No grades, no timetable: Berlin school turns teaching upside down

Jul 9, 2016

By Philip Oltermann

Anton Oberländer is a persuasive speaker. Last year, when he and a group of friends were short of cash for a camping trip to Cornwall, he managed to talk Germany’s national rail operator into handing them some free tickets. So impressed was the management with his chutzpah that they invited him back to give a motivational speech to 200 of their employees.

Anton, it should be pointed out, is 14 years old.

The Berlin teenager’s self-confidence is largely the product of a unique educational institution that has turned the conventions of traditional teaching radically upside down. At Oberländer’s school, there are no grades until students turn 15, no timetables and no lecture-style instructions. The pupils decide which subjects they want to study for each lesson and when they want to take an exam.

The school’s syllabus reads like any helicopter parent’s nightmare. Set subjects are limited to maths, German, English and social studies, supplemented by more abstract courses such as “responsibility” and “challenge”. For challenge, students aged 12 to 14 are given €150 (£115) and sent on an adventure that they have to plan entirely by themselves. Some go kayaking; others work on a farm. Anton went trekking along England’s south coast.


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2 comments on “No grades, no timetable: Berlin school turns teaching upside down

  • From OP:

    … unlike Sudbury, Montessori or Steiner schools, Rasfeld’s institution tries to embed student self-determination within a relatively strict system of rules. Students who dawdle during lessons have to come into school on Saturday morning to catch up, a punishment known as “silentium”. “The more freedom you have, the more structure you need,” says Rasfeld.

    This makes sense of how giving so much freedom to pupils can lead to the good results that the school has consistently achieved. It’s a pity the article didn’t say more about the rules and how they are applied, but one can’t expect too much of The Guardian.

    Oh, to be young again and go to such a school!



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  • @OP – At Oberländer’s school, there are no grades until students turn 15, no timetables and no lecture-style instructions. The pupils decide which subjects they want to study for each lesson and when they want to take an exam.

    There are many examples of where teenagers have achieved much higher standards in personal investigations and pursuit of an interest or hobby, than from formal lessons.

    http://inventors.about.com/od/gstartinventors/a/Bill_Gates.htm

    He had an early interest in software and began programming computers at the age of thirteen. In 1973, Bill Gates became a student at Harvard University, where he meet Steve Ballmer (now Microsoft’s chief executive officer). While still a Harvard undergraduate, Bill Gates wrote a version of the programming language BASIC for the MITS Altair microcomputer.

    Did you know that as young teenagers Bill Gates and Paul Allen ran a small company called Traf-O-Data and sold a computer to the city of Seattle that could count city traffic?



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