First we had open plan offices and homes and now the trend has moved to schools, but what does “open learning” mean for your kids and their schooling. Sara Keli has done some digging on this modern educational trend to help you understand how it works in practice.

Ask any group of mums what they think of open learning and you will likely get a variety of mixed responses. Some love it, some hate it and others will stare at you with a quizzical look on their face that says, “WTF are you talking about woman?”

Let me paint a picture for you. Take two classrooms, each with their single teacher, 20-30 kids, furniture and all. Knock down the walls between them and hey presto, you’ve landed yourself in an open learning environment. Obviously it’s more complex than that but it helps set the scene.

Now, as someone who is left reaching for the wine after a 2-hour backyard birthday party with just 15 kids, the idea of 60 kids, or even 40 kids, together in a room, day after day, week after week, sends chills down my spine.

Director of Learning and Teaching, Louise Johnston of Empowering Parents, has experience working in a variety of classroom settings. Of her time working in an open classroom she says, “My experience working in an open classroom was quite an exciting one.  My school was opening a new building which was open plan and the teachers selected to work in the space were given the opportunity to explore different teaching strategies aspiring to personalise the learning for the students and provide them with choice in what they learnt about and a voice in what interested them.”

Advantages vs. disadvantages

As with any style of learning/teaching, there are limitations and benefits for both the children and the teachers. Louise says, “The limitations and advantages of open learning spaces vary from child to child, and school to school. Open learning spaces allow for children to work in a space that best suits their learning style.  Often schools have different spaces within the space, such as quiet spaces, creative spaces and working spaces; students think about the type of learning they are doing and move to the space which best suits their needs.  This of course takes a lot of scaffolding and must be cleverly planned by the teachers.  This doesn’t always suit all children, particularly children who require clear boundaries or struggle to make good decisions.”

For Catherine, a Sydney mum of 3, her kid’s school transitioned to open learning while they were attending the school. Of her view of open learning she says, “The downside is that I feel that there are a lot of children in a learning space, learning the same content at the same time. Students need to keep up, as there is no time to stop and explain a concept if you don’t understand.

“My oldest child is very self-motivated and responded well to managing his own workload and was able to ignore distractions. He was able to finish his work quickly in his own time.

My other children are not as disciplined or as strong academically so I like to make sure that they are on track with their work etc. I would say that there is less ability to keep track of how they are going in this environment, as different subjects are handled by separate teachers, even in primary school.”

Is it right for your child?

If you have a choice over schools, how do you know whether an open learning is right for your child? As with anything to do with parenting, it comes down to your instincts and knowledge of your child.

Catherine chose to move one of her children away from the open learning environment to a more traditional school. She explains, “When my daughter was about to enter high school, I struggled with the idea of her being disciplined and staying on track with increased student numbers and an increased workload so we made the decision to move her to a school with a more traditional approach to teaching. She has flourished in this environment and responds well to having boundaries and a clearer idea of what is expected of her.

“Having said that, when she started at her new school, her teachers were very impressed with her organizational skills and her self-discipline – so she had obviously picked up some great skills along the way.”

As a teacher, Louise explains, “Open planned learning spaces provide children with a lot of choice, are sometimes very noisy and vary in structure from school to school.  Children who thrive in these learning spaces are children who can self regulate (for their age), make good choices, focus on their learning when others around them may be doing something different and are resilient. Obviously the degrees to which a child displays these traits varies and develops with age and experience.”

At the end of the day, it is important to visit any school you are considering for your child. Preferably visit during school hours and ask to see the classrooms. Consider your child, their individual personality and needs and how comfortable you are in the learning environment. Seek out parents who already have children attending the school and ask how they find the school and the classroom environment for their child. Most of all trust your instinct and how well you know your child. After all, you are their strongest advocate.

 

About Sara

Sara Keli is the Editor of Kid Magazine. When she isn’t writing, designing or creating, you can find her enjoying the sunshine on her back deck with her two daughters or escaping into a good book.

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