The importance of literacy in the tech age

The importance of literacy in the tech age

Even as technology pervades almost every sphere of our lives, literacy has not lost its value in the 21st century. Considered one of the building blocks of scholastic and career success, being able to read and write is still a core skill that learners need to master in order to lay a solid educational foundation for the future.

According to the International Literacy Association, literacy can be defined as “the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, compute, and communicate using visual, audible, and digital materials across disciplines and in any context”.

The literacy outreach education programme, Every Child Ready to Read, sets out six pre-reading skills for children from birth to five years.

• Print motivation: How interested and excited children are about books.
• Print awareness: Knowing how to hold a book and how to follow words on a page.
• Phonological awareness: The understanding that words consist of smaller sounds.
• Vocabulary: Knowing the names of feelings, concepts, ideas and things, and being able to connect the words to real life.
• Narrative skills: The ability to describe things and events, and tell and understand stories.
• Letter knowledge: The awareness that each letter is different and has a unique name and sound.

In the modern age, new concepts like digital literacy (“the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills”, according to the American Library Association) and culturally relevant literacy are gaining ground alongside traditional thoughts about literacy, but the enduring benefits of basic literacy still hold true.

At Sparrow, we place a high premium on ensuring that all our learners are functionally literate, and the Link Literacy Project is just one initiative that aids this endeavour.

By developing literacy and numeracy in children for whom English is a second language, this project promotes literacy and assists learners with reading difficulties at 19 Link Centres in and around Johannesburg.

Because we know that reading and writing is essential to the future of our learners, even in an age where tech reigns supreme, we will always value the old-fashioned pleasure of reading, and we pride ourselves on passing this love for books on to every learner at Sparrow.


The benefits of occupational therapy

The benefits of occupational therapy

As a part of Sparrow’s dedication to the growth mindset in our educational approach, we believe in the benefits of occupational therapy for learners who struggle with balance, coordination and motor skills. All these skills help children to complete everyday tasks, improving the way they learn and function at school.

Occupational therapy at a glance

With a focus on improving fine and gross motor skills, motor planning, coordination, organisation and self-regulation in learners who may have issues like these, occupational therapy utilises activities and exercises to build skills that are weaker.

Occupational therapy’s benefits are even greater when started early, not least because the ability to complete basic tasks helps to foster confidence and build self-esteem in learners, too.

As such, occupational therapy is not just a type of physical therapy – although the exercises employed by occupational therapists are often of a physical nature, in order to improve motor and other skills – but rather, OT becomes a body-and-mind therapy which also knowledge about psychosocial development and disorders.

Who can benefit from OT?

Learners who struggle with a range of issues or skills related to their learning might benefit from receiving occupational therapy.

Visual processing issues, dyslexia, executive functioning issues, sensory processing issues, problems with focus, and organisational issues can all be addressed by focused occupational therapy.

The benefits of occupational therapy also extend to the classroom as a whole. Learning comes more easily when basic tasks can be easily completed and the attention is focused. Using this approach, classroom peers are also able to focus on learning more, and educators are able to teach more easily.

All in all, occupational therapy is highly beneficial to the learners who receive it, laying strong foundations for future learning, and allowing them to embark on a successful professional journey after school.


Mandela Day 2019 – Ubuntu in action

Mandela Day 2019 – Ubuntu in action

On 18 July every year, Mandela Day is celebrated all across the globe. On this day, people are encouraged to devote 67 minutes of their time – one minute for every year of former president Nelson Mandela’s public service – to “make a small gesture of solidarity with humanity”. At Sparrow, we were privileged to see this outpouring of the spirit of Ubuntu in action this year.

Mandela Day 2019 kicked off with the arrival of the non-profit organisation, Thembalethu Development, at 08:30 – with a large chess set in tow. Having a large outdoor chess set available to learners is something we’ve wanted for years, and we are delighted and so grateful to the great bunch of people at Thembalethu Development for making this dream come true!

The second event coincided with a special assembly at the Sparrow Foundation School. At the Assembly, Munich Re handed over a cheque of R30,440, to be used for assistive devices at Sparrow FET College. This generous donation will fund wheelchairs, large stand-up magnifying glasses and wheelchair ramps. The wonderful team at Munich Re, led by Mel Cloete, even arranged 300 cupcakes for Sparrow learners after the assembly, held for Madiba’s birthday.

The organisation responsible for Sparrow’s social media presence, The Social Company, arrived a little later, bearing goodie bag items for the recently held 702 Walk The Talk. The entire team then pitched in, raking different areas of the Combined School and the kale garden. They were energetic and cleared the areas where dust, dirt and leaves had gathered quickly and efficiently. We are grateful for the lovely partnership we have with The Social Media Company.

