Monday, Nov. 20, 2017

‘Facing the Challenges of 21st Century Learning: Experience of CMS Asharfabad’

a small nondescript school in the older part of Lucknow

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July 11, 2017

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‘Facing the Challenges of 21st Century Learning: Experience of CMS Asharfabad’

I will be sharing with you the experiences and challenges faced by small schools to create an atmosphere of creativity and innovation in the teaching learning process. We have engaged our learners who are willing to take the responsibility of their own learning and teachers who are willing to create lessons which can achieve this.

As we are all aware the 21st century learner is a self directed learner, globally aware, a communicator, an innovator, financially and economically literate, civically engaged, a problem solver, a collaborator, information and media literate and a critical thinker. That is a lot that the learner of today needs to achieve. To create such learners we need to take our teaching and learning above and beyond the basics of knowledge sharing to embracing the 4 C’s as they call it, the ‘Super Skills’ for the 21st Century!

The first of these is Communication – strong thoughts, questions, ideas and solutions.

Next is Collaboration – working together to reach a goal – putting together talent and expertise with smart work schedules.

The third skill is Critical Thinking – looking at problems in a new way, linking learning across subjects and disciplines.

The last of these C’s is the skill of Creativity – creating and exploring new approaches to getting things done innovatively.

I head a small school of 760 children and 35 teachers and staff members. This struggle to inculcate these 21st Century skills in our learners seemed like a Utopian task in the beginning. Lots of brainstorming sessions with the teachers was followed by my wish to change ourselves to facilitators more than just dispensers of knowledge. The children today are exposed to innumerable sources of knowledge on the internet. We teachers can no longer consider ourselves as the only source of knowledge for them. They can get information with just a click of the mouse or a touch on the screen of a smart phone.

The teachers of City Montessori School, Asharfabad Campus, took up the challenge and yes it was indeed a challenge as we run our school in a rented building with no labs or library. We have a small computer lab which can barely seat twenty children at one go. But that did not stop the teachers to experiment and exercise their competencies to make their lessons more interactive, more engaging and more experiential.

Apart from the basic disciplines of English, reading or language, Arts, Mathematics, Science, Geography, History and Civics, Computer Science we believe schools must move beyond a focus on basic competency to promoting understanding of academic content at much higher levels by weaving interdisciplinary themes into the curriculum to empower our learners with the tools essential for the 21st century. Some of these are –

1. GLOBAL AWARENESS

Creating global awareness in our learners using the 21st century skills to understand and address global issues, learning from and working collaboratively with individuals representing diverse cultures, religions and lifestyles in a spirit of mutual respect and open dialogue in personal, work and community contexts and understanding other nations and cultures is a necessity in these times.

Teachers use the assemblies for discussion of global happenings in the form of street plays, debates, talk shows, presentations to make the child become a part of the global scene instead of just knowing what is in their text books. Role plays in the classrooms to enact scenes from different cultures, wearing the costumes of different countries helps them to understand the people from around the world better. We now know that we are all a part of this big global village and no man can live as an island by himself. Participating in the mock sessions of the world parliaments, praying for unity and peace in all the nations of the world and the practice of the all religion prayer being a part of every event of the school further creates a bonding among children of diverse faiths and religions.

Interweaving in the curriculum Civic Literacy, Health Literacy and Environmental Literacy is also a must for these 21st century learners. These are carried out through different activities.

The school organizes walks or Sadhbhavana March on Interfaith harmony every year during the International Interfaith Week in February. Children participate in drives to generate awareness about government policies like Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, conservation of our native bird gauraiya which is on the verge of extinction, rain water harvesting, etc. Health checkups are carried out by professional medical practitioners who come and give their valuable advice to both children and parents, talks on healthy eating habits, parents’ participation in healthy lunch competitions are some activities to get the learners involved in their surroundings and personal health.

Children take individual and collective action towards addressing environmental challenges by participating in global actions, tree plantation drives, environment awareness programmes, designing solutions that inspire action on environmental issues.

