Quirky school creates rich learning experiences for English language students

Issue: Volume 97, Number 12

Posted: 16 July 2018
Reference #: 1H9jai

A full-size cow, a huge giraffe mural, a flying dinosaur, birds and images of other wildlife on the walls and ceilings inside an Auckland school are being used to stimulate language development and writing skills.

A cow inside The Gardens School in Manurewa, Auckland, has proven to be a real conversation starter and an opportunity for oral language learning by students needing to expand and use their English vocabulary.

The resin statue is part of a menagerie of creatures in the school’s beautiful new building that opened this year, which is packed full of art, creativity and surprises. The aim is to encourage curiosity, raise questions, stimulate talking, discussion, and writing, and more engagement with learning.

The Gardens is a decile 8 school but the local community has a large migrant population, where English is not the first language. Around a quarter of the students are funded for English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL).  Principal Susannah Fowler says many more children are starting school with low levels of oral language, not just those learning English, and this has a significant impact on their ability to learn to read and write.

Many have never actually seen a cow or other farm animals, let alone exotic animals such as a giraffe.

The cow, called Princess Consuela, fascinates the students, who sometimes pretend to “milk” it, just like on a real-life farm.

A model of a pterodactyl dinosaur is suspended from the ceiling above the learners in a teaching space. A huge mural of a giraffe stares out from a wall. A tui ‘flies’ through the building through a series of paintings of the bird in different positions on walls and pillars. A small turtle sculpted in stone lies on the ground in different places at different times in the building. Dozens of paper cranes float elegantly over a walkway.

It’s a living, breathing environment, with new and interesting things being added to the décor all the time – the latest is a small fire truck in the foyer.

“Oral learning underpins all learning and children who are engaged, curious and happy are far more likely to learn,” says Susannah.

The pterodactyl sets off questions about what types of dinosaurs there are, and naming them, which adds to students’ vocabulary. The giraffe mural has led to conversations such as where giraffes live and what they might eat.

A group of children recently went to see a live performance of a Shakespeare play, Julius Caesar, and Susannah says they loved it.

The school is a living, breathing environment where new sights, such as this antique fire truck toy in the foyer, stimulate young minds.

“It was an authentic language-rich experience that provided yet another opportunity for language learning and new life experience, and sparked vivid writing by the students about what they had seen on stage.

“We cannot assume all children have the same experiences before they arrive at school, or outside of school, so we have a strong focus on oral skills. We are encouraging students to ask questions, and express themselves using their new vocabulary, which stimulates their writing.”

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 9:00 am, 16 July 2018

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