Learning through reflections, working from strength

Varun Gupta

The context of these reflections is everyday life in school and observing students’ conversations and behaviour in and out of class. The students belong to grade 4 and 5. The children’s names have been changed to respect their privacy.

The aim of this article is to communicate that socio-emotional issues play a very important role in effectively connecting and working with children. It is to convey the importance of understanding the students through observations. It is also to emphasize the implications of the exercise of reflection for self. It helps me as a learner and facilitator to learn, grow and evolve with the children, to work towards their academic and wholesome development and to track any changes in the students.

Reflection 1: – Feb 2019

Birthday celebrations at the end of the month

Today when we were celebrating the birthdays of a few children, there were a few moments of insights and emotions. This incident shows the growing friendship between children and their understanding that giving or gifting promotes happiness. We were celebrating the birthdays of Ranjan, Ruksana, Surendra, Arbaaz and Kabir.

I gave the birthday children geometry pouches as gifts. Ranjan got a plain one. He wanted the one with the Spider Man. He requested that I get him too one with a design on it. I asked him instead to see if any of his friends were willing to exchange their geometry pouch with his. Ranjan looked towards Surendra. Kabir looked at Surendra and nudged him to go ahead and exchange his geometry pouch. Surendra exchanged his pouch for Ranjan’s plain one. Ranjan had tears in his eyes. Arbaaz thought may be his casual teasing had hurt Ranjan and said sorry to him.

Ruksana also got emotional and cried. When I asked her if anybody had hurt her, she said, “Today’s birthday celebration reminded me of my grandmother.” Her grandmother used to celebrate Ruksana’s birthday with great interest, enthusiasm and love. Following Ruksana’s story about her grandmother, the other children also shared about their grandparents.

As I listened to them, it reaffirmed my faith in children’s innocence and goodness, and that the purpose of education is to help children become good human beings. As a facilitator, I realized that such occasions are a great way to express emotions and make memorable moments.

Reflection 2: Quarrels among children: Implications for teacher behaviour

As a teacher, it becomes a huge challenge when students fight and things turn violent. I have witnessed situations when the child who got beaten up wouldn’t accept the other child’s ‘sorry’ and instead would say, “What’s the benefit of the sorry, I have been bashed up already.” The beaten up child would want concrete punitive actions.

I have mixed feelings regarding children’s fights and the need for adult intervention. Their fights are temporary in nature. It’s the instinct of childhood to just check each other’s strengths, then in midst of the childish fights there are a few moments of instantaneous but temporary humiliation and rejection. Those moments may spark the quarrels, aggressive reactions and physical fights. For a teacher it becomes a concern when they are repeating and causing harm to each other. The reactions of children in those moments (or of adults) are also influenced by their past experiences or repressed emotions. Surely, there is a lot of scope for learning – how do we see these brawls, childish fights? What do we do in such situations? And how do they shape/influence the outcomes?

I think in primary grades, along with basic literacy and numeracy, the main vision is to keep watering and nurturing the seeds of goodness in children. If those inherent seeds in children are cared and nourished for, they will find their roots well, grow and help children lifelong with their strength and hope.

Reflection 3: –  A girl who hardly spoke in class

Even after seven months, she hadn’t responded in class. She didn’t really interact with others in class. However, in the playground or when doing activities, she was quite active. I have two thoughts regarding this. My first thought confirms my belief that the ‘classroom’—with its closed walls– affects some children. These children may feel more comfortable in open spaces. They may respond more to physical play, preferring full body movement, free play without any burden/expectation of winning or losing. Just play!! Just experience the free space with full body senses. 

The second thought is regarding ‘to whom the child responds easily’. Sometimes it may be that in their family or social environment, the child has not had very good experiences with a person of a certain gender or age. Some children are more afraid of their fathers than their mothers. In such cases, if the teacher is a man, it can become difficult for a child to relate to him. But sincere efforts do give results over time. A few days ago, when I was escorting the children to their bus after school hours, I suddenly heard someone scream, “Bye Sir.” The silent girl, whose house overlooked our school, was standing in her balcony and shouting and waving.  It was a pleasant surprise to me that she did this.

Later, during a conversation she talked about how her brother received more love, care and presents from her parents. She would get scolded whenever she played with her brother. She would be blamed for any mischief that her brother did. This open discrimination was troubling for her and she was struggling with her emotions. As a teacher, I hope that I am able to look and reflect deeper and understand such issues and help children in their learning journey.

Reflection 4:- Children’s awareness of sharing and caring for each other

This reflection is about grade 4 and 5 children. One day during circle time, I asked – “Besides the teacher, how we can help each other learn?”

Sahil: “Sir, those who know how to read and write can help others.”

Ruksana: “We need to do homework at home also. It may take time, but eventually we will learn.”

Kabir: “Sir, we can make groups/pairs such that one will help the other. And you can sit with the beginner level students.”

Anjali: “Sir, but some students make noise, disturb others. How to solve this?”

Me: “Is she right? Why does this happen and what can we do for this?”

Ranjan: “Sir, for this, all should cooperate.”

Me: “Ok, in the next session you need to choose your study partner and try to learn from each other. You need to read a story and understand it.”

In the next session they chose their partners and sat with them. Most children sincerely followed the guidelines, were engaged in the task and helped their partners. Only 3-4 children were restless. I sat with them and asked them if they would like to do something else.

I realized that even students of grades 4 and 5 have great potential to identify issues and solve them internally with the cooperation from their friends. Every child wants to learn and can learn. It’s only a matter of time when s/he connects with the school, other children and teacher and opens up to sharing and receiving.

The author is an educator with four years of experience in a primary school till March 2021. He did his PGDLT (Post Graduate diploma in Learning and Teaching) with IAAT, Gurgaon. He was mentored in reflective practices by Smriti Jain (co-founder IAAT), in child development and assessment by Tapaswini Sahu (academic director). He received language mentoring by Sonika Kaushik (ex NCERT consultant) also in 2016-17. Currently, he is associated with a private school in Gurgaon. He can be reached at Varun.gupta@iamateacher.in

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