Tag Archives: teacher

Learning from One Another

16 Sep

“When children teach other, they learn better”. I remember hearing this from a teacher in a simple school in a small town. Then I heard the same last year from Vicky Colbert WISE Laureate – indeed this is what transformed education in Colombia via the Escola Neuva system. Through difficult terrain, poor communities, scarce resources – here was a power to be harnessed – the peer.

Learning from each other is a natural way of picking up knowledge and skills. As children and as adults we learn by watching each other, even more so by copying each other’s actions. The next stage is trying it out – learning by doing. There is an old saying attributed to Benjamin Franklin, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” But there is one more step. A recent study of retention in learning marked out a pyramid where ‘learning by teaching’ showed a retention rate of 90%, compared to a 5% retention rate for a lecture or a 30% retention rate for a demonstration.

What does that look like in a classroom? A class full of teachers will be chaotic surely? If all the students are teaching each other, then what is the role of the teacher? The role of the teacher evolves to being so much more than a passive fount of knowledge. A peer learning class needs to be arranged differently. They are given challenges, tasks and resources. They share their learning journey, nudged and directed by the teacher till all the students have reached basic competence in that learning module. This means that the style of teaching must be very different. Not only is it more participative but also engages the teacher in different ways. The learning resources became important but what is most important is the question asked by the teacher that sets the children off on the adventure. Too wide, and there is chaos. Too narrow and they are merely parroting lines to each other, even copying from each other mindlessly. This is a trap the teacher must avoid – the point of peer learning in classrooms is to encourage students to think and engage with the learning. Not just copy from each other or the board.  Designing the question, organising the class, managing the range, channelling energy constructively – the teacher’s focus moves to these in peer learning classes. And learning levels go up more – not only has each child been engaged, each child has received personal attention from the teacher and has been taught using a pedagogy that improves retention levels.

Changing pedagogies midstream is always a bit daunting for most teachers. Only few would have been trained in peer learning, others will have to figure it out on their own. Unless, they have a peer learning group. What is applied to the classroom can, and does work for teachers too. Teaching and learning is enhanced with peers (or why would schools exist!) and the best teachers keep learning new techniques and sharing them with their peers. Not just colleagues.

There was a time when peer learning was restricted to one’s circle of colleagues and the only peer learning network that was active was in the staffroom. Occasional training sessions extended it for a while to peers across other schools or in the same district. Technology has now removed these barriers. Peer learning groups are being supported by tech companies such as google, by newspaper groups such as the Times (UK based, working in India) and others. Facebook groups are a great way of creating peer learning networks across the country and even the globe. Look up a group to join, or even create one of your own. It doesn’t have to be all serious and theoretical for learning to happen. For example, we used to share little stories of what happened in class with the Facebook group. Sometimes we would share laughter and often it would get responses that were very supportive and helpful. Teaching tips can be shared. Another great tool to create a peer learning network is twitter. Teachers and educators come together and discuss ways to improve their teaching practice or other issues in education. The Indian education chat is called #EduIn where one can meet a community of educators. Others are more global and include groups for new teachers, teachers learning to incorporate technology in their classes, mathematics teachers etc. Shared blogs with multiple contributors work as peer learning for both teachers and students, as do whatsapp groups. Both the flipped classroom model as well as peer learning pedagogies can use these tools extensively.

Whether peer learning is technology driven or not, there is a great deal of value in peer learning groups. In Punjab, STIR and NISA are working in the Rajpura district of Punjab to bring teachers together regularly to speak about in class innovations, teaching practices, solutions and experiences. The teaching community meet at one of the schools in the district on a regular basis and worked together to share and learn. They were able to improve many outcomes in the school district in a short while, but of course there is a lot more to be done. Similar efforts have been in place for decades in Rajasthan and other places.

Peer Learning Networks do not have to be an overly formal construct – each of us can create a PLN where we identify and nurture our sources of learning. While many of us do so naturally it is more of a conscious effort for others. A PLN gives better results if there is a semi-formal structure around it not the least because it ensures that we put in the time and resources required to make it work. A semi-formal or formal PLN will also set its goals, monitor progress and have a community of care that helps it course correct as required. For example, subject based peer learning networks of teachers could be very useful where they share teaching tools, resolve classroom hurdles, share worksheets and quizzes and even create intra-school events. Sometimes only a peer learning network can help – or even understand what the problem is and how to find your way through the maze.

