By Joe Kotwal
The beautiful old heritage building1 that was the former boarding establishment at The Ridge School in Westcliff, Johannesburg, in Gauteng, is now The Lighthouse, recreated as a centre of learning and development for the school.
This nurturing environment boasts a cohesive team of professionals, led by Jan Mallen. Set up with the aim of providing a cohesive, supportive haven for the boys, teachers and parents of The Ridge School, The Lighthouse reflects the image portrayed in the name. It is becoming a hub of creativity, fun, collaboration and learning in the heart of the school.
The Lighthouse team
The Lighthouse multidisciplinary team consists of an internal
school educational psychologist, Candice Fletcher; two remedial
therapists, Astrid Read and Jan Mallen; and an action researcher, Mike Workman. They are supported by external educational psychologist, Nefeli Sfetsios; occupational therapist, Angela Petersen; speech and language therapist, Anne-Ri Brits; and physiotherapist, Jeanette Bensted-Smith. Fletcher, Read and Mallan are actively involved on a daily basis, working collaboratively alongside the class teacher or in a small breakaway group to provide curriculum-based intervention. In addition, they are available to provide small group or individual
therapy for boys who require more individualised intervention.
The benefit of the integrated nature of academic support
provided in this way is threefold: it enables the staff to develop a more holistic view of the boys, whilst catering for their specific academic needs through individual therapy, as well as ensuring the consolidation of knowledge and skills. It also fosters a whole-class approach, which enables one to identify
vulnerability in learning and extend areas of strength for all boys. Most importantly, it allows optimal opportunity for pupilcentred communication between teachers, therapists and parents, linking The Lighthouse with the school’s teaching and learning environment on a daily basis.
The cohesive team provides the platform for the sharing of specialised educational knowledge, skills and resources. An open
channel of communication and support for the parent community has been established, and a number of topical presentations have been given.
A new look at the curriculum
One of the key areas that The Lighthouse is actively engaged in is curriculum development. This does not negate in any way South Africa’s national curriculum, but rather evaluates and contextualises it, so that it relates to the specific needs of The Ridge school community in a local, national and global context. To this end, the curriculum unit – an integral part of The Lighthouse – has been engaged in some exciting innovations. For example, Workman describes action research as a cyclic process involving implementation, critical reflection and continued change. This world is proving most successful in introducing co-teaching as an alternative approach to learning support, and consequently making learning more inclusive and accessible to all children. Research has also been undertaken into the relationships between English and a child’s ability to solve mathematical problems and to think at an abstract level. In addition, a survey is being undertaken to gather information from high schools on ways to develop a closer working relationship between primary schools and high schools, and to ensure thorough preparation in the critical core subjects of maths and English in all grades.
Workman is also currently researching the efficacy of academic
support. His work suggests that collaborative teaching from Grade 2 to Grade 5 makes successful learning easier for everyone. Workman’s research process, based on observation, study and refined implementation, has ensured that issues and problems are identified early.
This approach has enabled both the teaching staff and The Lighthouse multidisciplinary team to share ideas in the classroom context, and to build trusting relationships with boys who may need consolidation or extension within the classroom framework. Action research is also being used to develop other aspects of the curriculum. For example, the purpose and nature of assessment is being examined to clarify what forms of assessment are necessary, how often they should be implemented and which processes should be employed.
Robert John Meehan once noted: “The most valuable resource
that all teachers have is each other. Without collaboration our
growth is limited to our perspectives.”2 The Lighthouse is an
environment centred on this belief. A new approach to academic support, which has fast become an integral part of life at The Ridge, is both innovative and exciting. It reminds us that a curriculum should never remain stagnant, but should react to the needs of the community it serves. Above all, the self-esteem and confidence of every boy in the school remains an integral part of the formal and informal curriculum.
1. See, for example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_heritage_ sites_in_Gauteng.
2. See, for example: http://www.poemhunter.com/robert-johnmeehan/
Category: Winter 2016