Weekly Letter from Jean-Yves – Set Design

This week, The École could easily have been mistaken for a school from a movie set: between 22nd Street being taken over on Monday and Tuesday to film a movie or a TV show or both (no one can really say for certain), the UN World Water Day documentary today, and of course the Hollywood star-style Picture Day yesterday – when every single student dazzled – these last few days have been cinematic, to say the least!

The 5th graders added to the glamor with their Fashion Machine workshops all week (we’re looking forward to seeing the results at FIAF tomorrow), as did the parents and teachers at last night Roaring 20’s party. In the midst of the rhinestones and the sequins, there was however still work to be done! In particular, laying the foundations for the upcoming school year. Last week, I mentioned a few topics that were discussed during my most recent petit déj with parents, and this week, I would like to go into more depth about one of them – Middle School, specifically, Middle School schedules.

A few months after I arrived at The École, I wrote about the importance I attach to the planning of students’ schedules and the fastidious work it entails. As you know, this year I took over the running of the Middle School and since then I’ve been engaged in a process of reflection centered on three main areas: firstly, the traditional Middle School schedules with classes that change every 50 minutes – based on pedagogical models dating back to the industrial revolution – are not optimal in our bilingual context. Secondly, we fall too easily into the trap of believing that students entering 6th Grade magically become Middle School students – it’s not true, it’s a process of adaptation that needs to be worked on, that is learned, and that therefore takes time. Finally, students should have more opportunities to receive individualized learning experiences tailored to their needs and their projects (I will be writing to you very soon about the transition to high school and our accomplishments in this area year in and year out.)

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Using those three areas as a starting point, I asked our Middle School team to consider the future Middle School schedules (while sticking to our current 8:15 a.m. lesson start time and 3:40 p.m. dismissal). From September, we will be proposing four 80-minute classes a day in Middle School. It’s a format with many advantages: it will allow for more varied activities during class time, and it will create a more harmonious balance of classes per week, as there will be more space during the week between same-subject classes (so there will be less homework that is due from one day to next and backpacks will be lighter – we can but dream!)  It will also enable us, perhaps most importantly, to reserve 40 minutes each day from 3-3:40 p.m. to offer our students personalized learning experiences.

For now, we are in progress to those 40-minute slots and what they could entail: learning support and mastery, how to adopt Middle School study methods, high school preparation, meetings with mentors (a teacher who supervises the well-being of a group of 5-6 students), getting started on homework, taking part in and launching projects, electives, etc. We’re striving to find the right balance for each student, keeping in mind what is so easily forgotten – that students evolve over the course of a year and that it would be a mistake to constrain them with rigid frameworks. It would be best to demonstrate flexibility and to be able to change the set design regularly – just like in the movies.

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