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International school teacher creates global curriculum text October 28, 2010

Posted by Alex, Managing Director in Independent Education, International education, New releases.
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Next week, when we take delivery of new author Briony Taylor’s new book, Empowering Kids to Shape our Future,  it will be something of a landmark for us here at John Catt Educational – the first time that we have published a curriculum textbook.

Traditionally, we have published school guidebooks, magazines for various membership associations, professional development books and, in the past, prospectuses for schools. But Briony’s book will be the first toe into the water of school textbooks.

It is another example of how John Catt Educational are continuing to explore new publishing avenues to support the international and independent education sectors.

Briony is a primary science teacher at the Collège Du Léman International School in Geneva, Switzerland.  In her book, she has created a series of lesson plans to help primary years teachers to fill developing minds with information, skills and procedures that can be applied to shaping our planet’s future. The aim is to teach children to become critical and reflective thinkers, cooperative individuals, lifelong learners and socially conscious citizens.

We asked Briony a few questions about the book and her background.

Alex, John Catt Educational editor: Briony, tell us a little about yourself and your background in education.

Briony: I come from a large family of educators and was very keen to become a teacher myself. As a child I lived all around Australia, in New York and Kuala Lumpur, which helped develop my interest in other cultures, adventure and travel. In 2004 I completed my BA in Primary Education at the University of Canberra in Australia. I was keen to teach abroad so I moved to London in 2005 where I worked in various teaching positions as a supply teacher which was an excellent introduction to my teaching career and also very eye opening.

In June 2006 I moved to Switzerland and realized my dream of working in an International School. I enjoy working in a multicultural environment and I am constantly inspired and learning from my international colleagues and students.

Alex: How did the idea for the book come about? Did you enjoy the process of writing a book?

Briony: I believe it is very important to teach primary school children about global issues. In my research I found that there were very few books on global issues targeted at primary school teachers so I created a lot of my own activities. I then decided to assemble the activities that I had been using into a book so that I could share them with other teachers.

I wrote the book during the summer holidays and found it a great learning experience. My brother Dan Jobson did the illustrations, which I think are amazing, he is a very talented designer. We both like to be creative so I got a lot out of sharing ideas and working with him.

Alex: Why did you feel the time was right for a book encouraging children to learn about global issues?

Briony: The world is rapidly getting smaller in the sense that issues that use to affect “others” now have important consequences for us all. The freer movement of people, international communication, the globalization of trade and technological advancements have all contributed to connecting us all and they continue to shape our world. Therefore, the time is right to teach children the skills and knowledge they need to live in the modern world where global issues seem to be escalating but not resolving themselves.

We will post the second half of the Q&A with Briony early next week.

Eton Head Master: Regulatory pedantry threatens boarding schools October 26, 2010

Posted by Alex, Managing Director in Independent Education, Magazines.
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The autumn 2010 issue of Boarding School magazine has landed on our desks here at the John Catt offices and will currently be flying around the country to subscribers and all member schools of the Boarding School Association.

Editor Dick Davison has put together another fantastic issue, including a lengthy feature from Tony Little, Head Master at Eton College, analysing the “regulatory pedantry” that threatens to undermine Britain’s boarding schools.

In an edited version of the address given at the 2010 BSA Heads’ Conference, Tony writes: “There are two fundamental truths to school life: that young people learn at least as much outside the classroom as in it; and that young people learn more from each other than they do from adults. As a society we have lost sight of these central truths, preferring instead to believe that management is a more effective alternative to nurturing relationships.

“Top-down approaches lack roots; they do not grow and flourish. What the experience of boarding school life shows us is that a virtuous circle is created when time is given to the nurturing of relationships – pupil-to-pupil, adult-to-pupil. From these relatationships everything that is valuable and long lasting will grow: and this flows from the vocational commitment of well-chosen and well-trained staff. It is what we might call the primacy of love.”

Elsewhere, Dick also interviews Jan Scarrow, Headmistress at Badminton School and BSA Chairman 2010/11; Ampleforth’s first director of health and safety tells us how he is attempting to bring more focus on safety in boarding schools; and the Headmaster of Campbell College, Belfast, describes how boarding in Northern Ireland offers a distinctive alternative to both independent and state boarding schools in Britain.

