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Lethbridge Herald Newspaper Archives

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Lethbridge Herald, The (Newspaper) - August 18, 1972, Lethbridge, Alberta 4 THE LETHBRIDGE HERALD Friday, 18, 1-771------- 'pen area classrooms involve innovations i In the final act of playwright George Bernard Shaw's Back to Methuselah, Utopian citizens by- passed all the problems of educa- tion: they emerged 17 years old and fully-educated, from giant Unfortunately we're not so lucky, and must constantly redesign our education system to accommodate a future wo are not even certain of. One of the many approaches used today lo cope with this education, dilcrnma is the open area class- room. ?.iany Lclhbridge public and separate schools have these units, ranging from just or three rooms to the giant IG-room equi- valent at Flcelwood-Bawden Ele- mentary School. A basic open area classroom would be as follows: visualize a single-level library, with book- shelves no more than four feet high, and separate areas contain- ing various forms of audio-visual aids. Now, without adding any walls, surround this library.....- or resource centre with two or five or seven or 12 for any number) of class- room spaces. In this context, a classroom space is simply a teach- er's desk and about 30 students' along with a couple of mo- bile blackboards. Around nil this put one large rectangular wall. Add tr> the entire floor, and acoustic tiles to the ceiling. And outside of this wall and across a normal hallway, put some administrative offices, infirmary, counselling offices and a number of more traditional classroom units to be used for noisy and sloppy activities such as music, art and science. Connected, of course, are a gymnasium and other necessary facilities. 'flic cost of all this is only slightly more than the cost of a traditional school building and most educationists believe it pro- vides a far more effective system of education. in size to four rooms, four teachers with about 120 students may oper- ate as a team. A further plus in learn teaching is that teachers may observe each other's styles, and learn new ways to approach particular leaching or learning problems. This expand- ed outside the team in larger open areas: there arc yet more col- leagues to learn from. Continuous progress involves dropping the traditional system of grades ami substituting objectives, tirades 1 through 0 would no longer exist; a student would proceed at his own pace through six years (or five or seven, perhaps) of objec- tives, at the end of which time he or she would he ready to start junior high school with perhaps not three grades, but three more years of ungraded objectives. Continuous progress learp.ing avoids failure. Instead, every stu- dent moves through the system at a pace most suited lo himself, like- ly with sections of education tail- ored specifically to his own individ- ual needs by a team including him- self, his teachers and a counsellor. Where the traditional system de- pends on the fear of failure to mo- tivate students lo study, the con- tinuous progress system depends on the reward of knowing success as the motivator as well as careful guidance by the teachers. 'Hie sligrna of becoming a fail- ure in Grade 1 (which can haunt a student for the rest of his life) is avoided; the problem of not suc- ceeding, however, is learned by the student's sometimes finding himself unable to meet the smaller objective he is seeking and having to undertake some remedial learning. He thus learns that he cannot always succeed the first time, but without being branded as having failed a year of school. (For one example of continuous progress, see the story in this sup- plement on Westminster K'einen- tary .School.) It has been said that a tradition- al classroom is a prison which ex- cludes ideas. Thirty students are taught by one teacher in a way prescribed by a teaching manual. Information is rationed out to the students at a pace at wiiich the majority of the class can move. The more capable students are given little or nothing extra: the least capable are treated simply as failures. Of course, a good teacher may avoid many of these pitfalls, but that same good teacher can prob- ably avoid all of them in an effec- tively operated open area class- room. It is almost impossible lo discuss open areas without dealing with such concepts as team teaching, continuous progress and discovery learning. Team teaching involves co-opera- tion among several usu- ally three or four, so that each teacher's strengths can be utilized to the fullest extent and each teach- er's weaknesses can be supple- mented by other teachers in the team ar.d orie teacher can guide a large group of studenls While other members of the team Instruct smaller groups or even in- dividuals, in either enrichment learning for the brighter students, or remedial learning for the slower iludents or those having particular difficulties. Thus, in an area equivalent In discovery learning, the teach- er sets a number of general objec- tives for the year. The students are then given a wide variety of paths to achieve these objectives. The student becomes an aclivo seeker of knowledge, rnlher than being a passive recipient of what- ever the teacher says, as is Ihe traditional case. The teacher ceases to be a "talking book." Studies have shown that discov- ery learning leads to a student be- coming more self-disciplined; more interested in what he is studying since he had a hand in it; better-able to learn new things, since he has learned how to do research; and able lo think for himself. The student is expected lo plan his own day within guidelines set by the teacher; the teacher be- comc-s a resource person and a sub- tle guide, rather than an authority. The child programs his own stu- dies, choosing his own pattern of learning, and when also involved in continuous progress, his own speed 'onrnjnu. But he is effectively directed by the teacher, by