For educators, nothing is more important than encouraging, nurturing, and supporting the success of their students. If you’re a teacher, you know this first-hand. You’re always looking for new and creative ways to enhance classroom engagement and improve student performance.
And a large part of this has to do, of course, with teaching techniques and the development of an inspiring curriculum. Students learn best from educators who have honed their teaching skills—and who present material in ways that creatively engage the hearts and minds of their students.
Classrooms That Favor Student Engagement & Success
But what if there were changes that you could make to the physical classroom environment itself, that have been proven to enhance student success? What if—the moment students walked into your classroom—the environment was already working in their favor?
As it turns out, there are indeed ways of transforming the physical space of your classroom that greatly improve the odds of your students being fully engaged and successful in their studies. According to the experts at Edutopia:
“There are many things about the built and natural environments that can impact student learning, with some researchers suggesting that 10 to 15 percent of variance in academic outcomes is influenced by the environment.”
One thing that greatly impacts learning is the quality of light in the classroom. Certain types of lighting negatively impact students, while other types of lighting enhance student comfort and improve their overall performance.
But lighting is just one aspect of a classroom’s physical environment that affects how good—or poorly—your students are likely to do. There are a number of other simple changes you can make to tip the scales in favor of positive outcomes.
Read on for an exploration of the proven links between natural light and classroom performance—and how teachers can boost their student engagement, concentration, and creativity, by making better use of lighting and other classroom design elements.
How Classroom Lighting Affects Learning
It should come as no surprise that classroom lighting is a vital component of a student’s ability to focus and learn new things. Students working in brightly lit classrooms tend to get better grades than those working in dimly lit environments. This makes sense because our eyes and brain require sufficient light to effectively gather and process visual data. Reading and writing—skills so central to the learning process—are best supported by well-lit environments.
But not all “bright light” is created equal! Overhead fluorescent lighting, for instance, typically generates glare that can contribute to eye strain, visual fatigue, and headaches for students trying to read their assignments.
The kind of classroom lighting that works best to support learning, decrease anxiety and stress, improve behavior, and enhance overall health is full-spectrum lighting that is similar to natural sunlight.
Scientific studies have demonstrated that students perform dramatically better in such full-spectrum natural lighting:
“Studies show that overhead cool-white fluorescent lighting ricochets off the surface of a school assignment into the eyes. This reflection causes a type of unintended glare called veiling reflection. This interferes with students’ ability to read words on paper and the chalkboard, which in turn harms academic performance. In fact, those classrooms in which natural lighting was used had students performing at about 25% higher rates than their peers.”
Children Thrive In The Natural World
The Children & Nature Network has collected and summarized more than 300 research reports showing that when children spend ample time outdoors, their physical and mental health improves, their cognitive abilities are enhanced, and they score better on educational tests.
There are many reasons why spending time outside in the natural world is beneficial for children. One of the main ones has to do with exposure to sunlight—which provides a host of health benefits, including:
- Improved mood
- Protection from developing near-sightedness
- Incorporation of Vitamin D
- Protection from multiple sclerosis (MS) later in life
- Balanced sleep cycles
- Prevention of sleep-related behavioral problems
- Improved ability to learn
And according to studies in chronobiology, the more similar classroom lighting is to natural sunlight, the better:
“After several weeks, pupils in both classrooms were tested for alertness, performance speed and learning retention. The students who were in the room with experimental lighting performed better on all of these tests. In addition, these students reported falling asleep earlier at night and waking more refreshed. They had a more stable and predictable circadian rhythm. Because there were no other differences between the two groups, this suggests that lighting may have more of an effect on cognitive performance and learning than we previously thought.”
The bottom line is that full-spectrum lighting—that mimics the effects of natural sunlight—is the most supportive form of classroom lighting. Providing your students with this type of lighting is one way to support their academic success.
Environmental Factors That Enhance Learning
Exposure to natural lighting keeps the body’s circadian rhythms healthy—which helps students sleep well at night, and stay alert during the daytime. This is another way that exposure to full-spectrum light can improve academic outcomes. Well-rested, alert, and awake students are obviously more likely to do well than students who are sleep-deprived and drowsy.
“One study of 21,000 U.S. elementary students showed that, over one school year, kids who were exposed to more sunlight during their school day displayed 26 percent higher reading outcomes and 20 percent higher math outcomes than kids in less sunny classrooms. However, even if your classroom has less natural light than you’d like, other studies have shown that replacing your artificial lighting with blue-enriched bulbs can improve students’ cognitive performance.”
