Streetlight Stories 3: Spinning Silk From Rubbish

Before today's story, I'd like to thank you for your support and ask for your help. We still have a deficit for 2017 that we’re working hard to close, so we can go into 2018 with a clean financial slate. If you’d like to support us again, you can find just how to do so here.

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Welcome back to the Streetlight Stories! We're so grateful for your help in making the Streetlight dream a reality, and wanted to share some of the magic of our time here. Today's story is from our CEO and founder Melanie Smuts reflecting on what a year 2017 was.

Spinning Silk From Rubbish

“We shall spin silk from rubbish. And frame time with our resolve” 
• Ben Okri, An African Elegy

A beautiful project made during a thematic unit on mechanics, where Grade 2 learners designed an amusement park with rides using simple machines, showcasing creativity, teamwork, understanding, and design thinking.

A beautiful project made during a thematic unit on mechanics, where Grade 2 learners designed an amusement
park with rides using simple machines, showcasing creativity, teamwork, understanding, and design thinking.

When I was a young law student, I had this quotation written on my wall above my bed. It has come back to me many times in the process of starting and running Streetlight Schools. One time in the early years, this quote came back to me quite literally when one of our teachers Dionne took our after school learners into the scummy park across the street to collect bottle caps, leaves and other bits for a “trash as treasure” project. At other times, this quote comes back to me in a more metaphorical sense, such as when I watch the seven-year-old child of a Cape flats gangster produce artworks so lyrical that they would be right at home in some of the world’s best museums. Sometimes, it’s hearing about how one of our team members, who spent years doing piece-meal jobs before finally being given a chance to become a teacher, turned to an educator at one of the poshest schools in South Africa at a workshop and say, “Oh, you don’t know what enduring learning is? I’ll explain it to you.”

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In those years as a young law student, I was constantly frustrated by how far the Constitutional project I learnt about in class were from the realities of South Africa - they never seemed to connect to the world out there. Now, we as an organisation exhibit a beautiful, sometimes schizophrenic, existence where even the most serious spreadsheet or meeting is interrupted by the wondrous reality of the school. Every day at around 2pm, the same little girl sticks her head into the office and asks “what are you doing now?”. We are invariably emailing, but it’s an enduring fascination to her. Or, how often our meetings are interrupted by gentle thumping as a student gets excited in the adjacent computer lab and starts swinging their leg against the wall. No matter how serious our work, we are always minutes away from a hugging horde of children giggling into your midriff, a child excitedly showing us a drawing of her shadow, asking about a lego project, demonstrating a new reading skill, commenting on our fashion, or holding the world in their hands.

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Sometimes this connection is so real it becomes personal. Like the twinge I feel when our little girls play cricket with the boys (which I was never allowed to do at school), or when I observed a teacher lead a 20-minute long conversation with a class on every question they had about rainbows. Or, the fact that our Grade 2 learners can write essays of a page or longer, and do double-digit multiplication which makes me feel foolish, as a paragraph, and single-digit multiplication was an achievement for me at that age. Truth is, sometimes I am so happy about everything our learners do and achieve that I feel quite jealous!

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It is still dazzling to me that we managed to achieve this mad dream: to open a school in an area like Jeppestown, train our teaching team up from scratch, have children who could not cut with scissors or even hold a pencil now write essays, and create a legacy in a dangerous and complicated world. We have spun silk from rubbish, and we are framing time with our resolve. As we celebrate and review 2017, I am immensely grateful to all who have invested time and resources into making it a reality.

A heartfelt thank you,
Melanie Smuts

Imagine the kind of world we would be living in if this was the norm and not the exception. Imagine how powerful we would be if this is what our education system did for all our children. I’m writing to coincide with the U.S. tradition of Giving Tuesday, and to ask for your help to enable us to continue this work.

Most urgently, we still have a deficit for 2017 that we’re working extremely hard to close, so we can go into 2018 with a clean financial slate.

http://www.streetlightschools.org/donate/

PS: Want a more in-depth look? You can read our 2017 Annual Report here.

PPS: Want a look inside the school? In case you missed it, here’s a beautiful video made by our friends at SABC3 Expresso.

PPPS: Still can’t get enough? Here’s a story we published earlier this year about a special learner in the school. And one on heritage day.

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Streetlight Stories 2: Education and Transformation

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Welcome back to the Streetlight Stories! We're so grateful for your help in making the Streetlight dream a reality, and wanted to share some of the magic of our time here. Today's story is from CEO Melanie Smuts about an extraordinary event on the Streetlight calendar.

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Heritage Day:
Education & Transformation

“At the century’s end, wars and rumours of further wars, devastation, and numbers of hungry and homeless people, including many child refugees and the associated social disorders, seemed to him to be the result of bad education. The poor were ignorant and suppressed; the rich miseducated and greedy and cruel; the schools and the want of schools, both together, separated people into hostile classes; and everywhere there was a lack of Christian faith, and hope and love.”

I read this quote in a book on the history of education recently. And it struck me: although the author was referring to visionary education reformer Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi and how he saw Europe in 1799, it may well have been written about the world we live in today. It certainly reminds me of South Africa, and in particular of Jeppestown, where our school is situated. 

But, just as this great man believed centuries before, we are convinced that the power of education lies not only in getting someone a job. Its real work is the transformation of society –– especially in places of fragility, conflict and trauma. When Pestalozzi began his schools for the poor, Europe was a devastated war zone with no public education system (the concept hadn’t even been invented). Towards the end of his life he despaired that education would never be understood as a common good for all, that could make destitute societies places of hope and love. Within another century, illiteracy in Europe had been wiped out and public education was everywhere, thanks largely to him. 

