Change is a good thing but it is well known that education embraces change as swiftly as a glacier, moving in a frozen sea, a record breaking slow speeds. Trending in education across the globe are concepts like collaborative learning groups, child-led education, neuro-cognition, brain plasticity, inquiry based learning, project based learning, Socratic method and schools that embrace thinking, ethics and philosophy. These changes in thinking about respect for the child, emotional intelligence and problem solving are changes in current practice but not new. Psychologists and thought leaders in the educational sector have been telling us for decades about how children learn, how brains change, how all learners process, retain and recall information, and how the emotional intelligence, physical well being, ethics and social responsibility qualities of a child matter as much as the “three R’s”.
Bellavista, by its very nature and long standing practice, is interested in all these trends, especially that the ship called education is turning the sail towards them. Moreover, Bellavista is really interested in the new research underpinning the concepts we buy into and in how theory plays out in practice in a school like ours that provides for diverse learning needs and works towards a prescribed curriculum. Here’s what we have invested in for years, what we are really, really interested in, what we are passionate about and what we still seek to learn more around:
First, and central to our interest is the child – your child. You see, education is not about content and curriculum, systems and programmes. It is about raising children, each individual, each with unique and curious ways and each deserving respect. Before we select and apply any trend or any practice, we will learn about the child, find that child and partner with the parent who takes primary responsibility for ‘growing’ their little one.
Cognitive Modifiability is a term that embraces the idea that the brain can change. Recent research in the field of neuroplasticity confirms the work that educational giants like Reuven Feuerstein has promoted for decades, that every child has the potential to learn and that intelligence is modifiable. This fundamental belief pervades all that we do. It is the foundation of our practice and it underpins our culture of hope. We are a hope-filled school.
To achieve the outcomes we desire with the children, we actively engage CEA (Cognitive Enrichment Advantage) and IE (Instrumental Enrichment) as programmes to overtly work with the children. These principles are then pervasive in our curriculum based work and our language.
Children come in bodies. It is through the body that every human learns and interacts with the environment. All information that we receive (emphasis ALL) is channeled through the senses – smell, taste, touch, auditory, visual, movement, multisensory. It is our brain that must integrate this incoming information and make sense of it, discarding what it is superfluous and using what is of importance to us at that time. Sensory Integration Intervention and strategies for Self Regulation involve understanding the child’s neurological threshold so that we can help that child explore this threshold and find strategies to regulate ‘self’ to be optimally and appropriately available to the task at hand, be that learning in class or playing a game of sport. At school, our Occupational Therapists are pivotal in this role, working with the educators, coaches and other therapists with various tools and opportunities to work with the child in this way – Snoezelen, adaptive seating, flexible classroom spaces, sport and movement activities, fidget toys, gross motor equipment, uniform adaptations, TOMATIS®, dark rooms and quiet spaces.
Creative Expression, Problem Solving and Design Thinking tap into our children’s strengths. These are the makers, the doers, the dreamers, the designers and the storytellers of the future. In his recent address to us at school, Dr Graeme Codrington described a world of work that waits for our children. This is their world. We need to rally our efforts to build their problem solving, design thinking, their strategies for approach to learning, their collaborative capacity, their risk taking, their literacy and their confidence so that they can take on their world. The national curriculum may abandon technology and reduce art and performing arts, but we are only intensifying our efforts and making space for these pursuits. Robotics, coding, computer literacy and using software as an assistive technology are the trends we are escalating.
Structured, Multisensory Learning Experiences pepper everything we do. As you journey here you will learn of Singapore Maths and RAVEO, Paired Reading and Guided Reading and Knowledge Network. Children who struggle to learn to read benefit from exposure, repetition and carefully scaffolding reading instruction. To acquire solid numerical understanding, the child should follow a spiral curriculum that introduces concepts systematically and successively, within a meaningful context and delivered with the right amount of challenge for the child. This structured approach requires your reinforcement at home and perhaps, the idea that children with difficulties benefit even more from deliberate practice than those who don’t experience challenges is the point of departure when it comes to the homework debate and Bellavista’s policy.
Collaborative and Communication Skills can only develop when each member of the ‘team’ holds respect for the other and values every person’s contribution. Using CEA, we explore “Sharing Behaviour” which overtly unpacks the interpersonal; skills and practices required. In IE, we look at “Identifying Emotions” wherein the children learn to cue in to the subtext of the communication in the group. Projects and events may be collaboratively organized to give the learners a chance to exercise these skills. Mediation by the teachers and therapists is high for the interaction and lower for content. We will value process before product in these tasks. Sport provides a natural, healthy opportunity to work collaboratively and hence, the push that every child participates in a sporting activity.
All these concepts are well founded and excellent, yes, but well behind the fourth revolution and disruptive changes we see in every other sector of the economy. Enter the technology imperative. How will we integrate all of the above into a 21st Century space? How can our children learn without us, accessing what they want to learn, when they want to learn it, in the manner in which they want to learn? How will technology bypass disabilities to afford equal access? How will our children, at this school, create a vision for their future? These are the challenges set before us. These are the opportunities that excite us. These are the points of partnership with parents that will be wonderful to explore. Anybody in?