Kids involved in Show & Tell activity, one of the girl has a toy & is explaining what it is & how she plays with it

Interview with Thasin Rahim (Chief Academic Officer) with el grupo el Planeta

"Teachers must step away from their desks and their comfort zone" 

Thasin Rahim is a prominent teacher and researcher specializing in Early Childhood Education. She was awarded at the 2015 Global Teacher Prize (the "Nobel prize" of education) with a special mention that places her among the 100 best teachers in the world. Her research stands out in subjects such as the application of Neuroscience, Psychopedagogy, Multiple Intelligences and Active methodologies both in the design of spaces and in the creation of innovative curriculums, as can be seen in her current work for the international preschool and nurseries of Safari Kid, that aim to challenge the traditional way of early years education in children completely.

What / who is the Third teacher?

The environment. It’s a source of wealth, an educational strategy and an instrument that supports the learning process. The environment is a living, changing and dynamic concept; this implies that it must change and adapt as the children change their interests, their age, and their "stories."

What role do parents play in this learning model?

Parents must be integrated into the education process. The school should be an open space to explore the learning of their children. Effective, constant and personalized communication from teachers to parents is key to the overall development of the child. Parents should always be invited to witness their children's work through activities that take place during the school year, including but not limited to sports days, art shows and special celebrations and holidays. The role of parents is active, and they should be involved in this new learning method.

What role does the teacher play in this type of space?

I would like for us to reconsider the role of the teacher in the classroom of the 21st century. The teacher must act respecting the autonomous competence of their students, without intervening if children are able to solve the problems on their own. They should only intervene as mediators (Sherpas) at key moments when students need them. The student is the administrator of their own learning process, they must make their own deductions and develop their own thought process. At the same time, teachers should take notes and describe and reflect on the behavior and interests of children. In a clear way, that can be shared and discussed with colleagues; even with parents. Doing this in a systematic way allows the teacher to become also a researcher.

Teachers must also pay close attention to the tasks or projects that present the most challenges for children. These moments should not be frustrating, but an opportunity to present new hypotheses and try new approaches to the same problem or query.

Their role is that of co-creators of knowledge.

What concrete characteristics should this space have in order to be effective?

This carefully designed environment guarantees the children’s stimulation and it adapts to their needs. This way, children can become the protagonists of their learning process, through their own creativity. It is also a privileged space to apply the specific instruments of educational intervention and to observe the social and cognitive behavior of the children.

It is very important to organize the different available resources in a practical and convenient way, to promote agility and encourage experimentation. A good disposition of the materials allows children to choose freely, as well as being more integrated from an aesthetic perspective. Instead of a classic classroom configuration with desks and chairs, the design of the space must offer a landscape for imagination, in which the fantasy of children is the only factor that establishes the limits.

How do spaces affect our brain? And our learning?

Researchers such as Sperry and Gazzaniga demonstrated that the intricate neural network of brain connections and brain dominance is shaped during Early development and this is carefully formed and constructed under the direct control of genetic mechanisms. These researchers argued that "the form precedes the function", and that the organization of the brain is not easily disturbed by environmental influence. However, subsequent research indicates in a substantial way how environmental influence can modify the development of an organism, even though this is limited over time. Gazzaniga considered that the key integration period occurred up to the ages of 5 to 7. What has not been formed at this age, is not formed later... My position is more optimistic. I believe that the brain has the power to regroup and modify its structure throughout our lifetime. This structure can be redefined through learning. This ability to learn differs from person to person. I consider that genetics represent about 50% of it and that the rest is environmental. Through research, I’ve been able to see remarkable changes in individuals that wouldn’t have been achieved if the effect of genetics were the definitive one.

What should be the first step to implement this methodology of the Third teacher? How can space design influence the way of learning?

