By Lasya Venter
Neatly tucked away between small holdings, blue gum trees, roaming chickens and rolling lawns, you will find the beautiful campus of 345 Nursery School (345) and Carlswald House
Preparatory School (CHP), in Midrand, Johannesburg, Gauteng.
Just two minutes away from the flurry of Midrand and with the cityscape of Sandton on the horizon, an educational jewel is being established. At 345 and CHP, we aim to provide a stimulating, child-orientated learning environment in a tranquil, country setting. We recognise the individuality of the child and respect the diverse range of cultures we are privileged to have on campus. We also provide specific support responsive to the needs of the individual, whether it be through differentiated lessons, varied learning styles or specialised support.
Through employing professional, dedicated and passionate teachers, we strive to build morally responsible individuals by instilling the values of honesty, compassion, integrity and respect for self and others. Our children are developed intellectually, socially, emotionally, technologically and physically through many channels, including physical education, cultural development, academic focus, critical thinking and the development of emotional intelligence.
Attach value to learning
It has been proven that when learners are motivated to learn, they deliver better academic results, grasp skills faster, improve behaviour and gain a better self-esteem.1 In other words, when they are engaged at a high level, children’s holistic development is amplified.
Our learners are more likely to engage in learning if they see value in what they’re learning in academic classes, music, art, drama and on the sports field. Furthermore, when specific actions result in a desired outcome – whether cultural, academic or sporting – individuals and groups of learners experience accomplishment. Within this framework of success, learners, teachers and parents perceive that our environment is supportive, which creates greater opportunities and ongoing support for new projects, developments and change.
When our learners are engaged in learning, we appeal to their playful nature and encourage movement, fun and laughter – and often, lots of noise. Our teachers use an array of different activities and methods to reach those who learn best visually, those who respond to auditory cues and those who prefer a kinaesthetic approach. Learners can be found up and out of their seats, involved in exercises that promote active involvement in learning and unleash creativity and discovery. While their hands are busy, their minds are sorting through sensory inputs and making connections. Learners are busy, selfdisciplined and, most of all, willing to take responsibility for their own learning, because they understand that what they are doing is important.
From the early stages (our preschool classes), teachers use some the following strategies:
• Activities and assignments are challenging, yet attainable. High expectations are set, and with the correct amount of motivation and inspiration, learners will often deliver better results.
• Resources are readily available. Whether learners are painting, playing African drums, working on iPads or playing softball or soccer, they have what they need to fulfil the task.
• Learners are often given the opportunity to set their own goals for assignments, team sports and other activities.
• Learners and teachers are encouraged to conduct self assessments continually, as well as other forms of assessments to monitor their progress.
• Positive reinforcement is always part of motivating learners to grow and believe in themselves.
• Lessons are at times designed to get learners to interact with peers in other classrooms across the globe, creatively using technology and other media to solve real-life problems and apply classroom knowledge to the outside world.
Encouraging reflective practice
When we help children construct a foundation for critical thinking, we grow them into problem solvers. Our learners learn problem solving and critical thinking from observing how
one can solve problems, as well as by thinking through problems. These skills are found in all areas of learning.
Our teachers are trained to ask open-ended, higher-order questions. These questions cannot be answered with only one word answers such as ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Such open-ended, higherorder
questions create opportunities for learners to focus and make sense of their experiences, enabling them to see various possibilities. They encourage children to fuel their thoughts and develop their thinking skills.
The development of hypotheses happens by asking a specific kind of question or positing a certain kind of cue, such as: “If we do this, what do you think will happen?” or “Let’s predict what we think will happen next.” Problems are not solved by teachers too quickly, as learners are given the opportunity to do so first. Specific thinking processes such as Habits of Mind,2 Thinking Maps3 and the Six Thinking Hats4 are also effective tools to develop the skills and ability to think critically. Our students are encouraged to consider more than one method, outcome or solution to develop mindfulness.
When pupils use effective research skills, they develop a wider knowledge base and understanding of a topic. When learners feel more empowered by being more knowledgeable and skilled, they will automatically become more motivated to participate in problem solving and critical thinking.
Our learners experiment with thinking skills in the sandpit, during cricket practice or by taking part in a spelling game. Opportunity for play is always created.
A school is a community and collaboration must happen on a minute-to-minute basis to ensure effective learning. The process of collaboration at 345 and CHP is an ongoing cycle of learning and productivity. Teachers collaborate with learners, learners with each other, teachers with teachers, teachers with parents and parents with learners.
Staff collaboration begins with finding and making time to connect with colleagues during meetings, planning sessions, team building and coaching sessions. All these opportunities are used in multiple ways for staff development, personal growth and growing our learners holistically, while we as teachers are included in the process by sharing thoughts, providing support and applying knowledge and developing skills.
To ensure that collaboration happens across the board, we focus on the following points:
Making time to collaborate: Teachers are encouraged to share planning. Together, they refine strategies from previous years and upload current lesson plans to Google. Collaboration happens by brainstorming, sharing information and team teaching, as well as by sharing information on various platforms such as Google, Pinterest and Twitter. When they are given shared planning time and more access to information, teachers are able to make strides in planning thorough and appropriate lessons for their learners.
A multitude of opportunities are created for learners to come together and produce something amazing as a group. Team based sporting activities offered include soccer, cricket, cross country, netball, softball, tennis, hockey and swimming.
Furthermore, almost a third of the school sings in the choir and learners also regularly perform in djembe groups5 and recorder ensembles. During design and technology periods, learners get together to design, build and complete structures using various tools such as LEGO.
We also host an intern programme, which gives student teachers an opportunity to learn from qualified teachers, applying their newfound knowledge to all school situations under guidance. Learners are also very supportive of interns and you will often find a learner collaborating with an intern, to make the best of the mutual learning situation.
Building healthy relationships:Being a small school, we are an extended family. Trials and triumphs are often shared through conversation. Our teachers are aware of the fact that healthy and open relationships aren’t just good for your mental well-being; they also form the foundation for collaboration that can result in improved learner achievement. It is a two-way process: building relationships with learners lays the basis for academic success, and building relationships with colleagues lays the basis for effective collaboration.
Sharing responsibility: At 345 and CHP, the staff teams work together and complement each other. Shared responsibility does not only happen when teachers are planning lessons, but also while supporting each other emotionally, on the sports field and during fun activities, such as team building. Constructive feedback and training sessions are further characteristics of the shared-responsibility culture we strive to maintain. Workloads are often shared and teachers’ burdens are halved.
Integrating learning on different platforms
At 345 and CHP, we integrate content and skill development across music, languages, maths, the sciences and technology. On the sports field, we add emotional intelligence, leadership
opportunities and physical development. In the general classroom, we integrate the use of iPads into everything.
In summary, our learners – no matter their age or ability – are actively engaged in their learning. When they are actively and holistically engaged, they are processing and retaining
information and using higher-order thinking. When teachers collaborate and design lessons and activities that promote active learning and participation, they are reinforcing student learning and capitalising on the available potential of each and every student.
1. Raffini, J.P. (1994) Winners without Losers: Structures and Strategies for Increasing Student Motivation to Learn. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
2. See: http://habitsofmind.org/.
3. See: http://thinkingmaps.org/official/index.html.
4. See: http://www.debonogroup.com/six_thinking_hats.php.
5. See, for example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Djembe.