SAIIER 2016:Transition School
Learning from Our Environment
- 1 Introduction
- 2 Some background on Transition School
- 3 Highlights of the year, in the words of the teachers
- 3.1 1st grade: Ex-students volunteering in class
- 3.2 1st grade: Reading buddies
- 3.3 3rd grade: Morning Circle
- 3.4 6th grade: The Dig Project – Inventing our own civilization
- 3.5 Arts and Crafts, 1st to 8th grade
- 3.6 Values for Human Unity: Trust
- 3.7 Awareness Through the Body, 5th to 8th grade
- 3.8 Awareness Through the Body, 1st to 4th grade: Using blindfolds
- 3.9 Teacher Training at Transition School: Report from a first year teacher
- 3.10 Teachers helping teachers
- 4 Outcomes
- 5 Reflections and Conclusion
Transition School is a primary and middle school that serves the Auroville community. We offer an integral education that aims to develop the mental, emotional, and physical natures, and to open students to their spiritual consciousness. At our school, 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, aspiring to manifest a truer and higher life on earth.
“The children should be helped to grow up into straightforward, frank, upright and honorable human beings ready to develop into divine nature.”
Some background on Transition School
Transition School opened in 1985 with about 40 children. Since that time it has continued to grow. As more children came, it was necessary to build classrooms, a library and other facilities. The material development of the school and the program based on the thoughts of Mother and Sri Aurobindo has adapted to the changes in Auroville and developed. Now, Transition School provides a learning environment for about 165 children ranging in age from 6-14. These children and the adults who work with them represent about 20 different countries and diverse cultural and language groups. The school program initiates what will hopefully be a life-long process of individual development towards a balance of body, mind, and spirit. The team of adults working with the children regularly work to improve the program and teaching methods. Each class in Transition School is viewed as a tool for self-discovery, as well as an instrument for children to learn to express themselves and gain knowledge. We aim for a healthy balance of conventional subjects and those which are less conventional.
The program includes subjects such as reading, writing, math, science, computer, environmental and social studies, music, physical education, and arts and crafts, as well as Awareness Through the Body, Sandplay and “logic and strategic games”. The languages of Auroville – French, Tamil, English and Sanskrit – are taught at Transition. English is the medium of instruction, French and Tamil are taught as first and second languages, and Sanskrit in the form of songs. Our children learn subject matter, and equally important, they learn how to be together, to share, to express themselves, and to be responsible for their actions. We believe that this approach and focus help our students to become effective, self-directed learners who can function both independently and cooperatively.
Our deepest aspiration is to prepare our children and ourselves to live in a higher consciousness to manifest a truer and higher life on earth. Sri Aurobindo and Mother are our guides and the ideals of the Charter of Auroville are foremost in our minds.
Transition School is a teacher-run school. The collaboration, cooperation and discussions of individuals within this team have been important in the development of the school. Many new ideas have come up through the teamwork, and this has led to involvement of the teachers, experimentation and innovative projects.
Highlights of the year, in the words of the teachers
1st grade: Ex-students volunteering in class
One of the highlights this year was the return of ex-Transition students who volunteered to assist in the class. These young people understand the ethos and values of Transition School, having participated in the programme as children for eight years. Many of our ex-students fondly remember their years at Transition as a time where they grew and made progress in a protected, caring environment.
With twenty first-graders of different levels and abilities, it was wonderful to be able to give them the extra attention that they needed. The young volunteers related well to the students, and made many useful observations during their time in the classroom. They accompanied us on class trips and were fully integrated in the first grade programme.
Sometimes, when a whole group activity was taking place, the volunteers would give extra attention to the students who needed it, sitting beside a particular student and quietly assisting them with their work. On other occasions, a volunteer could work on a separate project with a small group; for example, an advanced reading group of four or five students would work on a story and comprehension questions.
