Monday, 30 November 2015

ILEs - they are hard work!

Warning!  In this post, I use lots of "eduspeak" acronyms which I will put the key to here at the beginning so you can refer back to it.
ILE = innovative learning environment
MLE = modern learning environment 
MOE = Ministry of Education in New Zealand
OECD = Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development - 34 developed countries
UDL = universal design for learning

There has been a lot of discussion in educational fields around Innovative Learning Environments. Now that a few have been implemented around the country, once again we see a backlash from people who find it hard to acceptmake, and benefit from change. This is also, to a large extent, that they don't really understand why the MOE is trying to bring in ILE's.  I think that is because the MOE started by bringing the environment side of ILE's in first without really putting the time into the professional development of teachers who were going to work in these spaces and the education of parents whose children were going to be educated in this way.  

The MOE first started talking to schools quite a few years back about MLEs in their 5 and 10 year building plans. Even if you go to the MOE's rebranded MLE ILE site, the emphasis still seems to be on the environment. Lots of beautiful pictures of beautiful buildings and almost exclusively with primary aged students sitting on beautiful furniture.  The focus on buildings makes it hard for teachers and parents to understand the concept of ILEs.  

So you may well as the question, why is the pressure on schools and teachers to move to ILE's and how can it be innovative if the teacher(s) does not understand or make it so?  You have to dig a little deeper to find out why there is pressure and motivation to move to ILEs.  

The OECD report on ILE's came out in 2013.  So it seems this report must be a good place to start.  But I think you need to dig a little deeper still and understand the nature of learning. When I have talked to parents about education today, they often want to focus on making sure their child does well in assessments and that brings them back to the old style schooling.  

Assessments, in the old days, were ways of drafting off learners who would not proceed to the higher echelons of education.  Behind the implementation of ILEs are the social and economic changes from an industrial society to a knowledge society. Every child is seen as having the potential to achieve and contribute to the new world particularly if they are able to have control and choice over what they learn, and understand how they learn (metacognition). 

When I talk to parents to think about their own learning, and ask them to think about a time in education when they were given a choice, their faces light up as they remember a "project" they did, where there were no sets of instructions and guidlelines about what they had to learn.  They did their own inquiries and can still remember what they learned to this day and how much enjoyment they got out of it.   Ask them about what they learned for exams and they cannot remember.  They usually say to me - oh you are right, I do remember those occasions (where I could choose) and the learning vividly.
This can be best understood by delving into the nature of learning.  Bolstad and Gilbert et al  summarised this nicely in Table 3 on page 15 of their report "Supporting Future Oriented Teaching and Learning".  Learning involves thinking, it is building on prior knowlege but more than just adding to concepts, experiences are critical, it needs active engagement, motivation, personalisation, structure and social interaction, and meaningful contexts.  They conclude that expanding peoples' intellectual capacity should be the kep purpose of education.
 Again there is another OECD report about what learning involves and an excellent booklet outlining the 7 principles to guide the design of learning environments. And this is what should be at the heart of it - how do we get the best learning happening?  Researchers have analysed and synthesised how learning for all students could best take place and this is how the ILEs have come about.

In some online discussions, I have read some teachers expressing that ILE's dont suit everyone,  BUT THIS IS THE WHOLE POINT - they should suit everyone.  There should be ideal elements for learning for every student.  The ILEs should encompass UDL - a universal design for learning which enables multiple forms of representation, expression and engagement.
I was recently privileged to listen to two teachers (Paula Hale and Tonia Fenemore) at Leamington School (Cambridge) who have worked to make the change to an ILE working together in a collaborative way, with their year 1 and 2 students.  What a huge effort in planning and implementation.  Parents were consulted, leadership supported and the two teachers gave up an incredible amount of their weekend time to make this work.)  After a year of it, they have only good things to say about the quality and quantity of learning that happened in their class compared to a traditional model.  They expressed the viewpoint that there were no children who were not catered for in this environment.
They did not talk about the technology which supported the learning but when questioned about it, talked about how it is seamlessly integrated into the classroom.  The students make choices about what technology they can choose and when.  Personally, I cannot see how an ILE could function without the support of digital technologies.  It enables the learners to seek further knowledge, process and transform it into new forms.
If your school is involved in implementing ILEs, talk to the leaders, teachers and parents about what that will mean for the learners.  How will it be better? What can you do to support?  
I conclude with reference to Andreas Schleicher's words.  "Everyone supports innovation - except for their own children."  Change is coming.  Innovation is coming.  It won't be comfortable, it won't be easy and it will need time and energy expended by teachers and leaders who need to work with their communities to make it happen.  It is designed to make learning better than ever before.


  1. Interestingly, while much has been said about MLE/ILE's, the modern working environments continue to resemble the classroom of the 1960s and prior to that. More people in less space seems to be the principle. The agenda appears to be the ongoing devaluation of the individual. Education policy appears to mirror this movement. When I hear reports of the education minister promising funding based on academic achievement, I shudder at the future look for education.

    1. I was of your opinion until I started reading research and blogs like Leigh's. I have come to realise that this initiative only bears a surface resemblance to the open plan classrooms of the past. We are in the midst of a massive paradigm shift in education. The focus is on collaboration (students and teachers), and leveraging digital technologies to connect learners, and create content that represents the learning taking place. I am however with you on the government's penchant for following UK and US education models re achievement. Models that are creaking under their impossible aspirations, killing the joy of learning for students, and the joy of teaching for teachers. The ILE concept is the antithesis of this, as it puts the student at the centre. This is going to create some conflict. It has already, look at the negative press regarding Hobsonvillle Point Secondary's enlightened approach to NCEA.

  2. Another thought-provoking post, Leigh. I am very interested in the notion that ILEs SHOULD suit all learners. I guess some of us need to acquaint ourselves with the universal design for learning principles to ensure this does happen for our introverts, our ASD and ADHD students. Our team is one year into our efforts with our ILE. Much tweakage about to occur as a result of our experiences - including feedback from the students. Still much to learn. Daunting and exciting in about equal measure.

  3. A great read Leigh - well explained especially in the light of the news report today re parents concerns about open classrooms. I will pass this on .... thanks

  4. I find the comments interesting and ask the question: Does a single cell model for teaching and learning suit every learner? I think ILEs have the ability to be more responsive to multiple learning styles. In reality it's not about the physical space, it's about the pedagogy and how teachers use the space to enable learning. I think this is the point of difference from the 'open plan' classroom of the 60s/70s. In our context we have 3-4 teachers working together and taking responsibility for all the students in their learning community. The ability to 3-4 brains coming together to support learners that makes the difference. Marcus Freke

    1. Given the current employer stance which appears on the face of it to be all about the de-personalisation of work spaces, creating high-density work areas (i.e. cramming more people into the same area a la IRD model) I don't observe a shift to more collaborative work habits. Moreover, in education, we have the Minister and her Prime Minister signalling a move towards result-based funding of schools, an emphasis on the "core" curriculum areas via National Standards, all pointing according to my understanding of the GERM, to less collaboration, less personalised learning, more competition, more standardisation of the curriculum, and an emphasis on "passing" the standardised tests to measure progress.