Why the fuss about flexible learning spaces: building the case for relational trust and personal learning skills.

This is the second post on working in flexible learning spaces [refer categories to access the first on challenges].

Common Context:

We have two flexible learning centres at the school currently occupied year 1’s and year 5/6’s.

  • Both the year 1’s and 5/6 teachers work as a team to plan and evaluate a responsive curriculum and I think  this common planning is the foundation for consistency [as do all our other teams].
  • Both teams are working on developing a more differentiated curriculum – early stages as we get better online tools to determine student needs [as do all our other teams].
  • Both teams work on explicit teaching in the core tool subjects of English and Mathematics and an Inquiry focused curriculum [as do all our other teams].
  • Both teams bring all the students in their care together  to develop during term 1 to develop from the student perspective [in keeping with our school values of course] a set of learning and social norms/expectations/rules/common commitments [different language same intent] for their centre.
  • Both teams use a restorative justice approach [e.g. use of circle time] to build student learning relationships [as do all our teams].
  • Both teams have a teacher office in the centre where conversations about the day, the curriculum, particular students needs, use of technology tools etc… are talking about continuously.

So lots in common.

But there are questions being raised by parents and teachers.

Is it harder for senior students to adapt to these spaces because they haven’t been “forced by circumstance”  to develop these broader relationships and relational trust or personal learning skills in single classrooms? Are schools and therefore students at a disadvantage if they chop and change from single classrooms to flexible learning units over their 7 years of primary school?  

Observation

Teachers across the school and in the senior primary unit have had a real focus on building broader sets of learning relationships and relational trust through the use of circle time at least twice a week. Why? Well when they initially started collaborative group work in larger learning areas they found the level of relational trust and mutual accountability between students and their peers and to a smaller extent between students and their teachers was weaker than anticipated. This didn’t appear the case in the younger year 1 group. The teachers thought the collaborative tasks were developmentally appropriate so that wasn’t the main variable.

Some 18 months later, whilst we await official attitudinal survey data results, anecdotally it appears the level of relational trust has improved. This therefore paves the way for some more flexible groupings to occur.

Now What

Teachers in the senior unit are moving with their home groups into different spaces each term within the building. This is different from the younger unit who have a constant home room and a shared middle area. Why?

We have learnt that the building design isn’t as flexible as we would desire and modifications are being considered including perhaps the use of glass walls and other more flexible walls. We have learnt that the timetable for senior students can be an obstacle to more flexible groupings. Also it takes time for the teachers in these units to learn to use tools to differentiate a curriculum that takes advantage of the flexible learning spaces. Plans around two of the issues are being developed for next semester.

To broaden our knowledge base one of the teacher’s project teams which is investigating use of flexible spaces is planning to visit other schools with similar spaces .  

More explicit personal learning skills [goal setting, actioning teacher feedback, managing work timelines and mutually accountability for independent use of resources like netbooks and reflection] are a focus this semester.

Future Learning

Our next initiative to make an impact across the school and in these units are the Ultranet [an online learning environment which will support individual student goal setting and greater development of independent and collaborative online learning tasks].

Transition for students into these spaces is important and the transition working party are looking at this for later in the year.

We know from experience that addressing parent anxiety about change is important as well and blog posts  and evenings that present information are part of our intended transition program. One wonders if the whole school was designed around these areas whether there would still be parent anxiety or whether parent anxiety is about about chopping and changing models of learning delivery [single classrooms and flexible learning area]. Anyway that’s another topic for a future post on flexible spaces.

The next post I anticipate will be around student personal learning skills or the use of the Ultranet in these flexible learning areas.   

PS: When I asked teachers for feedback on tis post one replied about the need for a glossary for the teacher speak terms – which I think is a great idea not only for this post [ I’m thinking almost about a separate definitions page for my blog on this – what do you think?]

Links

Restorative Justice

Overview of restorative justice approach in American Schools

Transforming Conflict

Circle time in a UK school to build self esteem

Circle time – a whole school approach to improving citizenship

Ultranet

Ministers announcement about the Ultranet

Ultranet delay

Blog post on the Ultranet

Relational Trust

Building relational trust in schools through consensus

Relational trust in schools