SAIIER 2013:Transition School

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The Learning Community
Transition School



2013Transition School is a primary and middle school that serves the Auroville community. There are now about 160 students, ranging in age from 6-14 (grades 1 through 8). These students and the adults that work with them, come from over 25 different countries including many states of India. This creates a challenging multi-cultural environment that offers stimulating opportunities for dynamic, creative teaching and learning experiences. It also exposes teachers and children to humanity‘s rich cultural heritage and diversity, as children from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds grow together in an atmosphere of protected freedom and harmony, developing an understanding that we are citizens of one world.

Inspired by the teachings of Mother and Sri Aurobindo, our goal is to offer a well-rounded integral education that addresses all aspects of the being, where each child can unfold from within and develop all his/her potential. We aim at initiating what will hopefully be a lifelong process of individual development and growth.

A value oriented program is the foundation of all of our work, and is integrated throughout the program and in the physical and psychological environment of the school. The classes and the activities offered are all viewed as tools for self discovery, as well as opportunities for the children to learn to express themselves and gain knowledge. Practices and methods that heighten observation, concentration, self-awareness and creativity are used, and themes such as truth, fraternity, freedom, and progress are introduced so that our children can develop and really explore a sense of values. Special care is taken that material used (books, videos, computer programs) reflect wholesome values.

There is a commitment to developing the whole child and the uniqueness of each child at Transition, and different learning styles are addressed through the implementation of different methods such as individual work, small group work, full class presentations, class projects and outings. We have observed that incorporating projects into the program can be a wonderful way to motivate children to do what lifelong learners do: ask questions, use a variety of resources to seek answers, and take control of their learning in terms of process, direction, and progress. Learning activities are interdisciplinary, long term and build on children‘s individual strengths, and create a learning experience and classroom environment that is interesting, motivating and challenging for children.

Highlights of the year

Auroville as a resource for learning

Education and progress are central to the Auroville society. There are many activities and areas of research and innovative work, and this offers many opportunities to extend learning beyond the walls of the classroom. These types of experiences are memorable and help make sense of the world around us. Additionally they give the children the chance to get in contact with Aurovilians and see what is happening in Auroville. Auroville is a living organism with many knowledgeable people happy to share their expertise and we take advantage of these resources as much as possible opportunities. The following brief reports demonstrate only some of the wide range of experiences that were offered to the children this year.

Farms, forests and gardens are great places for the children to go. The caretakers are happy to see the children and the children love the nature and animals. This also reinforces their study of environmental science, animal and plant life and care for nature. This year one group went on a field trip to Baraka to meet and talk about horses, hens, turkeys and animals in general, and other groups spent time at the Botanical Garden and Pitchandikulum. The second grade class went on a cycle trip to Discipline Farm. Jeff walked the children around and explained the different plants, seeds, flowers, trees, soil, compost, and other aspects of the farm. They also went on a bus trip to Aranya forest. They spent the entire school day with Saravanan. They walked around the forest and learned about the history of this Auroville forest.

Children collected seeds, learned about bunding, different types of soil, importance of trees and plants to hold earth in place and act like a sponge. With the help of Joss, from Pitchandikulum, the grade eight students had the great opportunity to visit Adyar Poonga. Throughout the last 2 years they had been studying elements of Environmental Science. This culminated in a trip to Adyar Poonga, an eco-park in Chennai which is the result of the restoration of the vegetation of the freshwater eco-systems of the Adyar River and estuary. This was a very uplifting experience. The students saw that with attention and hard work even areas which had been made into ecological disasters could be restored.

Health and Nutrition: At the Auroville Health Centre, children studied about the human body, nutrition and health. Children were able to meet, talk with, and interact with a doctor. They looked at x-rays, x-ray machine, saw and touched an actual skeleton and model with all of the internal organs. After looking at the Food Pyramid and discussing what they saw, children also spoke about nutrition and some collected recipes of their favorite foods.

Other activities that increased health awareness include making models of the parts of the body, making games that teach about digestion and growing sprouts to share with all the students at lunch.

For many students who had some fears about health care and doctors, the lively, informal visit to the Health Centre and talks with the doctor created an interest and openness to learn more.

