Monday, October 15, 2018

Self-Directed Learning in the Classroom and Beyond

Shrimad Bhagwat Geeta is a great lesson on education. In this epic, Arjuna is the pupil whom Shri Krishna educates. He gives Arjuna no set of predefined directions but asks him to know himself and direct himself towards his duty. We all know that education is a holistic process. It is not confined to just securing elite ranks and getting high grades. It aims towards making pupils self-sufficient. Many a times we come across cases where a student gives 100% to a particular subject or concept but is unable to get desired results. The major problem students go through is shortcomings in the existing strategies and failure in developing a new approach of learning.
Problems in learning arise when students fail to assess the complexity of a concept and keep on applying the same old approach every time. The book, ‘How Learning Works’ discusses a very important principle of learning, “To become self directed learners, students must learn to access the demands of the task, evaluate their own knowledge and skills, plan their approach, monitor their progress, and adjust their strategies as needed.” Here, it is quite significant to mention Metacognition. It refers to the process of reflecting on and directing one’s own thinking. “Helping students to improve their metacognitive skills can hold enormous benefits. The benefits include not only intellectual habits that are valuable across disciplines but also more flexible and usable discipline-specific knowledge.”
From ensuring success in any field to understanding any concept, we need to first assess the task at hand. For example, students are given an assignment in writing skill, i.e., to write a short story. The teacher gives instructions as to how to proceed with the task. The purpose of the task is to enhance their creative skills. As the first step, it is imperative for the students to develop a rough framework of the story. The second step in this case would be evaluating one’s own strengths and weaknesses. But remember this should be in context to the task or the problem at hand. Here I take an example from subject of English. The students would have to then analyze their strong areas, for example, whether they have an upper hand in vocabulary or creating an original plot. In this aspect, a problem often arises that the students tend to overestimate their capabilities. As in this case some students might just cram few phrases and words and try to forcefully incorporate that into a simple storyline instead of framing an original plot. So, it is important for the students to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses. If the students have a flair for original plot they should work on their grammatical skills and if they are confident about their language they should read more often to enhance their creativity.
Once the students have a plan and begin to apply strategies that implement their plan, they need to monitor their performance. Now, coming back to the example, the students will have to practice writing stories based on various question types. For example one strategy could be reading a short story and then trying to recreate it. Then they should check the difference in language and expression. Through regular practice of this strategy they could monitor their performance effectively. “Research on the effects of students’ self-monitoring activities has highlighted two important findings. First, students who monitor their own progress and try to explain to themselves what they are learning along the way generally show greater learning gains as compared to students who engage less often in self-monitoring and self-explanation activities. Second, when students are taught to ask each other a series of comprehension-monitoring questions during reading and practicing, they learn to self-monitor more often and hence learn more from what they read and write.
Research has shown that good problem solvers will try new strategies if their current strategy is not working, whereas poor problem solvers will continue to use a strategy even after it has failed (National Research Council, 2001, p.78). Similarly, good writers will evaluate their writing from their reader’s or in this case the teacher’s or examiner’s perspective and revise the parts of their work that do not convey the desired result. This is nothing but reflecting on and adjusting one’s approach as needed.
Now, the question arises that how can we apply these strategies in the classroom (source: How Learning Works):
For helping the students assess the task successfully, teachers will have to be more explicit in explaining what they seek from the students. The instructions must be given articulately and comprehensively. Teachers must also tell the students what objectives they are going to accomplish with the given assignment. Also, instead of emphasizing on what is wanted, clarify at the onset, what is not required. For instance, in the example discussed above, teachers can clearly ask the students not to portray the story as a narrative. Teachers must also check, ‘student’s understanding’ of the task. They can ask them to jot down a framework of the story before they begin. It is also very important to provide the performance criteria with the assignment. In this case you can tell the students that they would be evaluated on the basis on content, expression, fluency and accuracy.
For helping the students evaluate their strengths and weaknesses the teacher will have to provide the students with ample practice and timely feedback. Another important thing here would be providing opportunities for self assessment of assessment of the peers. This will not only increase their confidence but also help them enjoy the assignment.
To help the students plan an appropriate approach, teachers will have to encourage the students to implement a plan provided by them. Students can be given cues or an entire framework of the story to start with and later the teacher can have students create their own plan.
Teachers can follow certain simple steps to help students apply strategies and monitor their performance. They can provide simple heuristics for self correction. For example, help the students pick out the spelling errors and making them do the corrections. The students can be further guided towards self assessment and peer review or reader response. This could be done by dividing the class in pairs and asking each of them to evaluate each other’s stories.
The book emphasizes that the teachers need to show students how they themselves would approach an assignment and walk them through the various phases of their own metacognitive process. Let them hear the teacher “talk out loud” as they describe the way they would assess the task, their strengths and weaknesses, plan their approach, monitor their progress, and adjust their strategies as needed.
“A strong learning community is one that is built by self-directed learners who contribute powerfully to supporting, elevating, and empowering each other. In order to create this level of inclusion and innovation, all learners (students and teachers alike) need to know how to learn and how to collaborate effectively by taking ownership of their own contributions. Self-directed learning will always exist without our trying to force it into the curriculum, but a curriculum that illuminates and seeks intention through self-directed learning will take our communities to the transformative level.”
It is important to note here that once the approach of self direction is inculcated in the students, it will surely help them beyond the periphery of the classroom. They will be able to use the same principle while choosing their career and solving any personal problem. This approach will bring stability and poise in their personality which will further help them deal with difficult situations in life.
As mentioned somewhere above, I clearly understand, what has been suggested for the students apply to the teachers and for that matter any adult in their approach to solving problems related to any area of life. Because Math or English problem solving is real life experience of approaching to handle any issue in life and that should be the real purpose of education.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Save School Children And Education

