Of all my experiences, the most remarkable ones are those that I had while working with first graders. The reason is that in class 1, children remain unaffected by outside influences. When they are in class 3 or 4, they learn the rules and regulations of the school. They also learn to please and obey the teacher. But they are not familiar with discipline and just want to explore different opportunities to play.
However, one can encounter many challenging situations. It’s not easy to get them to listen to you. A popular approach is to instill fear in the children. For example, an angry look by the teacher, or even shouting at the children are some tactics teachers employ.
I do not believe in using any form of coercion. So my experiences with first graders are just unforgettable.
One day I decided to tell them a story. Before I began, I found that the children were all seated far away from me. I asked them to come closer. They obliged and sat so close that I wasn’t left with much space. When I asked them to move, they went too far. Soon, this became an enjoyable activity for them. This went on for some time till they got tired and finally grouped themselves and sat in a circle in the way I wanted them to. It was not as if they did not understand what was expected of them, but they just wanted to enjoy themselves, and I didn’t stop them.
On another occasion, I thought of telling a story in the local language of Dantewada, Halbi. I did not know Halbi so my story was written in Hindi. I knew that the children will be excited to listen to a story in their language since they could relate to it. I was able to understand the story as a whole but I didn’t know the exact meaning of some of the words. So in between, I asked the children and they helped me. They didn’t know the equivalent Hindi word for all words in Halbi, yet they attempted to get me to understand. I was happy that teaching and learning was happening both ways.
I worked with first graders for only short durations, but whenever I did, I realized that one should not underestimate their capabilities.
The author is a post-graduate in education from the Azim Premji University. She freelances and volunteers at a Madrassah taking storytelling sessions for students. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.