No screen-SFO

Ok. Being without screens doesn’t solve everything.

For a month now, we have had no screens during SFO in the mornings. And with the advent of real summer temperatures lately, no screens during SFO in the afternoons either.

This has partly been to raise awareness about screen use for our “Internet topic week”. The no-screens policy has been almost astonishingly easy to implement.

All things considered, the students’ screen use during SFO was pretty wholesome before the restrictions. Mostly scratch or chess, occasionally the music editing software lmms, or searches for videos of cool kick bike tricks.

Writing in a totally personal capacity here, I still think restricting the screens has been warranted.

  • The oldest group is on the brink of puberty and will soon be drawn to a wider variety of content, much of it created for nefarious reasons. Some schools deal with this through censorship and play-acting the Communist Party of China – this does not seem like an attractive option.
  • As of yet, the constant use of smart phones among students teachers at other schools report, has not been an issue here. Creating a culture that values face-to-face communication and real life friendships seems like a good way to keep dodging the bullet.
  • None of the children are seriously facing an immediate future where they will not be exposed to screens often enough.
  • Some of the most enthusiastic computer users during SFO are also very dedicated computer users during project hours. They need opportunities to do other things.

This no-screen policy is not set in stone. But simply removing the computers from SFO has offered an opportunity to better assess when they are useful, and when they’re not.

Some small changes

Some parents have commented on how their children have become decidedly one-sided in their academic pursuits. Concentrating on one subject at a time is not problematic in itself. And as many parents discovered during lockdown, alternating constantly between subjects can actually be seriously inefficient.

But there’s a limit to everything.

We previously had STEM-subjects upstairs and HUM-subjects downstairs, a system that created an intuitive sense among the teachers about who was doing what. “Hm, Jean-Luc and Mogens have not been downstairs for a while, let’s sort this out.”

The re-assignment of the classrooms (again, because of Corona) removed what in retrospect was a very handy navigational tool for the teachers.

After discussing this with the kids at the réunion du matin a month ago, we have now divided the days into “STEM-days” and “HUM-days”, thus creating a managable distinction between the subjects. Students who are really motivated for, say, maths, still have the opportunity of solving math problems on “HUM-days”, but only after completing agreed-upon assignments in humanistic subjects.

It turns out none of the students were completely one-sided in their interests, after all. Having decided together to ensure everybody gets to cover all subjects was all it took.

We have also asked those who study “exotic” academic subjects (German, Spanish) to move these pursuits to “project hours” after lunch, rather than studying this during “work hours”.

We have also upped our game in the ticket-department, by formalizing how they are posted and how they are double-checked. As so often at this place, the older kids help the younger ones, but now in a more structured fashion. An added benefit of our new system is being able to systematically give approval to students who have reached their goals. The school’s focus on independence and self-motivation sometimes comes at the cost of not appropriately acknowledging when a task has been completed to satisfaction. We feel we are on our way to remedying this.

Those tickets might be a boring subject for parents, but utilized correctly they offer the teachers (and parents!) a reliable method of gauging what the kids are doing. The ticket system is crucial for a system where everybody works at their own pace. We still have some distance to cover, e.g. how to register participation in teacher-led “capsules”.

But we have plans for this too.

Towards normalcy

Today’s réunion de matin.

Ever since corona, we’ve had the morning meetings in the gym. This has been decidedly sub-optimal. The acoustics there are horrendous, and many kids have had to start the réunion du matin in a state of exalted, but abruptly interrupted horseplay.

But now we’re back in the kindergarten, in the sweet, calm atmosphere many parents remember fondly as their first introduction to the school.

The EFD prides itself on not being hung-up on compulsion, but the morning assemblies are not just fluff and sing-alongs. Attendance brings the kids up to speed on what’s going on at school, and gives everybody some sense of direction. For parents, getting kids out of the door in the morning can demand the logistics of invading a medium-sized country, but efforts to come in time for the réunion du matin really might be worth it.

All aboard

Today, we could finally hold a morning assembly with both the kindergarten and the school kids at the same time.

Age integration is an important pillar of L’école franco-danoise. Smaller children get approachable role models, larger kids get experience in helping smaller ones and the chance to demonstrate competence and responsibility.

Maths lecture

Mathematician, tree climber and friend of EFD Adam dropped by to hold a maths lecture about traffic. In French.

Not everyone who attended was mathy or francophone. But even some kids outside of the presumed target demographic could give a decent outline afterwards.

Just paying attention even while not understanding everything is a skill, too.

Adding some colour

A couple of years of kids’ play, scotch tape and blu-tack ages a wall pretty fast. We touched up one of the classrooms with some green.

No-budget redecoration:
we found some paint, threw out some stuff and used a lot of elbow grease.

We have also created a brand new room for the kids, the “HUM lab”. This was a room with a vague purpose that over time had metamorphosised into a kind of teachers’ office. That was super weird, as teachers were hardly ever seen there.