Music and Sound: While studying sound, students in did experiments on vibration, made some simple musical instruments and also visited Svaram to see how they make musical instruments. The students had two questions to answer when they got a guided tour of the workshop. First, they had to see the different materials the instruments were made of, and second, they had to listen to the different sounds made by the instruments. The children saw the machines that were used. They saw craftsmen making instruments, and found out that there had to be a check for quality control before the instruments were put in the show room and available for sale. The children really enjoyed listening to the sounds of all the instruments in the show room. They enjoyed the trip and learned a lot. This trip was part of their theme unit study of sound.

Second Language activities

French: Aurovrata who grew up in Auroville in the 70's and studied astrophysics in the Imperial College of London gave a presentation about "What is science?" to a group of 6th grade students. As Aurovrata is French, we had first prepared questions in French. The presentation was mainly in English for better understanding. The students were fully engaged and asked lots of questions.

Tamil: We took a cycle trip to the Irumbai Temple. The activity was to interact in the temple with the priest in Tamil and the priest told the history of the temple in Tamil. They followed it and understood it too. We took a tour of the temple and they observed the local devotees cover an ear of the Nandhi and whisper in the other ear. They asked her what she did and she explained in Tamil that covering one ear of the Nandhi and whispering in the other that only Nandhi could hear her and not the gods and Nandhi takes the message of the person only to the god. So they answered back to me ―He‘s like a messenger to the God. Later on the kids took turns and whispered to Nandhi by closing the other ear.

This was nice to see. We sat around the temple pond and had our snack. I feel these small cycle trips are useful by making the children interact with the locals and get exposed to the culture and get to understand the language better.

Theater and other presentations

Transition School students are encouraged to learn to give presentations. Even the youngest students present poetry and short plays to their teachers and parents. Presentations, in the form of theater, poetry, power point or speeches are a wonderful way to help students practice language. It also builds confidence and communication skills. Student presentation offers multisensory learning experience and has a positive impact on the development of the child.

This year there were several theatre presentations: “Peter Pan”, “The Trojan War”, and “Virtues”. There were also presentations within all of the classes in which students shared with parents, teachers and other students. Some examples of presentations given this year include: theatre, poetry presentation, oral book reports, reports on heroes, historical eras and science topics (Renaissance in Europe, Ancient India, and Review of Chemistry), Senior Arts and Crafts exhibition, and a Music Open House.

“The Trojan War”: The Whales, a double 6th grade class (26 students) prepared and presented a Greek play based on Homer's The Iliad. The original script was found on internet and a couple of teachers working in the school added scenes and characters to fit the number of students and to give more details and depth to the storyline. Homer, the narrator, with the help of his chorus, the Homerettes, guided us through the events that led to the famous war between the Spartan Greeks and the Trojans. A parent helped to make the costumes for all the characters of the play which added colour and elegance to the play; an adult was invited to teach the kids to choreograph stickfights which added rhythmical and physical depth to the war scenes; students and teachers came together to make and paint all the props; a whole research was made to find out how the Trojan horse looked and how to build it. The play was presented on 3 consecutive days for the students of our school, for the parents and friends, as well as for children from 4 other schools.

Some of the objectives of this work at Transition School are:

  • To promote self awareness and self confidence
  • Cooperation and collaboration: teamwork
  • Give opportunities for student‘s choice
  • To develop creativity and imagination
  • To encourage social awareness, empathy, compassion and deeper understanding
  • To develop critical thinking skills
  • To strengthen communication skills
  • Allow students to explore their strengths and individual growth
  • To develop self-discipline and concentration
  • Include parents and other students
  • Have fun

When assessing our presentations and our plays we look at the opportunities that we offer to meet the various needs of the children; each one of them as an individual. We look at the effort, the cooperation and the progress that each one works towards.

Individualized learning

For the past two years many Transition School group teachers have been working to develop and study the outcome of individualized personal learning techniques in the classroom to complement the project and class work. A separate report is being written about this work in Transition School. These reports from Music and Awareness Through the Body will demonstrate a focus on individualized learning in these areas.

Music

In the last few years the music curriculum in Transition School has slowly been moving from larger group based activities, to more individualised smaller group and project work. It has been evident that over time, more and more students are becoming interested in music both inside and outside school, so that in order for us to make the most of this talent, while at the same time nurturing students with lesser interest, a different approach was needed.

