Tabetha Bhatti, Volunteer Coach
As widely accepted interpretation of the term ‘success’ dictates, a pupil’s ‘success’ is measured by their level of attainment; the higher their grades, the better they fare in the pursuit of much contested University places. Ultimately, the more esteemed the institution of higher education they attend, the better their prospects of employment. Moreover, the calibre of an individual school and its teaching staff is also gauged by overall percentage of A*-C achieved annually. The unfortunate phenomena of ‘teaching to the test’, whereby students are prepared intensively to take public and/or alternative standardised exams, such as the TOEFL/SATs, throughout the course of key academic years, tends to weigh heavily upon the psyche of teaching professionals. We, as young teachers, can often find ourselves pandering to established curricula obsessively, and, on occasion, losing sight of the fact that a pupil’s formal schooling should not be at the expense of their education.
Upon graduating, I found myself teaching English in Saudi Arabia. Although it was a Saudi establishment, the school was accredited to run an American International curriculum. As a result, it was mandatory for my Grade 12 pupils to graduate having taken the SAT and TOEFL exams, whilst achieving a Grade Point Average (GPA) of 3.5 or above in English, so as to ensure they could secure university places abroad (primarily throughout North America and Western Europe). Thus, the temptation to drill SAT words into the heads of my seniors was severe, for example. However, I was lucky enough to be trained by the ‘Mawhiba’ Programme. Literally meaning, ‘gift’ or ‘talent’, Mawhiba (Programme) had been designed with the aim of turning traditional teaching pedagogy on its head, whereby the educator – traditionally expected to exert total control within the classroom – was trained to promote student-led learning. Moreover, the emphasis upon identifying the individual strengths of pupils, and actively nurturing their ‘gifts’ or ‘talents,’ was great. As a result, I had no choice but to assume the role of the 'guide on the side', as opposed to the 'sage on a stage', so to speak, for the better part of my lessons.
In CoachBright, I found a social enterprise that aimed to work alongside schools to address the unintended consequences of 'teaching to the test', as did the Mawhiba Programme in Saudi. This was made apparent by an approach that fostered student engagement from the very onset of the programme. Specifically, it was proposed that all students would have to complete a research paper, and by providing a purposefully broad and abstract topic, one requiring contemplation of 'the future', students would naturally pursue specific topics that interested them most; they'd take charge of, thus engage in, their learning process. All the while, my primary role as a mentor would be to support them through the process - an approach I'm naturally inclined to as a teacher. In my experience thus far, when given ownership of their learning in a supportive environment, students tend to take charge. For example, a 14yr old young lady I'm working alongside expressed a desire to go to medical school early on during our acquaintance. She determined, after a particularly dynamic 20 minute brainstorming session, that her research paper would explore the "role of technology in Medicine today, and how further technological advancement (and innovation) would effect the practice of medicine within the next 20 years.'' Incredible.
Over the course of the programme, we've borne witness to students show up to after-school sessions on a near weekly basis. Their schedules seem demanding, unforgiving almost, with our previous session being after a school day that included three tests, for example. Despite the rigorous nature of their routines, pupils have shown up. This commendable degree of commitment of our pupils seems to stem from a genuine desire to further enhance their communication skills, written and/or public speaking skills. I've watched as a young gentleman has struggled to deliver a 2 minute spoken presentation on his research thus far; then utilise the feedback provided to present once again, only to do so confidently - in defiance of his nerves. As a tutor, watching pupils develop/ refine skills of their own volition has been inordinately rewarding. Moreover, watching pupils work diligently despite the lack of a strictly enforced code of discipline and formalised teacher-student dynamic has reinforced the notion of young people being inherently able to take charge of their learning once they are engaged. Moreover, it has served as the ultimate validation of the student-led learning approach of which CoachBright is a huge proponent.
I can only hope the programme continues to expand its operation throughout schools in low income communities throughout London. Onwards and upwards, CoachBright!