Moving forward with e4 – redefining teaching and learning

| August 28, 2015 | 0 Comments

By Sally James

Increasingly, educators and curriculum developers around the world are being challenged to rethink approaches to teaching and learning.1

Individuals working in education have a certain obligation to ensure that children are actively engaged during their school day, and will ultimately exit school with the skills and selfconfidence that will enable them to negotiate a competitive, fast-paced and rapidly changing world.

Researcher Lauren B. Resnick2 notes that since the middle of the 20th century, our knowledge and understanding of what learning is and the so-called ‘science of knowledge’ has grown exponentially. Knowledge is no longer viewed as a list of facts, but rather as a series of schemas and conceptual structures. Our changed understanding of knowledge has led us to rethink the way in which we teach, and has also challenged teachers to consider how children will learn best.

Enter e4

With this in mind, a team of teachers at St Mary’s School, Waverley, in Johannesburg, are in the process of crafting a unique curriculum for the 2015 Grade 8 student intake that has been aptly called the ‘e4 curriculum’.

Words that commence with the prefix ‘e’ frequently suggest progress, advancement and a move towards change. In addition, the letter ‘e’ is associated with a shift towards integrating and applying the use of technology into teaching and learning. This becomes increasingly important in 2015, as the Grade 8 cohort is the first group in the senior school to have their own personal iPad devices for use in class.

The e4 curriculum – representative of an effective, engaging, exciting and enriching approach – is a uniquely St Mary’s programme, drawing on current educational pedagogy and practice-based research to suit our context and pupil needs.

e4 is ever-evolving

The e4 curriculum is a rigorous, integrated yet evolving curriculum, incorporating both content and key skills into the learning programme. Kay3 is one of many researchers who support the development of a rich and diverse middle school programme, suggesting that this phase of secondary school is often the last best chance for engaging and motivating pupils to be challenged in new ways and to be motivated to achieve. “Developing proficiency in 21st century skills, along with deep content knowledge, should be the mission of teaching and learning in the middle years,” says Kay.4 The kind of teaching and learning that takes place in e4 is not aimed at a simple switch to ‘discovery learning’,5 where children are free to explore and learn on their own, and it is by no means a shift back towards an outcomes-based education (OBE) style that was heavily criticised in the South African educational context.6 Furthermore, the e4 curriculum is not a superficial shift towards ‘collaborative learning’7 incorporating the use of technology.

Each e4 session has a clear structure and goal. Teachers actively guide lessons using a form of ‘learning script’, so that conversation, skill development and conceptual learning are carefully directed and scaffolded. Teachers step forward into an active and supportive role to ensure the route to learning and correct cognitive pathways are activated.

Aims and logistics

The timetable has been designed so that a minimum of two teachers are present in every e4 class, allowing for a more effective support system to assist pupils.

The Grade 8 pupils follow the normal school timetable for four days of the week. The fifth day is dedicated to the e4 curriculum. It’s a more flexible school day dedicated to specific skills-based teaching, workshops, school excursions and projectbased learning.

The e4 curriculum aims to develop pupils who are able to:

  • understand the world as an interrelated set of systems and processes
  • take responsibility for their own learning and conduct themselves as confident and independent young adults who have a passion for learning and discovery
  • be flexible and adaptable in their approach to learning and discovery
  • demonstrate a sense of determination and resilience when tackling and solving problems
  • work collaboratively with others on multiple platforms (including face to face and digitally)
  • be creative problem solvers, but also creators of new ideas and innovative approaches
  • be critical thinkers and curious about the world • be empathetic towards communities both near and far.

Transformation for teachers, too

Whilst the e4 curriculum remains at an evolutionary stage, the benefits have already started to emerge. Perhaps the largest growth point to date has been the power this programme has had in developing and transforming our teachers, which at the outset was not the central goal of the curriculum shift. Weekly meetings and reflections after each e4 day have created a safe space for teacher collaboration, debate, planning and reflection. The e4 team have become reflexive practitioners who are constantly challenged to think about their own teaching and the kind of learning taking place.

At St Mary’s School, we are learning that risk is necessary to take our school community successfully into the third decade of the 21st century. Risk, however, must come with research, careful organisation and planning, and should result in a safe and nurturing space for teachers and pupils alike.


1. See, for example:
2. See, for example: uploads/2012/03/Resnick_ER_2010.pdf.
3. See, for example:
4. Ibid.
5. See, for example:
6. See, for example: Apartheid%20Dispensation%20Education%20In%20South%20Africa%20%281994-2011%29.pdf.
7. See, for example:

Category: Spring 2015

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