1. Classroom Environment
In colder months as students arrive in class with perpetually red and numb fingers it is tempting to turn up the radiators in your classroom. Often students will do this without you even noticing. It is however important to monitor the temperature valves. While turning up the heat will help to warm up cold digits, it can cause students to become tired and create a sluggish and humid environment. It is best to keep your room at a cool and regular temperature to stimulate student engagement.
Often artificial classroom lighting can feel industrial and cold. In winter months it is a good idea to distribute lamps around the classroom that can provide a warmer and more inviting light. It is a nice touch to pull a sheer scarf or other light material over the lamp to give softer tones. This is a useful means of setting a calm and focused tone for your students also. Much like in an office block, the harsh light from strip-lighting overhead is aggressive and tiring while lamps allow you to create a more intimate and relaxed tone. If you use group tables your students will welcome you placing one in the centre of their workspace. It is best that all windows are free of furniture and posters throughout the year but this is especially true in winter when natural light is weak. If you have a very restricted natural light source, consider dividing your classroom into different work spaces with individual desks and spaces for prolonged and individual work stationed nearest the natural light source while active and group activities are stationed further away. This movement and collaborative activity will compensate for a lack of natural light. Also, these more remote spaces would certainly benefit from having warm lamplight.
It is tempting to leave windows closed throughout the winter months but it is important that you ensure that students have access to freshly-circulated air. While you may not wish to open windows during class, make sure to do so between classes even if it is merely for a few minutes. Should your room be adequately supplied with radiators or a central heating system, you will not have to worry about the temperature of the classroom dropping significantly once you close the windows within 2-3 minutes.
Colour is another important means of stimulating student engagement in class. I have previously written about the importance of choosing colours wisely here. A creative way of adding colour to your classroom in grey weather is by covering all of the notice boards in the room with warm-coloured backing paper. Orange is associated with an increase in smiles and friendly greetings so it seems an ideal colour to decorate your boards with throughout the winter. If your administration will allow it, why not add a splash of orange paint around your door and window frames also. A little colour can create an engaging environment. Just be careful not to over-stimulate students by using strong colours or covering too much wall space.
2. Get Outside!
3. Teaching Methods
I am an advocate of well-structured project work in all classrooms and it is especially important to have students collaborate actively in winter. Low light, warm and humid classrooms and rows of students being lectured to is sure to result in them being quietly unengaged. It is best to have them work together in small groups with ample opportunities for movement, discussion and to create physical artefacts. A good way to ensure that students are engaged in the winter months is to employ a Project-Based Learning (PBL) or Inquiry approach to learning. You can find out more about these here and you can read more on how to make the most of your classroom space regardless of whether you prefer Direct Instruction or PBL here.