Radio New Zealand reports this morning on parental concerns about modern learning environments. It seems some parents are shifting their children from these schools, which offer team teaching in large spaces, because they prefer more traditional physical spaces.

The new spaces are designed for a particular pedagogy and are closely linked to digital learning. The government has been a big advocate and unfortunately there has been a bit of a ‘fad’ quality to some of the developments around them. Open plan was certainly a fad in the 1970s that came and went.

The advantages in the current model are seen as flexibility (to meet different student learning needs), openness (better cooperation and collaboration among teachers), and better access to shared resources.

The RNZ story may be a follow-up to a story in the Sydney Morning Herald, which is quite scathing. This story refers to a particular problem with noise in the big spaces. Perhaps this is to do with how the big spaces are being used.

A Christchurch principal at a low decile school interviewed by EA a couple of years ago was a huge fan of her new MLE’s. She said Maori and Pasifika students thrived in their self-selected small groups, which quickly developed strong internal motivation and leadership. As the groups had to report to the larger cohort every few days on what they had been doing and what they had learnt, they were keen to showcase their work and to make sure those who were struggling kept up.

But her comment was that with younger children the spaces needed a lot of extra resourcing to keep the children on task and focussed. Her solution had been to use the spaces as an opportunity to involve parents in their children’s learning. Parents came in every day to help out in the classes, sitting with small groups to help keep the focus.

Other schools EA interviewed on MLE’s couldn’t emphasise enough the deep changes that were needed in pedagogy and planning to make them work.

The problem may well be the usual one with governments’ education policies – ideas developed as the next ‘silver bullet’, in isolation from the profession without adequate PLD or resourcing.