Monday, June 18, 2018

Give Children The Best Of Both Worlds

A school may have a wonderful curriculum policy and a sophisticated approach to assessment, but a child’s holistic development depends on effective teaching and balanced parenting.
A child’s world revolves around his parents and teachers. Together they make, shape and guide him/her. Indeed, they mean the world to the kids.
You Your Child and School” by Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica discusses effective teaching and parenting in a comprehensive manner. This encouraged me to share its interesting insights with all my readers.
Robinson describes teachers as the “source” of the teaching and learning process. Teaching basically includes instructing and explaining. But a teacher’s role is not confined to it. “There is more to education than proportional knowledge.” With this comprehensive insight Robinson explicitly discusses “The Roles of Teachers”. According to him teachers have four major roles to play:
1.    ENABLE: Robinson compares kids with plants and seeds and teachers as farmers and gardeners. “Gardeners don’t make the plants grow. They don’t attach the roots and paint the leaves. The plants grow themselves. The role of gardeners is to provide the best conditions for that to happen.” Similarly, children do the learning themselves and the role of teachers is to create the best conditions and provide them with opportunities to thrive. “Great teaching is- knowing what works best here and now and on this day.”

2.    ENGAGE: Curiosity and excitement are elements of utmost importance for effective learning. Sarah M Fine argues that the key to deep engagement in high school classrooms is “intellectual playfulness”.  Intellectual risk taking and open ended assignments is one such way to keep students consistently engaged, looking forward to class and work hard without getting disinterested. Hereby, teachers become friends and not hard task masters. She emphasizes that this doesn’t at all mean that the student can just sit and expect that the teacher should make all the effort to take care of his/her interest in the class.
3.    EMPOWER: “Great teachers empower students in two ways. They cultivate task confidence by developing students’ abilities in their own areas of expertise. They cultivate self confidence by working together as a learning community to develop students’ abilities in all kinds of competencies.” Thereby students become independent learners by acquiring knowledge and skills to experiment, ask questions and develop their skills in critical and creative thinking.
4.    EXPECT: “Great teachers have high expectations for their students and it is hard to overestimate the effect it can have on achievement.” A teacher’s encouragement, appreciation and expectation can work wonders.
All these roles can be deftly played by a person who has a natural passion for teaching and an aptitude for it, therefore successful education system like that of Finland doesn’t focus on recruiting people with highest academic qualification. It instead encourages and trains those who have a natural flair for teaching. “Significantly, TFA (Teach for America) has come to the same conclusion that great teaching is not all about academic qualifications. It’s about passion and expertise in helping others to learn. TFA studies its teachers carefully and realized that the teachers who helped their students most have some common characteristics:
·      They are constantly reinventing their classrooms and evaluating their own progress with the students.
·      They work hard at keeping their classrooms inclusive and at engaging parents in what is going on in class.
·      They keep a strong level of focus on outcomes.
·      They are unusually well prepared both on daily level and on a yearlong level by working backward from what they hope to accomplish.
·      They are relentless in spite of school and community condition.
Robinson also shared an extensive survey of teaching styles conducted by Dr. Anthony Grasha. These styles are as follows:
1.    Expert: Teachers following this style have high level of subject knowledge. They use knowledge as a vehicle and share their mastery of their subject. The disadvantage of this technique is that this level of expertise sometimes prevents the teacher from understanding the challenges that students face.
2.    Formal Authority: The teachers who execute formal authority project gravitas and set out a firm classroom approach in the classroom. While the classroom goals in this case are often focused and clear cut there is a tendency towards rigidity which doesn’t work out with every student.
3.    Personal Model: Teachers using this style tend to offer lots of examples from his/her own life. He/She shows how to do something with effective techniques and encouragement. Although it sounds very effective, it could be problematic with students who don’t learn with those techniques.
4.    Facilitator: This teaching style concentrates on helping students become independent thinkers by guiding them towards discovery. They serve as consultant rather than instructor and cater to students as individuals. Yet again not all students can cope up with this approach.
5.    Delegator: Under this style students are encouraged to work autonomously, acting as a resource where necessary. Grasha feels that this hastens students’ development as independent learners. But this style can only be effective for higher order thinking students.
An ideal teaching approach would be a blend of all these styles.
After discussing the roles of teachers and various teaching styles Robinson goes on to elaborate upon various parenting styles. According to him being a parent can be the most enriching experience but it needs a lot of patience and a sense of balance. Robinson has comprehensively discussed four major parenting styles in the chapter “Finding Your Parenting Style”:
1.    Authoritarian: Authoritarian parents present a set of rules that their children have to follow, without offering any explanation about why the rules exist. They believe in harsh punishments and do not welcome questioning. Research suggests that the children under this parental regime tend to be good at what they do but they also tend to be unhappy and have problems socializing.
2.    Authoritative: Authoritative parents have rules for their children as well but they are more willing to explain the reason behind them. When a child breaks a rule, it is seen as a time for discussion and not punishment. The children of these parents tend to be the happiest and most social, while standing a good chance at success at what they do.
3.   Permissive: Permissive parents tend to be very lenient and often treat their children as friends. They prioritize nurturing and minimize consequences. Children of these parents have problems with authority outside the home.
4.    Uninvolved: Uninvolved parents abstain from parenting as much as they can. They just make sure that their child has food and shelter and that is the end of it. Children of these parents have issues with self-control, self-esteem and happiness.
At the end of this description Robinson remarks that at the far end of the parenting spectrum are the “so called helicopter parents”. He says, “They are obsessively protective and never let their child get hurt, complete their homework, rush to the school to complain at the first sign of any action by teachers or other students that might upset their self-esteem.” I have already discussed the disadvantages of this parenting style in one of my articles. When children are not given the space to struggle they don’t learn to solve their problems and end up being anxious and depressed in case of any failure. Therefore, ideal parenting style will have to be a blend of the first three styles discussed with a blend of free-range parenting as I have discussed in one of my articles.
Of course, there cannot be a “perfect” way of teaching and parenting. As teachers and parents we will have to keep exploring various approaches to find the best way. I totally agree with Robinson as he concludes that parenting and teaching styles need to be flexible for “your children need you for different things at different points in their lives”.

