Get ready…to pause

Aarthi Prem

I’d like to share with you a diary entry of mine from five years ago.

“Today has been a hectic day with a full load of work, both at home and at the music school. I was able to do justice to my schedule till mid-day, but after that it seemed like each hour was getting shorter and I was not able to complete my tasks. I think the task that really got the better of me was when I sat down to teach my son and daughter, who are being home-schooled. I greeted them, we settled down with our books and notebooks; my children shared information on Descartes, a mathematician who had founded the Cartesian coordinate system by thinking in air, without any notebooks! I really like to listen to them when they share something; it is so much fun to hear fresh perspectives. Then, I proceeded at full speed, opened their math workbook to the chapter that said Fractions, turned to page 102 and we started solving the problems given there.

I read out the first one: Simplify the fraction 4/12. It was an easy one I thought. I had shared the concept with them yesterday and the day before. I waited for an answer. And it came, “4/3”.
My face betrayed nothing. I said, “Do you want to think about it a little more?”
Another answer this time, “¼”.
I was exasperated. I had spent a whole half an hour the day before teaching them fraction simplification and equivalent fractions.
I couldn’t wait anymore. I told them the correct answer, 1/3, and let them in on how I got to it. We finished the next 10 problems rapid-fire, and the children made a couple more mistakes. Thinking today was not a good day, I aimed at finishing what we had started off with by discussing fraction simplification.
Definitely, my children must have sensed the unrest and disappointment in my voice and body language.

I am sure that parents who teach their children at home can relate to this. How many times do we tell them, “I want the right answer this time, think about it well”? For most of us, parents and teachers, as we try to cope with our busy lifestyles, teaching our own children or other children at school has become just one of the many tasks that we do. Most teachers I am sure will agree that administrative tasks or tasks related to teacher-student committees, or club activities demand almost the same attention as teaching in class. In addition, there are the regular classroom problems of children not paying attention or the more active and attention-seeking ones disturbing their peers, and such other issues that can haunt a teaching environment.

Illustration: Aarthi Prem

This is not an easy situation, but in the end, what matters is the teacher’s ability to draw out the potential in every child and create a true (not ideal or perfect) teaching-learning environment in which the child can blossom. A few radical thought shifts can help a teacher do this and one such shift happened to me when I was listening to classical music one day. I realized the importance of a pause and how it can improve a learning environment.

A conscious intentional pause that is incorporated while teaching, sharing, addressing improvements, and giving feedback is a powerful silent moment that aids our brain, mind, and heart to connect the dots and put them together. A simple pause readies our mind to soak in the information that is coming our way. I experienced this while listening to my favourite singers’ concert. The pauses between phrases made me eager to know what the next musical phrase was going to be.

Taking my own diary entry as an example, if I had taken the time to revise in the beginning that a fraction is a number between two whole numbers and paused… then continued that any fraction could be written in multiple forms, a simple form and many complex forms and paused… then explained that a complex form of a fraction could be simplified by dividing both the numerator and the denominator by the largest common factor and paused… and then, if I had moved on to the exercise problems, my children’s learning curve might have looked different for that day.

A pause can also become a useful strategy to trigger reflective thinking in students. For students who don’t want to think and find solutions to a problem under the pretext that they are not good at the subject, a teacher or parent’s willingness to repeat the process of questioning, pausing, and probing for answers until the student can clearly figure out the solution helps them gain confidence. Pausing strategically between words and sentences could also mean teaching effectively. A long pause consciously inserted between sentences while teaching a new chapter can have an echo effect. Students hear the words from the teacher for the first time and the second time in their own heads. Long pauses help the mind comprehend data rather than just stack and store it.

I can hear many of you asking, “But where is the time to pause? Where do we have the time to incorporate such learning strategies?” True, in this fast-paced world, we find ways to just keep going, to keep functioning, afraid to pause and think, afraid that we may miss the next task, the next opportunity, the next party, the next get-together. But let’s pause and think, it takes just one mindful act a day to create a wave of meaningful education. Just as every drop adds to make an ocean, every study session, every strategy adds to produce a life-long self-learner.

Let’s pause and imagine a world where we don’t make teaching merely a task on a never-ending ‘To-do list’, but a meaningful interaction, where we can feel the learning and the connections happening at the end of the learning session when we…pause.

The author is director and music guide at Saaranga School of Music. She connects regularly with teachers to learn and update herself in different teaching methods and learning processes. She can be reached at

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