An Invitation to Teachers Anywhere

As a teacher, surely you must have had many AHA moments? Those moments when something clicked  miraculously for you, or your student, or your class? When a deeper insight emerged so spontaneously that you were left awestruck? If you can write about that moment – in about 1500 words at the most – and send it to info@thinkingteacher.in – we will carry it on our website www.thinkingteacher.in It is bound to inspire many a reader – who may well be another teacher, a parent or a student. So pick up your pen and paper, or your Ipad/laptop, and send us your jottings! THINKING...

BLESSED UNREST IN A TEACHER

NEERAJA RAGHAVAN Lessons to teach, a class of students to face every day, notebooks to correct, staff meetings to attend, parents and management to satisfy…isn’t this the lot of every teacher? One would surmise that a harmonious and peaceful ambience would facilitate the efficient functioning of a teacher who has to grapple with all these things. One would certainly not recommend unrest. And yet, this is a plea for just that: blessed unrest in a teacher. Where, you may well ask, is the place of unrest? And blessed unrest? As a teacher educator who works with teachers in schools, I have indeed truly experienced the value of touching that place of unrest within a teacher, allowing it to slowly express itself and gradually, facilitating the teacher’s own exploration of a well-thought-out way out of it. In this whole process, more often than not, I have found that many other (hidden) doors get unlocked, and the teacher gains fresh insights into areas that did not, at first, seem to be linked in any way to the cause of unrest. It would not be an exaggeration to state that there is enormous scope for growth of the teacher’s personality in this journey. In many parts of the world[1], Action Research has been used[2] as a means of developing the reflective practitioner, and particularly, the reflective teacher. It is beyond the scope of this paper to review the status of action research for teacher development, so a few references are cited at the end, and three actual cases are described here. I have found in Action Research my answer to the question:...

Analyzing disruptive behaviour

As we continue discussing Indrani Barua’s question (see box alongside), our respondents now turned to exploring the cause of such behaviour. Taking off from where we ended the last part of the discussion,Vineeta Sood declared: “One can find an entry into the child’s world if one can go beneath the action to relate to the reason for a particular response.” Radha Ravi wrote: “While reading your query, I got in touch with a boy who is so individualistic that he doesn’t give a thought to any other child’s or person’s perspective. It is too early for this child to be definitive about his ideas and thoughts. Looking at his pattern, I would say that he has given only one definition to each thing and he is not ready to look at other definitions. This is not a quality of a cyclic leader. This seems to be like a linear leader, where the leader is I, me, myself and he is always at the beginning.” Radha then went on to suggest: “I feel there is a need for you to talk to him personally and ask certain questions like why he doesn’t feel the need to be cooperative. I feel there is always a reason for a child to behave the way he behaves. There will be something more to his acting like this. You should also arrange for a circle time and let the other children also speak about how they feel about him. It is absolutely not to demean him but try and reflect upon his actions where he is not able to see.” Shilpa Bansal analyzed this...

Meet the woman from IIT Kanpur who went back to school for her insatiable thirst to teach millions

A teacher educator and her organisation go to the root of the problem to improve quality of education Sreelatha Menon | October 29, 2015  The class was getting nowhere. Yes, we played games, enacted plays in the class and did anything that could help make the English language friendly and familiar to children. And yet I knew that at the end of the academic year, a third of the students in class 8 stood no chance of being able to write fluently and correctly in English. What was wrong? Many of them had come from a background where they were exposed only to the mother tongue and their English language skills were pathetic. I was hoping to get them achieve in three months what they were supposed to have learnt in the past seven years from wherever they had come. When I focused on the weak ones then I was neglecting those who needed something more challenging and vice versa. What was I to do? This was just one of the problems I had been facing as a new teacher. I had left my career as a journalist to start afresh as a teacher in Peepal Grove School, an alternative school in Andhra Pradesh. Now this is not about just one problem or about one teacher. Every teacher has a unique problem, and a unique requirement. It may manifest itself in different ways. Another teacher, Ratna, who taught social studies in the same school, was finding it hard to get children in her class to be attentive. The teacher may have the best education but igniting a desire for...

Finding creative solutions to a challenging problem

2 NOVEMBER 2015 Neeraja Raghavan As always, our staffroom discussion had a hangover from the last question, with Ajitha Paladugu writing in about the teaching of poetry. Bemoaning the common tendency of teachers to ‘guess’ the intent of the poet in writing that poem, Ajitha suggested: “instead, if we begin with the premise that there could be as many interpretations to a poem as there are readers, the myriad possibilities of enriching learning experience infuses so much energy in the class that it transforms the classroom landscape all together.” She cited some strategies, among which was her emphasis on “the importance of making a personal connection with the poem which can happen only if they allow the poem to ‘speak’ to them by trying to relate to the experience described so succinctly – or the predominant thought/emotion coursing through the poem when the theme is universal in nature.” While Ajitha had a lot more to say, we turn now to the discussion which veered around Indrani Barua’squestion: Have you ever had a child in your class who is intelligent, doesn’t like rules, has very definite views on everything, a leader, likes others to play with him as he wishes, not a very cooperative child when it comes to teamwork, full of mischief whenever bored, instigates others to mischief for fun? We have to interact with such a delightful child (aged 5+) and though we all like him a lot we just can’t find a way to stop him having a viral effect on the other very young members of our children’s library. We must restrain him a little in...

