Improving Regional Low SES Students’ Learning and Wellbeing

In this paper we outline how we conceptualized an ARC project (2017-2019) that aimed to identify conditions that enhance low SES students’ learning and wellbeing in eight participant schools in Bendigo, Geelong and Launceston, including primary and secondary students. We also report on: (a) findings from a three-year survey of participant students’ perceptions of their learning environment; and (b) teacher adaptation to new larger teaching and learning spaces.

We conceptualized our study in terms of cultural materialist theory around relational agency (Edwards, 2015). From this perspective, effective educational practices entail participants developing, refining and reviewing shared goals to achieving common knowledge built on mutual responsibility. This perspective was applied to our collaborative research partnerships with teachers, to how teachers taught in teams, to teacher and student roles in teaching and learning, and to student learning through peer support.

As part of this study, we report on quantitative findings from an annual student survey (n= 7000 responses over 3 years) of students’ perceptions of their learning environment and key determinants of wellbeing. Through confirmatory factor analysis, we developed a structural model that identified multiple direct and indirect effects on student wellbeing and engagement.

Larger teaching spaces in participant schools enabled teachers to work in teams, and we report findings on how and why teachers adapted their teaching and learning practices to these new physical settings. An observation tool was developed to identify quality interactions between the built learning environment, teaching, learning and participant wellbeing. This tool focused on researcher, teacher and student reflective analyses of the fit for purpose between space usage, modes of teaching and learning, measures of wellbeing, and participants’ sense of the environment’s culture. We found that teachers developed a range of flexible practices and space usage to promote participant connectivity, visibility, safety, community, inclusion, and customized and diverse learning experiences.

Quantitative findings from the survey indicate key influences on student and teacher wellbeing, with implications for policy and curricular enactment. Qualitative findings on space usage provide leads for post-occupancy analyses of new blended teaching and learning environments, with implications for (a) how teachers can achieve fit for purpose in curricular conception and enactment, and (b) design of new school and classroom learning spaces.