How does The Vine School in Cape Town encourage a love of learning?
In a typical classroom, children engage in an assignment-work‑completion routine which develops a particular attitude to work. They are expected to finish the task at hand, get on to the next task, and do what is required to earn the desired grade. The focus is on getting the work done. The process, the act of work itself, takes on a secondary role. This system encourages them to develop habits aimed toward a “good-enough” outcome—at the expense of working well. Children learn to ask “What must I do to get an A?” or “What must I do to pass?”
The Vine School has a different approach to work. The work itself is valuable and worth doing for its own sake. Curiosity sparks an interest in knowing and work is needed to master what you are interested in. Work is meant to be a natural response to knowing, not something you do to get a grade or praise and approval. Our students are encouraged to write, speak, think, compute, draw and paint, as a response to what they learnt rather than as a task to complete.
When the work of mastering something is difficult, instead of giving up they can rely on a teacher to come alongside to help them. But they are the ones who make the effort and earn the reward of knowing - something far more lasting and valuable than just getting a grade or approval.
What curriculum does The Vine School use?
As a member school of Ambleside Schools International in Southern Africa (ASISA), we use the international Ambleside Curriculum, adapted for South African schools to teach the history, geography, and 2nd and 3rd languages appropriate to our context. Great books by great authors have been selected and arranged by an international team of educators with decades of experience.
The curriculum includes classical literature, biographies, poetry and primary source material for history and science. Singapore Maths reinforces a three-step learning process which moves from real objects to pictures to symbols. Grammar and other disciplinary subjects are taught sequentially, precept upon precept, through the aid of well-recognized quality text books. Other subjects such as music appreciation, picture study, handwork, nature study, transcription and recitation round out the curriculum.
Click HERE to watch a video about an Ambleside Education
What is “habit formation” and why is it emphasised?
Whether for good or ill, our lives are shaped by our habits. Over time, they become our character and serve to shape who we are, how we think, act, work, and relate. It is the goal of The Vine School teacher to support children in the development of habits that will serve them well for their entire lives both academically and relationally.
For example, if children can’t pay attention or sit still, they probably won’t get much out of a great reading or piece of poetry. Instead of accepting bad habits like not listening or constant fidgeting, teachers at The Vine School help children to develop the good habits that enable them to pay attention. Good academic and moral habits are what Charlotte Mason referred to as the “rails of life”.
How do Ambleside students do on standardized tests
For what little they measure about a person, Ambleside students perform consistently at the highest levels on standardised tests that independent schools are required to do by the Department of Education.
What athletic activities does the school offer?
Fitness, agility, ball skills, hand-eye coordination, balance, strength and good sportsmanship are all essential to health and life-long enjoyment of physical activities. To ensure that all pupils benefit from the physical training programme, two robust sessions every week form part of the normal curriculum. After school sports include soccer, mini cricket and netball.
Does the Ambleside curriculum align with CAPS?
CAPS is an acronym for “Curriculum Assessment Policy Statements”. It is an assessment-based programme focussed on promotion standards, defining the minimum required to pass from one grade to the next. It is driven by transformation goals which include access to higher learning for all, human rights, social justice and inclusivity. Ambleside education encompasses these noble intentions, by going far beyond them.
Students at The Vine School engage in a varied and rich curriculum which fosters deep, critical thinking skills. Our goal is not to educate only for the next stage on the academic ladder but for all of life. We agree with this statement by Dr. Daniel Coupland, “Man is made for work, but he’s also made for so much more… Education should be about the highest things. We should study … the stars, plant cells, Mozart’s Requiem… not simply because they’ll get us into the right college or into the right line of work. Rather, we should study these noble things because they can tell us who we are, why we’re here.”
How will being in a small school benefit my child(ren)?
Studies have shown that small schools produce, on average, students of a higher academic standard than larger schools. This has been attributed to “the culture of engagement”. Students in small schools do not just have the advantage of greater attention from the teacher due to smaller classes, they also benefit from a school culture which is more manageable. It is far easier to tailor education plans to suit smaller groups than it is to do so for larger ones. Other areas such as discipline, teacher-parent relations, morality, spirituality and ethos are far more manageable in smaller schools. Students are more easily engaged and included in school life.
