SAIIER 2019:Transition School
Transition School opened in 1985 with about 40 children. This year there are about 160 students ranging in age from 6-14 in the school. Over the years the physical development and the program of the school have adapted and developed due to the growth in Auroville, thanks to Auroville and the individual and group efforts of many involved and dedicated Aurovilians. The school program is often reviewed and modified to meet the requirements of the students, and it is based on a commitment to developing the whole child and the uniqueness of each child. Individual learning styles, interests, strengths and weaknesses are addressed through the implementation of different methodologies such as: whole class work, individual work, cooperative/collaborative learning groups interdisciplinary subjects, outings and project work. We have observed that incorporating projects into the program can be an inspiring 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.
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, and “logic and strategic games”. The languages of Auroville are part of our program: 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 helps our students to become effective, self-directed learners who can function both independently and cooperatively. 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 the children.
Highlights of the year:
- Environmental Awareness and Sustainability
- Collaborative and Cooperative Learning
- Arts and Crafts
- Awareness Through the Body
1. Environmental Awareness and Sustainability:
Children love nature and here in Auroville we are fortunate to live in a beautiful natural environment. This is the result of reforestation. They live and grow in/amidst a large ongoing effort with much experimentation and forward methods in environmental regeneration, as well as sustainable living as a lifestyle.
Children are also not unaware of some of the environmental issues that threaten our planet. Environmental education offers opportunities for the children to learn more and realize that they can make changes and acquire skills that can help them make informed and responsible decisions that can help to build a healthy future.
At the beginning of the school year, The Eco-Service gifted Transition School 3 brightly colored barrels to encourage our efforts in conscious waste disposal. This was a good way to start the school year.
Throughout the year we have emphasized the importance of sustainable living. The children get the chance to go on outings to see the work that Aurovilians are doing in this field and to learn from them.
Below are a few reports from teachers of different age groups:
- Habitats project, Grades 1-3
- As part of our Habitats project we visited Eternity Beach. We were met by a young Aurovilian who spoke to and did activities with the children. We made mini habitats in trays with findings from the beach.
- Back at school, we made dioramas. There was a class diorama of the Ocean and individual pyramid dioramas to represent the desert habitat. The children also made flip books of the different layers in the rain forest, which parents and friends enjoyed at the Open House.
- Activities around Auroville, Grades 1-3
- We also worked hand in hand with the WasteLess team and visited places such as The Probiotic house (where we learned how to make Eco-friendly soap and laundry powder). At the end of the school year we participated in a litter clean up day and a visit to Eco-Service.
- ‘kNOw PLASTICS’ Programme, Grades 5-6
- During the third term, the 5th and 6th grade students learned about the plastics they use in their daily lives through the ‘kNOw PLASTICS’ programme from WasteLess. This was covered in eight sessions.
- They learned about resin codes, safer and unsafe plastics, additives, the impacts of disposable plastics and their alternatives, landfills, plastic pollution, microplastics, and the impact of plastics on the health of humans and animals. They also learned about alternatives which could be used instead of plastic items.
- During the programme, the 5th grade students studied some of these topics, individually or in groups, and presented what they had learned to their class and shared it with their parents. They also made posters which they put up in their classroom. The whole programme is organised so that the students share their learning with others: other classes and parents and friends during open house days.
- They also played the kNOw PLASTICS memory game, in the traditional way as well as in a new, collective way, where the students instead of competing collaborate so they can win together. They played the online version of the game in the computer room as well.
- The 6th grade, following our project on kNOw PLASTICS, went to the Eco-Service, where they learned to segregate their plastic waste brought from home. They learned a lot and decided to share some of their learning with the community at large.
- The children were very enthusiastic about this project and felt that they could do something with their knowledge. They not only presented their findings to the other students of the school, but also posted their findings in Auroville's News & Notes. Here they encouraged Aurovilian consumers be mindful of waste and to buy consciously.
- “I and the Universe”, Grades 4-5:
- Grades 4 and 5 worked on the “I and the Universe“ project. The project goes from the physically near to the far—starting with helping the children be aware of the area near them, from the school to the bioregion, and then eventually going further away.
