A unique feature of the Lewes New School curriculum are the co-created projects, which take place four afternoons each week. These provide experiential, open-ended explorations into culture and community, time and place, science and technology and the natural world.
Rather than choosing from a list of pre-determined topics, themes are chosen in a variety of ways. An idea might develop from discussions inspired by an event in the local or wider community, or an object that a child has brought into school.
In response to a range of real experiences they have shared, such as a visit to an exhibition or the reading of a text, children ask questions, share thoughts, establish themes and develop ideas. The teacher’s role is to facilitate the process that unfolds, motivating, challenging and inspiring the group as they move from initial ideas to published work.
The teacher picks out themes and questions that will be relevant to the class’s needs and experience to date. Once the project theme is decided upon and the children have set to work their ideas, the teacher facilitates the learning to ensure the children are challenged and skills are developed. Some projects last weeks, others a few days. This open-ended nature to the curriculum is what makes our approach to learning different from other schools.
Projects are made purposeful with research and enquiry taking forms that are as close as possible to those practised in the wider adult world. For example, children share books at book clubs (rather then be ‘heard’ reading to the teacher), they write stories over months and then publish these into books (rather than do pre-determined writing tasks in an hour or two in an exercise book with a theme dictated by the teacher), children work as (science, history, geography) research teams who might in the end share ideas through a range of media such as film; exhibition; written publication; theatre, etc. Working in this way is motivating, purposeful and empowering.
In the course of any project children are encouraged to pursue individual interests and questions so as to maintain high levels of engagement and appropriate levels of challenge. For example, of a team of scientists researching a range of questions relating to the difference between soil and sand – each child’s understanding and skill being stretched and at the same time the group enjoying the bounty of it’s collective endeavour.
Autonomy and Collaboration
Children at Lewes New School are given a high level of responsibility in directing their own learning, and the timetable allows them to do this. They can decide where they might work, who they might work with, when they might work and for how long.
A profound sense of ownership of the learning process brings much reward – there is no need for certificates or awards to motivate or entice children to do what is required.
Throughout the learning process, the teachers encourage the children to think independently and critically. They become active and confident participants of the class, fostered by a culture of collaboration and debate. Without the fear of being judged, the children learn that making mistakes is a necessary part of achievement. The children are encouraged to offer each other constructive feedback and support. This helps them not be reliant on the teachers for judging how good they are at something and encourages them to think for themselves rather than look to the teacher for the right answer.
As part of our project-based curriculum, relevant trips are planned to enrich and stimulate the subject. Each project is different, so the the opportunity for taking the learning outside the classroom also differs. A project on Norman history, for example, took the group to the beaches where William landed his ships, a project on Michael Morpurgo took the group to the Imperial War Museum, a project on sustainable architecture took a group to the Earthship in Stanmer Park, Brighton.