Saturday, 17 October 2015

#it'snotaboutthebuildings

Much like Sally Hart (see her blog post here), I could not spend the rest of today revelling in the All Black's glorious defeat of France, having read this article.  The danger these days is that scare-mongering fluff articles like this, that previously were consigned to the back pages or local rags, are now available free of charge online, to a potentially world-wide audience.  @Doctor_Harves has correctly pointed out that the journalist made no claims, that all claims were from interviewees. My response is that surely the author has some culpability by bringing the views from one side together, in one place and publishing them.

My first, and strongest, response to this article is that it once again focused on the physical spaces in which learning occurs, as if that is the defining factor for the pedagogy that occurs inside.  How many tweets, blog posts and hashtags do we need to be able to be heard as a profession - it's about the pedagogy, #notaboutthebeanbags.  The article segueways straight from the amount of money being spent by the government to imagery of the positioning of teachers and students in the space.  Let's be clear, the Ministry of Education has spent $517 million in the last 5 years on desperately needed new classrooms for new and expanding schools, and their design has been based on rigorous research here and overseas, on the conditions under which all students can learn at their best. "The teacher in front of the chalkboard..." as described in this article is only one of many ways in which learning can occur, and certainly does still happen in Innovative Learning Environments when that is what is most appropriate for the learners and learning. I challenge anyone reading this to argue that a teacher standing at a chalkboard for an hour, day in-day out, is the best way for students to learn.

That allows me to segueway into my next issue with this article. The MLE/ILE/MLP vision has never been synonymous with independent, free-range learning, where students do what they want, when they want.  MLP is about student agency, knowing our learners, and exploring ways in which the passions and interests of all students can be harnessed to provide the best learning outcomes for them - described articulately here by Steve Mouldey in a summary of his recent uLearn presentation.  We are all bound by the same national curriculum document and strive to achieve the same vision of confident, connected, actively involved lifelong learners.  Those of us embracing innovative learning practices are focusing intensely on this vision, especially the actively involved and lifelong learner parts.  The New Zealand Curriculum document gives us the enabling constraints to work within, as @totallywired77 said "handing over ownership to your students is not not the same as just letting them do whatever they want! This is hardcore punk learning, not f+++ing free form jazz!

My next issue is the focus of the article on what constitutes success.  What good is a 77.5% UE attainment rate if only 1 in 3 students go on to tertiary education? How is the school meeting the needs of the other 67%? At our first community meeting as a school, we asked our parents what their hopes, dreams and aspirations were for their children.  The resounding response was confident, resilient, happy, fun and kind... here's the wordcloud:
So we have a responsibility, as the school of our community, to make good on this mandate.  Again... will we achieve this only one traditional pedagogical style? No, we won't.

Other points I struggled with in this article were "sterile open spaces with absent teachers and loud noises." I can't say I've ever been into an ILE where the teachers are absent, the student:teacher ratios are the same, and purpose built environments are engineered to minimise noise pollution - there are strict noise tests they need to pass when in operation. "...some students use their laptops instead of pen and paper..." what does that have to do with anything else in this article? This has been happening for years, and simple device substitution will not have an impact on improving learner outcomes. "... their newly fitted-out classrooms have glass doors and moveable walls, but the students and teachers also prefer a traditional learning environment" it's not an ILE without the ILP, again it's all about the pedagogy, and what teacher is going to want to deprivatize their practice when it is obviously not a school-wide supported movement, with everyone, including the leadership team on board, and high quality professional learning to take them on the journey? "People feel like they're being watched so they're more focussed on their behaviour, teachers stay on topic more" and "there could be distractions with people walking past of with [other classes] working opposite...." surely if the learning is student centred and engaging, they shouldn't need this as a threat to remain focussed on their learning, or be so easily distracted.  In all the schools we have visited this year, there have been many, the one common factor across all ILE schools is the absolute student engagement in learning. 

This article really did hit a nerve with me today, because I think it was a poorly constructed piece of journalism that skirted around the real issues and the gains being made by those of us trying to evolve education.  It is especially topical for me, as we try to bring our community on board before we open next year.  We have an incredibly supportive community, who have waited a long time for this school, and who are trusting us to do what's best for their children.  They have come to our meetings, read our blogs and newsletters, and approach us with their worries and concerns, but (so far) never in a narrow-minded and negative way.  They genuinely want to know how it's going to work, and seem excited when we share our ideas.  I worry that articles like this will undo some of our hard work to date, and have parents doubting us before we even get off the ground.  All I ask is for balanced and fair representation of our sector.

7 comments:

  1. Beautifully said! I was wild when I read that this morning! I've put a link to your blog on the nz teachers FB page. There's been a lot of talk there about the article today and more than I thought would be was positive!

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    1. Thanks Mia. I guess teachers who are comfortable in a traditional setting are happy to stay there knowingly (not that I agree with that best best for learners), my problem is with this article's message undoing all the hard work we have been doing with our communities, simply because of it's poor research and construction.

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  2. Agree wholeheartedly. Well said.

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  3. Very well put Mel. Great response.

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  4. You have nicely summed up my thoughts on the article. Thanks.

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