The anticipation of moving into a new Modern Learning Environment had been huge. We had been preparing ourselves for more than a year, thinking of ways in which we would change our practice to make the most of our new environment, all in the name of enhancing student learning. However, ultimately we were always going to learn the most from ‘doing’, and I can now say as I reflect on my first term in our new MLE, that I have learnt more about teaching than any other term I have had. Below are six of my main reflections from over the term.
Collaborative teaching = reflecting more than ever
Teaching in an MLE means that I am now teaching with other teachers. In my case, we have approximately 70 students and three teachers. Between the three of us, we plan everything together. But more importantly, we reflect on everything together. We are constantly discussing what worked well, and what we could do better. Never before have I reflected on my practice so much. This collaborative reflection is the single most important factor for what I believe is making me a better teacher.
We had put a huge amount of thought into the set-up of our space (see my previous post on The how and why behind our Innovative Learning Space). Despite this, we have constantly tinkered with the arrangement of our space for a variety of reasons. One of the main things I have discovered in a 1-1 environment is that some students will always try to find a spot where they are backed up against a wall so that no one can see their screens. Therefore, we made sure that most of the seating arrangements within our spaces were transparent, meaning that we could always walk behind where the students were sitting. This is beneficial not only for ensuring that students remain on task as we wander through the space, but also to make it easier to work with any students that need help.
Process rather than content
I have written previously about how I incorporate inquiry based learning as well as how I encourage self-directed learning. Through these learning methods, I have found that it is more important to teach the process of how to learn more so than the content. In this day and age, students have access to all the information they would ever need in their pockets, thus decreasing the need for rote learning of facts. I would argue it is more important to learn the process of how to find out the information that the students are looking. For example, we are now teaching about how to interview someone for information, or how to distinguish if secondary sources are opinion based or factual. Through teaching students how to direct their own learning, we are giving them the life skills to be able to learn anything they want, at any time. By teaching process rather than content, we are also allowing the learning to be individualised, rather than a ‘chalk and talk’ method of teaching one thing to the whole class.
Increasing collaboration between students
While having a device for each student allows the learning to become very individualised and personalised, I found that students were not collaborating as much as I would like. To ensure that we were promoting the important 21st-century skill of collaboration, we made sure that we explicitly made this part of our planning. For example, in my maths sessions, students would be using their device to work through their Individual Learning Plans. As most of the students would be working on something different to the person next to them, the students were not collaborating as they once would have if they were working on the same objectives. To increase collaboration between the group, I would put a task on our class blog such as the following:
This is an example of one of the strategies that we use to ensure that the use of our devices is not actually decreasing the collaboration that takes place between students.
Our whiteboard tables have also been a revelation in the way we work with students and the way that students collaborate together. We have four circular whiteboard tables set up in our ‘Collaboration Room’. The students love to work out maths problems together on these. Because work is easy to wipe off, students can feel free to make, and learn from, mistakes. Often students will have a whiteboard marker each and they will all work on the same problem together over one table. The collaboration and joint problem solving that takes place in these situations has been great to see.
The ability of students to self-manage and direct their own learning varies greatly
While we have used strategies such as our student licenses to encourage student agency, we have seen a huge variance in the different level of abilities in terms of how our students can effectively direct their own learning. I believe that many of our students have been so ‘spoon-fed’ with their learning in the past and they seriously struggle to do work when the teacher is not there to help them as a result. On the opposite side of the spectrum, many of our students have thrived in an environment where they are able to direct their own learning. Moving forward, we intend on having one of the three teachers working specifically with the students that are struggling with the process of directing their own learning (from our student licences, this would be any students within our ‘learner license’ group). This does not mean that we will continue to ‘spoon feed’ these students, rather the teacher involved with this group will spend more time teaching the process of how they can manage themselves better and direct their own learning. As the students get better at this, they will hopefully be able to move up into a higher student license level, and therefore, have more freedom within our learning space.
It’s hard, but remember the big picture.
There have been a number of times throughout the term where we have thought it would be easier to go back to our single cell classroom where the students are seated in rows. A fair bit of stress as a teacher starting out in a MLE is caused from the perceived loss of control. Students are no longer in our sight all of the time. Devices provide so many potential distractions. However, what I have found most difficult is that at times I feel fairly redundant as a teacher. In the past, I would have been the source of most of the information that the students needed, now the students can find out anything that they need via their device. Initially, it was strange to think “did I actually teach anything during that block?”. At these times it is important to remind ourselves that this situation is only happening because of the large amounts of work and planning we have done behind the scenes (especially collating all of our resources onto our class website). We are now definitely facilitators of learning more so than teachers. Between us, when we feel like it would be easier to go back to traditional teaching methods, we need to remind ourselves of the big picture – we want to train our students to have the skills they will need for the 21st-century. Our goals are to create students that can self-manage and direct their own learning through critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creating.