Most of our classrooms are teacher-centred, with one-way communication from the teacher to pupils. Here is what one needs to do change it.
He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.” This quote is a jibe from George Bernard Shaw, given by him under the title ‘Maxims for Revolutionists' in his renowned play ‘Man and Superman' (1903). At best, it is a censure on ineffective teachers. It is not a universal truth. Teaching is a noble profession that moulds the emerging generations.
“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires”, said William Arthur Ward, scholar, author, and teacher.
Often conventional teaching in schools and colleges degenerates into drudgery for the teacher, which in turn becomes drudgery and dull drill for the pupil. The great charm of teaching that merges knowledge and skill is relegated to the background, when examination scores become not only the first priority, but the sole objective.
This is not a new phenomenon. Perhaps when Mark Twain said that he had never let his schooling to interfere with his education, he had the boredom of school routine in mind.
A good teacher can make the teaching-learning process an enjoyable experience, provided he has commitment to the profession. Dedication, perseverance, and empathy with children are some of the essential traits. There is a view, “teaching is not a profession; it is a passion”.
Even gifted sculptors express their creativity by shaping lifeless blocks of stone, wood, or metal. But a teacher moulds growing human beings with a mind, a heart, and a soul. The sacred nature of a teacher's work is obvious.
The central aspect of education is learning. We know that teaching and learning are two sides of the same coin. There is an enormous volume of scientific literature bringing out the diverse features of institutionalised teaching-learning processes. Let us extract from this treasury of knowledge, principles that are of relevance and immediate application in classroom teaching. Awareness of the possibilities of fine teaching will enrich pupils' classroom experience as well.
The ultimate objective of any teaching is effective learning by the pupil. Strategies for teaching have, therefore, to be designed on the basis of relevant phases of the internal processes of learning. The phases are:
Apprehending (the pupil coming face to face with the key points)
Retention (transfer from short-term to long-term memory)
Generalisation (applying the knowledge gained to new situations)
Performance (the pupil demonstrates through performance)
The mental processes are influenced by factors such as the pupil's questioning ability, and the availability of learning resources including teacher's guidance. A teacher is an instrument that facilitates, promotes, hastens, and influences the activities in the internal processes in the pupil during learning.
When we find that a pupil experiences difficulty in learning a lesson, we should analyse the reasons behind the difficulty. This can be done effectively, if we keep in mind the different factors that influence assimilation.
We should not forget that learning is a complex mental process. Many parents often accuse their children for their poor scores in the examination, without caring to appreciate the children's difficulty in assimilating new ideas. If the parent can show some patience to imagine what feeling he would have if he is asked to learn quickly a strange language like Korean or Chinese, he may realise the child's predicament.
Some of the important factors that influence assimilation are the following:
Meaning (Unless the lesson makes sense to the pupil, he may not be able to learn it easily)
Interest (Pupils should be properly motivated. Suppose a chemistry teacher intends to teach ‘conservation of matter'. Instead of defining the principle, the teacher may ignite some spirit in a watch glass kept on the classroom table, show the empty watch glass after the spirit has burnt, and then ask the pupils how the spirit has disappeared. Slowly, the principle of ‘conservation of matter' can be developed by graded questions, and answers from the pupils. Once curiosity is aroused, pupils will get interested in the concept. Deeper the pupil's interest in the lesson, better the retention.)
Depth of impression (This can be improved by vividness in teaching; describe to generate clear pictures in the mind.)
Association of ideas (Link new knowledge to an old piece of knowledge. Use good sequence and logical development of the lesson)
Repetition (Not dull repetition, but repetition that offers pleasure or satisfaction)
Frequency of recall (Use tests or assignments)
Prioritising (forget the unimportant and retain the essentials)
The classroom situation
Most of our classrooms are teacher-centred, with one-way communication from the teacher to pupils, as in a radio broadcast. One may label it as authoritarian and directive. Though it may be effective in preparing for a formal examination, it is desirable that the classroom is made pupil-centred, at least occasionally.
In a lecture-discussion, the classroom is not totally dominated by the teacher. Instead, the pupils get opportunities for participation; there is co-operative striving for a common goal. This situation boosts the self-confidence of the pupils in facing life's challenges.
The overall style of classroom management should neither be totally authoritarian or totally permissive. The teacher should strive to strike a happy balance for ensuring effective learning with pupils' participation. After all, the larger picture of the college classroom aims at development of the personality of the pupils.
Some guidelines for effective classroom management are indicated below.
Follow the same rules for all students
Enforce your declared rules consistently
Know the names of students
Be tough in the beginning; may loosen later if all goes well
See that the pupils come prepared (mind and materials)
See that they listen
Use occasional humour. It makes children comfortable
Never insult a pupil in the classroom or elsewhere, whether it is for poor performance or for other reasons
Do not ignore good performance; do tell them they did well
Submission of assignments on time. Also, return them after correction on time
Develop good habits like punctuality through your style (be a role model)
Don't allow the tail to wag the dog. But be pragmatic.