Paying heed to the child’s needs

Nisha Butoliya

Most teachers are sensitive to the academic and socio-emotional needs of their students. They wonder how they can help their students who are lagging behind academically. They often discuss the performance/behaviour of these students with other teachers; they may get an affirmation that even in other subjects these same children are not doing well. At this point, many teachers half-heartedly ‘leave’ the children to their own resources and occasionally counsel them not knowing what else they can do.

This book is for teachers who want to make a difference in the lives of struggling children but don’t know how.

The Reflective Learner presents the work of four teachers who have helped their struggling students become reflective learners and grow out of the ‘misconceptions’ and ‘under confidence’ they were trapped in. In the process these teachers also reflected on their methods of teaching and improved their practice.

The errors that these teachers have worked on are those that teachers in general struggle with in their classrooms – spellings, grammar, punctuation, mathematical operations, lack of concentration, a rush to complete tasks, inability to think through a problem and so on. Students’ mistakes opened up new opportunities for these teachers to review their own pedagogy, investigate the minds of their learners and develop tools (worksheets or specific tasks) to guide children to work on their errors.

One of the aims of education is ‘learning to learn, unlearn and relearn’. Many of us ‘dismiss’ such aims as ‘idealistic’ and claim that ‘we work on the ground and have no time for jargon’. It’s time to pause and reflect – can school education afford to ‘dismiss’ learning to learn, unlearn and relearn as the core aims of education, especially when we are preparing children for an unknown tomorrow?

Obviously not!

The reflective learner through the real experiences and efforts of teachers takes us through the process of ‘learning to learn, unlearn and relearn’. The book quite successfully underlines the centrality of being aware of one’s own thinking process in achieving this aim.

The journey begins with the teachers observing their children and identifying ‘mistakes’ that the children are repeatedly committing. Teachers analyze these mistakes using several lenses – is the mistake due to carelessness or low attention span or conceptual clarity or language of the question or a particular teaching method? After the analysis, teachers devise ‘need based tasks’/‘need based reinforcement mechanisms’ so as to help their learners. During this entire process, documentation has played a key role. Even as we try to understand what went on in the minds of the teachers and in the classrooms, the actual email conversations and children’s work cited in the chapters give a clear picture. Through the journey it is not only the children that learnt but also the teachers who became conscious of their work and also learnt.

The last section ‘Conclusion: Drawing out the Reflective Learner’ is the most intriguing. Here, the editor has taken up questions that teachers will definitely think about before taking up such work – Can mistakes turn into ‘missed takes’ only in English and mathematics? How can interested teachers carry out such research? How much time does a teacher need to invest? What are the steps for a teacher-researcher to carry out such research? What are the options for a teacher who does not wish to be a researcher? This section will help teachers choose their own path to trigger metacognition and reflection in their learners.

Finally, as quoted in this book – ‘Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes’ (Oscar Wilde), As teachers let us help our students use their mistakes as stepping stones to further their knowledge.

Note: The book can be purchased at:

The reviewer is a faculty member at Azim Premji University, Bengaluru. Her interest areas include teacher education and curricular material development. She can be reached at