A Contemporary Trend in New Zealand (and Internationally)

A trend that is captivating my interest is that of  Learning Environments.  While this is not necessarily a new thing to New Zealand primary and junior classes (I remember the 70’s when it was referred to as ‘open plan’ classrooms) some still struggle with the concept.  Termed learning spaces, modern learning spaces, open learning environments, flexible spaces, open space classrooms – it is believed to add flexibility, comfort and openness to the learning space.  So is this a trend?

Internationally, Flexible learning environments are a trend since it provides a more 21st century learning environment allowing for ‘open communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking’.  Gone are the days of rows of desks, sitting on plastic chairs and being still.

A paper presented by Matthew T. Mahar, et al (PDF) finds that:

Simple in-class activities can boost performance. Studies suggest that children who participate in short bouts of physical activity within the classroom have more on-task behaviour, with the best improvement seen in students who are least on-task initially.

Chris Bradbeer presents learning spaces as one of the CORE Ed trends in education, where he talks about the specific shifts in pedagogy, in digital technologies, in how classrooms now need to work to cater to the teacher-student partnerships allowing for more inquiry and a shift in the way teaching and learning happens today.  The single teacher classroom becomes a team teaching environment, with multiple teachers collaborating together.

Further research has been gathered by Jill Blackmore et al, based on research into the connection between built learning spaces and student outcomes.  This is a worthwhile read which points to the fact that there is no real correlation of learning spaces impacting on student outcomes, although New Zealand needs to begin gathering the data and reflecting on what happens in newly designed learning environments, to find out if there is a correlation.

Over the past five years in my school, the middle school environments have changed to incorporate more open learning spaces, using conventional furniture as well as comfort seating, easily movable furniture for ease of collaboration, discussions, team work and independent study.  Access to digital devices and learning resources is also part of the open spaces plan. Walls can be moved, doors opened out, allowing for the space to grow. The students like the way the classrooms are spaced.  They agree that it is more flexible and movement of furniture is easy.  The way in which the room is planned means that the children can move furniture more easily themselves, to suit their needs.  With regard to their learning, most have said that it does work, but agree that some students can become off task.  Our school has just recently completed the building of an open learning space for senior students.  Teachers are still working on how to make this space work so that it benefits all who use it including the teachers.

Our Principal is very much for the recommended Innovated Learning Environments (ILE) by the Ministry of Education, and the impact of Flexible Learning Spaces on helping student achievement.

I teach in a conventional classroom that has been converted to suit a sewing room.  The plan of the room was poor from the start.  A specialist room cannot be made into a specialist room from a classroom design.  Even during early 2000 the designers and planners still got things wrong.  A sewing room needs space (if it is to take 30+) year 7 or year 8 students.  It needs specialist equipment, which needs dedicated bench and storage spaces for cutting out, for planning and designing, for inquiry, for digital applications and use of devices.  Had the space been designed to be flexible, I believe students would be more motivated, more participative, and there would be evidence of further student engagement and achievement.  It has worked somewhat this year since making changes myself to the space.  Students can get into their work more quickly, have a sense of independence and are able to collaborate, discuss and be more creative within the spaces dedicated to them.

This identified trend is happening, if only gradually in some areas of Aotearoa, New Zealand.  Although it hasn’t suited everyone, yet, and tends to be practiced more at primary and intermediate (middle school) levels, it is a modern learning concept that with time will become more than a trend.  Further research is ongoing.



Week 27 – Mindlab Readings










2 thoughts on “A Contemporary Trend in New Zealand (and Internationally)”

  1. Hi Prue,
    Thank you for your blog post, I really enjoyed reading it. I was part of the open plan classrooms as a student, I remember it being noisy and social! Jill Blackmore’s article is interesting, and there does seem to be emerging research from both sides of the camp. For me “innovative learning spaces” “Flexible learning spaces” or single cell classrooms can be all of the above, a mix of all of them, or none of them no matter what “physical space” they are in. It all comes down to the pedegogy, approach and delivery within them. Yes some spaces lend themselves to do this easier than others, however unless the mindshifts happen for the teachers, then they simply can become what has traditionally been done but in larger spaces. I have seen some amazing innovative learning practices happening where three teachers/students are planning and learning collaboratively yet are working in single cell classrooms next to each other. And I have seen beautiful “ILE” buildings where four classes are working individually in the one large space. I believe when more of the pedegogy is understood by more and more people then attitudues and approaches will change. It our fast paced world sometimes that doesn’t keep the pace! Thank you for a great read.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Libby. It is about the mind shifts. I spoke to someone recently who like you recalls the early days of open plan classrooms and how disorganised it all seemed. Even as a teacher trainee back in the late 70s, the idea of team teaching in one space was something we had to adjust to, yet it was something that I found positive (providing the teachers were on the same page, together). I love the fact that our akonga also appear to enjoy the openness of space, the collaboration that goes on and how group tasks seem to provide the best outcomes. More heads are better than one! Keeping up with change is definitely a key factor here, as well as understanding what is best for the 21st century learner, looking forward rather than to the past.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s