How do you incorporate the use of technology into open plan learning?
This is a major perk of open plan spaces.
I have never been a believer in planning lessons around the availability of technology, firstly because it cannot be relied upon and secondly because technology should serve as a resource to all learning at all times.
We have a bunch of netbooks, a few desktops and about 18 iPads (with 4 more on the way, care of the funding gods). These are in the space at all times, for all students to use.
I was worried about this at first, I thought the technology would be under great demand and the children would compete for it.
I was astounded. By having the technology available all the time, students are using technology for specific purposes, such as for research, publishing or printing.
As the students do not feel they have only a small window of time to use the technology, and as it is treated as one of many learning tools, the children use it as they should – only when they need it.
How do you cater to students with disabilities in an open plan learning space?
We are fortunate to have an aide in our space, and while lessons are appropriate for all students, like any school we do have students with particular needs.
As I mentioned in my last post, one of the strengths of open plan is that we have each other for support. We know all the students in our space and are able to support them individually as a team of teachers.
This means that there are five teachers, and an amazing aide, who know what these students are working towards, who can anticipate when challenges may arise with these students, who can identify the best ways to assist these students, and who know where to go to seek assistance if needed.
How do you cater to mixed abilities in an open plan learning space?
We cater to these by targeting them through our flexible, adaptable, open-ended teaching practice. Everything we plan is with the current needs and interests of the students in mind, and we have leave to use our professional discretion to abandon some plans in favor of those suited better to situations as they arise.
Although open plan learning is an opportunity for streaming, many studies have shown that ability grouping is detrimental to student learning.The students who may not have certain understandings yet lose the opportunities for rich conversation, and the high flyers lose the opportunity to consolidate and develop their skills by working with peers who have different understandings.
This is not to say grouping does not have a place. We often identify groups of students with similar interests and create workshops for them, we also group when there is a specific allocation of students that can be effectively targeted in groups of roughly 30. Currently we do this when using the Words Their Way program, where we group according to the specific language feature the group of students need, such as long vowel sounds. These lessons run for half an hour two times a week, and if you’re familiar with the program it’s easy to see why this is a handy half hour!
How are children differentiated in the open learning environment?
This is similar to the answer above, we have the opportunity to target students for support and development with a range of teachers with different skills. This goes beyond teaching every student at their level, to each student experiencing a range of teaching styles. As mentioned above, workshops and student grouping according to their interests has proved effective. We ensure we give children opportunities to follow their interests with support from their teacher and their peers, workshops take this to the next level. Often after an initial teacher-supported workshop, members of workshops become “experts” in their area and are sought out by their peers. They also go on to running their own workshops, which are both very informative for students and hilarious for us to watch as children at the ages of 6, 7 and 8 our teaching styles.
What are some successful ways to assess in open plan learning?
Think about how you assess in your classroom. We do the same, on a bigger scale, over a mix of children who are not all from our homeroom and by using artefacts from open ended tasks, to establish student understandings.
This involves flexible and ongoing collection of evidence. We are almost always iPad in hand, taking photos, recording students and having conversations with them about their learning and what we have seen. There is a place for quantitative assessment, and the results of our students are generally collated onto one document for shared use. I would like to credit Bernadette Saunders with being the most talented table maker, planning document creator and results collator I have ever had the opportunity to be inspired by. Currently the different teams in the school share and collect data using Confer, Google Docs and Evernote.
Parents also seem to enjoy seeing photographs and watching videos of their child’s learning, our evidence collection inadvertently creates a portfolio of sorts of their child.