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The must-knows of open-plan classrooms

Open-plan spaces, collaborative teaching models, child-driven learning: an entire education revolution wrapped up in jargon.

But what does New Zealand’s push towards a new education model mean for your child? Family Times asks CORE Education Ltd senior consultant Mark Osborne to shed some light.

Why is there a push toward open-plan classrooms?

We use research into the most effective ways to teach and learn, but what’s happened is that 60 per cent of the buildings we have in New Zealand schools are more than 40-years-old, so they were designed for a very different education paradigm with a teacher up the front controlling the learning. And that doesn’t match up with the research that we now have about kids needing to be in control of their learning. So a lot of people are looking very hard at their teaching and learning spaces up and down the country and asking whether they’ve got the right buildings or the right sort of physical environment for the kind of learning environment that they want to create.

Are there academic benefits to open-plan classrooms?

There’s certainly research that shows that schools that have changed their spaces and their teaching and learning have experienced significant gains in achievement for kids.

Alongside black-and-white achievement data – test scores – there’s a bunch of research that suggests a lot of key competencies, interpersonal things – pro-social behaviour etc – that come with a more collaborative learning environment.

What does it mean for traditional teaching?

If a teacher is on their own in the classroom, how do they become a better teacher? One of the big shifts that are happening in learning environments is about creating teams of teachers who engage in shared problem solving together and improve each other’s skills. So it is about the quality of teaching.

What about the child-teacher connection?

You’re talking about attachment theory, and it’s particularly important for kids who haven’t had strong attachment figures in their lives before coming to school. It’s really important for those kids to have a strong single attachment to an adult. So what a lot of schools do is to try to preserve the advantages of having a collaborative space but have a nest group – a small group, say 10-15 – and a teacher particularly responsibility for those kids. The pastoral care has to be really carefully wrapped around those kids.

How long has the model been working in New Zealand?

In the 1970s and 80s there was a move toward collaborative spaces. But from the mid 1990s on there was a renewed interest, right up to what we’re seeing today.

Won’t shy kids struggle with this model?

I’d ask those questions of the school because I’d want to hear what the school is going to do to ensure that my kid doesn’t get lost. The onus is on the school to be ready for the child, not the child for the school. The interesting thing is, if we talk about new entrants, is that most early childhood centres operate as modern learning environments, and that’s actually really important for minimising the disruption of that transition.

Should parents be concerned about the changes?

The changes that have taken place in society in those 20 to 30-years since parents were in a new entrants’ class are quite profound. It’s about helping parents to see that if they saw something today similar to their education experience, they should be quite concerned for their child because even just technology – the access that we have to information – those are significant changes that have impacted on learning.

So this is really fast-paced change, and it’s understandable if parents struggle to keep up with it. But it’s beholden on the school to ensure that they help them understand what’s going on and why it’s happening.

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