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Teaching at NOPA - a student's view

posted 6 Mar 2017, 04:46 by Craig Nicholson   [ updated 6 Mar 2017, 05:00 ]

 Starting a new placement is, I suppose, a bit like your first day at school. Will the children like me? When will I ever be able to navigate my own way through these classrooms? How on earth am I ever going to photocopy anything on that new printer let alone solve the intricate problem of a paper jam?!


Learning Environments

 
It
was clear from my first day at NOPA that this wasn't a ‘normal’ run of the mill school. I was amazed as I was guided through the rainforest, narrowly avoiding the canoe, watching the monkeys swing on vines above my head and marvelling at the beautiful waterfall. Next I was transported back in time to a quaint, wealthy Victorian sitting room complete with a fireplace and plates laid out for afternoon tea. These were the immersive learning environments. Their purpose is to bring experiences into the classroom for the children to interact with first hand. These learning environments are not precious, inaccessible and something that children should just look at. Teachers actively encourage children to explore. Rarely will you be walking through Year 2 and not see a child quietly working away in the canoe or a Year 3 child working by lamp light in the Victorian mine.


As a student this type of immersion in the learning environment was very new to me and threw up a mass of questions and- admittedly- scepticism. Won't it distract the children? Will behaviour be affected? What's the point? I can only say that it doesn't. Really. I was amazed as well but I think the uniqueness of the learning environment combined with the philosophy and ethos of the school just means that it works in this particular setting. What I would say is that you definitely have to see it for yourself and pictures don't do it justice.




   
Alternative Seating

Another aspect of NOPA school life that was very different was the concept of alternative seating. I understand that this is some teacher’s nightmare. I realised this as I divulged my delight to some fellow student teachers and have been met with horror when I eagerly tell them tales of children lounging on beanbags, using stand up desks and essentially sitting wherever they like. Something which really sold the idea of alternative seating to me was the schools idea of putting yourself as a child in the classroom- would I want to work if I was sat in this classroom? The answer hit me when I realised I did 90% of my feedback, planning and university work laid on my sofa or lounging on a beanbag. This is further reinforced by Hattie’s (2011) concept “The overall message is: teaching is successful if teachers see learning through the eyes of pupils” (p.429). This key message really is at the heart of the ethos of NOPA.
 

Challenges of teaching at NOPA

Teaching at NOPA has sometimes been a challenge. Adapting to the vast amount of technology that is integrated and woven into daily life at the school was initially a challenge. Luckily, NOPA is an Apple RTC and therefore provides regular training on how to successfully implement technology and iPads throughout the curriculum and in a variety of relevant ways (assessment, feedback and the curriculum).




Advice for future university students at NOPA




The most crucial piece of advice is to completely immerse yourselves within the opportunities and learning environment that NOPA provides for you as a student teacher and therefore a learner. According to Dunne (2002) “Teachers need to be provided with the learning opportunities they are expected to provide students.” (p. 69). This is what NOPA provides for student teachers- a safe and supported environment in which there are an abundance of learning opportunities for the student teacher that then trickle down into the classroom thus benefitting the children.
 



Wonderfully Weird and Wacky

There are plenty more wonderful and weird things that go on within NOPA- the storytelling caravan, our class bunnies, innovative technology, a wonderful staff team (for the first time ever I haven't heard the dreaded “why are you going into teaching? Don’t do it” spiel) and the final thing is just a ‘vibe’. Something which I can't quite put my finger on but it's contagious- teachers, teaching assistants and children all have it. It's the lovely feeling of welcome, new ideas and a great working/learning environment embedded within NOPA.

 

References

Dunne, K. A. (2002). Teachers as learners: Elements of effective professional development. In How to find and support tomorrow's teachers (pp. 67-77). Amherst, MA: National Evaluation Systems, Inc. 

Ewald Terhart (2011) Has John Hattie really found the holy grail of research on teaching? An extended review of Visible Learning, Journal of Curriculum Studies, 43:3, 425-438

Sophie Turton (3rd Year YSJ student) - 06/03/17

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