Learning spaces research
At its November 2009 meeting the Portfolio Strategy Board endorsed the development and coordination of a research program on learning spaces. The Department’s research interest is in the relationship between built spaces and student learning outcomes as there is a real paucity of empirical evidence in this field. As such, the question sponsored by the Research and Evaluation Committee is: What are the benefits, challenges and unintended consequences of new learning space design in relation to pedagogy, school organisation and student learning outcomes?
The Department’s research question frames the following research activity:
- A series of exploratory workshops and mapping of current research activity in the Department
- Make the most of flexible learning spaces – video
- The Learning Spaces Research Conference on 24 June 2011 with keynote speaker Alastair Blyth (OECD) – in partnership with Deakin University, this aimed to build collective knowledge of the links between learning spaces and better student outcomes by sharing current activity and emergent findings in partnership with educators, designers and researchers.
- Involvement in the Innovative Learning Environments (ILE) research study for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (OECD/CERI) – producing a summary and synthesis of findings of the OECD ILE Victorian research and 12 case studies in the following Victorian government schools:
Ballarat High School
Ballarat High School is a Year 7 to12 government secondary school located in the city of Ballarat in regional Victoria. The innovation at Ballarat High School is a combination of whole-school change through the development of a school learning framework and a specific innovation around Year 9 with the Active Resilient Connected Happy (ARCH) program. The school learning framework puts the learner at the centre, and the framework itself has become the reference point for every decision made about every aspect of the school. The Year 9 ARCH program has been extremely successful in re-engaging Year 9 students, developing positive relationships with and between the Year 9 cohort and in focusing and positioning Year 9 students to be responsible and active in their own learning. The success of the Year 9 ARCH program paved the way for other innovations in the school, including the development of a Year 7 and 8 learning advisory program.
Bellaire Primary School
Bellaire Primary School is a Prep to Year 6 government primary school located in Highton, near the city of Geelong. The Bellaire Primary School community prides itself on being a leading school in the innovation of education. Student engagement in learning and catering for 21st century learners was the original impetus for whole-school cultural change. The focus of the school’s ILE is personalised learning, enabled through team teaching in flexible open plan environments. The ILE is strongly supported by teacher coaching and goal setting and the school works to engage students in learning communities through its personalised learning focus. There are four learning communities in the school: the Prep Learning Unit; Junior Learning Unit (Years 1 and 2); Middle Learning Unit (Years 3 and 4); and Senior Learning Unit (Years 5 and 6).
Bentleigh West Primary School
Bentleigh West Primary School is a Prep to Year 6 government primary school located 15 kilometres south of Melbourne in the City of Glen Eira. The school has undergone substantial building redevelopment in the past five years under the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development’s Building Futures program which has seen the school open three purpose-designed learning houses and a renovated learning suite for senior students in the older main building. The school has strived to personalise learning for all students through team teaching approaches in flexible spaces where each student’s next steps of learning are identified through a structured approach to the Victorian Essential Learning Standards (VELS). The strong focus on literacy and numeracy across the school is included not only in discrete timetabling but also through inquiry learning appropriate for each level.
The employment of a workforce including trained teachers, teacher aides, teaching assistants and technical specialists, provides students with access to multiple adults who bring various skills to the teams. This approach frees up time for teachers to work more closely with students to improve their learning outcomes. The school has developed a strong program in environmental science, and outdoor learning spaces are a fundamental element of the school design. Buildings have been very well thought out and utilise indoor/outdoor flow. The school has moved to becoming a learning community where students are able to talk about their learning in meaningful ways and where authentic learning opportunities are provided.
Courtenay Gardens Primary School
Courtenay Gardens Primary School is a Prep to Year 6 government primary school located in the outer south-eastern Melbourne suburb of Cranbourne. The innovative learning environment is characterised by a whole-school approach to learning, and the use of strategies which enable a consistent and predictive approach for learners. The ILE has been developed in response to a number of societal factors with regards to children’s backgrounds, as the area from which students come to school is classified as an area of relative disadvantage.
