The Learning Landscape
Teaching profession today is a highly challenging one chiefly because of the changing paradigms of teaching-learning process brought about by advancements in technology that has been constantly redefining how every generation prefers to learn.
This calls for periodic audit of academic processes and fine tuning of methods and pedagogical styles to suit the needs and demands of a particular generation of learners uniquely defined by their environment which in turn is determined by the advancements and progress brought in by newer ways to access and process the vast domain of knowledge and accumulated wisdom. In this era of constant flux and uncertainty, thankfully there are a few things that remain constant in the teaching-learning space! These things will continue to remain sacrosanct for eons to come.
It is an undeniable fact that the classroom dynamics today is very different from how it used to be before the advent of the internet and the subsequent information age that dawned. Millennials today are better informed and thus more empowered in a democratic learning space that the classroom is morphing into. But however ‘advanced’ (read tech-savvy) the millennials today are, they are still held to ransom by their fleeting thoughts and restive minds – things that have remained constant over time! And the fact that schools still exist with human teachers and not robots dispensing customized learning modules to individual learners in the comfort of their homes, where mass education model is still the norm, some ground rules still hold water.
All said and done, the ultimate floor test that a teacher needs to take and also pass day in and day out is what we, in the teaching jargon call ‘Student Engagement’. How well and effectively a teacher manages his/her class is very often misconstrued as keeping the class quiet (read docile and passive students) and the droning voice of the teacher filling the room. Whether the students are actively listening or just passively putting on the act of listening is hardly taken into consideration when seen through the prism of strictly enforced external discipline being the sole criteria of defining classroom management. Only if the students are actively engaged in the curriculum transaction, the class could be considered a well- managed one.
It is equally true that when the students appear distracted, fidgety or restless, talking to one another and involved in activities not related to what is being done in class indicates poor student engagement. There are many reasons why this happens. In the course of the article, we will look at the different reasons and learn some strategies to bridge the learning gap that occurs due to poor student engagement.
It is a known fact that the human mind cannot focus on something for very long. The attention span of students in particular happens to be very short. Children by nature are teeming with energy and life. When confined to a closed physical space with restrictions imposed even on physical movements, they naturally tend to get restive and this restlessness manifests itself in different behavioural problems that we teachers are all too familiar with!
The first step in addressing such behavioural issue is acknowledging the fact that behavioural issues most often than not crop up due to disregard of this simple tenet that students ought to be given some room for physical movement during the course of teaching – learning process. It is precisely for this reason that CBSE in its latest directive to schools affiliated with it has asked to make provision for one period a day for physical activity! The author of this piece believes that such opportunities to move about and also talk (interact) should be an indispensable feature of every teaching- learning session (teaching period). Towards this end the following teaching strategy can be used:
1. Determine the learning objectives based on the topic/ lesson to be achieved in a teaching period.
2. Frame questions that would elicit the desired response and pose it to the students either individually or in pairs/groups. This is done to give the students an opportunity to talk but with a caveat that they need to discuss either in pairs or in their designated groups with the aim of arriving at the appropriate response to the question posed or on the given theme which would be shared with the entire class. The various responses from the students will then be tied to the learning objective formulated by the teacher and the lesson/ concept transaction for the day could begin.
3. This small activity serves the dual purpose of prepping the students towards the lesson being taught and fulfilling their need for self-expression and instant validation of their learning. It also caters to the kinesthetic learners whose urge for physical movements is met during the activity when they get up from their assigned places to move about in the process of getting together with their respective groups.
4. To enhance the involvement and engagement levels, students could be given the choice of forming their own groups depending on the comfort level they share with their fellow students. This freedom of choice that they are able to exercise makes them feel respected and consequently they begin to own responsibility for their learning.
5. Every activity carried out in the class should be tied to the learning objectives that are predetermined and all the practices –routines and procedures should be employed to realize those objectives.
It does not end here! In order to gauge whether learning objectives have been met, an assessment has to be carried out within the stipulated time of every teaching period. The mode of assessment may vary. In fact, there are innumerable ways to carry out this indispensable element of the teaching-learning process – the individual/pair/group work that students are made to engage in could very well serve the purpose. The response of the students give instant feedback to the teacher about the level of understanding and internalization of the concepts/values/skills introduced and engaged with in every teaching period.
If student engagement is one aspect of classroom management that can be achieved with meticulous lesson planning and execution, the attitude of the teacher towards teaching-learning process and his/her understanding of the process of learning alongside his/her values system play a very crucial role in determining the classroom dynamics that comes to define how effectively cross curricular learning objectives are achieved.
(With inputs from S Thangeswaran
S Thangeswaran prefers to call himself a students’ teacher who believes that teaching should be aimed at impacting students at three levels moulding them to perform their roles as an individual, a family constituent and an ideal citizen. Teaching is an ennobling process and should be practised to give real life contexts – a blend of utilitarian and the idealistic.)
P Ajitha is an ‘accidental’ teacher who having stumbled upon teaching by chance has stayed put by choice having found the vocation enabling as well as ennobling. She teaches English and Life Skills with occasional foray into in-house teacher training at Delhi Public School, Coimbatore but prefers to call herself a co-traveller in the journey called education she embarks with her students and peers together. Like minded teaching practitioners can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.