Knowing how to communicate, work as a team, be autonomous and exercise creativity are increasingly important skills for life in the 21st century. Developing these skills in schools prepares children and adolescents for the future, as well as creating an environment conducive to respecting diversity. This is the aim of the School of Dreams, located in a rural area of Vargem Grande in Florianópolis (Santa Catarina).
To build an inclusive educational environment that recognizes different interests and rhythms of learning, the school has removed divisions by grades and adopted the project method.
Located in a 50,000 m² area of greenery, the school considers inclusion to be the ability to understand and recognize others, regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic class or disability. To achieve this, its work with children focuses on cooperation and collaboration. From elementary to primary education, students are divided into different nuclei: experimentation (from two to three years), research (from four to five years), transition (children in the process of literacy), development (from the second to the fifth year) and deepening of knowledge (from the sixth to the ninth year).
The idea was inspired by the model of the Escola da Ponte in Portugal. Based on their interests, children are encouraged to play, explore the space around them and investigate different subjects that relate to the areas of knowledge and involve the specific curricular requirements of each year. “We believe that by introducing a proposal that values different forms of learning and the cognitive development of children into the learning space, we are contributing to inclusion,” says educator Danuza Silva, coordinator of the Development Nucleus.
Moving away from division by grades was one of the school’s strategies to ensure that each student traces his or her own development path. “We noticed that the confidence of the children was affected by being divided by grades when they looked at their friends beside them and saw them doing a certain activity faster,” says the coordinator.
She says that under the new approach, students are separated into groups based on their study interests. “They bring the themes to an assembly and explain why they are interested in studying them. All the suggestions are displayed on the school mural for a week, and children discover each other’s topics. The following week, we have another assembly to organize the groups,” she explains, adding that teams typically have 20 children and are led by two adults.
Soon after defining a topic, the students undertake a research project. With the help of a mentor, they set up their research and general education roadmap, which includes the curriculum content, work strategies, field trips and skills to be developed. “Generally, the activities are based on encouraging research into curricular and subjective contents. The guidance we provide is to help them to seek answers in an autonomous manner,” says mentoring teacher Decalafy da Silva Rodrigues, who works with groups in the Development Nucleus.
Currently, Decalafy is providing guidance on three research themes: safaris, natural disasters, and the Chernobyl nuclear accident. “Through internet or textbook research, they try to understand concepts and are encouraged to ask questions,” she says, noting that with this strategy the teacher assumes a mediation role to help students achieve their goals. “The model works based on the different characteristics of each child. There is no standard approach. The activities are based on the difficulties of the students. Everything is 100% focused on the differences between them.”
The school has also abandoned traditional testing for the monitoring of student development, and instead works with a descriptive evaluation model, based on the observations of educators of different aspects: the child’s relationship with the group, conflicts, autonomy and responsibility, how to relate school content to the world and to what extent the project objectives have been achieved. The coordinator also visits classrooms each week to talk to the students, who are encouraged to report what they have done and what they still need to improve.
The proposal has also made educators aware that developing competencies in an inclusive educational model involves continuous training. Carried out by educational coach Rafaela Mund, this training focuses on the general competencies that are included in the latest version of the BNCC (the Brazilian National Curriculum) and also on the understanding of different learning profiles. “Teachers know that such differences exist and that they should focus on inclusion, but they do not know how to achieve this,” she says.
After a year of working with a non-grade based model, coordinator Danuza Silva says that the school looks at each student in a more individualized manner. “Children with or without dyslexia might not do very well in Portuguese, but both need to be included in the process. We are always adapting our activities and seeking guidance,” she says. “This approach is very conducive to inclusion. We have a perspective that understands that every child deserves to be included, regardless of whether they’ve been diagnosed with a condition or not.”
*Translated by James Young