- The 4th graders of last year continued this project into 5th grade, eventually making a start of an ongoing project of making their own Atlas, with color-coded maps explaining the unique features of the 7 continents and their political and physical aspects. Through this they also learned many geographical terms.
- Both of these groups met a visiting Antarctic scientist who gave an inspiring Power Point presentation about his work and the life of these scientists: their experiments and research, the melting glaciers, global warming. We made a display of the material he brought. We studied Antarctica and learned about the different countries that have research stations there.
- The teacher of this subject says: “By my contribution in teaching Geography, environmental awareness of Auroville, the Bioregion and our place in the world I hope to make the students aware of the connections of the web of life; the people, flora and fauna, the quite recent human interference in the systems of our planet. Through teaching, research, fieldtrips, documentaries, mapping, inviting visiting experts who are passionate in what they do and can talk about their experiences in the world, we create a rich tapestry where we hopefully can bring awareness of our world and our responsibility and our role in it.”
- Environmental Science, Middle School:
- The students started the school year with an introduction to Environmental Science. They learned the importance of studying science and that doing research Environmental Science today covers how living and nonliving things interact. It involves many disciplines and fields of study such as physics, biology, chemistry, geography, oceanography.
- The students already had knowledge about commonly spoken-of issues, but they were not really aware of the complexity of the relationships in our Environment. We realized that we needed to learn more about the environment and its natural resources (water, air, soil and forests) where people and animals live: the interconnectedness of living and non-living. The students enthusiastically read, discussed and did their own personal and group research to deepen their understanding of the concepts.
- They learned more about the water cycle and scientifically looked at the alarming pattern of water pollution and shortages. They studied about Air—learning about the atmosphere, the layers of the atmosphere and about the changes of the atmosphere and causes of air pollution. We also took a trip to CSR where we were introduced to the term ‘sustainability’. The students were very impressed by all of the work that CSR had done over the years; they appreciated the opportunities to meet people working to try to find alternative ways of living and generating energy. They know it relates to their life and their future.
- Next year we will continue our work on environmental science. We plan to work with the Water Service to learn more about how can we help or what can be done to conserve water?
2. Collaborative and Cooperative Learning
Since the beginning of Transition School, 1985, our work as a teaching team has been important. We believe teamwork has led to innovation and courses of action for the good of Auroville, the school and the children. We experience that working closely with so many people, who sometimes view things differently, offers many chances for personal growth, change and discovery and also the chance to learn from each other. The children observe the teachers working together: to prepare all school events, in the weekly meetings and other situations. The children are also are encouraged to collaborate and often work in situations where they can share their ideas and understanding and learn to work together with respect. We define collaborative learning as offering opportunities for children to work in small groups or pairs to help each other, solve problems, learn from each other or just support and enjoy working together.
With this approach, the children are individually accountable for their own work, while the work of the group as a whole is also assessed. These children work face-to-face and learn to work as a team. This form of work needs training and guidelines in order for it to be purposeful. Teachers work with their students to help them realize that we can all learn from each other and that everyone’s participation is needed and respected. At the beginning of each new project, this is discussed until the children are able to be more independent.
Here are some reports from a few of the teachers in which they share their experiences:
- Reading Buddies in Transition School:
- Every year students from the 1st and 2nd grade pair up with older students as reading buddies. They meet once a week and get the chance to read to the big buddies, and the older students learn how listen and to help the little ones become better readers. They practice, ask questions and make flashcards and importantly they also become friends.
- Collaborative Learning in the 2nd Grade English Classes
- During this school year we utilized collaborative learning in pairs or larger groups, and this was advantageous for the growth of the children and the classes as a whole.
- Spelling: Before a spelling test children worked in pairs. They gave each other the spelling test and corrected it (teacher role). Then they wrote the spelling test (student role). They were all engaged and focused while working. They were attentive to any mistake and were motivated to practice before the actual test. Overall, children improved in spelling.
