Bernadine Oliver-Kerby: Children casualties of flawed teaching theory

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Lying on the floor and trying to learn in a noisy environment is not ideal for kids. Photo / 123RF
Lying on the floor and trying to learn in a noisy environment is not ideal for kids. Photo / 123RF

When the educator scoffed at me and said "get with the times Bernadine" coupled with a look that said "you're moments away from the naughty corner", I knew we had a problem.

I was simply asking why the children at school were practising handwriting while lying sprawled on the floor.

I'm no expert, but basic instinct was telling me lying in a prone position to master the art of neat and tidy handwriting was not the best option.

It was probably just as comfortable lying on the floor because most of the furniture in these new fandangled modern learning spaces don't have any back support.

At least the kids had tables, which was one better than the teachers, who didn't even have desks. And beware certain colours on the floor: you whisper unless you stand on yellow, which is when you're expected to become a total mute. No talking. It interrupts the next class - 3m away.

Catching on?

Picture this: 175 odd kids in one space - not a wall between them.

It's your classrooms. Actually, that should be classroom, singular. Welcome to the Modern Learning Environment.

It's a government initiative, the idea being to steer away from traditional single-cell classrooms with one big space that's more open and flexible; ie, no walls.

Kids, once in caged confines now roam free-range and feral. It's a concept tried and failed in the 70s.

One can only assume the Government is future-proofing for already-erupting numbers at schools and catering for quantity rather than quality.

(Space certainly seems at a premium when you're stepping over bodies on the floor practising their writing.)

The school buildings have "break-out spaces" areas for independent learning, or group work.

Surely the name "break-out" just screams an invitation for teachers to escape from what, at times, resembles an airport terminal when the French are on strike.

And when aren't the French on strike.

Some schools have sliding doors or movable partitions, but they remain closed: for privacy, for noise control, for optimum learning. And what happens is, those sliding doors stay shut, thus creating the same single cell classes they have just replaced. Genius.

Self-motivated and independent learning is encouraged. Great in theory. That's like hoping your kids will do their homework without you asking. Oh, they'll look busy, but I know the difference between Mathletics and Mindcraft. And that is NOT HOMEWORK Missy.. put it away!

Students are usually emailed their tasks for the day. Most work is typed not written. That, sadly, I know I'll have to embrace.

"Get with the times, Bernadine." Perhaps I should. But although children are far more adaptable creatures than we grown beasties, what of the children who fail to adapt in these zoos with a learning space big enough for the Breakers to play full court on? Only, they're sharing it with 175 others.

Teachers are being forced to buckle up and take a crash course in a new way of teaching in a new environment that has some merits - but many flaws. Don't try to tell me there won't be casualties along the way.

Their challenge is to not only gain, but retain attention. Teachers are gold medallists already for attempting to tackle the noise and visual distractions, surely the two arch-enemies of focus.

I don't deflect change. I'll happily embrace it - when it's for the better. But when it comes to our new "modern learning" open-plan schools, the Emperor is wearing new clothes.

I guess, like the Unitary Plan, the new-age learning environment will, if nothing else, prepare our kids for living on top of each other.

- Newstalk ZB

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