10 October 2013

Setting up flexible Learning in an Open Learning Space -ULearn 2013 Presentation Notes

This is the open learning space I teach in with two other teachers and 96 Yr 5/6 kids.

This year we are in this 'T' shaped space that was divided into 3 pre-fabs in its previous life. 

The three teachers have a fairly fixed spot they teach from. It seems to work for our kids that they move around the large space where they need to for their learning, rather than the teacher.  Teachers take group sessions with small (4-8) or large (30) groups from these spots where we can 'eyeball' each other and between us monitor all of the open learning space.
Each child in the space is part of 3 group:
1. Home class:
This is administrative as much as anything. I am officially the teacher of Room 17 and there are 32 kids on my role. I take the roll first thing in the day and sit and read with them in silent reading time. At lunch time we meet again to eat together, and we go to assemble on Friday mornings as a home group. As home class teacher you are the first point of call for parents, you are coordinator for paperwork and reporting.

2. Literacy Group: 
For the first two hours of the day we teach our literacy groups. This doesn't mean we are only doing reading and writing, our teaching is very integrated. Each teacher has 4-5 reading and writing groups. We might work with them individually, in small groups or as a whole group. When kids aren't having explicit teaching, or reflecting or sharing they move off into the best place to be in the space. 

3. Maths Group:
From morning tea onwards we move into our maths groups. Again this doesn't mean we are just doing maths. Often in the middle block we take our maths group to ICT class or music, we do sport, maori, art or visit the library.  Math teaching often happens after lunch. 

It is also important to remember that just because the teacher is teaching maths, it doesn't mean the children have to be working on maths problems independently. They can access any of their learning off the class site.

The reason we decided to trial this open learning space this year was partly the accessibility of learning for the learners at any time. They don't need to be in close proximity to the teacher for their independent learning steps, tasks, goals, progressions or even feedback. With a focus on creativity in our Learn Create and Share pedagogy, along with the technology available the activities children were doing were being constrained by the four walls. Not enough space, and not enough flexibility of how the space is used. All this obviously is to increasing learning and achievement.

The beginning of the year was quite hectic, exciting, motivating, providing lots of options...but hectic. Much like driving around a busy round about in Vietnam. 
There were lots of interruptions in Term 1 like camp and 2 weeks of swimming  (see post Sat 6th April) but a big part of this feeling was the chaotic feeling of having 3 classes on one room. You had kids for a while then they moved off to another teacher. With so much coming and going it felt hard to keep track of you class.
Then it slowly dawned on us that we weren't 3 classes but 1. In our 1 class there are 3 teachers. A simple mind shift but important. Not all of the kids appreciate having 6 eyes watching them but it is a whole lot easier for the teachers. It reminds me of when you are lucky enough to have one of those wonderful third year final practicum students. You know the ones that are so good that they take learning groups along side you. They share the responsibility with you and add to the teaching capacity of the the class.
Then things started to feel a whole lot more like this:
We also realised that while many children were flying, taking advantage of the opportunities and flexibility, there were others that weren't able to access these opportunities. There were children who  weren't just unmotivated, they also didn't have the strategies to be successful learners.
So we re-grouped around key competencies.  See post Streaming For Key Competencies.