An extra room gives the students more options where to study, and with whom. The window facing one of the classrooms makes it possible for children to close the door while teachers can still keep an eye on them. The HUM lab has a slightly more “grown up” vibe than the rest of the school, including a map of Europe where DDR, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia still appear to be doing just fine. A lesson in geography and history at the same time.

High budget redecoration.
We found the paint, but actually paid for the plant.

This room might also be useful for teaching smaller groups and practicing reading out loud.

Quick fix

A school is like a home, in the sense that stuff adds up and a lot of things that may have had a purpose previously just end up taking a lot of space and getting in the way.

The difference between “halfway there” and “abominable mess” can be hard to recognize with the naked eye.

Some parents and staff have let themselves loose at the school premises these days. One central goal has been to make all relevant books more readily accessible.

And those nets don’t put themselves up.

We are still some adjustments shy of a five star hotel standard. If you have tools, competence or just way too much free time on your hands, get in touch!

German at the French-Danish school

… described in English.

Some of the students at school speak German at home, and one of these sparked an interest in studying the language. There is now a small core progressing very fast, and a larger circle with a more casual interest. In the first group, the tutor is actually younger than her protégées.

Taking the “Rotkäppchen”-story apart to see how many words they know, and how many they can guess.

I have checked what the local germanophiles retain after handing in their work for correcting by asking annoying, random questions throughout the day. Some remember every word they have read, some remember almost nothing. This appears to be almost entirely age dependent.

Exciting and impressive as this academic pursuit is, acquiring a new skill often starts off with gathering low-hanging fruit. Kids, and often adults too, get a rush of satisfaction from appearing to learn so much to begin with, so fast! Inevitably, you will reach a plateau where you just don’t progress very much. Traversing beyond that level we all need a complicated toolkit of good work habits, fixed deadlines, motivations, potential rewards for success and so on. We soon need to find some ways for the German group to be able to measure their progress.

But so far, this has been fun and inspiring to watch.

Well yes, but what do they do all day?

A quick guide to the daily schedule at school. Because your kids think this is natural and aren’t going to tell you anything.

A newly parent-donated stool during “Reading hour”.

There will be more in-depth information and discussion about the different points in the schedule later.

09:00 – 09:15 Morning assembly: As you all know, we start our days with a réunion du matin at 9 o’clock. A child chairs the meeting, they learn to get -and keep – the attention of a large group. We start with chanting together “en, to, tre, god morgen un, deux, trois bonjour”. We give short and important messages about what’s going on this particular day, and round it off with a song.

0915 – 1100: Work hours: After the assembly, the kids amble (mostly) peacefully to the classrooms. They pick up their books and get to work. The calm and determination is quite a magical sight. This is not something I would have thought possible, judging from my experience in other (entirely fine and adequate) schools. The teachers then ambulate, helping the ones who are stuck and paying attention to the ones who are off track. The children choose what subjects to work on, and assign themselves a quota for how much they need to do before they can ask to go to recess. Most kids reach their goals some time around or after 09:45. They ask the teacher to look over their work, and may then go, and come back at 10:15. Some kids are so engrossed in what they’re doing, they choose to forego free time and continue through the second work hour, 10:15 – 11:00.

Look, not every child is super diligent all the time. They’re children, and they have different personalities. But most set themselves goals that are reasonable while not being too easy. They do talk (in voices at library level) to their friends but don’t fool around endlessly, despite not being strictly supervised. When they have mistakes, they don’t get to leave until they’ve corrected their work.

We don’t point out every single spelling mistake, though. Getting significant volume and speed in writing and reading is more valuable than getting everything right at age six. (Insert snide and disrespectful comment here about French and Danish spelling conventions.)

11:30 Lunch

12:00 Outdoors. The kids can go back in after 12:30.

12:30 (voluntary starting point) – 13:15 Reading hour. The students read books or comics. Again, not a common sight at other schools. Just a bunch of kids shutting up and reading. As the HUM guy here I have some issues about certain students reading below their level and have some plans, but come on. Most kids today never get peace and quiet to read on a daily basis.

13:15 – 15:00 Project hours. Starts with a roll call, and a short update about various projects. Sometimes (especially Wednesdays) there are presentations. The rest of the time is spent working on one’s project.

13:15 – 15:00 on Fridays: Conseil. This is the kids’ own agora, or town hall meeting. They get to evaluate the week and air various issues. This is also where we update our tickets.

Classes and lectures: Capsules, subject-specific classes (including music on Thursdays), are held at various points during work hours and project hours. These are voluntary, as the group’s diversity in age and kinds of competence is so high. Some children might go through phases where they are only interested in one or two subjects, but for the most part this seems to regulate itself over time. Their projects are normally structured in a way that incorporates many different subject areas. Having to write coherently and correctly when presenting a scientific project,e.g, and using historical or cultural references.