Syntactical Spells



Language Program

GEMS Royal Dubai School; Dubai, United Arab Emirates

22 March 2017

Arabic, French and English


Tilka Brown

Royal Dubai School.

In a corner of a school building and behind a rather unassuming brown door, lies a world of MAGIC!

It is a place where letters transform into words and where words join together to create meaning.

Sentences become paragraphs and paragraphs converge to form pages of books.

These books in turn, transport the reader elsewhere – to destinations only limited by one’s imagination!

However before embarking on such adventures, powerful spells must be cast so that all those who step through the door are given the correct keys for their learning journey.

Those who create the magic of reading and bring English alive for these travellers, are the dedicated and remarkable ‘Potion-Mixers’ – the terrific teachers who shine and polish the keys for their students.

Today, I was blessed to cross-over the threshold and observe this process first-hand inside the appropriately named Achievement Centre (ACe) at GEMS Royal Dubai School.

Before I can explain my journey into ACe, I must first give some context to the school within which this remarkable world is located.

This is an outstanding school, quite literally! GEMS Royal Dubai School (RDS) was recently awarded with the prestige title of ‘Outstanding School’ by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority – KHDA.

Tilka Brown

Multicultural classrooms: GEMS students come from all over the world!

This government body is responsible for the growth and quality of private education in Dubai and every year, each school undergoes a weeklong inspection process conducted by an entity of the KHDA – the Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau (DSIB).

It may sound like a worrisome process but actually, this is an extremely good thing for schools.

This annual meticulous inspection process means that schools are constantly seeking to improve the quality of their teaching and learning practices for their students.

There are six key areas which serve as the performance indicators for the inspection; Care and Support, Personal Development, Curriculum, Leadership, Quality of Teaching Assessment and Standards of Progression and Attainment.

Each area is assessed and the DSIB prepare a report which highlights the schools strengths and the necessary suggestions for improvement.

Tilka Brown

The Achievement Centre – where magic happens!

For a school to obtain the level of ‘outstanding,’ each of the six performance indicators must be ranked very highly. And during my brief visit to Royal Dubai School, I clearly saw this level of excellence.

Education is a big deal here in Dubai.

HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai is a strong advocate for quality and equality when it comes to educating the worlds’ children.

Schools are supported extremely well and teachers are highly respected professionals.

The ‘business of school’ in GEMS schools is a remarkable combination of a highly functional business, driven by a team of educators with a singular purpose – “to put a quality education within the reach of every student.”

For outsiders and non-educators, this may be mistakingly perceived as somewhat unrealistic (“Every student? Really?”), particularly given the fact that GEMS students come from every corner of the globe – totalling 150 nationalities to be exact!

But these ‘contrasting classrooms’ enhance the teaching and learning opportunities for all.

Students are able to learn about various cultures and traditions, simply by conversing with their peers – each student can be a teacher for another! Brilliant!

Tilka Brown

Multicultural classrooms: GEMS students come from all over the world!

Aside from these engaging, informal teaching and learning environments, the students at RDS follow an enriched version of the (new) National Curriculum for England. This includes the usual core subjects (Numeracy, Art, Science, Literacy etc) along with the subjects of ‘Computing’ and ‘Digital Learning.’

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Arabic Language Classroom.

Islamic Education and first and second Arabic language lessons begin in the Foundation Stage – for students aged three and four years old.

At this young age, students are involved in play-based teaching and learning experiences.

From Year One, students participate in at least four 40minute language classes per week.

There are two streams of Arabic language learning – ‘Stream A’ for native speakers and ‘Stream B’ for non-native speakers.

This differentiation allows the teachers to plan and prepare lessons that are best suited for their students’ abilities.

French is offered as an additional language to students from Year Three onwards.

Naturally, my school tour included a visit to these language classrooms where I saw many beautiful displays of student work and wonderful lesson ideas!

Tilka Brown

French Language Classroom.

I was also completely delighted to see that next to one table, was a trail of silver glitter – left behind from the previous lesson! (Did they know I was coming?!) See – proof that learning another language IS magic! Haha! But the thing that really made my eyes widen and my heart spill-over with joy was what I saw when I wandered into the generalist classrooms. Displayed prominently around the rooms were various Arabic posters of numbers, days of the week, colours etc. The basics, but so brilliantly easy! “And this,” as I excitedly declared to my tour-guide and new teaching friend, “is exactly what I’m trying to encourage other teachers to do!!! This is fantastic!!” She smiled politely but I think my enthusiasm was a bit much…

Tilka Brown
Tilka Brown

Fabulous displays of Arabic language throughout the generalist classrooms!