- Book Reports: Writing about their favorite character and the setting of a book is a new skill in 2nd grade. Though everyone wrote their own report individually, they were partnered with another to support each other in the process. They read the book, used the ‘4 square’ method to gather information, wrote it into sentences and finally wrote out a good copy and drew a picture. The children supported each other in all of these steps. They began to understand that they were able to help and to receive assistance. All children realized their capacity to notice mistakes and help another to improve. This exercise was empowering for all.
- Grammar: After preparing a grammar test, I decided to organize an experiment with the class. I wanted to see if working collaboratively would help children improve their learning and understanding of grammar. I divided the class into 3 groups and provided the types of questions that would be on the test (e.g. “Use the correct action or state-of-being verb to complete the sentences”). The teams created their own questions, following the same order and format of the actual test. With a few reminders, everyone in each group was involved. After creating the questions, they had to make an answer sheet. Then each group passed their test to another group to answer. They moved from collaborative teacher roles to student roles. After completing this process, we took up all the questions and answers as a whole class. They did make mistakes, but they understood where they went wrong. A few days later they wrote the actual test. Everyone did well! Children who normally have difficulties were able to experience success.
- Overall, I found creating opportunities for children to work collaboratively had far-reaching benefits. They were more engaged, focused, had a better and deeper understanding of new material, and the harmony within the groups supported children with more difficulties to participate and thereby learn.
- Inventing your Own Civilization (Middle School)
- This project is a great favorite with the children and they showed their ability to work together and produce results. After reading, researching and learning about the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt and India, the class was divided in 2 groups. Then secretly they invented and developed a civilization of their own. They made artifacts that would represent their civilization and buried them on the school grounds. After that, the groups changed sites and enjoyed digging out the other group's artifacts. By studying these artifacts they tried to understand, analyze and decipher the excavated culture. The 2 groups ended by making a museum of their findings with explanations for the all school Open House. At the end we prepared a final presentation exchange of our findings and the secret was revealed!
- Improving writing skills (Grade 8)
- The eighth-grade program focused on how to improve students’ writing skills. Throughout the year the students wrote a variety of essays including personal narratives, historical research essays, and essays where they analyzed literature. In each case, before writing, the students pre-wrote to create an outline for their writing. This could be in the form of notes, key words and diagrams. This helped the students to learn how to structure their writing. Once students had made an outline for their writing, they wrote a first draft. The basic structure for this was a five-paragraph essay. To write the literary analysis essay, students were asked to include quotes and references to the text to support their arguments.
- The next stage of writing involved one-on-one collaboration with the class teacher. The teacher sat with each student individually, reviewing their essay with them and giving feedback and suggestions. After this, the students worked on their second draft, incorporating the teacher’s feedback when they felt it improved their writing.
- The final stage of essay writing consisted of proofreading their work. Students came to understand the value of rereading their second drafts to improve their accuracy. One method to work on their proofreading skills was to work with a partner and collaborate on checking their work. The students benefited from this process, and recognized the importance of taking the time to include these different stages in their writing. At the end of this process, the students assessed their final essays, and they were generally satisfied with the outcome.
3. Arts and Crafts
This year the arts and crafts team developed a foundation of projects, crafts and activities that would introduce the basic elements of Art: shape, space, value, form, texture, and color. Along with these basic building blocks, we wanted to continue to expose the students to Art History and different art media. We have created projects that teach the children about the classic artists such as Salvador Dalì, Pablo Picasso, Leonardo Da Vinci, Mondrian, Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Henry Matisse, Gustav Klimt, Andy Warhol, Keith Haring and conceptual art of the 20th century – exposing the kids to the world art and different cultures following Transition School’s value of open-mindedness. We also spent time developing projects and crafts for younger children that build a pyramid of learning and a foundation for their future art projects. The goal for us is always “to have fun”. We believe that through humor, amusement and perseverance the learning process becomes more effective and creativity and social life are improved.
Each year we try and interact with the main class teachers and explore different project ideas that will link main subjects to Arts and Crafts.
4. Music (reflection by Matt)
This year marks the end of my 20th year of teaching music in Transition School. Though the milestone is not particularly important, it serves as a good opportunity to reflect on how music education has developed during the time that I’ve been in the school.
