8 + 1 Ways to Create a Classroom Culture of Learning

By Stephanie Knight, EdD

Preschoolers give a teacher a group hug

When students move on from your classroom, with what do you want them to leave? More knowledge? Good grades? These are noble goals, but what about embodying a love of learning? We will examine what is each facet of learning (learning as curiosity, learning as opportunity, learning as reflection) and how to make this happen in all classrooms. Hopefully, it can trickle up, creating a culture of learning at the school.

Learning as Curiosity

To nurture the students’ natural innate curiosity for meaning, consider the following strategies:

Model Curiosity

Ask “I wonder” questions to your students. When you do read aloud, model metacognitive practices. In other words, verbalize what is going through your mind as you read the passage.

Start Every Day with a Question

We can assist students in building curious minds, as Annie Paul discusses in Time Magazine. She notes that instead of “starting with the answer, begin by posing for yourself and others a genuinely interesting question — one that opens an information gap.” This information gap means that there is just enough missing information that requires communication or further exploration to complete.

Praise the Process

Probe students on how they got their answer. What was their method or approach? Then, praise their attempts even if they may miss the mark.

Learning as Opportunity

To foster the students’ outlook on learning as an opportunity, rather than learning for a grade, consider ways that can lead to the creation of a safe place. To gain the students’ trust to try this approach, follow these steps:

Share Your Risks and Failures

Sometimes, I share about the many times I have attempted to publish and have gotten rejected. What is my choice? To give up or keep trying? Did you just attend a conference or professional development seminar? Share a bit about it and what you learned. Be excited about your life-long love of learning.

Start with the Conversation

Encourage your students that your classroom is a safe space to share. The best way to do this is to start with peer-to peer-sharing. Think Pair Share exercises help diminish fears about speaking up and also help build relationships.

Reward Encouragement in Your Classroom

“Student A, I love how you cheered for your classmates!”

Learning as Reflection

Finally, to help students reflect on their own learning process, consider these strategies:

Model Reflection

Be real for your students. If a lesson from the past day or week did not go according to your expectations, take the time to share what you learned from it and what you may try next time. Be willing to share your side as a learner and not necessarily the teacher.

Give Students Time to Journal

Set aside time to allow students to journal on what they have learned. These journals can be checked for completeness but not graded. One way to help them if they get stuck is to provide a sentence stem. For example, “I was surprised by this assignment because…” or “This assignment could have been better if I…” or “Next time, I would like to…”

Donald Meyer, English chair at Mountain Pointe High School in Phoenix, AZ, incorporated these strategies in the Passion Project for his 12th grade honors English class; however, it can be adapted for any grade level. First, students must decide on an ennobling or edifying activity to learn, not just something fun. Getting good at free throws is nice but not really the idea; crafts, art, languages, or music is more the idea. They must devote 60 hours to this project in the time frame of September through April. They are only allowed to use the Internet, books, mentors, master craftsmen, trial and error – natural, organic modes of learning.

There are to be process checks and journaling throughout to reflect on the process. Obviously, one will not be an expert at the end, which produces some risk to the learner, but the product can show evidence of the 60-hour experiment. As an educator, you can do the same by attacking your curiosity itch. This way you can model for them the process of how to discipline their time.

All in all, the goal of a class should be for students to walk away with a love of learning which means being more curious, taking risks and, of course, reflecting on their processes.

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  • Guthrie, K.L. & McCracken, H. J Comput High Educ (2014) 26: 238. doi:10.1007/s12528-014-9087-9
  • Paul, Annie Murphy. (2014). How to Stimulate Curiosity; Three practical ways to use information gaps to stimulate curiosity and promote learning. Time Magazine. Retrieved from ideas.time.com/2013/04/15/how-to-stimulate-curiosity

More About Dr. Knight:

Stephanie Knight, EdD, is an experienced 7th and 8th grade English Language Arts educator. She inspires students to think critically and creatively. With that, she loves to see her students grow in their writing with expressive flair. She, herself, continues to work on her own writing process. Stephanie earned her Bachelor of Science in Business at the University of Colorado in Boulder, her certification in K-8, 7-12, English as a second language, English, Principal, and her doctorate in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Arizona State University. She taught in Title One schools for eight years helping them grow from underperforming to excelling, then in an independent school, and now is part of GCU’s adjunct faculty where she teaches graduate-level education and reading courses. She continues to be committed to seeing the next generation of teachers be successful in educating our youth to a bright future.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University.

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