Boarding School magazine is published twice a year, in spring and autumn, and costs £5 per copy. Click here for more details.

Spreading our wings October 25, 2010

Posted by Alex, Managing Director in Independent Education, Magazines.
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In an article that first appeared in the autumn 2010 issue of Prep School magazine, Loren Fenwick, head of art at Aldro School, shares her experiences of organising trips with groups of prep school boys.

The very idea of taking a group of pupils to a different country and being ultimately responsible for them every moment of every day while you are away may strike fear and dread into even the most seasoned of teachers, but really, with a bit of careful planning (and yes – essential paperwork) this does not need to be the case.

One of the highlights of my year is taking a group of boys on an art trip to Europe.  I have taken pupils to Prague, twice, Holland, and this summer will be my second trip to Rome.  The benefits to the boys are obvious – cultural enrichment, a chance to bond with each other outside of the school environment and interact with teachers outside of their natural habitat – but the thing that keeps me doing it, year on year, is the personal enjoyment I get from going abroad and seeing a favourite city through their eyes, spending time with them outside the school environment and getting to know them in a completely different context.

It really is not as daunting as you may think!  There are many tour companies that specialise in school trips – you have probably had many brochures passed your way.  The benefit of using a tour company, especially the first few times, is that they will hold your hand (metaphorically speaking) through the whole process, from the first idea, through the planning and preparation, including the risk assessments, which are not as frightening as you would expect them to be, just common sense really and proof that you have considered all eventualities.

A tour company will also book flights and accommodation and help with the planning of your itinerary.  They will often have good suggestions for activities, galleries and museums in the city of your choice and be able to advise you beforehand about entrance fees and other costs.  Many tour companies will also throw in free accommodation so that you can do a recce.  Another big advantage is that tour companies offer broad insurance for every aspect of your trip and assistance, should anything go wrong.

Doing a recce, or pre-tour visit, is absolutely essential, even if you are visiting a place you have been to many times before, because everything changes when you have a group of young people in tow.  You find yourself noticing how long train/tube doors stay open for, you make note of good public toilets and good places to stop for lunch.  You will notice areas that would be good to rest  a while and let pupils sit and sketch safely.  You find yourself noticing how easy or otherwise it is to get from point A to point B and you become aware of just how overcrowded some tourist hotspots might be as well as the perils of deserted backstreets, which might not occur to you when you are in adult company.

Your risk assessment will ask specific questions which you will not be able to answer accurately from memory so take a copy with you or read it beforehand.  Things change.  On a pre-trip visit to Prague, we found a good place to have lunch,  and when we arrived there with 13 boys a few months later, it had been reduced to a pile of rubble to make way for a new road.  If you have been on a pre trip visit, you can be flexible and deal with the unexpected.

One of the drawbacks of using a tour company is that they usually only offer free accommodation for a pre-tour visit after you have booked and paid a deposit, so if the accommodation is not ideal, there may be little you can do about it at that point.  Bear this in mind and check with the tour company before parting with any cash…

Click here to read the remainder of this article on the Prep School ezine. The magazine is published three times a year, in January, April and September. £25 pays for a two year subscription, which will be posted on publication. Click here for more information.

En-choir-ing minds… October 21, 2010

Posted by Alex, Managing Director in Independent Education, Magazines.
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Robert Gullifer, Headmaster of New College School, Oxford, looks at the benefits for all pupils of being in a specialist choir school in this article which first appeared in the autumn 2010 issue of Prep School magazine.

One of the questions I am most often asked is how the choral foundation, aside from the work of the choristers themselves, impacts on the daily work of the School. In reflecting on this I have become more and more conscious of how a group of gifted and talented pupils in whatever sphere can engage and inspire the whole school.

Choristers at New College School spend 12 hours a week during term-time practising for services, recordings and tours: they work with international orchestras and soloists and are expected to have a professional discipline in all they do. And so, one of the most evident examples they set is that careful time management means you can fit a lot into the day: homework is completed within set times; breaktimes and activities get off to a prompt start; books/equipment are generally in the right place the first time round.

