Imagine dragons — learning the Glenaeon way

A vivid green dragon extends its wings and breathes a volcanic gust of flame before settling quietly on the school book page. Is this a scene from Harry Potter? Maybe the opening frames of a new Disney blockbuster? Perhaps a Year 3 arithmetic textbook as envisioned and hand-drawn by the student herself?

Where imagination takes flight … Glenaeon primary school students create their own textbooks.

If you guessed the last, you may already be familiar with the central pillars of the Steiner teaching method: creativity, imagination, experiential learning and a holistic approach to education that aligns with the developmental stages of childhood.

“We have a picture of child development that lies behind what we do. At each stage of the school journey there are specific ways that we work with the child to match what we have observed over time to be the ways children learn,” says Glenaeon Rudolf Steiner School principal Andrew Hill. “It produces happy, adjusted children because we’re meeting the child’s specific needs at each stage.”

This developmental emphasis is seen most distinctly in the early years of Steiner schooling when children are encouraged to learn through active play and imitation. Singing, dancing, movement and story time are complemented with practical skills like knitting, cooking, sewing and gardening. Learning is almost entirely a physical activity at this stage with formal literacy and numeracy lessons delayed until students are intellectually ready.

Organic education … Glenaeon students enjoy an outdoor lesson in the school’s garden.

“They go through a change around the age of seven when they start to learn through more abstract thought, rather than concrete bodily experience; they start to learn through imagination and images. That’s why they’re so receptive to stories and the arts,” Mr Hill says.

This is followed by the third stage of learning when children acquire conceptual and analytical skills, Mr Hill says. “Gradually, the rational intellect unfolds, around 10-12, that’s when they start to make connections between things. They can see cause and effect and that becomes the way they learn as adults.”

“The broad benefit of a Steiner education is learning in ways that are more natural. I like to think of it as like organic farming. It’s organic education. We fit in with the child’s natural rate of growth,” Mr Hill says.

Learning through doing … active learning through creative pursuits is a hallmark of Steiner education.

In practice, this means the emphasis in the first years of schooling is on developing the foundations of learning through creative pursuits. One of the first activities is drawing, which leads into writing, which leads into reading.

As Mr Hill explains: “Children create their own first readers, handwritten and illustrated in Year 1. Teachers tell stories to build imagination and stimulate a creative understanding, which, in turn, is the foundation of comprehension in literacy. The research shows that they quickly catch up to, and typically surpass, students in other systems. Late is more: evidence from an international, peer-reviewed study shows that as a group, students from Steiner schools start reading later but then exceed the reading fluency of mainstream students who started earlier.”

Mr Hill says his personal experience bears out these findings, even in the occasional case where students appear to be worryingly slow to catch on.

“It’s a case of the Hare and the Tortoise: slow and steady wins the race. Like Finland, we don’t teach formal reading until around age seven and it takes another year or so before it kicks in. We had one girl who still wasn’t getting it when she was eight. She had all the elements in place, we’d measured everything. The parents were anxious but they trusted us and, eventually, just after age nine, she started to read. She went through a very gentle, natural process and by the time she was 10, she was reading ravenously. She’s now a pediatrician,” Mr Hill says.

“Not all children who are slow to read fall into this category of course, and students with learning issues are assessed and supported with a range of strategies.”

Theory and practice … the Steiner method complements a rigorous academic education with practical entrepreneurial skills.

Steiner education, also known as Waldorf education, is named for its founder, Austrian polymath Rudolf Steiner, who also developed the theory of biodynamic agriculture.

He established the Steiner movement in 1919 with the opening of a school at the Waldorf-Astoria factory in Stuttgart, Germany. The school was an immediate success and Steiner schools quickly proliferated throughout Britain and Europe.

In 1957, the movement came to Australia with the founding of Glenaeon Rudolf Steiner School. There are now more than 40 Steiner schools throughout Australia as well as Steiner streams in some public schools in Victoria and South Australia.

The Steiner method has some defining characteristics rarely seen in mainstream schools.

In the primary school years, students have one teacher throughout years 1-6. This approach is based on the Nordic model, Mr Hill says, and the aim is to create a secure, tightly-knit class community in which students are very well known to their teachers and to each other.

