Can miracles be planned?

Sukanya Muraleedharan

This question is always on my mind when I plan my lessons. Can the lessons that I am planning for my students be a miraculous experience for the both of us? Miraculous, in the sense that all of us, teacher and students are engaged so naturally in the activity and emerge better in our understanding, without the need for overt control. Does that sound greedy? It may sound greedy especially when I am talking about students who are less than ten years old. That is why my greed is not always satisfied, perhaps. When I plan a lesson, the class does not happen as planned, because there are at least a million things involved in the transaction that are beyond the scope of a plan, especially in a class with more than 20 nine-year-olds. But the one thumb rule I stick to is that making a plan is always good.

So, I planned my lesson on Nouns. I had explained to them (with examples) the meaning of ‘person’, ‘place’ and ‘thing’. We played a little game of coming up with persons, places and things, all starting with a particular letter. I must admit that it was fun. But I could sense that there was a considerably large group that was still struggling to get the point. The following day’s plan was to have worksheets, in which the students would individually get to categorize words from a word bank as persons, places and things, I thought this would give me time to interact with those students who I sensed were having some trouble in getting the concept. But it all happened far more quickly than I had imagined. The ones who knew finished quickly, and the others (who I thought needed help) copied from their friends, resulting in an uncomfortable chaos in our classroom.

That’s when my eyes fell on the back issues of the Young World, published by The Hindu. Immediately I distributed a copy each, handed them scissors and asked them to cut out persons, places and things. I pinned up on a paper, the title Nouns, followed by three bold headings, PERSON, PLACE, THING on the top of the noticeboard.

I stood near the board with enough pins and asked each of them to come up to me with their cut out pictures. As they did, I held out the pins and asked the student to put the pictures under the right category. And how magically they did this! Those who knew had the fun of putting more and more, while those who were in the process of knowing organically derived a lot of visual help. They got it and it was so much fun for everybody. There was so much learning with minimal teaching!

In all the fun, the time that just flew by, the board was full, and a stock of close to a 100 pins was over. The class wrapped up the session with cleaning up the place, feeling exhilarated and proud of their work. But the magic was not yet over.

The same learning space is shared by students from grades one to six in turns. And this noticeboard inevitably evoked much interest in all the groups. It is an interesting exercise to decipher an eclectic collage, as the other groups discovered. What’s more, the many pictures that made up the collage seemed to spin endless stories for students of all age groups. The nouns collage became an ultimate resource for interaction and voluntary engagement.

It became an instance of interactive print in practice, real time. I experienced its power of simplicity, beauty and utility, above all the enormous fun for all, in the process. The most beautiful thing is that the collage is a process not a product. The process is in the stories that it draws out of the students, the classroom discussion, the questions that they ask each other, the identification of who put up what and why, the making of the collage and its re-organizing – in short, in the doing.

I saw in the eyes of my students that I would never need to explain again what person, place or thing meant or what a noun is. Well, that probably would have happened eventually, but now, it was accomplished with fun and creativity. The memories that the group and I now carry are sealed with happiness, sensitivity, sensibility and ownership.

I will always remember that my voice in that class was barely more than a whisper. I had the opportunity to listen to every child’s story behind the selection of pictures. ‘What we know’ became tangible, to touch, to manipulate, to own our judgments and decisions. Children chose, made their decisions, discussed it with friends and me.

Resources were limited but shared, each had space, and there was no competition whatsoever. It helped the children be kind, helpful and co-operative to each other. And what came out of the class simply amazed us all and the rest of the students who saw it for a good amount of time.

This unplanned activity was a wonderful turning point in the whole lesson. It restored the faith that beautiful and amazing things are always possible in a class, when you least expect it. On a positive note, it reminded me that it is not that bad a thing at all when a plan falls flat, even if it is so carefully wrought. If we have the courage to be open-minded there are lots of ways to find more amazing ways to teach.

Reflecting on this experience, I understand that the whole thing turned out to be magical because the students were able to see the meaning of what they were doing and it was fun too. This spirit somehow needs to be woven into the planning of lessons: and maybe, that’s the key to planning miracles, too? It has been years since I have had such close engagement with children of this age, so how they see what they see and what they regard as fun, that is adaptable for classroom learning, are all questions that are looming large for me. It is an interesting territory to explore.

And I have set my sails yonder!

The author is a junior school English teacher at Vidya Vanam, Anaikatti, Coimbatore. She has two years of teaching experience. Language and literacy instruction that is feasible in low exposure settings is of keen interest to her. She can be reached at [email protected].

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