Probably the most impressive change over time, is the level that children now have in music. Auroville is currently a place that offers students of all ages the opportunity to learn and perform. Instrumental and singing teachers are numerous, and young children wishing to take their first steps in music have many different possibilities. Furthermore, the occasions to perform as individuals, and in groups such as the youth choir, musicals, youth pop and rock groups, allow students to experience first-hand what it means to be on stage and perform to large scale audiences.
With this in mind, from an early age, students are already reaching Transition with musical knowledge. In the past, the number of students that played or performed music outside of school was probably one in twenty. Now it is in most cases 50 percent of the class, sometimes even more. This growth and increase in interest has allowed us over time to work in a quite different way.
In the beginning, classes served as a very general introduction to music education. The songs and activities were basic, and some of the classes involved simply sustaining the interest of the children for the duration of the class. Less exposure to music, and music education within the community, made for some difficult classes. Children were simply not as accustomed to working in this way and having this type of education. Today however, it is very different. Students come knowing the types of activities that we do, and bring with them certain expectations. This allows us to start from a very different place, and to explore a far greater range of ideas.
In the younger grades, students can already be challenged to learn far more complex songs, be introduced to more advanced coordination exercises and rhythms, as well as be exposed to types of music and music appreciation that were not possible twenty years ago. In the older grades the program has become very diverse. Singing is a normal part of every music class, so we have been able to tackle a greater variety of performance techniques, such as using microphones, singing with backing tracks, exploration of two and three part harmonies, and vocal rhythmic work such as raps and rhythmic poetry.
The higher general level also gives us time to explore music appreciation in greater detail. In the last few years we have made a move to explore with children a more detailed way of listening and understanding the music that they enjoy. Rock, pop and film songs are all very much part of their daily lives, so we have tried to direct them towards understanding why the kind of music they listen to has certain qualities. We aim to open up the ear so that they can distinguish between good or well-made music, and music that could be avoided. We also work on looking at music of the modern age, how it is made and the thought processes and work that goes into making the kind of music that they would listen to.
The increased musical level also allows us to work with students who would like to continue music outside of school, or even ones that are thinking of taking it up as a career. At present most of the older classes have several children who would like to either study music at a high level, or consider taking it as a profession. This is very exciting and satisfying for us as teachers, as it brings the studies that the students do much closer to the work we do as full time musicians.
All in all, music in Transition is very different from twenty years ago. Children of all ages come to classes with an enthusiasm and willingness to learn that does not have to be encouraged, but rather guided in the right way. Music is very much part of the Auroville daily life, and it is a good time for students and teachers wanting to enjoy the subject at all levels. The challenge now will be to go on from here. How to not only to provide a musical base in the school, but to offer extended advice and activities for those who would like to take the subject further.
5. Awareness Through the Body (ATB)
Attention, the basic indispensable factor in anything we want to do, and especially in anything we want to learn, is often taken for granted and seldom taken as a subject of ‘study’ by itself.
Often it is assumed that children will know or learn by themselves: how to pay attention, how to use selective attention, how to know when they are running out of attention and how to refill it. Moreover, children tend to be labeled, consciously or unconsciously, in relation to that pre-assumption.
In Awareness Through the Body (ATB) we take attention as a subject of study through sensorial explorations in the first person experience. That is, we assist children to acquire their own subjective sensations for attention: what attention is, how it moves, the different ways of using it, how to know when they are running out of attention and how to refill it. Our aim is that attention passes from being just a word children hear to ‘something’ tangible, a bodily felt sensation that can be trained as a muscle. Once they are acquainted with their sensorial experience of attention, we use those personal references to help them develop over time, their ability for soft conscious sustained selective attention.
Although the whole ATB program is a practice of conscious attention, we have specific activities that work on attention itself. When this school year started, we felt the need to emphasize those activities, and to help children integrate what they would acquire through the exercises into their school day and most importantly into their life.
This year when leading the attention exercises, an image that seemed particularly useful to children was to compare attention to the zoom of a camera that can be regulated to a field of perception that one chooses: from zooming in, focusing on a detail/close up and letting everything else be out of the field of perception (consciously ignoring distractions), to zooming out, to open to a big field of perception that includes everything that the camera/person is able to take in. Within that wide range, one can select different degrees of field of attention.