Pestalozzi started this great transformation with one school for the rural poor. Today, a world away, we begin his work again. Starting with Heritage Day. 

Heritage Day, September 24th, is a national celebration in South Africa. The idea is that everyone comes to school in their traditional dress and talks about their culture. Our learners and staff are remarkably diverse and everyone always dresses up in their full cultural dress. We have a traditional dance, and everyone shares their cultures and experiences. Since our School Leader, Heidi, is proudly Norwegian, and one of their traditions in Norway is to hold Children’s Parades; she suggested a mix of these two traditions so that we do a Heritage Day children’s parade through the streets of Jeppestown. 

For several reasons, this is an insane idea. 

Jeppestown is in a dangerous, industrial part of town. The streets are busy with taxi buses, hawkers, industrial factories, trash fires. I had a moment of panic right before we walked out: “Wait, we are taking 130 children aged under 8 into the street –– this is madness!” And then we went. And there is only one word to truly describe it: powerful.

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Schools are usually closed spaces: kids go in and you don’t usually see what happens there. But when the kids spill out, it does the kind of transformational work Pestalozzi described. People change when they see our children in public spaces. We closed roads so that the kids could walk through the middle, but the minibus taxis would stop and cheer, people would come out of their shops and stand on the corner and wave, old ladies would start dancing and ululating. Very hard men with very aggressive demeanours would become soft and start gushing as these kids walked by. Proud and happy children celebrating their heritage sent waves of love washing over a community normally full of fracture. 

Our children sang, danced and chanted (unprompted) for the full parade, which lasted nearly an hour. They raised their faces to every onlooker (and there were hundreds) and displayed their heritage, their voice, and their identity. It was an undeniable, indefatigable display of hope. It reminded me of the old Mandela quote about education being the most powerful weapon we have to change the world. A weapon –– not something cute –– but something dangerous and fearsome. Today, I fully comprehended what he meant by that.

Each one of these children is an example of the future we deserve: an arsenal of hope against the incompetence and irrelevance of the current state of education in the country, against the untransformed and irrelevant wealthy schools, against the xenophobia of the city of Johannesburg, against the sexism and violence reflected in our own societies. 

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When children grow up with this normal –– a non-violent normal, an inclusive and plural normal, a free and engaged normal –– it unlocks them. It’s an unstoppable force. A person once educated cannot be worn down, fooled or manipulated. They are free. And they are free to use that power to fight a world that doesn’t reflect their values. It is a fearsome thing to behold in a group of hundred-odd children, all younger than 8, together and empowered.

Imagine what country we would be living in if this was the norm and not the exception. Imagine how powerful we would be if this is what our education system did for all our children.

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Streetlight Stories 1: Art and Soul

Welcome to Streetlight Stories! We're so grateful to everyone who has helped make the Streetlight dream a reality and wanted to share some of the magic of our time here, so we'll be starting a new series of stories from various members of the community. The first story is from our CEO and founder, Melanie Smuts, about a very special learner and member of the Streetlight family.

Art and Soul

Samkelo is different: you can tell by just one look at him. He wears his hair long, sometimes in braids, sometimes in a full afro. His bearing is a bit out of the ordinary: the way he walks, the way he talks. It’s the sort of thing that wouldn’t be allowed in a regular South African primary school, but at Streetlight we’re happy to see him be himself.

Samkelo is also a genuine artistic prodigy. At Streetlight, we do all kinds of creativity concept exercises with the kids where we give them incomplete drawing to finish: you give them a triangle, for example, and a normal response might be to make it into the roof of a house. One of the best known creativity exercises is called the Circle Drawing Exercise; it’s just six blank circles that you have to fill in. Have a look––what would you draw?

The Creative Mind

Normal creativity, the kind you would see in the average adult, would be to take those circles and make 2D circular drawings on each: maybe a clock on the first circle, half an orange on the second, a tyre on the third. Simple and literal. A slightly more creative adult might go outside the lines and make a three-dimensional can. A super talented adult might take two circles and connect them to make bicycle wheels.

You won’t be surprised to hear that kids are naturally better at these drawings than adults. Below is a typical drawing from one of Samkelo's classmates; it's charming and happy and delightful, a drawing to be proud of, but the artist is still thinking fundamentally inside the (circular) box:

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Then, on occasion, you get a superstar like Samkelo. He takes these creativity exercises and fills an entire page with three-dimensional scenes of cars in space and new creatures entering different worlds. So when we gave him the circle drawing exercise, Samkelo flipped the page horizontally and designed an entire underwater submarine. Each of the circles had a scene from inside the submarine that you could look into, with a crew of birds and mice and magical creatures, and a snake with a periscope looking up at the land and the trees.

More than just being creative, Samkelo is a true artist. Recently at Streetlight we’ve been doing an art and self-transformation project, with the overarching theme being “Who am I?” Samkelo did a painting called The Lightning of the Two Eyes; it’s a deep conceptual piece with stripes of colours and flashes of an eye painted on a massive piece of paper. It’s one of the most striking pieces of art that I’ve ever seen, and it was created by a seven year old.

You won’t be surprised to hear that I’ve been thinking for some time now about how we can get Samkelo into art school, where he could focus his attention fully on his art. But here’s the thing: recently the kids wrote an essay about their hopes and dreams for the future, and Samkelo –– to my surprise –– doesn’t want to be an artist.