Many other pupils see the benefits of operating in this way: it’s not geeky, it’s just efficient; the example is pupil-led, rather than teacher-led.

Many educationalists would find it hard to believe the standards that can be achieved by children of this age within a pretty standard day prep school setting. The key to it, for me, lies in setting their aspirations high and not imposing our own (adult) artificial ceilings.

The choristers see professional musicians in action and these are role models from an early age; the younger choristers see that the older choristers can sing with confidence and they in turn adopt the role model of the older boys.  There is a healthy mixture of competition to be at the top and the real understanding that the whole enterprise would fail if there were not for the support of the whole team.

There is also a sense of being healthily self-critical: it’s no shame to raise your hand to acknowledge a mistake in choir; it merely means that time is not wasted for the whole group and each boy learns to take responsibility for his own performance. Again, with a little care, this model can be applied to sport, drama, and academic work.

It might be thought that having a group of gifted and talented musicians would discourage others from approaching these standards. My experience has been quite the reverse. Partly because of the more celebrity aspect of what choristers do (award-winning recordings, foreign travel, for example) and partly because they talk about it with unaffected enjoyment, it’s ‘cool’ to do music here and all want to join in the experience of music-making at whatever level and, crucially, from an early age. It’s a question of valuing all contributions.

Equally, we can recruit outstanding music teachers because they want to be part of the New College musical experience. The result is that over 90% of the school learns a musical instrument and we have two school choirs in addition to the College choir. We’ve also worked hard at fostering appreciation of each others’ talents; it’s a mixture of aspiring to high standards, but also recognising that these can be achieved in a variety of ways in the musical world, as in all aspects of school life.

Click here to visit the Prep School magazine ezine website to read the rest of this article.

International school students have “unrealistic view of the world” October 18, 2010

Posted by Alex, Managing Director in International education, New releases.
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Another fine edition of the International Schools Journal hit the John Catt Educational desks this morning, Volume XXX No.1 fresh back from the printers.

Editor Dr Caroline Ellwood has put together another fine issue, including research and articles written by Sugata Mitra (Method ELSE: Emergent Learning Systems in Education), detailing some of the ideas in his keynote address to the ECIS Administrators’ Conference in Malta, April 2010.

Here, Sugatra describes his pioneering work with the ‘Hole in the Wall’ experiments with children and the internet, first implemented in India in 1999. The experiment involved a computer with an internet connection being embedded into a wall, for children to discover and use unsupervised. The wall adjoined a slum, and only a month later it was evident that the children had taught themselves to use the computer and also picked picked up some skills in English and mathematics.

Sugatra also gives a very practical description of how a school could work with SOLE (Self Organised Learning Environment), pointing out that in the hands of good teachers, the methods explored with poor Indian children can be very powerful motivators for any children and result in better performance.

Chandran Nair also expands on his own address at the ECIS Conference in Malta in his article Transforming Elite Education for the 21st century, in which he presents a quite critical picture of what he calls “elitist schools”, arguing that international school students are particularly vulnerable to an unrealistic view of the world.

He sees the students in international schools as growing up:

“…in a world removed from the threat of arsenic-laced water, endemic malaria and subsistence farming, situations that form a daily reality for hundreds of millions of people across the world. The solution is not to reduce richer students to poverty, but to make them aware that their view of the world is inevitably coloured by their wealth, just as those less fortunate than them are inevitably biased by their poverty. Far too often students graduate with too little humility, not simply because they overestimate their own abilities, but because they have no sense of how the local history, geography and culture have all come together to shape the persons that they are. The incredible statistical good fortune that they have been bless with even to attend a school is lost on them, and so are the responsibilities they have to those who are not so lucky.”

For more than 20 years the International Schools Journal has been a unique source of articles concerning virtually every aspect of international education. It is published twice a year, in November and April, in conjunction with ECIS and CIS. A one-year subscription costs just £10. Click here to find out more.

Contact CarolineEllwood@ecis.org to discuss editorial ideas for future issues.

Moving school governance forward October 15, 2010

Posted by Alex, Managing Director in International education, New releases.
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David Watson wonders what boards can learn from the 21st century classroom. This is the first half of an article that first appeared in the autumn 2010 issue of International School (is) magazine.

