3 Model Lessons in One Day? What Could Possibly Go Wrong? 

Having already been in India volunteering for UK organization LRTT (Limited Resource Teacher Training) and working with Mantra4Change for the past 10 days, relishing every opportunity, today was my first day in the class teaching for my assigned teachers to observe (and hopefully take away some good teaching practice!). My teachers, Asha Ma’am, Rohini Ma’am and Shwetha Ma’am, are all brand new to the profession (6 weeks in!) and equally motivated to develop and learn new pedagogy. With their being new to teaching, they have a lot to learn but are already showing a lot of promise in this ever-developing and demanding profession.

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So, today saw me teach 2nd Grade Social Studies and 4th and 6th Grade Maths. All three demo lessons had such differing results! My first session, 6th Grade Maths, went well. I taught a topic I had never taught before – properties of whole numbers in relation to addition and multiplication. I could sort of recall the vocabulary from my secondary maths education – commutative, associative and closure. However, my main emphasis of teaching wasn’t the subject knowledge but the way in which the children would learn in the session. Rather than the typical rote learning that they are used to, I planned for the children to mind map the key terms and give examples to demonstrate their understanding. This had mixed results in terms of application but good results in terms of demonstrating learning. I came away from the experience much more understanding of the difficulties faced by teachers who work in schools without any school-wide consistent positive behaviour management policy, let alone agreed class rules between student-teacher. Although students are eager to learn, there are many low level issues that restrict children’s ability to learn.

Nevertheless, the agreed emphasis of the lesson was appreciated by Rohini Ma’am, who commented on the value of the children discussing their learning during our debrief session. Lesson one down: two more to go!

The second lesson was nowhere near as successful! I attempted to teach a lesson on understanding prime factorisation to a class of 9 and 10 year olds. It soon transpired that neither the teacher (me!) nor the students had the required subject knowledge to be able to teach this. I had misunderstood the method the text book offered to teach this skill and the students had very poor recall of their multiplication facts and therefore could not access the learning. Cue intervention from an experienced member of our partner project, Mantra, who brought the learning experience back round and had identified the gaps in the children’s knowledge and began to teach where needed.

Kudos to Rucha, who, not only saved the lesson but also helped one poor child identified by the teacher as “dull” (Low Ability or Special Education Needs) and discovered that she was, in fact, quite a talented mathematician – she had just arrived in Karnataka State and therefore could only converse in Hindi! This will remain one of my foremost memories of this programme as the delight that spread across that young girl’s face when the whole class realised her ability and cheered for her was so intense and genuinely the reason I went into teaching for. Rucha and I ended the session by teaching the children (and the teacher) some fun ways of practising and memorising multiplication facts. The fun that the children had doing this was a delight to observe and so very different to their usual rote learning.

The teacher of this class, Shwetha Ma’am, understood that the lesson had not gone well and explained that it was good to see how to be flexible and adapt oneself as an educator when the learning just isn’t going right. I am pleased she realised this as all too often, teachers with less training and experience across India are ploughing on with the teaching, regardless of the children’s learning and without checking for their understanding.

As I approached my final lesson, there was no time to be nervous! As soon as I’d played my last multiplication game with the children in 4th Standard, I was running across the school yard to 2nd Standard where I had planned on taking the children outside. Outdoor learning does not really feature in the curriculum at this school – or it appears, for many others.

Education in many of the government and low-income private schools is centered around rote learning and following the text book. There isn’t much scope for letting children use their surroundings to help them understand concepts.

I was asked to model teach a social studies class for 2nd Standard (ages 7-8) which involved learning about the buildings and key people in the school community. After reading the chapter, I decided to forego the standard teaching method of chorally reading the chapter and then completing the fill in the gap activies as a class. I decided to get the children to draw a map of their own school, labeling the classrooms and where the key people and places where. This would give the children more ownership over their learning and avoid them having to read about computer suites, libraries and science labs that they just do not have access to.

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Alex guiding children during an activity

With 54 children in the class, I was fortunate to have support from another LRTT Fellow, Kirsten, who was a great help – especially during the practical activity of taking them outside and counting and locating the different classrooms. Although I am not 100% confident that the children all learned what the text book required, the teacher, Asha Ma’am, sure was pleased with what the students produced! Asha also explained to me that she learned that following the text book is not always necessary and that adapting the learning to meet the needs of the students is most important. I feel as though I have made a difference to the mindset of a teacher who has begun her career of changing the lives of a new generation of learners. That was an excellent way to end a tiring yet worthwhile day of teaching.

As I look towards the rest of my time here at my school, I am beginning to see what the teachers need and what the students need from those teachers more clearly. Working with my team of Fellows, it’s time we sat down to evaluate where we are now and refocus our planned training for the upcoming Saturday sessions.

– Written by Mr. Alexander Wilkes, LRTT fellow.

LRTT  (Limited Resource Teacher Training) is a Global Teachers’ Movement which aims to eradicate educational inequality in the world. Mantra4Change partnered with LRTT this July for their summer fellowship program. As a part of this collaboration, the fellows worked with the teachers closely in our partner schools to understand their challenges. They also shared their knowledge with the teachers through weekly training. 

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