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Young children are full of energy, enthusiasm, and determination to explore and learn. Hence, the environment that teachers provide for them should be challenging, interesting, and foster independence and creativity among the children (Young 2006). In order to help learners learn, one of the teachers' main tasks is to create a good learning environment. Creating a caring, student-centered environment takes lots of thought and planning. Therefore, teachers should create an encouraging teaching and learning environment in order to enhance students' learning. One of the elements that contribute greatly to creating conducive learning environment is the learning resources in classroom.
Learning resources play a big role in enhancing the teaching and learning process. Teachers should be innovative and alert when choosing and setting up the learning resources in their classroom. Learning resources should facilitate students' achievement (Kari, 2004). In exploring this topic, this paper will discuss in depth the learning resources used in Australian classrooms in comparison to a Malaysian classroom. The discussion about Australian classroom will be made based on my school visit at West End State School, which I have the opportunity to observe a prep class. The discussion about Malaysian classroom will be made based on my school visit at La Salle National School, which I observed a Year 5 class. Some important learning resources will be discussed in this essay such as: reading corners, computers, and learning centers, art corner, and learning resources in multicultural classroom.
Reading corner is one of the important areas that need to be set up in any classroom. It is vital to set up reading corner in all classrooms in order to encourage students to read books rather than wasting their time. By reading books, students can gain knowledge, information and most importantly develop a love of reading (Brennan, 2005).
Based on my observations during the school visit at West End State School, I found that each classroom has reading corner. Students love to read books at the reading corner before the class starts or during the break. There were many interesting and useful books as well as the space being conducive to autonomous learning. From my observation, the students in West End State School made full use of the reading corner. For example, in one lesson, they learnt about occupations. There was a group of students who worked on making the fire engine using a box. In order to get a clearer picture of a fire engine, they referred to a book about occupation. Finally, they were able to make a fire engine by referring to the book provided at the reading corner. Therefore, it can be said that students can gain a lot of benefits from the reading corner and that will help in their learning.
During my school visit in La Salle National School, I found that a reading corner is also an important resource in classroom. Most of the Malaysian classrooms have reading corners either at the back or at the front of the classroom. Like in Australia, the students in Malaysia also enjoy reading books before the class starts or during the break. The reading corner is also provided in all Malaysian classrooms to support a reading program in Malaysian schools which is called 'Nilam Program'. The Nilam Program is very useful in Malaysia because it encourages student to read. The Nilam Program is aimed to inculcate a 'love of reading' attitude in students.
However, there are some problems that teacher might face in order to set up the reading corner in Malaysian classrooms. Due to the insufficient space, it is quite inconvenient for students to sit in a small corner to read the books. Young children need enough space so that they will feel comfortable to move around in the classroom. This is based on the research which proves that many children need extensive mobility while learning in classroom (Young, 2006).
Another problem is, in Malaysia, there are some double session schools. That means Year 4 to Year 6 will go to the school in the morning session, while Year 1 to Year 3 will go to the school in the afternoon session. This system is done due to insufficient classrooms in some Malaysian schools. Therefore, the students in the morning session will be sharing the classroom with the afternoon session's
students. This will contribute problems in setting up a reading corner in the classroom. For example, Year 4 will be using the same classroom with the Year 1 students. The Year 4 students and the Year 1 students have different level of reading ability and knowledge. The Year 1 students may need books that have simple and easy words or sentences, while the Year 4 students are more advanced compare to the Year 1 students. Therefore, there might be a problem in terms of the type of books need to be put at the reading corner. Although there are some challenges to set up reading corner in some Malaysian classrooms, it is no doubt that reading corner is very essential to be provided in all classroom as it helps to increase the students' interest to read books and they will gain more knowledge (Higgins, 2005).
As we approach the 21st century, there is a major paradigm shift in teaching and learning methods to reflect the challenges present in today's society. In order to meet this demand, school must implement technology in the learning environment. Computers are one of the important learning tools in classroom. Both students and teachers can use the computer for assessment, presentation, accessing information, communication, production, and publishing (Johnson & Lamb, 2007).
In West End State School, there are at least two computers in each classroom. From my observation, I found that students really enjoy using the computers in classroom. The computers are very useful for students' learning. For example, the students use the computer to check their English pronunciation. They record themselves and then compare it to the target pronunciation. This process will be repeated endlessly until the students are satisfied with their own pronunciation. Therefore, the computers help in improving the students' proficiency in using the language and also in their learning. Apart from that, the students love using the computer to draw and paint using the art software for young children. They are free to draw anything and enjoy working with their friends. This makes them comfortable to be in the classroom as they are relaxed when drawing and painting using the computer (Burkhart, 1999).
In contrast, there are no computers provided in Malaysian classrooms. This is due to the financial problems of accommodating each classroom with computers. Besides, big class size is a problem with allocation of computers in the classroom. In Malaysia, there are about 30 to 40 students in one classroom. Some students may not always have the opportunity to use the computer. Therefore, it is difficult to put enough computers in the classroom purely for physical space reasons.
Although it is almost impossible to provide computers in all Malaysian classrooms, students still have the opportunity to access the computer in the computer laboratory. Usually, teachers will schedule and plan their lesson to let the students have the opportunity to work on the computers. The students are taught on how to use the computers and learn many useful things that can help in enhancing their learning.