1st grade: Reading buddies
Another highlight in the first grade was the reading buddies programme. The 8th grade students came once a week for half an hour to help with teaching the first-graders how to read. We follow a phonetic reading programme which consists of thirty small books. The 8th grade buddies could initially use flashcards to teach the new vocabulary to their younger buddy. Then they would practice reading the story, with the older buddy checking that they understood the story and any new vocabulary words. A strong relationship developed between the two classes. This gave the young buddies a lot of confidence and the older buddies the sense of caring for a younger person. Apart from reading together, we also shared presentations. The eighth-graders gave a presentation on the human body, and the first graders presented rainforests and poetry. There is a big difference between a seven-year-old and a fourteen-year-old, and the buddies programme is a way to encourage interaction between the youngest and oldest students in the school.
3rd grade: Morning Circle
One of the major changes in the 3rd grade (White Tigers) class this year was our morning circle. As many of the children were having difficulty focusing on lessons, the morning circle was utilized as a space to introduce new topics, review (math, geography, science, spelling, etc.), or play a game. It began with a guided concentration, and then the whole class read the morning message for the day. One student would spell the date (day, month, number, and year), tell the time to the nearest minute, and read temperature from the thermometer. After the message, we went around the circle and greeted each other. Even this was an opportunity to learn. Some days a flower was passed in the circle. Children were told the botanical and spiritual name of the flower that was passed in the greeting. When the children were doing research on different countries, we learned the morning salutations in those languages. During morning circle we practiced greetings in these different languages. Finally, we played a spelling game which involved spelling the words from our current spelling list and/or making sentences with the words.
Overall, the circle became a welcoming, safe learning environment. Even shy children actively participated. As the teachers found it a very effective teaching tool, any subject areas that needed to be reviewed or introduced in this focused setting, were incorporated into our morning messages.
6th grade: The Dig Project – Inventing our own civilization
This year in the last term of the 6th grade, after looking at two ancient civilizations, the class decided to invent our own civilization. We, the teachers, divided the 19 students in 2 groups, and in secret, we wrote about the culture, values, habits, invented an alphabet and gave clues through writing. We created a whole book about the civilization, made artifacts, buried them in the ground, and then exchanged digging sites and dug out the other group's culture. We then had to figure out all about the excavated culture, make a museum and do a final presentation of our findings. Then each group presented their own culture to the others.
The students learned a lot, had fun, and pushed themselves by taking more and more responsibilities. This project not only develops collaboration and communication skills between the students, but also creativity, planning, and thinking, and helps them understand more deeply the nature of a civilization and its diversity.
Arts and Crafts, 1st to 8th grade
The goal for the Arts and Crafts this year was to introduce the basic elements of Art, which are: shape, space, value, form, texture, and color.
Along with these basic building blocks of art, we also wanted to expose the students to art history. To inspire their creativity, we created many projects connected with the artworks of great artists like Dalì, Picasso, Da Vinci, Mondrian, Frida Kahlo, Andy Warhol, Matisse, Maurice Sendak, Van Gogh and Keith Haring. We also created an “artist of the month” board and showed the students slide shows and documentaries about the Renaissance in Europe, Rodin, Diego Rivera, Beatrix Potter, Japanese art, Greek art, Mexican folk tradition and the Pop Art movement the others.
Our intention this year was also to interact more with the main class teachers, developing art projects related to the topics that the children were working on in class. We created projects relating to the human body, the solar system, ornithology (study of birds), geography, waste, Garbology and the “Dig Project”. We also tried to be more involved in helping with different school events, such as school topics, theater plays, open houses and presentations and costume party decorations.
Along with these key points, we also wanted to showcase the alternative activities that allow the children to work outside the classroom with other Aurovilian artists, artisans and educators, giving them a wider experience and view of what art can be.
We always try to give the children self-confidence within the freedom of creativity and help them with personal and collective projects.
Values for Human Unity: Trust
In 2001, Transition School teachers decided to experiment with an all-school project: an exploration of values. The first value chosen to explore was Truth, and since then we have chosen a value every year. The exploration of values is important to our work, and is included throughout the program and in the physical and psychological environment of the school. Special care is taken that material used (books, videos, computer programs) reflect values. This year the 8th grade class wanted the school to work on Trust. Throughout the school year, we used many different approaches to try to understand and feel the value. We understand that it is not enough for children to hear about values; to really learn about values, they must experience them at many different levels. Children of all ages worked on poetry, read books, did skits and role-play and wrote stories that helped them express their ideas of trust. Social studies and science programs included the theme of trust. We referred to the present, to our own lives and the state of our planet today (environmental studies and ecology), and discussed how past history affects our lives today – how life has changed so rapidly.