Previously, we had used projects such as song writing, creative work, that leant itself naturally to working with smaller groups of students in order to start allowing the freedom of choice and expression within the subject. This year we wanted to continue this idea, but this time taking it further, by having as a goal presenting the work as a whole class, and not as individuals or small groups.

In a project that took us further away from our usual way of working, we offered students of the last four grades a program of free choice. At the beginning of the year they were presented with 3 options and told that they could study first any of the three and by the end of the year that they would get to try all the activities on offer. Also explained was the goal to present as a class the work that they had done.

The three options that were presented were; singing, guitar and band work. In singing, students interested in this area were given the chance to take further than was usually possible work with the voice. Working with large groups did not always allow us to work on more advanced techniques and songs, so here was the opportunity for those who were interested to work on this. In guitar, students were given the opportunity to study the instrument, regardless of any previous knowledge. This allowed newcomers as well as advanced students to explore further this field. The idea behind band work was to give students the opportunity to feel what is was like to be part of a band. It was approached very much on an individual basis, and each student got to pursue an area or instrument of their choice with the idea of putting it together with others to make music.

In order for this work to succeed, the process needed to be regularly evaluated. Firstly it was clear that even with this variety of choice; some students needed guidance in finding the right thing for them. The other challenge was that towards the end of the year we would need to bring the group work back together, so being aware of each student‘s progress, strengths and weaknesses was very important. Before the preparation for the final presentation each student would work in the activity that he or she was more at ease and skilled in.

The final outcome was very positive for all involved, and the general level of music continued the upward path that we had been working towards. The work was presented in the form of an open house to parents and the rest of the school. Songs were presented of different styles, with some students singing, some playing guitar and others on various instruments such as piano and percussion.

Despite being a group presentation, what was evident was that this type of work was a very satisfactory way for both students and teachers to evaluate their progress on the individual level. For students that invested a lot of time and effort into the project no matter their level of skill, it allowed them to excel in areas that they had worked on and to share it with others. For other students this was an open and safe environment to share what they could do, but at the same time with the pressures of being on stage, take a personal look at where they could have worked better.

Awareness Through the Body (ATB)

Our goal with ATB is to provide a wide variety of situations and activities where children can explore and discover themselves, and find their own way to more effectively manage themselves. As teachers we focus on empowering the child‘s self-sensing faculty; helping each child to acquire confidence and trust on her/his own perceptions and to stay true to himself/herself.

First to fourth grade (6 to 10 year olds)

One of the basic principles that permeate all our work is that we are complex beings made out of different interconnected parts. Children can learn to identify those parts and practice to detach from them, keeping an inner positioning that is like a witness, which observes without getting involved. Being able to detach from the movements of the different parts of oneself, enables the child to better manage himself/herself, as well as to access a deeper sense of self.

This school year we decided to focus particularly on this principle and to offer activities that would help the children to discover and better understand the complexity of their being. To introduce this concept we used a plastic model, representing in a simple visual way the main parts of the being: physical body, subtle physical body, vital being and mind.

We then purposely used the game “pillow fight” to help the children realize which part of them was more predominant at a given moment. To do this, during the game, we alternated several times dynamic moments with periods of stillness. We would now and then call their attention to notice the most predominant part at that moment, when needed for clarity we would refer to the plastic model. With our help children were able to recognize how in the dynamic moments the vital took the lead of their being and made them act or react in certain ways. They were also able to notice that sometimes the excitement for the game was so strong that ruled out their mind and clear judgment. We also helped them recognize how in the quiet moments a balance state came gradually into their beings. In these quiet moments we were asking them to focus on particular physical sensations, like the heart beat or the breath, so they could become aware that keeping the attention in their physical body has a quieting effect on all the other parts of their being.

We had a group of 2nd grade children, who had difficulties in relating to each other, and had a lot of conflicts among themselves. Often during the morning circle we would hear them complaining or blaming each other. To help them in better relating to each other we gave special importance to the concept of 'the use of oneself', linking it to the different parts of the being they had already work on. This concept helps children understand that there is a difference between who they are and the actions they do, and that they can choose to use themselves in different ways, instead of just reacting to the situations from their habits or habitual ways of doing.

