SAIIER Annual Report 2014-2015: Aikiyam School

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Aha Kindergarten
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Aranya
Aikiyam School


Introduction

The mission of Aikiyam School is to provide an appropriate kindergarten, primary and intermediate education for children from Kuilapalayam and other villages which are geographically connected to Auroville, based on the principles of integral education as defined by the founders of Auroville, the Mother and Sri Aurobindo. The school strives to maintain a creative and joyful atmosphere, where the uniqueness of each child is respected and nurtured, and to prepare children for life in a rapidly changing world, while maintaining contact with their Tamil cultural heritage.

The school aims to provide a quality bilingual education in Tamil and English, covering all of the standard academic subjects, physical education, and a wide variety of vocational options, giving children a range of choices in the type of education they will pursue when leaving the school.

Aikiyam School is an Outreach day-school for more than 250 children, with classes which range from pre-kindergarten to the eighth grade. All tuition, educational supplies, nutritious snacks and mid-day meals are provided free of charge. In April 2008 the school received provisional affiliation for a period of three years from India’s Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and is entitled to issue a recognised school leaving certificate.

Activities of the year

Aikiyam School had 259 children during 2014-15 academic year. Teachers specify their goals every year before they start the year. Some of the goals teachers put forth this year were:

  • (Kindergarten) “I want to do activities that can improve the motor skills and five senses of my children. I also want to cultivate good social behaviour so the children can learn together.”
  • (1st grade) “I want to add more activities so that all my classes will be ‘activity based learning’ classes. I also want to read more stories this year so that children can improve their imagination.”
  • (4th grade) “This year we decided to change our classroom into an inclusive classroom with the help of the Auroville Teachers’ Center. One of the resource persons of the Teachers’ Center accepted to be our mentor to execute the change.”
  • (Special needs) “This year, I would like to simplify all the units that teachers need to teach according to individual students’ abilities. I also decided to have regular meetings with the class teachers to discuss the learning problems of each student, and see how to include them during their regular classes.”
  • (Vocational training team) “Apart from regular classes, we want to include model-making according to classrooms needs.”

In order to achieve these goals, teachers worked hard to finish the syllabus, as well as included special activities in order to keep the 'integral education' philosophy in practice. This year there were 6 plays enacted in English and Tamil, and Aikiyam children organized a one-day exhibition for the public about what they learned, including science models, ecosystems and craft works. The following activities of the year are described in detail below:

1. Land art at Auroville Botanical Gardens
2. Tidying the school campus and part of Kuilapalayam village
3. Partnership Story writing
4. Real and Imagined Ancestors – a writing project
5. Language education through plays
6. Teacher training

1. Land art at Auroville Botanical Gardens

Children went to do creative land art with Ishta at the Auroville Botanical Gardens. Ishta guided the children’s discoveries in the creative world using a minimum of materials and interference, and the results were quite amazing. Ishta describes his NIRMITI project:

“It is an approach to art in Nature using what Nature gives, but also a spiritual approach to the vision of our deeper being with the Divine. Contact with Nature allows the innate qualities of the children to remain clear and creative in the way of ‘free progress’. This ephemeral Art develops the creation of the ‘here and now’, avoiding the desire for possession related to his/her own creation. Creation is Universal and free from attachment. The Botanical Gardens and I were delighted to share these moments of joy and creation with Aikiyam school students.”

2. Tidying the school campus and part of Kuilapalayam village

The school organized a campus and village cleanup project in which more than 150 Aikiyam students participated. The children went in small groups around and near the campus and picked up non-biodegradable materials that had been thrown out by Kuilappalayam villagers and shop owners. This waste was then sent to the Auroville Eco Service. This activity was part of the school’s 'Creating Awareness on Solid Waste Management Programme'.

3. Partnership Story writing

Professor Jean Eisele from the University of Washington at Bothell in the USA has been mentoring the teachers of Aikiyam School for many years, and has connected teachers in the Seattle area with the Aikiyam teachers through various projects. One of these projects is the 'Partnership Story Project'. This year, our 4th grade teacher Selvaraj and Aikiyam's volunteer teacher Ms. Kaya (German) did the story project together. The fourth grade students from Bothell wrote the first part of a story, and sent it to the fourth grade partner students at Aikiyam, along with illustrations. The Aikiyam students read the story, discussed it in small groups, making sure they understood its meaning, and thought about an ending. Then they completed the story along with their own drawings. The teachers in Bothell compiled and formatted the book and sent a hard copy to each student.

The highlights of the project for the Aikiyam students were:

  • Aikiyam children took photographs of their parents and siblings and wrote about their village, family, and what their routine is like.
  • Each child felt much joy and pride when receiving his or her very own copy of the partnership story book.

