The LPS has adapted a “Paideia” philosophy and modified it to suit our Australian context. “Paideia” is a Greek word which relates to the upbringing of a child and conveys the concept of a child’s total education – intellectual, artistic, emotional, physical and social. It is a very democratic approach to teaching and learning that seeks to equip young people with all the social skills and knowledge they need to become caring and active citizens of the world.
The Paideia philosophy is founded upon one essential principle – that the same course of basic schooling should be provided to all students. This objective is based on the premise that what is common to all human beings is more fundamental than the ways in which they differ. We share a common humanity, personal dignity, human rights and aspirations.
This principle is not in conflict with our school’s focus on the individual, but rather is supported by it. In terms of the context of a Paideia program, all students share in the same opportunities and experiences. However, this does not mean that every child will go through the programme at the same time or at the same pace.
The Paideia Method outlines three streams of teaching and learning by which its objectives can be best met. They are: Didactic instruction, Coaching, Socratic questioning.
Didactic instruction is the “chalk and talk” method of teaching and learning, where the teacher has a body of knowledge to convey and the students learn by listening. This form of instruction certainly has its place, although at The Launceston Preparatory School it will not always be to a class as a whole but also to smaller groups. In Australia today, researchers estimate that an average of approximately 70% of time at school is spent on this mode, under the Paideia philosophy, however, this proportion is drastically reduced to around 20% of schooling time. This is an aspect of Paideia strongly supported by the school.
Consistent with the Paideia method, we spend most of our time in Coaching, believing that children learn best by “doing”. This mode allows teaching to be most constructive and learning to be most lasting, because children are actually practising the skills they need under the eye of a coach, who will refine, support and re-teach each student as necessary. About 70% of our time is spent in this column of teaching and learning, which allows us most effectively focus on individual needs.
It is the third strand of the Paideia method the Socratic questioning that most clearly distinguishes it from others. Socrates used to teach the young men of Greece by “drawing out of them what they already knew” rather than by telling them things. So too do we encourage children to consider issues and develop values by exposing them to ideas and drawing from them their own opinions through carefully constructed questioning.
A Socratic strand runs through all our teaching, but the Socratic Seminar with the teacher facilitating the thought provoking question has the greatest capacity to transform the nature of the students.
This is because:
a bond of mutual respect is created among all participants
each student must learn to think critically, understand ideas, solve problems, and make decisions
it helps to resolve conflicts by encouraging students to apply their knowledge and values to practical situations
articulation, listening and critical thinking skills are all improved.
Traditionally, schools have organised students into grades purely on the basis of children sharing the same age. However, we believe this to be rather arbitrary arrangement made on the basis of convenience rather than educational rationale. Students at the Launceston Preparatory school are organised into multi-age groupings. Whilst Kindergarten and Early Learning students are kept as a homogenous group (for their comfort and stability) all other children are grouped as 5-7 year olds, 7-9 year olds and 9-12 year olds. We have found this to have benefits in individual achievement but it also most effectively supports the self esteem of each child, promotes their interest in learning and focuses teaching and learning practices upon the particular needs of the students. Children in these groups are not streamed by ability, but more by social factors, such as who works well with whom.
The second most important organisational factor that distinguishes our school is our active maintenance of small class sizes. We believe that the optimum size for a class is 15-18 students and so that is the maximum range for the students in their multi-age groupings. Within that class size, however, children will be coached in even smaller groups according to their particular skill needs at the time and not necessarily confined by preconceived and often artificial idea of what a child of that age should be covering.
The third characteristic feature of our school that needs to be noted is that students do not stay in one room with one teacher throughout their day. Whilst we expect our staff to be generalists, it is a fact of life that all teachers have different strengths and we seek to exploit these.
Younger children move between two and three teachers during the day who broadly divide their expertise into sciences and the humanities. They may also enjoy some specially trained teachers for Music and Physical Education. The older the children, the more changes they have in the structure of their school day. An 11 year old, for example, may move from the teacher for literacy skills to another for Maths to another for the Arts and another for areas of musical study, Physical Education or LOTE.
We believe this approach has several benefits: a variety of teachers is stimulating, children learn to get along with different people, physically moving between lessons and seeing the results of other children’s work in other rooms can be refreshing and stimulating, and it facilitates the students’ transition to high-school.
