Setting up the Learning Environment – A minimalist approach
Teachers often like to have their classes set up and ready to go before their students enter the room at the beginning of the year. In general this makes sense; however, we deliberately start with very little on our classroom walls. Because our intention is to create with our students ‘what is valued’ as a part of our learning culture, nothing is given wall space until it gains significance through shared learning experiences.
Walls filled with posters, charts, and pictures often become background noise for students and may actually dilute or diminish what we hope to prioritize and give value to. Instead, consider that anything given wall space is done so with students. Whether it is one of the Trait posters, a word list, or a math chart, think about dedicating wall space to an item only after it takes on shared meaning with your students.
Teachers typically use the following materials as a set to launch the Successful Learner Traits. Additionally, there are free classroom tools offered on this site that accompany these materials.
Typical Classroom Set
- Posters – one set of the detailed full posters, and one set of the 8.5×11 simple posters
- 4-6 sets of the Successful Learner Trait Strategy Cards
- I Can Poster + 4-6 sets of the I Can Strategy cards
- Desk Strips (optional)
Placement of the posters in the classroom is essential. Because the traits will intersect with all learning, both social and academic, the posters are best placed where they are highly visible to students and in close proximity to where lessons are provided.
For example, when co-creating trait criteria it is very useful to have the poster for that trait close at hand. Some educators have one set of posters up on a wall permanently, and another short version set, with magnetic strips on the back, readily available to pop up on a whiteboard for the teaching that is at hand.
The I Can poster is also placed in a highly visible and permanent place. This poster supports formative assessments, an appreciative learning culture, and growth mindsets. The I Can poster provides students with a language to describe their level of independence and conveys to students that learning is a process that takes time, that often requires support at the outset, with proficiency gained over time with practice.
Building Conceptual Understanding ~ Introducing the Traits
Teachers often ask: Do you put all the Successful Learner Trait posters up at once? Do you introduce the traits one at a time? Which trait should I start with?
While this is a topic dealt with in detail in Workshops, the simple response here is to let the needs of your students and your own instincts guide you in making the decision as to which Trait to introduce first. Often a school staff will decide together the order in which to introduce the traits throughout the year. What great advantage this offers to students! Morning announcements can encourage the use of the particular trait of the month, or the trait can be a focal point in monthly assemblies.
Additionally, staff engages in collegial conversation as they co-create opportunities to cultivate the traits within their students. Many schools and teachers introduce the trait of Compassion first; this establishes a very positive culture within the school and class and also sets an inviting stage for the other traits to flourish.
One suggestion for the order in which to introduce the traits could be: Compassion, Confidence, Industrious, Strategic, Thoughtful, Creative, Enthusiasm, Risk-taking. Many schools have one trait featured for each month, though teachers will introduce the traits at a pace and in an order that makes the best sense for the age and needs of their students.
A simple process for introducing each trait is suggested below. This process is described and illustrated with teachers in detail in Workshop I – Learning from the Inside Out! Once a trait has been introduced, it is embedded immediately and meaningfully into All learning and applied throughout the entire cycle of teaching assessment and reporting.
A Process for Introducing the Traits
- Introduce the Mini Poster and/or larger full-text poster.
- Read, or tell a story connected to the Trait; engage students in discussion regarding the application of the trait to both their home life as well as learning at school.
- Establish a learning target using the trait. Example: I AM Compassionate! Ask students to identify what the positive evidence of that trait will look like, sound like, feel like. Co-create a criteria list for the trait.
- Apply Formative Assessment: Engage students in looking for positive evidence of the trait within themselves (and/or their peers), both inside and outside of school.
- Use and expand the language on the poster with students.
- As their teacher, gather and share evidence of the trait with students.
- Engage students in multiple opportunities for self-reflection of the traits, both informally and formally (see reflection forms).
- Communicate progress of the traits, as they apply to social, emotional and academic learning with parents (and students).