Who owns learning?

Meena Sriram

“I teach for the same reason every teacher teaches. The pebble never knows how far the ripple’s reach is.” – Taylor Mali (American poet and teacher)

Often, the classroom has a number of children seated in front of one teacher who does all the talking and sharing of experiences.

However much experience a teacher has, and no matter how many jokes the teacher cracks, at the end of the day, the children will be forced to swallow the contents of the textbook.

Let us look at a scenario in a typical classroom and the possibilities of teaching and learning therein:

  1. Teacher asks students to read the text and then explains the meaning in detail.
  2. Teacher suggests group learning and asks children to form groups or she herself forms the groups where the children could read the text and comprehend the contents independently yet as a group.

In either case the teacher kindles a sense of independence but does not put the onus of learning on the children. At the end of the class, the children will be lectured to and the teacher will use talk time to explain or summarize the contents of the text.

What if, instead of using the text, the teacher just created a problem or dictated a situation and asked groups of children to come up with a solution?

The children will work in cooperation as they will be focussed on solving the problem. They will come up with ideas, try them and track them until they succeed.

Let us understand how learning happens among children in a group:
• Every child in the group takes on a share of the problem (can be guided initially).
• Each child observes the others in the group and participates collaboratively.
• One or two children will emerge leaders who will drive the activity.
• Every child in the group will encourage/force the other to work towards the goal and not rest until it is done.
• Each child will bring to the table his/her own share of previously acquired knowledge from varied sources.
• If groups are formed by choice the results will vary from the groups formed by outside effort.

How could this be facilitated?
Every learning environment is unique and only the teacher working there will be able to decide about how to get work done in the existing condition. Initially, the teacher could allow the children to make their own groups.

What would the adult/teacher/facilitator do?
It is only when the teacher asks thinking questions that the children are motivated to think. When the teacher puts the children in a challenging position, the children have no choice but to find a solution. At that point the teacher can actually facilitate learning by working on the solutions used by the children. The children can then be allowed to work on a new solution based on the inputs provided. The outcome will improve and so will the learning and sense of independence.

For instance, once while working on a farm with a group of 12-year-olds it was discovered that the urban bred children did not really have the skills to even walk on the farm, let alone work. However, they learnt to adapt by observing others who had either initially been to farms or from those who were children of farmers. In such a situation, however hard the urban teacher explains the nuance of walking barefoot or using certain implements, it will have no effect on the children. It is clearly the observation and learning from peers that happens.

Another example could be from a classroom situation. If children are asked to come up with solutions to social issues occurring in the society, again those afflicted by them/or the ones who have kept themselves updated with happenings in the society, will throw more light on the situation and be able to evoke a better response from others if they worked in groups. A teacher may only be able to describe a situation with facts to enhance but the emotional bonding will be absent.

  • Such collaborative opportunities will enhance the self-esteem of children who often cannot write out textual answers.
  • When children are taught to work on projects together they learn to cooperate and share work. They focus on the goal and distribute the work based on their independent strengths.
  • Putting their heads together brings about so much more strength as a group that they can now create new learning and outcomes.

Yes, all this is possible only when

  • Facilitators/teachers/adults are willing to let the children work independently with the necessary inputs.
  • Facilitators/teachers/adults must constantly (but not aggressively) monitor the children without intervening in their thinking process.
  • Facilitators/teachers/adults must be alert and vigilant if necessary to extend an arm of support when required.

If learning has to be impacted and if learning is to bring about creativity and discovery leading to inventions, it has to be induced through such opportunities in the regular classroom.

Students today do not require a teacher to explain the facts in the textbook. They can figure that out for themselves. The internet is replete with sufficient lessons and videos which explain concepts clearly. Added to this, children can read and re-read or watch and watch many more times without having to face the wrath of an angry teacher! So what is the purpose of the teacher in the 21st century?

This is an opportunity to think for teachers and facilitators who can be easily brushed under the carpet and bring to an end the illustrious role of a teacher. But is that what we want? What would the world be without teachers?

So, it is time to innovate and create teaching methods suitable for children enabling them to learn and enjoy learning. Make them the owners of learning and see the difference. When the exercise of learning is not for marks but for application in real life situations the quality and quantity of learning takes a tremendous leap and so does the life of a student and people around him. Then teachers can proudly declare that they have created a future generation capable of handling the world around them!

The author has been a teacher for over two decades. She is currently the Academic Administrator of the Chinmaya Education Cell which governs the functioning of over 100 Schools and Colleges with the Mission. She can be reached at meenasriram@gmail.com.

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