From ‘onion peels’ to ‘critical analysis’ – A journey of learning

Akshay Kumar

As a child, say till Class 8, I always topped the class. I could remember the names and dates, or answers to every possible question even without knowing their contexts and that came in handy. From memorizing the fact that Kalidasa penned Meghdoot (without even knowing who that person was or what that text was about) to writing a letter in a particular format, I could do it all and I would fare well in the exams. My initial forays to get familiar with conceptualized knowledge includes the slide I made on “peeling an onion” so as to see its cells in our biology lab. Earlier, we had only read about the process in our textbook with diagrams. It never made sense to me. When I actually made a slide by cutting the onion, followed by extracting the peel and adding chemicals/solutions such as safranin and glycerine to make it more visible, guided by the teacher, that is when I understood the actual meaning of learning. It embedded the fact within me – ‘If you read something you should be able to see (and do) it within your surroundings’.

Later, I went on to enroll myself to D.el.ed (Diploma in Elementary Education) for I didn’t get admission into DU and my parents always wanted me to be a primary school teacher like them. During that time, we studied a subject – “information technology” and I began to understand theoretically how technology can be used within a classroom. My teachers never used technology in teaching and I actually believed that mugging up those huge explanations would boost my scores in the examinations. No one told me otherwise even while teaching in schools and designing lessons for the classes as part of that program. The phase passed and I became a language mentor during my graduation after a chain of rigorous interviews and workshops. I started facilitating my mentees from the first year of graduation in developing their language skills. One fine day, I explained the format of critical analysis to them. I explained it many a time giving examples on the board. I then gave them an assignment to critically analyze any of the poems from the choices provided. Everyone submitted their assignments in the next class successfully copying the analysis from several websites. This saddened me. I had tried my best to explain the concepts in the class. I then came up with the idea of using videos to explain the same concept in the class. “Leave the critical analysis, let’s watch a video” I said. I played the TED talk – “I’ve lived both as a man and woman” by Paula Stone Williams, where she says, “I was a CEO of a large religious non-profit organization, the host of a national television show, I preached in mega churches, I was a successful white American male.” The opening sentence itself struck them since they were listening to a woman. They were laughing at the instances where Paula was being sarcastic as they too could relate to the Indian counterparts in terms of gender differences and roles.

Later, I asked them about what they thought was being talked about in the video. They came up with answers such as gender differences, queer experiences, treatments and perceptions towards a different gender. Then I helped them in eliciting sub-points in these responses. Then I discussed the video dissecting it into parts explaining how Paula was taking a stand/viewpoint and proving it with enough experiences and evidences. And we moved back to the structure of critical analysis. Their faces gave away their surprise for they had never actually thought of analyzing the video from the critical, objective perspective without delving into the content.

To enable a stronger, sounder conceptualized learning, I asked them whether they liked films or not. They enthusiastically affirmed and almost created a havoc suggesting names of multiple films. Then I played another video – “Not a Movie Review: Toilet” by Sucharita Tyagi. The video was a review of the film Toilet Ek Prem Katha, and again talked about gender issues. In the video, Sucharita declares her purpose: underlining the loophole in the story which is the depiction of male and female roles. When she talks about the male protagonist saying, “Badtameez kehdo madam, Bhaisahab mat kaho” (Call me rude Madam, but don’t call me Brother) and the scene of a girl going around him, it instantly attracted the students since they could see such occurrences even in their class and were, therefore, all giggling over the scenes and explanations.

Again, we noticed the structure of the video explaining the loopholes and the things which worked positively. Sucharita taking a stand again reminded them of the format of the critical analysis where we try to prove our stand about the given text/ video, etc., with enough evidences from it. They were actually looking empowered.

This helped them work on the poems that I had given them and they came up with many interpretations. We all learned the implications of what we discussed on the board and read in the textbook. That was a fulfilling classroom teaching-learning experience for me since they learnt the concept of critical analysis with some actual application of it and I learned how I can actually use technology within the classroom to enable quality and more retentive learning.

Today, I am studying in the English and Foreign Languages University and I never feel the lack of applicable learning within my classroom because even if my teacher is talking about different kinds of syllabus, he/she would actually go ahead and bring the samples of the same and discuss everything related to it using both inductive and deductive methods wherever applicable. Or if I learn about the nuances of a speech, we actually write and deliver speeches consisting of those elements like the introduction, title, ending, factual data, metaphors, main content etc. As a teacher trainee, I feel the importance of attaching concepts to the things around us and how they can impact learners, teachers and the entire teaching-learning process to a huge extent.

The author is a first year Master’s student of English Language Teaching at English and Foreign Languages University. He wishes to empower individuals and society through his work in the respective discipline. He can be reached at [email protected].

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