Powerful Teaching, Agarwal and Bain (2019) suggest four key philosophies or messages that should underpin providing a supportive learning environment:
1. We all need time to think and learn:
- Everyone learns at a different pace and process information at a different speed.
- It should be absolutely fine for a student to say, “I don’t know that yet.”
2. It’s okay to make mistakes. That’s the way we learn:
- This is a critical message for those students who like to be 100% correct and feel anxious when they make a mistake.
- Not only do these students need to be reminded that it’s okay to make mistakes and that’s how we learn, but they also need to be given an opportunity to make mistakes in ‘low threat’ situations.
- For example, you might have your class (or family) all participate in an activity in which no-one is likely to succeed the first time such as trying to flick a coin into a cup.
- Celebrate effort and perseverance more than success.
3. We can learn more and do more when we are will to take a risk:
- Share with students examples or risks that they have already taken – as a toddler learning to walk and falling down all the time, learning to talk and not saying the words correctly, catching or hitting a ball and missing, learning to eat with a knife and fork and dropping more food than eating. There are hundreds of examples.
- Make sure you follow up the examples with the question: What would have happened if you had stopped trying to …..?
- For students who don’t like taking risks, begin with small tasks that they can succeed at after just a few attempts and with sufficient scaffolding.
4. It’s okay to ask for help. No-one needs to do it alone:
- We need to remind students that no-one has all the answers, including teachers and parents.
- Provide examples from your own life and every time you don’t know something acknowledge that you will need help.
- If a student doesn’t know an answer or has ‘switched off’, always give them the option of asking for help.
- Students who know the answer can raise their hands and the original student can choose someone to help them.
- Some students also need to practise asking for help.
Click here for free posters of each of these messages.
Agarwal, P., & Bain, P. (2019). Powerful Teaching: Unleash the Science of Learning .Jossey-Bass: CA. USA