Cooking together - a recipe for language learning
Real-life experiences are a great way to enhance learning experiences for English language learners, a Wellington inner-city school finds.
Learning to make pikelets, sandwiches and soup in the school kitchen is proving very effective in teaching new language skills and everyday English to migrant and refugee children at cosmopolitan Newtown Primary School in inner-city Wellington.
But so is rolling in autumn leaves, being in the school garden or in a local park, where they learn new words to describe what they are seeing, touching and sensing.
While in the park at the end of summer, they are introduced to words such as rustle, dry, falling, leaves, autumn, and tree.
“Having learning experiences in real life, and being tactile, is important for these children,” says Principal Mark Brown. “We combine 'doing' words with 'naming' and 'describing' words. For example, if they’re making soup in cooking class we will say to them, 'What is this? It’s a carrot. What are you doing? You are mixing.'
“Or in the park, ‘What are the leaves doing? They are rustling. What are you doing? You are rolling'."
Many students are from families where English is a second language, so expanding their vocabulary is important.
Newtown School’s roll is one of the most multicultural in Wellington, as evidenced by the names of some its new students – Mohammad, Krishna, Zeid, Abdiabar, Sepuita and Kaitiaki.
Of the total student roll, 20 per cent identify as Māori and 15 per cent as Pasifika. But two thirds have English as a second language, including many who are refugees from Syria, Africa and the Middle East.
Because of the students’ high English language learning needs, teaching language skills is a priority for the school, which has nine support staff trained in supporting English Language Arts learning (ELA).
As well as learning about the sounds of nature, and names of soup ingredients, the children are also now getting the chance to learn new words about building and construction – like digger, hammer and carpenter.
A new two-storey classroom block is being built at the school to replace 14 ageing and temporary classrooms and, although its new facilities will be flexible, there will also be a variety of smaller spaces for individual or small group learning, and nooks and crannies where kids can be by themselves in their own space.
This will include flexible learning environments and team teaching, as opposed to the traditional ‘single cell’ classrooms, which have groups of students and one teacher in each room.
The aim of the rebuild is to create a community-focused facility sitting comfortably in the heart of a vibrant, diverse and energetic neighbourhood.
Inside the new building, there’ll be few corridors, to maximise the area available for learning and teaching. But the school’s connection with its community is also doing an about-face.
First opened in 1879, Newtown School – like many schools of its time – was laid out so that it physically turned its back to the street and was inward facing, and there no was easy interface or connection with the street alongside.
However, the new school block will face outwards, with the spacious main entrance facing Riddiford Street, the buzzy main avenue of Newtown, where sari shops sit happily alongside cafes.
"The new school will embrace the community, rather than be apart from it," Mark says.
"It will be an attractive focal point and a community asset that is modern, welcoming and part of the ‘public forum’."
The school’s move away from self-contained classrooms into shared spaces and new ways of teaching has been led by Mark, and is already achieving positive social and academic results, with enhanced learner engagement, progress and achievement.
"Teacher practice is vital in improving outcomes for students, and we are partnering with two other schools in our Community of Learning to achieve that, by sharing expertise and practice in maths. We work with them to enhance what we are already doing."
This collaboration has been through the Teacher-led Innovation Fund.
He says the changes have energised his team and prompted creative innovation, and the OECD’s ‘Learning to Learn’ strategy has been a powerful educational tool.
"Our new buildings give us a licence to start from scratch, and will speed up the changes. But teacher-led innovation is coming from within the school, supported by evidence from research."
Construction of the new building, which is being managed by the Ministry of Education, is expected to be completed by May this year.
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