Monday, June 28, 2010

Play-way methods of Teaching/Learning by Vinita

It was a fine Sunday afternoon with clear weather and I reached the LEAD centre with Vandana, Babita & Sindhu (volunteers with my NGO Adarshmay) at 2:15 pm. Bhagyashree was already there with some of the kids. Then some more volunteers come like Mrs Patel, Kartha madam, Saroj teacher, Kailash, Amrutha, Manisha, and others and some more children too joined us slowly. Soon, we heard a count from the children, “Teacher aa gayi!!!” Clearly they remembered her vividly from the Earth Mela at the Maharashtra Nature Park.

Vinitha Maam came with her laptop and introduced herself and was generally chatting with all of us and the children trying to get a feel for what the teaching volunteers did with the kids and what they were being taught, etc. The children were a bit shy at answering and needed some prodding by the teachers, but they were soon at ease with Vinitha. At 2:40 the room was full of volunteers and children, so we decided to start off.

The children were sitting in front with the volunteers surrounding them to the sides and behind. This arrangement gave us a chance to see what Vinitha was doing and how the children responded to her. (Volunteers were waiting for the demonstration ;-)

The session started off by Vinitha maam making an imaginary sandwich with the children, she asked them the ingredients for the sandwich, what all they need. Then she had them taking imaginary potatoes, onions, capsicum, cucumber etc while the children were gathering their imaginary ingredients she very deftly taught them the English names for the vegetables also had them counting the potatoes in English/hindi. That was very slick the children were having fun but they were learning a lot…as were we!

After gathering the ingredients they were washed and the children themselves started telling the benefits of washing vegetables, so cleanliness and hygiene was worked in. Vinitha asked the children how many take bath, how many wash their clothes during this and immediately she got an idea about the home life of the children. These things if asked directly sometimes puts the child on the defensive or lowers his/her self esteem, but the way Vinitha extracted the information was amazing. Then they peeled the vegetables, and the imaginary rubbish was thrown into the imaginary dustbin. Some children were reprimanded mildly when they threw the rubbish elsewhere, this followed two minutes of discussion on how to keep the surroundings clean.

Then the imaginary vegetables were sliced with Vinitha reminding them to slice carefully and not cut their fingers, then the imaginary cutting tools were kept away carefully and the sandwich assembly began!

The children by then were so immersed in this game-play that they started straightway and very enthusiastically to start piling the imaginary vegetables on the imaginary bread! But Vinitha reminded them to take a clean plate, then keep the bread on the plate. By this even our lesser privileged children, she through this acting, made & showed them a better life of eating in plates as opposed to in the hand or paper. Then she had them count the slices again during assembling the sandwich. Then the children had to offer the sandwich they had made to their neighbor, while learning manners, using the words, “Please sandwich khao”, Thank you”, Welcome, etc… they had a sumptuous meal of sandwiches and knowledge!

Vinitha then had the children remember which story she had told in the Earth Mela and had a pop quiz on the story, and many of the children remembered many details of the story. Some remembered the entire story, while some children even embellished the story with their own thoughts. Vinitha had two volunteers from the children enact the story while two other children gave the sound effects for the Tortoise and the rabbit. It was great to see the actors trying to hop like a rabbit, talk in slow-motion like the tortoise! This story too was interspersed with bits and pieces of knowledge, that the children were not even aware that they were being given and yet I am sure they will never forget!

She then told a children another story of two friends in a village, which she linked to a picture of a clown's face. Every thing she told in a story would have a corresponding part draw on the blackboard, so that every sentence of the story was associated with the picture and sentence by sentence the picture was building. Soon the story was over and lo and behold, we had a clown picture on the board. Vinitha reinforced the story by going over it again together with the children and then she did something that I found amazing!

She made the children see with their eyes closed! How, you ask?

She made the children close their eyes and had them remember the story and yell if they saw the complete clown picture, all the while narrating the story again. It was mesmerizing, with Vinitha narrating and the children with their eyes closed smiling, frowning, trying to focus, etc. and then once a while a child would shout, “Teacher mere ko dikha!!!” Absolutely amazing! This reinforcement has definitely locked that story and its teachings in to their brains.