The school has been strongly influenced by the work of Douglas Reeves. Staff have been especially interested in Reeves’ strategies to turn around underperforming schools (as measured on standardised testing). Initially focussing on the teaching and learning of non-fiction writing, the school now measures significant increases in achievement in localised standardised testing. This success has led to more recent innovations, including a rich multimedia program. Courtenay Gardens Primary School has received numerous awards for its continued improvement in student and staff data, and provides professional learning to other schools to help increase student learning outcomes.
Grovedale West Primary School
Grovedale West Primary School is a Prep to Year 6 government primary school located on the outskirts of the city of Geelong. It is a small school which has become a strong teaching and learning community over the past four years. The overall aim of this culture change has been to improve student data through a truly personalised approach to student learning. The teachers endeavour to meet each student’s individual needs and challenge students and themselves to constantly raise the bar. They do this by providing consistency for students both across their year level and as they move through the school. The established culture enables consistency in teaching approaches, consistency in learning experiences and consistency in educational language. In addition, the school has developed inquiry pods to allow senior and middle students to engage in formal and informal learning environments and provide access to spaces for individual, pair and group activity. Sightlines have been carefully considered so that teachers and students can easily see each other as they engage in shared learning.
John Monash Science School
John Monash Science School is a Year 10-12 government selective entry specialist senior school focused on science, mathematics and associated technologies. The result of a joint partnership between the Victorian Government and Monash University, the school is located in the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne on Monash’s Clayton campus. John Monash Science School showcases new ways of thinking about curriculum and pedagogical practices whilst also reconceptualising physical and virtual spaces for effective student learning. Innovation is visibly evident due to the school’s flexible learning spaces, quality of teacher and student interactions and the creative ways in which learning occurs. A culture of collaboration and collegiality is exemplified, as well as the staff’s ongoing commitment to professional learning. In the same way, the rigorous intellectual pathways for student engagement and autonomy are enhanced by inquiry based curriculum and the school’s daily practices.
Manchester Primary School
Manchester Primary School is a Prep to Year 6 school located in the outer eastern suburb of Mooroolbark, near the Yarra Ranges, 31 kilometres east of Melbourne’s central business district (CBD). Students, staff and the learning environment are all seen as active co-contributors to the Innovative Learning Environment (ILE) of the school, influencing pedagogy, agency and inclusivity. It is a stated expectation that teachers negotiate the curriculum, and assessment procedures and class environment with students. Focus on organisation is paramount and is spoken of almost synonymously with learning. This overt and explicit pedagogical positioning on the part of the teachers is intended to create and support expectations of agency amongst students from a very early age.
Manchester Primary School has taken up the interdisciplinary learning goals of VELS in positioning sustainability as a ‘cross-curricula perspective’, available to all year levels and domains. They have done this through student leadership, management and ownership of places around the school, maintaining consistent outdoor learning sites and valuing the ecological diversity of the school. Furthermore, student expectation and capacity to engage in meta-cognitive discussion borne out of innovations at the school mean that they play a large role in driving the expansion of innovative pedagogy at the school.
Mordialloc College is a Year 7-12 government secondary school located south of Melbourne near Port Phillip Bay in the city of Kingston. The school’s ILE can be best described as personalised learning, team-planning and teaching, and using flexible spaces as a means of maximising learning. Eight existing classrooms were redesigned as an open-learning area, which encompasses the Year 7 Learning Centre and the Year 8 Enquiry Zone. Structures include: family groups and family guides; team teaching and planning; optional and compulsory workshops; student planning and documentation; engagement in learning; and development of self-management and social skills. Other designated learning areas include: the Think Tank; a glasshouse; dedicated outdoor areas; a library; and science and arts areas. Flexible learning is continued in Year 9 within the subjects of the Mordialloc Experience Program. The spaces lend themselves to the sort of pedagogy valued at Mordialloc College—one which engages students in personal and interpersonal learning through an integrated oriented approach to curriculum. Pedagogy and personalisation are at the heart of the innovation; however the flexible spaces offer a tangible expression of the ILE and provide unique environments which have attracted widespread interest and support a renewed pedagogical approach.
