Holistic learning

Rajeshwari Mohan

When I started teaching English for CAT aspirants in the year 2000 as a novice, the subject and I had one thing in common: being ATYPICAL. The English section in CAT has no syllabus or reference material, the absence of specification making every detail of the language important and relevant. I also had an atypical entry into the field of teaching, after a quarter century stint in the banking field, with no teaching background or any exposure to scholastic training. I was very much an excited learner in the garb of an exploring teacher. I kept asking myself what could make the learning meaningful and holistic to me and my students.

In the context of meaningful learning, TS Eliot observed thus, ‘where is knowledge lost in information and wisdom lost in knowledge?’ CAT students need to avoid this syndrome by internalizing what they learn. This would take their learning to a higher level of practical application. Being aware of one’s progress or lack of it is another aspect of this process. Each batch would have students with varied levels of competence in the language. There would be a tendency to compare oneself with an advanced performer and feel inadequate. I would insist that comparison is with oneself but not with the best. Even a marginal improvement from yesterday is ‘progress’. This again calls for self-assessment which I would facilitate by asking for their feedback on their learning comfort and takeaways for the day. Whatever I shared with my students was self-tested, and I had my moments of celebration in my evolution as a learner in teaching. Test taking skills and a positive and composed attitude are equally, if not more, important in qualifying in the examination. These would be the leitmotif of my sessions.

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Words, as the smallest building blocks of the language, have lots of importance in CAT. Word acquisition is not about the number of words but the feel of it. Categorizing words as +ve, -ve and contextual does give the flavour of a word. The word Shrewd would give me the opportunity not only to disabuse the notion, of a handful at least, that it is negative but also discuss the negative word, not so common, Shrew with a reference to Shakespeare’s play. If time permits I would share the eponymous synonym Xantippe and Socrates humorous quote ‘after the thunder comes the rain’. The discussion of the word ‘peripatetic’ would become irresistible too. If the next word is Infidel, I would give them the root ‘FID’ and the meaning trust/faith and ask them to give as many words as they can using the root. Words like affidavit, bona fide, fiduciary, fidelity and perfidy do become related and manageable. The closely spelt words ConfidA/Ent would be discussed with questions: Are you confident? Who is your confidant? I would linger on to explain that answer to the first question is a quality and so an adjective, while the second one is a person and so a noun. In this particular session, I might not have discussed even half of the handout, but I would have shared the seamless flow of the language and the different mnemonics that can make their time investment rewarding.

Reading Comprehension (RC) is akin to breathing. This is one key that can open many doors for a CAT aspirant. Being competent in this lifeskill gives a student the comfort and confidence to comprehend the inputs and relate it to the question in hand. Comprehension is going beyond the obvious meaning of the words and getting the essence of the idea. Being able to read words cannot be equated with understanding the ideas. The logical sequence of any reading would be the identification of key words and the summary that would emerge from connecting the key words. The first task for a beginner is to start reading. In the introductory session the WH questions on reading are discussed in detail. I share a few comforting points with my students. One of them is one need not read every word to understand the idea. In a sentence of introduction, ‘I am Rajeshwari Mohan’, the only word to be registered is Rajeshwari the other three words can be skipped. If the question is, what is my second name then the key word ‘second’ in the question should change the focus. Where answering the question is the task as in CAT exam, the way one reads would differ majorly from the way one reads for content knowledge. In a test taking context, the question would decide the focus. Having the students specify the time they require, the minimum number of questions they would definitely attempt and the accuracy level they expect to achieve gives them a definitive goal to work towards. The discussion process would include the choice of questions, the smart ways to locate the answers, the time management and the gap or absence of it with their estimation and execution. Sharing my experiences of errors committed while working on the same passages helps students get past the initial discomfort of coming to terms with their errors and thereby laying the road for a fruitful journey towards maximizing their potential. When a high level difficult question is answered by a student, I ask for the location of information and interpretation of it. When I get a convincing answer I applaud, but I still raise the question, should one have spent that much time in cracking a difficult question, which could have very well been used to answer two other relatively simple questions. The resource that could have been put to better use is not only time but also energy.

In CAT preparation, it is an undeniable fact that the journey is as important, if not more, as the destination itself, though reaching it does happen incidentally. If this is understood, the efforts and experiences during the journey would make it so holistic that the later stages of essay writing or/and group discussion and personal interview would be equally rewarding and would naturally draw upon the rich learning experiences one has had.

I, the learner in teaching, am enjoying my journey totally, and am sure it will never end!

The author is an English teacher and soft skill trainer. Her students and trainees are B-school aspirants, pursuers of higher studies in foreign universities and working professionals. She considers learning as one of the most meaningful and challenging experiences and feels doubly blessed as a learner and teacher. She can be reached at rajeshwarimohan11@yahoo.co.in.