“At the end of the day, the most overwhelming key to a child's success is the positive involvement of parents and teachers.” 

Friday, June 8, 2018

Dirt Is Good

CBSE has directed all its schools to reserve one period daily from 2018-19 academic session for physical education for Std. IX-XII, because it wants to ‘mainstream’ the subject for holistic development of students. The Health and Physical Education (HPE) program will be a mandatory for all schools and CBSE will be releasing details about the curriculum in the near future. The board’s chairperson wrote to schools that, “CBSE has decided to mainstream HPE with the aim of holistic development of the child, leading to a well-balanced individual in all walks of life”. The letter added that the aim of mainstreaming HPE is also to enable the students to attain an optimum state of health. (Source TOI)
Although this step is hailed by Principals everywhere but the question remains that where is the time in the timetable to accommodate HPE? It also poses a challenge for CBSE schools that have integrated coaching tie-ups in Std XI and XII. Since majority of science stream students are focused on preparing for competitive exams, apart from boards, time is at a premium. A principal, said, “I think the HPE will be neglected big time by schools in Std XI and XII. Students are running a tight schedule by running between school, coaching classes and home.” Another principal who did not wish to be identified, said, “It’s a record now with CBSE that they start and stop things without any warning. Things that should be given at least a year, are done at the snap of the finger, as the groundwork is anyway going to be done by schools.” She mentioned that the announcement of reverting to traditional board exam was a sudden decision, followed by scrapping of options in English subject for Std. IX and X. (Source TOI)
Well of course every decision meets critical speculation and it takes time and efforts for its effective implementation. But the silver lining is the fact that an educational board has realized that “a healthy mind can only reside in a healthy body”. Competitive exams and the urge to get into much coveted colleges for a better future still remains the utmost desire of students and parents but as a Director and Principal I understand that school is not only about making the kids capable of establishing a good financial base for themselves in future. An educational institute focuses on ensuring the holistic development of the students. As I have discussed in one of my previous articles that sports are the way of life and physical fitness is the base of good mental health, this topic is of great interest to me.
Recently, I have been reading “You Your Child and School” by Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica. They have dedicated a part of it on “Raising Them Strong”. In this chapter they comprehensively talk about the pressure and stress the kids face in the world of digital culture and social media, how excessive use of technology has badly affected the mental health of the kids and how the lack of physical activity is dragging them towards the negativities of the world. Fortunately, Robinson and Aronica suggest that the solution to all this problems is “Letting Them Play”. Before discussing this section Robinson emphasizes on the importance of sleep. He suggests that one of the best steps one can take for their children’s health and well being is to make sure they have not just the amount but also the quality of sleep they need. Once good sleep is ensured it’s important to get our children on their feet and moving. “Your children aren’t detached heads that float through your living room on occasion. They have bodies for a reason. It is generally recommended that young people should have about one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. We are embodied creatures, and the mind-body thing really is a package deal. Too many people neglect or misunderstand this relationship and seem to assume that their body is just a way of getting around and that the shape we are in has little to do with how we think and feel. In reality, the relationship is critical and inseparable.”