- Trust in 5th grade:
- This year we read “Island of the Blue Dolphins”, by Scott O’Dell, with the 5th grade Unicorns. It is a beautiful novel about Karana, a 12 year old Native American girl, who survives alone on an island, and is based on a true story. Besides working on text comprehension and analysis, we had various discussions on issues which came up in the story. We also explored how trust, which was our school value of the year, was central in the story. We then worked in collaboration with the Arts and Crafts team and the students made beautiful dioramas or shadow boxes illustrating different scenes from the book.
Trust and another theme, the Quiet within, were explored with the older children in Awareness Through the Body class. Awareness Through the Body is an essential component of the Transition School program.
Awareness Through the Body, 5th to 8th grade
“I think ATB is a special class and it helps you to find the real person inside of you. ATB also teaches us about senses in a deeper way.”
“When I am in moments of restlessness or stress, I always remembered how we would begin an ATB class, with the atmosphere in the room being strange (or non positive) and how our class would end with a different vibe when we left the room. So, in my difficult moments I would remember exercises that we did in the class and fit them to my situation and it really helped me at times”
There are two instances that particularly stand out this year:
- The children deepened into the experience of the Quiet within, and the ability to tune to it at will.
- The exploration of Trust and No Trust as a sensorial bodily experience.
The Quiet within
“ATB gives us peace. We do many exercises to control our body and to be calm, and to participate more in what we are doing.”
“I think it is a good thing to do the concentration when we enter ATB classes, because when I enter I feel excited, restless, sometimes hyper, and sometimes I feel like doing nothing. But when we do the concentration I feel this powerful energy ball and it calms me down and makes me feel peaceful.”
We have been emphasizing this activity in the past years and it is remarkable how well children have been integrating it. (We explained this activity in last year's annual report; here we just add a brief follow-up.)
Throughout the year we regularly assisted children in practicing to find the Quiet within, in two ways. At the beginning or end of ATB class we would do this with a short specific concentration; and when in the middle of an activity we would encourage children to stay in contact with the Quiet within while continuing to be engaged in the action. What was remarkable is that this year it was evident that this Quiet within was something very tangible to them; everyone could go quickly and easily deep into it, and they felt good in it. This was very noticeable in the atmosphere of the room and in the presence of the children. We could see that they have touched a clear bodily experience of it.
Trust as a sensorial experience
We approached Trust as a sensorial experience. Our objective was to help children develop a sense of Trust in their being – a sense of Trust grounded in physical sensations, as a bodily experience. We worked on it during the whole year and also as a specific project for about 8 sessions. We linked the work to the whole-school value of the year. The fact of it being a whole-school value helped us bring the children deeper into it. We also saw that by incorporating Trust as a bodily experience they also went deeper into the value, acquiring understanding of what Trust really is.
During the regular ATB classes we used every opportunity to encourage children to trust themselves, their sensations, perceptions and abilities. At the same time we asked them to notice their inner process of how they came to Trust, how they were using themselves to Trust.
We also worked with specific exercises in which children were placed in situations where they had to trust either themselves or the others, and they needed to practice being trustworthy. To conclude these classes we would ask them to recall the sensations of Trust they had experienced during the class and to spread it to their whole body and around it into their subtle body, while noticing how they were doing that.
During the activities we encouraged children to identify what was happening in their body when they were trusting, and what was happening in their body when they experienced mistrust; what signs could they spot in their body that could tell them that in a part of themselves there was fear or distrust or mistrust or anxiety or insecurity…, and how these sensations would compare to what they experienced when they were able to Trust.