What difference does it make to have a "philosophy driven school?"
Every school classroom has a philosophy. An educational philosophy answers the question, "Why we do what we do?" The philosophy you see playing out in a school classroom is based on one of these models: 1. whatever each individual teacher wants to do, or, 2. the vision of the head of school, or 3. a cohesive philosophy consistently applied, like Montessori, Waldorf, or Charlotte Mason.
Parents should understand the philosophy behind their children's education, because it affects everything that happens in the classroom. They should ask questions about how teachers are trained, because if they are not trained in the school’s philosophy, then the philosophy will be 'whatever each individual teacher wants to do' and the quality of education will be dependent on which teacher you happen to get. At The Vine School all teachers are in an ongoing training programme, growing in their understanding of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education. All teachers are supervised by HoD’s who sit in on lessons and meet afterwards to provide constructive advice. We invite you too to learn about the consistent philosophy of education at The Vine School by reading this website.
What is narration? Why is it used so much?
Narration is "telling back" whatever has been read, seen, or heard. A student who narrates is asked to use the author's own language, sequence and detail in their retelling, not in a parroted way, but in a way that makes the material their own. Narration is used in all subjects, including the disciplinary ones.
Narration is one of the quickest and easiest ways to hold pupils accountable for paying attention. It is impossible to narrate if you were not engaged in the lesson. This allows teachers to teach in greater breadth and depth than usual, because they can easily assess if children are learning or not.
Narration is emphasised because it is a simple, effective, powerful tool for the development of the mind. Through narration children learn to acquire knowledge from books; select, sort, and classify ideas; supply both the question and the answer; visualize; express themselves readily, fluently and with vitality; assemble knowledge into a form that can criticize, hold an opinion, or bring one thought to bear upon another.
Why does The Vine School cover so many subjects?
The Vine School covers 16 subjects a week because our philosophy is to spread a rich feast, to offer many avenues for learning, and to allow the mind of the child to appropriate knowledge. Subjects are taught in short lessons so that the habit of attention can be developed. Poetry, literature, phonics, read aloud, dictation, composition and grammar might, in another school, be grouped under Language Arts. In the same way, World and South African history, citizenship, geography might all be grouped under Humanities. At The Vine School each has its allocated time and title.
How do you measure student growth and achievement?
The Vine School teachers assess students daily in narration and conduct, and weekly in math and writing. Our students receive an extensive narrative evaluation of their academic as well as their character development twice a year. In addition, twice yearly our students have essay exam periods that are an important educational evaluative tool.
We do not give letter and number grades as these are an inadequate measure of student growth and achievement. Instead, our reports of progress and exams are supplemented by one-on-one meetings with parents to discuss strengths and weaknesses and strategize on ways to partner in educating the whole student.
Our goal is for students to be engaged learners, more interested in gaining knowledge than in getting a good grade. We have found greater understanding and learning happens when students search their papers for teachers' comments rather than glance at the grade and feel satisfied or discouraged. We would rather put before our students the challenge of doing their best work, than the contentment of getting the grade they wanted. In our classrooms students rarely ask, "Do we need to know this?" They simply apply themselves to learning.
How do you handle discipline issues?
Students are expected to come to school ready to learn and respond to the authority of the teacher. Our desire is to train students in good habits and to support their weakness in every way possible. Natural consequences (for example, work neglected during class time will be done during break time) are used as much as possible with a goal of reconciliation and restoration. Classroom interventions, a conversation in the hall, a visit to the office are all strategies used in training our students. If a student is unresponsive to teachers, he or she may be sent home. Consistent difficulties in discipline generate a broadened discussion to determine whether the school/ parent partnership is strong enough to continue to educate the child. The Vine School policy prohibits the use of manipulation, sarcasm, shaming, shouting and corporal punishment.
Do you accept students of different faiths?
Yes. Although the school’s teachers, staff and board members are committed to the principles of Jesus Christ as expressed in the Bible, traditional creeds and our statement of faith, it is not required that all school families share these beliefs. They need only agree to respect the School’s commitment to them and recognise that pupils will be taught in accordance with them.
How do you handle doctrinal differences in the classroom?
