At Yew Chung International School of Beijing, we are creating Learning Communities that increase students’ sense of belonging, create time and space for student-directed learning, refine assessment practices and allow more opportunities for students from different year levels to work together. The traditional classroom arrangement of students sitting at desks in rows is disappearing and we are helping teachers and students to connect, share, create and reflect more effectively.
We have created a Learning Community around Years 6–8 as it offers us an increased capacity to effectively transition students from Primary to Secondary. The significant increase in teacher collaboration has allowed greater sharing to emerge, improved understanding of the needs of the students, and a focus on getting improved alignment of:
- Associated Vocabulary
- Learning Strategies
It has also increased our ability to identify and remove any unwarranted repetition. Additional support for both English and Chinese languages and an increase in time allocation for Physical Education provide an excellent balance of curriculum offerings. The introduction of G100 (100 minutes of Genius Hour negotiated projects) creates the opportunity for students to pursue an area of interest either independently or in a small group.
The creation of a Year 6–8 Learning Community offers the chance for specialist teachers to work with Year 6 students and for these students to access the specialist resources of Secondary. It is another element to the transition of students into the Secondary environment where the learning occurs in different context from Primary School: more movement into different learning areas, more teachers having input and a greater responsibility and accountability for learning achievements. For learning to resonate, it must meet certain conditions. It must recognise prior learning and it must connect to knowledge, skills and understanding already achieved. Students must be asked to transfer these elements to a new challenge, and the narrative placed around the tasks must connect to the real world as the students perceive it.
We wish to encourage much greater connection between home and school. It is important parents/guardians are familiar with the key tools that provide them with information on their child's learning. Managebac (MB) is used by both teachers and students, and parents also have access. It is possible to track the work, the deadlines, and contact the teachers all through Managebac. The WeChat updates are a good way to start discussion with children on what they are doing in school. Students will be using digital portfolios and student-led conferences to demonstrate their commitment to learning, the level of success achieved and share goals for future learning tasks.
The manner in which the teacher constructs the learning is critical for the level of engagement and the stimulation of the curiosity of the student. Authentic learning and authentic assessment is never easy to achieve. This is especially so when schools have a history of disconnected teaching where the emphasis has not been on ensuring there is a clear meaning and link to the real world. Nor has there been a consistent desire to find ways to link the learning to physical, social or emotional worlds in which the students operate.
The level of understanding we now have about the way students learn and the conditions required tell us that we have to shift, bend, shatter the traditional school model if we are serious about developing in students the capacity to operate successfully in a future that requires not recitation of information but rather the transferable and transformative abilities that both further study and future workplaces will require. This means that critical knowledge, skills and understanding relate to capacities with:
- Critical Thinking
We have to nurture the self-confidence and leadership capacities of students through challenging but achievable challenges.
The Habits of Mind and Visible Thinking Strategies help students stay on a path to effective learning. The Habits of Mind provides a way to remind and support students as they make the journey through the educational landscape: managing impulsivity which is a challenge for many people; applying knowledge to new situations; striving for accuracy; metacognition and persisting. Visible Thinking Strategies also provide a framework for students to solve problems in different ways. The DeBono CoRT format opens up a thinking process that allows students to think differently.