During specific Trust exercises we often had to remind children that daring is not equal to full trust. One may challenge oneself to dare to do something because of curiosity, peer pressure, preset thought or emotion, and go through it but with the physical body contracting in different ways as a response to a fear or anxiety or insecurity that is not consciously perceived. The child might, instead of acknowledging and working upon these inner holdings, push the mistrust into the background, away from the conscious consciousness. And it is precisely these deeper inner holdings which we wanted the children to notice more.
Throughout the process of all these exercises we kept encouraging children to discover inner holdings or shrinkings and to find ways to release them while noticing what they did to release them. By conscious acknowledging of the inner holdings and how one releases them into a sensation of Trust, children went deeper and brought Trust into their body and subtle body: a body felt experience of Trust and confidence in oneself.
We rounded up the project with a reliving of Trust sensation while in deep relaxation.
Children had opportunities to share their experience with the group. In the first round of sharing we encouraged children to verbalize what they had noticed happening in themselves and especially how they used themselves to Trust. At the end of some exercises children were asked to write about what sensations they experienced in their body.
Here follow extracts from the children’s written feedback about their sensations for Trust and mistrust:
- “I can feel trust in my heart. When I feel No Trust my heart beat goes fast, I feel stiff, fearful, heavy, smaller, breath stop, worried, mind stressed. When I feel Trust I feel relaxed and soft in the body, the body feels light like flying, less stiff, happy and continuous breath.”
- “Trust: I feel proud of myself, I feel dense and happy. I feel it in my heart. The color of trust was yellow; my heart was swelling up when I trusted someone. No Trust: I feel fear and not safe, I feel very stiff. I feel no trust mostly in my brain.”
- “No Trust: When I don’t feel trusted I feel empty. I feel distrust mostly in my chest. I see distrust as the color brown, and it feels like velvet and I feel dense. Trust: When I feel trusted I feel really light. I feel it mostly in my arms. I see Trust as the color orange.”
- “For me Trust feels like a glowing light in me that glows at a certain time and to certain people. It feels respectful, bright, wide and nice. No trust feels empty and like being alone. It feels lonely, with a dark color, contracted and weird.”
Awareness Through the Body, 1st to 4th grade: Using blindfolds
In our classes of Awareness Through the Body one of the aims is to offer opportunities to the children to come in contact with themselves, with their internal sensations and perceptions.
To work in this direction, during the year we regularly make use of blindfolds for activities like structure settings, sensory awareness, relaxations and explorations of the subtle physical body. Because the general tendency is to rely mainly upon the sense of sight and to exteriorize the attention towards the stimuli coming from it, the use of the blindfolds helps the children to make more use of the other senses; it also helps them to focus and internalize their attention so that they can more easily notice their own personal sensations and perceptions. This internalizing of the attention also brings to them quietness and calmness. Thanks to the use of blindfolds children can also develop trust in their ability to perceive, responsibility for their own safety and sincerity/fairness when they overcome the wish to peek. They also have chances to deal with unusual or confusing situations and to face and work on their fears.
Starting from 1st grade we introduce the use of the blindfolds in a progressive manner, so that the children can get gradually acquainted with keeping the eyes closed. At the beginning children have the tendency to peek, and they can become restless, afraid or fidgety; and when asked for feedback they mostly talk about what happened outside or around themselves, rather than about what they experienced internally.
We start with very simple exercises that build up onto activities like the walking outdoors blindfolded sensory exploration. As part of the classes on sensory awareness, we gave to the children the opportunity to explore blindfolded the special garden next to the ATB hall. This garden was purposely designed to offer a wide range of opportunities for sensory exploration. After a preliminary indoor preparation we guided the children to freely move about and explore the garden silently for about 20 minutes. We concluded the session with a moment of rest lying down on a place they chose within the garden, we then sat together and the children shared their experience.
During this activity with the 4th graders we could see the result of the work done during the previous years and the current school year on sensory explorations blindfolded. The children were more absorbed in the exploration and they could stay focused for a longer period of time. Some of them were so engrossed in their experience that they wanted to stay longer after the activity had finished. We could also notice that children trusted more themselves and their senses other than the eyes and with that the general wish of peeking had decreased. We noticed in their feedback that this year their focus had shifted more towards their personal sensorial experience rather than their position/location within the garden and interaction with others.
