“Did you understand…?”

Jyotsna Vijapurkar

Children know the answer to this question … “YES!”The louder, the better. The more voices in the chorus, the better. And the teacher feels, “Good. Now I can move on to the next para/subject/chapter/lesson….”

This is the most frequently asked question in our classrooms. The question in my mind, however, is different. If every time the teacher asks this question, this is the answer he/she gets, why go through this futile exercise? The “Yes” implies that most, if not all students have understood the lesson, yet performance in tests shows otherwise. Indeed, even when there is no answer, many a teacher simply moves on. For the teacher, all too often, this question is merely a punctuation in the teaching episode.

Even if the intention is to genuinely assess whether students have understood the material, merely asking students if they understood something is unlikely to give an accurate account of how far teaching has been successful. There are good reasons for that. In the brief moment they have to answer it, how are they going to evaluate themselves? And time, or lack of it, is not the only factor. For one, children, particularly younger ones, are not necessarily equipped to articulate metacognition – reflection about one’s own thinking processes. More importantly, most of the science teaching in our schools is simply a set of large technical words, definitions, disjointed facts and laws which make no sense to children. There is rarely an attempt to build a coherent picture in the students’ minds. In the absence of a coherent picture, how is a child to evaluate whether, in her mind, what has just been taught fits into a larger whole?

The author is on the faculty at the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education, TIFR, in Mumbai. Her major projects currently are curriculum development at the middle school level, and classroom practice focusing on inquiry teaching. She can be reached at jvijapurkar@gmail.com.

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