An experience from a language classroom
Preeti Chadha Sadh
In this article I am going to share and document the process of developing a poem with second graders and also a few reflections on the current teaching discourse in our education system. It will reflect upon the classroom process and also the hidden challenges in executing them.
Recently, in one of my classes, I read aloud a storybook. My students are used to reading children’s literature from various sources. This particular book was selected from the National Book Trust collection.
In this story, the Father Hen makes a mistake which has some consequences later. At the end of the story, the bird parents are left with only one baby bird, their own chick . After reading the story we discussed the plot and its characters. Further, as an extension activity, I asked the children to share one mistake they made with the entire group. Also, to talk about what had happened, how others reacted, how they felt, what the consequences were and how the children or others involved made up for the mistake. I too spoke about a mistake I made when I was a young girl, my feelings at that time, my parents’ reactions and how the situation was made up finally. It is through such exercises that students and teachers bond, become friends and equal partners in the process of learning.
During this interaction, I kept noting down words on the blackboard which were common in our experiences.
In the next class, I asked the children to write a story or poem using the context discussed and the vocabulary we used. There was a consensus to develop a poem so I gave them the first two lines to start them off. The children were very excited throughout though it wasn’t easy for them to string their thoughts in statements that rhymed well. It was interesting to see how the children were reacting to each other, asking questions…
“nahi yaar, pehle ye to bata ki kya shararat ki thi”……”O bete! galti se hua ya jaanke kiya”…..”Oye! teri mummy itni choti si baat par pitayi karti hain kya?”….. “phir tu ne manaya kaise?”
No doubt this was a lot of time spent on one topic, but the entire process of sharing of anecdotes and heartfelt feelings was opening a window for me to sneak into their world and understand their emotions along with helping them to compose a poem. They frequently asked me about rhyming words which would fit best. Here is what came out finally…….
There was no dearth of energy and excitement during the whole process. It wasn’t that each child was able to write a poem but each child was involved in the process – in thinking about any such experience where she or he was scolded, where something wrong took place and people around were upset. Each child was looking for words suitable for the particular context, was trying to make sentences and especially to end the lines not only with words that rhymed together but also with lines that made sense. Some of them were leaders in accomplishing the task speedily but some were not too sure about their creation. Still, the significant aspect was that they were creating something and there were having fun in the process. They made the final decision as to which lines would make it, which lines conveyed what they wanted to and which lines were not appropriate and so had to be kept on hold.
I would like to note here that for these children this was not the first experience of creating a poem with their peers. In grade one too, they created two poems in Hindi based on their experiential learning*. Those poems were related to ‘rain’ and ‘caps’ and were really naive in comparison to the poems created above. One may wonder what the big deal is in creating two poems in one whole year, but the fact is that the process of reading and writing in the early grades of school involves many aspects of language development. Any story or poem created by children in their early grades reflects their readiness to engage with the language, their confidence to analyze and share their understanding of the world around them, their willingness to express their feelings through language. Such creations and the processes behind their making is also a pointer to the constructivist learning environment# provided to the children by the people surrounding them.
After creating the poem and singing it many times in the classroom, I thought of doing some drill exercises with them. These exercises were similar to those given at the end of most chapters of any language textbook, such as adding ‘thukanth shabdh’ to the given list, ‘vaakya banana’, ‘vipareetharthak shabdh’.
Here is a sample of the work done in the classroom with children –
Such exercises though necessary can get monotonous, therefore as teachers it becomes our job to get the children to extend them and mould them with their original ideas and creativity. This discourages children from blindly copying the answers as well. Another significant struggle that every teacher perhaps goes through is to see how she can go beyond the textbooks and make learning fun for her students. Unfortunately, even today, the examination system at the early school levels considers the prescribed textbooks as a base for assessment and not as mere references to be used by teachers. In the present scenario, it is evident that lack of comprehensive and inspiring teacher training programmes, top down approach of systemic hierarchies and insufficient infrastructural support, leave little freedom for teachers to develop their class curriculum with respect to the basic benchmarks children must attain in different subjects and at varied levels. Thus the need of this hour probably is to transform teachers into facilitators. And for that to happen, our education system must facilitate its teachers in all possible ways so that they can encourage and support budding writers, painters, actors, sports persons present in each class in understanding and achieving their strengths.
*Experiential Learning – Any learning that supports students in applying their knowledge and conceptual understanding to real-world problems or situations where the instructor directs and facilitates learning. (Wurdinger & Carlson, 2010)
#Constructivist Learning Environment – Constructivism is a learning theory found in psychology which explains how people might acquire knowledge and learn. It therefore has direct application to education. The theory suggests that human construct knowledge and meaning from their experiences.
The author has been working with children of primary classes for the last 18 years. Her training and experience as a writer and as a resource person with NCERT, SCERT (Delhi) and University of Delhi has made her pedagogical understanding more deep and meaningful. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.