This concluded the session with the kids, or so Vinitha & all of us thought. But the children were not ready to leave her! So she had a song with them, “Machali jal ki rani hai” a few more games and then the children reluctantly left.

Vinitha then explained to the volunteers with a powerpoint presentation, as to how stories help attention span, how to use props to illustrate the story, move away from the chalk & talk method to the playway method.

She also suggested that the traditional passing the parcel game can be a focused game by having chits of things to do, so that the child does not do any arbitrary things but rather contributes to the thing being taught. She suggested the use of calendars and dice for number recognition.

She also urged us to use stories for transferring values “Please sandwich khao” and for building communities, as the children will go home and teach their parents. She encouraged to know the story of the children themselves, where they come from , their daily routine, etc. so that we will be less likely to misunderstand and judge them. Knowing the child’s background will help us know them better.

She informed that a story open the child’s mind and makes it more receptive to learning. Teachers should build the foundation and then take it ahead. Give pages to the children and let them draw the story, see how they imagine the story.
The teacher should make it OK for the child to make a mistake. The child has limited experiences, the teacher should be more understanding and less criticizing of the child. They should try and only appreciate the child. And above all be patient. If they children see the teacher with a book and see how much the teacher is interested in a book, then the child will develop interest in books as well.

She taught an innovative way to make the children develop language skills: Flash one sentence of the story every day and let the children read them, even if they cannot understand or read the sentence, they will learn to associate sounds with corresponding words. And then at the end put the entire story on a chart for them to read completely. She said the process will take about 20 days, but the children will learn to read the story and understand it.

She urged the teacher to come before the allotted time and to leave their stress and all other emotional baggage outside the class.

In addition to stories, she also encouraged the teachers to introduce alternate versions of the story to the children, so that they develop their imagination further. What if the Rabbit did not sleep? What will happen if? These version will encourage children to be accepting of people with a different point of view.

She reiterated the importance of imagination training like the making of the sandwich. She narrated her own experience of taking 150 nursery children for a picnic. The reason she could take and handle 150 younger children together for a boat-ride was because she had spent the earlier week training them using their imagination to climb in the bus, hold hands while walking or climbing in to a boat, etc. The children did everything effortlessly because they had been to the SAME picnic many times before in their imagination.

She told that teachers should give clear instructions, the child should have a clear idea of what is expected from it. Instructions should not confuse the child.
The teachers should have their plan for the session ready before taking the session. Children catch vibrations very quickly. If they sense that the teacher is angry or flustered, they will catch that very quickly and then the whole session can go downhill very fast. Teachers should look inside themselves. If the class is chaotic, then is the teacher chaotic inside?

She explained how a story is build, what are the ingredients of a good story. She showed us a story map, with the main characters of the story (Who), the setting of the story (Where), the problem faced by the characters (What), the event when the problem was faced (Why), the solution (How?), and then the happy ending (moral).

She urged the teachers to maintain the interest of the children and emphasized that to be able to so successfully, the teacher should be fluent in the story and well practiced at telling, illustrating the story.

After the story map and discussion she divided the twenty-eight volunteers into four teams and gave us all a theme to build a story on the theme using the story map.

I, Rupesh, Kartha Madam, Sadanand and three others were in one group and we were given the theme of Language, we decided to focus on Adjectives.

We were told to use soft toys as props for the story. Luckily we have the puppet from Mera Naam Joker with us, so he became the Funny Father with his naughty daughter and their visit to the Zoo (the setting). The daughter has no idea about the various animals (problem!) and how her dad explains to her the various characters of the animals like long tail, furry rabbit, striped tiger, etc. (the solution) and then the girl can recognize all the animals and knows much more about them.

The other groups presented their stories on their respective themes, One group presented a nice story about directions – east, west, north & south. While Kailash’s group presented a humorous story about numbers in ascending order.

This hands-on workshop gave us all a detailed insight as to how to create effective stories and how to use them to tie-in the subject being taught to the children. The session ended with the volunteers sharing their observations and feedback about the workshop.

It was an amazing day and looking forward to more of them!

Ashish Pawaskar

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