Teachers struggle with modern learning environments | Stuff.co.nz
Open-plan classrooms are popping up nationwide but teachers often struggle to adjust to a new way of working. What’s the benefit of modern learning environments? Adele Redmond reports.
If there’s a pot of gold at the end of the collaborative teaching rainbow, Dave* thinks it’s a small one.
He’s struggled with 50-child classrooms at his Christchurch primary school over the past few years and says he’s not the only one, with at least half his colleagues exhausted by what’s supposed to be the future of education.
Endless collaboration between teachers sharing the spaces has distracted them from teaching pupils, who are in turn distracted by each other. Learning outcomes have gone down, not up, but no one wants to discuss the elephant in the room, he says.
“People who will tell you in private they find it really hard won’t necessarily back you up in the staff room. Because you don’t want to be seen as a naysayer, because you don’t want to be seen as struggling, there’s a culture that this is a great idea.
“You don’t want people to think you have a problem with your teaching partner and you don’t want to become the object of everyone trying to fix you.
“The standard answer will be that you need to upskill but skill isn’t the issue; the issue is a new system has been introduced and they haven’t thought about what they’re going to lose.”
The Ministry of Education has already spent hundreds of millions in its shift towards modern learning environments (MLEs) and the 50 to 300-person open-plan classrooms that characterise them.
Its aim of improving heating, lighting and digital technology in 115 Christchurch schools over the next 10 years aligns with international research that says healthy, comfortable classrooms help promote learning.
Open-plan classrooms, or flexible learning spaces, have been pursued through the Canterbury schools rebuild programme because it is thought they allow teachers to work in more innovative ways than single-cell classrooms.
However, the ministry’s own research makes clear simply changing the shape of buildings alone will not lead to better education.
A paper from the New Zealand Council for Educational Research says teachers struggle to let students learn through failure in MLEs, while Melbourne Education Research Institute director John Hattie wrote that, without investment in teachers, open classrooms are “missed opportunities” at best.