The benefits of creating immersive learning environments for our students
Creating immersive learning environments is hard work but the benefits are boundless, argues Julia Hallett, Key Stage 1 teacher at Long Close School in the UK.
As teachers, we strive to engage and excite the children in our classes. We seek new strategies to gain their interest and promote all areas of learning. My experience of working within the Early Years Foundation Stage developed my knowledge and passion for immersing children in rich learning environments which challenged their thinking and promoted engagement from a very young age.
By providing a culture of practical, hands-on experiences, children gradually become more curious and active in their own learning – solving problems, developing communication skills with their peers and cultivating sustained shared thinking.
An immersive learning environment doesn’t happen without commitment and creativity. The planning required is thorough and intense and should always include the students’ ideas whenever the opportunity arises. Giving the children a voice to plan what they want to learn about, to ask questions, to work in unison and express their ideas for learning environments can be very empowering.
The traditional stance of teachers ‘talking at children’ from the front of the classroom is long gone and has been gradually replaced with a completely different role of coordinating and facilitating the children’s education by providing opportunities for active learning and involvement. Creating an inclusive environment that reflects the cohort and enriches their knowledge and understanding is vital.
In many schools, strands of the curriculum are amalgamated into the overarching title of ‘Topic’. This combined teaching may be a challenge to process and action; nevertheless, with wisdom comes knowledge that in turn conceives a blended style that provides teachers with the tools to delve more deeply into subjects.
The physical surroundings should reinforce and deepen curiosity in students’ minds. They should reflect learning and immerse students in a theme. Such environments transport children into an educational world full of wonder and awe which sequentially sparks discussion, exploration, discovery and contemplation before they reflect on their own thinking.
The pedagogy of Immersive Learning uses the environment as a stimulus to enhance the children’s senses and give life to exciting experiences. Dressing the classroom with drapes, themed resources, photographs and role play items encourages the students to be immersed and engaged.
Displaying children’s topic work is wonderful for their wellbeing and self-esteem and therefore should be celebrated. Nevertheless, the end result does not always convey the learning that has been enabled, nor does it demonstrate the journey of discovery the child has taken to produce such work. In schools, ‘Working Walls’ are on the increase as teachers exhibit learning tools, key vocabulary and factual topic information which is important to children, reinforcing their learning independently. However, as teachers we should be celebrating not only the outcome but the process by reflecting on the children’s learning in our displays. Photographs, videos, sound recordings and handwritten anecdotes should be used to evidence learning journeys. These may be displayed on classroom walls, in floor books, portfolios, online journals or in scrapbooks; regardless of the method, children should be part of the process and be encouraged to share with their peers, family members and teaching staff throughout the academic year.
This reflective cycle which capitalises on the children’s ideas and interests and puts learning into context through an immersive space supports children in all areas of the curriculum and helps them to accomplish a deeper understanding of the learning process themselves. Teachers as facilitators should provide opportunities to develop higher-order thinking and increase their students’ ability to take more control over their own learning and attainment
The immersive learning pedagogy can be time-consuming and strenuous for educators; however, the benefits are endless. It identifies the child as being at the centre of the education system and the heart of everything teachers do – which can only be a good thing.