Now that the 21st century has already completed its first decade, there seems to be less emphasis in the literature of international education upon situating the 20th century classroom in the newly emerging 21st century context; examining the skills and competencies needed by teaching professionals in the classrooms and corridors of the new millennium.

We hear a lot about the organic nature of schools, how all parts should reflect and inform each other so that the institution as a whole can progress and succeed on all levels. To what extent therefore might it be possible or even necessary for the values and practices of the international school classroom to inform the skill sets and procedures of other branches of the school; like, for example, the board of trustees?

The seasoned school Head will know by heart some version of the CEO’s mantra that ‘boards make policy; administrations implement policy’. Boards ought to have three roles: to select the head; to approve policy and to ensure that there are sufficient funds for the administration to carry out that policy. (In the United States there is a fourth: the near sacred role of fundraising, of course.)

In a sense therefore, established boards tend as a rule to be passive, working often in collective isolation, not often collaborating with others outside their circle (even in their committee work) and rarely meeting either formally or otherwise with board members from other schools.

In order to make decisions, board members need to be presented with data they can understand, with facts they can comprehend and with options they can select. They focus on the lower end of Bloom’s Taxonomy (knowledge, comprehension etc) and, rather than being outcome-based, are time-based, in the sense that members serve out their terms, sometimes largely regardless of their own individual performance, provided they attend the requisite number of meetings.

Indeed when the ‘p’ word is uttered at all in the context of school boards, it tends to be measured in terms of a either a ‘class average’ or an individual, informal rating, rather than by looking at what was actually achieved (or learned) by the board as a whole.

In the 21st century classroom things are very different. Teaching and evaluations are outcome-based. Learning (ie work) is active, not passive; students work collaboratively with peers and with others from around the world. Their learning, exercises and skills are concentrated on thesis, analysis and evaluation; that is to say the upper level of Bloom’s. Moreover their teachers guide them, based on what was learned, what the outcome was, rather than a subjective boil down of impressions.

Click here to visit the International School (is) ezine to read the rest of this article.

Dr David Watson is Director of The Deira International School in Dubai. He currently serves as treasurer to the Board of the Council of International Schools (CIS)

Preparatory Schools 2011: Front cover October 11, 2010

Posted by Alex, Managing Director in Independent Education, New releases.
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We are having a real Indian Summer here in Suffolk, England: after a beautiful weekend (pub lunch outside on Sunday! In October!), it is another bright, warm (well, mild…), cloudless day to start the week.

But there is no getting away from the fact that the New Year is approaching – and that means work starting apace on the 2011 editions of our school guides. First on a busy schedule is John Catt’s Preparatory Schools 2011 guide, due for publication in February – and thanks to the busy hands of our production team, I can reveal here the proposed front cover…


What do you think? We love the large, top photo: very ‘prep school’. Thanks to Pilgrims Pre-Preparatory School in Bedford for the use of the image and also to Dolphin School, London; Kent College; and Culford Preparatory School in Bury St Edmunds for use of the smaller images.

Independent? Only just… October 7, 2010

Posted by Alex, Managing Director in Independent Education, Magazines.
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Peter Cantrell believes it is time to remind ourselves of what education is really about

Spring may have arrived, but the ‘green shoots of recovery’ cliché seems, mercifully, to have been expunged from the political lexicon – for the moment, at least. About education, however, there have been some welcome signs of fledgling vigour. There have been murmurings from an Education spokesman of a willingness to regenerate A levels by ending modular assessment, and Dr Anthony Seldon – author and Master of Wellington College – has recently criticised the rigidities of the National Curriculum, the influence of league tables and the failure of ‘teaching to the test’ to inspire pupils and teachers.

It has not always been thus. The private sector is guilty of having meekly acquiesced over the last 20 years in fostering a ‘culture’ within schools that is far from humane, liberal or holistic, and in doing so has acted against its deepest instincts and traditions. The term ‘independent’ is in danger of becoming a misnomer.

