There is no sign of tests, chairs in a row, or a curriculum organized by subjects or divided by school year. At the Wish Bilingual School, in Jardim Anália Franco, in the east of São Paulo, bilingualism is far from being the biggest selling-point. To stimulate the overall development of students, the school decided to value holistic education as a core strategy of its pedagogical plans.
Aimed at kindergarten and early elementary school years, the school has just over one hundred students and works with the methodology of projects that encourage them to create knowledge from their interests. The proposal is guided by different aspects of body, mind, spirit, self, and the relationship with the world and with others.
From this starting off point, everything is a potential study theme, from childbirth to the history of the Pakistani girl Malala. Nine-year-old student Lara Muniz, who is in the 4th year, is studying forests to build a nature model. “You can do anything you want. Everything is within reach,” says the girl, who has studied at Wish for two and a half years. It is very different from her old school, where she needed “to copy from the blackboard” whereas now she learns to study through play. “You’ll be doing your project and suddenly realize that you used math to calculate how many centimeters of paper you will need,” she explains.
While today projects are based on the curiosity of students, it was not always like this. When the school began in 2008, the format was very different. “The project had a previous existence. I had to design a dinosaur project for three-year-old students. Before any of the children got close to the project it was already mounted with a beginning, middle and end,” recalls principal and founder Andressa Lutiano.
After working for years as an English teacher, Andressa decided to start a bilingual school when looking for a place to enroll her daughter, who at the time was two. Despite offering teaching in two languages simultaneously, Wish was born with a traditional teaching concept in mind. At the end of 2012, however, after visiting innovative schools in Spain, Denmark and the UK, the principal was determined to put into practice what she had seen.
The transformations emerged gradually. There were changes in curriculum, class times, assessments and physical spaces. The first step was forming a team, and then explaining the new model to parents. “At first we lost about 20 students,” she recalls.
In order to effectively explain how children would not do tests and would not have classes divided by subject, among the other changes, parents were brought into the school. And the school also began to send out material on the subject, including videos and reading matter about new educational models.
Recognized by the MEC (Ministry of Education) as one of the 178 innovative Brazilian educational institutions, today the school also has multi-age group classes. With the exception of the first year, students from the 2nd and 3rd grades or the 4th and 5th grades develop activities together. Each room has around 20 students and a pair of teachers. “It takes more work because we have to find our own material. Evaluation too, as we don’t just use a test to find out what is right and what is wrong,” says teacher Marina Gadioli, responsible for arts activities.
As the students don’t do tests, evaluation is performed through observations and continuous monitoring by teachers. Everything is recorded on the Gold platform, which provides tools for student monitoring and has different expectations of learning to be achieved. “Each child has a rhythm of doing their activities. We observe, record and monitor. They do everything at the same time, but those who have difficulty can always ask for help,” explains teacher Angela Graziela Fagá, who accompanies the 2nd and 3rd grade students.
Following the idea that children learn at different rates and follow their interests, the school week begins with the organization of an individual agenda. Students sit with teachers and make a plan, which intersperses moments of free exploration, individual counseling, working in small groups and periods that involve the whole class. “We play, do lessons, projects and various other things,” says 4th grade student Rafael Poiate, 9.
In the future, the idea is also to remove the walls. The school already has plans to move to a new space that will feature moveable furniture and partitions, which can either create smaller rooms or a large hall.
Translated by James Young