Monday, 24 February 2014

MaLE - Modern [affordable] Learning Environments

Having now finished this post - and realising its length I thought a brief summary would be of use to clarify:

I have transformed a standard classroom into a MLE through the purchase of a range of 'trademe' furniture. This has been done with the following rationale:
  • To provide flexibility of learning spaces and the maximisation of space
  • To create a more culturally resonant environment at school that reflects 'home'
  • To create a space that could be personalised to enhance ownership
  • To create a space that would be distinct from the rest of the school so students can develop new behaviours easier regarding student agency


A confluence of ideas and inspiration led me to develop my very own MLE earlier this year....
Namely a few questions:
  • 1. We were to have 35 intermediate age students in one class (to be taught by 1.6 teachers) - We've had this in the past and had mixed successes - How could I develop a programme where - in such a large number - the individual was still valued and accommodated for.
  • 2. As part of our Learning and Change Network (LCN) I interviewed students from a range of levels last year about 'How they learn best' - How could I make these students thoughts and ideas come to life?
  • 2a. One of our LCN change priorities was Student Agency - this has been a focus of mine in recent years and I have struggled to develop a sustained change in student behaviour when they move into the Intermediate class. There are lots of pros and cons of Intermediate Schools - I think one Pro is that students get to reinvent themselves should they wish to. Year 7s can be immersed in a completely new environment and teachers can mould behaviours from the outset. While I have the acute advantage of already knowing the students as they come into the Intermediate class, often the ability I have to change student behaviours (in terms of agency/ownership/accountability) is minimal despite a focus on this area. How could I make the students have a shift in focus, allowing some students to have a fresh start and all students to realise that expectations were different in the Intermediate school?
  • 3. As part of my postgraduate study I became more and more aware of the dissonance between home and school for the majority of our students. How could I help students feel at home at school, understanding that they need to buy in to 'school' before they buy in to 'learning'?

I have been looking at the evolution of the MLE for the past few years and was sure that a MLE of my own making could be the solution to many of the questions raised above.

By tapping into the Edu Twittisphere, I was able to mould my own thinking from the plethora of knowledge and ideas out there - Especially the programme of "My Learning" from Emma Winders - . I thought of how individualising the classroom programme could possibly work with 1.6 teachers and 35 kids - Students would need to know their learning next steps and know how to problem solve, they would need to develop accountability and agency - or perhaps this would come as a result.
Students need their own timetables where they can pick and choose to attend learning sessions with either teacher - teacher tracking and monitoring must be tight to ensure that a) students know their next steps and b) reporting to parents could be accurate.

From there I decided I needed a place where students could select where they work and how they work in order to have a sense of self determination.

I had already asked our kind and capable caretaker to build a standing desk and some individual partitions as a result of my LCN interviews with students (where an overwhelming amount of students wished to work in a quieter less distracting environment). PHOTO

I sketched up a few plans and the end result was a classroom with these features:
  • Bar stools and a make shift bar leaner - 
(Bar stools - very cheap from trademe, leaner was made from partitions (trademe) and an old used desk top cut in half, with some brackets ($3 @ mitre ten)

  • A range of different shaped desks - to encourage collaborative learning

(very cheap from trademe)

  • A set of carpet steps

(made from pallets (free), sheets of packing MDF ($5 from mitre ten) and free carpet (seconds from Parmars Flooring Centre, Petone) 

  • A dining table 

(very cheap from trademe)

  • Individual desks and some moveable partitions 

(exisiting and made by from cheap thin mdf, painted by students)

We also have access to a small break out room next door - this has been turned into 'The Lounge'  and features tables at one end for group work.


1. Have I made a programme and environment that allows for individualisation?

Due to Technology (off site), school camp coming up,  tennis and swimming I decided to hold off on the student directed timetable - We are spending the entire term focusing on getting set up so we can start in Term 2. We are covering different aspects of the programme in depth (Including how to complete each week's 'Individual Learning Tasks', developing a culture of learning, and taking 100% ownership for everything we need to. We are working hard already to make this happen - I know that we have the facility to make this work - It will just be a case of pressing the Go button - I usually like to jump straight in the deep end,  in this instance I have chosen a more cautious approach in order to diminish the amount of students who may at first struggle with such a programme. The environment is set up - but I know that the environment matters little compared to how teachers use the  environment, We are now thinking about how best we can use the environment in order to make it as effective as possible in order to make accelerated student progress.

2. How could I make these students' [who I interviewed] thoughts and ideas come to life (regarding how they learn best)?

Many students wished to work independently - more than I would have thought. They also said they needed to be fully aware of the task requirement/learning that was to take place before they could work independently. Some students also knew that their peers often knew more than they did and while this meant that they weren't working independently, they were able to continue to receive help without having to go to the teacher.
I decided to get the above furniture in an attempt to create more flexible spaces - places where students could determine for themselves where they sit and with who, depending on their confidence and understanding of a given task.
Our existing class had standard tables for 4 or 6 persons, Students couldn't really choose to be alone even if It was the norm to move about freely within the class. By having a range of seating options, students will learn to make good choices about where they need to sit for specific learning tasks.

2a. How could I make the students have a shift in focus, allowing some students to have a fresh start and all students to realise that expectations were different in the Intermediate school regarding student agency?

Again, by using the above furniture, we have a different environment to any other in the school - this superficial change is helping (so far) to have shifted the students mind set around behaviour and as we progress through the year the aim to increase student agency will be made easier by students both being aware that they can change behaviours and not having to worry about as many behavioural issues distracting from learning.
Another advantage of having our 'own' furniture is that it can be personalised - over the course of the next term, some of our trademe furniture is to be painted by the students. We will give the students free licence (with the hope that some tables will have words like 'collaboration' written on them while others may have words like 'determination', 'focus' and 'discipline' - Well that’s the HOPE! It will be what ever our students wish it to be...)

3. How could I help students feel at home at school, understanding that they need to buy in to 'school' before they buy in to 'learning'?

The idea of having a dining table in class is entirely intentional, most students would be more familiar with working on a dining table at home than they would be a standard desk. This is hopefully bridging the gap between home and school for some of our students.
The lounge is another intentional decision to bridge the home-school gap - for 15 -20 minutes each day, most students silent read in the lounge area. This is the most 'silent' reading that we have had in recent years with relatively little teacher direction - this comes down to the changed environment leading to a change in personal expectation on behalf of the students. 
It is also hoped that the act of having a lounge at school will push some 'school' habits into the home and more students may feel comfortable reading on their couch at home (instead of watching the box).

As with any MLE - I am aware that it is not the furniture that is important but how the space is used, we will be working hard to ensure that we challenge the students to tell us how they believe the space can be used best for the individual learning of each student. 

It is set to be an interesting and innovative year! 

Thanks to the following for helping make the space possible:
Kath, Merv, Parmars Flooring Centre, & Mitre Ten

Annecdotal feedback (via email)

"Firstly, I have heard many kids talking excitedly about it (the MLE) and sharing it with their parents"

1 comment:

  1. Well done! It's great to see what you have accomplished with creative thinking and initiative.
    I look forward to hearing how it goes in Term 2.