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Help!!- Research against MLEs- the most scathing please!

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Started by Mia 26 Aug 2015 8:49pm () Replies (31)

Hi all,

I have been reading through all the posts in this forum, starting from the earliest ones years ago. It's been fascinating reading for me over the last few months at the beginning of this journey.

I'm hoping to get some help. I just presented to the BOT about operating my team as a flexible learning hub next year. Was well prepared, felt very confident and have been working towards this for the last year. Thought I had the answers to what they would ask! I was wrong! Two of our BOT were very sceptical. One basically said why fix what ain't broke- what we're doing is fine and prepares them for high school, to which I replied we should always be striving to get better. I shared research and explained my learning- all the right stuff! He and the other sceptic basically said for every positive article about anything, there are four negative. Now I need to provide a 'dossier' answering all their questions, which I haven't got yet, but one question will be to do with what negative findings/ research/ articles are out there.

I'm planning to try to address the points raised and hopefully get them on board!

Thanks in advance for any suggestions and ideas. I'll let you know how I get on!


  • Hamish McLean (View all users posts) 26 Aug 2015 9:14pm ()

    Hi MIa,

    Interesting that one of the BOT said 'Why fix what In't broke'.  Does that mean he/she still uses a CRT television?  No... I think not.  Im sure they have a new 40"+ LCD tv.    Would he still choose a bone saw for surgery, or choose a laser?   The world is dynamic, so should education..  What you are doing prepares them for high school, but what about life.  High school is only 5 years of someones life, so not even 10%.  Surly we should play the numbers game and prepare them for more than just 5 years?

    Top 10 skills needed for employment.  Interesting that none of them are curriculum subjects!  But I'm sure you knew that Mia... a pity your BOT members can't see this.  


    I don't have any negative or research that dictates otherwise, as I never looked back.  But what you are doing is a good move.... or just move schools!?  :)  

    So two of your BOT are against this?  Unfortunately its the loud ones that are usually negative, and are usually heard most.  But then the majority are not against it, so would be ok with you pointing this move.  However they will probably want data that prove its success.  and unfortunately you can prove that someone is resilient, and creative, or a team player..


  • Mia (View all users posts) 27 Aug 2015 3:27pm ()

    That link is a good one, thanks Hamish. I think these two will come round and the others are all on board. In terms of proving success, I'm hoping my achievement data will speak for itself and the student voice we collect will help show just what learning is going on that isn't so measurable!

  • Elicia Pirini (View all users posts) 26 Aug 2015 10:43pm ()

    Kia Ora Mia,  Have you watched any of the Mark Osborne videos.  There is one where he presents to a group of parents.  It covers some of the reasons schools need to change their approach to education.  This might  e a good one to show your BOT.  Although it is over 40 mins long it's well worth watching.  The question ' why fix what ain't broke.? is a question that is not that helpful. Our education system is going through a dramatic time of change mainly because of the exponential growth of technology and the advances of neuroscience and the research that we now know about how learners learn.  We cannot ignore  this and from all of this it is obvious there are parts that do need fixing.  Please post the questions that are being asked and we might be able to be more specific with how we can direct you.  Maybe asking some questions of your own .  If you go onto Core Education  and search MLE planning matrix there are some great questions for all your community to consider.

    kia Kaha Elicia




  • Mia (View all users posts) 27 Aug 2015 3:31pm ()

    Hi Elicia,

    Thank you for your advice and I have seen a number of Mark's videos (and been to some of his stuff at ULearn). I actually suggested the BOT search up his videos and also Stephen Heppell (someone else I look up to in anything to do with current best practice and future focused thinking in education. I've been using the planning matrix too :)

  • Neill O'Reilly (View all users posts) 27 Aug 2015 12:00am ()

