What are the Innovative Ways to Encourage Active Learning?
Tom Wingate |The Wingate School
Tom Wingate

This is a great question and one that we need to ask ourselves on a frequent basis. In fact, it is the question, par excellence, that all educators must ask themselves. Happily, what a delight it is to sit down with our Pre-Primary and Primary teachers and discuss great ways to engage all our students in their learning.

First, we believe that our very environment sets the tone. Although, in our case, we are a relatively new British-international school in Mexico City, banish the thought of our vibrant community working within the confines of a concrete campus. Rather, think of a semi-rural site on the city’s western edge, basking in sunlight most days, and all surrounded by low smooth hills carpeted with trees. And fortunate enough to have a purpose-built first construction using spacious, light-filled classrooms in which teachers experiment. With children hailing from some thirty countries, and Buenos Aires sitting down with Berlin, wonderful cross-cultural friendships burgeon.

To be truly modern and creative, innovative educators continually need to mix the old with the right amount of the new, furnishing pupils’ learning styles with sufficient variety. To make our motto “Strive, Learn and Serve” a reality, we also operate with the International Primary Curriculum (both its Early Years, and its mainstream Milestone programmes). The projects we select from it always allow us that flexibility in both content and skills so useful to any enthusiastic teacher’s heart. Teachers are not trammeled, then, in what they can attempt to do with the curriculum. In our planning, main classroom teachers work hand-in-hand with specialist classes. We especially promote music – every post-Kindergarten child plays a stringed instrument – also linking it wherever possible to many discrete subject areas within bespoke IPC projects.  Wasn’t it E. M. Forster who once said, “Only connect”?

“Serve” is extremely important to our school community, providing us with plenty of opportunities to be innovative. Classroom teachers very deliberately fuse the IPC with our School of Character, exploiting teachable moments to promote positive values. Moreover, innovative learning stems from pupils – in an age-appropriate way – researching and selecting practical initiatives to help others. For example, it was the pupils, not the teachers, who opted for writing letters for lonely old folks (and visiting them subsequently), creating a whole World Cup football competition with a local Primary, composed of fifteen full teams, plus an extensive toy collection and distribution campaign for the less fortunate in society. When children sense the justice of something, they grow in confidence and display tremendous drive.

Holding fast to the ‘traditional’ in education, the things time and cultures have told us work, we have ensured we have placed the library at the heart of our campus. Three of its four sides are largely composed of glass. Children, walking by, both inside or out, cannot but help to peer in, see and be intrigued by the constant activity. It welcomes them; it engages. With much mobile library shelving, its spaces are instantly and effortlessly ‘redesigned’. Activities held there typically include: ICT classes using Chromebooks; weekly assemblies underpinning IPC topics; drama practises; much live reading to groups; personal assistance with book selection, and – naturally! – quiet reading and book processing. (For books – new, old, bought, donated – are constantly being added.) Matching expressed interests, books are frequently given to children by the school to keep, too. Books, stimulating innovative lines of thought in young minds, still very much count and always will.

Yet, as we rocket into the new millennium, we inevitably reach out to the innovative and the new. Deliberately sited within that large open library, staff and children access a lot of our technological gadgets. They are mere tools to our academic ends, but, what tools! (We are setting up audio and visual contact with divers on the Great Barrier Reef, in real time.) Most of our Smartboards are fixed within classrooms. However, others kept in the library can be wheeled into action, like strange wooden fire engines fomenting those intellectual “conflagrations” poet Alan Paton spoke of, rather than putting them out. What, then, is the nature of the modern library? The speed of technological advance today is mind-boggling. Thus, the jury is still out, because the fascinating conversation constantly twists and turns.

The classroom, where teaching and learning occur, now is so much more than a big box. We encourage a host of innovative afternoon activities where young pupils (and their parents) can begin to choose less orthodox areas of interest. For example, highly athletic Irish dancing can and does complement our official P.E curriculum. Gardening Club, linked to the Royal Horticultural Society levels for schools, is ripe for innovation. (For one, pupils have chosen where new bird houses will adorn the campus.) Gardening, along with woodland walks for our pupils in the huge ranch in which we are located, opens up so many avenues, both for hands-on experiences as well as for incipient science-inclined minds. We have a Debate Club, too.

When all is said and done, our teachers’ collegiality is the engine that powers the active, innovative learning throughout the school. However, as we genuinely try to put our pupils at the heart of our project, their sense of contentment and ‘voice’ also are extremely important to us. Our pupils constantly use personal (but shared) agendas in which all constituents – line managers, all teachers, the pupils and parents – write reflective contributions. When ‘in class,’ collating knowledge, pupils are much encouraged to work in various teams. They are crucibles in which to learn content and, more than that, the arena where they acquire and practise transferrable skills. Invariably, their strengths and weaknesses are tested in the general give and take. That way they, and their teachers, understand better the needs of patience and teamwork, analysis and critical thought.

About the Author

Tom Wingate, Founder of The Wingate School was educated at St. George’s College, Weybridge, Surrey, in Great Britain. His school’s mission is to touch lives, promoting excellent academic standards imbued with values. He completed his undergraduate degree in English and History and Theory of Art from the University of Kent and postgraduate degree in teaching from the University of Leeds. He kick-started his career as teacher administrator at an international school in Mexico City. Later, in the 1990s, he served as the Principal and Assistant Headmaster of a developing high school, also receiving his Masters in Administration and Supervision from Georgia State University. Head of the intake Year 9 at City of London School in the early 2000s, he coached many successful public speaking and debating teams, winning the ESU’s British and International Debate Competition in 2006. He also holds a postgraduate degree in Victorian Studies from Birkbeck College, University of London. Tom has taught from kindergarten to teachers in their Masters programmes. He is an artist and photographer, greatly enjoying history of art. An avid collector of old documents, with a special interest in the life of Dickens, he also contributes to the international “Dickensian” magazine.

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