Our fourth project of the day saw Piza ē Vino staff from different outlets arrive to paint one of our classrooms. With music playing in the background and a lively atmosphere, these generous people did an awesome job.

Marking our last project for Mandela Day, MLC undertook the task of planting vegetables and painting around the computer centre at the Sparrow Combined Technical Skills High School ¬– the entire project was funded by MLC. Again, the team spirit of MLC blew us away, and it was lovely seeing the interaction at the food-and-drinks table after all the hard work. We are grateful for another fabulous partnership.

To all the companies who donated their time and money in order to better the lives of the learners at Sparrow: our heartfelt thanks. Your donations on Mandela Day 2019 will go a long way in ensuring the future of our learners.


Teaching theories explained: Experiential learning

Teaching theories explained: Experiential learning


Centuries’ worth of educational theory has created a modern pedagogic realm filled with an abundance of knowledge, which educators still use as tools in the classroom, as they have throughout history.

One of the teaching theories that has survived the test of time and is still being utilised in classrooms today – and also forms a part of the way we teach at Sparrow Foundation School – is the method of experiential learning.

Although the concept of learning through experience has its roots as far back as Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics in 350BC – in which the philosopher wrote, “for the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them” – it was the educational theorist David A. Kolb who developed the modern theory of experiential learning in the early 1970s, drawing from the work of other theorists, John Dewey, Kurt Lewin and Jean Piaget.

As far as this theory is concerned, the name is rather self-explanatory. Experiential learning incorporates a continuous process of experience, reflection, conceptualisation and experimentation as a way of mastering expertise.

Put simply, experiential learning requires experience and reflection as a necessary part of the learning process, in order to facilitate a process of informal learning.

How it works

According to the 70 20 10 model, 70% of the knowledge we possess results from experiences that we have. Experiential learning takes this way of gathering knowledge to heart, and David Kolb made it a part of his theory, saying, “knowledge results from the combination of grasping experience and transforming it”.

Kolb theorised that the cyclical process of experiential learning starts with the concrete experience that will lead to the establishment of knowledge. When we, for instance, try a new cake recipe, we learn the process of baking through the hands-on experience of baking a cake.

The next part of the experiential learning process is the reflective observation that follows the experience. This is when we mull over the experience, analysing it, considering alternatives and weighing up the experience as a whole. To use the baking analogy again, this is when we consider the things that went well and wrong during the baking process. Did the cake burn? Did it rise well while baking?

Abstract conceptualisation follows this process. During this part of the learning process, we plan for the next time we will undertake the same exercise. We now have to decide how – if at all – we will we will do things differently in the future. Will the cake rise better if we set the oven temperature a little lower or a little higher? Should we turn down the temperature in order to stop the cake from burning the next time we bake it?

Finally, active experimentation takes place. Now, we can put our theories and changes to the test to see if things turn out differently.

Experiential learning is a useful learning technique, which allows learners to gather knowledge by getting their hands dirty (sometimes literally!). Because education does not only take place in the classroom, experiential learning provides a different, efficient and fun opportunity to acquire knowledge and skills.


5 ways to teach empathy and build a strong school community

5 ways to teach empathy and build a strong school community

Empathy is the glue that holds all of humanity together. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “empathy” as “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner”.

That might sound like a mouthful, but the notion of empathy ties in very well with another concept that South Africans are well acquainted with. Ubuntu is an African philosophy that speaks of a shared humanity, and in the spirit of Mandela Day on 18 July, here are five ways to teach empathy and build a strong school community.

1. Make empathy a priority

One report released by Harvard University explains the importance of teaching empathy to children, saying, “Parents who don’t prioritise their children caring for others can deprive them of the chance to develop fundamental relationship skills, and strong relationships are one of our most vital and durable sources of well-being”.

Indeed, encouraging empathy is one of the best ways to promote happiness in kids and foster a healthy school environment. Making empathy a priority in the classroom nurtures the ideals associated with teamwork – something that is paramount in any classroom and school.

2. Acknowledge children when they are kind to others

Affirming positive behaviours like kindness in children reinforces the ideals of empathy. When children show kindness to their peers, a simple acknowledgement like saying, “that was kind/ thoughtful of you”, goes a long way in encouraging learners to repeat this type of behaviour and make kindness a habit.