The learning centers are areas in classroom around which the curriculum primarily depends on. It is the centers that invite the children to explore and learn. These children learn significantly more if they move from one area to another as they acquire new information (Clayton & Forton, 2007).
In West End State School classroom, flexible learning environments have been established. Rather than having individual desks for children, classrooms are divided into workstations and activity or play areas (Queensland Studies Authority, 2006). In the prep class that I have observed in West End State School, I saw many useful learning centers for students such as the hospital corner, the post office corner, and the shop corner. Each corner is set up like the real place with the appropriate realia. For example, in the hospital corner, there are a stethoscope, a small bed, a blanket, white gloves, a laptop, a white coat, and some fake fruit. A corner like this is very useful for students because it
provides meaningful context for students (Levin & Nolan, 2000). Hence, the students can practice using the language to communicate in a different meaningful context with their friends.
From my observation, the students really loved using those corners during the break. They enjoyed acting and communicating in those corners. There was one student who acted as a patient. She lay on the small bed and was covered by a blanket. The other student acted as a doctor, so he wore the white coat, a glove, and used a stethoscope to check the patient. I found those corners very interesting as learning resources for students and they really impressed me. This is because in addition to acting, playing, and having fun, the students also have the opportunity to practice their language in that particular place or context.
On the other hand, in some Malaysian classroom, we do have learning centers as mentioned above, but there is just a very small corner at the back of the classroom. Besides, one classroom may only have one corner that provides meaningful context for students. This is because most Malaysian classrooms are quite small and we have a big number of students in one classroom. Therefore, it is quite difficult to set a corner like the hospital corner in the West End State School's classroom. We do not have enough space to put all the materials needed for those corners.
Although it is almost impossible to set up many different learning corners in Malaysian classroom, the students will still get the opportunity to practice their language in different context which is in the lesson conducted by the teacher. The teacher will bring some realias for students to use and they will communicate as they are at the hospital, the post office or the shop. This will be very helpful for students as it will expose the students to use the target language effectively in real life situations (Devito, 1997).
From my observation in the prep class in West End State School, I found that there is an art corner where it displays the students' work. It is very appealing corner as students put a great deal of effort to produce their own works using many different materials. There are many art works displayed at the art corner such as: paintings, origami, dolls, and puppets. Students love looking at their own works displayed in the classroom. The art corner helps in boosting the students' self-esteem because they will feel good when looking at their hard works being displayed in the classroom (Higgins, 2005). By setting up the art corner, the students' parents can also know and see what their children did in the classroom. They will feel proud with their children and that really helps in developing their children's self-confidence and self-esteem.
This is similar with the Malaysian classrooms. There is also an art corner in all Malaysian classrooms. It is a very interesting corner as all the students' works are being displayed at the corner. Students love to be at the corner and look at their own artworks and also their friends' artworks. The art corner also lightens up the physical classroom environment thus create conducive learning environment in classroom (Woolfolk, 2004).
Learning resources in multicultural classroom
West End State School is a multicultural school. There are many students come from many different countries like: China, India, Japan, America, Korea and others. The school provides children from many cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds with the opportunity to achieve their full academic and social potential in a safe environment (Queensland Studies Authority, 2006).
As mentioned above, West End State School is a multicultural school, so culture is being emphasized in the classroom. Therefore, the learning resources in the classroom should also be useful for students to learn about other cultures in the world (Dixie, 2003). It is really fascinating as the students can learn about many different cultures in the classroom. There is a big world map in the prep class that I observed. The world map is very functional for the students to know and learn where their friends come from. They will paste their own picture at the country where they come from so everybody will recognize their hometown.
Besides, there are many books about many different countries in the prep classroom in the West End State School. Students have the opportunity to get to know about their friends' culture and lifestyle by reading and looking at the pictures in the books. A portfolio is also designed by the teacher to compile all the students' picture and information about their country. The portfolio is very colourful and the students love reading it and learning about other culture.
In comparison to the Malaysian classroom, Malaysia is a multicultural country and there are three main races which are Malay, Indian, and Chinese. So, Malaysian classrooms also have students from different cultural background like in West End State School classroom. However, they differ in terms of in Malaysian classrooms; there are all Malaysian students only but from three different cultures, not from other countries.
Culture is also being emphasized in Malaysian classroom. Students are being exposed to different cultures in Malaysia by colourful charts pasted at the soft board. There are many colourful pictures of each race's festival in Malaysia. Students learn about different festivals celebrated in Malaysia, how one particular culture celebrates their festival, the types of food served during the festival, and also learn about the traditional costumes of each races. There are also some books about different races in Malaysia provided at the reading corner so that students can learn more about their friends' culture.
In conclusion, students need an environment that is organized, stimulating, and comfortable in order to learn effectively in classroom (Crawford, 2002). Creating such an environment encourages students to have a sense of belonging and ownership. It is also vital for teachers to provide and set up useful learning resources in classroom. Learning resources are very important in assisting students in their learning. Based on the discussion above, learning resources like reading corner, computers, learning centers, and art corner help in developing students' interest to learn. This is because learning resources can dramatically affect students' attitudes and habits of learning (Oliver, 2002). By setting up many useful resources in classroom, students will gain many benefits that can enhance their learning. Therefore, we can consider the learning resources to be 'another teacher' in the sense that it can motivate children, enhance learning, and reduce behavior problems. So learning resources really is an extra teacher.