Positive Learning Environment - Why It Matters

Posted by Erica Warren on

Part of the learning process is making mistakes. However, inadvertently teachers and parents often correct young learners with negative remarks. Kids continually hear the words "no," "incorrect" and "wrong." What’s more, in moments of frustration, many children must withstand cutting, belittling names such as careless, lazy and unmotivated.

I think we have all been called these names at some time in our life, and I can promise you, these negative labels never help the situation. It only breeds frustration and disempowerment. In fact, if teachers or parents get too critical, students can feel dejected and even develop a sense of learned helplessness.

positive learning environments

Stop the Negative Labels

Have you seen Dan Siegal speak about the psychological impact of the word, “no?” Here is a link to a YouTube Video where he shows an audience the difference between “no” and “yes” responses (Click Here). I hope you have a moment to view it.

Replace Negativity with Words of Encouragement

How can teachers communicate student errors without sending a punitive message? Always point out what is right before using positive terms to guide any mishaps to the correct answer. Here is a list of browbeating, contentious words that can be replaced with suggested words of encouragement.

 Negative Labels Words of Encouragement
  • No
  • Almost.
  • Yes, you are getting there.
  • Close.
  • You're getting warmer.
  • Oopsy doodles.
  • Wrong or incorrect
  • Give it another try.
  • Great effort.
  • Do you need to use a lifeline?  
  • Careless
  • Come into the moment with me.
  • Lazy
  • Can I help you?
  • Let's do it together.
  • Let's see if we can turn this into a game.
  • Unmotivated
  • What can I do to help?
  • How about a treat when  you get this done.

Social Emotional Resources

Evaluating Errors

Getting students comfortable evaluating their mishaps can be useful for the teacher as well as the student. I tell my students that there are two types of errors.

1) An oops or oopsy doodle:

This is when a student knew the content but overlooked a detail. If my students get discouraged with these types of mistakes, I always give them a high five and remind them that we are human. I then say, "If people didn't make mishaps, there would be nothing to learn."

2) What?:

I always say this as if I am asking a question. A "What?" is when a student never learned the concept. This lets me know that I have to reteach the concept in a different way.

Changing the Atmosphere:

Many of us grew up with negative labels, and I know, first hand, how difficult it can be to temper discouraging comments. However, with practice, you will find that embracing words of encouragement will change the atmosphere of the learning environment and your students will embrace the learning process with confidence and enthusiasm.

In addition, providing a safe place where students feel comfortable evaluating their mishaps with cutesy terms such as oopsy doodle and What? will guide classroom strategies that nurture individual success.

Cheers, Dr. Erica Warren

Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator, and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning. She is also the director of Learning to Learn and Learning Specialist Courses.

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