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Teacher training with Escuela Nueva: bringing communities and pupils to the heart of learning

Updated: Feb 26, 2019

This January we were delighted to have Fundación Escuela Nueva (FEN) in the UK again to deliver another set of immersive teacher training workshops exploring strategies that promote community centred, pupil-focused learning. This is part of a wider Maslaha project to explore how a more community engaged and culturally relevant approach to learning can improve educational outcomes for pupils. You can read more about this here.

Maslaha is working with Sandringham Primary School, The Beeches Primary School, Poplars Farm Primary School and Marshfield Primary School to adapt selective strategies from the award-winning Escuela Nueva model. The FEN model has been adapted and implemented internationally, transforming the lives of thousands of children around the world. This is the first time it is being adapted to a European and UK context.

We hosted our first two days of training in the inspiring location of Peterborough Cathedral, where teachers immersed themselves in the three main strategies that we are adapting from the FEN model – cooperative learning, student participation and community engagement.

Cooperative learning

Teachers explored cooperative learning strategies using one of FEN’s key pedagogical tools, ‘Learning Guides.’ Learning Guides are texts that encourage dialogue and interaction, allowing pupils to develop logical and critical thinking and build knowledge based on their own experiences and follow their own pace of learning. The Learning Guides also help create a shift in the classroom where teachers redefine their role as facilitators and pupil voice is amplified.

In a particularly animated activity in day one, teachers took part in a standoff where half the group did a presentation promoting the implementation of cooperative learning, and the other half played devil’s advocate, defending a more teacher-led classroom configuration. Teachers playing opposition posed difficult questions – how will we control noise levels? How do we communicate the value of this model for parents worried about their children’s SATs results? Teachers had brilliant responses for these questions, arguing in response to the above points, for example, that noise levels can be positive because noise does show engagement in children, but this can happen in a controlled and constructed way. Or that in terms of concerns from parents, not only is there significant research showing the benefits of cooperative learning for pupils, but that knowledge learned for tests is often not retained. That it is important to focus on skills that help facilitate engaging with any learning content and that the learning processes gained through cooperative learning will stay with children right through primary school and into early adulthood - these are lifelong learning skills!

On day two we explored FEN’s ‘student government’ model as an approach to enhance pupil participation and promote emotional, social and moral development through practical experience. The student government approach goes a step further from the procedural responsibilities many student representatives in student councils have, to facilitate active pupil engagement in creating change in school, as well as in the wider local community. The FEN student government approach values the importance of all pupils picking up classroom roles and responsibilities (all the better if pupils come up with these responsibilities themselves!) as a key way to encourage pupil engagement and reinforce cooperative learning, as well as helping pupils to understand and consider characteristics of good leadership, and practice this responsibility at a classroom level, before assuming it at a school level.

Community engagement

In the last session of our first two days in Peterborough we explored community engagement in schools – reflecting on the value of engaging with local communities and the barriers that often stand in the way of meaningful community engagement with schools.

Teachers were introduced to a range of Maslaha and FEN tools and approaches to facilitating and developing collaboration with families and local communities in ways that complement and enhance school learning, valuing the knowledge that parents have as a form of expertise and using their skills as a resource.

One of the FEN tools for engagement that teachers used after our first training with FEN in 2018 is the “Travelling Notebook”, a notebook that circulates around the class and that each pupil has the chance to take home and get a parent or family member to contribute to in response to topic-related questions or prompts. Teachers found this to be a useful tool – one teacher who used it last year reflected: “I do feel like I know more about the families of my pupils, for example I always thought this particular parent was a bit disinterested and didn’t want much for her daughter in terms of ambition. But the answer she wrote was far from what I thought.”

Another FEN tool to strengthen community and school relations that teachers have found useful is “community mapping.”

Community mapping can take different forms but usually involves local communities building up a multi-layered picture of what it is like to live in their area – this can help residents learn about places and services in their local area and can be a useful way of helping schools understand more about the everyday lives, interests and routines of the families of children who attend school.

Teachers from Marshfield Primary School building their community map during the training

Last year we worked closely with a group of parents and teachers at Sandringham Primary School to adapt the community mapping idea to create a zine of stories of how parents had come to Forest Gate. The powerful stories in the zine show the great expertise and appetite to create change that many local residents have and are a reminder of the great asset that the often unrecognised expertise of parents could be at school in delivering a well rounded education that will prepare pupils for life.

Sharing practice and moving forward

In our third training day at the Rabbits Road Press in London, we were excited to bring together all the teachers who participated in training both last year and this year.

This final session was a great opportunity for teachers to connect, share feedback and practice, and plan ahead based on the learning and strategies from the training.

Feedback from the workshops included:

“It has been really interesting exploring how approaches to pupil centred learning and building close relationships with communities can be applied in our setting. As an educator I found it empowering to reflect on how we can have more hands on, real life experiences.”

Teachers who attended the training last year shared work and practice they had developed as a result. This included the development of a new student government structure at Sandringham Primary School, a family gardening club at The Beeches Primary School, a successful community bazaar that brought together enterprising, pupils and parents and valuable experience of adapting FEN classroom tools.

Year 5 teachers at Sandringham Primary School shared how they had worked to make their ‘Women Who Made a Difference’ topic more socially and culturally relevant to pupils, and engage more with parents.

This included inviting parents into the classroom regularly across the term and inviting parents to join pupils in delivering speeches on women who had inspired them at the end of the school year. In order to support parents in doing this, we worked with the drama lead at school to organise oracy workshops designed for pupils and parents to learn and practice speech skills together. Parents and pupils really enjoyed the session, one pupil said “When someone from your family is there you feel more confident,” parents reflected that not only was it good to learn what activities are useful to develop oracy skills in their children, but also useful for them! “It’s good for his confidence, but also for my own confidence because I’m a bit shy.” One of the teachers commented on how moving the group speech day was: “The day when the parents came to deliver their speeches and see their children’s speeches was one of the best days of my teaching life. It was amazing to see how powerful bringing parents into the classroom can be.”

Across the term teachers worked to make the curriculum content as relevant to pupils’ lives as possible. This included an exciting visit from local World Muay Thai boxing champion, Ruqsana Begum, who is from the same background as many of the pupils. When Ruqsana Begum visited, many of the girls particularly said that they had never seem someone like them doing boxing: “I always wanted to be a martial arts champion but never thought someone like me could do that – now I know that I can.” The topic culminated with pupils visiting local community press, Rabbits Road Press, run by a group of Muslim women artists. Pupils created their own zine page about their chosen inspirational woman, and the zine was later showcased in the local exhibition Open Doors at Here East in Stratford.

Follow us on Twitter @Maslaha to see the project unfold further in our four pilot schools over the next two school terms!

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