Saturday, May 31, 2014

The follow up

Of course, after exploring MLEs in Australia, I came back very enthused, fizzing with ideas, and ready to bowl our school and rebuild a brand new one. I was all set to reinvent my own classroom as a cutting edge, top-of-the-line, A-grade super-MLE!

But I didn't. Knocking down a school is not really my call.

So I did what I could to introduce some of the concepts I'd seen into my existing classroom. My enthusiasm was infectious. By the time I'd shared my experiences and photos with my year 6 class, they were as keen as I was to make some changes to our learning environment.
So here's the process we followed:

1. It was important to keep ourselves focused on improving learning and not get too carried away with our new found passion for interior design. So first we looked at our school vision and talked about what it meant and what quality learning looks like.

2. To get the ball rolling and generate ideas, I set the kids a homework task to design their dream classroom. We talked about meeting learning needs, considering safety and thinking about things like lighting, heating, environmental impact, use of space, special needs access and sustainability. These came back in a variety of forms.
They designed floor plans, built models, wrote descriptions... some even took us on a tour of a virtual classroom using their beloved Minecraft! Who would've thought it had a practical use? Fantastic!

We looked at designs by other schools, too.

 3. After that, we brainstormed: "How do we learn best?"
They came up with things like by myself, in a group, as a class, 1:1 with a teacher, curled up in a beanbag, outside, up high, kneeling at low tables, leaning at high desks... When we discussed it in depth, a surprising range of suggestions came to the surface.

(At this point I introduced a concept we'd seen in Melbourne known as the 'a third, a third, a third' rule: A third of our learning spaces should be designed to cater for whole class discussion and instructional teaching, ie mat space. A third should allow for small group collaboration, and the remaining third should be set aside as individual spaces for children to work in by themselves and away from distractions. The kids adapted their MLE designs to allow for this.)

4. Next, we brainstormed "What spaces do we need to help us learn best?" and "What skills will we need to manage this?" From this discussion, we came up with skills like self-management, motivation, active listening, collaborative group skills and managing noise level.

5. It was important to remove any fears they had surrounding potential changes, so at this point we discussed our hopes and fears in relation to our new classroom. We listed what they hoped to get out of the new learning spaces and also listed any fears they had about the change. We attached a value to each of these, so that if changes were made that affected what was important to them, we were able to address these values in other ways.

6. Then it was time for action. We boldly got rid of most of our desks, leaving only two group tables in the classroom. Then we screened off some areas using existing furniture (display boards, tote trays etc) and opened other areas up  to create larger spaces. We introduced piles of cushions, beanbags and tables of differing height, all the time focusing on the purpose of each space and keeping quality learning firmly in mind.

7. After that, we got on with our year. We reviewed our new classroom and learning spaces as we went, often discussing what worked and what needed changing. But, apart from some minor jiggling, nothing really needed changing. We felt like we'd got it pretty much right first time. Our classroom felt beautifully open without desks cluttering up the place and the children easily adapted to their new environment.
If anything, it was probably harder for me as the teacher to get used to than them. Rather than strolling around the room looking over their shoulders at their work, I now had to wriggle into corners, plonk myself onto beanbags (which were hard to get out of for comfort reasons!) and squeeze myself under tables to conference with them or look at their work! I discovered, as a teacher, I needed to change a few of my systems and values to make it work for me.


  1. Kurt, you already know you are so fortunate to have the principal you have to support and encourage this ... when you describe the physical change of furniture etc in this post, it reminds me of doing this in 2008 in Rm7 with no support except a 'where there's a will there's a way' philosophy ... it was so good ... learning became so much more 'available' and 'efficient' ... I was asked at the time 'Do you deliberately set out to go against the grain and make things as difficult as possible?' ... like I said at the start of this post, you already know how fortunate you are ... I have to get to Christchurch during term time and visit your classroom ... am being bold enough here to assume an invite!!!

  2. Thanks Pauline. Please do visit, I'd love your input!!