3. Model respect

Children base a lot of their own behaviour on what they see adults doing. Both in the home and the classroom, teachers and parents should take care with the kinds of behaviour they model for their kids. When the grown-ups don’t treat others with respect, they shouldn’t be surprised when kids are nasty to one another.

4. Apologise

Nobody’s perfect, and we all sometimes overstep our bounds in our interaction with others. Encouraging kids to apologise when they have been rude or nasty to friends nurtures the ideals of empathy, and also teaches children to take responsibility when their behaviour is inappropriate.

5. Empathy is an all-the-time exercise

Instead of being something that is focused on just some of the time, empathy should be a part of the overall class environment all the time. Educators and parents can embolden learners with empathy by having them acknowledge all of their feelings all the time. Happiness is an important emotion, but so is sadness and anger and jealousy and surprise – teaching kids to acknowledge the full range of feelings is key to encouraging empathy.


4 ways in which extramural activities are essential to nurture educational growth

4 ways in which extramural activities are essential to nurture educational growth

Educators know the value that extramural activities add in the classroom – even if these activities are not always strictly a part of the curriculum. After all, primary education is about much more than academic learning.

During this stage in a child’s life, many skills are reinforced. Different developmental milestones are met a different ages, and these may be language-related and academic, as well as social and emotional. Extramural activities not only nurture the latter, but also have a significant effect on the former.

Here are four ways in which extramural activities nurture educational growth in children.

1. Extramural activities boost self-esteem and confidence

Especially if learners are struggling to meet their academic goals, their confidence may take a knock, ultimately leading to wariness to push themselves to try again. As extramural activities are not measured by the same stringent academic expectations as traditional classwork, partaking in an activity in which a child can excel, goes a long way in boosting confidence and self-esteem in the academic environment of the classroom.

2. Extramural activities teach teamwork and build relationships

As many extramural activities, and particularly sport are practiced in teams, activities outside of the classroom promote emotional and social development in learners by building relationships and practicing teamwork. Learning how to communicate effectively as a member of a team is seamlessly carried over to the classroom, where learners are often required to complete academic tasks in teams or pairs. This way of teaching proper social behaviour is an invaluable skill, which will benefit a child for the rest of their life.

3. Extramural activities teach time management

Effective time management is a crucial skill when learners have to meet academic goals within certain time frames. Extramural activities require learners to effectively manage their time after school, in order to take part in just the right amount of after-school responsibilities.

4. Extramural activities foster personal growth and development

Perhaps the greatest benefit that extramural activities have for learners is their role in fostering personal growth and development. Aside from being an opportunity to learn skills “on the go”, so to speak, extramural activities develop well-rounded children by combining an array of different skill-acquiring activities. A child who takes part in extramural activities learns time management, working in a team, communication, relationship building, and boost their confidence and self-esteem, all at the same time – and while having fun!

Sparrow Foundation School takes great care in creating an environment of learning that nurtures all the skills that our learners possess, and believe that activities like pottery have a huge role to play in creating an environment where learning is fun. Indeed, play forms a large part of the way we teach at Sparrow, and we are proud of the results that this is yielding in our learners – who are all filled with heaps of potential.


The Sparrow Schools teacher exchange programme was a roaring success

The Sparrow Schools teacher exchange programme was a roaring success

Each year, the teacher exchange programme is a highlight on the Sparrow Schools calendar, and this is not for naught. This annual event resulted from a partnership between the Sparrow Schools Educational Trust in South Africa and the Sparrow UK Trust.

Each year, one or two educators from Sparrow Foundation School or Sparrow Combined School are selected to participate in this programme, which takes educators into the classrooms of partner schools, in order to ultimately gain insight into the different teaching and learning contexts of teachers, in the hope of exposing educators to the different ways in which teaching and learning can be managed and structured.

This year, Sparrow founder Jackie Gallagher took educator Ms Patience Kabudza, a grade 6 educator at Sparrow Foundation School, to the UK for a trip that is bound to have had a profound effect on Ms Kabudza’s teaching in the future.

The trip kicked off with a stop at Tudor Hall in Banbury on 14 May, where Patience and Jackie met up with the other teachers at the school, with a visit to William Morris Primary School following on 15 May. The Early Development Department at William Morris was a treasure trove of valuable experiences about teaching, with the amount of resources at the public school, together with a clever combination of set themes of the week and the different learning areas and subjects, standing out in particular.

A visit to Sibford School was on the cards for 16 May, where Patience and Jackie observed a consistency of values and a well-executed use of the inquiry method, whereby educators utilise questions throughout a lesson, in order to make sure that learners are always following the lessons, and struggling learners don’t get left behind. Even more formidable was the way in which the space outside the classroom is very much used as an environment for learning. The cookery centre at Sibford School impressed Jackie and Patience to no avail, as did 4-year-old learners mastering the use of tools like hammers, saws and shovels.