Mount Waverley Primary School
Mount Waverley Primary School (MWPS) is a Prep to Year 6 government primary school located in the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne. Anim8tors@MWPS is a program offered at the Year 6 level that brings together the synergies of innovative teaching and learning practices, developed through collaborative teaching and learning around an animated film-making program based on claymation. The program was developed to re-engage students through interdisciplinary based tasks working in small groups for one day a week. It was enabled by the flexibility of a shared ‘Great Space’ between the Year 6 rooms, which facilitated multi-modal teaching in teams and across disciplinary areas and classes.
Anim8tors@MWPS organised learning around team teaching and group learning in ways that encouraged independent learning, social interaction through group work and inter-disciplinary problem solving. Team teaching required considerable planning in a dedicated time and working with specialist teachers to integrate the program. There was strong evidence that individual students had not only enjoyed but also benefitted from the ILE. Other areas of the school were also affected in terms of the use of ICT and developing skills in preparation for the program.
NETschool is located in the City of Bendigo in regional Victoria, approximately 150 kilometres north-west of Melbourne. It was founded in 2005, as a small annexe of Bendigo Senior Secondary College (BSSC), in order to re-engage young people (aged 15-20) in work or study. NETschool offers a highly innovative environment designed to provide positive learning experiences for ‘at risk’ students. The wide-ranging innovations at the NETschool include: a shopfront setting; a workplace interior layout; and the use of a respectful and non-judgmental vocabulary to describe young people and their learning achievements. The programs are also innovative in nature: individual learning plans are drawn up to accommodate each learner, and include the option of study in a home—(online) or centre-based setting.
Since each learner requires a new and different approach, the demands on the mentors and teachers are considerable. Staff use both formal and informal means to assist one another, and are supported in turn by the director, their professional development, and by professional agencies. This multi-level system is both consultative and inclusive. A notable indicator of NETschool’s success is that some of its innovative practices have been taken up by mainstream schools, demonstrating that programs for marginalised learners can have significant insights to offer mainstream educational practice.
The Lakes South Morang P-9 School
The Lakes South Morang P-9 School is located 22 kilometres north-east of the central business district (CBD) of Melbourne in the city of Whittlesea, and comprises two campuses housing Prep-4 and Years 5-9 respectively. The school has had ambitious and innovative pedagogical philosophies underpinning the school design and construction since its inception in 2007. The learning ‘streets’ and pods offer movement, circulation and open spaces to make flexible pedagogical choices available to teachers and learners. Teachers plan and teach in teams. The overarching curricular conversation is embedded in terms of active learning, oral and play-based emphases, inquiry learning, student ownership, one-to-one learning programs, integrated programs and embedded ICT. The Lakes South Morang P-9 School recognises that pedagogical and curriculum elements are crucial to quality and effective learning environments, which are more dependent on relationships than space and environment.
Yuille Park P-8 Community College
Yuille Park P-8 Community College is located in Wendouree West, on the outskirts of the city of Ballarat in regional Victoria. Wendouree West is an area of high disadvantage that has been going through a neighbourhood renewal project since 2001. Yuille Park P-8 Community College is a unique school as it is the centre of a Community Hub offering opportunities and facilities for the wider community. Every aspect of the physical buildings, school operations and curriculum has been carefully designed to enable the motto ‘Living to learn, learning to live’ to become a reality for each student at the school. Another innovative aspect within the school is the attempt to flatten staffing structures and to respectfully work with all members of staff in an equal way. The new physical spaces in the school are exceptionally well designed and the school received the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development’s 2008 School Design Award. Yuille Park P-8 Community College is an example of where a strong vision comes together in the school buildings and layout and this vision is lived out in the pedagogical and social approaches of the staff to students.