At St Joseph’s Alstonville we have spent the last few years adapting our practice to become a flexible learning school. We did this as we firmly believed we needed to move away from a model of schooling that could no longer meet the needs of our learners. We know this change of learning can create questions from parents.
Why do this?
How does it work?
Is it for all students?
Is it too noisy?
Do children get missed?
How do you know that children are learning?
If you’ve ever wanted to learn more about flexible learning spaces and how they operate, please read on…
All over the world, leading schools are utilising flexible learning spaces to educate children for an exciting future. Gone are the days of one teacher, one class as we try to develop students with skills for contemporary learning.
Flexible learning spaces help children collaborate and learn in group settings, yet can be adapted to suit quiet, independent learning when the situation requires.
Q: What are flexible learning spaces?
A: Flexible learning spaces are designed to be communal spaces which can be configured in a number of ways for specific learning experiences. This means they provide opportunities for people to work together in collaborative and exciting ways. In our case at Joeys we work in stages (S1 -Years 1 & 2, S2 – Yrs 3 & 4, S3 – Yrs 5 & 6) with increased staffing to support flexibility and intervention.
Q: How are flexible learning spaces different from open learning environments? Or from composite classes?
A: Flexible learning spaces provide a variety of spaces that can be used for specific learning tasks and activities. Areas can be configured to suit learning styles and help generate engaging and exciting learning opportunities. Open learning environments on the other hand, are completely open and do not allow for reconfiguration of the space to create other options. In open learning environments, students are only able to do one form of learning in a large space reducing the ability to create small group space, quiet areas and spaces tailored for specific tasks. A flexible space can be tailored to meet many needs. A composite class generally still follows the one teacher, one classroom rule not giving the setting a greater team approach through targeted staffing.
Q: How do different spaces help meet the individual and social needs of students?
A: We are able to tailor the learning to suit the students and the learning outcomes. If we need a quiet space then we have spaces to accommodate quiet work. If we need collaborative group discussion we will have customised spaces to allow this interaction.
Flexible learning spaces allow teachers to use the space more effectively than a traditional classroom. Flexible learning spaces allow teachers and support staff to work within the space as a team, meaning students have access to support more readily.
Q: How do students use flexible spaces?
A: Students can be grouped in a variety of ways that take advantage of both indoor and outdoor learning environments. They enable students to work in a variety of areas enabling them to move around, work at tables, on the floor, in small group settings, as well as standing. Flexible learning spaces empower students to understand themselves as learners so they can apply different learning techniques depending on the task and outcome.
Q: What type of learning is valued and encouraged through flexible learning spaces?
A: Contemporary learning is underpinned by teaching methods and spaces that are engaging and motivational. Flexible learning spaces complement current and evolving pedagogies and provide creative and energised learners and teachers. Flexible learning spaces enable social and collaborative learning, integrated curriculum delivery, mix of teacher-directed and student-directed learning, independent learning, project work, direct instruction, innovative, critical and creative thinking, relationship building, and problem-solving skills.
Q: How will furniture and technology be used in the new spaces?
A: Well designed modular furniture will be used along with mobile technologies to enhance flexibility and functionality. Furniture can be moved around to create boundaries and easily configured for specific learning activities. The use of movable acoustic panels can be used to define quiet intimate spaces, or to increase the size of space for use by larger groups. You can also utilise sound pods to support voice use in a flexible space.
Q: How do the staff plan for a flexible learning environment?
A: The staff at Joeys are released one day a fortnight to plan as a team. They program, mark assessments, discuss individual student progress and plan exciting challenges together in what we call a professional learning team. Our teachers aides (or as we call them Enrichment tutors) join in too.On these release days our students enjoy a STEM day with the team responsible for this.Staff also meet one afternoon a fortnight to continue this discussion. Learning, emotional health and student wellbeing are all art of each discussion. The staff all come to know their stage very well.