Immersive learning is another hallmark of Steiner education. School days begin with a two-hour “main lesson”, in which a broad topic is taught from a multi-disciplinary perspective for a period of three weeks. Teachers present the material with drama and artistry to capture students’ imaginations and inspire them to produce their own beautifully illustrated textbooks.

“Even with Maths they try to build the lesson around an imaginative story that is going to excite their students and keep their interest throughout. They’re learning all the standard Maths but it’s filled out with this wonderful rich imagination,” Mr Hill says.

Committed to developing global citizens, Glenaeon pioneered languages in primary school in Sydney: all students learn two foreign languages up to Year 6 and then choose one to continue learning in Years 7-10, after which it becomes an elective.

Global outlook … Glenaeon students learn German and Japanese in the primary years and choose one to continue studying in high school.

In primary school, students develop their human faculties first: drawing, handwriting, playing musical instruments, and importantly learning to use tools to make useful and beautiful artifacts in textiles, wool, wood and metal. The school calls its use of technology the Artisan program which builds practical and entrepreneurial skills. Digital technology on the other hand is eschewed until high school when ICT is integrated into learning. Natural materials are used as much as possible throughout the school.

Once students reach high school level, Glenaeon is not particularly different to a mainstream school because teenagers learn similarly to adults, Mr Hill says. However, the five foundational programs of Steiner education: Academic, Aesthetic, Artisan, Active Wilderness and Altruistic are intrinsic to all the years.

The effect of these programs is seen in Glenaeon’s excellent HSC results, its emphasis on the creative and performing arts and craftsmanship, its extensive outdoor education program and its deep emphasis on mutual respect and personal responsibility.

The school’s low incidence of bullying is consistent with research showing that bullying is a rare occurrence in Steiner schools generally. Mr Hill attributes this happy outcome to Glenaeon’s discouragement of competitiveness between students.

“It’s a very rigorous education but it’s done with this more positive relational quality of working with students and a class as a community. Students work and do well, not to beat other children, but to be their best and that has an effect on the mood in the classroom,” Mr Hill says.

Creative class … Glenaeon offers a holistic, child-centric education.

With its focus on creativity, wellbeing and self-reliance Steiner education is a child-centric pedagogy whose time has come, Mr Hill says. “Many schools talk about positive education these days but we’ve always been positive. Positivity is implicit in the method we use.”

“We pioneered a holistic approach to education that genuinely fosters the overall wellbeing of students on all fronts; recognising that a successful life is made up of a balance between intellectual growth, emotional maturity and a practical ability to do things in the world rather than a simplistic academic measure of competence. The ATAR is important as a measure of intellectual excellence, but the world is looking for more than just that as a predictor of personal and professional success.

“I’ve been teaching in different schools for 30 years. The greatest reward is seeing students grow and develop and, after all they work they’ve put into it, become the person they were destined to be.”

 

References:

Children learning to read later catch up to children reading earlier — Sebastian Suggate, Elizabeth Schaughency, Elaine Reese, Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 2013
https://web.uvic.ca/~gtreloar/Articles/Language%20Arts/Children%20learning%20to%20read%20later%20catch%20up%20to%20children%20reading%20earlier.pdf

Addressing bullying in schools: theory and practice — Ken Rigby, Australian Institute of Criminology, 2003
https://aic.gov.au/publications/tandi/tandi259

Imagine dragons — learning the Glenaeon way
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BYO Scholarship: an innovative path to excellence

Self-starters wanted … Queenwood’s Build-Your-Own Scholarship supports talented, dynamic learners to pursue their dreams. Photo: Queenwood School

The inaugural recipient of Queenwood’s Build-Your-Own Scholarship loves to write: she writes about flame-haired heroines with crimson lips who carry daggers in their boots; she writes about storms that ‘claw through the ground hunting for prey’; she assiduously reviews literature on her blog ‘BookAddicts’. Her heroes are authors: she thinks J.R.R.Tolkien is ‘ever-glorious’; she thinks C.S Lewis is ‘thought provoking’; she wants to be a ‘story-weaver’ like J.K.Rowling. She is 10 years old and already steadfast in her desire to attend Oxford University to study literature. She is an excellent English student and she does well in mathematics but she works slowly so her examination results are affected and she is unlikely to qualify for an academic scholarship; but she does deserve a scholarship. So what does she do? She applies for a Build-Your-Own Scholarship at Queenwood.

