Students’ views of teaching and learning in ILE spaces

By Judy Bruce

What do students really think about learning in ILE spaces? In this article we share students’ views from a large urban ILE high school.

A large urban ILE high school in New Zealand is currently master planning for further roll growth. To inform design the school invited students from a range of backgrounds to share their ideas about learning in ILE spaces. Tārai Kura Ringa Whao co-designed this project of student voice with school leaders. In this article we share what the students said about learning in ILE spaces and ideas for how you might gather students’ views in your own school. 

Workshops were held with a wide range of students from across the school. These included multi-level student groups, ākonga Māori workshops, Pasifika student workshops and workshops for students with learning support needs.  

Image by: Diana Wilkes

What students said about teaching and learning in ILE spaces

Students were overwhelmingly positive about learning in ILE spaces. In fact of nearly 40 students involved in the workshops, only one student indicated he would like to go back to single cell learning. Students appreciate the variety of spaces that can work for them, depending on their learning focus at any particular time.

Image by: Planning learning spaces

Some highlights and recommendations from the students were: 

  • They enjoy the co-teaching in open spaces (two teachers/two classrooms; the fishbowls (if not too crowded); and the flexibility to move to small group and/or individual learning spaces.

  • Fishbowls are helpful for learning new information and showing videos because they block out the sound and it is easier to hear the teacher. They are less distracting and it is easier to focus.

  • The 3 teacher, 3 class learning spaces do not appear to work well for most students, unless co-teaching is happening (which they commented positively on), but this happened with 2 teachers, 2 classes.

  • They didn’t like learning spaces where there was a lot of foot traffic. They preferred specifically designated learning spaces with minimum distractions. 

  • They would like a library space that is entirely designated as a quiet, warm, focused place for individual learning, reading and study.

  • Regarding culture and space, ākonga Māori and Pasifika students would like to see their culture represented more in art and design elements throughout the school. 

  • All groups mentioned the need for better outside spaces for learning and for breaks. All students indicated a need for more shade and more group seating throughout the outside spaces. Some students indicated they would like to see learnscapes – outdoor learning spaces, tables and chairs for learning, a whiteboard, etc., including on the balcony space.

  • Learning support (LS) students were overwhelmingly positive about both the ILE and designated LS spaces. However, they all noted that further attention needs to be given to very detailed universal design. 

Students with learning support needs

Overall students accessing learning support (LS students) enjoy learning in the ILE space. They prefer the sense of space that ILE offers, and conversely find it more difficult to learn in fishbowls if the spaces are crowded, too hot, or where you “can’t move around” and “feel trapped”.

Many LS students indicated they would like more small breakouts and quiet spaces for learning, where they feel more cocooned (like alcoves and nooks), especially when they need to retreat for a time of quiet.

Ideas for how you might gather students’ views

We used an appreciative inquiry approach and workshopped using a range of different activities, with the overall goal of seeking to identify what ought to be included and not included in the next design stage of the school. 

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We prompted students’ thinking by using some general space categories. 

Image by: Judy Bruce

My dream space: In this activity we invited students to image their perfect learning space, using prompt questions such as, “What would be the best things about this place of learning?”, “Think about what time you are learning, how you are learning, and whether you are on your own or with others”, “What are you focused on and why?”, “What is the space like and why?”

KALM brainstorm: In this activity we asked students to share what they would like to keep, add, lose and have more of. We invited them to share ideas about teaching and non teaching spaces. 

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If you would like to learn more about the ideas shared by students, please contact us at Tārai Kura ( and we can share further details. 


My learning space   PDF, 240.3 KB