Samkelo wants to be a scientist.

From Paint to Particles

Samkelo would be a brilliant scientist because he’s a brilliant artist. Einstein once said that “the greatest scientists are artists as well.” The curiosity, patience, exploration, and creativity that fine art requires are also the bedrocks of modern science.

Looking at Samkelo, I realised how deeply our understandings of the world are shaped by our school environment. In the school system I grew up with, like most of us, I had very narrowly defined subjects. It’s not a surprise that when I see a talented young artist it doesn’t automatically occur to me that he would also be a wonderful scientist. At Streetlight, by contrast, we integrate science and art as joint subjects. For Samkelo, it’s natural to see them as brightly-coloured sides of the same beautiful coin; in his mind, creative enquiry and scientific enquiry are part of the same journey. When Samkelo draws a rainbow, he thinks both of the beautiful colours and the scientific process that allows the rainbow to burst into being. Science and art, creativity and exploration––whatever he does, Samkelo will always colour joyfully outside the lines.

When we opened Streetlight, we didn’t care what kids wanted to become; our goal was just to provide quality education to each child that came through our door. But when you encounter a child like Samkelo, it’s a powerful reminder: schools can unlock genius. Thank you for allowing us to do that.

Trust and Responsibility, Love and Reason: How Streetlight Is Building A New School Culture for Learning

By Heidi L. Augestad

Published in the Winter 2017 edition of the ISASA Independent Education Magazine (linked here)

 

What if we re-imagine South African education, so that we might build capacity and aspiration instead of having to deal with dropouts and failure?

This is the question that Streetlight Schools is answering by establishing schools with high-quality education programmes in low-income communities. In January 2016, we opened our first school, Streetlight: Jeppestown. The school is situated in one of the most challenging suburbs in inner-city Johannesburg in Gauteng. Today, we have 128 students divided between Grade R and Grade 2 classes, all living in and around Jeppestown. Well into our second school year and after a thorough process of establishing and adjusting our model, we see great results.

This article provides insight into the lessons that we’ve learned about the trust and responsibility we build upon to create quality schooling, as well as the social strategies that we use to effectively engage with the contexts in which we operate.

Trust and responsibility: the foundation of our school culture

Demonstrating and building an environment of trust is at the heart of why we spend significant time fostering strong relationships. In addition, trust comes with responsibility for each member of our community – whether they are a student, a teacher or a parent. Trust allows space for people to grow and unlock their potential. It is vital for a learning environment that develops self-driven creativity and inquiry that teachers and students feel trusted in their work. We have seen how students organise themselves during learning activities, how they engage in peer education when they solve problems and how they create together.

Responsibility relates to how we understand our roles in education and the expectations we have for each role: teacher, student and parent. For example, the parents are expected to ensure that their child comes to school physically and mentally prepared. The students are expected to follow common rules and routines for our school culture and academic work. Being 100% responsible as a teacher is linked to how we understand the child, the learning process, and the way to succeed in school. We regard the teacher as the most important factor in a child’s school life, as the most important resource in education. If a child struggles in a subject, it is not the child but the teacher who is responsible for identifying the challenges and finding proper solutions, so that the child can overcome challenges and grow further.

Love and reason: recognising the social and emotional needs of learners

Students’ social and emotional well-being is the foundation for their ability to learn. Their cognitive growth depends on their ability to focus, concentrate and enjoy learning activities. That is why we have a strong focus on our social learning environment, emphasising inclusivity and positive relations. Our social strategy has developed along with our increased knowledge and experience of the kind of challenges our students are facing, and a realisation of what we can and cannot do as a school.

The human effects of poverty, unemployment, violence and insecurity, which most families live with in Jeppestown, is brought into our school every day and becomes visible through the students’ behaviour, typically falling along a spectrum between silent and protective or violent and aggressive. The consequences range from slow learning progress to unmanageable behaviour. The biggest cause for the socialemotional challenges we see in our school is the amount of physical and mental abuse students are experiencing at home. Based on a year with a close follow-up with our students, we estimate that between 60% and 70% of them are abused on a near-daily basis.

Roughly the same percentage of students come from broken families, where they either live with one parent or with other relatives. Every day, these children face the emotional stress of not having stable homes or responsible caregivers in their lives. In addition, living in poverty means that they lack the stimuli of toys, books and activities during their upbringing, which would otherwise provide a basis of knowledge and skills needed to be school-ready. Our students’ social baggage is heavy with exposure and experiences related to the adult world: they have very limited resources to filter it or understand how to deal with it. As a way of handling their situations, they often tend to show their anxiety and anger through challenging behaviour. So, what can we do as a school?

Using the Responsive Classroom approach

The Responsive Classroom approach1 has been very useful for us, and comes with a set of routines and cognitive and language tools that schools can use to create a strong and positive culture. The approach is student centred, focusing on children’s emotional well-being and employing positive language and logical consequences. We start every day with a morning meeting, where we address social and emotional issues through reflections and interactive games. Our positive language and logical consequences are visible throughout our school day. The concept of punishment does not exist in our school vocabulary – we rather talk about expectations and good and bad choices as a way of guiding students’ social development.