Peer Learning is not a magic wand that resolves all problems but it does form the basis of sustainable solutions. This is where we tap into all parts of learning – previous knowledge, relevant experience and the adventure of sharing to grow our skills together. The PLN grows together as it encourages and supports the whole group to improve themselves.

Meeta Sengupta is a writer and advisor on education. She designs institutional interventions to improve learning outcomes and bring a sense of fun and movement in classrooms. She can be contacted at meetasengupta@gmail.com or on twitter at the handle @meetasengupta


Dress to Learn?

13 Jan


There can be no greater sign of infantilising a people if they have to be told what to wear as adults. Four girls at a college in Bhiwani were fined, even if it was a nominal sum, because they chose to wear jeans and T-shirt at college. Apparently, the college has a dress code, almost a uniform, supposedly to contain eve-teasing. 
This raises at least four clear issues that are vital to the success of our higher education system, and yet not included in discussions on curriculum, pedagogy or standards. The first is the issue of treating our students as kids. If they cannot chose what to wear at college, and they rarely get to choose what to study, then how is higher education preparing them for life? If they have a teacher, classroom, textbook, time-tables and uniforms — then what is higher about this education. Students at college are called boys and girls, treated like children, expected to conform and certainly not expected to follow their own paths of learning. There have been stories reported from other colleges where girls were sent back home for the crime of not having worn a dupatta/stole. These words reek of a command and control culture that has a role only in the previous century’s assembly line processes. I have given a guest lecture at a business school where the students were in uniform. This does not augur well for the ‘soft skills’ requirements that are essential for employability and economic prosperity. The students are left incapable of independent decision making, they are unable to process the social consequences of their decisions. 
The second issue is that of eve-teasing. Logic and reason totally collapse under the premise that eve-teasing must be stopped by the victims, not by those who harass and molest women. It is only those who rob that are jailed, those who kill that are put on death row, but those who molest may continue to do so, stopped merely by the tents the women are asked to don. The victims have been asked to dress differently; nothing is asked of the perpetrators of the crime. This is clearly a failure of thinking, and of the connect between thinking, decision-making and action. With such faulty logic will policy-makers and executives of the nation be trained? Can we expect any better of them at work then? 
The third is the issue of gender. While the dress codes were designated decades ago, they seem to be inherently inconsistent. While the women are asked to dress in traditional Indian wear, the men are not asked to regress in time. They are free to wear clothes designed for modern convenience, clothes that have evolved with time for the needs of the day. This is not to call for all to regress, merely to point out that the higher education system has such poor governance guidelines that such gender inequities are built into college policy. This is sending a signal to the next generation of college administrators that such sloppy thinking, even in contravention of Indian law, is acceptable in running educational institutions. 
The fourth issue is one of freedom. Various freedoms are steadily getting eroded, and this happens in small ways such as a dress code. School teachers in a part of the country were told to wear jackets over their sarees to prevent the children from looking at them inappropriately. Again, that’s a failure of the system to identify and work with the problem. If the children have mental health issues and are unable to exert self-control, then they need help. The dress cannot be an issue. And the freedom to dress as they choose cannot be curtailed. Similarly, parents were told to dress differently when dropping their children off to school. Aesthetic offence cannot be a reason to censor dress sense. This is again about seeking to control, rather than to resolve. Personal freedoms are at the core of a civil society and formal norms destroy more than they save. 
It is true that dress codes are important in professional settings. They set standards, they establish norms. When teachers dress well, it shows their effort. Most workplaces establish dress codes, but they also invest in ensuring that the codes are fair and unbiased. Clothes are a signalling mechanism: School uniforms have the purpose to ensure equity and uniformity. But as one grows older, one has to learn to deal with the differences. The solution does not lie in greater policing or stronger rules. 
This was published in the Daily Pioneer on December 13, 2012 and is linked here http://www.dailypioneer.com/columnists/item/53001-blame-every-evil-on-the-dress-you-wear.html