Here follows some feedback from the children at the end of these sessions:
- “The garden with the blindfolds is magic. It’s like a different world where the places can change.”
- “It was the first time in my life that I really smelled the grass.”
- “The stones normally feel hard, but today they felt soft to me.”
- “I felt calmness inside while I was lying down and I loved the touch of the sun on my skin.”
Teacher Training at Transition School: Report from a first year teacher
My name is Yasmin Levi and I have been a part of the teacher training program at Transition School for the last year. I decided to apply for this program, and to become a part of the team because I believe that the children of Auroville are its future. At the same time, I was a teacher back in my home country, Israel. I specifically chose Transition School because I relate to the idea of integral education and I saw the team working together, using different methods, while reaching for the same goal – which is to give the student tools for life and to motivate them to reach for their full potential.
My training program this year was to work as a teacher’s assistant for the 6th grade students. During this past year I learnt many new techniques of class management as well as how to behave in different situations with students inside and outside the classroom. Working with an experienced teacher of many years in the school is a daily learning and joyful experience. Throughout this year, her personal attention, patience, knowledge, and the aim to improve all the time, was my biggest benefit. Additionally, she is admired by the students and is a wonderful role model.
From the beginning I had a feeling that the other teachers accepted me and were willing to help in any way for my assimilation. One of the most important tools for training teachers is to be able to actually teach, prepare lesson plans, and to get a feedback afterwards. During this year I did get the opportunity to have actual teaching practice – however, I believe it can be improved.
I believe that a program like this should be available for all the teachers in Auroville schools. The main purpose is to give tools and to make sure that we will all see eye to eye what the responsibilities of a teacher and what the goals of teaching are.
I am pleased to be in the teachers training program and especially to be a part of Transition School.
Teachers helping teachers
As mentioned previously, Transition School is a teacher-run school. This year there were many instances in which teachers got the opportunity to learn from each other. Our teachers’ team has people with a variety of special skills (e.g. math, geography, dealing with difficult behaviors, etc.). Everyone was willing to assist other teachers or become involved when requested. We also had some study days on pertinent topics that were organized by teachers. This empowered teachers with ideas and tools they might not have had access to if working in isolation. Though everyone has a designated job to fulfill, most people are willing to put in an extra effort to help another. This creates a strong, supportive teachers’ team which gives teachers the space to become more innovative in their classroom approach.
External support occurred when four teachers from an outreach school came to a class at Transition School. Each teacher observed the class for a minimum of two weeks. During this time they became immersed in the class and a different way of working. When their observation time was complete, they were provided with whatever tools (projects, songs, cursive books, etc.) they requested to use in their classrooms. From feedback received, they are using many of the ideas they learned at Transition School and the children are benefiting. The classes are more lively and interactive.
These examples illustrate that the individual potential of a teacher can be surpassed when they work cooperatively together. This collaboration invites creativity into the learning atmosphere which engages students and motivates them to learn. Within the Auroville context, work, help and support for teachers by teachers benefits all children in Auroville and outreach schools.
- The range of output across the school is wide and varied. It includes:
- Posters on a variety of topics: rainforest animals (1st grade), birds (4th grade), Garbology (5th grade), the Renaissance in Europe (8th grade), and more
- Power Point presentations such as Biomes of the World
- Individual student portfolios
- Music and poetry presentations
- Student-written books
- Open House presentations: Biomes of Earth, The Renaissance in Europe, The Story of India, science projects, Birds, “The Dig Project”
- Art exhibition
- Reports by teachers and students
- Outputs from teachers’ study days, including portfolios and study skills
Reflections and Conclusion
A question we frequently come back to is, “What is needed to help children become independent, life-long learners? How can we help the children learn to take ownership, initiative and gain confidence in themselves to become life-long learners who have their own unique potential and are learning for their own pleasure and growth?” The motivation involved in this kind of learning needs to be based on an internal striving for progress.
Each child is unique: has his/her own interests, learning style, talents, hopes, strengths and weaknesses. Next year we plan to focus more on this, to learn more about techniques to assist different learning styles and to work on study skills throughout the school.