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MLE- Do these actually raise student achievement?

Started by Ryan 17 Mar 2014 7:25pm () Replies (19)

Dear all

My school, like most others is currently neck deep in the pros and cons of modern learning environments. I was initially quite positive about the implementation of these environments and excited about the opportunities they could provide. However with the more research and inquiry I do into MLE's I keep hitting a brick wall when it comes to finding evidence to answer my question...Do MLE actually raise the academic achievement of students? Infact according to John Haddie's research on effect size shift, class environment has a minor role in raising student achievement. I also see so many schools charging in to MLEs without consultation of communities and it seems like everyone is following the Joneses. I have listened to EDtalk speakers, read the CORE documents on MLEs, and had a look at several schools implementing MLEs however it remains unproven whether MLEs raise student achievement. 

Now I am no closed book and more than willing to listen to and research any further information which will explain the effectiveness of MLEs.

I look forward to any feedback

Ryan Canning


  • Roger Hornblow (View all users posts) 17 Mar 2014 8:02pm ()

    Hi Ryan,

    Sceptical - great, open minded even better.

    Ryan you are part of a  large group of teachers, parents and even pupils who would love to know about the results of MLE. You a right in saying that John Hatties research has the environment as a minor contributor to rasing acheivement but...... there are so many factors that a well thought through MLE environment contributes to, and engages students, more. Sure quality teachers are quality teachers in single cell or MLE, but imagine the power of two teachers, even three great teachers co-teaching side by side in purpose-built classrooms with a common vision for what they are doing. More teachers mean more skills sets and more opportunities for relationship building for their pupils. At Waikuku/Pegasus Bay have spent so much time visioning and planning our 'craft of teaching' and also our new environment that we are MLE converts and we too were open minded sceptics. Hard cold data - our Maths results especially have increased signifcantly due to what we teach and how we teach it.

    My 1964 Mini was a great car but there is now way in hell I would want that for myself or especially my children to drive now. Technology, expectations and also clients needs have moved way beyond this for vehicles and now we need to drag education belatedly into the 21st Century as well.

    MLE isn't a few bean bags in the corner and a well meaning management team pushing the arms up the backs of some reluctant teachers. MLE is a change in mindset and a change into a much more meaningful education pedagogy that engages pupils, and teachers, more.

    Roger Hornblow

    Pegasus Bay School (nearly - opens 5 May)


  • Ryan (View all users posts) 17 Mar 2014 8:49pm ()

    Dear Roger 

    Thank you for your reply.

  • Christine Murphy (View all users posts) 17 Mar 2014 8:03pm ()

    Hi Ryan,

    My school is also deep in the process of shifting towards Modern Learning Practice,  after making a commitment to MLE with massive renovations over the last few years.  Like you, I haven't found any concrete evidence to back up the pedagogical (or environmental) shift with regards to outcomes.  As a result, I have embarked on a Masters programme with just that purpose in mind.  I intend to look at how - and if - the pedagogical shift at our school impacts student achievement.  I would like to look at: engagement, learning outcomes and 'Managing Self,' though I understand that a study of this scale may quickly surpass a Masters thesis!!

    Unfortunately, I don't have any 'answers' for you, however, I have done - and continue to do - a huge amount of reading on MLE and Open Classrooms.  Feel free to get in touch directly, as I can recommend a few interesting (albeit inconclusive) readings....

    Kind regards,


  • Ryan (View all users posts) 17 Mar 2014 8:24pm ()

    Hi Christine

    Thank you for your reply. I too see the real benefit of MLE being around the key competencies especially in Managing Self. I appreciate the offer to recommend some readings however to be honest I have read my fair share of readings on this topic. I think now I need to actually view a classroom or school where MLE is being run effectively and to the benefit of students interms of their achievement.



  • Christine Murphy (View all users posts) 17 Mar 2014 8:05pm ()



  • Melody McC (View all users posts) 17 Mar 2014 8:28pm ()

    Evening Roger,

    I look forward to seeing Pegasus Bay School opening (I live about 5 minutes walk away on the Avenue)!

    I was interested in your Maths results which you say have increased significantly due to what is taught and how it is taught. What is it, do you think, that you are doing differently and has made the difference for students in terms of outcomes? What assessments are you using to measure student learning in Math?

    I am also keen  to find out to what extent you think that it is the MLE rather than MLP (Modern Learning Pedagogy) that has made the difference?

    We are working in an MLE and are developing modern learning practices (systems to enable quality learning to occur in a systematic way within the MLE). Having just started this year, we are just starting on the journey. Any thoughts or ideas would be appreciated.


  • Lisa (View all users posts) 17 Mar 2014 8:38pm ()

    Hi Ryan, and others

    I am too interested in the reserach behind this - I too have found it difficult to find any research from an academic view, but have been taking my own reserach over the last 2 years (even though it's not a formal research). However, as the leader of our first real MLE I have felt that it is imperative to have some sort of justification for my communities.