The first step comes with us, the teachers; we have to change our role, step away from the desks and our comfort zone. We must become one of “them” in the classroom, be part of them, without placing that distance that sometimes spaces set. Instead of teaching children to adapt to the world of adults, these spaces should encourage the intuitive and experimental approach of children to their environment. It’s necessary to include a series of routines and make the environment visible with symbols to guide them in their adapting of the space. This type of classroom allows different forms of learning where all pedagogical methodologies are possible. They offer comfort and visibility to everything the children are doing… Endless possibilities to work in a team, and of course to develop their creativity. This type of design offers the child a personalized and differentiated experience that supports the development of all their intelligences.

Why do you think this type of space is a priority that favors/encourages new methodologies?

Spaces should encourage creativity, art, and hands-on activities. Therefore, we need classroom spaces where activities involving the whole class can be carried out. The classroom must be a very stimulating space and that facilitates and suggests multiple possibilities of action. It must allow making hypotheses, building fantasies, narrating experiences ... And it must be a place where one thinks, discusses and works trying to reconcile what is known with what is ignored; including struggles, mistakes, expectations, success, doubts, and problems. These are spaces that help the child decide how they want to learn. These are prepared spaces that generate a need for a consensus between elements of learning and execution.

Is this compatible with the development of active methodologies? How?

The pedagogical lines of Decroly, Waldorf, Reggio Emilia and Montessori highlight both the active and autonomous nature of learning and the need to observe, respect and guide the interests and spontaneous activity of each student within the classrooms. If there’s something that the activity in classrooms shows us is that game and play are at the basis of learning and that they keep the students constantly motivated, interested and excited. Through play, children learn to live and rehearse the way they act in the world. Therefore, at all times we must present situations in the real world: go shopping, calculate areas in the playground, represent and dramatize contents... This way, they are re-enacting what they learn. Play allows us to introduce topics, and it helps children understand concepts and processes better, it strengthens those already acquired; it stimulates the skills acquisition and content consolidation. Nowadays, all methodologies seek to promote communication between peers and the ability to work in teams. In spaces where the classrooms only offer fixed desks, the development of this is impossible since the directionality of communication doesn’t happen in all directions, and this is a necessity if we want to generate teamwork or the application of PBL.

And what about the Multiple Intelligences?

According to Howard Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences, every human being has a unique combination of intelligences. This represents a challenge for the educational system and practices of the teacher. We can ignore these differences and assume that all the minds in a classroom are the same. Or we can accept their differences and work from this reality. Gardner recognizes the existence of different and independent intelligences that interact and reinforce each other. We must look for ways to favor, enhance and stimulate all the Multiple Intelligences in our students. Find other ways to work, help them create autonomies, acquire skills and improve their behaviors and knowledge, based on their own strengths and interests. We must consider this way, for example, to work on maths. For example, if we present concepts through stories, we encourage Linguistic-Verbal Intelligence; if we do it with a cooperative game, we encourage Interpersonal intelligence; while reflection, on the other hand, promotes Intrapersonal intelligence. To know what activities must be modified, it’s essential that teachers analyze in detail the tasks currently offered to their students and the contribution of each of them to the acquisition of basic skills. As teachers, we must determine which activities to maintain, which ones to modify and which new activities to incorporate… Do students really understand the usefulness of the maths that we explain to them in class? Do they use them on a day-to-day basis? Do we make them connect with their environment? Are we able to connect with their interests and concerns?

Do you think that the teacher's continued education is important? What are the advantages?

Teachers should never stop learning. As in any profession, the teacher must be constantly updated, both to transmit this knowledge to their students and their colleagues. They should be interested in different subjects and areas because they are educating and preparing their students to live their lives. Our students are prepared for a different labor market, which is why they need skills that perhaps our educators (or ourselves until recently) did not need, so they did not demand them to access the degree or to practice as teachers. Teachers must work daily to improve their own skills. By knowing themselves, they can achieve better results and act as an example for their students. In fact, they must have full knowledge of the way they behave and educate; what works in the classroom and what does not work Some of the questions they should ask themselves are: What is my role as a teacher in the classroom? Am I more effective at working when I am well organized or when I am facing last-minute pressure? How do I learn more? They should strive to be an excellent teacher, not just a good one. An excellent teacher listens and detects the needs of his students and periodically reflects on his educational practice.

This interview has been translated from Spanish into English. Please find the original version