    Hi Mia,
    BoT's are right to be sceptical, much of the rhetoric around MLE's (name doesn't help) comes from:
    - Misunderstanding about what they are or are not
    - Hang over from Open plan education
    - Communication about MLE being what the team/ school is "doing"
    - The confusing message coming from the MoE
    - The poor job some schools are doing in a misguided way as they transition to collaborative practice.
    BoT's should be sceptical about schools suddenly going 1:1 or BYOD because the school down the road is doing it as well! What is needed for each school is a very strong rationale for why you want to collaborate with another teacher in a Flexible Space.
    My suggestion:
    Be really clear about "why" you are doing this (some of the ideas below might help)
    Talk about a Flexible learning Space and teacher collaboration (A Collaborative Teaching and Learning Environment is what you are creating) rather than MLE, MLP, or ILE
    1. What your team is about, I assume that is first and foremost about improving learning outcomes, well-being and self regulation of your children
    2. Examples of some of the strategies you use to achieve this
    3. The evidence of the impact of teacher collaboration (there is plenty of this, Hattie, Timperley, Robertson, Fullan, Sergiovanni....) significant
    4. That you want to teach collaboratively because together you believe you can achieve # 1 more effectively through collaborative teaching (team teaching / co-teaching)
    5. The benefits you can identify for the children- multiple perspectives of the curriculum from different teachers, the chance to learn from and be supported and challenged by different teachers, improved self regulation through explicitly taught time management , goal setting etc, the opportunity to learn with a wider range of pupils , depending on how your school is set up the opportunity for children to be with a teacher / teachers for 2 or more years, the opportunity for teachers to learn from one another, support one another, teacher to strengths, assist with management issues and then there are all the other benefits:

    You can group children according to need so perhaps one teacher has 40 children while the other has 10, you can have one teaching while one is supporting individual children or a small group, you can have one teaching and one observing part of a lesson to see what children are learning or not learning, you can problem solve together, plan together and moderate assessment data, implement goals and strategies together and support/ challenge/ critique one another.... (I am sure you covered all of these)

    Main message is that this is about improving our children's learning outcomes, self regulation and hauora and about working smarter and collaboratively to achieve this.

    If sceptics on the BoT argue this is just Open Plan it is easy to help them realise Open Plan era was at a time of no curriculum guidelines and built on a premise of activity based learning in a totally child centred approach (teachers set up activity centres, children go and interact with them and learn from them- we know children need a range of teaching and learning strategies now). In other words what you are proposing is not Open Plan Education.

    Hope this helps!

  • Mia (View all users posts) 27 Aug 2015 3:36pm ()

    Hey Neill,

    I always learn so much from things I read from you on here! This is no exception. Thank you for your advice. I do think the BOT are right to ask questions. I've asked many myself over my journey. I've had some great feedback from them already and the one who challenged most loudly has already said he is keen to hear more and said his questions should be seen in a positive light.

    I really appreciate all your suggestions and advice. They will help me in thinking about what to put in the written proposal I put to them.

  • Mark Osborne (View all users posts) 27 Aug 2015 8:25am ()

    Kia ora Mia,

    Thanks Elicia for recommending my videos! Hope they're helpful. Others have said a lot of the key points, but if you need a couple of nice jumping off points for why education needs to change, check out:

    These two videos lay out the imperative for future-focused education really well.

    We could get into some pretty deep research about the ways in which education needs to change, but it sounds like your board members are interested in 'why should we change?' (which is the first question that people need to be able to answer when embarking on change).

    What resources do others use to explain the changes they're making to practice and learning environments?


  • Mia (View all users posts) 28 Aug 2015 8:20am ()

    Kia ora Mark,

    I've seen the School in the Cloud video a few time and always enjoy it and get a lot out of it. The other I hadn't. Thanks for those links. I've watched your videos too and found them excellent. Your presentation at ULearn last year (MLE: where learning takes place) was kind of the beginning of my journey. I'll use those links in the paper I'm preparing for the BOT as a back up to my ideas of why I want to be taking my team in this direction. Thanks!

  • TK Tony (View all users posts) 28 Aug 2015 6:21am ()

    Kia ora Mia,

    Sceptics...gotta love them!  ;-)  to be fair, there are huge changes for us as educational professionals to "get our heads around", let alone for our parents/trustees.

    “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse.”

    I love this quote (possibly attributed but not definitively confirmed to Henry Ford),  This is not to say that parent/trustee/stakeholder input is not important (because it clearly is!), but sometimes they "won't know what they don't know"....

    It sounds like you've done some great pre-thinking and initial research (the power of why is vital), and there are some great tips coming through these posts as well, from some great thinkers.

    You may find some of these resources/thoughts timely or user-friendly -  http://thequohaslostitsstatus.weebly.com

    I have made 4 key tabs - Te Kowhai School, ILEs, Collaborative teaching, and Change Management/Leadership

    Each section usually begins with my own 5 cents worth of thinking, although this is morphing most days and  needs updating on the website.  Then also some supporting resources/readings etc that I found useful (again, requires updating as have heaps more)

    Perhaps of particular help for your journey would be these tabs/sub-tabs: Te Kowhai School/Strategic development section including golden circles, ILEs/My thoughts including getting rid of pub quiz learning, Collaborative teaching/my thoughts and the advantages, and Change Management/Leadership - Education: the need for change.

    Good luck for the continued journey....be brave...it's our job.