    Over the last 2 years I have collected data from my students, including student voice and formal assessments. Without fail I have noticed a few things;
    1) My struggling students all raise their data by a number of stanines or by stages (for Maths).

    2) Engagement from students is huge, which enables all students to make the most of their learning time.

    3) Relationships with peers/teachers is stronger than would have been in a single cell.

    4) Peer teaching raises motivation and academic scores - students can mix with all the year groups that are in the Centre which enables students to take risks, be confident and reteach skills.

    5) students comment that the Centre encourages them to build not just academic skills but their social skills and self management more than what they have previously had. The ability to opt into what you want to learn, when you want to do it, and timetable your learning has huge benefits - as one student stated sometimes you just can't focus on maths at a certain time but you can choose to change and go back to it. Isn't this the way we work in the real world? For them, they state there is no down time...there is no wasted time...and every minute of their day is focused, engaged and challenging. 

    6) The ownership of learning becomes real - this can only benefit our results

    7) Every year the standardised scores increase dramatically , including our students are below. 

    8) Students no longer feel like they are stuck in a group - the ability to go back and forwards to where they want to be makes a huge difference - no longer do we waste time teaching students things they already know. Nuttal's research into learning shows that teachers teach students 50% of what they already knew. MLE moves away from this - which means that students are really personalised learners. 

    9) Collaboration with teachers in a real enviornment ensures the students get the best teachers for their needs - and teachers get constant PD support from each other, and can go far more indepth with their thinking about students and teachers learning. 

    I don't have the answers either - but I can see the benefits - and after teaching for 21 years I can see the shift from teacher control to student power is making the biggest difference for all.

    I too will continue to learn and reserach and think about the why of what we are doing.



  • Anne Sturgess (View all users posts) 17 Mar 2014 8:48pm ()

    Ryan, well done for putting the important question out there. We need discerning as well as early uptakers; early uptakers provide the practical experiences that allow those of us who stand back and question to examine new practices before adopting them ourselves (or not).

    Like Christine, I've been wondering about MLEs; their purpose, outcomes and cost effectiveness, and have drawn the conclusion that good teachers have always taught in a 'modern learning environment' by adopting the most effective teaching and learning practices available for the time and circumstances. For me, MLEs are not about the architecture, although the design should support better learning, it's about using the best of everything that is currently available to ensure all students are active learners and contributors. As Roger said, it's a change in mindset and creating a total enviroment that actively invites meaningful, effective practice grounded in well-researched pedagogy for teaching in this age. An effective MLE goes well beyond the walls of the classroom, beyond the large decks, beyond the wi-fi that's accessible under the big tree near the back fence of the playground, all the way to the local community and then beyond that to encompass the global community. I know of a small, local primary school that has not refurbished or re-designed but has adopted the MLE philosophy by opening up opportunities for students to 'learn anywhere, anytime' through the use of digital technologies and breaking down traditional ways of thinking about 'one class, one teacher.'

    Roger, I loved looking at your website; it's one of the most invitational school sites I've seen. Best wishes for the opening on May 5th.



  • Mark Osborne (View all users posts) 17 Mar 2014 10:13pm ()

    Kia ora Ryan,

    Great question, and thanks to everyone who has taken the time to post. Really helpful comments.

    A few thoughts from me:

    You're right that it's difficult to put your finger on research that categorically shows a link between space and outcomes for students. Unfortunately that's one of the drawbacks of working in a relatively recent area of education. Using digital devices for blended learning is in a similar position with a small but growing research base. It would be great to have 10 or 20 year longitudinal studies demonstrating raised outcomes for students from MLEs but that research simply doesn’t exist.

    One of the trickiest aspects of research into MLEs is the fact that it’s possible to use poor pedagogy (i.e. strategies that are not evidence-based) in modern learning environments. It’s not as easy as saying if you change the environment, learning increases, because so much of it comes down to how the environment is used. In fact, if a study were to suggest that learning increasely solely through a change in environment (and not the pedagogy) I would closely interrogate it. Because if what the students are being asked to do cognitively is the same in two different spaces, an change in outcomes is unlikely.

    When looking at how a learning environment might be used well, we should look to the research around pedagogy. Attention should be paid to work such as the Best Evidence Synthesis on pedagogy (Quality Teaching for Diverse Learners), Te Kotahitanga and John Hattie’s Visible Learning to identify teaching strategies that are most likely to make a difference for our learners. Providing an environment that offers as many learning settings as possible to promote these kinds of powerful pedagogies (peer tutoring, reciprocal teaching, mastery learning, student agency over learning etc.) is crucial and for many schools this variety is offered through modern learning environments. To summarise the thinking in this area: MLEs make a difference because they give teachers more opportunities to use pedagogies that make a difference.

