Is it easy for a teacher to teach?

I am currently working in the field of education with Agastya International Foundation, my fellowship host organization, primarily on teacher training. Through my work, I get the opportunity to interact with various teachers throughout the world, on a regular basis. Recently while working on a project, I had organized a semi-structured interview with a bunch of government school teachers from Maharashtra, Karnataka and Odisha relating to the topic of individual teaching strategies. These were some of the responses when the teachers were asked about the roadblocks in their way of teaching:

“Getting attention from students can get very challenging sometimes”

“I can’t see the students while teaching, most of them keep the video off during the class”

“I struggle to adjust to these tech tools now during COVID”

The interview got even more interesting when later during the interview a teacher pointed out, “you see Google, YouTube, Wikipedia – they have all the information just a click away, that too from multiple sources. So the students are less attentive in the class … how to go about it?” These are some of the apparent challenges surfacing in front of the teachers and it will take more than just technological aid to address these. My organization is working on certain psychological theories (mentioned below, crux of this piece) of learning that can help the teachers in improving their engagement skills with students while teaching online and make a similar transition more successful, should it become necessary in the future.

Conditioning happens when certain things are repeated again and again and it leads to learning. Just like how we learned our tables or poems when we were young. Emphasis is on stimulus and the response relationship. Classical conditioning is when learning occurs by forming associations between naturally occurring stimuli and previously neutral stimuli, mainly focusing on automatic, naturally occurring behaviours. If learning occurs when behaviours are followed by either reinforcement or punishment, it is operant conditioning that focuses on voluntary behaviour. Now in the online mode of teaching, some of the schools and teachers are using conditioning through programmed instruction (computer-assisted instruction) where

  • Material is broken into frames
  • Drill and practice
  • Immediate feedback for each and every response given by the learner
  • Positive reinforcement and vice versa

When a child is in an online process of the program instruction, he/she becomes an active learner as he/she has to perform all the activities through teacher’s assistance. These are very small steps at a time, so not too much burden and helps him/her learn at their own pace.

When you connect new information with existing ideas, it is Cognitive learning. The powerful strategies for teaching and learning like retrieval practice enhances learning by pulling information out of the students rather than just cramming information. It can be done in many forms, like some teachers we work with using a quick no-stake quiz at the end of delivering a concept. Some teachers also use interleaving – or practicing a mix of skills (such as doing addition, subtraction, multiplication, division problems all in one). It boosts learning by encouraging connections between closely related topics resulting in greater retention. These strategies enhance not just the learning of basic factual knowledge, but also skill learning and critical thinking. It can be used easily and effectively in online mode of teaching and learning. The above two theories mostly deal with the behavioral aspect and the association between the stimulus and response.

If cognitivism focuses on abstract thinking, Constructivism is about individual creativity. It is different from the traditional teaching method and promotes experiential and peer-to-peer learning. It encourages the students to manage their learning through a metacognitive, self-reflective, and collaborative process. A constructivist-based online course can improve student’s learning and enhanced communication, teamwork, and critical thinking, and self-responsibility skills. Based on attention, retention, reproduction, and motivation, it is a social learning theory as we learn significantly by sharing and observing.

Children can have different kinds of dominant intelligence (like linguistic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, musical, spatial and bodily-kinesthetic, logical, etc.) which is there in each and every individual, but the degree to which they are present might differ. In an online classroom set up if we want to cater to these differences, we can try out project/activity-based learning which can be done by grouping the students of similar/ different dominant intelligence. The onus of learning lies on the learner and the teacher acts as facilitator or collaborator.

“I do not have any special talents, I am just passionately curious”

Albert Einstein

So activity-based learning sounds interesting but how do we designing these activities? An ideal activity can include curiosity-building strategies (project-based, inquiry-based, heuristic, brainstorming, cooperative) engaging context with inter-disciplinarity and a strong feedback system. Above all students’ autonomy should be of prime importance. There is a theory named Gagne’s Theory, which can be referred to while designing. These are 9 simple and guiding poles to consider while designing for activity-based learning:

  1. Gaining attention
  2. Informing the learner of the objective
  3. Stimulating recall of prior learning
  4. Presenting the stimulus
  5. Providing learner guidance
  6. Eliciting performance
  7. Providing feedback
  8. Assessing performance
  9. Enhancing retention and transfer

Co-teaching is a collaborative approach where two or more teachers jointly deliver instructions in a shared classroom space for diverse groups of students including those with disabilities and others who are not so identified. It brings about a variety and has been engaging in both online and offline mode and needs a passionate teacher who celebrates mistakes, appreciates differences, relays feedback, and evaluates themselves.

While we know what works for students, during these unprecedented times, we should consider what works in learning for teachers. What teachers learn during this pandemic may lead to long-lasting innovation across the world.

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