Thoughts too deep for words

In this final part of our discussion around Sreelata Menon’s question: How can a poem be made a learning experience for the student? we take the lead from Attreyee Chatterjee’s assertion that if we are teaching a poem to an older age group, for example senior school children or undergraduate/graduate/postgraduate students, the approach has to be completely different. In this discussion, we touch upon strategies used while teaching poetry to older students, even those in college. Sumitra Gautama shares that: More than any other literary form, I find that poetry evokes ‘thoughts that often lie too deep for words’. Not every poem makes equal sense to every person, but poetry well facilitated always builds empathy.She adds: Reading a poem has the power to transform the moment, when the ground has been prepared for it. However, she does include a caveat: Yet the learning experience is a journey each student takes alone into a good poem, a landscape that she/he looks at with wonder and care. Finally, she obviates the possibility of listing strategies by concluding thus – to allow that to happen is the challenge of the teacher, and I have found that more than ideas and notions of how this can happen, it is mindful watching and a deep anchoring in the poem itself – its ‘is’ness, which the teacher needs to have worked with earlier, and which includes many things. Then each class becomes unique and appropriate. Nalini Ravel concurs, as she shares: I always made it a point not to ‘teach’ poems but to make my students experience the deep feelings, tenderness, imagery, melody, rhythm, rhyme,...

The music of poetry

Our discussion on How can a poem be made into a learning experience? continues with many more tested out ideas from teachers – as well as from those who are not teachers, but who have strong feelings on the subject. Nalini Ravel began by saying: I really love the way this question has been worded, because I believe that poems cannot be ‘taught’. It is an expression of feelings and ideas of our heart and has to be felt with all one’s heart. I have always loved reading poems because they express emotions in a very beautiful way. And that is why I enjoy them equally with children. She adopts the technique of singing the poem first: I always sang the complete poem while children listened to it with closed or open eyes, whatever suited them. Then they would sing it after me and finallywith me. Pre-empting our query, she adds: How to compose music for a poem? No problem. Either set it to an already existing popular tune or ask the students to come up with a tune of their own. You will be amazed to see the amount of talent and creativity the children have! Another idea was to invite students to recite it. This meant that they would have sung and heard the poem several times and by these repetitions, the students would have understood the central idea of that poem without having to dissect it. They would have learned many interesting facts about it without much effort. Indeed, this appeared to be a commonly adopted strategy in our staffroom. Attreyee Chatterjee is of a similar...

When teaching poetry…

Our staffroom is buzzing with chatter these days. Even though we attempted a new discussion, some of us were still ruminating over the previous question, i.e., how to go about meeting the needs of diverse learners. Sunita Sharma pondered over this question and wrote in thus: While there’s no denying that any class (or any group, for that purpose) is an extensive mix of different personalities with varying levels and needs, with children what succeeds is having a say in the entire learning process. Right from selecting the lesson for the next class, to preparing a list of new words, to choosing the words for dictation, and so on – I follow a single strategy of including them in the decision-making at various stages in the lesson. The class gets the message that every child has to participate and that all responses are respected. This develops a sense of ownership in them and they participate without any fear/hesitation. For example, for vocabulary building in young learners, I ask each child to identify the word(s) that (s)he doesn’t know the meaning of (any text will do for this exercise). Next, each child reads out the difficult words, and together, we sort out the common words and prepare a final list that everyone agrees on. Having been invited to decide for themselves, not only do they read the text carefully, they feel privileged to have a say in the final list. Apart from being a joyous learning experience it has also helped eradicate all boundaries! Because, even though different learning levels might still exist, the class, as a whole, has taken...

MISTAKE? OR….MISSED TAKE?

Have you ever wondered why we make mistakes? And often, why we seem to keep making the same mistakes? A bunch of experienced teachers brainstormed on such questions, and here is just a small part of what they came up with – We limit our expectations by solely drawing upon the past This binds us to ONE route, or one right answer When – as is often the case – things do not turn out as expected, we continue to hammer our limited expectations so that we traverse the trodden road Why do we do this? Because, in so doing, we stay well within our comfort zone, in familiar domains and never venture into unknown territory But mistakes are those signposts on the path that point towards adventure. Towards untrodden beaches and yet-to-be climbed mountains. And because there is a certain uniqueness in the mistakes that each one makes, they can even turn into pioneering pathways that we need to walk alone. But in cautiously walking only along grooved paths, we miss the glorious takeaways that an amble down new roads would have given us. We didn’t make a mistake. We missed the...

A little ingenuity and support

With this article we conclude the discussion triggered by Sitalakshmi Natarajan of Rishi Valley School on how to differentiate instruction in the classroom more effectively according to the needs of each student. Some teachers turned the question over to examine what it truly meant, while several ways of approaching this problem were shared by others. The strategies that were suggested were also accompanied with the caveat that a teacher employing them should be caring and sensitive. Aruna V Jyothi endorsed much of the above as she shared her strategies – Differentiation happens through a) content – this is where a teacher faces maximum difficulty. The teacher needs to group children according to how much they know and ask questions/prepare activities to suit the needs of each group. Basic or knowledge type questions are asked to those who don’t know much, HOT questions to the brighter ones. b) assessment/evidences may be differentiated because all of them may not be able to write, and also it has to be ongoing. Teachers have to gauge children through different activities and provide them with various opportunities to exhibit their understanding and not restrict it to only the final (and that too, written) assessment. c) process (in the way the child is taught) should be differentiated – can be based on interest, multiple intelligence, personality types, learning levels of students. d) learning environment – it is important that the environment is conducive to learning (physical space, displays, lighting, etc.) Emotionally also children need to feel safe and secure, not feel judged. That is the reason it is said that schools should be a fear-free...