“Curriculum is not a syllabus we have to achieve at the end of the year, it is how do I make each child a better person.”

Dhruv

Meet Nandini, English teacher, The Riverside School (India).

Since you are here since 2001, can you tell us about the beginning of Riverside?

I met Kiran when she was just thinking about starting a school. I wasn’t a teacher, but she was looking for some particular mindset. At the beginning we were 7 teachers and 26 children. We had only one motto: do what is right for the child, that is the core of our the curriculum. Don’t make decision on what parents want or what other schools do.

That where the whole idea of Relevance, Relationship and Rigor came up. Relevance: the children need to know why they’re learning what they’re learning, nothing should be done because my teacher told me to. Relationship was also very important because when there is a strong relationship between teachers and students and parents, every decision you take is a joined decision. And rigor is always looking for excellence, not accepting mediocrity, and for children to take pride in their work. If we give them the feedback that a work is not enough, that a child can do better, he will try again for himself, no to impress anyone else, but so he can say: I did this.

We don’t want to be a school where children are successful only academically, but we want to make sure our students will add value to the world, we want to teach children to be more empathetic, be good human beings, be passionate and compassionate. Many children here come from privileged background, they have everything and it might make them a little self-centered. They have to open their eyes on the world and realize that everyone is not that lucky.

How do you build character through your lessons ?

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Work on Narnia, exploring what is “courage”

I think literature is one of the best ways for this because there are characters in stories. Then you can draw parallel. We can ask children: Is it the right decision ? What would you have done ? So the first way to build character is to ask students: what is happening and how it is connected to you ?

But we also build character when we deal with how children behave during the session. What do you do when they are supposed to have made some readings and they haven’t ? How will you make it clear that you expect from them to be truthful ? How do you make feedbacks so that they can improve ? I’m always mindful about their attitude and I give them feedback about it.

How do you teach grammar ?

I’m still working on it! Couple of time per month we have session where we do only grammar. I’m trying to make that fun, turning into game, or a challenge. But I’m not so sure it helps them learn and remember.

Authentic learning experiences are crucial. Having them present their writing to someone else: writing letters, emails, reading aloud their stories. That is how children want to do a good job. The challenge is to know how much time you can or you need to give to that exercise. For instance we had a poetry session: the students have read different poems, each of them wrote a poem, them we made a scrutiny to select all together the best poems and give feedbacks, and the best poems were read in a café.

How would you define teaching ?

If a student looks forward to coming to class and goes home feeling that he’s learnt something new which make him more capable or a better person, then I have succeeded.

What or who inspired your teaching ?

Kiran (Kiran Bir Sethi, The Riverside School’s founder) has been the constant inspiration. I haven’t seen any educator like her. The way she is able to extract the best from the children. Curriculum is not a syllabus we have to achieve at the end of the year, it is how do I make each child a better person. She has an amazing repertoire of ideas, we are lucky to have her.

And she is lucky to have you! Can you share some ideas with us ?

Can I talk about the book tasting ? It’s not my idea, it comes from American schools but I tried it this year. As a grand opening for the readery (a library designed by the students to be friendly and fun), I had set it up like a restaurant: each table had books from a particular genre and each student was given a menu card on which they had to put down their thoughts. They had then to taste the books. The whole idea was that unless you taste something, you don’t know whether you like it or not. Same for the reading, children stick to books that they like or they have no ideas what to read. So tasting was to help them to have an idea of all the books that where in the readery. The whole ambiance, the music, the menu, my attitude, I became a very formal host, everything was new and aroused their curiosity. They would taste a book, which meant read several pages from it, fill in the questionnaire and after five minutes they changed table and chose another book. So that in one hour they could taste four or five of them.

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The menu + Students and teacher’s feedbacks about the book tasting event

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The menu + Students and teacher’s feedbacks about the book tasting event

If we want children to read, they also need to see teachers reading. And teachers here were reading many work related books but don’t really enjoyed reading per se. So I started a teacher’s book club: I gave homework during the summer, everyone had to read at least one book and share it. Some got hooked to reading and devour books now.

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I also came up with the idea to show the books I read, and some teachers are doing the same: we have a poster on our classroom’s door saying: Ma’am Nandini is reading + the name of the book. And we keep it updated.

As well I take some book challenges with my students, I tell them that I’m going to read 50 books in 2017, and I let them know where I am up to, and they want to follow me!

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A passport for the readery. Read to win new stamps !

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A passport for the readery. Read to win new stamps !

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Some Riverside programs:

APROCH (A PRotagonist in every CHild) Came from a discussion Kiran had with student who felt they were not very connected to the city they lived in. They started a dialogue with the city: how can we make the city safer and friendly ? They created events like Streets smart: close the road for few hours every few month for children to play outside. Parents of the Park: different people take charge of a park in their locality to organize activities on Sunday.

DFC (Design For Change) A global program that « equips children with the tools to be aware of the world around them, believe that they play a role in shaping that world, and take action toward a more desirable, sustainable future. ». Through a simple 4-step design process of Feel-Imagine-Do-Share,
this program develops the values of empathy, ethics, engagement and elevation

BTC (Be the change) Annual conference to celebrate the students engaged in DFC, it provides children from across the world the platform to showcase their stories of change.