What are the barriers to realizing the full potential of such environments?
A number of trends have influenced the way schools and classrooms have been organised over the decades; trends moving from traditional classroom teaching to a more student centred learning - from 'the sage on the stage to the guide on the side'.
|'We don't want your education!|
Today we now have have the concept of 'innovative learning environments' linked with the development of 'modern learning environments'. Not that the practices actually 'new', more that they have failed to be implemented in the past, or only to be found in a few creative classrooms. And certainly such innovative learning environments are rare in schools 'educating' adolescent students.
As for the 'modern learning environments' designed to allow for collaboration and flexibility the concepts behind them are not new such schools were first developed in the UK in the 60s and in the US and Canada in the 70s. In the 70s open plan schools were established in all areas of New Zealand based an 'open education' philosophy - the ' innovative learning environments' of the day.
|1970 open plan school|
After initial enthusiasm for such developments most of the 70s open plan schools closed their spaces and reverted to traditional class teaching.
Now there is a new enthusiasm in in the air for such teaching but I wonder if teachers involved have learn from the demise of the earlier open plan schools and are in a position to create a lasting change. Today schools have the advantage of new modern information technology to assist them but will it be enough?
|A modern learning environment|
Looking at past innovations it is possible to see 'a topography of change'. First pioneers introduce new ideas, then the ideas are officially accepted, and then this approval all too often leads to a 'bandwagon' approach where ideas lose their authenticity and come under criticism,and then, all to often, are lost.
The enthusiasm current modern school environments have not been inspired by innovative teacher practice but more by forces outside of the school. Cynics might say that the corporations providing the technology might well be the greatest benefactors.
|Beyond the factory metaphor|
So with this in mind I have been wondering exactly how time, space and students groupings are being used in such schools. Beyond the glitz and glamour of such building and all the talk of flexibility, collaboration and ICT how much has really changed?
In t 1970s the 'open education' movement, arising in the USA in spread to New Zealand and eventually led to the development of open plan schools. These were to be the precursors of today's 'modern learning environments' and their associated 'innovative teaching practices' even though they have all but been forgotten
In the UK in the sixties progressive teachers developed innovative child-centred programmes where teachers organizing a number of different curriculum activities across across the day . Such teaching could be seen as the beginning of 'innovative learning environments'. Such programmes moved well away from traditional timetables where morning programmes only covered literacy and numeracy involving the use of ability grouping.with afternoon time covering the remainder of the content areas.
These innovative English classrooms usually had four groups rotating - an art group, a maths group, a studies group,and a language group., Where possibles, such groups integrated learning.
Topics for study were introduced by motivational displays and the room environments featured well displayed student finished work. A feature of such rooms was the need to 'slow down the pace' of students' work so as to allow teachers time to interact. The emphasis was on students taking responsibility for their own learning.
|Tarananaki classroom 1970s|
In NZ in the 1970 teachers a group of teachers in 'our area' introduced similar rotational ideas for afternoon programmes and 're-framed' their literacy and numeracy programmes so as to develop skills and content for use in the afternoon activity time.
In such classrooms, as students and teachers gained confidence, an integrated day developed .Teachers introduced studies through provocative displays and displayed students' completed studies with great care. Such classrooms in New Zealand were the exception..
So that brings us to today.
Creative teachers, unlike in earlier times, are no longer the source of educational innovations and, as well, are now constrained by accountability pressures and the narrowing of teaching demanded by the National Standards. In the UK , Australia and the US teachers are further constrained by politically inspired National Testing and 'league tables' all in the name of parental choice.
As a result of such compliance requirements a visit to most current primary classrooms will still show
|How to do it?|
In secondary schools fragmented specialist subject teaching is still the norm.
So it is time for transformation change; difficult when schools have to both comply with the narrow accountability targets required by National Standards and at the same time being encouraged to develop 'innovative teaching practices'..
How is time spacing and student grouping changed in 'modern learning environments' ; how have the 'innovative learning practices' changed how time is utilized?
|A balance between structure and freedom|
Only a visit will confirm my thoughts but I am guessing most of the morning is still being dedicated to traditional literacy and numeracy teaching and that ability grouping will still be in place. In some cases I imagine the setting of students to cater for the diversity of abilities in literacy and numeracy. Little progress here?
|Exploring a bridge|
Learning in such schools would be based around integrated authentic learning experiences and basic literacy and numeracy skills would be taught at point of need as well as being an integral part of student studies. I imagine the development of such 'modern environments' might even be easier in lower secondary schools where teachers are not as 'hardwired' to teach literacy and numeracy are better able to collaborate and share their subject specialist knowledge as required.
In New Zealand we have the lessons learnt from the 1970 open plan education to learn from and have a New Zealand Curriculum to encourage such a transformation plus modern informational technology to assist. The curriculum asks teachers to ensure all students to be able to 'seek, use and create their own knowledge'.
|Developing students' talents|
|An art exhibition|
|Time for thinking out of the box|
Nothing however will change until the means of assessment changes. Assessment and focuses on valuing the learning attitudes and strategies and the depth and their understating of what is included in their portfolios - the so called 21stC skills.
So far I am not sure things have changed that much.I do hope however that I will be proved wrong. Maybe it is all about going back to the excitement and creativity of the sixties but this time doing it right.
Essential Lessons from High Tech High
Oprah and Bill Gates visit High Tech High
An introduction to Project Based Learning ( Edutopia)
Edutopias Ten Big Ideas to Improve Learning( George Lucas)
Project based learning with 5 year olds
Project Based Learning at a South Auckland Middle School
Transforming Secondary Schools -Charity James
practice. So what is this, how does it work, or simply put, is it justlearning?
Successful Open Plans and lessons for Modern Learning Environments.
Personalizing learning and Modern Learning Environments
|Excellent book for MLEs and self contained classrooms|