Moving beyond Traditional Modes of Teaching
Can school education be made more interactive than the traditional teaching mode?
Is Indian education hampering curiosity and critical thinking in a child?
Is teacher training getting the attention it deserves?
Since joining Heritage Xperiential Learning School in Gurugram, India on July 9, 2018, after over 20 years of leadership of public schools in the United States, I have been grateful to be a part of a school in India that is working passionately and diligently to create true experiential learning across its entire school which engages students in active learning and exploring deeply through authentic projects. This type of learning is centred on active student involvement, where students are engaged in investigating and researching real world problems and issues, and working collaboratively in groups to develop solutions to these problems or to develop products that have a purpose beyond their classroom and school walls. These products can range from developing information booklets to be used and displayed by local non-governmental organisation (NGOs) to developing new technologies and games to help people live healthier lives.
This work takes careful, interdisciplinary planning by teachers of experiential projects that ensure students’ mastery of essential skills and content while they also stimulate and develop students’ key 21st century skills, such as curiosity, innovative problem-solving, collaboration skills, persuasive communication, and deep thinking. When this is done well by teachers, students become passionate about creating quality work and persevering over any obstacles to complete their project because they care about the impact their work will have on the larger world.
Another critical component in instruction to maximise student learning is to design lessons and curricula that require active student participation. Gone are the days of classrooms where students raise their hands and teachers call on them one by one while others simply wait or daydream, since they know the chance of them being called on is very low. Effective schools design lessons and classrooms where all students are actively involved in answering and reflecting on each question either individually with whiteboards, in pairs or in small groups. The teacher masterfully using instructional techniques and activities that require this participation of all in whole group mini-lessons or in small groups as the teacher circulates and coaches the students’ work.
Effective teacher education is critical to making this shift in classroom instruction to active engagement and experiential learning. Teacher preparation needs include extended internships in classrooms, where teachers-in-training can plan and try out lessons with an experienced mentor teacher working side-by-side with them to guide them and provide them with the time for thoughtful reflection, feedback, revision of their practice, and the opportunity to try a lesson again and demonstrate their own growth as a teacher. It is my understanding that most teacher training and education programmes in India do not provide this kind of sustained support of learning, practicing, and then refining the skills of effective instruction. This is critical to the overall improvement of the Indian education system.
It is clear to me that, in India, there are an increasing number of educators and visionaries who are leading the way in shifting Indian education away from simple rote memorisation of information to higher order thinking skills and the social and creative intelligence skills our young people will need in the jobs of the future. For our young people’s futures, as we move into an increasingly automated and digital world, we must create schools where students are supported in developing the creative intelligence skills of problem-solving, collaboration, deep thinking and analysis, and effective communication, as well as the social intelligence skills of empathy, sharing, caring, assisting, and service-mindedness. Through the equal emphasis on all of these skills, we will develop future citizens of India who understand and know themselves, are able to create enduring relationships with others, and are committed to being positive contributing citizens of our local and global world and, thus, actively striving to make their own community and our entire world a better place for all.
Amy K. Marx
Head of International Primary Programme, Heritage Xperiential Learning School, Gurugram