A little ingenuity and support

Neeraja Raghavan

THINKING TEACHER (www.thinkingteacher.in) brings to you a series called IN THE STAFFROOM through TEACHER PLUS.

Ideally, teachers should be able to discuss (over a cup of tea, maybe?) several academic as well as classroom management issues in the staffroom. However, we know that this is seldom possible due to the rush-rush-rush of a teacher’s day. Therefore, we felt that the sort of discussion which should ideally take place in the staffroom (but perhaps doesn’t, as often as it should,) could easily happen in the leisurely pages of Teacher Plus.

As in any discussion, everything depends upon the richness of participation. While we have sparked off the first discussion in this issue with a question that THINKING TEACHER actually solicited, the discussion will roll on only if you, dear reader, pitch in with your own questions and responses. You must have many issues that call for discussion – it could be help with an issue that you are facing, e.g., a particular concept that you wish to master, or an innovative pedagogy that you are searching for – in order to teach that concept, or a classroom management issue, etc.

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.commercial inflatable dora the explorer

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 environment, supportive and caring, make sure children become independent learners, responsible, problem solvers. The classroom should be challenging and exciting for which teachers have to have plans ready, keep children on the move in their thinking.

This is something that I have worked on personally to see the effects of it in same age as well mixed age group classes at the primary level.

Susheela Raghavan (a teacher for over three decades) shared similar thoughts:
A lot depends on the teacher’s ingenuity. The approach varies from subject to subject. Some children respond to visuals, some are auditory. For example, in my subject I have experienced that some were good in map work, some in diagrams, some were good in model making or experiments. Some responded to field trips. Such approaches triggered their interest in the subject, though they did not do extremely well.

Basically, the teacher has to gauge the child’s intelligence towards the subject, and accept the level at which the child is, then work out the way to help. In the present context, we as teachers have to shift our focus from syllabus-oriented teaching to child-oriented teaching. Even if there is a large class strength, one can help, provided the teacher has courage of conviction. He/she must understand that we cannot have a hundred percent success. We can only help to retrieve a child’s self-esteem, but that may not reflect in their academic excellence, but a child will have gained some strength in the subject. In CCE also, a teacher must use her discretion in assessing. The focus should be on the learning outcome and not on assessment.

Sometimes remediation can be taken up, provided the teacher has willingness to take the extra mileage in teaching.

tree-with-alphabets Usha Kumar (a teacher for over two decades) had this to say –
In my experience I find appreciating the student goes a long way in motivating the child to make that extra effort. While teaching soft skills and English speaking skills to vernacular students I found they just want to be reassured constantly that it is okay to be wrong or make mistakes. I realized this early in my teaching career. In their desperation to always be right or correct most weak students don’t want to be noticed. Just a pat on their back…a word of encouragement makes the big difference! The weak student has to work harder than the others and definitely appreciation works wonders!

Administrative support
Karen Haydock, a teacher with 15 years’ experience, had suggestions that fall in the third category –
One of the most important requirements for effective teaching is a good principal and administration. A good principal is one who encourages teachers (1) to be creative and try new approaches, (2) not to dwell too much on bureaucratic procedures and requirements, and (3) not to be too afraid to make mistakes.

A good piece of advice for teachers is: don’t be afraid! – experiment! Teachers need to work in an environment where we have the time and energy to collaborate, discuss our problems and approaches with each other, and work together to develop teaching methods and solve problems such as how to help weak students.

Teachers need to know the students. Years of teacher training and weeks of workshops, and tonnes of advice are all for nothing if we are put in schools where we have to teach 5 to 8 periods per day of more than 20-25 students in each class.

Thus, the most important way to help weak students is to reduce class size by hiring more teachers.

Teachers need to have time to discuss their classroom experiences with each other in a relaxed, peaceful atmosphere. For a 5-6 hour school day, the time in the classroom should be interspersed with several long periods out of the classroom for resting, discussing, and helping each other develop solutions to teaching problems. Three hours in the classroom to three hours out of the classroom is advisable. Reducing the amount of papers to correct is one of the most important outcomes of hiring more teachers. Most teachers are presently overburdened with piles and piles of corrections.

Observing each other’s classrooms and joint-teaching are good opportunities for teachers to learn. A teacher may find it very useful to videotape their own class and then view, and critique the video alone or with other teachers – or even with the students. Teachers can discuss pedagogy with even fairly young students, who may give surprisingly good insights and suggestions.

Also, it will be well to keep in mind that it is actually impossible to make all students learn what you think they should learn, or even to assess exactly what the students are learning. I have had a number of students who I felt I had failed – but after hearing from them afterwards (sometimes a number of years later) I was surprised to find out that they later realized they had learned something valuable from my class.

This discussion kept the staff room buzzing.

Questions for discussion

Indrani Barua of Santiniketan has posed the following question for the next discussion:
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 order to do meaningful activities, but at the same time we do not want him to lose any of his excellent individualistic qualities. Any suggestions?

Sreelata Menon of Peepul Grove School has asked the following question:
How can a poem be made a learning experience for the student? I try to make the students read and explain the poem. I have tried methods like making them mark the rhyme scheme, find images, find the metaphors, etc. Students are not likely to go back to the poems again and again on their own. So poems have to make a good first impression on the students if they are to remember them. Can someone suggest the methods they have found effective?

Send in your responses to the above questions to thinkingteacher22@gmail.com and share your ideas with fellow teachers. Don’t forget to pose your own questions as well.

The author is the Founder-Director of Thinking Teacher, an organization that is working towards creating a network of reflective teachers who seek each other’s views on a range of issues pertaining to teaching and learning.