There is a huge gap between middle school and adolescent reality. While teaching institutions struggle to treat this stage, which on average covers the ages from 12 to 16, as an opportunity for development, students see little pleasure in their day to day school lives. So how can this educational stage be connected to the interests and needs of adolescents? The Faz Sentido (Make Sense) platform offers a number of suggestions and practices that help educational networks, schools and teachers to transform the final years of Brazilian elementary education (which correspond to US middle school).
Launched in August, the platform was constructed through a partnership between Instituto Inspirare, Instituto Unibanco, Agência Tellus, the Laboratório de Mídia e Educação (the Media and Education Laboratory) and the Laboratório de Inovação Educacional (the Education Innovation Laboratory). Through solutions, guidelines and tools, the site operates as a practical guide to constructing a new type of secondary education, aiming to make sense of the teaching of adolescents in the 21st century.
Often considered a forgotten stage of basic education, middle school in many cases fails to connect with the physical, mental, emotional and social transformations that adolescents undergo at this stage of their lives. However, a number of studies have shown that the plasticity of the brain at this age is very similar to during infancy, when a series of opportunities for discovery and learning emerge.
At the same time, educational data has revealed an important and urgent need for investment in this phase of learning. In 2013, the Índice de Desenvolvimento da Educação Básica (the Basic Education Development Index) was lower than expected, with a rating of 4.0.
“The platform is no less than a hub [nucleus] that connects all the experiments, studies, people and organizations that work with this phase of teaching and this stage of life,” said Anna Penido, director of the Instituto Inspirare, during the launch of the initiative, which took place at the Instituto Unibanco in São Paulo.
Part of a wider project entitled Ensino Fundamental 2.0 (“Middle School Education 2.0”), the platform was created as part of a process that involved field work previously undertaken in the educational departments of Salvador (Bahia) and São Miguel dos Campos (Alagoas). With local actions carried out by LABi and MEL, these educational authorities began to redesign their middle school teaching through motivational listening sessions, co-creative workshops, and work groups.
“The possibility of creating a transformative public policy involves not just recognizing and respecting the potential and the strength of public authorities around the country, but also creating conditions where good ideas can be instituted and implemented in a genuinely participative manner,” explains Ricardo Henriques, executive director of the Instituto Unibanco.
To support educational authorities that wish to transform their middle school school teaching, Faz Sentido describes a pathway made up of seven stages (see here). These involve: actions for adhesion to an educational authority, process organization, organizing motivational listening sessions, solution creation, guideline definition, implementation and monitoring, and evaluation.
Once they have registered with the site, the educational authorities can construct and follow their own pathway. At each stage they will find guidelines and tools to create work plans, organize and systemize motivational listening sessions, hold creative workshops, experiment with solutions, and structure evaluations, among other resources.
Daniela Correia, a middle school coordinator in the Salvador educational department, describes how redesigning this teaching stage begins by mobilizing the education authority and signing a commitment agreement. As the process involves the entire educational authority, the students also have an opportunity to express themselves. “Listening to students was one of the features that made this project different. We normally hear students through the mouths of the teachers,” she says.
Based on the challenges identified by education authorities during the listening phase, Portuguese teacher Anna Frascolla, from Escola Municipal Luiza Mahim (Luiza Mahim Municipal School), took part in a creative workshop about the theme of evaluations. “I enjoyed the workshop because it allowed us to dream. It’s no use if we’re the only ones who know about the problems we face every day,” she says. She describes how she was inspired by proposals that emerged during the meeting about new forms of classroom evaluation.
In São Miguel dos Campos (AL), Principal Sônia Falcão of Escola Estadual Rui Palmeira (Rui Palmeira State School) says that listening to staff, teachers, family members and students from the sixth to the nine grade, suggested in one stage of the program, led to small changes being made at the school. These included changing the time of recess at the suggestion of the students, rethinking school lunches, and experimenting with the creation of short audiovisual productions. “When they suggested this brainstorm, we were pretty nervous. I thought we’d be criticized, but we received a lot of compliments during what was a very democratic process. We have to try and improve things. The best way is listening to people and letting them speak.”
Recommendations and practices
The platform also includes studies, recommendations and practices developed through design and planning activities carried out by the Agência Tellus. While the recommendations provide important tips about a range of themes, such as adolescence, the curriculum, teacher training and management, the practical activities cards suggest ideas and experiments that can be applied in the school or the system, all of which can be shared, marked as favorites and printed.
When searching for the theme of Family and Community, for example, the teacher, coordinator, principal or school manager will have access to a varied menu of tips to increase community participation in the school. In addition, they can find inspiration in previously tested practical activities, such as the meetings of the Café Terapêutico (the Therapeutic Café - see here) held at CIEJA (Integrated Education Center for Adults and Young People) in Campo Limpo, São Paulo, to strengthen the involvement of family members in the learning and development of students.
Explore the platform: http://fazsentido.org.br/