Sunday, October 30, 2011

Stephen Heppell on the future of education

Stephen Heppell, in this latest offering from Edtalks shares his thought on what the future of education might look like. He discusses how online learning spaces he was developing fifteen years ago have essentially become prototypes for what the physical buildings now need to look like. They offer students the chance to work with each other, to talk with others globally, to have peer support and affirmation, to exhibit and celebrate their learning, and to be totally absorbed and immersed in the environment. Stephen believes that “'structures and strictures of education will be swept aside by the engagement, seduction, delight, passion and astonishment of a new learning world”. It’s an exciting prospect.

Stephen is a real visionary and it was great to be able to hear him talk at this year’s Ulearn conference. I’m always struck by his passion, energy and firm belief in keeping the learners at the very heart of what he does. The video is well worth a look.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Collaborative teaching: What might it look like?

When we talk collaborative teaching in open learning spaces shared by a number of teachers, I’m not always sure we’re talking about the same thing. There are a number of approaches that can be considered as ‘collaborative’ but there are some substantial differences between them. This is very relevant when looking at open learning spaces and shared teaching areas.

Often I hear comments from teachers who used to work in open-plan units that they’d still have their own class, occupy their own part of the space, plan work for their own students and rarely engage in working alongside colleagues. Whilst the space offered potential for collaboration it wasn’t always harnessed. I acknowledge that this wasn’t always the case but it was a big factor in the failure of the open-plan schools.

Collaborative teaching can be defined as “two or more people sharing responsibility for educating some or all of the students in a classroom” (Villa, Thousand and Nevin, 2008, p. 5). They suggest that it “involves the distribution of responsibility among people for planning, instruction and evaluation for a classroom of students (p. 5). What it’s not they add, is one person teaching, to be followed by another teaching a different subject, or one person teaching while the other one’s preparing material at the photocopier!

Collaborative teaching, at times called co-teaching or team teaching, has been around for quite a while in one guise or another. It first gained popularity in the 1950s, then evolved during the 1960s before becoming widespread in the early 1970s, particularly in open-plan primary schools, before enjoying something of a resurgence in the 1980s (Friend & Reising, 1993). Now as we move into modern open learning spaces teachers are once again examining how teaching collaboratively can impact on student learning and outcomes. There is though I believe a resistance towards collaborative practice, at times caused by the legacy of open-plan.

Villa, Thousand & Nevin (2008), and I’ve included a few of their references here, report four different models of co-teaching, (developed by the National Center for Educational Restructuring and Inclusion, 1995). These are supportive, parallel, complementary and team teaching. It’s worth exploring the differences between them.

Supportive teaching describes the situation when one teacher takes the lead instructional role and the other moves around the learners to provide support on a one-to-one basis as required. Friend and Reising (1993) refer to this as ‘one teachers/ one drifts’.

Parallel teaching is when two or more teachers are working with different groups of learners simultaneously in different parts of the classroom, what Friend & Reising (1993) calls ‘station teaching’.

Complementary teaching is when “when co-teachers do something to enhance the instruction provided by the other co-teacher(s). For example, one co-teacher might paraphrase the other's statements or model note-taking skills on a transparency” (Nevin, Thousand, & Villa, 2007).

Team teaching by comparison is when two or more teachers do what teachers do for a class, to plan, teach, assess and take responsibility for all the students in the room, taking an equal share of responsibility, leadership and accountability (Nevin, Thousand, & Villa, 2007).

A guide to co-teaching: Practical tips for facilitating student learning is a very useful read for anyone interested in collaborative teaching models and the authors extensive work is key for anyone interested in further reading. It unpacks the four models extensively with plenty of examples. The authors suggest that no one approach is better than the others and all have their merits. Their suggestion is that as teachers gain confidence in a collaborative situation they will find situations where each of the four models are useful and appropriate. The case study by York-Barr et al (2007) which I’ve looked at in a previous entry looks like a good example of the team teaching approach.

I’d also highly recommend looking at a great post on team teaching by Kathleen Morris. She talks about the day to day running of a collaborative pair of teachers and addresses issues such as planning, assessment, reporting etc. Judging by all the responses she’s had there’s a lot of interest in the subject.

I’m interested in how these different approaches apply to modern open learning spaces and what sort of evidence is available on how they impact on student outcomes.


Friend, M., & Reising, M. (1993). Co-teaching: An overview of the past, a glimpse at the present, and considerations for the future. Preventing School Failure, 37(4), 5-10.

National Center for Educational Restructuring and Inclusion. (1995). National study on inclusion: Overview and summary report. New York: City University of New York.

Nevin, A. I., Thousand, J. S., & Villa, R. A. (2009). Collaborative teaching for teacher educators: What does the research say? Teaching and Teacher Education, 25, 569-574.

Nevin, A. I., Thousand, J. S., & Villa, R. A. (2007). Collaborative teaching: Critique of the scientific evidence. In L. Florian (Ed.), Handbook of special education research (pp. 417-428). London: Sage.

Villa, R. A., Thousand, J. S., & Nevin, A. I. (2008). A guide to co-teaching: Practical tips for facilitating student learning (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

York-Barr, J., Ghere, G., & Sommerness, J. (2007). Collaborative teaching to increase ELL student learning: A three-Year urban elementary case study. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 12(3), 301-335.

