April 2010

April 2010

It is examination time at most schools in India during this period and hence there are many invaluable experiences that we get during these days which must be shared for managing the examination blues! This post would therefore be a rolling post and I would be updating this as and when I learn about more such valuable experiences.

In a short discussion with the teachers during the lunch-break today,  I found the following important ideas or lessons learned that can be used to make the examination process smoother with less stress on teachers and can provide students better clarity on what is expected from them during the exam.

Lesson-1:[7th April 2010]: When making the question papers be as specific on what return is expected from the question. Having a clearly laid out marking scheme even before the test is administered helps in explaining to the students, at the beginning of the exam,  that what is expected on each question that has been asked. Students can also be made aware of common pitfalls or mis-understandings and therefore, would have a better clarity when attempting the paper.

Lesson-2:[7th April 2010]: When the teacher goes to the class to read the question paper to the students, the teacher must ask all students to listen to him/her carefully as the instructions if missed may lead to wrong/unexpected responses given by the students. i have seen that while the teacher is reading the paper many students tend to ignore the instructions just because they are busy in attempting the questions or getting ready for the exam.


April 6th, 2010

While browsing the internet to understand how to make lesson plans that can really get the teachers’ intended instruction on key concepts across to the student, I found the JAPANESE WAY of achieving this.

The story dates back to 1993, when a researcher-cum-author, Catherine Lewis, went to Japan to work on her book – Educating Hearts and Minds: Reflections on Japanese Preschool and Elementary Education (1995). While researching for her book, Catherine Lewis sat in Japanese elementary classrooms for months although she was not focused on science instruction, she discovered that, without any intention to do so, she was learning much science. When she asked Japanese teachers how they actually learned to teach science, the answer she heard again and again was “kenkyuu jugyou” means research lesson (or study lesson), and refers to the lessons that teachers jointly plan, observe and discuss.

Research lessons are actual classroom lessons with students, but typically share five special characteristics –

1. Research lessons are observed by other teachers.

2. Research lessons are planned for a long time, usually collaboratively.

3. Research lessons are designed to bring to life in a lesson a particular goal or vision of education.

4. Research lessons are recorded.

5. Research lessons are discussed.

Details of Catherine’s research paper are published at http://www.lessonresearch.net/aera2000.pdf

29th January 2010

We had a professional development session in our school, where I lead a session on strategies useful in teaching maths and the reasons why students failed – more specifically in math.

We explored the reasons for low-performance overall for the school – This year, out of the 300 students in our school 29% students have scored less that 25% on average in all subjects put together, whereas last year this number was ~ 10%.

Here is an excerpt from the presentation that shows us the current reality for the state of education in our country and then talks about the effects of the achievement gap and how it manifests.

According to India’s largest educational non governmental organization (NGO) Pratham, in 2006, nearly 47 percent of children who were in school and studying in grade 5 could not read the story text at grade 2 level of difficulty. In arithmetic, 55 percent of grade 5 and 25 percent of grade 8 children could not solve a simple division problem (3 digits divided by 1 digit). The data is presented at http://i22.tinypic.com/2r4n0o4.jpg.

The above figure is self-explanatory, but let’s highlights the findings. Look at the following groups of primary grade Indian students and their reading skills.

1. At Grade 2, only 8.3 percent read at grade level.
2. At Grade 3, only 19.9 percent read at grade level.
3. At Grade 4, only 37.6 percent read at grade level.

4. At Grade 5, only 53.0% of Indian students read at grade level
In other words, an average Indian student (defined as 50 percentile) is almost 3 years behind in reading by the second grade.

Matthew Effect

There is a line in the Matthew’s Gospel that says, “For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance:  but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath” (XXV:29).

Like the line in Matthew’s Gospel, the rich students get richer, and the poor students get poorer.  Hence, in 1983, Walberg and Tsai first coined the term the “Matthew Effect” to describe the fact that, without intervention, some students rapidly develop and build upon strong literacy foundations, and other students languish behind their more fortunate peers.

The gap that separates the “haves” from the “have-nots” is small but detectable in the early grades.  Without intervention, that gap widens over time, until, by the 4th grade, it is nearly insurmountable.  Research indicates that past the 4th grade, literacy intervention and remediation programs are only successful with about 13% of struggling readers. What the Matthew Effect tells us, then, is that early intervention is much more effective than later intervention or remediation.

– In education the term “Matthew effect” has been adopted by Keith Stanovich, a

psychologist who has done extensive research on reading and language disabilities. Stanovich used the term to describe a phenomenon that has been observed in research on how new readers acquire the skills to read: Early success in acquiring reading skills usually leads to later successes in reading as the learner grows, while failing to learn to read before the third or fourth year of schooling may be indicative of life-long problems in learning new skills. (Summary from Wikipedia)

(source: http://www.balancedreading.com/matthew.html)

Are we bridging the gap?

The achievement gap cannot be completely closed, however, by simply carrying out more intensely some program that zealous adherents claim will close it. Certainly, some whole-school reforms have shown positive long-term effects when administered consistently over time. Nevertheless, to deal effectively with the gap means that we must deal with the underlying problems of society.3

As any inner-city teacher can tell us (and many rural and suburban teachers as well), to pretend that schools can single-handedly overcome a lifetime of deprivation through a “whole-school action plan” or through rigorous and intensive adherence to a particular reading program is more an exercise in ritualistic magic than a realistic solution to social, economic, and personal problems.