These three distinguishing organisational features of the Launceston Preparatory School are important to understand as the context for our implementation of the Paideia philosophy.
Each term, the staff decides upon a theme to act as an “umbrella” over the content and skills to be taught across the school. This is not a feature prescribed by the original developers of the Paideia programme, but one that we at The Launceston Preparatory School have found to be a valuable vehicle for achieving our objectives. An Australian-based theme is always selected once each year, pursuant to the Paideia philosophy that children need to know about their own country and its society if they are to become active and constructive citizens within it. For the other two terms each year, we try to vary the key learning area bases of the themes, encompassing opportunities for focusing on a range of humanities or science-based ideas. Each staff member then develops an approach to the theme that suits the age of the children and the curriculum areas they are teaching.
There are many reasons why we develop a thematic approach in this way. Foremost among these is the way it has proven to capture and sustain the interest of the children – and children learn best when they are interested! Their understanding of the complexities of a theme can be fostered further as they move from one room to another in the course of their day, sharing the work that other groups – perhaps of different ages – have covered on the same theme. The thematic approach also helps build a collegial atmosphere among staff, where resources and ideas are shared and different groups of children often bought together to learn ways that are more meaningful.
It also facilitates our teaching to an integrated and spiral curriculum. This is where subjects are linked together in our teaching and concepts and skills are periodically revisited, perhaps at a more sophisticated level, to consolidate and extend understanding.
As children are vertically grouped, they get to many opportunities during each lesson to tutor others. This strengthens the family approach we encourage and focuses teacher planning on the individual child or small group rather than on an assumption of grade-level ability. Cross-age tutoring allows needy children to re-visit content frequently without labels being attached, as they tutor another child. Children learn extremely well from other children and our older students provide excellent role-models for younger children. Children look forward to their tutoring sessions each week. For the tutors it provides a chance to explain learning situations to others. It encourages self-respect and confidence and gives each child a chance to be a leader. It also brings the children working together closer and gives everyone a sense of belonging as a school family. At some time during each week, all children apart from Kinders have an opportunity to tutor. We find the greatest benefits come when there is a considerable gap of years between groups.
The Paideia method explicitly regards “civics” or preparation for citizenship by knowledge and understanding of the institutions of this country, as one of its main objectives of basic schooling. It is interesting to note that “civics education” has become a priority of the federal Department of Education in recent years. To this end our children are explicitly taught about the history and growth of social institutions and the people’s role in those. But in addition, children at The Launceston Preparatory School are constantly provided with opportunities for the practice of good citizenship not just the theory. This is achieved through immersion in community activities – visiting homes for the elderly, assisting organisations in their charity work, sponsoring a child in Malawi and many other real-life experiences in our local community. The issues we explore in our Socratic seminars also build in our children a system of values and ethics and an empathy for others that will help them to become worthwhile citizens throughout their lives – articulate, caring, aware, interested and knowledgeable.
Teachers, as professional people, are always constantly evaluating and refining their craft. Our staff happily share ideas with in-service and out of school professional development. We encourage staff to make time to reflect on their teaching practices and to discuss these with other teachers. All staff work closely together for the betterment of the children. Our teachers and administrators are life-long learners, an important Paideia criterion. In every Paideia school the principal or principals should function as the principal teachers. This provides good role models and helps the principals remain child-focused and aware, not autocratic and distanced from education. Our school’s two Co-Principals spend about 70% of their time actually teaching classes and are responsible for their home groups and subject areas, like other teaching staff.
We believe that children coming to The Launceston Preparatory School should feel as though they are coming from one “home” to another! Thus our buildings are deliberately kept as inviting houses, maintaining the physical appeal of homes rather than institutions. The school grounds offer attractive, shady garden lawn areas for recreation. They incorporate several networks of equipment that have been specifically designed to develop children’s social and physical skills. We also believe in utilizing existing community resources rather than duplicating them. Our school is located in an area rich with marvellous facilities that we use regularly. These include:
Nearby sporting fields
Hart Street Tennis Centre
Hoblers Bridge netball courts
Various swimming centres
Facilities such as these augment our own and uphold our belief in the importance of immersing children in their local communities.