What can I do to make my primary classroom a more pleasant and productive learning environment?
Let your imagination run riot. Some teachers have produced a really exciting environment against the odds. I recently visited a rural primary school in an ancient building. Every classroom created a sense of pleasure when you entered it, but they were all different.
Many teachers have an "authors' corner", featuring writers who produce high quality fiction for children. In one classroom I visited, the same display was up for a whole year, becoming more and more dog-eared as time went on.
Other teachers introduced a fresh author every month. Check if your walls still carry the same travel or art poster you eagerly stuck up in 1999.
Don't forget there's a poster in TESTeacher magazine every week.
Make the classroom a design challenge for children. Let them pretend they are a group of visitors from another country (or planet). How could they improve the environment, not just the displays on the wall? Some ephemeral art (leaves, flowers floating in a bowl)? Regularly updated digital photos of children and their activities? An excellent literacy, artistic and design challenge is to give a different group of child "reporters" each week the task of taking and displaying photos and text about what they have been doing.
In the end, the real test of a productive learning environment is whether or not children are excited about what they are doing in it. I would sooner have brilliant activities and a tatty display than the reverse, though fabulously interesting activities and a pleasant visual environment are even better.
Enlist help from local students
If you have an unlimited budget and time you could always get Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen in to give it a makeover. But back in the real world, you will be looking for quick fixes.
Firstly, there is the good old tidy-up. I challenge any primary school teacher not to be able to fill 10 boxes with stuff that is no longer any use. Once you have done this you can start investigating new uses for the space you have created. Displays are obviously a key priority (using your class as unpaid but highly motivated interior designers), but too often these are overdone and the result is visual chaos. As a long shot you could invite in students from your local FE or art college. They are often seeking projects, and could make a brilliant job of transforming your classroom.
Chris Lawrenson, Sutton, Surrey
Make learning visually inviting
When you welcome your children into class in the morning, look at your room; would it be a place you would want to be in if you were a pupil? Would you know what to do?
Children will choose to read books in an exciting, comfortable area full of tempting texts. They will practise their speaking and listening skills in a role-play area. A good art activity can happen at any time in the day, so always have a stimulating art area available. ICT must be available for children to use throughout all subjects, so make sure it's working. Maths resources must be intact and ready for children to use.
Don't waste time making displays of children's work that have an impact for five minutes and may never be noticed after that. Show photographs of children involved in their learning, with annotations that explain to visitors what your classroom is about.
Judi Marsden, Manchester
Create an interactive environment
Do you teach using "talk and chalk" or do you plan lessons so that students learn through discovery, play and talking? If you use the latter, set up your class with areas that draw upon your students' interests. Put out loads of pens and papers and let them write questions, make statements and answer questions.
Make yours an interactive environment, not a static one. Think laterally about how you can display students' work. You can hang things, and use paper of various shapes and sizes, colours and textures. There is nothing more boring to the eye than another piece of work written on A4 white paper.
M Christie, London