There was an interesting headline in the DomPost on Saturday. I’m not sure if you saw it but I think the headline read something like ‘Open Plan classrooms – is it a mistake?” The article focused on a parent of a child with an hearing disability and had comments from a PPTA member as well as some commentary around the ongoing University of Melbourne research into modern spaces and teaching. The journalist, although starting the article with a question, did not define any answers to their thesis. The article also did not give credence to the 4 pillars of learning that I talked about last week which explained how it is the learning around the 4 pillars that creates education and not the necessarily the physical space that ensures it.

One thing for certain and that is, along with death and taxes, people have varying views on how education should be delivered!

We know that open plan classrooms are a thing of the past (1960s-1990s) and that the flexible learning spaces of today are not the open plan classrooms of yesteryear. Open plan classrooms were often in rooms like a hall and were 3-4 classes put together in a large space without the internal walls. They were often full of furniture, teacher collaboration was often minimal and learning was traditional. The new spaces today involve key principles such as less and varied furniture, significant teacher collaboration, and the desire to promote peer to peer active learning experiences

The evidence and push for changing classroom design has been built over the last 10 years where there has been high level of criticism of falling student achievement rates, questions asked of the quality of teaching, and data that identifies the lack of engagement of todays child and their families. This may not be a Kelburn issue but one that exists in pockets of Aotearoa/ NZ. Rebranding was required and Mark Osborne says this data and emphasis suggests that the evidence is clear that change is required. Children and todays students were consulted about how they like to learn and this influenced the change. Osborne suggests that todays children are social learners and that a silent classroom dominated by the teacher is not a ‘natural or engaging learning space’ for children …’silence in fact is not an indicator that children are learning’.

For children with learning disabilities schools are challenging whether they are in a single cell or in modern spaces. Research indicates that the most successful intervention for children with learning or physical disabilities is when the learning environment is adapted, warm, friendly and supportive and importantly the child’s peer group plays a part in that child’s learning landscape. Realistically though these parameters are for any child at school. This comes back to Osborne comments around children as social learners – at times they like to work with each other and at other times they may like to work alone. At times they work in a big team. The class or team culture is crucial to the successful learning environment.

I spent 4 days in the break at the Ulearn conference engaging with leaders, teachers, ‘experts’ on many of the things that are driving modern learning environment. It reinforced that one thing is for certain that the state of change within the economic world, both globally but more importantly locally, requires education delivery to change with it. However – every speech, every workshop, every conversation over coffee etc around obtaining success in learning, came back to one thing –  the power of the relationship. At Kelburn we call this our manaakitanga – the work we do together to create our sense of community. Spaces don’t necessarily matter, but good relationships are crucial for good learning. What our new spaces give teachers and children is significantly increased flexibility in the ways we can learn and the opportunities and chance for our children to access different modes of learning.

To explain some of this further here is a 6 minute clip on a school I follow closely – Stonefields School in Auckland. A new school (6 years old) and this clip was put together in 2014 – 2 years into their journey. The school continues to thrive under Sarah Martin’s leadership and shows their fledging collaborative learning environment which has extended much further. It shows how important relationships and collaboration are crucial in creating a successful, natural learning environment that creates self-sufficient active leaners.

You can watch the clip here.


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