Written by Christine Wells and Linda Rubens
With all the talk of innovative learning environments it is easy to think, I don’t teach in an ILE so why should I bother? There are many new schools being built which are ILEs and I have been guilty of feeling very envious and wishing that I could knock walls out and have some of what they’re having. Twitter is often full of pictures of beautiful buildings with colourful furniture and learners happily engaged. We have realised that our school will probably never be a total ILE as it would take years and huge expense for this to happen. It is possible to have a change in attitude though. Mark Quigley once said,
“… an innovative learning environment happens between your ears, not just in the physical environment.”
Change of mind is the biggest challenge. So how can we embrace this mindset in an ‘old school’ setting?
1. Create a relaxed and welcoming environment.
You can have furniture other than the standard old school desks and chairs. Add a few couches to your learning space. They are easier than you think to source. Send out an all staff email and ask if any one has any old couches that they no longer need. You could also contact your learner’s parents or ask your learners. I was driving along one day with a friend and we saw a couple of couches that had been put on the side of the road so we stopped and got them – it took 2 trips as only one at a time fitted into my hatchback. I got a couple of cheap couch covers from The Warehouse to make them look presentable. I ditched my desk and replaced it with an armchair which I placed at the back of the room. When my learners first saw the couches they were really positive about them. There was a bit of a rush to sit on them to begin with but this settled down over time.
There are other ways that you can pimp out your learning space such as having lamps instead of turning on the harsh fluorescent lights. Many learners are more comfortable with low lighting. If you are in a 1:1 environment learners can see their screens better as they often have the brightness turned down to save the battery. Playing music at appropriate times also creates a relaxed vibe which learners enjoy.
Be willing to think outside the box and explore ways to create an ILE. The #Hackyrclass movement created by Claire Amos has heaps of great ideas for ways to do things differently. Ideas explored included Design Thinking and having a growth mindset. Joining a PLN of likeminded educators is inspiring when everyone is sharing ideas or posting photos and videos of what is happening in their learning space. Many of us have joined Twitter for this reason and are continually buzzing with new ideas that we have discovered through our Twitter PLN. Becoming involved in these things does take effort and a positive attitude but it is totally worth it.
3. Get away from the front of the classroom.
Adopting different teaching and learning methods such as Project Based Learning or co-created units of work are effective in helping your learners drive their learning. You may ‘stand and deliver’ at the front while you introduce a unit of work but after that your job will be to roam the class giving feedback where needed. I recently decided to co-create a unit with a year 10 class and they really enjoyed coming up with ideas for how they would learn about the text we are studying. I still gave the parameters such as the aspects to be studied, the levels of thinking required and some compulsory tasks such as essay writing but the rest was created by them.
4. Bringing in Experts
With project based learning, one of the guidelines is to bring experts in from the community. But what about your own school community? I was doing static image with my class, so I invited an art teacher into my class. He gave invaluable support regarding their design and layout of the images. Teaching a film or novel with historical background? I found a science and history teacher who had first hand experience of the historic event that was woven into the film text, so they came and gave my class authentic insight into the event because they had lived through it. Thus giving my students a chance for real empathy. Make it real, call your expert colleagues in.
Due to the sheer size of our school, cross curricular work can be seen to be too difficult. But when the seniors leave (how often do you hear that phrase?) we plan to do some cross curricular work. Blogs make this so much easier to manage. Art and English could be a starting point with blogs the way we bring the artefact together. Choose a class that you have at the same time as your colleague, team teach your area of expertise, and set the learners off on their project. So while we are not breaking down our walls, we are chipping away at the mental barriers that so often separate us. Smash those silos of learning!
6. Digital portfolios
Also known as blogs. Some people love them and are true advocates, others get put off at the mere mention of the word. I think they are a great way for learners to pull all their learning together, and teachers and parents can have a snapshot of all they have done. This makes cross curricular team-ups viable. One of my senior students, who is slightly, dare I say it, tech challenged, was amazed when he saw my blog. My blog is not amazing, but his naive enthusiasm is worth mentioning. He announced, “Guys, miss has her own website! Look there’s her name! And she’s talking about us!” So maybe he has something there. For those put off by the word blog, think website. Personal website.
So yes, while we do teach in a traditional building, as many teachers around the world do, we don’t confine ourselves to traditional approaches to teaching. And I’m pleased to say we are not alone in wanting to creep out of our silos and give our learners an integrated and personalised approach to their learning.