“Education is a purposive, conscious or unconscious, psychological, sociological, scientific and philosophical process, which brings about the development of the individual to the fullest extent and also the maximum development of society in such a way that both enjoy happiness and prosperity.” This suggests that education system is dynamic and requires constant reforms, speculations and assessments on various levels across the world. 
Considering the world as a Global Village, a substantial effort was initiated in the year 2000, which is known as Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). India and China became a part of it in 2009, for the first time. Out of 74 countries which participated that year China secured the first position and India settled for 72nd rank. Hopeless and despair-ridden, India decided to withdraw and had never been a part of PISA since then. After speculating on this matter and discussing it on many levels, the present government has decided to be a part of this prestigious exam once again, which is conducted at an interval of three years. It will be conducted next in 2021, in Chandigarh. Fifteen year old students who have completed the 6 year curriculum are eligible for this exam. This is quite exciting for the students of the entire nation. It is a two hour exam comprising subjects such as Science, Mathematics and General Reading Ability. Analytical questions, based on research and experiments are asked instead of theoretical questions. The aim behind this is to test the understanding and creativity of the students. (Source: Dainik Bhaskar)
According to Mr Prempal Sharma, Former Member of NCERT Syllabus Committee, education is the foundation stone of development and progress of nations. He believes that such exams cannot be done away with as they play a significant role in analyzing our education system and determine our place on the world platform. It becomes quite important as India struggles to maintain a decent position in the recent QS World University Evaluation Rankings. India could only manage 6 positions in top 250 universities across the world.
The initiative to be a part of PISA once again, is undoubtedly appreciable as a global exam like this will motivate us to work harder and prove our worth on an International level. On one hand the government is striving hard to improve the educational scenario of our country and on the other hand there is an entire system which is draining the young minds out of their capacity to think and analyze critically. Well, I am referring to the epidemic of coaching institution which has made our education system hollow and sick. Numerous and endless efforts have been made from the primary level to the university level but situation remains pathetic. We are falling behind in terms of producing young analytical and scientific minds which have an instinctive inclination towards research and inventions. The coaching institutes are indeed “coaching” them well to fall in the rat race of securing ranks in institutions and focusing on grabbing a six digit salary package. The number of research oriented minds has steeped drastically.
Education is a systematic procedure which requires clear understanding of concepts at both primary and higher levels with a genuine increase in critical thinking and curiosity. This is the correct approach as it encourages students to solve their problems themselves using their knowledge and applying appropriate skills. Coaching institutes on the contrary train the students to cram the formulas and concepts and fail to teach their correct application as the purpose or the end they want to secure is marks and ranks. Students are not only being deprived of the ability to solve the problems through analysis, but they are also forced to do extra work. In order to acquire more enrollments these institutes start teaching the course which is a level higher for a particular class. With this approach they try to claim that they are “competitive exam oriented”. This easily lures the na├»ve students and parents. Once a child is enrolled in the institution, they make sure that the child is weighed down with excessive work so that it appears that the coaching institutes are worth the money that is being spent on them. This overburdens the child and the parents decide to sacrifice his/her school education. And those who try to balance both school and coaching are purposely over laden so that they give up on school education. Some tutors of these institutes stoop to the level of passing de-motivating comments on those students who try their best manage both school and coaching. Under extreme pressure many students are left with no choice but to leave school when they aren’t able to cope up. This hinders the holistic development of the child which is quite essential at the age he/she is in.
The menace that they are, the negative impact of these coaching institutions is quite apparent. It is surprising that the government, the administration and the lawmakers who quite enthusiastically implement and execute educational reforms; aren’t taking any steps to curb the havoc created by these institutions, in the lives of the future of our nation. If High Court can pass a decision directing CBSE that schools affiliated to this board should not give any homework to the students of up to II class, which is welcome step for saving the childhood of the children, then why can’t it take a step to put an end to the “business” of coaching institutions? Do children of age till 18 also need to develop other skills and have some time for physical and recreational activities?  Why is this parasite, which is dwindling, the very foundation of our education system, since last 20 years, being nurtured? If these institutes which are ruining the future of the kids by “training” them to cram the concepts without understanding the basics, are allowed to flourish, what would the benefit of being a part of such platforms as PISA? If creating talent and scientific aptitude were the cup of tea of these coaching institutes, India would have been flourishing in the field of research, but unfortunately this isn’t the case.
We need to understand that students need someone who can guide, motivate and explain, in accordance with the needs the child rather than broadcast mechanism that operates in a big lecture hall. A child needs a guru not a professional trainer. A guru, who understands the requirements of the subject, gives help and provide customized guidance, use diagnostic tools to pinpoint the loopholes and propose learning and practice. But most importantly our children need motivation and positive reinforcements to inculcate in them the confidence which is required to flourish in this competitive world. Can money and a lecture hall with 200 students provide all this to a child inculcating a scientific and research oriented aptitude? Are aspects like multiple intelligences and differential learning taken into consideration by these institutions which are responsible for killing critical thinking?
Though the schools and educators can play a vital role in reinforcing the importance of school education over these coaching institutes but it cannot be denied that some schools (private) might let financial profit overshadow their purpose as a school and submit to the coaching institutes, promoting dummy enrollments.
Still, I urge the teaching community to come forward and ensure that school education does not become a play thing in the hands of the coaching institutes. Even if they cannot do away with the coaching centers altogether, I make an appeal to the government and law makers to ensure that at least school students are strictly and officially prohibited to enroll in any coaching centres.
If research, inventions and critical aptitude has to flourish, the entrapment of these, profit-oriented institutions, needs to be tackled with sincere efforts and dedication. I still beam with hope and positivity as I see that there are many educators who stand united and committed to this purpose.