A truly student-centred academic programme

At Streetlight Schools, we have established different structures to ensure proper basic skills training for students, as well as building their imaginative and creative skills. We collect inspiration from strong educational systems, such as those used in Finland and New Zealand, and the Reggio Emilia approach.2 One of the most successful tools we have implemented is the workshop model, to ensure student-centred, differentiated and interactive teaching and learning processes. It comes with a four-step lesson structure with clear roles and tasks for students and teachers, which other schools may find helpful:

  1. Opening of the class (2 minutes): The teacher “hooks” the students on the topic of today, often by means of a game, song or reminder of yesterday’s lesson.
  2. The “mini-lesson” (10–12 minutes): The teacher gives specific instructions about the learning objectives of the lesson.
  3. Students’ workshop (20–25 minutes): Students are engaged in differentiated learning material that ensure mastery at their level and ability. During the workshop, they either work individually or are part of groups of four to six, which gives them the opportunity to engage in peer learning and assistance. The teacher directs his or her main focus to groups of students who need more explanation and assistance, while facilitating and supporting the other groups.
  4. Closing (5 minutes): The students reflect with the teacher on what has been done and learnt during the lesson, and everyone assesses how they feel their work was done. The benefits of the workshop model are many. First, the teachers have developed an engaging and cooperative role with the students. To a large degree, the teachers are facilitators of learning, aiming to target each student’s learning needs. Second, the students are engaged in independent and group work with learning material that gives everyone a chance to experience mastery during class. Third, the amount of group work creates many opportunities for the students to take initiative and be responsible for their own learning. The outcome is that our academic results increase and that all our students are progressing on or above the state Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements (CAPS) level.3 One third of our Grade 2 students who completed Grade 1 with us last year are already at a Grade 3 level in literacy, which enables them to progress at a faster pace in other subjects as well.

The social strategy

Our academic and social work are very closely connected. When we talk about respect and positivity in our school culture, we also adapt this to how we understand teaching and learning, and the knowledge we have about how children learn best. It is our job as educators to ensure that their natural motivation is nourished and thriving, not limited or broken. At Streetlight, we have taken progressive steps to remove some of the practices in South African schools that we don’t believe are constructive. Marks, tests, examinations, pass rates, failure and repatriation are stress-related factors that are more appropriate at an upper primary school level. At a foundation phase level, we believe that learning progress is much better ensured through a focus on the love and joy of learning, engaged and cooperative relations, integrated formative assessments as a tool for targeted teaching and a culture for learning where failure is just another step towards success.

References:

  1. See: www.responsiveclassroom.org.
  2. See, for example: http://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2014/06/24/ ctq_faridi_finland.html; http://seniorsecondary.tki.org.nz/Thearts/ Pedagogy/Culturally-responsive-learning-environments and http://www.reggiochildren.it/identita/reggio-emilia-approach/?lang=en.
  3. See: http://www.education.gov.za/Curriculum/ NationalCurriculumStatementsGradesR-12.aspx.

Term 1 Through the Eyes of the Teachers

It is no doubt that starting up a school year is breath-taking in many ways! New students, staff, timetables, logistical challenges – and all the unexpected issues that pop up every day. The biggest change and excitement is always the new students and what they bring and this year, we have doubled our number of learners from last year. In January, we received 60 new students who had to be integrated and included in our school model, academically and socially.

Each and one of them comes to us with his/her individual story and background that shape his/her ability and understanding of how to be a student, and each one requires different care, attention, and support from all of us. They all have their individual combinations of strength and challenges, and together they create a web of 1) problem-solving processes, decisions and priorities to make; 2) resources and tasks to be aligned; and 3) pedagogical and social issues to be handled.

It has been a hectic term, and I gave myself an exercise at the end of it to check in with the teacher team on how they have experienced it. Is it aligned with how I experienced the term from a school leader perspective? Are their sense of achievements and challenges similar to what I considered to be our biggest tasks?

During the last week before we went on break, I conducted end-of-term meetings with all the teachers and teaching assistants and their responses, did exactly that – it gave me such an excellent reflection of our first term, from the personal and professional issues to the more advanced social and pedagogical issues we have been facing:

Paul. Senior Teacher/Grade R/ Literacy and Numeracy

My biggest achievements this term has been to see the academic progress of my students! They came here in January “blind,” without any understanding of how to be a student, how to learn, how to use learning material such as pencils and books. And now, after one term, most of them can write their names, read simple words and count to 10 and forward.

My second achievement has been to learn and implement the Workshop Model. In the beginning when I was new to it I was so frustrated, thinking that this would never work, but with great support from my colleagues, I am now quite confident and very happy to see how it engages the students in learning. The academic progress we`ve seen is thanks to the Workshop Model.

Dionne. Tutor/Grade R/ Reading & Writing Workshop, Theme & Art, Play based learning

My biggest achievement has been the effect of the social training in our classrooms and that they have grasped the idea and expectations of being a student at Streetlight Schools. Also, I feel so proud that our Grade R students have developed their ability to express their thoughts so well. They come up with so many creative and inspiring ideas! At the same time, I feel that what has been challenging is related to the social challenges our learners bring in, their lack of self-control and limits which we constantly have to address and deal with.

Aletta. Tutor/Grade R/ Fun Math, Play based learning, Theme & Art, PE

I have gained much confidence this term. Being a bit worried whether I would be able to run classes and teach them well, I now feel that I have found my teacher role. The challenge has been to balance energy with focus, to keep my students engaged and concentrating at the same time. It has also been a challenge to be creative with my lesson planning, and it requires much research. For next term, I will focus on being even more consistent with my classroom management and further develop my unit plan and lesson planning, including rubrics.

