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Raha International School Abu Dhabi (RIS), has been getting quite a bit of attention lately and rightly so. It is the only International Baccalaureate school(IB) in the emirate of Abu Dhabi, to have been rated outstanding by the Department of Education and Knowledge (ADEK)’s Irtiqaa inspection. Since its opening in 2006, Raha International School has inspired students to grow, develop and thrive as life-long learners.

RIS is a part of the Taaleem Group of schools and it is definitely a bright jewel in the group’s crown. The school has been praised for its inclusive ethos and the care, protection and guidance it gives its students. But what makes RIS stand out is the high quality of teaching and learning taking place in the school.

The school is committed to continual enhancement and to supporting its students and the community to achieve at the very highest level. In this feature we take a look at some of the areas in which RIS has been making outstanding progress over the years.

Diploma Programme

Raha is very proud of its high achieving students in the Diploma Programme (DP). The school has one of the larges cohorts of DP students in the UAE and, again, this year it achieved well above the global average across all fields including pass rate and average total points achieved. RIS also has one of the largest number of DP courses on offer in the UAE.

90% of its students were accepted into their first choice of university, and many of its students are now attending some of the world’s most prestigious institutions; such as Cambridge University, Kings College London, NYU, and Dartmouth College, to name a few.

Curriculum enrichment

The campus never sleeps! There is a wide-range of extracurricular activities catering to the needs and interests of up to 2000 students per week of all ages and across a wide range of fields, including sports, the arts and technology.

The first practices start when the footballers walk onto the pitch and the swimmers and triathletes dive into the pool at 6am and the action doesn’t stop until the ballerinas, tip toe away into the night sky, while the music fades in the dance studio and the lights go down for the actors on stage.

Nurturing the Active Enquirer

Inquiry is the main approach to teaching and learning at RIS and this means students are actively involved in the learning process. One way the school promotes this in the Primary Years Programme (PYP) is by incorporating students’ questions int the units of work. Student questions are often collected, displayed on ‘Wonder Walls’, revisited and discussed by teachers with their students at pivotal moments.

The Middle Years Programme (MYP) is based on conceptual understanding. It is not a programme that dispenses knowledge for students to consume, instead students are expected to inquire into topics that allow conceptual understandings to be gained. Thus students in Grade 7 at RIS are asked to examine the world’s population, as if it were a village of 100 people. The distribution of wealth, services and resources are examined through inquiry, using the list of UN Critical issues as a tool. Students then choose a developing country to learn about in depth and identify the critical issues that most impact its population and devise a plan to help the people of that country. The students present these at a symposium where an imagined UN delegate is attending, in order to award 1 million dollars to the solution of most merit. The students are actively inquiring about how to make our world a better place.

Developing the Independent Learner

In all of the units of inquiry in the PYP, the school provides learning engagements that can be approached in multiple ways and require, original and creative responses. Over time this helps to develop independent thinkers with the confidence to follow their ownlines of inquiry.

A culminating requirement of the MYP is the Personal Project in which every Grade 10 student must embark on an extended independent project of their choosing. This is an opportunity for students to explore an interest using a global context. Valuable skills of time management, organization, research, goal setting amongst others are learnt by the students. This project is done in their own time with only a supervisor to guide their progress demonstrating independent self-driven learning.

Supporting the Reflective Learner.

Each student in the PYP, from EY1 to Grade 5, keeps an E-Learning Journal, where ongoing learning can be posted in multiple formats photos, videos, audio recordings. Students are asked to reflect on selected pieces, identifying what was effective along with their next steps. Teachers and parents are also able to provide feedback within these E-Learning Journals. Students are assessed against criteria in the MYP. They are given assessment task sheets for each assessment task and these identify clearly the criteria and the strands being assessed. When the assessment is returned to the students they are given time to reflect on their results and write a reflection on what they can do to improve their performance and to better show their understanding.

Rewarding the Risk Taker

At RIS we understand that inquiry involves risk taking, and risk taking happens only when our students feel safe, respected and confident in their learning environment. We purposefully seek to develop welcoming, trusting classroom communities, by starting each day in the PYP with a class ‘Morning Meeting’. Following the ‘Responsive Classroom’ approach developed in the US, time is taken during Morning Meeting to greet one another, share news, experiences and ideas, and engage in collaborative community building activities. By getting to know each other, we build mutual understanding and respect, effectively ‘bully-proofing’ our classrooms.

Encouraging the Effective Participant

In an inquiry classroom, learners co-construct meaning together and everybody’s input is valued. Collaborative learning is part of all units and social and communication skills are explicitly taught, practised and nurtured. A great example of this is in the Grade 4 Units of Inquiry for which the summative tasks involves the students creating a small business to run on an in-school ‘Souk Day’. Students work in small teams, utilising skills from across the curriculum, to develop and implement a business plan, create, advertise and sell their product, manage a budget and calculate their costs and profit.

Creating the Critical Thinker

In the MYP, in addition to the reflective aspect of a criterion related curriculum, there is also a direct requirement for critical thinking within the criteria descriptors. For example, in Individuals and Societies one whole criteria, Criterion D is called ‘Critical Thinking”. The command terms of other criteria across the subject encourage critical thinking as the students are required to analyse, justify, explain, and make conclusions in order to be awarded the higher levels of achievement.

The use of Technology at Raha International School

Raha has defined innovation within the community as: Creative solutions that simplify and enhance learning, teaching and communication for our school community.

Seesaw is used in the PYP and ManageBac in MPY/DP to document the learning process and display the final product. Seesaw enables students from EY1 onwards to learn the skills necessary to independently record their learning using the creative tools that are built in. These include the ability to capture through photo, audio, video and then enhance with annotations and audio or written comments. Both platforms provide parents with the ability to stay connected to their child’s learning.

Students in EY onwards have access to the use of iPads. This then leads into the school’s BYOD policy which begins in grade 2. Throughout the PYP students use iPads. A single platform has been chosen to keep the focus on the learning. Students can use their device to connect the learning in the classroom to their experiences out of school. In the MYP students transition to using laptops.

What’s Next for RIS?

After RIS’s achievement of outstanding in its last inspection, the school headed by a very capable leadership team, has decided to keep pushing forward. “After several months of work from stakeholders across the community, we have created a longterm vision for the school called “Raha’s Exceptional Journey” noted the school’s Principal, Iain Colledge. Exciting times are indeed ahead for RIS, as it sets its sights on being not only the best school in the emirate of Abu Dhabi but the best in the country.

By: Leisa Grace Wilson