Through those specific exercises we worked on searching for the body-felt sensations of:
- A consciousness in them that can choose to use the zoom of attention at will. Within their capacity and age, we wanted the children to start developing a sense for the source of conscious attention.
- Focused selective attention on one input/task.
- Focused selective attention to several inputs/tasks.
- Focused flowing peripheral attention; soft sustained open attention that is responsive to the need of the moment.
- Conscious attention and automatic attention.
- Attention in full receptive mode.
- Balanced receptive and active modes of attention.
- Focused selective attention to the space around the body, like a cocoon/blanket of attention around the skin of the body.
- Present, awake flowing attention in open field mode.
- Attention in oneself, to others, to the space one is in (the environment of the moment).
- Running out of attention and refilling of attention.
After noticing the response of the children, we saw that we needed to help them overcome the habit of straining when wanting to direct and sustain attention and use soft intention instead.
One activity that worked especially well to bring all the specific attention work together was “The cocoon of Quiet”.
The cocoon of Quiet
This is an individual activity that we built up gradually by putting together four separate activities: attention exercises, subtle physical body activities, wave breathing and ‘the Quiet’.
From the specific attention exercises, over time we developed a sense for placing the attention all around the skin of the body like a cocoon of attention, like a body of attention that has continuity from the space around the body to all the way inside the body. We used this attention around the skin of the body when working with the subtle body, reinforcing the personal sensorial references for use of attention and subtle sensations at the same time.
In other classes we practiced what we call ‘wave breathing’. This is a way of highlighting and enhancing the natural breath. To work on the breath children needed to use the references for attention that they had acquired, and at the same time, they were developing further their capacity for attention by focusing on the breath.
Over the school year, we regularly did a simple exercise to find ‘the Quiet’ within. We asked the children first to bring the attention to sounds around them. After some time, we asked them to listen for the sense of silence in the room next to their body. From there children were assisted to find a clear sensation of something very quiet, silent, immobile, calm, somewhere inside their skin or around their skin or in both spaces simultaneously. We then helped them to stay with it, inviting ‘the Quiet’ to gradually grow/swell in them as a clear sensation in their body. At the end we often shared how it had felt to them either as a texture, density, color, temperature, or any other sensation or combination of sensations.
When we brought all this together children had a sense of the whole space around their skin alive and breathing. Here follow some written feedback from the 14-year-olds after the ‘cocoon of Quiet’ exercise:
- “I felt light and like I was underwater. It felt I was underwater because of the sound around. In and Out. The color of the cocoon was a light pale blue. I felt protected.”
- “I felt soft, warm, yellow, and tingly. I felt with each breath peace filling up inside me, like liquid from feet to my head. I felt the cocoon around me like warm and when it had an opening I could mend it by putting more peace on the point from outside – like when paint on a wall peels off, you can always repaint it. I felt relaxed and happy. I felt most peace in my feet. I usually feel it in my feet because peace fills up my feet first.”
- “I felt tired, sleepy, but also calm and quiet. I felt like everything around me was gone and there was only me in an empty room. It felt like everything was blank, white, emptiness.”
- “When I create the cocoon of quiet the sounds from outside just fade way. It kind of makes me a little tired but when I come out of it feels refreshing. My breath feels deeper and heavier and I could almost hear my heart beating.”
- “When I did the cocoon it felt kind of a magnetic power. Going into it was easy, coming out was difficult.”
- “Glowy orange blanket is how my cocoon felt today. The rest of the world fades away and I feel drowsy, but also calm and energized. I didn’t have a complete cocoon today; it was practically only the lower half of my body.”
These are just a few examples of the all-school programs and activities that we have been working on. The program is full and varied, but ultimately we strive to work together and provide the best conditions that we can to aid the children’s growth and that helps our children feel safe, grow in confidence and to develop all aspects of their personality.
Every year we have the pleasure of a new first grade class. We generally also welcome other new students. We are committed to the growth and development of our students. Additionally, one of the points of the charter is for Auroville to be “a place of an unending education, of constant progress, and a youth that never ages.”