Portrait of a Learner 9-12

Systems Change

Learning Environment

Factor Connections

Hover to see how factors connect to Learning Environment. Then click connected factors to explore strategies related to multiple factors.

How Learning Environment connects to...

A student's Learning Environment is the out-of-school environment that families and communities provide, which supports students in growing their core mindsets around thinking and learning. The Learning Environment includes the availability of educational materials in the home and local community, as well as family engagement and values around learning (related to Social Supports). The Learning Environment can promote future academic success and socio-emotional well-being, provide opportunities for students to learn about their Identities, and provide connections to a student's culture and community. By learning more about students' Learning Environments, educators can better understand and build learning around the rich funds of knowledge and skills students bring with them.

Main Ideas

The Learning Environment plays a large role in how students engage with many aspects of their Identity (for example, their culture), practice and use their Primary Language, and learn important socioemotional skills (like effective Communication skills and an understanding of others' Emotions). In addition, the Learning Environment provides learners with the academic skills and attitudes critical for school success. In the US, schooling systems do not always take full advantage of the rich Background Knowledge students come into school with, especially students from historically and systematically excluded backgrounds. Educators, however, can provide a classroom environment where students' cultural knowledge and traditions are valued, and by building ties with local communities, validating and respecting different ways of knowing.

Adolescents' Learning Environment includes:

  • Home & family involvement: The availability of educational materials in the home, and caregivers' engagement and values.
  • Community resources and engagement: Access to resources and supports, including local and online communities,

Each component of the Learning Environment promotes learning and development in related but slightly different ways. Educational materials in the home can help adolescents practice and learn key skills, and support academic success. For example, access to online courses, books, tutors, and self-study opportunities promote continuous development for adolescents. Caregiver engagement is also a critical aspect of the Learning Environment: students tend to learn better when a caregiver is available and able to guide and help them along. Caregivers can deepen their child's level of thought through conversation and shared activities, scaffold their learning, and help them practice existing skills. For example, caregivers often help their children learn about their culture, maintain their Primary Language (or languages), teach them how to manage their Emotions and resolve conflicts, and prepare them to engage in the world via ethnic-racial socialization (the process through which individuals learn about their own racial and ethnic background, as well as others'). Finally, caregivers' values matter, because they guide the kinds of learning opportunities they provide and the kinds of achievements they prize and encourage; caregivers can vary in the extent to which they value traits like independence or collectivism vs. individualism.

Family involvement at school is related to the Learning Environment, because caregivers who understand what skills their children need to work on, and know how to scaffold those skills, can help create a more effective Learning Environment. However, not all families are equally able to engage. Intergenerational trauma (e.g., the cultural erasure and abuse of Indigenous peoples in residential schools) or negative school experiences (e.g., being dismissed or treated poorly by school personnel) can get in the way of family school engagement. Educators can help by creating a warm and welcoming environment not just for students, but for their families: trying to form connections with students' families, understand their goals and values, and learn more about the funds of knowledge students bring to school. Knowing the strengths, challenges, and learning needs of the caregivers at home can give important insight for educators in providing support for students with learning disabilities and ADHD, both of which can run in families. Importantly, adolescents' homes and caregiver structures can look different. For example, in many cultures it is common to live with multigenerational families, where family members have access to many more caregivers. On the other hand, many families in the U.S. face housing insecurity.

As adolescents begin to engage with communities beyond their family, the availability of, and engagement with community resources becomes incredibly valuable. Community resources could include public areas that promote after school informal learning, such as libraries, museums, community centers, religious study centers, and more. By being involved in their local community, adolescents can build their Core Academic Literacies, grounded in real-world connections and experiential learning. These community spaces also give adolescents the opportunity to engage more deeply with their community, which can increase their Social Supports, foster their Identity development, and engage their Civic Mindedness. Community may also emerge through online media, when adolescents build community, participate in forums, or produce creative media such as podcasts or games.

View Measures and References