To offer the children possibilities to practice new ways of using themselves physically, mentally and emotionally, we decided to set up a structure setting in which they could practice to relate to each other in new ways. During the explorations they had to move slowly and carefully through the landscape, made out of various elements, some of which were unstable. The path was designed in a way that the children would need to keep on crossing each other from opposite directions while staying on top of the elements. They were able to work harmoniously for about 40 minutes at a time, helping each other, listening to each other, caring and holding the bodies of their peers with kindness. We would now and then intervene to refocus their attention into relating in a different way, encouraging them and supporting them in the new ways of using themselves.

At the end of the sessions we asked feedback to the children. All of them expressed that they felt very good, that they could feel the kindness and the joy of helping each other….and no complaints!

Throughout the application of this principle in the activities, conversations and exercises during the year, we could notice that the children started to relate to each other in more positive ways.

Fifth to eight grade (11 to 14 year olds)

We started the school year with activities that helped us to see the dynamics of each group and the space in which each individual was at that time. From our observations we saw the need to emphasis the following objectives for the school year:

  1. Foster honesty. Be honest with oneself and with the group.
  2. Develop awareness of the interactions between 'me' and the group.‖

Being honest with oneself and with the group: To foster honesty we proposed eyes-closed activities with or without a blindfold. In these exercises the children had to take responsibility for overcoming the temptation to steal a look or get into being “naughty” or “funny”. If they did any of the two, they had to come out of the game/activity by themselves. At the beginning many children needed to be helped to realize that they were not really honest and were staying in the game even when they had broken the cue of not looking or not straying from the activity. We kept encouraging them and acknowledging out loud when they were being honest. With these type of activities children started to take more responsibility for themselves and to be honest with what they were doing. We then linked this with our second main objective of the year: being in a group / being a group.

Develop awareness of the interactions between 'me' and the group: We addressed this objective with cooperative games of all types. The key point was the sharing at the end or in a pause in the middle of the game. In this sharing we helped children to learn to talk to each other in effective and respectful ways. By emphasizing honesty and goodwill, we helped the children to overcome common habits like: blaming, shouting at each other, not listening to each other, not daring to talk or the letting go of a legitimate thing to say, fear of confronting some members, not caring for the group. We assisted them into finding out what was working and into finding ways to address what was not working.

One activity that was particularly useful in that regard was what we call: Sticks. This is a group exercise in which people simultaneously throw and catch sticks. It is highly demanding and compels each member to be totally present and responsive to what is happening in the group. After a month of working with this activity the group dynamics changed a lot, children felt more part of a group. They felt both, being taken care by the group and caring for the group. In the words of a 13 year old girl during a sharing at the end of a class: “Before when a stick fell people would blame, get angry, complain, now when a stick falls people say sorry and ask what to do better. We are learning to work together!”

Outputs throughout the school

The range of output across the school is wide and varied. It included:

  • Posters
  • PowerPoint presentation
  • Photographs
  • Work for the student portfolio
  • Essays
  • Theatre presentations and props
  • Poetry recitals
  • Student written books
  • Poetry
  • Open house presentations
  • Drawings
  • Music Open House:
  • Artwork : Art Exhibition
  • Reports by teachers and students
  • Teachers' study days

Outcomes

All of this is a work in progress; we think that our work and concentration can help all of us (teachers and students) to develop:

  • A sense of curiosity and wonder: the desire to keep learning
  • The chance to recognize and use our knowledge and special talents
  • The ability to work and progress
  • Self-knowledge
  • Cooperative learning and teamwork skills
  • Self-esteem and self discipline
  • A sense of independent learning
  • A sense of well-being

Challenges

One of the main difficulties faced is that we are not able to find people who are able and willing to take up the work of class teacher. We need committed teachers who are willing to learn and who understand the aims of integral education. Transition School has been developing training and mentoring program to help bring people into the school. We have been able to integrate new people into the school, but this is an ongoing effort. We will need to find more teachers in order to keep up with the growth of the population of children in Auroville. This year we were not able to accept all of the children who applied to Transition School because we did not have the teachers to take care of them.

Long-term Goals

  1. We plan to have more opportunities for teachers to study together. We will plan a minimum of three teachers‘ study sessions.
  2. We plan to work more on the science and social studies programs.
  3. We will continue to develop individualized learning methods for Integral Education
  4. We will continue to work on development of alternative and participatory forms of evaluation that reflect our child-centered, integral program.
  5. We will continue to develop the teacher training program for integral education.