    Another complicating variable is the fact that many teachers in MLEs work to develop skills that are not easily measured: providing science discovery areas to develop curiosity, quiet, withdrawal spaces to promote reflection and meta-cognition, independent study spaces to develop self-reliance and motivation etc, Again, providing these kinds of opportunities is possible in a traditional classroom, but it’s expensive to provide every classroom with every setting, and a school therefore gets more bang for its buck (and the resources can be of a higher quality) when working in groupings of 3:75 rather than 1:25.

    Another area of research that we'd love to see more of is centred around the impact on teacher quality. The coaching, support and mentoring that is possible in a co-teaching/MLE environment has a strong backing in research and for my money, isthe area that holds the key to the greatest impact on outcomes for students: teachers working together (not separated and isolated by the building) to help each other be the best teacher they can be.

    Having said there's not much research around, here’s one study that looks at the environment as well as the kind of learning that takes place within that environment (collaborative, student-centred, active learning) and demonstrates a remarkable increase in student learning. Only one study, and it’s at the tertiary level, but it's part of the trend we’re seeing that recognises that space is a container that can encourage us to use that space in positive ways, but by itself, it won’t transform learning: http://www.educause.edu/ero/article/pedagogy-and-space-empirical-research-new-learning-environments

    A bit of a blog post, but I hope that helps.


  • Linda Baran (View all users posts) 20 Mar 2014 10:49pm ()

    Thank you Mark - you answered the 'what evidence is there to prove MLEs work?' question well - this is something that seems to be asked repeatedly. From what I understand John Hattie did not find any evidence the MLEs made a difference in student learning (can someone clarify this for me?), but I would think that this could be due to a number of factors - these environments have not been around for long (certainly not strong examples), and the assessment methods may be a battery of tests rather than looking at diverse student e-portfolios that showcase critical and creative thinking.

    Your italicised comment sums it up I think. MLEs are places that allow and encourage the implementation of effective learning pedgogies (which can still happen in the less ideal single cell classrooms).

    Great point about the allocation of resources in a 3:75 ratio.

  • Neil Fraser (View all users posts) 18 Mar 2014 6:23am ()

    Thanks for the response, Mark. I have just returned from the "Future Schools" Conference in Sydney. One of the speakers was Dr Wesley Imms, Senior Lecturer and Head of Visual Art Education at the University of Melbourne, Australia. I have copied & pasted from the conference programme about him below. He is yet to share some of his recent findings on line, but may be worth keeping an eye on the research being done by the Un of Melbourne.

    While primarily a curriculum theorist, his multi-disciplinary research conflates issues concerning gender, teacher education, the utilization of new generation learning spaces, trans-disciplinary pedagogy, architecture, applied design, and teacher/artist issues. Relevant to this presentation, Dr Imms coordinates subjects at the the University of Melbourne investigating innovative use of space in education, and supervises Research Higher Degree students working on this topic. He works with schools and architects on developing teaching spaces that address innovative teaching practices.

    Amongst a range of current and upcoming research projects, Dr Imms is a Chief Investigator on an Australian Learning and Teaching Grant exploring professional development for teachers using new generation learning spaces, and is lead Chief Investigator on an Australian Research Council Linkage Project that is evaluating the impact of 21 century learning environments. 


  • Sean Bailey (View all users posts) 18 Mar 2014 1:39pm ()

    Hi Mark

    I read your post (plus others) with interest. This is my first ever post on the VLN so here goes!

    I am currently Principal of Ladbrooks, a small rural school on the outskits of Christchurch. We have this year introduced a collaborative teaching model in a multi purpose space. The ratio is 3:53 across Years 0-4. This has been a big undertaking for us in terms of shifting parents attitudes towards how children now learn in the 21C. We carried out some intensive consultation before we started which I think paid off. We made sure we had carried out some decent research based mostly on observational data gathered in other schools. Our staff have found it a really refreshing change from teaching in a single cell and are really enjoying the opportunity to learn from each other. They are using some really innovative ways to move past just teaching Literacy and Maths and focus on more creative subjects like Music, Te Reo and Art. It has been awesome to see their skills and expertise being used more effectively.

    I am just about to start my Masters thesis (like you Christine). My area of interest is Collaborative teaching in an MLE and I think it would be great to consider your idea on the looking at quality teaching in an MLE. There are so many advantages that I have already witnesed in terms of teachers working collaboratively and learnnig from each other. I just wish that I had been given the opportunity!

    I would be keen to hear from others like Christine who have already started the journey!



  • Sue Walls (View all users posts) 18 Mar 2014 3:01pm ()

    Back in 19*& (a very long time ago!) I team taught in an open space with an incredibly skilled teacher.  I couldn't confirm with evidence that the children's learning was enhanced but I could tell you catigorically that it was the very best learning for me as a newish teacher.  We had amazing conversations, we experimented, we debated and discussed, we adapted to meet the needs of 66 Year 4 - 6 students. What I wouldn't have given for the sound, lighting and technology of today.  Bring it on and let us have the researchers get alongside us as we experiment.

    Nga mihi


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