Christina. Senior Teacher/Grade 1/ Literacy and Numeracy

The progress in Literacy! Half of our students in grade 1 came to us in January and many of them without knowing how to communicate in English. Now, all of them can follow and respond to instructions and can share their work in class. The levelled Literacy courses have been very helpful in this regards. I also have enjoyed our Responsive Classroom work where every morning, we focus on their social skills and choices and combine conversations with practical exercises. For the next term, I intend to take my learners far! To ensure that they progress further academically and socially on a grade 1 level and eventually are ready for year two next year.

Anna. Tutor/Grade 1/ Reading & Writing workshop, Theme & Art, Zulu

I am so proud of myself! I have been able to differentiate work and personal life and to handle challenges more professionally, which has made me more confident as a teacher. I have managed to make my new learners understanding the Workshop Model which was hard in the beginning, but now they all know what is expected of them. Thanks to an all-supportive team around me and our culture that is not judgemental but where observations and feedback are about improvement and development!

                                                                                                                         

Pfano. Tutor/Grade 1/ Practical Math, Theme & Art, Zulu

I am enjoying my teacher confidence! I feel that last year, I laid the foundation for what kind of teacher I am and want to be, and that this year, I can enjoy my good relationship with my students and that they respect me and know my standards. The professional development training that we receive from Instill Education (http://www.instill.education/) is so useful, and I see every day the effect it has on my teaching and my students. Still, being new to teaching, I am always surprised by the challenges you don’t know before they hit you…

Tatenda. Senior Teacher/Grade 2/ Literacy and Numeracy

My biggest achievement this term has been establishing a culture where the learners trust my good intentions! I have been building a trust between the students and me which allows us to also take the difficult conversations in the classroom. Even though I have to address personal and challenging issues with them, we always give a hug and are friends after. Academically, I have achieved this term to set the standards I want to have for learning in my classrooms. I feel that we have made the right foundation for the rest of the year. My primary objective for next term is to further close the educational gap that our students are facing and to even more strengthen and improve on our Responsive Classroom approach with a particular focus on respect for yourself and others.

Brian. Junior Teacher/Grade 2/ Practical Math, Theme & Art, PE

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I am so proud of my projects this term! It has been so inspiring to work with the students, from planning and research to drafts and end products. I also feel that my biggest achievement this term is my relationship with my students; I know them well, and I see that they trust me. The biggest challenge has been the huge academic gap between our new and old students and how to accommodate everyone during my classes. My primary objective for next term is to close this gap, and I think with what we have achieved so far, that I will be able to do so.

 

Nadia. Tutor/Grade 2/ Reading & Writing Workshop, Theme & Art, PE

Thanks to our Curriculum Plan and professional development training, I have been able to implement the unit plans and lessons according to my and the team’s expectations.  I have also been able to run my classes well even though I am new to teaching. I still have to work on how I use my voice though and be even more confident as a classroom manager, but that is one of my main objectives for term 2 and with the help and support from our PD training, my mentor, Tatenda, and the other teachers, I will succeed.

 

To sum up, three strong themes came out of these End of Term meetings with the teachers and tutors:

1.       Teamwork: Our teachers are so supportive and appreciative of the support they give to and receive from each other! “Our culture is not judgemental, but where observations and feedback are about improvement and development.”

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2.       Trust: Our teachers recognize the importance to our culture of building relationships and trust with their students, as well as among the students! “My biggest achievement has been the effect of the social training in our classrooms and that they have grasped the idea and expectations of being a student at Streetlight Schools.”

3.       Term 2 objectives: Our teachers recognize they have made progress, especially with the Workshop Model, but are eager to build on the foundation from Term 1 and to continue making academic progress! “My primary objective for next term is to further close the educational gap that our students are facing.”

It feels very good to have Term 1 behind us and looking forward to Term 2! Most importantly, our school model, with the Workshop Model and the Responsive Classroom Approach as our main pillars, has proven again to be a solid foundation and to enable students and teachers to grow academically and socially.

 

The Workshop Model

Streetlight School’s academic model is based on pedagogical approaches which are proven to increase students’ learning progress and develop personal and collaborative skills. The workshop model is central to Streetlight Schools’ approach because it provides a lesson structure that ensures that we manage to achieve these principles:

Learning by doing: students are actively engaged, and practice what they learn through real life exercises and inquiry-based activities.

Differentiated and targeted learning: each student’s work is based on their academic abilities, in order to experience academic mastery as well as inspiring challenges.

Developing accountability: students take active responsibility and initiative for both individual and group work processes.

 

The workshop model is a lesson structure that divides a 45-minute lesson into four specific sessions: Opening, Mini-Lesson, Workshop and Closure.

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The opening (2-3 min) is meant to “hook” the students on the specific theme, concept or activity for the lesson, to create engagement and curiosity. This can be done through a question, a story or a picture that is central to what the students are about to learn. The opening should introduce the learning objective for the lesson as well as set the standard and focus for the day, and usually only lasts for a couple of minutes.

The mini-lesson (10 min) is the teacher’s time to explain, describe and model what the students will learn and work on for the rest of the lesson. The mini-lesson includes informing the class about the different activities and groups in which they with.. Students are gathered in a circle, to focus on the teacher and the instruction.

During the workshop (20-25 min), students explore and practice what they are learning. This is the most important part of the lesson and therefore has the most time allocated. The activities and exercises are directly linked to the content of the mini-lesson, which again is linked directly to the learning objectives set for the lesson in the opening. The group activities are planned and prepared according to the students abilities, hence they will work on differentiated learning material.

