A moment of learning

This article talks about a particularly valuable lesson that emerged out of a loosely structured EVS period – that even the most reticent student, if given the right kind of atmosphere and encouragement, can become an articulate participant in a lively, purposeful, class discussion.

It is very important for children to learn to participate in meaningful discussion. Such discussions take place all too rarely in class because, as teachers, we find ourselves restricted by the children’s ability and constrained by the pressures of time. Too often, we have to rush into other things, and in doing so may have lost an important ‘moment of learning; which may have been invaluable.

I am going to describe a lively discussion which took place in a mixed ability, co-educational class of 9-year-olds.

Our topic for half terms was “Explorers”. This topic aimed at teaching various historical and geographical facts along with the development of some speaking and written language skills. The children were made to use the library for discerning study as well as for reading literature for their own enjoyment.

We were not straitjacketed by the school to a restricted syllabus for environmental studies (EVS) work. Broad outlines of topics based upon the core concept of “The World Around Me” were set. It was particularly pleasurable to work with this freedom. Each teacher’s individual strength and interest added a new dimension to the teaching.

To return to the events of the morning: we first talked about what made a good explorer. The children had individually and collectively read about different explorers and their various exploits. So, for that morning, I had drawn up a list of various qualities that would make a good explorer. They were to pretend to be members of a selection panel for explorers and have a set of guidelines to help them. Some of the qualities listed were fearlessness, a good personality, wealth, knowledge, organizational talent, good health, friendliness, humility, generosity, politeness, and good humour. An explorer would also be expected to have the ability to cook, to keep good notes, have the capacity to be a good sailor/climber/deep-sea diver, and be familiar with maps, directions, and compass readings.

The class was divided into four groups, each armed with the above list. They had to select ten qualities from the list and place them on a scale of 1 to 10, keeping the most vital quality at 10 scaling down to 1. Each group at this point was fairly animated in their discussion. They were weighing the merits of each quality and talking quite freely.

I felt it was important to intervene in any group where one or two children did not seem to be participating. In general, they were all working with their partners, and soon four lists emerged. At this point, each group had to compare their list with each of the others. They discovered a wide range of differences within their own choices. They then had to produce a single list in conjunction with the other groups. They had to defend their choices or agree to change. Soon the classroom resounded with purposeful discussion. When the head teacher arrived at this point, it made no difference to their involvement! They were too absorbed in their task to be self-conscious.

At one point, a shy little girl unselfconsciously got up on a chair and argued dramatically about the need to have a head for heights. She soon won her point. Flushed with victory, she proved to me that knowledge of the language was no barrier to speaking effectively. The vocabulary would somehow rise to the occasion.

The exercise by this time had taken nearly a whole hour. The follow-up of written work, in the form of a viewpoint titled “Selecting an Explorer’, was gladly done at home. Some students even accompanied their essays with illustrations. Discussion had taken place and it had been both relevant and meaningful.

I would like to add that all this had not really been predicted. While we did have the time available and the activity planned in advance, the way the students rose to the occasion, and made most of the activity was well above my expectations. It is in moments such as these that you realise that spontaneous activities do have their benefits and can draw students outside their comfort zone.

This article by Sarojine Chopra first appeared in Teacher Plus, Issue No. 19, July- August 1992 and has been adapted here with changes.


nrawal's picture

Nice article on imparting education using a different approach and creating real interest for learning in the students.

Ramesh Adwant's picture

True learning can happen only when the teacher innovates and adapts a novel method of teaching. In this particular instance the teacher had thoroughly understood the parameters within which she has to work and took a practical and convincing approach. The real moment of happiness comes when one creates a module of teaching and sees that it has worked well beyond one's expectations. Congratulations. Let others take a cue from this experiment and evolve practical and workable modules to make teaching and learning a truly rewarding experience.

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