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Students' learning wellbeing in an Innovative Learning Environment

In the New Zealand context, students, whānau (extended family) and the wider community as well as the Ministry of Education have identified students’ learning wellbeing as a matter of priority. Learning wellbeing is understood to be essential for students to feel safe and confident in themselves, and to engage and achieve in education and life beyond schooling. Correspondingly, in 2020, the New Zealand Government announced a funding initiative to promote the development of positive attitudes in students that would help them address learning challenges and achieve a sense of belonging and community. A particular focus within this initiative related to explicitly teaching about resilience and teachers developing ways of creating satisfying learning experiences for students. This initiative was introduced at a time when new design standards specifications regulated how refurbished classrooms and new schools were to align with the principles of Innovative Learning Environments (ILE). Interest in ILEs has arisen in response to national and international policy directives on the redesign of learning spaces. As yet, little is known about students’ perceptions of their learning wellbeing in such new types of learning spaces. My study aimed to contribute to addressing this gap. To investigate relationships between students’ learning wellbeing and new learning spaces, I used a single case study design with purposive sampling. Through this approach, I investigated students’ perceptions of their learning wellbeing in a newly built ILE school. For the purposes of my research, I defined students’ learning wellbeing as a predominantly positive mood and attitude towards school learning experiences and challenges. Students demonstrating high learning wellbeing have positive relationships with other students and teachers, demonstrate everyday academic resilience, and experience a sense of satisfaction with their learning. For my project, I defined an ILE as an open-plan learning area where teachers facilitate personalised learning contexts. Other studies have found students are organised differently in these spaces from traditional classroom settings, with more than one teacher assigned to a larger cohort of students. These teachers commonly co-teach and combine subject areas, connected by cohesive teaching and assessment tasks. Other infrastructure elements include ubiquitous Wifi and a focus on learner agency. Both students and teachers participated in my research. Data collection took place via participant-driven photo-elicitation, focus group and individual interviews, and documentary data analysis. I analysed participants' comments on their learning wellbeing thematically and inductively. By modifying the portraiture technique, I crafted three descriptive profiles of students’ learning wellbeing. The portraits allowed me to make participant students’ views visible, while protecting them as individuals, and create three categories of learning wellbeing. My findings illustrate the value of the school’s proactive approach to learning wellbeing through its learning wellbeing framework. It has three parts: 1) a dispositional curriculum focusing on students’ everyday academic resilience, learner agency and self-regulation skills which are summed up in the CLOAK acronym; 2) Learning Advisors who foster the CLOAK values through individual, high quality mentoring, and 3) a badging system that functions as a recognition programme whereby students receive badges for displaying CLOAK values. Student data indicated that the three aspects of the learning wellbeing framework mutually inform and support each other to foster students’ sense of learning wellbeing. The three-part learning wellbeing framework assisted students to make personalised learning choices in their curricular learning. The three fictional portraits illustrate the characteristics of students with high learning wellbeing (HWB), medium learning wellbeing (MWB) and low learning wellbeing (LWB), offering a nuanced insight into students’ various perspectives on their learning wellbeing. The portraits highlight that students’ learning wellbeing is linked to their ability to make and act on positive learning choices: HWB students were distinguished by how they thrived in making learning choices while MWB and LWB students needed more support to make positive decisions for themselves as learners. The portraits point to a need to better understand the complexities in students’ learning wellbeing in ILEs.
Type of thesis
The University of Waikato
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