As the students work, the teacher confers with them individually and in groups. The aim of conferring is to interact with students and assess their progress. The teacher is there to provide support and scaffold the students’ self-critical thinking in order for the student to work constructively and independently. Practicing conferring helps the teacher to assist the student to stay on task, keep focus and maintain motivation.

The Closure (4-5 min) is a review/debrief of the lesson where the students are given the opportunity to reflect on their own learning and work process. The teacher can ask questions related to the objectives and activities or lead small games in order to recap on the lesson.

 

What are the major advantages of using the Workshop Model?

After we implemented the workshop model in our school, we have seen great outcomes academically and socially, for both students and teachers.

Academic benefits:

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The Workshop Model requires and inspires for changing the teacher role from an authoritative role to being a facilitator of learning. The facilitator role, compared to a traditional teacher role, builds a much more conscious and thorough reflection and practice of how the teaching and learning processes are linked in the classroom.

We have experienced an impressive increase in the students’ academic learning progress as a result of a well-organized and learning-focused school day. Also, we have observed that group-based activities have helped children learn to work together. They have understood that teamwork and collaboration is helpful and they are now eager to teach each other, instead of waiting for the teacher’s help.

The amount of time that the students are actively engaged in academic work is much longer than in traditional classrooms. The students are “learning by doing” instead of acting as passive receivers of the teachers’ instruction. Which again has showed us a high level of academic engagement and motivation for learning in our students.

Social benefits:

The teacher-student relation is stronger than in traditional classrooms. Planning and preparing for differentiated learning requires close interaction between teachers and students which leads to a much more qualified and professional practice from our teachers.

Our students are showing increasing levels of taking responsibility as well as initiative for their own learning processes. Also, the students’ abilities to cooperate, share and take turns are well developed because these are skills they see necessary to use throughout the school day, in every lesson as well as during breaks and after school activities.

 

Conclusion

The Workshop Model has established itself as our standard lesson structure and as a foundation for how we organize our students and their learning processes. It is highly doable in any school and is a great strategy towards creating a more inclusive and academically targeted education system. We are still in the process of developing the model. However, we are convinced that the model enables us to provide quality education with a simple structure tool together with a very inspirational outcome.

 

Marlene Enger

Streetlight Schools Communication Intern

Meet the Streetlight team

Pfano Ramunenyiwa

Pfano is a tutor at Jeppe Park Primary, following her love and passion for education. She is currently studying at UNISA to become a qualified teacher and has a certificate in Personal Management obtained at UNISA. Last year she worked at Harambee in their call centre, who put her in contact with Streetlight Schools.

Pfano has been working for Streetlight Schools since the opening of Jeppe Park Primary in January 2016. During the past nine months Pfano has learned a lot. Working at a new primary school in a place like Jeppestown has its challenges, but Pfano has been growing as teacher. Initially, she wanted to teach adults, but after working with the children at Jeppe Park she realized that teaching children is her new passion. Pfano says:

 

“Small children ask you questions that you have never thought about.”



 

By hiring extraordinary school leadership, partnering with talent sourcing organisations like Harambee and education training organisations like Instill Education, Streetlight Schools has been able to focus on intensive, high-quality teacher development orientate passionate individuals successfully towards becoming competent, professional and passionate educators who are likely to remain in the profession for life.

Pfano is one of these talented young people who has benefited from this training and now aspires to be a qualified teacher. The school has helped pay her tuition fees and has given her an opportunity to understand the profession in practice alongside the studies.

When asked how the school has helped her out in the process of becoming a better teacher, Pfano directly refers to the school leader, Heidi Lindberg Augestad.

 

“Everytime when I am struggling with something, I go and tell her ‘oh I cannot take it’ and she will say ‘no, no’ like a psychologist and tell me what I need to do.”

 

She explains that Heidi has been a great mentor the whole way, and by observing some of the classes each week she is able to give the teachers feedback and help them improve. Pfano has also been observing the two experienced teachers, Christina and Tatenda, and comments on their great class management skills and teaching methods.

The progress made by our students so far is palpable and the data from our assessments speaks clearly, but the growth in the teachers is just as noticeable. The growth of patience is something we have seen in all the teachers since the beginning, and it has been the key to the students progress. For kids that didn’t know any English before coming to the school, they have grown tremendously. Pfano is a Zulu teacher as well, and started with speaking in Zulu for them to understand. But after a short while she would have the whole class speaking English and all of them would be engaged.

Pfano believes that all children deserve the best education, and so do we. At Streetlight schools we believe that the best way to guarantee sustainable growth of our approach is by developing our staff from the ground up. By harnessing the untapped talent of young South Africans, and training them in the school environment, we invest in developing precisely the people that are best placed to do this work.

 

Marlene Enger

Streetlight Schools Communications Intern

 

6 Months of Student Progress: A Review

Streetlight: Jeppestown opened its doors in January this year and took in the first cohort of 70 learners. A lot has changed since then: we are closer to the ideal learning environment that we envisioned, our school is expanding, but most importantly our learners are growing. The first semester has been an intense journey, with lots of new experiences acquired and lessons learned for both students and teachers.

When Streetlight: Jeppestown opened we did not screen children for ability, and accepted whoever came to our door. We operate in one of the poorest communities in Johannesburg, and many of our children were at a disadvantage when we started. Many of our learners were not able to speak a single word of English when entered the school. In the words of one teacher:

They couldn’t count. They couldn’t even hold a pencil. Let me give you an example for two classes I’m teaching. Most students in Grade 1 class didn’t go to the pre-school. They came and directly went to Grade 1.

