Wednesday, 21 February 2018

My five minutes of fame slipped by.

I was invited to appear on TVOne's Breakfast programme on Friday 16th February to answer a burning question from a viewer who wanted to know if Modern Learning Environments (MLEs) were better for children. 

Unfortunately, because I was due to be working at a school in Masterton, the cameraman could not get to me, and the organisers decided to "go down a different direction" which meant that they interviewed Leon Benade from AUT instead.  Leon is a senior lecturer in education, researching MLE's and was interesting to listen to.

I wanted to add in my ten cents worth, as you do, and thought I should post another blog about it.  I have blogged about MLEs before in this 2013 post and this (April, 2015) and this (also April, 2015) and this (November, 2015) and this ( January, 2016), but thought it might be useful to revisit since the discussion is freshly at the forefront, and I don't want to think that my potential 5 minutes of fame has fizzled into nothing.

Leon identified modern learning environments as large open spaces, with multiple use zones, modern brightly coloured mobile, furniture for up to 120 learners and 4 teachers.  I would like to add that a modern learning environment can also happen in a single cell classroom with one teacher, and that it is more about the pedagogical approach than the space.  (Leon alludes to this later in saying that the people in the space make the difference.)

The advantages of having more than one teacher in the space were covered by Leon - giving flexibility to the teachers, utilising different areas of expertise, and load sharing.  Enabling the conditions for personalised learning can also happen in a one cell classroom, with the support of digital technologies. 

Jack Tame interviewing said that parents are scared, and Leon advised them to acknowledge and embrace the changes because we can't go on teaching the same way.  Why not, I hear you ask?  Because we were preparing our learners for a different industrial model of work and now we are preparing them for an uncertain future but one in which individual strengths coupled with ability to integrate into team approaches, collaboration and knowledge building and sharing, and innovation will be valued, rather than compliance and standardisation (hurrah for the end of standardised testing in New Zealand!).

Jack said (and Leon confirmed) that the learners much prefer this way of working.  When the viewer was asking if it were better for children, she was not clear by which measure you could tell if it was "better" for children.  If you were looking just at the results of standardised tests, then you might see some differences (I don't believe there is substantial research about this out there and do hope that no one feels the need to do this).  If, however, you are talking about the well-being of learners, their ability to grow their own strengths and expertise and interests, and their preparedness for an uncertain future, then I think you will find that MLEs (or ILEs) will win, hands down.

Harking back to the people in the spaces, the teachers need to be well prepared and have had time for professional learning.   It is not a simple switch from single cell to MLEs.  Oh yes, the furniture and environment can be changed easily, but it is the practices of the teachers and learners that have to change hugely.  The MLE's must be supported by the use of digital fluency (teachers and learners knowing how to use a variety of tools to support and innovate their learning) and they will also be identified by the themes of future oriented teaching and learning espoused in Bolstad, Gilbert et al's 2012 work. 

And if you say you have a child who only likes working in a quiet space with no distractions, I do understand that, and there will be some quiet spaces in a MLE , but it is important that your child works at developing other ways of working so that they become flexible in approach, and able to adapt to very different working lives.

So there you have it: - what was my five minutes of fame, reworked into a blog post. 
A typical classroom in a Japanese junior high school (Wikipedia)


  1. So glad you blogged what you would have said... thanks from all of us in trad classrooms using icts and future focused practices to create modern learni g experiences for our students. Kia ora rawa atu.

  2. One practical issue that many schools are not taking into account as they jump to MLEs is the issue of relievers. I had a call from an Relief Agency last year at 7:30 am to go into such a classroom. The class had around 48 children, new entrants and year 1s, and normally two teachers, one who was very experienced, and seemed to be the driver behind the initiative, and a beginning teacher, with about 30 days teaching under her belt. The school and the classes planning had not given any thought to the inevitable need for relief. As it was my first experience, needless to say it was fairly chaotic in the extreme. I wonder in reflection how effective a learning experience this was for the Tamariki that day.