Along with an increase in daytime light exposure—or indoor lighting that mimics the effects of sunlight—other environmental factors that can enhance learning include the following.
1. Decrease blue-light exposure during evening hours.
While full-spectrum light is nourishing during daytime hours, exposure during evening hours can hinder learning. In particular, extensive blue-light exposure—such as that emitted from the screens of phones, tablets, laptops, and other Wi-Fi devices—in evening hours can wreak havoc on the body’s circadian rhythms.
Blue-light exposure right before bed tends to disrupt sleep patterns. This interferes with a student’s ability to focus in class the next day (because of sleepiness). It also disrupts that natural storage and integration of the day’s learning that happens during sleep.
One solution to this problem is to encourage your students to install the free app f.lux on all of their WiFi devices—and to install this same app on all classroom computers.
The f.lux app modulates the color frequency of the light emitted from the screen, to correspond with the time of day. During the day, the light emitted mimics the frequency of sunlight. During the evening hours, the blue light is gradually reduced and then fully eliminated—keeping your student’s circadian rhythms and sleep-cycles healthy.
2. Encourage interaction with the natural world to enhance learning.
As mentioned above, a host of scientific studies have confirmed how time spent in natural environments enhances a child’s learning capacity and overall wellbeing. This is especially true for kids with ADD and ADHD.
If your classroom has windows—with views of trees, flowers, or just an open sky—that’s a plus. You can encourage your students to take occasional breaks from reading or writing to gaze out on a natural landscape. You can also insist that they leave their phones behind during outdoor recess or recreation time.
3. Keep some indoor plants in your classroom.
Whether or not your classroom has views of the natural world, having some potted indoor plants is another great way to make the healing benefits of the natural world available to your students.
Healthy indoor plants uplift and enliven whatever spaces they inhabit. They also have numerous proven physical and mental health benefits, including enhancing learning and purifying the air.
Some wonderful indoor plants that improve air quality include: Aloe Vera, Areca Palm, Elephant Ear Philodendron, Lady Palm, Bamboo Palm, Rubber Plant, Dracaena (Corn Plant), Ficus, Boston Fern, Peace Lily, and English Ivy.
Having potted plants in your classroom provides a great opportunity for your students to collectively care for and learn about the plants—while in tangible ways benefitting from their presence.
4. Decorate the walls with inspiring images.
Paintings or photographs depicting scenes from the natural world—e.g. mountains, rivers, forests or flowers—can have some of the same uplifting beneficial effects as looking out the window or actually being outside.
So post such inspiring visual images on the walls of your classroom, and/or install them as shared computer desktop images.
5. Decrease noise and maintain a comfortable temperature.
Children can be very sensitive to and distracted by extraneous noise in their environment. Random noises—from hallways or the street outside or a classmate’s phone—can make it difficult to stay focused and on task, and hence negatively impact their learning. So do your best to eliminate or minimize noise distractions.
The temperature in the classroom can also become a distraction if it is outside a comfortable range. Research has determined that the optimal temperature range for learning is between 68 and 74 degrees Fahrenheit, with about 50 percent humidity. Making sure that the temperature and humidity in your classroom are within the recommended range is another way to help your students.
6. Pay attention to seating arrangements.
Arranging student seats in rows for individual tasks, and in clusters or semicircles for more interactive activities, makes good sense. And at least one scientific study suggests that such arrangements help keep students on task and more successful.
Other Ways To Support A More Engaged Classroom
Additional ways to support a more healthy and engaged classroom include:
1. Protect your students from electro-pollution.
Manmade EMF electro-pollution is an invisible smog produced by our various WiFi devices and mobile phone base stations. It has been shown to negatively affect the human body in a variety of ways, so reducing it can improve the quality of your students’ experience.
One solution is to invest in EMF protection devices, such as EarthCalm’s Home Protection System—which plugs directly into the room’s electrical sockets—or similar devices that attach directly to classroom computers and student phones.
2. Invest in fluorescent light filters.
Installing fluorescent light filters is one of the most powerful ways of transforming the classroom environment to benefit your students. Make Great Light filters transform fluorescent lights into healthy full-spectrum light; just like being out in the sunlight.
The filters also reduce fluorescent light glare and filter out potentially damaging UV radiation. They help to decrease visual fatigue, eye strain, and headaches.
As we’ve discussed at length in this essay, students experience more focus, clarity, and comfort when working in natural classroom lighting—so this is one of the greatest gifts that you can offer.
Creating A Classroom Environment Most Conducive To Learning
By following the tips and suggestions presented here, you can create a classroom environment that is optimally supportive—and help your students get the most out of their education.