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Finding the right pace for learning PDF Print E-mail
Written by ASHA SIAD   
Thursday, 12 August 2010 14:43

Schools in Calgary take different approaches to aligning teaching methods and students

In 2001, Harry R. Lewis, then dean of Harvard College, sent a letter to Harvard undergraduates entitled, “Slow Down: Getting more out of Harvard by doing less.” In it, he advised students to concentrate on the quality of their college experience, not the quantity of it. That was almost 10 years ago, but as the International Slow Food Movement, also favouring quality over quantity, gains momentum, more discussion has begun about slow education.

Anthony Metz has chosen the Calgary Waldorf School for his daughter Sophie because he feels the teaching style matches her natural creativity.
Photo: Asha Siad/Calgary Journal
While there are no real “slow schools”—something sounds intrinsically wrong just in the name—schools around the world and here in Calgary incorporate some of the principles of slow education.

Dr. Irene Naested, chair of the department of education and schooling at Mount Royal University, says the term “slow education” can encompass numerous educational theories, which can be seen put into practice in schools such as Montessori and Waldorf, as well as others.

“There are many schools that have attempted this and they include public, separate and private schools, [and] home schooling and alternative schooling programs, which include language-based (French, Spanish, etc.), religious, sports schools, fine arts and performing arts, and alternative delivery,” she says, adding the latter includes independent study, problem/inquiry based learning, experiential learning, outdoor pursuits and multiple intelligence.

Still, the Waldorf School is often connected with slow education. Alison Stewart, enrolment co-ordinator at the Toronto Waldorf School, says she’s been hearing the term “slow education” used for about 10 to 15 years.

“[Waldorf] education has all the same criteria as the slow food movement, you know, slowing things down in general so the children can be children first,” she says. “They learn the right thing at the right time.”

Preserving tradition also plays a big role in the slow food movement, and part of the Waldorf method is teaching trade-crafts such as knitting, sewing, weaving, wood-working, baking and cooking.

“Most of the parents I meet are looking for an environment that allows their children to flourish without being under a heavy pressure and strain in the early years,” says Stewart.

This type of education appeals to some Calgary parents. Anthony Metz describes his daughter Sophie, a soft-spoken three-year-old, as an exuberant, witty and an imaginative girl, and he wants her quality of education to match.

That’s why he’s enrolled her in the Parent and Tot Program at the Calgary Waldorf School, which offers programs ranging from pre-school level to Grade 9.

“I want her to be creative, to think critically and to have an open mind,” says Metz. “I want her to be her own person and I want to encourage creativity…and one of the things about Waldorf is they really emphasize creativity; it’s a big part.”

Also often associated with slow education is the Montessori approach, which focuses on independence as a key aspect of learning for children.

Maria Montessori, founder of the educational method, once said, “The greatest sign of success for a to be able to say, ‘The children are now working as if I did not exist’.’”

There are over 20 schools that practice Montessori methods in Calgary, from pre-school to Grade 6.

Dolly Debnath, a Montessori teacher at the Carousel Montessori Preschool, Kindergarten, Daycare & School Age Care, explains the Montessori teaching philosophy as child-directed.  

“They learn from their mistakes,” says Debnath. “Once we give them the lesson, then they have their own choice of what they want to do. The teacher is there as an observer. We just keep our eyes on them and how they’re doing.”

Debnath explains how at the school, they start from the beginning: not the beginning of education, but of practical life teaching.  

“We start from pouring and folding, very small things that help them in the future. You will be surprised to see a very young child, three years old, folding a napkin so perfectly. That’s what we start with,” said Debnath.

At Green Learning Academy, a private school in Calgary for kindergarten through to Grade 9, they also use student-directed teaching methods.

Their philosophy is to provide the opportunity for students to work at their own pace and level of complexity, depending on the subject.

Stephanie Rogers, operations manager at the Green Learning Academy, says when students maintain their own pace in lessons, it helps them to retain knowledge better.

“We’re teaching them the tools to find it themselves and because of that, it makes it important to them.”

Other schools have incorporated aspects of the Slow Food Movement into their curriculum, such as growing your own food and learning where your food comes from.

Wildwood School is involved in the Grounds for Change project, offered by the Calgary Zoo, which looks at developing a relationship with nature. Children attend an outdoor classroom and participate in planting and maintaining gardens.

There are a number of schools in Calgary that maintain similar fruit and vegetable gardens on their school campuses, including Belfast Elementary School, Henry Wise Wood High School and West Dalhousie School.

As for Anthony Metz, he has plans to enroll Sophie in the Calgary Waldorf School for grade school.

“Creativity is really important for us in our own life, and I’d like Sophie to grow up with that too, with the ability to express herself,” says Metz.