But things have changed drastically since then. Our students have all grown enormously and we can say that we have closed the gaps that previously existed. To quote another teacher:

I have seen students who came in and couldn’t speak a word in English and now they can. I have seen others that could speak but couldn’t read, but now they can write, read and construct sentences on their own. The students are really growing.

The progress made by our students so far is palpable and the data from our assessments speaks clearly. We have evaluated the level of our students in terms of Numeracy and Literacy at the beginning of the school year and at the end of the second term. Evaluation was conducted on a scale of 1 - 5 (1= below average; 3 = good; 5 = outstanding). All students grew from “below average” to “good” and above, as seen in the graphs below:

To put these achievements in perspective, we decided to compare our student’s advancement in Numeracy and Literacy to government standards - the CAPS. We discovered that at the end of six months our learners are far surpassing national academic requirements expected of learners after 12 months of schooling. Some of the most striking facts are summarized below:

Below are some examples of the improvements that our students made between January and August:

On top of the amazing academic results, our learners are improving in many other respects. Here in Streetlights we don’t picture children simply as students but we are concerned with their overall development as young individuals. We believe that students cannot be just put in a classroom and expected to learn, they need to be guided and taught how to internalize the mechanisms and expectations implied in a creative and modern education system. It was not an easy task. As one of our teachers described ‘When we started here, it was chaos: fighting, running around the school and all those things.’ But after one semester we can proudly say that our students have embraced our concept of schooling. Learners fully understand what being part of our school is about and they are aware of the benefits that going to school brings to them. In other words, they love coming to school because they know it is a place where they can learn while enjoying themselves. According to one teacher:

All of our learners like to come to the school, even when they are sick. If their mom ask them to stay at home, they would cry. They want to come to the school. I think it’s because of the environment, the teachers and other learners.

In Streetlight Schools we see each child as a psychological, physical and intellectual whole, and treat their education as supporting and engaging with all these facets. Our aim is not just to deliver some knowledge, but to create an environment that will allow kids to flourish both academically and on a more personal level. By the end of the first semester teachers have started to observe some changes in the nature of our learners. Quoting one of them:

Our students are more mature. I see it behavior-wise. When they came they were a bit rowdy because of the community they come from probably. Now, they are much calmer, they have learned small things like sharing or feeling empathy for the next.
Trip to planetarium

Trip to planetarium

We are proud of what we have achieved so far and we are looking forwards to the future with confidence. Our teaching method has proven to be successful in all respects and beyond all expectations. The unique workshop model that we have been adopting into daily teaching practice enables learners to communicate and share ideas:

The workshop model gives learners room to air their views and to think outside the box...The traditional way of teaching could limit the learners.

Learners are abundantly ahead of their expected level according to CAPS, indeed they are in line with US academic standards (the Common Core) in terms of Numeracy and Literacy. More importantly, they are enthusiastic about school and they show a wonderful motivation for learning. We aim to continue to provide a stimulating and all-inclusive environment that will encourage each child in their development, and hopefully achieve even more outstanding results by the end of the year!

Thank all of the people that made this possible: our amazing teachers and tutors, interns and volunteers, secretary and cleaner, our school counselor, after school facilitators – and the most special group of learners. Keep it up with the amazing work!

 

Alessandro Ferrara

Guangsen Qian

Streetlight Schools Interns from Bocconi University

 

The tricky, awesome part of teaching: Classroom management

Our school leader, Heidi Lindberg Augestad, reflects on a recent training workshop in which our teacher team developed invaluable classroom management skills.

It is Thursday morning and the teachers, myself and facilitators from Instill Education have met for a full day professional development training. Today is about Classroom Management – a challenging and tricky, but also the most fun and engaging, part of the teaching job. Classroom management is crucial as it dictates what kind of learning environment and social culture we are able to create in our classes. 

Today’s workshop focuses on tone, posture and position. They are basic rules for how to structure and manage a whole class, through awareness on how to use your voice, your body language and where you place yourself in the room related to which activity you lead. The teachers have identified characters that are disruptive in class. The facilitator from Instill Education pretend to be the teacher and there we go; our whole teaching team has become uncontrollable students! Great fun, but also very interesting—and a bit therapeutical even—to act out behaviours we otherwise try to avoid, limit and change.

The learning lesson in this exercise is what effects different teacher roles have on group dynamics. Will any teacher instruction get through if half your learners are not ready or able to focus? When your learners don’t listen, does it work to shout at them? Should you grab or push your students around? No. The simulation shows us what we already know: these strategies do not work, they actually end up adding noise and chaos to the situation. 

The next act is with a teacher who is in control of, not her class, but her role. She is confident in what the aim for the lesson is and what she expects of her students. Instead of shouting she speaks in a friendly and calm voice. Instead of focusing on the students who misbehaves, she waits for the entire class to find a common understanding of what they should do. And she waits, and waits—with only a clear glance at them—and then suddenly silence become stronger than the noise until, at last, all is quiet. 

A very good strategy for dealing with classroom management! But being that confident in your teacher role also requires a whole lot of wise and unpredictable methods and a broad understanding of what affects your learners and the group dynamics in the class. 

The most important lesson is that a classroom consists of all sorts of people. You have the teacher and then you have each, individual student (nope, they are not one homogenous bunch)! Being the one who is managing the others, the teacher needs to know all of them, independently. Where and what they come from, what they carry of social and academic resources, their motivations and hinderances, their weaknesses and strengths, their abilities to interact and cooperate. You will use this information when you organize the seating, the individual and collaborative work and the learning material they will use. This information is fundamental when you teach, facilitate, support, comfort, cooperate with and challenge your students in their academic and social progress. 