March 13, 2010

I was in the staff room, when Omkar came and submitted his math project book with multi-colour pies drawn in it. Before leaving he said, “Bhaiya do let me know how much marks I score on this project.” The project was about finding articles with numerical data from the newspapers, making a pie chart from it and later, reading the article and commenting on how useful was the pie chart in understanding the article. And looking at the colorful pies on Omkar’s project book I travelled back in time, when I had started teaching in June last year.

In June, I was given a set of grade specific standards in an excel workbook. My love for excel and an itch for automation made me change the excel workbook so that I could pull out the standards from multiple grade specific sheets and put them in a certain order (as per the chapters in the SSC textbook). By an error of reference for the STATISTICS part of the learning goal I pulled out the standards for grade-7 instead of grade-5. And so, now grade-5 students know a grade-7 skill of reading, creating and interpreting a pie chart.

As if that wasn’t enough that at least some of my students were way above their grade level, that I turned over the pages of Omkar’s project to find ‘mathematically correct’ work (as I had explained in the class). And finally, on the last page was a Secret Formula – A secret formula that used higher algebra and the stepwise knowledge of making a pie chart to create a formula that any one could use to make a pie chart. Well, my little chart-buster managed to bring tears of joy in my eyes.

March 20, 2010

Cling, Clang, Clung!!! I heard the sound of the bottles of water being thrown out of the class where as a class teacher I teach the students Science and Social Studies. And, so I came out of the class, where I was teaching math, to see what happened just to be greeted with a few more water bottles of children being thrown out the window of the class. The Marathi teacher seemed really miffed with the students’ habit of drinking water during the period, so without asking the students to put away their bottles, he decided to throw the bottles out of the class window as a gesture to show his displeasure. Well, I decided that it wasn’t appropriate to interfere and so came back to the class where I was teaching math. After, sometime I heard the Marathi teacher shout and he sent a student out of the class. Well, since I am the class teacher of this class I found it hard to stop my self from intervening into the matters of the class while another teacher was still in class. But, I couldn’t control myself from speaking to Ashfaq (the student who was punished) to understand why was he taken out of the class. I went up to him and asked him, “Ashfaq what happened? Why have you been asked to stand outside the class?” To which Ashfaq responded, “Bhaiya, when I saw that our marathi teacher threw out water bottles outside the class, I felt very disappointed that he wasted so much water. So I just told him that he should not waste water. And so, he took me out of the class.” Well, I was both happy that my student knew so much and sad because the child didn’t know why he was taken out of the class. Before, I could open my mouth to explain him why he was punished, he said, “Bhaiya you have only taught us that there is only 1% of potable water on earth, even then our marathi teacher did not understand what I said and wasted water.” To this, I smiled and wrote Ashfaq an apology note for the Marathi teacher and asked him to go back to the class.

Ahmadabad, 25th October 2009

“Waking up” to a slight chill on a bright sunny morning 87 young leaders were initiated into the life of the mahatma for three days at Ahmedabad. This was a thread ceremony to gear them up for the next stage of their leadership experience at Teach For India fellowship – Community Project. At Teach for India we believe that the community is a leader’s best learning ground and this is where he can draw the biggest inspiration during his highs and can fallback for motivation during his lows. Therefore, the community project is a means of personal transformation through the transformation of the communities towards the end goal of building leadership potential.

On the first day, the fellows met Jayesh Bhai, who heads the Manav Sadhna initiative, at the Environmental Sanitation Institute (Sughad). Standing on the prototype of a toilet, Jayesh bhai began his discourse on the Gandhian principle of eradication of untouchability. To him, he said “Temple and toilet are equal and opposite – you go to the temple to cleanse your inner thoughts similarly you go to a toilet to cleanse your body, why then should you not have immense respect for the toilet and for those who practice scavenging, or manual removal of faeces?” These thought provoking questions asked and answered by Jayesh Bhai not only challenged the fellows’ core fundamentals of life but also left the fellows in a state of contemplation by creating enthusiasm for leadership through the Gandhian way. Later, the fellows went to the Gandhi Ashram to know the mahatma a little more deeply.

On the Second day, the fellows stepped out of their comfort zone to embark on the journey of self discovery through the “Livelihood Project” organized by Manav Sadhana at the Tekhra Community. The fellows were to live ,for a day (from 9AM – 4 PM), the life of an individual from the community by working with them on their livelihoods – from rag picking to skinning the cows for meat – and later sharing a simple meal with the community. The day elicited strong reactions from the fellows, while some felt a dire need for the transformation of the community – “This is such a tough job to do, I wish I could buy the community a machine for automatically creating bundles of junk”, said Ivan Dias, A banker from USA and fellow Teach for India 2009 – others were transformed personally in more ways than one – “I had the hardest time of my life today, I am not going to eat non-vegetarian meals any more”, said Anoop Errakil, fellow Teach for India 2009 after he skinned the cows for meat.

As the day unfolded the fellows’ fundamentals were further broken up and remade, it was as if the fellows were reborn every single moment they spent at the community.

On the last day of the retreat, the fellows spent a day at a conference that brought together fellows from Teach For India, Indicorps and Gandhi Fellowship on a common platform thereby giving them an opportunity to share and discuss their experiences. It was both inspiring and humbling to meet each fellow embodying the Gandhian principle of “Be the Change you wish to see in the world”.

On being asked about how the three fellowships strike a synergy amongst themselves, one of the fellows said, “We look forward to an India where we engage all the stake holders towards creating educational equity by having a Gandhi fellow to work with the school head masters, by having a Teach For India fellow in the classroom and by having an Indicorps fellow in the community. This to us will truly lead to educational reform in India.”

Three days of retreat, a few rebirths and the fellows saw a spark of Gandhi light well within them. I believe that’s what the fellows gained from our Ahmedabad “Re-Treat”.