Tilka Brown

I guess she didn’t really understand my excitement for languages!

We continued on the tour of this beautiful school and it became rather apparent to me that yes, RDS students have access to many marvellous resources.

This school is indeed a ‘stimulating environment in which they (the students) flourish.’ But the real riches here cannot ever be bought, not for any price – and this is well understood by the leaders of the great powerhouse that is GEMS.

Potential new teaching staff undertake a rigorous interview process to not only prove their high levels of qualifications, but to also demonstrate the most important aspect of the teaching role – passion and love for the teaching and learning process. Which brings me back to the dedicated teachers who reside within The Achievement Centre.

Tilka Brown

The doorway to a whole of magic!

The Achievement Centre – or ‘ACe’ as it is affectionally known by the staff and students – is a place where students achieve their English goals in leaps and bounds.

Here, students are equipped with the necessary literacy skills to make their journeys inside their classrooms more prosperous.

They are encouraged to take a few risks along the way, encouraged to push themselves.

This is an RDS teaching philosophy and it WORKS because guess what?!?

The students do push themselves because they know that they are and always will be supported in their learning!

Within ACe operates three departments and programs: SEN (Special Educational Needs), ELL (English Language Learners) and MAGT (Most able, Gifted and Talented).

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RDS staff understand the many benefits for clear communication and collaboration – this is how excellence is achieved!

The ELL program was born from the need to support the schools’ expanding number of students whose first language was one other than English.

It is a tailored-program, designed according to the needs of each student; the number of lessons per week varies according to the age and proficiency level of the child.

Some students attend ACe for 1.5hrs a week whilst others may require four hours – it depends on what’s best for the student.

And this is the excellent thing about the RDS staff; there is a great amount of communication and collaboration between ACe and generalist classrooms – communication is the key to success!

Detailed Individual Learning Plans (ILP’s) are designed for each student and specific targets are set for the students to achieve with their English learning throughout the term.

All RDS teachers are ‘on-the-same-page’ and work together for the students to reach their individualised learning goals.

But what I was particularly drawn to, was the teaching content for the ELL lessons.

The teachers don’t follow structured course books or rigid programs (as I have seen in other language classrooms in schools elsewhere) but rather, they create their own teaching and learning content which best suits the learning needs of their students.

Tilka Brown

An important resource for an English lesson…

Tilka Brown

Not your typical procedural writing text…!

Lessons are designed in accordance to the topics taught in the classrooms, providing an authentic and engaging scaffold with relevant academic language for the students.

As an example, I was shown aspects of a recently completed writing lesson which had a learning objective of ‘use topic related vocabulary in sentences (and) use the correct verb tense agreement.’

The students were required to read and understand a procedural text and follow the instructions to create a ‘Witch’s Wand Potion…’

They followed the spell and used the necessary resources – a cauldron, ‘poisonous leaves,’ ‘dragon tears,’ and ‘snake blood’ (to name a few!) to successfully create their concoctions.

Aside from it being a whole lot of fun(!), the lesson was a measurement of the students’ ability to successfully explain – in English, using their new vocabulary – how to make the potion.

But this is just one example of the true MAGIC that occurs here in the Achievement Centre! One day is never the same as the next and change is flexibly constant – as it should be in language classrooms.

Students are continually and supportably challenged with their learning and as such, they are continually moving forward to reach and achieve all targets set for them. At the moment, there is a focus on changing the ELL assessments to establish a clearer indication of each child’s linguistic needs.

Having this clearer understanding will allow the teachers here to implement more effective in-class differentiation strategies.


But new assessment packages and magical resources aside, the language-learning experienced here in ACe can only occur because the ‘Chief Spell-Givers’ work tirelessly to make their lessons unique and engaging for their students.

In ACe, it’s ALL about the students! A colleague described the RDS teachers as; “outstanding and caring professionals who work incredibly hard to engage the children and ensure that they receive top quality education.

I’ve met many teachers on my travels; many great teachers, quite a few passionately excellent teachers and well, now I’ve met a whole department full of outstanding teachers!

Thank-you to all of you for showing me your very special world! Your language lessons are wonderful and your spells are magnificent!

Well done GEMS Royal Dubai School – in my eyes, you are an OUTSTANDING Stella School!

By Tilka Brown
©The Language Toolbox

For more information about Royal Dubai School, please see their school website: