Process, not Content

Teachers sometimes might feel apathetic about their jobs. It’s hard to be motivated and care when one feels that their efforts are not making a difference. That’s the trouble with focusing on teaching content. Students hold content in short-term memory until their next test. After that is done, the content is forgotten, unless it is used regularly in their area of interest. Students interested in robotics, for example, might remember and use all the Physics and Math they learned. The rest of the students forget it all pretty quickly.

Most of us have forgotten most of the content we learned in school. I don’t remember calculus, the order of the halogens, and the breakdown of kingdom, phylum, family or whatever the taxonomical divisions of biology are. I don’t use them on an everyday basis, after all. I also don’t remember the names of the characters in all the novels I have read. What I do remember, though, are the analyses and syntheses we had to do about the themes in the books.
I also recall learning about the different psychological theories of Piaget, Maslow and others. While I don’t remember many of the details, I do remember how I applied them in my work with students.

Content vanishes. When teachers spend the bulk of school time on teaching an unvalued asset, it can start to feel like the work doesn’t matter. I feel the same way about housework. I wash breakfast dishes, soon I have to wash lunch dishes. Then dinner dishes. I start all over again the next day. The sink is never clean, and I feel like Sisyphus rolling the boulder up the hill every single day. I never seem to make progress. And so it is with teaching content knowledge.

What we should be focusing on instead is process. Process is a transferable skill, and it sticks. Students actually make progress and progress to the next level. Then further, and more complex skills can be taught. It is the substance of education, and very satisfying.

Content is cheap. It is ubiquitous and easily available. Books, libraries, the internet- sources of content knowledge are everywhere. What is not so easily available, and hence is so valuable, is process knowledge. How do I use what I know? What do I do with all the data I possess? How do I use my content knowledge to my advantage? How do I convey the information I own to my clients? Out of all this information, what is important and relevant to me? What new information do I need to further my strength in an area? Which source of information will suit my needs best?

The big over-arching question that process encompasses is- What do I do with all the content knowledge I learned in school? How do I use it? How is it relevant to me?

Teachers can identify with this conundrum. The teaching methodology course teaches all the details about Bloom’s Taxonomy and Gardner’s multiple intelligences, etc. Yet, how many teachers can remember the skill levels in Bloom’s Taxonomy? How many can remember the various intelligences listed by Gardner? Yet every teacher knows what to do when he or she enters the classroom. All that foundational content knowledge serves to help the process of teaching.

Teachers will feel a greater sense of purpose in their jobs when they focus on process, rather than purely on content. Focusing on content alone feels like running on a treadmill, and both teacher and student quickly lose interest. Focusing on process will actually give teachers the traction needed to move learning forward. What teachers need to be teaching is higher order abstract meta-cognitive skills.

Teaching an Inclusive Class-Our first graduating class

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Samam Vidya is very proud to present the first graduating class of the ‘Teaching an Inclusive Class’ course. We are very proud of the hard work put in by all the student teachers. We are also very thankful for the support of the Times Foundation in making this course a reality, putting the word out there through their newspaper, and granting us the space to conduct classes. We hope to continue the collaboration with future batches of teachers.

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Here are a few vignettes of our group at work. Students learned how to apply the principles of inclusion in their classes, in various subject areas. It was a heavily activity based course, and they applied these methods in their own classes with their own students. The principles of inclusion that they learned were applied across grade levels, from preschool to college, and across subject areas, from Math to theater arts. The strong collegiate relationships formed among this group will ensure that they will always be a resource for each other over their careers.

Like and watch this page for announcements of upcoming programs.

Happy New Year!

We wish a happy, happy new year to all our friends and supporters! 2017 was a big year, and we can’t wait for the progress and projects that await us in 2018.

SV New Year 2018

Learning that Endures

How many of us remember the atomic number of Oxygen? Who can name all the halogen gasses? When did the first Panipat battle occur? What is the formula for calculating the volume of a cone? What is the difference between ‘its’ and ‘it’s’?

We all sat in Science, Social Studies, Math and Language classes all through school. Yet today as adults, we can’t recall much of what we learned in school. What then did we learn in school?

In today’s world, knowledge is free. Or almost free. Basic web searches can give us facts about virtually anything we want to know. Any of the questions above can be answered by ‘googling’ on one’s smartphone in a matter of seconds.

If the only thing teachers teach is factual knowledge, then all that effort will have been in vain. Students will barely remember any of it- at most till their next exam. While factual knowledge is necessary to pass exams, it can’t be the only reason for kids to attend school, especially since all that knowledge will be forgotten in short order.

Forgotten in all the exam fever and tension about completing the syllabus is learning that endures. This is the learning that endures beyond school. What remains of Science class after all the periodic tables and chemical equations are forgotten? What remains of History class after all the dates and dynasties are forgotten? What remains of geography class after all the rivers and mountain peaks are forgotten? What remains of Math class after all the quadratic roots and volume formulae are forgotten?

If the answer is that nothing remains, it’ll have been a wasted educational career for both student and teacher. If a Science education does not create a scientific temper in students, if a humanities education doesn’t impart a strong critical reasoning faculty, if a decade of Math education doesn’t provide a strong foundation for applied skills, what then is the usefulness of such an ‘education’?

College bound students definitely need all the factual learning. It is the springboard to college and career. Any student capable of college is also somewhat capable of self-taught ambient learning (learning that endures). But not every student goes to college; there are several students for whom factual learning is merely incidental, and who would benefit from some ‘real’ learning.

So what is the difference between academic schooling and learning that endures? “When we do attempt to measure learning, the results are not pretty. US researchers found that a third of American undergraduates demonstrated no significant improvement in learning over their four-year degree programs.” (http://www.businessinsider.com/universities-should-ban-powerpoint-it-makes-students-stupid-and-professors-boring-2015-6?IR=T) This clearly implies that whatever is being taught in the classroom is not necessarily ‘learning’; and I agree.

Then what is learning? What did they measure for this study? “They tested students in the beginning, middle and end of their degrees using the Collegiate Learning Assessment, an instrument that tests skills any degree should improve –  analytic reasoning, critical thinking, problem solving and writing.” (http://www.businessinsider.com/universities-should-ban-powerpoint-it-makes-students-stupid-and-professors-boring-2015-6?IR=T)

Our education system needs to focus on learning that endures in addition to short term exam skills in order to create a useful and relevant education for the next generation.

Teaching a Heterogenous Classroom – A Workshop in Chamarajanagar

On November 18, Samam Vidya revisited Chamarajanagar, outside Mysore, Karnataka for the second workshop in our series: showing them some ideas on how to teach a class that includes students with disabilities. We got to work with the same teachers as last time, when we taught them how to recognize learning and developmental disabilities in the classroom. It was a great group of teachers organized by Mobility India, and we enjoyed very much working with them.

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Teachers play a grammar game during the workshop.

We did a series of activities that teachers can employ in the classroom that can be used for students of all learning levels in the classroom. Teachers learned how to use the visualization technique to assess comprehension in students. They also learned how to use groups to maximize participation and learning. Teachers learned a few remedial as well as enrichment techniques. We also did an activity-based science lesson that involved station teaching. We also used grammar games to make the grammar lesson more fun. All the teachers we worked with were game for this and had so much fun with all the classroom activities!

Samam Vidya looks forward to working further with these teachers. If you and your school would like to have as much fun teaching kids as we do, please reach out to us at info@samamvidya.com or at 77600 21966 to schedule your workshop today!

 

Foundational Questions

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The first questions that are asked in any teacher training program — or should be — are, ‘What is the purpose of education? What is the mandate of schools? What do we expect that they will do for our children? And lastly, who is education for?’ Unless these questions are answered, the entire educational system will be an inequitable, rudderless ship, full of busy work for the achievers, and baby-sitting for the strugglers. Continue reading

Samam Vidya partners with LifeDream

LifeDream is 90 day spoken English, computers and lifeskill program,and it will be starting a new batch on September 15th, 2016 in Koramangala in association with Samam Vidya. The target student is a low-income student or school dropout (minimum education is 8th standard, and students average 18 to 30 years).

This is a FREE course with 100 percent job placement following course completion. If you know any school dropouts, please convince him or her to join our 90 day boot camp. Spread the word! There are hundreds of them, and let’s get as many of them back on the track to education as possible!

A LifeDream student accepts her certificate of completion. We hope to help many more students like her!

A LifeDream student accepts her certificate of completion. We hope to help many more students like her!

This will be held at Samam Vidya’s premises in Koramangala, 3rd Block. This is a very effective and useful program, teaching practical skills that students need to hold a job and live a good life.

For enrollment details, please contact Safina at +919986261577 or email lifedream.course@gmail.com.

Soft Skills are an Education too

kids-909715In the past couple of days, two people referred to the practice of social promotion, or age-based promotion, as a less-than-ideal practice. As a teacher I have mostly advocated for my students to be advanced to the next grade.

A commonly cited reason for holding students back is that they haven’t mastered the academic material. “How does a student reach 6th without knowing multiplication tables?” Continue reading

Education for all?

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The key to successful inclusive education is teacher training. Teaching to a heterogeneous classroom is a skill that has to be taught in teacher training programmes, writes Padma Shastry.

When the word ‘sarva’ was included in the name of the governmental organisation ‘Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan’, a certain high and ambitious ideal was defined for India’s future. How well is it being realised?

It is early days, for sure, but are we on our way to achieving it? Or are personal prejudices, inadequate training, and policies undermining that high ideal? Continue reading