Building the classroom around children

Posted: জানুয়ারি 26, 2009 in Primary Education

AS the classroom is the focus of concern of PEDP II, our purpose is: first, to explain the relevance of organising the classroom around what children are like and how they learn; and second, indicate what needs changing and how.

We examine characteristics of children that show why it is important to organise the classroom and teaching learning around them. Advanced “active teaching learning” helps release the best and the most creative energies of children.

Children learn from their perceptions of the surrounding environment. They learn to distinguish between different tastes, and get to identify different types of objects, shapes, sounds and colour. As they relate to these experiences they acquire skills, abilities and knowledge. This process continues until they are able to comprehend realities in the abstract.

By the time they are about 8, children learn close to 80% of what they learn in their lifetime, including development of their language. The purpose of primary education is to put together enabling arrangements in a safe environment that would optimise emotional, cognitive, social and physical development of the child. It is critically important that the school, in particular the classroom, is ready for learning to take place.

This would mean that, in conventional classrooms, children do not and cannot concentrate for about 35 out of a 40-minute period. As a result, they are inclined to drop-out. This wasteful time in the classroom, is known as “passive learning.”

Passive learning allows the teacher to assume that the majority of the children had followed the lesson. In reality, however, different children will have followed lessons up to different levels.

The teacher’s assumption leads to wrong judgement, the most unfortunate of which is labelling those who failed to keep up with the lesson as “slow learners” in need of “remedial lessons.” Thus, it is the lack of knowledge and understanding of how learning takes place that directly contributes to learner abuse.

When children get together, they naturally share their experiences and talk about what they know and are able to do. They observe, examine, analyse, draw conclusions or form hypotheses, test validity and build knowledge hands-on. This is the process of knowledge generation.

When children in the classroom sit in rows, and the teacher asks them to keep quiet and listen, it denies what comes naturally to children. It also denies them learning opportunities. It is not hunger but boredom and intimidation that drive them to drop-out.

Some children are interested in mathematics, some in language, others in music or art or sports. As a result, different children learn different skills and competencies at different paces, and it is critically important that the opportunity is created inside the classroom for every child to proceed according to her/his interest, ability and pace. Most importantly, this means that the teacher must assess individual learner progress and performance for lesson planning and that syllabus driven lesson planning is inappropriate in the early years.

The assumption that if the teacher finished the syllabus all the children would automatically learn the content is wrong. This leads to differential levels of “cumulative deficit” on the part of the learners. This is also why so many children fail or drop-out.

The more learners there are in the classroom, the more difficult it is to attend to their individual needs. Our experience suggests that 30 learners are just about the maximum a trained teacher can tackle.

The issue of individual teaching and learning also influences decision on the number of shifts a school could have. Institutionalising a single shift on the assumption that it would help increase the contact hour, disregarding the issue of learner-teacher ratio, could have disastrous consequences for learning. The relevance of contact hour is to be seen in the context of active and passive contact hour.

A conventional classroom denies attention to children’s emotional needs. It divides the learning environment into teacher and student. The table and the chair formalises the division, encouraging a relation of domination and subordination. Use of force, corporal punishment, and other forms of teacher abuse are some of the effects of this relation.

The need for emotional support has implications for learner-teacher ratio, classroom environment and reading materials. Only a low ratio, for example a maximum of 30: 1, would allow the teacher to attend to the emotional, social and cognitive needs of the individual learner.

Second, it is important that children are able to display their classroom activities such as creative writing and project work on classroom walls, creating opportunity for them to have a sense of recognition. Lastly, the books need to be not only colourful and interesting but also developmentally appropriate.

One of the indicators is that children must be able to finish a book in a single session so that they have a sense of accomplishment. This would encourage them to want to read more books.

Briefly, the challenge is, first to put in place an environment inside the classroom that is non-threatening and non-stressful to the learners. Second, allowing children to sit across or around the table facing one another so that they can interact both among themselves and with the teacher. This enables them to share, help each other out, and develop confidence to raise questions.

Third, providing the learners with a choice of activities inside the classroom so that they can move from one activity to another and not get bored. Fourth, making activities purposeful by linking them to acquisition of the defined competencies and ensuring that children learned by doing. Fifth, making available a wide selection of books that are attractive, interesting and developmentally appropriate.

Sixth, allowing learners to put on display what they had done both independently and in groups. Seventh, placing a qualified teacher, preferably a woman, in an active learning classroom.

Dr. F.R. Mahmood Hasan is an educator with special interest in primary education.

The daily star 26th january 2009



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