Open-learning spaces

Just a quick post as something in the latest Education Review caught my eye…

“Children, teachers battle noise in open-learning spaces”

A relatively brief article and interview regarding some research into open-learning environments conducted by a PhD candidate around speech perception in open-plan classrooms.

I’m not commenting on the quality of the research nor the accuracy of the outcomes, I haven’t read it so I don’t know. What I am interested in is the pedagogic practice that was taking place in these open-learning spaces. After listening to the interview there was powerful justification in implementing an open-plan learning environment, the PhD student (Kiri Mealings) outlines benefits such as: a child centred approach, less authoritarian, range of activities, group work, promote the sharing of skills and experiences through team teaching, joint planning, sharing of resources, student movement between areas. Essentially to facilitate a more cooperative and supportive atmosphere.

Unfortunately even if all of the aforementioned benefits took place it doesn’t sound like the teachers actually changed their pedagogic practice to harness the opportunities presented by the new environment. Instead, through her speech perception analysis, Kiri found that students at the ‘front of the classroom’ performed at around 75% but those at the ‘back of the classroom’ were only performing at around 25% (compared to the roughly 80% homogenous performance in a closed classroom).4421755040_eec92f1b23_zPerhaps the school should have invested in some professional learning for the teachers so that they weren’t recreating a closed classroom structure in an open learning environment. We make the assumption that teachers can readily adapt and change their pedagogies to best suit the demands of their schools but too often great initiatives fail because the teachers are not adequately supported, nor professionally developed, to embrace the shift in pedagogies and engage in new ways of exploring learning with students.

The TEMAG report outlines critical issues in teacher quality and training programs across Australia… well this doesn’t just stop once we graduate! Continuous professional development is critical to maintaining a world class professional workforce that adapts with the ever changing nature of the profession, the context and the students we work with.


What If Classes were Structured like TED Talks?

Welcome back to the start of a new year Aussie educators! I expect most of you have now been at school for at least a day if not the majority of the week. Full of optimism? Full of hope? If you are a graduate, full of fear? Anticipation? Or full of something else…

I thought I’d kick off the year with a little bit of plagiarism, well not exactly. The link below was an interesting post I came across today and it got me thinking. Is this what we would actually want?

What If Classes were Structured like TED Talks?.

Whilst I believe there is some merit to the notion of presenting classrooms like TEDtalks I don’t think this blogger has extended the idea enough to comprehend the possibilities! or the problems. I doubt I will extend it that much further but here are a few things that popped into my mind as I read through:

– TEDtalks are generally well planned, researched, thought through, impactful, timed, inspirational, emotional, delivered with ‘punch’, and genuinely interesting.

– TEDtalks are concise around key points and although many are story-like in structure they usually have some very catchy messages or phrases that stick with you.

– TEDtalks are for the most part professionally done.

– TEDtalks are 18 minutes in length.

So… if every lesson we had with students contained 18 minutes of ‘teacher talk’ that had the same quality of preparation and delivery as Sir Ken Robinson (not that his actual presenting is all that exciting, it’s his key messages to educators that gets us tingling all over) then we would have the rest of the lesson to give students control over their learning! Engage in genuine inquiry, explore their own resources, discuss and collaborate over the key messages and findings of our presentation, actively seek out alternative sources of knowledge, and who knows… maybe create their own TEDtalk in response to a challenge we might set them as a demonstration of learning. So if every lesson was a TEDtalk then we’d be finished with the ‘teaching’ much sooner and then the students could get stuck into the ‘learning’.

Could you do it? Would you do it?

Good luck this year in what ever your learning adventures may bring!

Farewell to a friend

Today a former colleague of mine retired. Somewhere in the vicinity of 40 years in public education working in some of the most challenging schools, supporting some of the most difficult students, and throughout it all insisting that he still had so much to learn about learning and how best to support students.

Now what? I don’t mean what’s he going to do with all that extra free time… we’re teachers so we must be all too familiar with extensive holiday breaks! I’m talking about all of that wisdom, knowledge, passion, integrity, wit, and educational nous that is transitioning out of the profession. This isn’t in isolation either.

The OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey reports that the average age of teachers in Australia is 43.4 years and 53.2 years for principals. More alarming is that 37.1% of the workforce was over 50 in 2013 (a 5% increase from 2008 levels).

Now I’ll be the first to say good riddance to a small proportion of that statistic but the overwhelming majority of the group, like my colleague, have considerable insight into the fundamental nature of learning and I worry that we are not capturing that essence… before it’s too late.


(Retire In Peace).