Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Damien's Story

By Rekha Balakrishnan
Why was this story, about a little boy from Portugal, important in my life?
To answer this, we must first meet Harini. She could never sit still. Instead it was the swing outside, which she longingly looked at from the class window, that fascinated her. I didn’t know how to handle her. This frustrated me. And in those days of my teaching career it was ‘me’ that was important since ‘I’ was the one in class doing the most important job- teaching. The students were there to learn.
So, Harini would run off to the swing often, even during my famous story sessions. I decided to ignore her interruptions since I didn’t know what else to do. At the end of my term at that school, I happened to see Harini flipping through the pages of a book I often read in class. I sat near her while she flipped through the pages. She acknowledged my presence by looking up and smiling at me. To me it felt like she had forgiven me for my insensitivity, for completely ignoring her presence in the class. That was a defining moment in my teaching career. All I could do for that little girl by then was to give her the books she seemed to love.
Damien came into my life a little later. By then I had become far more experienced as a teacher and matured as an individual. I realised that he too couldn’t sit during story times. But as I observed him, I noticed that although he seemed inattentive, he could recall details from the story when questions were asked in class. And in his own charming way, he would shout out answers from whichever corner of the room he had decided to sit during the story session. Another aspect that I noticed about Damien was that he did not like changes in class routines. For him, a big part of feeling safe in the class was knowing the class-routine.
He would constantly repeat cartoon dialogues from shows he had watched and although he made eye contact with relative ease, he never answered a question in comprehensible language. His language to show frustration at any change in the routine was to hold my arm, look up and wrinkle his nose and speak some mumbo-jumbo. But as I understood his method of communication, I could reassure him that the change was necessary.
As a teacher these children showed me the need to look at the individual in the class rather than the collective- class A or second grade. Each child had a different temperament, learning style and character. Each was as important as the other.

Now all my fresh classes start with understanding my learners and their learning styles before teaching them the content or a lesson.


What we're learning:


As teachers, one of our primary goals is to get our students to think deeply. Our teachers have been exploring how to facilitate deep thinking by asking open-ended discussion questions and using a range of "thinking routines." 

Things for teachers to think about:

- What kinds of questions do you ask? Are you asking open-ended questions that encourage students to think deeply and independently?
- Are you giving students time to think before calling on them?
- Are you encouraging basketball-style interactions between members of the group -- in other words, interactions where students speak to each other and not just to the teacher? (Try to speak less and listen more)
- Are you listening carefully to students and then probing them to think more deeply by asking follow up questions such as "What makes you say that?" or "What do the rest of you think?"

Each student in the course needs to design and facilitate either a discussion or an activity with the rest of the class. And we've had some wonderful lessons so far using a diverse range of thinking routines: Socratic seminars, 3-2-1 activities, Think-Puzzle-Explore, and See-Think-Wonder among others.
Bridge students 2018-2019

Bridge students at work, along with instructors Rekha & Maya

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Getting our students "future ready"

On November 17th 2018, TREE brought together 75 educators from a range of different schools across Chennai to talk about how technology is changing the role of the teacher, and how as educators we need to adapt our teaching to stay relevant. Topics addressed included technology integration, digital citizenship, cyber security and skills for the future.

Panel Discussion: How to use technology effectively in education

Thoughtful Panelists: Nirmala Sankaran, Gowri Sivashanker, Andrew Hoover

We were fortunate to have three excellent panellists, all of whom are stalwarts in the area of integrating technology into the learning sphere.

 Nirmala Sankaran co-founder of Hey Math! started her online learning platform in 2000, when a technology like this was unheard of in schools and classrooms.

Gowri Sivashankar, the Principal of the Chettinad Harishree Vidhyalayam, stresses the importance of using technology judiciously to make learning relevant and engaging.

Andrew Hoover, head of the American International school Chennai, has been developing and implementing technologies and technological systems in schools since 1994.

Teachers as Learners in a changing world

The Panel discussion revolved around the primary question of how to equip teachers to develop necessary future skills in students and prepare them for a world where they would have to be comfortable with the idea of constant change.

The discussion with the panelists and the audience revealed many areas to consider while using technology. With the volume of information available online,  a content or knowledge driven curriculum is no longer sufficient. There is a pressing need to build new age skills for students. In order to be future ready, students need to be able to evaluate online information, they need to understand  security concerns in the virtual domain, and they need to consider ethical questions in this new space.

Teachers need to see themselves as learners, and they need to be open to learning about and experimenting with new technologies.  It is fast becoming necessary for schools to know the technologies available and to use them wisely.  

That said, all the panelists emphasised the idea of "pedagogy at the center." Technology is a tool to enhance how you teach and what you teach; it allows you to reach different learners in different ways. But as a teacher, you first need to consider your learning outcomes, your students needs, and how best to reach your students. 

Technology in the Classroom: "Create and Consume"

Andrew Hoover talked about the two central ways in which we use technology: we can consume it or we can use it to create. 

Our students can use digital tools to create a wide range of exciting products that can demonstrate learning -- a video/movie, a blog, a presentation, a song, a podcast, a website, an animation ... the list is endless. 

If we're giving students digital content to "consume," then we first need to make sure that the content is relevant to learning. We need to use only relevant, pre-filtered content that advances learning.

Educators enjoying the discussion!

Safety Concerns in a Digital World

Participants brought up the question of safety. As one participant said,"technology allows one to transcend physical boundaries and this leads to a new age of perhaps being physically safe but mentally unsafe." This is the space where educators have an important role, in building socio-emotional skills, problem solving skills, critical thinking skills and collaboration and communication skills in students. Parents also need to be a part of this change and understand and be involved in educating their kids on tech usage. Children need to be sensitized on issues like Cyber security, Cyber bullying, plagiarism, etc.

Perhaps schools need to play a larger part in educating parents about how to help their children use technology safely and carefully at home.

Educators as designers of a skill-based course to get students future ready
Educators hard at work! Engaging in a discussion of the key skills for the future.

Damien's Story

By Rekha Balakrishnan Why was this story, about a little boy from Portugal, important in my life? To answer this, we must first meet ...