One particularly pernicious aspect of this anti-culture is the mania for monitoring and the ‘target-setting’ that is central to it, because it encourages the idea that learning is an inexorable as the crow flies forced route march towards a destination defined entirely in terms of grades. The route is without interesting deviation or diversion, and to accelerate the progress towards the targeted grade outcome, the exam Boards provide minutely prescriptive ‘specifications’ with detailed and explicit ‘assessment objectives’, adherence to which is the requirement for success.

Accompanying the student to ensure compliance with the approved direction of travel will be a carefully tailored Coursebook manual, obviating the need for further research, wider reading or personal engagement, while guaranteeing success for those who dutifully follow instructions rather than think for themselves or argue with others. It is all about arrival at the destination, not about the experience of the journey, a metaphor beloved of reality show contestants, but one that nonetheless enshrines a truth in relation to education.

Sophisticated school management software is increasingly used to allow the pupil’s line of progress towards the target to be monitored and for statistical data to be generated that will be scrutinised by the Inspectorate – whose job it is to police a system designed to produce ever improving grade outcomes.

Sadly, but predictably, the real result of such an approach to learning is a contraction of the minds of all involved: a sclerotic narrowing of the arteries that serve the imagination and the intellect. It is an approach that is profoundly at odds with the true ethos and humane underlying principles of independent education, which are essentially concerned with nurturing the growth of the whole sensibility.

Pupils themselves are dissatisfied and feeling short-changed. No wonder that a north London schoolboy complained to our political leaders in one of the televised General Election debates that he and his peers were ‘over-tested and under-taught’, wanting to know what remedies they proposed. The answers were vividly unmemorable. Yet, as Dr Seldon reminds us, ‘No area of public life is more important than education to prepare people to live meaningful, productive and valuable lives.’

So it is to be hoped that other leading voices from private schools will feel emboldened to challenge the orthodoxies that have prevailed for far too long, constraining creativity and stifling the spirit of learning itself.

What is needed is a radical change of heart whereby the government ceases to micro-manage schools, invests more trust in teachers and grants them greater freedom to use their intelligence, discretion and resourcefulness.

The national curriculum needs to be simplified and slimmed down, without coursework or ‘Controlled Assessment’ (coursework’s latest incarnation), without modules and oppressively prescriptive syllabuses and mark-schemes. The quango that is the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority should be abolished, and the whole inspectorate model subjected to rigorous re-examination to detoxify it of bureaucratic and political pathogens.

Then, it might just be worth talking once more about the ‘green shoots of recovery’ in the world of education. Or maybe not.

Peter Cantrell is head of English at Sherborne Girls. This article first appeared in the autumn 2010 issue of Conference and Common Room magazine.

Communication and creativity in language learning October 4, 2010

Posted by Alex, Managing Director in Conferences, International education, Magazines.
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Students attain knowledge of a language, but it’s what they can do with that knowledge that really counts, says Lori Langer de Ramirez in this article that first appeared in the autumn 2010 issue of International School (is) magazine.

It would generally be agreed that learning a new language is a good thing. Some would say that being multilingual is a pre-requisite for communicating in our multicultural world.

Others claim that, in an increasingly global job market, knowing more than one language is crucial for securing meaningful employment and for professional growth.

But learning a new language can yield benefits beyond those of communication or job prospects. Language learning in the 21st century fosters creativity, innovation, collaboration, and flexibility. Web-based tools like blogs, wikis, and podcasts can foster language students’ innate creative skills as they travel the road to multilingualism.

Language teaching and stories
Teaching methodologies change drastically over time, and tricks and techniques for teaching languages are no different. While in the past languages were taught by rote memorization of vocabulary lists and verb conjugations, we have moved to more holistic ways of exposing students to language in authentic contexts. As brain research shows, ‘Students’ vocabulary acquisition can be enhanced when it is embedded in real-world complex contexts that are familiar to them’ (Genesse, 2000, p.2). One resource that has been successful in conveying both organic cultural information and contextualized language is authentic literature – the story.

Stories can take on many forms: folktales, myths, legends and fairytales are the most recognizable stories – and they exist in picture book format, as podcasts, animated video tales, and more. But stories can also take the form of soap operas, television commercials, movies, novels and oral tales. Whether told orally and meant to be listened to, or shown with visuals, animation, puppets or video, stories have the power to connect language learners to real world cultural topics and themes.