John J. Ratey, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, in his book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and Brain, says, “The real reason we feel so good when we get our blood pumping is that it makes the brain function at its best than what it does for the body. In the roots of our biology, neuroscientists have found the signs of our body’s influence on the mind. It turns out that moving our muscles produces proteins that travel through the bloodstream and into the brain, where they play pivotal roles in the mechanisms of our highest thought processes.”
In chapter three “Know Your Child” Robinson mentions that our children are built to move, run, get dirty, collaborate and most importantly, play together. Sadly, they seem to that much less now. Playing is now confined to indoor structured games rather than something that happens outside in nature. Therefore, they get fewer opportunities for free, self-directed outdoor play. They also spend less time playing outside because of genuine parental fears. They are being over supervised and instructed during their play time. Is this ‘playing’? No, “Play is the primary way that children learn to understand and experience the world around them. Real play is unsupervised and self initiated. Unilever’s Dirt Is Good (DIG) campaign is rooted in the belief that children benefit enormously from enjoying unstructured, active and imaginative play as children have always done. In March 2016, Dirt Is Good launched a campaign called Free the Kids. The project team found out that on an average children spend less than one hour a day playing outdoor games. Shockingly, that is less than half the time outdoors each day that international law requires for maximum security prisoners. Therefore, The International Advisory Board for DIG lists six characteristics of real play:
·      Play is intrinsically motivated where means is more important than the ends
·      Real play is freely chosen, it is a state of mind.
·      Play is pleasurable
·      Play is nonliteral, it accommodated child’s interests and imaginations
·      Play is actively engaging
·      Play has no external rules
The reason I have mentioned these characteristics here is that CBSE will have to keep in mind that HPE doesn’t become another theoretical program with comprehensively laid out instructions and minimum practical benefits.
Under the topic ‘Why does play matter?’, Robinson explains that when children create their own games and rules it significantly enhances their development in all the ways that are essential for a happy childhood and for becoming independent adults. “There are powerful links between play and the physical development of healthy bodies. Active play has powerful effects on children’s cognitive, emotional and social development. When they are physically and emotionally fit they make better social relationships. In all of these ways, we can conclude that active play in childhood isn’t just important; it’s essential to becoming a happy and successful person in later life too. Considering all these points this move by CBSE can be considered revolutionary but its success will depend upon effective implementation.
Robinson says that even in this digital education culture children and teachers have genuine appetite to get out of the classroom and into the wider world that surrounds them. “One example is the runaway success of Outdoor Classroom Day. On this day, schools from every part of the globe take children outdoors to play and learn. Teachers report that children’s behaviour improves and individuals who feel inhibited by the curriculum thrive in the outdoor environment.” Kurt Hahn also suggests four antidotes to the declines of modern youth i.e., fitness training, expeditions, practical projects and rescue services.
“Safety is important but certain manageable levels of risk helps them deal with adversity, help them learn how to get up after scraping their knees.” Thriving mental health can only be ensured with physical fitness and taking measured risks. I hope the initiative taken by CBSE will work in this direction ensuring better mental and physical heath of students in future. 
In the end, I would conclude with this request to all the parents and guardians, “let your kids sleep, dream, get out, play, fall, fail, get up, get going and fly.” Let them be themselves.