FROM CHALK TO PEN: First article in this program offered by THINKING TEACHER

DSC01043FROM CHALK TO PEN:  THINKING TEACHER takes pleasure in posting an article by Sudeshna Sanchety, who teaches Economics in St. Joseph’s Convent, Chandannagar, West Bengal, and has been a teacher for 20 years. She worked with us to write the first article in this program. Her interests include reading, organising and conducting youth activities.

Become somebody nobody thought you could be……. Sudeshna Sanchety

Pre ISC tests results were out and – oh dear! Six students in my class of 54 had fared extremely poorly in my subject, Economics.

I called them aside after class and enquired about their disastrous performance.

Their answers made my heart sink….

“Ma’am this subject is too tough; we don’t understand it well…..”

“Ma’am the graphs are so confusing!”

“It would be nice if we are shown the correct answer patterns.”

“We write but we don’t seem to get marks.”

I was more disheartened than they were, because it was evident that I had failed to realise their problem until now.

But I am a fighter and I will not leave any battle without a struggle. Before setting out to help these students, I did some introspection as to why I had failed to understand that some of my pupils had a serious problem in understanding the subject that I (thought I) taught so sincerely.

I have usually found that 30-35% students display a lack of understanding – the rest of them seem to get it.  Either these do not comprehend the questions at all or they fail to express their learning in an optimal way. I reflected that this must surely be a problem for many teachers like me who fail to put their finger on the cause of confusion.

Why are “we” failing to get the pulse of the class?

According to me, these students’ problems did not surface until this moment due to a mix of several factors:

  1. Shyness coupled with, perhaps, low self esteem of the student – (s)he feels uncomfortable to ask her/his doubts in front of the entire class
    2. Poor attention span/ learning disability of the student – prevents her/him from following the lectures attentively
  2. Hyperactivity / talkative nature – does not allow her/him to follow the class
    4. Irregular class attendance – absent in previous class, and therefore unable to catch what’s currently being taught
  3. Students’ personalities- bored/disheartened, therefore, (s)he may be reluctant to seek help
  4. Last but not the least – a large class and improper seating arrangement
    also hampers understanding of the lesson, especially for weaker

I now turned to the teacher. What about the teacher’s constraints and limitations? For a teacher to finish her syllabus with a class of 45-55 pupils, within daily periods of 40 mins each, in around 200 working days is truly a Herculean task, I realised.

Now I began to ponder on the subject of why some students realize so late that they are lagging behind the class.

I could think of some reasons such as –

  1. Students’ improper attitude – laziness to work on their own shortcomings
  2. Not taking corrections seriously
  3. Lack of motivation in the students
  4. Procrastination- deferring action, accumulating studies to the last moment
  5. Poor self assessment- Students unable to judge their own strengths and

I could now see that though this is an uphill task, we as teachers have to take some concrete steps to deal with such an alarming situation. Teachers can bring some variations/changes in teaching methods so that all students find learning a little easier. What could I do? I wondered.

And here is what I came up with:

  1. Keep my lessons clear and concise – have a ‘ mind map’ of the topic to
    be taught, provide verbal as well as written instructions and supplement these with ways to follow-up
  2. Monitor the lecture time – try to incorporate directional questions to
    enhance student participation, and then ask revision questions at the end
    of each lesson
  3. Recognize the learning styles of weaker students and vary teaching
    techniques accordingly – spanning lectures, board work, chart/map interpretations,
    group discussions and usage of software for relevant topics.
    In an interactive class, when a current topic is discussed in groups
    let the weaker students be distributed across several groups – so that each such
    student joins some motivated ones and the worth thus gets shared. Let the
    weaker students not be discriminated and put altogether in one group. In such group activities of problem solving, weaker students may be encouraged to report
    to the class the solution of the problem that was discussed.
  4. To get constructive feedback, such students may be asked to write
    down their areas of difficulty and/or reasons for not understanding
    the topic

Today, when I reflect on the whole situation I also feel that somewhere I failed to understand all my students’ problems in understanding. This handful of weaker students must have given me some indication, which may not have been too loud or obvious, but I had obviously failed to understand their subtle body language.

Well! This was such an eye opener for me, that I have now become far more alert in class. Those 6 students were already crestfallen. Before there was any further dent to their already sagging confidence, I had to swiftly take on a leading role. In a sense, my weakest students turned out to be my best teachers!

So what, you may wonder, did I do with these six students who had failed in my subject? Well, I first pepped them up with positive affirmations like: “Pre ISC exam is not the end of the world, there’s still some time in hand, which if used efficiently, can yield positive results.”

I asked them that if I was ready to invest 200% of my effort, how much would they try?….and, to my delight, the unanimous answer was 100%.

Thereafter, on every working day, I stayed back after school hours, to explain difficult portions of the syllabus.

I gave them a question bank of probable questions and then asked them to solve these. Though initially reluctant, they answered them with my firm insistence, and I corrected their work regularly. Within a month, some tangible improvement was evident, in their way of writing answers.

They were able to understand their errors to a large extent. When they practised writing answers and wrote better, I always acknowledged this change and complimented them with encouraging comments like’ Good’, ‘Keep it up’.

I also pointed out that proper time management and accurate self appraisal are
needed, along with hard work. Scientific techniques of learning are to be inculcated to master any subject.

They shared their dreams and fears with me. I told them about my student life, how I had had nightmares before exams, how I had coped with my shortcomings because I had trusted my parents and teachers. I persuaded them that there is no substitute for hard work done smartly.

The  consistent and diligent work of the students and my immense faith in God bore fruits. That year, these six students did fairly well in ISC and scored more than 65% in Economics where the class average was around 85%.

My personal storm passed away and now, there was sunshine.

Our students still look up to us as role models- we, as teachers, have an enormous responsibility to act as their heroes. Teachers need to master the art of getting students to do what they (teachers) want from students because the students want it…….

My own learning was that as a motivator and a teacher, I should be able to make the student face the problem confidently, knowing that (s)he has the
strength and capability to do it.

I think I have done this with as much patience as I can muster…….