Creating the right environment for kids to learn to read
Children learn better in environments where they feel comfortable. Cue Cambourne's Conditions for Learning! Literacy tips for homeschoolers and classrooms.
If there is one thing that most teachers agree on, it’s Cambourne’s Conditions of Learning. It is widely recognized that students learn better in environments where they feel comfortable. In a space that feels safe and fun, children are more likely to take risks (try something new, or raise a hand to answer a question) when it comes to literacy education.
Making a classroom into a safe space can be a lot of fun. Adding nice decor, lots of colors, and making sure it is a welcoming place, can all add to the room’s atmosphere.
However, what really differentiates between a classroom that looks nice and a classroom that helps the student achieve is what actually happens in the room. For the best practices, we look to Cambourne’s Conditions of Learning.
A professor and fellow in Australia, Brian Cambourne is well known in education circles for developing “Cambourne’s Conditions of Learning.” He developed seven conditions that must be in place in order for primary students to reach peak educational outcomes.
As the majority of educators in public school systems agree with his conditions, they have been implemented in classrooms around the world to different extents.
Brian Cambourne believes that there are seven factors that must be in place to provide an optimal educational environment for learners:
Students must be surrounded by expressive materials and fully engaged with the teaching methods. A classroom filled with beautiful books, art materials, and pictures provides a warm and welcoming space for exploring literacy .
During school activities, children must be fully engaged, incorporating a multi-sensory approach to education. Storytime read-alouds and acting out plays are examples of these kinds of activities.
Cambourne believed that it was necessary for teachers to model skills to students. The teacher becomes a resource that children can refer to. The child notices that the teacher sees their painting, writing, dancing, or movement in the way they expect them to. If this happens, the teacher really becomes a “partner” in the teaching process, as they are fully involved in activities as well.
Allowing students to gain hands-on experience in the classroom, for example by setting up writing prompts, or other educational activities, allows kids to engage independently or in small groups and learn through experimentation.
For example, laying out writing tools that are easily accessible lets students gradually approach an activity without fear of getting it wrong.
The expectation condition is really about removing the pressure. Teachers and parents should expect that children will master the skill eventually. By letting students experiment on their own time, they are more likely to approach the activity with confidence.
A student could be nervous about performing a skill in front of others, but they may be willing to approach a table full of writing tools at a later time. When children tackle skills when they are ready, they almost certainly meet all educational outcomes.
For Cambourne, it’s important to let students be responsible for their own educational choices. For example, letting them choose what to draw, which books to read, or what project to work on allows them the freedom of choice and some autonomy in their education.
Approximation focuses on “meeting students where they are.” This means evaluating their progress based on their skill level. For example, if a student doesn’t attempt to pronounce a word and then one day makes an effort but still doesn’t say the word perfectly, you should still congratulate the student.
That student may not be at the same level as the top learners in the class, but they have made progress, and Cambourne believes that all relative progress should be celebrated. Making students aware of their growth in learning empowers them to keep trying.
This is about providing feedback to children when they engage in educational behaviors. If students start singing a song that you taught two days ago, congratulate them. Ask them questions, and engage with them.
When they know that you are excited about their achievement, they become excited about doing better. Finding ways to make educational opportunities meaningful by providing feedback is an excellent method of validating their learning experience. Feedback should be timely and specific.
An environment that meets all of Cambourne’s Conditions of Learning is a joy to be in. Children are relaxed and engaged in the teaching period. They feel confident and free to engage in writing or reading prompts without fear that it is the wrong time or activity. Teachers let learners explore and test literacy boundaries related to their own interests.
The difference between a classroom that follows Cambourne’s Conditions of Learning and one that doesn’t is night and day. It is clear that the steps taken by educators to follow these guidelines provide a gentle and multisensory opportunity to learn.
Implementing Cambourne’s Conditions of Learning should come naturally because they are naturally aligned with the way that children learn best. Unlike stricter, more traditional teaching methods, classrooms that embrace this style are often filled with fun for both students and teachers.
By allowing free access to writing tools, paper, paints, crayons, and clay, children are able to embrace their new skills. Filling a room with prompts to encourage literacy skills, such as books and imaginary play toys, can spark inspiration for young learners.
We know that children learn best in an environment that allows movement and freedom of choice. When children are engaged at their current skill level, they are presented with the opportunity to achieve the highest possible educational outcomes.
While plenty of schools are implementing Cambourne’s Conditions of Learning to some extent, Phonics in Motion is a comprehensive program that truly embraces all conditions to deliver a comprehensive experience.
This e-book, researched and written by Dr. Terry Kindervater, provides a step-by-step method of integrating all conditions in your home or classroom.
Author: Dr. Terry Kindervater