4. Real and Imagined Ancestors – a writing project

Kate Strassman, who teaches third grade in the USA, came to Aikiyam School for three weeks in July to do a writing project called "Real and Imagined Ancestors" with the 6th, 7th, and 8th grade classes. The students each chose one of their ancestors from long ago as basis for the project. They did a prewriting exercise, drew their family trees, and gathered facts about the ancestor by interviewing family members. Then the students were taken on a guided visualization in which they met their chosen ancestor. Using what they learned and imagined from these exercises, the students each wrote a first draft paragraph about this person. Kate modeled, by giving a personal example, how to take facts and imaginings and weave them together using sentences that flow in a logical sequence. After the first draft was completed, the students received feedback about their writing from the teacher: a positive point to be proud of, as well as some points that could be made better. Students also read each other's paragraphs at this stage and gave extra comments. With this feedback and and with some instruction on fixing common grammar errors, the students wrote a second draft. Then Kate went through each student's paper carefully, editing for grammar, punctuation, spelling, and sequence, from which the students wrote final drafts in their best handwriting.

After the writing was completed, the students created portraits of their ancestors. The students looked at famous portraits by artists like Picasso, Matisse, Frida Kahlo, and David Hockney. They learned how to draw a proportionate face and also how to layer many colors of oil pastel to create realistic skin tones. The teachers and students talked about how the background of a portrait can tell the story of a person, inspiring many students to include the Tamil landscape in their portraits.

These ‘real-imagined’ ancestors were very meaningful for some students, connecting them with their own family history. At the end of the project, children had an exciting showcase of all the work in the dining hall after school. It was a gorgeous and colorful show, full of vitality! Kate, the students and the school were truly proud of all the students at Aikiyam who completed this project.

5. Language education through plays

Our long time Aurovilian teacher Simone has been helping younger grade language teachers at Aikiyam. She observes classes and helps teachers by suggesting appropriate teaching tools and skills to be used. She also teaches language through plays. Simone explains her work:

"I use acting stories as a tool for language education. Stories, when told with the support of illustrations, are a wonderful way to captivate the attention of young students. They make it possible to communicate meaning through context in a direct, intuitive way, similar to the way language is acquired by children in their natural environment. They facilitate the introduction of new, simple vocabulary and idiomatic expressions. As the story is being told, I ask the students to repeat the dialogs of the different characters in groups and individually, as well as to translate them in their own language to ensure that the meaning is well understood. Translation helps build a strong bridge between languages. It reinforces vocabulary in the child's language that may be poorly developed. It stimulates a part of the brain which might not have been used before in such a way; ‘learning by heart’ without necessarily understanding seems to be the more traditional method. Fun is an important and indispensable ingredient in this exercise.
"For young children, I deliberately choose stories with repetitions. These help engrave language in the memory. “Gruffalo” is full of repetitions, is funny, and captivates the attention of students, allowing them to get familiar with simple expressions and to gain confidence."

Through this method English becomes closer, more familiar, and accessible in a playful manner. Theater also gives children experience with the technical aspects of performance, such as stage direction, props, and costumes. In the context of our school where English is a second language, repeated exposure to well articulated language is beneficial particularly for those who have difficulties in expressing themselves in English. An improvement in students’ writing skills often follows a performance.

Along with these benefits, theater is a way for children to understand that work and cooperation are measures of success. The joy that follows the performance, the feeling of success and achievement give the students a wonderful reward for the efforts made.

6. Teacher training

This year, Aikiyam teachers participated in several trainings and workshops given by Auroville’s regular visiting teacher trainers.

  • Professor Jean Eisele gave a workshop on creative story writing, particularly ‘partnership stories’. The workshop resulted in “A Seed for a Tree”, a story created by Aikiyam teachers in partnership with candidates of the education programme at the University of Washington, Bothell.
  • Kate Strassman, who led the ‘Real and Imagined Ancestors’ project described above, gave a weekend workshop on getting children to write imaginary and real stories.
  • Professor Heidi Watts gave weekly classes for two months, for teachers of higher grades, on how to practice principles of education in classrooms. She also led a course comparing Auroville educational practices with Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) educational principles.
  • Marion Meakin gave weekly training sessions on phonics for teachers of younger grades. This year Aikiyam teachers started using three levels of phonics books, starting from lower kindergarten and continuing through 3rd grade. In addition to her regular classes for the teachers, Marion observed teachers’ lessons in their classrooms and helped them with necessary materials and training.

Reflections

Every year Aikiyam School makes some progress. This year, the school has introduced new phonics course in younger grades. It was another wonderful year. Children were able do all the activities planned by the teachers. The highlight of the year was the solid waste awareness programme organized by WasteLess, Auroville.

Future direction

Next year, the school wants to strengthen its Second Language programme. Teachers will be trained with new methods and materials to teach English well, from the lower grades onwards.

Conclusion

The classes that our teachers teach and activities they do help children to develop their ability to face different situations. Children learn their lessons well with good understanding.


See also

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Aha Kindergarten
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Aranya