Chalk and talk classrooms of the past are evolving. Schools embrace flexible learning solutions, modern technology and innovative student spaces. Innovative Learning Environments (ILEs) are helping schools meet the modern learning needs of students now and in the future, without compromising on structure and values.
WHAT ARE INNOVATIVE LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS (ILES)?
Classrooms are transforming, based on new understandings about how students learn and what supports are needed. Flexible spaces, such as ILEs, allow for greater student choice regarding the best environment to meet their personal and learning needs, whether they’re working in small groups, individually or collectively as a class. Teachers create a range of flexible zones where students can feel focused, comfortable and ready to learn. While they may or may not have dedicated desks, students have the freedom to explore their dynamic environments rather than sitting in one spot for the entire lesson. There are options to collaborate on the couch, gather on some bean bags or dive in at a desk solo. Students are visually, mentally and physically inspired by their surrounding spaces.
“It’s a different type of learning space and it really engages the children.” Explains a Principal Paul Rayner, who offers students a dedicated STEM lab.
“It allows our students to think and work as scientists and mathematicians do. Students can use creativity and collaboration to explore the whole notion of science and mathematics in a real-world experience.”
For example, one STEM lab is set up for ‘vertical learning’. Whiteboard spaces on walls enable students to stand and problem solve their ideas. They can then return to their workspaces in the centre of the room, rather than working in a traditional classroom configuration. Students can look around and see what their peers are working on, providing opportunities for collaboration and engagement. The start of 2020 saw students tasked with a series of mini challenges, including the creation of bridges, boats, catapults and more. Kids were involved in every aspect of construction, from design phase through to manufacture.
MEETING THE NEEDS OF MODERN LEARNERS
Schools are choosing to adopt flexible learning solutions to cater to the needs of modern, 21st century learners. Today’s students are using critical thinking, problem solving, research and collaboration to further reinforce learning concepts. Students can choose the method of learning that suits their needs. This includes options such as writing, drawing or using technology such as videos and apps. This style of agile learning meets the individual needs of each student. It helps develop the critical skill of adaptability while boosting confidence, engagement and student outcomes. Teachers can also work in teams to generate shared learning experiences for a wider range of students. This encourages further collaboration and teamwork from leaders as well as peers.
“Our learning environments allow teachers to far better meet the needs of our learners. They can quickly modify the spaces to comfortably deliver differentiated learning in small groups. The quality of learning in the habitats has far exceeded what I imagined in terms of our learners being focused, calm, happy and engaged,” tells Principal Gavin Rick.
“We have created best meets the needs of our students both for now and the future. Learning is a social endeavour and our learning habitats reflect this.”
Teachers have undertaken extensive ongoing professional development in order to tailor classes to these specialised spaces, and parents have reported that their kids are very enthusiastic about the new learning environments.
Data is used to inform teaching, so targeted learning groups can be formed to suit students’ specific needs. Teachers, and Learning and Teaching Assistants (LTAs), provide instruction and feedback in small groups, amplifying the potential for each child to grow.
“Our teachers work together in teams. They have at least one LTA to build upon their individual and collective strengths for the benefit of all learners,” Gavin says.
“Rather than one teach, our learners have a range of adults to teach and guide them each day. This is powerful.”
We spoke to one parent. “I have asked my children several times if they would like to go back to a classroom with desks. Each time I get an overwhelming ‘NO WAY!’ – they love having the flexibility to learn in a space that suits them without the restrictions of a conventional classroom.”
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?
It is expected that more ILEs will be developed throughout schools to continue to meet the needs of today’s students. Research suggests changing the physical and spatial design of the traditional classroom and combining progressive teaching philosophies. This can improve general wellbeing and learning outcomes.
“Traditional schooling models and infrastructure are becoming less relevant for the modern world. The appearance of learning spaces which are agile and flexible will increase,” Gavin says.
“I am excited by this prospect! I believe that our learners deserve the very best quality in the environments we place them in.”
At some schools, every learning space has been designed to provide an agile learning environment. A formal handwriting task may be done at a formal desk and chair. Research tasks may be worked on a mat where a group can sit comfortably together.
“If we want to nurture students who are creative innovators, independent thinkers, problem solvers with strong social skills, and the ability to adapt, we have to ‘think beyond the walls’ of the traditional single cell classroom and embrace the design of our school which better reflects the world in which our children will live, work and contribute,” says Luke Reed, Principal.
“We need our children practised in thinking critically and creatively for the world in which they will live and lead.”