having lo meet Ihe set objectives, and also by the teacher's inclusion and exclusion of working resource materials. A simplified example might be as follows: the student is to learn an understanding of how revolution can result from overbcarine and dictatorial government (Ihe ob- Resource material outlined by the teacher (although the student can find his own if he wants) could include books on how King .John of England was forced lo sign the Magna Carta in 1215; books on Fidel Castro's revolutionary oust- ing of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista; books on the American Revolution; books on (lo provide a non-political example) a staff rev- olution in the magazine, The Sat- urday Evening Post, which even- tually lead to its demise. The student may choose which- ever example he finds most inter- esting and can (for the lime being) ignore the rest. 4 Now, an open area docs not au- tomatically guarantee that these teaching methods will be used; nor docs it guarantee that they will be successful if they are used; and nor does it mean that indeed Ihcse systems SHOULD always be used. Flexibility is the key word in open area. The teacher can assess the needs of his or her students, individually and collectively, and then tailor an educational approach lo Ihesc needs. Some teaching may be done best in the traditional way; some may require individual attention; some small-group; some two teachers at the front of the group; some in an informal, squat-on-thc-floor, desk- less fashion. The point is, all except the first are impossible or at best very difficult if the school lias a bunch of little box-shaped classrooms, whereas all are easily arranged in an open area. But what about Ihe student does lie or she get lost in the mob, or disturbed by the noise, or taught less effectively? While the concept of an open area is not new, its modern ap- proach is, Few research studies have been on open area learning, but those which have been indicate that at the least, learning is as successful in open areas as in traditional schools, and in many cases, learning is considerably en- hanced in the open area. In a Toronto study undertaken by the Toronto board of education, the Ontario Inslitule for Studies in Education and the University of Toronto, open area children were shown to emerge as superior stu- denls with better altitudes toward education and to themselves, and a faster-maturing lifestyle. The .students themselves, the study showed, felt open area in- struclion was more aclivc, potent and enjoyable, and they felt them- selves to be more inlercsling and more likeable than did their traditional schoolroom counterparts. They were also found to be more diligent workers, even to the ox- lenl of working through recess and spending exlra time after school, Ihan did traditional school stu- dents. II should he pointed out lhat open area classroom philosophy PKnMr.SSIVKNF.SS not. free licence. It grants the student independence, but does not permit him to abuse his independence. He can choose his own course of action in studies in many cases, hut rnusl conform lo certain stan- dards in his selection and must complete what he then sets oul to do. Obviously, Ihe open area student docs not get lost in the mob because in most cases, there is no mob. And he is not taught any 'ess effectively than in traditional class- rooms, the studies indicate. 13ul noise can be a problem: in questionnaires, students say they can be disturbed by a noisy group next lo them or by a loud and noisy teacher's voice. The simple solution found for this problem in open areas is to establish what is an acceptable noise level, and then avoid getting any noisier. The carpets and ceiling acoustic tile cut down on noise; and the "room" areas arc separ- ated by a fair amount of space. Teachers can modulate their voices, and noisy activities such as music can be moved to the back- up, standard-sized across the hall from the open area, Quiet discussion groups can be handled by the open area, cither in desks or in some corner squat- ting on the floor. But a noisy, argumentivc session can simply move to a back-up room. The students then "elves have been found lo adapl very quickly to Ihe open area classroom -mnro quickly in some instances than tho teachers. And new students, trans- ferring from schools without open areas are also generally not a problem. Movement from one part of the open area to another is seldom a noise problem, teachers say, al- though it can briefly disrupt other studenls. But Ihcre are other drawbacks. They have solutions, .which will usually be effective. For example, there is a need for careful selection of members of a team used in team leaching. There is a breakdown in achieving objec- assisling the student to one teacher-member the learn is unable lo work effcc- livcly within Ihe group. In an open area, Ihcre can be some loss of sponlaneity in the learning-teaching process, since a change for one group may necessi- lale changes in olher group activi- ties. Solutions include regular flexible scheduling, allowing teachers to quickly communicate among themselves and reschedule some activities. Back-up rooms which arc easily accessible and at least sometimes not in use by olhcr classes also provide a solu- lion, as do hallways and in nice weather, school playgrounds and lawns. Selection of teachers can also be a drawback from one point view all teachers are not pre- pared (nor should they be expected to be) for open area teaching. Bill Oleksy, an elementary school counsellor in Lethbridge, prepared a brief last year at Fleelwood- Bawden Elementary School, in which among olher Ihings he out- lincd some of Ihe requirements for open area teachers: Must want to he in an open area; must be innovative; !n'jst bn lo wnrV effect- ively with oilier people; must he concerned about the individual child; must be flexible in their atti- tudes and in how Ihey expect stu- dents to Ireat them. With all Die positive material ons (Concluded on Pnge 5) ;