Image retrieved from

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Stephen Heppell’s rule of three

Stephen Heppell is somewhat of a guru when it comes to learning space design and the move to what he terms agile learning environments. In this interview with Trung Le (education designer and involved in The Third Teacher project), he answers the question, “What should the third millennium school look like?”. I like his simple rule of three.

“I have a simple rule of three for third millennium learning spaces:

• No more than three walls so that there is never full enclosure and the space is multifaceted rather than just open.

• No fewer than three points of focus so that the "stand-and-deliver" model gives way to increasingly varied groups learning and presenting together (which by the way requires a radical rethinking of furniture).

• Ability to accommodate three teachers/adults with their children. The old standard size of about 30 students in a box robbed children of so many effective practices; these larger spaces allow for better alternatives.”

Stephen Heppell is going to be at this years Ulearn conference in Rotorua, NZ. I’m looking forward to what he has to say.


Le, T. (2010). The End of Education Is the Dawn of Learning. Retrieved from

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Incidental Professional Development: What do teachers learn from each other in a shared teaching space?

We're interested in the notion of incidental professional development in open learning spaces where teachers are working collaboratively. Does the very fact that we are teaching alongside colleagues have an effect on our own professional formation? To what extent are we influenced by the way our colleagues teach, interact with students and cause learning? Is it an assumption that this incidental learning is going on in our learning hubs, or is it in fact a reality? And in which case, what is the nature of it?

I spent some time this week listening to teachers as they described how they’ve been influenced by colleagues in their learning hubs. I wasn’t concerned with the more traditional notion of professional development that tends to happen at set times outside the teaching day but with the anecdotal and ‘incidental’ (for want of a better word), things they had taken on as a direct result of sharing a learning and teaching space.

I was surprised at the extent of what had occurred in such a short time. The teachers cited numerous examples of how they had learned from their colleagues and how they had adapted and adopted new practices themselves. And it wasn’t just surface level management and organizational strategies that they were absorbing.

Teachers described a real depth to their professional learning. They often commented on picking up on the way their colleagues questioned learners, how they pushed children’s thinking to a deeper level, and extracted as much ‘learning juice’, as Guy Claxton would say, from a particular learning situation. They discussed how their ability to give timely feedback was growing as a result of watching and listening to each other teach.

There was talk of the way colleagues introduced learning tasks, how they captured reflection during and after learning, and picking up on new strategies for developing critical thinking in reading. They spoke about how they observed each other utilizing our learner qualities- a language of disposition- to engage children in the learning process, or their observations around the use of the inquiry model and how it was being utilized across the curriculum areas.

There was other evidence too; teachers talked about how their colleagues modeled the use of e-learning and multi-modal artifacts, how they observed each other building assessment literacy in learners, or encouraging the children to problem solve.

All this learning sits outside the more usual frameworks for delivering professional learning. On top of this again, is the dialogue and ‘bounce’ that goes on before, during and after teaching as well as the more planned reflection sessions during the week.

The common thread that ties the teachers’ observations together is the idea of teaching in an open learning space being extremely ‘visible’. There is, as I was reminded, no-where to hide. This is nothing new to our colleagues in Early Childhood Education but it is for many in the primary sector. And it’s a rich thread of learning for teachers.

Villa et al (2008) suggest that “people who co-teach are in an ideal situation to spur their own professional growth through dialogue with their co-teachers” (p. 138). They suggest that co-teachers can also engage in more structured approaches to observation and feedback as part of their professional growth.  

York-Barr et al (2007) reflect on the, “learning boost that transpired when teachers taught side-by-side, sharing the same students and instructional space. Teachers indicated the ability to observe one another while teaching was a means by which they expanded their own instructional repertoires” (p. 320). This is certainly congruent with what I found.

Interestingly though this is not a new idea. 74.5% of teachers working in open-plan spaces in New Zealand in the 1970s felt that there had been greater opportunities for professional growth and development than for those teachers in more traditional settings (Department of Education, 1977).

This idea of ‘incidental’ professional development is certainly one worth exploring more. I know that we will be back again listening to the teacher voice in this area.


Department of Education. (1977). Report on open plan education in New Zealand. Wellington: Department of Education.

Villa, R. A., Thousand, J. S., & Nevin, A. I. (2008). A guide to co-teaching: Practical tips for facilitating student learning (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

York-Barr, J., Ghere, G., & Sommerness, J. (2007). Collaborative teaching to increase ELL student learning: A three-Year urban elementary case study. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 12(3), 301-335.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Innovative school designs

Designing for Education: Compendium of Exemplary Educational Facilities 2011 (free preview available) is a new publication from the OECD launched this week. It showcases over 60 state-of-the-art schools worldwide that have been recently built or refurbished.

The book recognizes that the design of learning spaces is evolving as understanding of pedagogy, new technologies and community engagement is impacting on learning. It presents examples of the latest developments in educational facility design worldwide.

As the introduction states, “They do not need to be iconic pieces of architecture, but they do need to be fit-for-purpose and appropriate for their context. They should provide children with the best possible learning environments within which to grow and develop” (p. 5).

The schools were selected for inclusion based on a criteria of innovative design, fitness for purpose, sustainability and safety. It’s great to see a couple of New Zealand designs in here too, Snells Beach and Albany Senior High ( A more recent OECD update on Albany is also available).


OECD. (2011). Designing for education: Compendium of exemplary educational facilities 2011: OECD Publishing. Retrieved from