If this sounds like your child she may be the ideal candidate for a new scholarship program being offered at Queenwood School on Sydney’s Lower North Shore.

The Build-Your-Own (BYO) Scholarship seeks to identify uniquely gifted and talented students who may otherwise go unrecognised.

Specifically aimed at unconventional high-achieving students, the BYO Scholarship sees applicants augment academic results with demonstrated skill, personal references and a structured interview. The goal is to uncover the full breadth of a student’s capabilities and capacity to contribute dynamically to the life of the school.

Students who show exceptional aptitude in any field are encouraged to apply and while an excellent report card is a prerequisite, topping the ACER scholarship exam is not. Queenwood has found that the most passionate learners are not always the best exam takers. The BYO process is calibrated to capture outstanding talent not readily divulged by exam results alone.

“Some schools offer scholarships just to the students who score the top marks in the scholarship examination. We shortlist the top 10 to 15 candidates and conduct a tough interview engaging them in an intellectually challenging discussion. The strongest performers in the interviews were not necessarily the top exam scorers. In the last scholarship round the candidates who ranked 2nd and 14th secured academic scholarships,” says Emma Macey, Queenwood’s Director of Admissions.

“You would find that just below the top, there are candidates who achieve top marks in General Reasoning even if they are slightly lower in the reading and writing sections. This indicates that they are intelligent, have potential and may perform well in the interview. Those students make a valuable contribution to the school community by engaging energetically in classroom discussion and lifting the overall level of discourse,” Mrs Macey says.

Another aim of the BYO Scholarship is to address a perceived gap in the independent schools scholarships offering: that of students from middle-income backgrounds for whom full fees are too onerous but their financial circumstances are such that they don’t meet the criteria for a full means-tested scholarship, says Mrs Macey.

“Queenwood offers a contemporary liberal education that encourages students to build knowledge of a broad range of topics; to do this effectively we must ensure that we have a diverse range of students from a range of socio-economic backgrounds who are able to participate in intellectual discourse. We wish to expose our girls to a wide variety of people and ideas to help them grow in their understanding of the world.”

Queenwood recently awarded their inaugural BYO Scholarship to Maya Le Her who will join Queenwood’s 2019 Year 7 class. Her successful application encapsulates the talent-centric ethos underlying the BYO Scholarship’s broad remit.

Infectious enthusiasm … Maya Le Her’s talent and passion won her the inaugural BYO Scholarship. Photo: Anna Le Her

“Maya is the daughter of an old girl. She’s a very talented writer and she compiled an extraordinary portfolio of stories, photographs and ideas evidencing a true passion for literature. Her test results were exceptional in English but she only got through about half the Mathematics section — Maya scored well in the sections she did answer but she wouldn’t have made the cut on her exam ranking,” Mrs Macey says.

On the strength of her portfolio, Maya’s application was referred to the Catalyst Coordinator at Queenwood, Dr Rosalind Walsh, who supervises high potential learners at the school. After reviewing Maya’s test paper, she concluded that that Maya “is not a poor mathematician; she is a slow, methodical mathematician. It is likely that she is a ‘thinker’ who needs time to process information and respond accordingly. She is probably better at coursework than examinations and we can work with that.”

‘The point is that Maya is brilliant, engaged and her enthusiasm is infectious. She’ll be an asset to the school,” Mrs Macey says.

“The BYO Scholarship is consistent with our approach to general admissions as it adopts a robust procedure that ensures equity between applicants without compromising our primary objective of empathetically supporting the circumstances of individual families. We expect that the bespoke approach that we take to the BYO Scholarship program will continue to attract interesting, passionate and curious young women to the Queenwood community,” Mrs Macey says.

BYO Scholarships are available for Year 7 and 10. Applicants are required to prepare a portfolio of their own work and nominate two referees outside of their immediate school/family circle who know them and their skills well.

The best portfolios demonstrate talent, self-motivation and enthusiasm for learning, Mrs Macey says. She recommends that interested students start preparing now for next year’s application round to ensure that their work is of the highest quality.