    Regards, Tony


  • Mia (View all users posts) 28 Aug 2015 8:23am ()

    Hi Tony,

    I've already come across your website (I think it's been mentioned somewhere else in the VLN) and it's been very useful. It's so exciting to see principals leading such amazing change! Thank you for your ideas and the support :)

  • Elicia Pirini (View all users posts) 28 Aug 2015 3:45pm ()

    Kia Ora ano Mia,

    Our school is also beginning this journey of going down the MLE track and I too have tried to learn as much as I can about the 'why'. The part of the MLE I'm really wanting to focus on is the 'Collaborative Expertise' as I have read this paper by John Hattie and it makes sense to me.  The concept of having a team to help diagnose, decide on interventions and then evaluating these decisions is something that I think can be a real strength in an MLE for students.  So our staff took a SWOT approach (strengths, weaknesseses, Opportunies, threats ) and from this we chose an area that we were interested in to research further.  This has been a great catalyst for extending our knowledge base in a manageable way.





  • Neill O'Reilly (View all users posts) 29 Aug 2015 6:06am ()

    Hi Mia,

    I forgot to add the "scathing reviews" for you.

    Just for some clarification. Before I add negative literature we need to understand a few things:

    1.  International literature on co-teaching does not relate to what schools in NZ are doing in Flexible Learning Spaces (FLS) it relates to having a general education teacher and a specialist education teacher in a single classroom. Specifically from the inclusive ed movement in US and has some legislative aspects and specifically changes the teacher : pupil ratio.
    2. International literature on team-teaching does not relate to what schools in NZ are doing in FLS's. It has it's origins (and most literature reflects) in the US Middle School movement where teachers work as a 'team' (typically 6-8 teachers) to plan for a group of 100-150 children and attempt to organisation some integration/ connection between their subject disciplines. Children rotate around their classes rather than the High School model of going to 8-10 different teachers who simply teach their subjects in isolation (like they do in Uni). The tea mining is meeting after school. They do not teach in the same physical space typically (although this is happening in some NZ Middle schools or Y7-10 parts of High Schools. They do not re arrange class numbers (so rather than two classes of 25 collaborate and for example utilise the Alternative Teaching Strategy and go re group 10/40). In other words their 'teaming' does not extend to their teaching.
    3. MLE is a misused term as the MoE and your BoT cannot build 'environments', they can only build buildings and spaces. Only you as the teachers (hopefully with the support of your BoT and leadership) create the 'environment' by your interactions with one another as teachers, your interactions with students and whanau, your cultural inclusiveness, your use of resources, interpretation of the NZC, use of the space etc. So there is not quality research on MLE's. To be fair the MoE has discarded the use of the term and replaced it with ILE, ILS & FLS.
    4. FLS is Ok, in fact it's a good descriptor and the one we should use to describe the space. The way I describe it is schools have classrooms- 60-70 sqm rectangle or Flexible Learning Space/ FLS; two or more 'classrooms' connected with some breakout learning areas and possible teacher workroom, resources room etc (this can be retro fit or purpose built). Schools can have a combination of classrooms and FLS or they can be a brand new purpose built FLS School like Hobsonville Point, Stonefields, Hingania Peninsula, Pegasus etc
    5. ILE is a misused term. ILE (Innovative Learning Environments, OECD, 2013) refers to the totality of people, resources, space but first and foremost pedagogy. It includes seven principles for learning (which mirror NZC) and can happen in a classroom or FLS. For it to be an ILE all seven principles must be evident. It's just that a FLS makes the teacher collaboration component a bit easier and enables student agency and self regulation. It is not about buildings.
    6. ILS's are really just FLS's by another name.
    7. MLP's don't exist in the literature because they don't really exist. Most of what is being described as MLP is not 'modern' and has its origins in the early 1900's and should be under the heading "effective pedagogy" You will notice even E Learning is in there (which is one of the biggest "MLP" selling tools) So you won't find any good research on MLP's to give to your BoT.
    8. You can find some negative reviews about the Open Education/ Open Plan era, however schools are not doing Open Plan Education because we have the NZC, NEGS and NAGS (BoT's will know what there are). The best way to describe Open Plan Education is student centred, student directed, no curriculum, activity based (learn through doing) teacher as coach and facilitator (Here is probably the helpful and succinct reading I can recommend by Cuban) and possible best described as an inquiry classroom on steroids.
    9. The work / research on teacher collaboration by Hattie, Fullan, Timperley, Robertson... is not about collaboration as you are getting to know it in a FLS so it is interesting and instructive but not reflective of what many NZ (and some Aussie) schools are doing

    So with all that as a back drop what can you produce for your BoT that is negative about what you are proposing?