On 18 May, Patience and Jackie were lucky enough to attend the Richard Bernard Charity Golf Day – an event specifically organised by a Sparrow trustee, Richard Bernard, in an effort to raise funds for the Sparrow Schools’ Foundation. Initiated 17 years ago, the event was well attended and successful, as well as a great way to continue fostering the wonderful relationship between the two Sparrow Trusts.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, and of course Ms Kabudza couldn’t leave the UK without seeing some of the sights in the UK capital, London. Accompanying her were Sparrow Foundation UK trustees, Judy and Robert Davis, whom we extend our heartfelt thanks to for a lovely day.

Ms Kabudza’s last week in the UK was spent at the Alleyns School in London, where she was able to observe a truly excellent educational offering. Although the Alleyns School has been a loyal Sparrow Foundation supporter for three years, this was the first time that a Sparrow educator paid a visit to learn more about the teaching methods utilised at the school, which were, in a word, superb – we thank Janet Carlsson in this regard.

After a productive and fruitful trip to the UK, Mss Patience Kabudza and Jackie Gallagher arrived back on our sunny shores on 24 May. As always, this trip has been an eye-opener – both to the wide variety of teaching methods and materials available in the UK, and to the ways in which the lessons that were learnt can be practically implemented at Sparrow Foundation School and Sparrow Combined School.

We extend our sincere gratitude to the Sparrow UK Trust, the Sparrow Schools Educational Trust SA and to Ms Patience Kabudza, for a trip that has broadened our horizons in a great many ways.


Why a growth mindset is essential in teaching learners with special educational needs

Why a growth mindset is essential in teaching learners with special educational needs

Professor Carol Dweck’s groundbreaking 2006 work, Mindset: The new psychology of success, has forever changed the way we look at education. In her book, Dweck elaborates on what she calls the “growth mindset”, as opposed to its antithesis, the fixed mindset.

Based on two decades of research, Dweck advocates an approach that encourages a passion for learning over a hunger for approval, as she believes that innate ability needs to be combined with sustained effort in order to achieve the greatest possible success.

The growth mindset vs. the fixed mindset

Dweck juxtaposes a fixed mindset approach (where people believe an innate ability equates their success) with one that incorporates a growth mindset (where success rather comes from learning, training and hard work).

Educators strive to develop a growth mindset in the learners they teach by not just focusing on the basic abilities, intelligence and talents of learners, but letting the spotlight fall on the development of their innate abilities through sustained work and learning.

In other words, a learner’s success is not based on how smart or talented they are, but rather on how they persist in developing the abilities they already have.

A practical approach to the growth mindset

In classrooms, teachers who adopt a growth mindset-based approach to learning will take specific steps in their teaching methods.

For example, an educator who incorporates the growth mindset in their teaching strategy will encourage learners to focus on the way they are working towards success in their studies, instead of simply praising them, based on their intelligence.

When teaching, a teacher would praise learners with the words, “well done, you’ve worked very hard”, rather than saying, “well done, you’re very smart”.

Dweck believes that encouraging a growth mindset in learners is especially important, as this will, to a large extent, dictate the approach they have to challenges, obstacles, criticism, effort, and the way they measure themselves with regards to the way other people perform later in their lives.

Using this approach, a learner who, for instance, faces challenges in achieving specific outcomes, will not feel like a failure with sub-standard abilities and levels of intelligence. Instead, the child will view the initial failure as a motivational factor and challenge that can be overcome with persistence and sustained hard work.

The growth mindset and LSEN teaching

Learners who have cognitive and developmental challenges can benefit greatly from a growth mindset-based approach to learning. This is because, just like in the traditional and mainstream school set-up, the innate intelligence and abilities of learners tend to vary greatly. Basing a teaching approach on things like intelligence reinforces an idea of lagging behind peers, instead of believing one is on a journey of lifelong learning which embraces challenges, obstacles and even failure as a natural part of the developmental process.

At Sparrow Schools, we value this approach to learning above all others, as we are convinced that this is the best way to equip our learners with the drive and persistence required to become a contributing and successful members of society.

Carol Dweck’s philosophy is also the doctrine we have adopted as a part of the way we empower and encourage our learners to become the very best version of themselves – not just while they are learners in our school, but also when we allow them to spread their wings outside of the security of the school system.