For more information on the Build-Your-Own Scholarship see: https://www.queenwood.nsw.edu.au/Enrolment/Scholarships

BYO Scholarship: an innovative path to excellence
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Macquarie Grammar School: a school for the 21st century

An urbane education … Macquarie Grammar School’s city setting offers students ready access to Sydney’s best cultural and sporting facilities.

An office block at the south end of Clarence Street in Sydney’s CBD may be an unlikely spot for a high school but breaking new ground is at the heart of the Macquarie Grammar School (MGS) ethos.

Styling itself a “21st century grammar school”, MGS is forging a new school model that capitalises on its urban setting to offer students a sophisticated education with contemporary relevance.

“It’s the way of the future,” says MGS Headmaster Mr Rekouniotis. “Traditional schools have a fence and a playground, we’re in a highrise in the CBD with access to the city’s top cultural and sporting facilities.

“We use city resources to produce a real-life educational program. When our economics students study the stock market, they walk over to the Australian Securities Exchange. Our Art class can walk to the NSW Art Gallery for a lesson. Our Biology students learn about plant life at the Botanic Gardens, we have swimming classes at the Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre. At a traditional school, visiting those sites would entail an excursion but here students can go on a number of excursions in a day without missing a lesson.”

Cultivating knowledge … Macquarie Grammar School students enjoy an open air class at the Botanic Gardens.

Mr Rekouniotis says that another aim of the school is to acclimatise students to corporate culture to prepare them for a professional career.

“Our students are far more mature than others and I am sure it’s because of the environment. We let them leave the school at recess and lunch to explore the city. When they go buy lunch they can go to any cafe in town, just like everyone else. They’re influenced by the behaviour of the office workers around them in the city not just the school environment.”

“Students love it here because they are treated like adults, they come and go during breaks as they like. The onus is on them to arrive on time and return to school on time. They are accountable and responsible for their learning. This model produces the greatest growth in students both emotionally and academically that I’ve seen,” Mr Rekouniotis says.

It’s not just students that love the location, parents do too, he says. “Parents are time-poor and it’s easy to travel together with their children to the city and go home with them. Some of the students even have lunch with their parents. Here the students don’t have to be picked up, they just walk to their parents’ workplace after school and they go home together.”

Culture of excellence … Macquarie Grammar School Headmaster John Rekouniotis (pictured at right) takes pride in his students’ strong work ethic.

As a small school, MGS has fewer students than the average primary school, but that it is one of its great advantages, says Mr Rekouniotis. No one slips under the radar at MGS. “I have a student welfare officer who oversees every student in the school, liaises with parents, talks with students every day. If there is a problem with attendance or performance, she talks to them to find out why. Are there issues at home? Are they homesick? We uncover problems almost instantly and pass on the information to the other staff. You’re not a number here. I know every student by name and so do the other teachers,” he says.

Of this tight-knit population, approximately half are international students attracted by the school’s excellent academic reputation, Mr Rekouniotis says.

The school’s house system assigns a tutor to every student and teachers provide before and after school learning assistance. MGS has a strong STEM emphasis and encourages girls to pursue these subjects. “Girls and boys are treated equally here and girls do just as well as boys. Our top students at all levels of maths last year were girls,” he says.

Another drawcard for international students is the school’s very effective ESL course, says Mr Rekouniotis. “The High School Preparation program (years 7-10) is an intensive course to progress students into the mainstream of the student body. We’ve learned how to develop English language skills very quickly — usually within two to three terms. I think we’re the only independent school that runs this program.”

“My greatest joy is when I hand out a certificate of High School Preparation to a student. They come here hardly speaking English and a few months later, they’re communicating fluently with you,” he says.

The school’s cosmopolitan makeup informs its atmosphere and academic outcomes, Mr Rekouniotis says. “Our student body reflects the multicultural nature of Australia. There’s no dominant culture in the school. Multiculturalism is strongly espoused and reinforced at the school. The level of respect and support that the students give to each other is enormous. I’ve never seen it at another school.”

“Our students are not necessarily exceptional just very diligent. Their cultural background encourages focus on study. Many of our domestic students come here because of that attitude.  They respect education and are determined to do well in school.”

The school’s HSC results speak for themselves, Mr Rekouniotis says. “We’re focused on ensuring that our students go on to university. None of them go into the trades.”

Macquarie Grammar School: a school for the 21st century
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