    You need to take a hybrid approach of co-teaching, team teaching, Open Plan teaching and ask what were some of the negatives that came out of that for children first and then teachers. This is what I am working on for my fellowship and thesis (obviously along with the positives) and I will have a more comprehensive answer next term. In the meantime to summarise the negatives can potentially be about:

    • Children getting lost (academically, emotionally) if quality systems and structures and shared understandings and pedagogy not in place (but this can and does happen in classrooms).
    • Teacher loss of autonomy (very true and not necessarily a bad thing though from a BoT perspective)
    • Teachers clashing (big concern for some)
    • Trying to teach in a FLS with a controlling focused approach rather than a learning focused approach leading to students hauora being negatively impacted (so not enabling student self regulation in a space that really required self regulation)
    • Noise as a result of wrong approach for space
    • Hattie's research (see Visible Learning) suggests open plan learning, team teaching, co-teaching, inquiry approach all make no difference to overall outcomes, that is overall no better / no worse; but remember what I said about the research above.
    • Some teachers believe collaboration in a FLS creates more time demands (although others say it means better use of time) and more 'meeting' time
    • Teachers not understanding how to collaborate
    • Teachers have complained (rightly I believe) about a lack of PL; both before going into collaborative teaching in a FLS and ongoing PL when in one, about lack of breakout spaces, their concerns for special needs children (not well founded, in fact children in a FLS have more options about where to be than in a traditional classroom) and about lack of systems to support collaborative practice.

    Mostly the negatives are about teachers and their loss of their private space and their 'ownership' of group of 25 children (especially in primary schools) You only wanted the scathing so I won't go into the fact that for every negative above there are positives teachers and students have found.

    Feel free to contact me if you want more but I hope this helps for now.



  • Tony Cairns (View all users posts) 30 Aug 2015 12:33pm ()

    Thank you Neil, Mark, Mia et al.

    This is very valuable feedback that I am really interested in - I appreciate the info and feedback

    my 2 cents worth from primary, intermediate secondary and preschool teaching is the level of noise and the need for sound baffling or audio containment into pods or breakout spaces, the personality and styles of teachers conflicting rather than collaborating, the placement and equipping of science labs in the building for health safety and egress reasons if experiments go wrong (the need for fume hoods, space, fire retardants, water, access, gas, safety glasses and venting to the outside make the location on an outside wall useful) the reticent of particularly secondary subject siloed teachers to share time resources, space and students. From an HOD or management viewpoint the individualized learning plans may present, workload, moderation and overview problems. From an IT viewpoint ultrafast, universal and grunty broadband routers and school servers are essential though most are going straight to cloud from BYOD. From a teaching viewpoint the need for flipped classroom, with individualized learning plans and small group or 1:1 conferencing is a given so PD/PL and paradigm shifting may be necessary for secondary.

    I think Neil’s definition of terms is awesome and any discussion should explain the acronyms so education and other staff understand what is being meant by them.

    I think the best info comes from those schools that are doing MLE/MLP eg HPSS which for me is the best, brightest and newest.

  • Mia (View all users posts) 31 Aug 2015 8:34pm ()

    Thanks Neill and Tony. The VLN is such a valuable resource. So much great thinking going on! I really appreciate all the ideas and will use lots of them. Noise is something I have been thinking about, but that's going to be part of our initial 'training' of the kids. Our building isn't too bad for this anyway but I think it is part of establishing the culture of our hub to ensure the kids are conscious of using the different spaces and ensuring our noise levels suit those spaces and isn't an issue for others. It's on my list of possible negatives to address. Thanks for your list of negatives, Neill. I'm planning to discuss these and then share how we will ensure they are not issues in our FLE

  • Margaret Walker (View all users posts) 01 Sep 2015 11:41am ()

    Hi Mia, Tony and Neill, your discussion was so interesting I have joined the group just to make a small contribution. I have been to a number of schools with flexible learning spaces over the last few years and have gradually gained an understanding of the pedagogy that supports the change.  This is a pedagogy that is future-focussed and supportive for students.  Definitely they will not be sitting at a desk or in an office by themselves valiantly working out problems and then presenting the solution as a fait accompli!  The world is changing and education has to keep up (as well as providing what we believe is the best learning environment for students), but how can we convince the sceptics?

    A couple of weeks ago our staff visited a nearby school as part of a 'sparkshop' - schools visit other schools to see innovations.  One of the workshops was a visit to a flexible learning space. This was 2 classrooms with the door between removed, not your usual 'space' but as flexible as it could be at the moment.  The teachers knew each other well, planned together and the students moved between the classrooms. Some student didn't work independently as they weren't there 'yet', they had extra teacher support.

