Giving 'learning' and 'knowledge' a new meaning at St Anthony's Boys Prep School

Posted on 1st Aug 2022 in School News

Richard Berlie, Headmaster at St Anthony’s School for Boys, shares his advice on some effective teaching methods that help to instil a child's love of learning and knowledge.

One of the most exciting changes in the last decade or so is the way teachers approach Teaching and Learning. No doubt teachers and curriculum planners have had to re-think the relative importance of knowledge, understanding and the application of practical skills. At St Anthony’s we rely on several different methodologies. For instance, one way in which we approach retention of knowledge is by improving working memory. We train boys to memorise information especially in numeracy and literacy because of their foundational importance across learning specific disciplines such as geography, history and science. There is a proven link between memory and exam success of course although the methodology at St Anthony’s puts love of learning – that is to say the joy of knowing things – ahead of exam cramming. To use a rather crude analogy, weighing the pig time-after-time doesn’t make it any fatter whereas feeding it does.

Another principle in place is to introduce topics in a clear way to children, even quite difficult concepts which are intrinsic to studying fact or number heavy topics like history, politics or economics. The art of effective teaching is to present ideas which captures children’s attention and imagination. Children can be surprisingly more receptive than the teenagers inhabiting senior schools. Even if a pupil finds a concept impenetrable when it is first introduced, there is still a very good likelihood that it remains as a point of reference – something that can be revisited and unlocked when the time is right. Given that academics wrestle their entire working lives trying to unravel, demystify and surmount what to most may seem insurmountable, I think we can forgive children if there are a few false starts and at St Anthony’s our teachers encourage pupils to take risks, to think creatively and to not be afraid to make mistakes. Our boys are taught from reception to Year 8 that often being fallible and recognising where they went wrong so that a mistake (be it in a curricular activity or in a social situation) can be corrected, is fundamental to understanding how to improve and get it right the next time. This understanding is key to ensuring that our philosophy of being a greenhouse and not a hothouse not only stands firm but also reaps just rewards as evidenced by our results last year.

The main point I am making is that teachers can and should (and we at St Anthony’s do) expect more of children. Imbuing children with a love of expansive, explorative learning has shown us, at St Anthony’s that when done right, a child’s natural curiosity and insightful thoughts can often not only astound us but also push us to impart with deeper levels of teaching than we first anticipated. Away from the classroom the school has embarked on a lecture series which will be attended by all boys from Years 5 – 8. The format follows a traditional lecture lasting about 45 minutes (usually with PowerPoints and audio-visual prompts) followed by 20 minutes of Q and As from the boys. Earlier this term Dr Ludivine Broch, Lecturer in Modern History at Westminster University, provided the historical context to the conflict in Ukraine. It was delivered and received with great interest and sensitivity and I am sure questions could have continued for a further hour if time allowed.

In the new academic year 2022-23, the school will host Lord (Robert) Winston. Professor Michael Scott (Classics at Warwick), Professor Carl Watkins (Cambridge medievalist) and Professor Tarun Ramadorai (Economics and Business at Imperial College). In addition the MP for Hampstead and Kilburn will be coming in, to discuss with boys her role and how they can participate in the democratic process (in due course!)

I think it is important to recognise that sometimes the seeds sown amongst minds may not come to fruition until they are much older. ‘Seeing through the glass darkly' now is still better than not seeing through it at all; understanding learning as a life-long attitude is perhaps the most academic lessons we can teach the pupils.