Aishwarya wanted to talk about something that she believed was keeping her away from her studies. She walked up to me yesterday and asked me if I could help her sort out the problem. I sat down with her and listened to what she had to say. Aishwarya told me that she has 7 family members staying in a 1 BHK house and while her younger sister puts the TV on loud volume in the hall and her grand parents talk to each other in the bedroom, she also hears her neighbor shouting at some one or the other every now and then. She, therefore, found it very difficult to concentrate because on TV she could hear her most favourite program that she was missing out on when she was studying and back in the bedroom she struggled to get her grandparents and the voice from the neighbor’s to leave her in peace.

I recollected an incidence from my personal life and shared that with her. When I was appearing from my Grade-10 final exams my father used to watch TV in the same room where i used to study and even on numerous requests he never ever did switch off the TV. My father always said that it was my CHOICE to concentrate and achieve my goal and if  I wanted my goal bad-enough I would any way concentrate.  Well ever since then I have been able to study in environments that pose the biggest challenge to a human brain’s ability to concentrate.

I told her that she couldn’t control the world around her always but what she could actually do is to control herself and make it a point that she delivers amidst all the distractions. I hope my student does conquer her self and that would be an important victory for me as a teacher.

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On 23rd June 2010, I gave a welcome speech at the Dastur School in Pune to mark the beginning of Teach For India’s association with Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam. The Speech is given below –

Fabulous air show of Paris in motion

My thought too in flight and yearns for my Nation

When will the planes designed in my land

Pierce the sky as lightening in action

And gracefully land as angels in full boom

All to the envy of spellbound spectators

Yes we can !!

When we are united in action and addicted to deeds

Sky can’t be limit for my nation in action !!

Those were the words from a poem written by someone very special we have with us today.

Amongst other honors received by him, He became the first Asian to be bestowed the Hoover Medal, America’s top engineering prize, for his outstanding contribution to public service.

A pre-eminent scientist, a gifted engineer, and a true visionary, he is also a humble humanitarian in every sense of the word.

Good Evening Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are privileged to have with us today an eminent scientist and the former-president of our country, who has exemplified this spirit of “action-for-our-nation” throughout his life.

On behalf of Teach for India, please join me in welcoming Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam to our movement.

Dear Sir,

We are honored to have you with us today to inspire the TEACH FOR INDIA team, AKANKSHA, our supporters and media persons to ignite our minds.

Thank you.

This event was covered by DNA, TOI, Lokmat, Sakal and Radio Mirchi. I am attaching the newspaper clipping (from 24th June 2010’s Sakal and TOI) for the event over here.

TOIPU_2010_6_24_3_APJ

Sakal_APJ_23June2010

Here are a couple of anecdotes that I would want to share about my experience at the summer school and how it made me revisit the purpose of my being here.

Anecdote-1 – Rohit Kushalkar – A hurricane that made re-affirm the reason why I am here

May 14, Thursday – It was my third day of teaching grade 2 children at the summer school and I was anxious about my lecture on nouns which i was supposed to take in a couple of minutes. Last two days had been like a Tsunami-in-my-life-as-a-

novice-teacher as all that could go wrong – From children smiling at each other for apparently no reason to children throwing chalk on each other – happened in my class. For the last two days, I had spoken to each individual from staff or amongst the fellows who ever i could reach out to in order to take advice on how to manage my class. And today equipped with that “new-found-knowledge”, I was getting into yet another session hoping that my lesson plan would definitely work this time round. Well, no prizes for second guessing me on this – the session was a “Double Tsunami” (if some disaster like that really exists).
Well, I was really upset and came back to the hostel “listening” to my inner self, which kept telling me “dude you were never blown-off that badly in all presentations that you had been doing for the last three years. Its better to leave it now than to suffer later and make these children’s’ lives miserable. When you can’t manage a bunch of 17 kids, how will you be able to teach ? “.
Now for the stubborn self that I am, i decided not to base my decision on the last 3 days experience and rather give my self  6 months to decide whether i can really manage this challenge or not. Well i do agree that I took up a big risk with that decision, but then I know for sure that I would be giving it all i can to make this endeavor successful, besides the pay-off is huge if i am able to manage my class. I know i can really make a difference to the lives of these children.

May 15, Friday – So the next day, I spoke to Rohit Kushalkar, who was one of the main reasons why i was facing class room management issues. And it is what he told me about himself that made me realize the very reason why i was here.
When I asked rohit that why he didn’t pay attention in the class, he told me that he couldn’t understand anything that was taught in the class for the last couple of days. Also, that he because he had failed in the english medium school, he was taken out from the school and put into a marathi medium school. And even here, he was well behind the class in his academic performance. He told me that all his friends & teachers tease him and tell him that he is “behind-everyone in academic performance” and that he can’t improve. And my inner self now started talking again, “Dude, see this kid at this tender age he has had to go through all this and see how he doesn’t tell this to anyone.Why did he share it with me, someone who he met just 3 days back ? Did i really connect with him enough ? Did i really made him feel so comfortable and safe in my company that he told me all he was going through? Poor kid speaks broken hindi and has made an attempt to explain me everything twice may be thrice because I didn’t understand what he was telling me? What kind of teachers are there who make children feel so left out and with no hope ? Am I not here for these children ? Should i care for how i feel or how these children feel when looked down upon like this by their parents and their friends ?.. to hell with my personal issues, i will be here and would do best to engage this child.” Well so much so to this conversation, I told Rohit that all of us are here for him and would help him whenever he wanted us to. I also told him that he could ask any of us as many questions as he wanted and that we believe that he intelligent and with hard work he can really do well.
And it’s then and now that everyday i meet him, he does look better and sounds better. But I am worried who is going to take care of him and boost his morale after the summer school is over.



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.