For a child to handle freedom is difficult. There are some students that have more difficulties to do it than others that are better structured inside. At the Freie Aktive Schule Stuttgard (FAS) all of them learn step by step what it means to take responsibility with the teachers supporting this process and developing the role of coaches. In this interview we talk to Gaby, one of the headmasters of the FAS, and Germaine, tutor and coach for english lessons.
You can find the full transcription of the interview below.
«Children from other schools have to learn how to handle freedom here»
«Handling freedom is difficult and we realized it when we had children from other schools, they are not used to have freedom. For students being for the first time with us is easier, they can learn step by step what is means to take responsibility.
There are students that are not very well structured inside of them and then is more difficult to handle freedom because you can get loose. For others is fine, they have a clear inner structure and they follow their needs and its totally clear for them, so it’s different.»
«Children have four offers per day and the can choose freely what to do and with whom»
«Our typical day starts at 8:15, the children arrive here and the younger children have a morning circle. The teenagers have once a week an assembly where they meet. There they are told which the offers are, projects, if they can go to exhibitions…They have four offers per day, they can participate or they can go to open learning or just go outside.
They can also share certain offers together, but there are some offers that are for certain age groups especially for the final exams, for the preparation. They do mix because there are some children that learn for example English at a very early age, some may be bilingual so they attend offers where there are kids five years older than them but manly they are in the same age group because also the emotional development is different. So teachers are the ones who get in contact with them and find out which level is perfect for them or fits them.
If they want to go ice-skating or if they want to go swimming they come up to us and ask us if they can organize a trip or exhibition like that. If they go on class trips they usually organize everything. So they often ask for something and we try to see if there are enough adults who have the possibility of going there with them for a week or two weeks.»
«The planning of the whole school year is created together between the teachers, adults and the students in September»
«At the beginning of school year in secondary, the teachers, the adults and pupils from this age are together planning the whole year, what they want to do during the year. So it’s really a planning on a big screen. It’s prepared in September. So they come up with ideas. They can say for example, we would like to learn an ancient language, and then they try to find out if they have the possibility of finding someone who can help them.«
What happens when the pupils don’t take part in the offers?
«They can stop. It’s really important that the adults have a look if they stop continuously. If it is like this, then the adult has the task of looking for the reasons and what is behind this behaviour. And then they start a process of speaking and looking.«
«Learning is more efficient when the children are relaxed are for this outdoor space is a key part of the school «
The first thing you will see is the big playground area. That is really important and we have also a big gym. Then we have rooms like this one, learning arrangements for different age groups. In the other side, in the buildings we also have learning studio, project rooms, creative studio for wood work, kitchens where they can cook and bake which is important too, music room. We have also rooms where we have coaching together with them. Even if they have difficulties or conflicts they can go into one of this smaller rooms. We have something like a library where they can have more silent to relax or to read books.
The outdoor space is very important. For the small children the basic need is movement so we want to allow them to follow that basic need. And for this outdoor is not only outdoor is really an space very needed because the learning process is much more efficient than when they are relaxed. So people coming from the outside they realize often that we have a great outdoor area.
The digital media and managing the abuse of smartphones is the challenge
We have as basic stuff Montessori materials and we choose it according to the curriculum and also according to the needs of our children, of our students.
To be bored is normal is for everybody and you also have to handle it as a child, as an adult in any age. But if there is a boring state during a long period then it’s the same than I told you before. You have to look as adult why this child is bored like this and then you have to work with it.
One challenge is the media. It’s more media being used and this is maybe one of the causes why they are more bored than they used to be, and sometimes it takes time to cope with that. Specially with teenagers, they are influenced by that and then they start being bored when they cannot use their media.
We want the children to work with the hands, to work really with things and not only to be in this virtual world so we think that to train children in computer is enough to do it at 12 years old. We look for rules and have discussions about how we can manage this situation. For some of them is difficult to be without the phone for five hours.
We don’t totally forbid it because we know that they find places to use them so we are always in contact and talking about it with them. There are only a few rules about where to use the phones, only in certain situations when they are doing research and we are in contact and we see if they are using Netflix or something like that. We realize that that is more helpful that totally telling them not to use the phones.
What can you do when there is somebody with no structure inside himself? You have speak with them, you have to understand their problems, this is a coaching process from my understanding.
No exams, no grades but continuous observation and coaching
To evaluate what the students learn or what the student is doing, which is his developmental process we have each week a meeting between the adults and then we share what each students has done or if we are worried about somebody or not. Each of us has about 10 students that we are responsible for, that we coach and we also have to look into their development.
So this is one part of the evaluation and the other part is that students also have a certain type of work. There is a practical work and a written work that they have to do to pass from the primary to secondary school. It’s also a way of letting the parents know their process on each field.