ILE's - they are hard work

Posted 17 Dec 2015 1:26pm

By Leigh Hynes -Hynessight Blog

Warning! In this post, I use lots of "eduspeak" acronyms which I will put the key to here at the beginning so you can refer back to it.
ILE = innovative learning environment
MLE = modern learning environment
MOE = Ministry of Education in New Zealand
OECD = Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development - 34 developed countries
UDL = universal design for learning

There has been a lot of discussion in educational fields around Innovative Learning Environments. Now that a few have been implemented around the country, once again we see a backlash from people who find it hard to accept, make, and benefit from change. This is also, to a large extent, that they don't really understand why the MOE is trying to bring in ILE's.  I think that is because the MOE started by bringing the environment side of ILE's in first without really putting the time into the professional development of teachers who were going to work in these spaces and the education of parents whose children were going to be educated in this way.

The MOE first started talking to schools quite a few years back about MLEs in their 5 and 10 year building plans. Even if you go to the MOE's rebranded MLE ILE site, the emphasis still seems to be on the environment. Lots of beautiful pictures of beautiful buildings and almost exclusively with primary aged students sitting on beautiful furniture.  The focus on buildings makes it hard for teachers and parents to understand the concept of ILEs.

So you may well as the question, why is the pressure on schools and teachers to move to ILE's and how can it be innovative if the teacher(s) does not understand or make it so?  You have to dig a little deeper to find out why there is pressure and motivation to move to ILEs.

The OECD report on ILE's came out in 2013.  So it seems this report must be a good place to start.  But I think you need to dig a little deeper still and understand the nature of learning. When I have talked to parents about education today, they often want to focus on making sure their child does well in assessments and that brings them back to the old style schooling.

Assessments, in the old days, were ways of drafting off learners who would not proceed to the higher echelons of education.  Behind the implementation of ILEs are the social and economic changes from an industrial society to a knowledge society. Every child is seen as having the potential to achieve and contribute to the new world particularly if they are able to have control and choice over what they learn, and understand how they learn (metacognition).

When I talk to parents to think about their own learning, and ask them to think about a time in education when they were given a choice, their faces light up as they remember a "project" they did, where there were no sets of instructions and guidlelines about what they had to learn. They did their own inquiries and can still remember what they learned to this day and how much enjoyment they got out of it.   Ask them about what they learned for exams and they cannot remember.  They usually say to me - oh you are right, I do remember those occasions (where I could choose) and the learning vividly.

This can be best understood by delving into the nature of learning.  Bolstad and Gilbert et al summarised this nicely in Table 3 on page 15 of their report "Supporting Future Oriented Teaching and Learning". Learning involves thinking, it is building on prior knowlege but more than just adding to concepts, experiences are critical, it needs active engagement, motivation, personalisation, structure and social interaction, and meaningful contexts.  They conclude that expanding peoples' intellectual capacity should be the key purpose of education.

Again there is another OECD report about what learning involves and an excellent booklet outlining the 7 principles to guide the design of learning environments. And this is what should be at the heart of it - how do we get the best learning happening? Researchers have analysed and synthesised how learning for all students could best take place and this is how the ILEs have come about.

In some online discussions, I have read some teachers expressing that ILE's dont suit everyone,  BUT THIS IS THE WHOLE POINT - they should suit everyone.  There should be ideal elements for learning for every student.  The ILEs should encompass UDL - a universal design for learning which enables multiple forms of representation, expression and engagement.
I was recently privileged to listen to two teachers (Paula Hale and Tonia Fenemore) at Leamington School (Cambridge) who have worked to make the change to an ILE working together in a collaborative way, with their year 1 and 2 students.  What a huge effort in planning and implementation.  Parents were consulted, leadership supported and the two teachers gave up an incredible amount of their weekend time to make this work.)  After a year of it, they have only good things to say about the quality and quantity of learning that happened in their class compared to a traditional model.  They expressed the viewpoint that there were no children who were not catered for in this environment.
They did not talk about the technology which supported the learning but when questioned about it, talked about how it is seamlessly integrated into the classroom.  The students make choices about what technology they can choose and when.  Personally, I cannot see how an ILE could function without the support of digital technologies.  It enables the learners to seek further knowledge, process and transform it into new forms.
If your school is involved in implementing ILEs, talk to the leaders, teachers and parents about what that will mean for the learners.  How will it be better? What can you do to support?
I conclude with reference to Andreas Schleicher's words.  "Everyone supports innovation - except for their own children."  Change is coming. Innovation is coming.  It won't be comfortable, it won't be easy and it will need time and energy expended by teachers and leaders who need to work with their communities to make it happen.  It is designed to make learning better than ever before.

This post was taken from the blog Hynessight by Leigh Hynes. You can see the original post here.