    After listening to the 2 teachers talking about the pedagogy and how they went about setting this up I felt a lot clearer about the idea.  I can also see that it needs a lot of thought because of the collaborative, close working environment.  Perhaps you could fix up a visit to a school where this is working well for the BoT so that they can see the professional side of it, this may help?

  • Neill O'Reilly (View all users posts) 01 Sep 2015 12:56pm ()

    Hi Margaret,

    Great to have you commenting!

    The sceptics are sceptical because we are giving mixed messages: Are we taking about:

    • A modern way of teaching and learning that is different from that which is sanctioned under NZC?
    • Open Plan Education (with a flash new name)?
    • Something else?

    I would suggest if we have as our basis NZC (especially teacher as inquiry and effective pedagogy) and we understand the principles of NZC and the explicit goal of developing the KC's then teaching and learning in a FLS not a lot is different to what was happening in traditional classroom spaces.

    The single biggest change should be a paradigm shift for teachers from privatised practice to collaborative practice (collaborative practice is well supported in the literature- just not the way we are doing it in NZ!)

    Students should be enabled as self regulated learners in traditional classes (Traditional Learning Space -TLS)- it just that in a Flexible learning Space (FLS) it is essential, not to have a student centred approach with self regulation as a shared and explicit goal in a FLS is a recipe for disaster. 

    Effective pedagogy is effective pedagogy in a TLS and a FLS, I don't believe (nor have I seen) any evidence of a new pedagogy. I have seen new systems, structures, strategies for collaboration and to support learners in a FLS.

    I am an ardent supporter of collaborative teaching and learning environments (the benefits are many) but I think we are really confusing the issue for staff and families by the way we are communicating the message.

    Hope I haven't added to the confusion!



  • Margaret Walker (View all users posts) 01 Sep 2015 1:13pm ()

    Hi Neill, thanks for bringing your knowledge to this discussion and clarifying some points.  I agree there has been confusion about MLEs and what they actually mean, for ages we all thought it was about furniture and the way students physically worked/learnt in the classroom.  This was the obvious part and we had already made the shifts in our teaching to allow this to happen effectively. Now that we are clear about the pedagogy we can see that we are on track with collaborative learning even if it is still in a classroom space.

    Making the really big shifts to fully collaborative practice will perhaps be a longer process but I look forward to seeing the changes in student independence and the development of the Key Competencies..

  • Tessa Gray (View all users posts) 02 Sep 2015 10:30am ()

    Wow what a powerful conversation. Margaret your comment about 'sitting at a desk on your own' is so true.

    This image is really powerful... 

    Take a look at how many people at NASA took part in collaborating, sharing, problem solving and working together to successfully beam back photos of Pluto. One man (woman/child) could never have done that alone. Collective wisdom is what makes the next generation unstoppable.


    Image source

  • Neill O'Reilly (View all users posts) 01 Sep 2015 6:41am ()


    Great to see you are thinking so carefully about this paradigm shift Mia,

    My concern is people just putting "holes in walls" because everyone else is. Sort of like BYOD, 1:1 , " no homework" , no furniture.... Great ideas if we'll thought through, dumb idea if copying a fad and not understanding "why".

    Re noise; the research is really explicit about noise issues and this was one of a few major contributing factors in the criticisms of 1950-70s open plan and the ultimate decline of the well intended  approach. To mitigate noise ( you are already onto this by the sounds of it) we need:

    1. Acoustic treatment of space; more people= more noise, so treat it

    2. Shared beliefs by teachers in space about the rationale for being together and therefor how the space is to work to create an effective collaborative teaching and learning envirinment

    3. Create a shared agreement with children about how the space will work ( look, feel, sound) based on #2 to become an effective collaborative T&L environment

    4. Implement ( you now have the 'why, how and this is the ' what , when and who') explicitly planning reflection/ review times

    Note: If collaboration, self regulation and learning through mistake making are not part of #2 expect it to fail!

    In the schools I have visited in NZ and internationally noise is an issue in two scenarios: 

    1. Teachers are not collaborating rather the open/ flexible space is being used as if it were two seperate classes and classrooms ( repeat of open plan era mistake)

    2. Children are in a "controlling focused" environment reliant on the teachers for self control rather than being enabled ( and explicitly taught) as self regulated learners through the KC's

    If you want the noise research let me know. Once again congrats on your critical thinking about this paradigm shift, you are significantly increasing the odds of success!



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