We cultivate in our classrooms the idea that we are all children of God and fellow travelers on our journey of faith. In matters of faith, we seek to unite our students around the person of Jesus Christ, allowing many issues of doctrine to take second place. Teachers are asked to refer students to their parents to resolve controversial doctrinal issues. We seek unity in essential matters of faith and welcome diversity in the non- essentials. The overarching principles for any sensitive discussion are love, respect, and understanding.
What guidelines do you use in hiring teachers?
Teachers at The Vine School must be creative, thoughtful, engaged learners with broad interests and educational knowledge. Teachers who thrive at The Vine School enjoy ideas, read regularly, and are passionate about our philosophy. They must be willing to adapt old ways of teaching and adopt the Ambleside philosophy and method. All our teachers are professed followers of Jesus Christ and have the required qualifications.
What training do your incoming teachers receive?
Teachers are required to undergo intensive training at the start of each year. In addition, we offer frequent classroom observations and in-service training, as well as peer mentoring. Oversight by Ambleside Schools International in Southern Africa is also provided.
How do you utilize technology in the classroom?
We introduce technology in the classroom when it supports the education our students receive from books. The emphasis in our classrooms, however, is on the education our students will not receive elsewhere, such as reading great literature, exposure to art and music, frequent contact with nature, and exposure to a vast wealth of knowledge.
How did you respond to the COVID-19 Lockdown?
We maintained a highly relational approach through video conferencing on Google classroom. Teachers met online daily with their classes, in small groups of no more than 6 students so as to ensure maximum participation and engagement. Teachers crafted lesson plans to help parents, and set work for students to do on their own. During the online sessions, teachers taught their lessons and pupils responded with narrations, and by sharing and discussing the ideas encountered in the work set for the day. Pupils had access to a Resource Room with video-streamed Art lessons, Physical Education sessions, links to museums, audio books and classical pieces to listen to. Data was provided to families who could not afford the cost.
Where do The Vine School students go to High School?
Grade 7 students typically go on to excellent high schools to continue receiving the quality education their parents want. Some have won scholarships to private schools, others gained access to specialist schools like the Western Cape Academy of Sport. Most attend one of the better high schools in our area. A few travel to Hout Bay to continue their education at Ambleside School of Hout Bay and some have opted for online learning, e.g. Cambridge online programme at the Latimer House Tutor Centre in Plumstead.
How do The Vine School students cope in a high school which follows CAPS or another curriculum which is different from the distinctive Ambleside approach?
Vine School students have three major advantages:
They have learned to love learning and to work hard;
They have an above-average foundation in numeracy, literacy and critical thinking;
They have developed character qualities which prepare them for success in life, including adapting to new and different challenges.
These advantages mean they can cope well in any learning environment, locally or Internationally.
How does The Vine School equip students for High School?
- We use a broad, rigorous, internationally-accredited curriculum to equip our students for academic success in high school and university.
- We maintain an atmosphere of grace and acceptance that builds confidence.
- Small classes allow teachers to give attention to every child, so the need for early intervention or extra support is not overlooked
- All pupils receive intensive skills training in all sporting codes, enabling them to participate successfully in a variety of competitive team sports at high school
- Character training enables pupils to recognise good character and choose good friends in high school.
- Deliberate choices to limit too much homework and school activities protects them from childhood stress which can result in teenage burnout.
- All students are trained in voice, speech and performance skills, preparing them for public speaking, oral presentations, drama activities and debate.
- In Grades 6 & 7, students are taught how to submit projects, study for CAPS-based exams and deal with the kind of assessments they will encounter in high school.
Is the Charlotte Mason approach extended to include African voices and literature?
The Vine School chose Charlotte Mason's pedagogy because we firmly believed it would be applicable in any context. This has proven true as children from diverse backgrounds are inspired by the ideas they encounter in books, art and music. Most of this has been from a Western context, because the curriculum was developed by Ambleside Schools International (ASI) in the USA.
The ASI curriculum was adopted as a whole when the first Ambleside school was established in South Africa. When more Ambleside schools started, it became possible to fund a local body to help schools implement and adapt Charlotte Mason's approach for our African context. Ambleside Schools International of Southern African (ASISA) was established and work has begun to develop and extend the curriculum to include African authors, artists, folktales, languages and history.
We are excited that the direction is set and the commitment to include African content is strong.