How positive reinforcement creates a happy learning environment

How positive reinforcement creates a happy learning environment

Positive reinforcement was first introduced into the psychological realm as a part of B.F. Skinner’s theory of operant conditioning. Skinner devised his theory after laboratory experiments made him aware of the association between particular types of behaviour and the consequences of these actions.

Skinner concluded that when behaviour is followed by a reward that is pleasant, it often leads to said behaviour being repeated. A part of the behaviourist movement, Skinner noticed parallels between his laboratory experiments and the way people react to a stimulus in the form of a reward, and ultimately devised a new theory about how the same techniques could be used in conditioning people to respond to this rewards-based way of doing things.

Skinner’s simple experiment gave rise to an array of new ideas about how learning takes place, and also gave us the concept of positive reinforcement.

Positive reinforcement as a part of effective classroom management

Positive reinforcement has been used as an effective classroom management strategy since the old approach to managing a classroom – stern punishments and harsh reprimands – became a thing of the past.

By consistently and timeously rewarding good behaviour in a way that is age-appropriate and genuine, educators are able to essentially “train” students to recognise certain types of behaviour as appropriate, and to work hard in order to achieve the desired outcomes in the classroom.

How positive reinforcement leads to happy learners

Positive reinforcement may be included in classroom management in a number of different ways.

Educators may reward good behaviour or success in achieving outcomes by using activity reinforcers (like allowing students to take part in special or preferred activities when they behave in a certain way or meet certain outcomes), tangible reinforcers (like stickers, balloons, sweets or other awards), token reinforcers (like using a points or tokens system to reward learners) and social reinforcers (like expressing praise for appropriate behaviour).

The type of positive reinforcement an educator incorporates in their classroom will depend on the teacher, the learners and the general teaching environment.

Positive reinforcement goes a long way in creating a happy classroom environment for educators and learners alike, and the advantages of adopting positive reinforcement are vast:

• Positive reinforcement allows learners to use the social cues of their teachers as indicators of what type of behaviour is appropriate. When an educator, for example, rewards a specific learner for good behaviour or the achievement of outcomes, their peers also learn to mimic this behaviour in order to receive the same rewards.
• Positive reinforcement motivates learners to strive toward academic goals.
• Positive reinforcement leads to a greater sense of community in the classroom, and allows accomplishments to be celebrated as a class.
• Positive reinforcement leads to greater enthusiasm among learners in the classroom.
• Positive reinforcement encourages students to actively enjoy being present and learning in the classroom environment.

Sparrow Schools believes in the value that positive reinforcement adds to the learning experience, and we actively try to incorporate it as a part of not only efficient classroom management, but also as a way to keep our students happy, involved and learning to the best of their abilities.


The history of the Sparrow Schools Educational Trust

The history of the Sparrow Schools Educational Trust

Planting small seeds for a bright and successful future

Established in 1989, the mission of Sparrow Schools has always been to provide quality, holistic education to differently-abled youth. Despite Sparrow’s humble beginnings as a Saturday morning school with just four learners, operating from a church hall in Joubert Park, it had already cemented its place on Juta Street, Braamfontein by 1992, growing into a home for 550 learners and 20 teachers.

The unprecedented growth of the school necessitated the need to register the Sparrow Schools Educational Trust as a non-profit organisation, which would enable founder Jackie Gallagher to set up a board of trustees, assisting the school in growth mindset-based educational projects, and securing funding for the enrolment of learners in the future.

With the board and management at the helm, Sparrow Schools developed into a bridging school, catering for grades 1 to 9. The accelerated teaching methodologies used throughout Sparrow Schools’ history, and still being incorporated into the school’s educational approach today, empowers learners to realistically compete in mainstream schools, and plants the seeds of success for their future.

Fundraising for the future

Now comprising three different, fully-equipped campuses, relentless fundraising was undertaken in order to upgrade and convert the school, and to equip it with desks, chairs and blackboards. Small state grants, after the school was registered with the Department of Education in 1993, further ensured the upkeep of the school, its facilities and its resources.

The support Sparrow now receives, both locally and internationally, has allowed Sparrow Schools to not only refurbish the buildings of the school and train its teachers, but to pay it forward by extending this support to Lerajabetsie Primary School in Sweetwaters – along with a number of other schools in informal settlements – since as early as 1991.

Sparrow School’s vision of endowing South African youth with educational resources to access future employment still forms the basis of our educational approach, and as the school continues to expand, we are reminded of the ways in which we have met, and will need to carry on meeting the needs of the communities in which we work, ultimately filling a much-needed gap for the education of learners with special needs and limited means.