A good teacher’s role is a flexible mixture of empathy, skills and responsibilities in order to accommodate the students’ needs, make the whole class work as a team, and create the kind of learning environment we all need.

Another important lesson is that in order to establish a functional and good learning environment, your students need to be engaged in meaningful and inspiring activities. It may be a strange thing to say as we usually expect schools and teachers to ensure meaningful learning, but there are too many stories and statistics related to drop outs, low results and negative school experiences that tells us that the learning potential and individual growth are not exploited enough. 

In regards to classroom management, ensuring that students are engaged and motivated through learning activities contributes to a wonderful and constructive learning environment. 

One way of ensuring this is through student centred and differentiated teaching and learning strategies. We have implemented and developed a workshop model in our school which ensures that differentiated teaching and learning are implemented in all core subjects and that student engaged activities have at least 60% of lesson time. This is a radical change from the traditional schooling where the teachers are in focus for most of the lesson. 

One of the most positive experiences from using the workshop model as our standard lesson structure has been the change in teachers’ roles and their approach to the students. Preparing for differentiated exercises means that the teachers always aim to find that fine balance between mastery and challenge for each and every student. The tasks shall be neither too difficult nor too easy—the students must stay engaged throughout the lesson and keep their strong motivation for constructive activities in class. The result is a classroom filled with structure and discipline that is designed not only by the teacher, but by the students as well. Less reliance on rules and sanctions—it’s a truly collaborative effort. Inspiring!

Back to our professional development workshop. It is the end of the day and the teachers have had classes where they have been observing each other. Now, it is time for self-reflection and feedback. How can I seat the students so that I have everyone’s attention during instruction time? Did I manage to vary my tone and voice? I must plan and prepare the differentiated activities better so that I keep everyone engaged! Remember to always get back to your instruction point! 

The day has given us incredibly meaningful and important input regarding how to manage classes well. Furthermore, it has sparked the kind of confidence that good classroom management is built on.

 

-Heidi Lindberg Augestad
School Leader, Jeppe Park Primary

Turn On The Light For One Child

Streetlight Schools opened its flagship school, Jeppe Park Primary,  in January 2016.  We have designed a low-cost, high-quality innovative primary school model to address the achievement shortfall in primary education in South Africa. Currently, we have 70 Grade R and 1 learners enrolled in our school. Help us by turning on the light for one child. I’d like to give you three reasons why I think you should contribute:

  1. We can have tremendous impact;

  2. Research shows that an investment in a child in their first years of schooling is the best guarantee of success in later life. In many school systems, the reading ability of a child in the second grade is already a predictor of whether they will go to university. I started this organisation with the aim of re-imagining education in South Africa. Our knock-on effects will go beyond the direct beneficiaries will be an entire way of looking at education that can help us tackle some of our most intractable challenges. You can help us take the first steps;

  3. Every student we cover in 2016 is an investment in perpetuity;

  4. From Year 2 (2017) we are eligible for a subsidy from the government and our school becomes self-sustainable. We only need to raise for these kids this one upcoming year: thereafter the school sustains itself going forward;

  5. We are the people we have been waiting for;

  6. At some point in your life, someone cared enough for you to pay for your education and transform your future. I believe in the children of Jeppestown, and I know that we will transform their futures. I want to live in a world where it’s us: ordinary people who invest directly in the wellbeing of others.

To show our gratitude to you, we will be putting your name on our website as a sponsor, as well as putting your name on our founding donor wall in the school. If you would like to remain anonymous, please less us know. If you are based in South Africa, we will also be shipping you a personalised gift to express our gratitude.

 

How to donate:
For a contribution of R780 ($65) a month you could be a part of the story of how we can start to transform education in South Africa. Donations are 100% tax-deductible in South Africa and the US. Join in with a friend; sponsor a child as a family, or as work-colleagues. Sponsor more than one child. Sponsor half a child – it doesn’t matter to us. For every child that we have fully sponsored we are one step closer to opening the school. Join those who have already committed to signing on and help us put a child through school for one year.

Email hello@streetlightschools.org with the subject “Donate” to join and find out more.

By committing to sponsor one child, you’ve committed to donating a total of R9, 375 (or $750) in any payment schedule that suits you. Monthly donations of R780.25 ($62.50) or quarterly donations R2343,75 ($187,50) are also completely acceptable. Whatever works for you: just let us know which you choose.

Our donation cycle for this campaign will run from August 2015 to November 2016. Though we prefer to have donations come in earlier (September to March), we are open to have them come through until November.

If donating from South Africa, please deposit directly into the Streetlight Schools bank account:
Streetlight Schools
FNB Business Account Account
# 62464302620
Branch: Rosebank
Code: 253305

Streetlight Schools has high degree of financial transparency and are audited by PWC annually. For a donations invoice, please email melanie@streetlightschools.org with your full name and address. Once the donation is reflected in our account, we will be able to furnish you with an invoice for the full amount.

If donating from the US:
Donations to us are also fully tax-deductible via our 501(c) US Partner-institution, the Omprakash Foundation. To donate in the US, do so via our donations page:https://www.omprakash.org/partner_donation?partner_id=4070

If donating internationally:
Please donate via our PayPal account via our website:http://www.streetlightschools.org/#donate