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
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 ?
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