Does the room you're in matter when you're teaching? "Most of us would like to believe that the environment that seems external to our practice is generally inconsequential. After all, we are typically taught to focus on internal factors such as curriculum, instructional planning and delivery, monitoring, and evaluation. Yet research and analysis in education has repeatedly highlighted the powerful impact that external environment can have on professional practice for an educator" (Herrera & Murry, 2011, p 154-155). Below is a link to a more in depth look at the research and ideas behind this. Click the button to learn more.
There are many other factors to consider when discussing the learning environment besides the physical space. Other factors include the internal environment, which "refers to the atmosphere of the school and classroom" Herrera & Murry, 2011, p 156).
I currently teach in Korea, so my experience has been with Korean kindergarten and elementary students (exclusively Korean). My students are usually used to a foreign teacher, but we are still foreign teachers and thought of as a novelty at first. They can be shy because I'm a foreigner and they are uncomfortable with me or there can be other social pressures to deal with.
Students that don't feel comfortable or 'safe' in a classroom will "seek out faculty members ... with whom they feel they might find a safe haven (Robinson & Clardy, 2011). This is the first, and most important, step in really understanding the students, being the safe haven. One way of creating that safe haven is opening up about our experiences and trying to build a foundation on some common ground. Being the first to open up will allow the students to participate in adding their experience without as much fear of being judged. This opening up, in my experience, tends to lead to a better understanding of the background and learning style of the student and a more openness of the student to be motivated to try new things. They have shared and are more connected to the group and the class. The method that works for me is outside the curriculum. Just trying to invest time into talking to the students and getting to know them on a personal level without being on the stage of talking in front of the class. I usually take time during break or while students are doing certain bookwork or worksheet work to walk around and talk to them a little. It is a non-threatening, non-judgemental way to let them know you care and their views are important. This method can help build a safe learning environment that all students can be comfortable in and ready to learn and participate.
For more in depth reading on the international ideas of learning environments click the button below.
Herrera, S. G.., & Murry, K.G.. (2011). Mastering ESL and Bilingual Methods. (2nd ed). Boston: Pearson Education Inc.