They provide realistic use of vocabulary, syntax and grammatical structures – as opposed to those often controlled examples of language that come from our textbooks. Plus, stories have the extra advantage of being a comfortable, familiar and entertaining genre for students of all ages.

Language educators can use stories as the center of thematic units, with project-based final assessments that involve students in creating their own stories, visual representations, or theatrical versions of the tales.

Podcast stories: Whether enhanced (with images) or strictly oral/aural, podcasts are a great way to encourage students to tell or re-tell stories in the language classroom. Websites like Podbean and iTunes can host student work so that it can be shared with parents and fellow students at home or at school. (www.podbean.com and http://www.apple.com/itunes)

TeacherTube or YouTube videos: Total Physical Response Storytelling (TPRS) is a useful technique for acting out stories with gestures. For students with excellent mimetic skills, acting out a story is a great way to foster creative use of language, gestures and props in the elaboration of a story for a broad audience. (www.teachertube.com and http://www.youtube.com)

VoiceThreads: Students can illustrate their stories and narrate the tale on VoiceThread using video, audio or text narration. Classmates can be asked to comment on the stories or even add details, new characters, or edit the plot. (www.voicethread.com)

Issuu picturebooks: Page-turner software is now available from many different free online sources. Issue allows students to upload pages (illustrations and text) in pdf format to a virtual periodicals stand. Classmates,
parents and community members can browse these virtual bookshelves, ‘pick up’ a classmate’s work, and read it by turning the pages online. (www.issuu.com)

Blog sagas: Students can provide readers with ‘installments’ of a story – one blog post at a time! This Web 2.0 tool works particularly well with mystery or adventure stories. Visitors to the blog can comment on each portion of the story – authors can even change the plot according to popular vote! (www.blogger.com) This is an excellent way to tap into students’ creativity, self-direction, and collaborative and innovative skills.

Read the rest of Lori’s excellent article here at the International School (is) magazine ezine.

Lori Langer de Ramirez is the chair of ESL and world language department for Herricks Public Schools in New York. She will be persenting on this topic and her most recent book, Empower English Language Learners with Tools from the Web, at the ECIS Nice Conference. Her website is www.miscositas.com/

Guide to International Schools: old title gets new look October 1, 2010

Posted by Alex, Managing Director in International education, New releases.
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Another Friday passes; another book zipped up and sent off to the printers.

Work on The John Catt Guide To International Schools 2010/11 has finally been completed at our end; now it is over to Bell & Bain Ltd of Glasgow to print, bind and turn our hard work into several thousand beautiful, shiny new books, which we hope to receive back by the end of the month.

It is the eighth edition of our directory of over 2000 international schools and much has changed from previous editions to reflect the burgeoning growth of international education. An expanded editorial section at the front of the book covers a wider variety of relevant issues and includes an introduction written by Professor George Walker (right), former Director General of the IB.

The guide also describes the different international education systems, the curricula taught, and the roles of the various international bodies that represent schools. In addition to a directory providing basic information about schools in more than 155 countries, there are also details of those belonging to the European Council of International Schools (ECIS), for which we thank the organisation. We have brought the cover size, design and typesetting into line with our other school guides.

What defines an ‘international school’? Perhaps that question is best answered by George Walker, in his introduction to the guide:

The answer lies not in the title – there are many so-called international schools that offer no more than a national education in foreign surroundings – but rather in the nature of the experience enjoyed by the students and staff. This will typically show two dimensions: one pragmatic and the other visionary.

Pragmatism reminds us that most international students will return to their home country to continue their studies, so they will need a widely-based curriculum that offers appropriate knowledge and skills and leads to an international qualification that is recognized by the world’s universities. Vision recognizes the opportunity offered by the mix of nationalities in a typical international school for developing the values needed in a multicultural society.

Later, George concludes:

Let Kurt Hahn, one of the founders of the United World College movement, have the final word:

I regard it as the foremost task of education to ensure the survival of these qualities: an enterprising curiosity, an undefeatable spirit, tenacity in pursuit, readiness for sensible self denial, and above all, compassion.

International education encourages each one of those qualities and international schools have the capacity to become beacons in the search for an education appropriate to the globalized 21st century.