Allowing students to find their passion changes everything

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08 June 2015 by Anne Heavey
Ken Robinson, one of the most influential and inspiring voices in education, entitled his 2009 book ‘The Element: how finding your passion changes everything’.

The debate, framed as character versus knowledge and skills, has had a lot of media coverage and sparked much controversy in recent months. At Springwell Learning Community there is no debate - the acquisition of knowledge and skills, and the development of character, are both sides of the same curriculum coin.

Students at Springwell Learning Community experience a personalised and engaging curriculum that succeeds in both promoting a love of literature and development of empathy and social understanding.

The Elements developed as a thematic curriculum, with each half term project being guided by an umbrella theme and core text. These texts cover a wide range of styles and genres and expose students to everything from World War 2 sources, Shakespeare and poetry. The expectation that all students will read these texts and produce written work of a high quality goes without saying, and the expectation is made reality because of the outstanding pedagogical framework which supports the curriculum.

The key pedagogical principal that pervades the curriculum is that if students are interested, engaged and curious then they will want to learn and will become passionate about their learning. With this in mind all topics start with a ‘wow way in’ – a learning event, often outside of the classroom, which captures the imaginations of the students and lays the foundations for the project.

Completing a substantial piece of written work is an essential part of each topic. In order to support students in achieving this goal, the teachers construct experiential learning opportunities so that students can develop a meaningful understanding of the people, times and places that they will be writing about. This also enables the students to develop their own social awareness and sense of empathy as they explore the lives and experiences of others, which are often very far removed from their own life experiences. They increase their understanding and tolerance of others and develop into rounded young people.

Each topic ends with a "wow way out". When we filmed at Springwell we had the pleasure of experiencing one of these "wow ways out". The students and teachers created a living museum open to parents and friends to mark the end of the World War 2 topic. The living museum featured dramatic reconstructions of the home front, interactive exhibits about the main political leaders, videos, written pieces and art work. The energy and engagement from all involved at the event created an exciting atmosphere and the quality of the exhibits demonstrated the deep level of understanding that the students had acquired throughout the project. It is safe to say that we experienced something special that day.

Many of students at the Springwell Learning Community face significant barriers to learning. Through building positive nurturing relationships and embedding the principle of unconditional positive regard, the students are (in Executive Principal David Whitaker’s words) "bombarded with kindness" and presented with a learning environment which enables those barriers to be broken down. The combination of a calm, structured and optimistic environment and engaging, exciting and immersive learning opportunities, is a recipe for success for the students at Springwell.

Many of these students are on their second, third or fourth chance at education, and their success and high achievement goes to show that allowing students to find and then follow their passion changes everything.

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