2. Learning and Innovation Skills:

Learning and innovation skills increasingly are being recognized as the skills that separate students who are prepared for increasingly complex life and work environments in the 21st century, and those who are not. A focus on creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration is essential to prepare students for the future. This was a challenge which we had to face as the teachers as well as the students were content with a system wherein the teacher delivers and children sit as passive learners. But some brainstorming and visits to our sister campus The Cambridge Section of CMS Gomti Nagar extension was an eye opener for the teachers that collaborative exercise not only developed communication skills but also taught the children in a silent way how to assist, empathize with fellow learners and help each other to get a task done. Lots of projects, role plays and group activities started getting done in the little class room space that we had. They did not shift furniture to make space as it is next to impossible in the small classrooms that we have but the chairs were turned in their place and groups were formed as and when required to conduct such activities.

Slowly but steadily we had started engaging the learners to think creatively. They were brainstorming on tasks, elaborating, refining, analyzing and evaluating their own ideas in order to improve and maximize creative efforts and work creatively with others.

They even started to develop, implement and communicate new ideas to others effectively and be open and responsive to new and diverse perspectives; group input and feedback was incorporated into the work.

Most importantly now we started viewing failure as an opportunity to learn.

3. Critical Thinking:

Teachers started giving them ample opportunities to exercise various types of reasoning (inductive, deductive, etc.) as appropriate to the situation(experiments were conducted in the class room as there is no science lab in our school).

Through these practical activities the learners learn to analyze how parts of a whole interact with each other to produce overall outcomes in complex systems. Getting children to research and make models of machines, etc also enhances their reasoning abilities to make judgments and decisions, interpret information and draw conclusions based on it and ask significant questions that clarify various points of view and lead to better solutions.

4. Communication and Collaboration:

Opportunities to communicate are provided to enact role plays as groups in class, give speeches or talks in assemblies, debates and group discussions on current issues, prepare and explain power point presentations on different occasions, participate in video conferences with different schools on global issues of faith, culture and diversities.

They learnt to –

  • listen effectively and use communication for a range of purposes (e.g. to inform, instruct, motivate and persuade)
  • utilize multiple media and technologies, communicate effectively in diverse environments, collaborate with others demonstrate the ability to work effectively and respectfully with diverse teams.
  • assume shared responsibility for collaborative work, and value the individual contribution made by each team member.

Today we live in a technology and media-suffused environment with: 1) access to an abundance of information, 2) rapid changes in technology tools, and 3) the ability to collaborate and make individual contributions on an unprecedented scale. To be effective in the 21st century, learners as well as teachers must be able to create, evaluate, and effectively utilize information, media, and technology.

Despite facing different challenges our school is taking baby steps yet determined ones to ensure that the school campus is a happy and comfortable place for all.

From the leader to the teaching fraternity five key responsibilities are a must –

  • Shaping a vision of academic success for all students, based on high standards.
  • Creating a climate hospitable to education in order that safety, cooperative spirit and other foundations of fruitful interaction prevail.
  • Cultivating a spirit of leadership and teamwork in others so that teachers and other adults assume their parts in realizing the school vision.
  • Improving instruction to enable teachers to teach their best and students to learn to their utmost.
  • Managing people, data and processes to foster school improvement.
  • wish all my fellow educators to believe in yourself and all that you are. Encounter every challenge with that belief and each day will be a motivation to innovate, create and spread happiness around you. From here the way forward is that I and my team want to make the classroom a place where the excitement of learning never ends and a place that caters for the individual learning styles of each learner. We’re aiming for each classroom to develop into a place where there are countless learning opportunities to be had.

 Aditi Sharma, a trained teacher and a Post-Graduate in Computer Applications and Educational Administration with a Certificate in Guidance and Counseling, joined the City Montessori School Lucknow, as a Kindergarten Teacher in 1991. After occupying a series of administrative positions in the City Montessori Schools chain, she was elevated to the post of Principal in the Asharfabad Campus in September, 2014. She has had vast exposure to international teaching practices as she has led a number of school delegations to Hong Kong, North Korea, Indonesia, etc.

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