Sharing & Learning Together

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Continuing some thoughts in view of other thoughts....

No point blaming anyone, Joel. We come from a system that is highly teacher-centric. Most of the schools around us are also teacher-centric, exam-driven, text-book centred and the pressure on teachers in Aditi to follow like-wise is immense from anxious parents who believe that that is the only way to provide a "successful" education to their kids so that they do well in the IIT entrance exam or walk into Stanford university with full aid! Nothing wrong in these aspirations, but the belief that this can only be achieved through direct teaching, text book learning and drill and kill is absolutely unacceptable to us at Aditi. Our contention is that good teaching practice based on an understanding of how a child learns, will result in real understanding and high achievement in academics as well! Nowhere do rewards and punishments picture in this scheme as motivators. Mind you, I am not suggesting that there be no consequences for going against accepted rules - there has to be some accountablilty for going over a word limit, for example, but when we are discussing strategies in CASW meetings, let us stick to improving teaching practice with an understanding of how the brain learns best. We were fully agreed that the brain does not learn in an atmosphere of fear, so using punishment as a motivator does not work! Koshy, maybe rewards work better than punishments, but they are no substitute for intrinsic motivation - there is no greater motivator for doing 5 hours of Riyaz than the pleasure of hitting a Swar with more perfect accuracy than you ever have! No Riyaz for a prestigious concert will match that. And that is the kind of motivation that we have to try and build into our lessons - to nurture within each child the desire to hit the perfect note!!

19 Comments:

  • I share your sentiments Tara and as you rightly point out there is no objection to consequences that are proactive but merely meting out rewards or punishments seem to be totally ineffective in my view. Consequences can be made proactive such as finding out what led the child to act in a particular way, talking it out etc and teacher appreciation of student effort goes a long way in motivating a student. While R & P affect the emotional development of the child ( sometimes adversely)there seems to be little or no impact on cognitive development. By grounding a student for example what results do you see except for resentment? Does the problem get resolved? Of what use is a grade when a student is unable to fathom what he/she needs to do to improve an assignment? Oops am I getting too passionate?
    Dharma

    By Blogger dharma, at 5:32 AM  

  • dear tara, i fully agree with what you say but i am wrestling as you all are with the question of how to trigger off intrinsic motivation in my students ... i have been able to do it in only one or two students but can it really be extended across the board... that is a very challenging task indeed for us as facilitators...

    By Blogger a.v.koshy, at 9:47 AM  

  • No, Dharma, there is no limit to the degree of passion necessary to fire intrinsic motivation and try to reduce extrinsic motivation, particularly R&P!

    Koshy, perhaps it is not possible to inspire intrinsic motivation in all the students, but at least one can aim to leave great memories of lessons with as many students as possible. Somewhere some chords are struck and it is amazing how many - some we come to know about only years later - I still marvel at what students come and tell me, fifteen years later! I think the greatest reward for a teacher is when students return to say "Do you rememeber....?" And all through we have been struggling with the task of engaging the students! But believe me, a teacher's passion carries over to the student and as long as we keep at it in all sincerity, student response will be positive, I am sure of that.

    Students do not forget punishments or conflict situations either. It is amazing how mature they can be about it. I had a confrontation with a student when she had set out a little farewell party in the toilet - she died in an accident - in the condolence meeting that her friends organised, they recalled the incident with so much affection - no bitterness - just an understanding of the affection that had prompted my outburst! I am convinced that if we have a deep affection for our students, nothing can go wrong. At that point, lack of interest, behavioural problems and confrontation can make it very difficult to love the student, but children understand so much beyond outward behaviour - and remember it!

    By Blogger Tara Kini, at 7:59 PM  

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    By Blogger Tara Kini, at 8:02 PM  

  • I have been reading with great interest the various comments on the rewards/punishments system to increase motivation (including Tara’s tongue-in-cheek comment on consequences for exceeding the word limit!) I remember from my school days a teacher who was himself the motivating factor in developing an interest in a particular subject. Thomas sir , who taught me in the IXth and Xth (we called him IAS- invisible after sunset- he was so dark that we were sure we couldn’t see him after sunset) But what an English teacher!!! He made poetry come alive-made me realize that poetry goes beyond rhyming lines and helped me see the beauty of it and I began enjoying the English classes. It was his evident enthusiasm and love for the subject coupled with the fact that he was one of the few teachers who would go a little beyond the prescribed syllabus that motivated many of us. I can also recall a History teacher who read out from the text and put us all to sleep (either that or we had lively games of noughts and crosses) I dislike the subject till date.

    On the flip side I can also remember from my experience how small rewards did help kindle an initial motivation which gradually turned into a genuine interest in the subject. While working in Kochi, I had to teach math to a student in the VIIth std. A child with Learning Disabilities, he attended a CBSE school and came to me with a very familiar sentiment -“I hate math!” No matter how patient I was, or how many times I tried to explain concepts –he remained adamant-it was too difficult, dull -"who needs math any way". Repeated failure in school due to his disability had led to a complete loss of interest in the subject.After a few sessions, we worked out a system. For every 15 minutes of concentrated work, he would get 5 minutes of free time. Many chapters later, I was still facing a losing battle in terms of his motivation and interest in math. His marks in school tests continued to be dismally poor bringing on another spree of “I hate math!” My plan did not seem to be working; his eyes would be on the clock. But gradually he began concentrating a bit more. With an exultant-“Miss, its time!” demanding his free time. Till for a chapter on ‘Exponents’ he became so engrossed in understanding the strange rules and numbers before him that he did not ask for his free time! The next test result was amazing -from digit marks he had progressed to 60%. That success made him realize that he could perform well in math. From then on things improved dramatically. In the 3 years that I worked with him, I did not hear the ‘I hate math’ again. (He passed his board exams with 80% marks in math).

    while the reward of free time encouraged the student to sit in one place and listen to me, he needed a lot of verbal encouragement to figure out the whys and whats of topics he was learning. being an extremely intelligent child, he would sometimes floor me with questions and I had to think on my feet to provide suitable answers. In this instance I do believe that what the student needed was a trigger- to set him on the path to success and if the extra time was an incentive....

    By Blogger Raji Nair, at 11:26 PM  

  • I agree with Dharma totally- sanctions and punishments breed resentment, actually leading to loss of motivation. It sort of translates into-"I don't like the teacher,so I don't like the subject she teaches." And yes, a word of encouragement or praise goes a long way in getting better results. An "I am so glad that you have taken the effort to write neatly" to a sloppy, untidy student will ensure that next time he takes a little more effort.
    And yes, feedback should be accurate and focussed on what exactly the student needs to do to improve his or her performance. Feedback should also point out what the child has done well. (one word -"jnanashunyam" from Ms Soubhagyavathy my music teacher in school for singing a wrong note-left all hopes of a musical career shattered!Don't even dare hum in public now!)
    I am running on .... should have put all this on my blog methinks....

    By Blogger Raji Nair, at 6:36 PM  

  • Raji, your posting is very interesting. The 5 minute free time is a great incentive because it helps kids who have short attention spans. In fact, if I am not mistaken, do we all not concentrate best in 10 minute bytes? In a class, I have found that planning one activity for a maximum of 20 minutes works best. For the PPSE contact sessions, we could see the drop in energy if a discussion went on beyond 15 minutes. So yes, I would go with a 5 minute break full heartedly even for a group of focussed individuals!

    By Blogger Tara Kini, at 11:23 PM  

  • Real learning cannot take place without a quality of relationship and affection. Real learning cannot take place when reward and punishment prevail as it is lack of relationship that creates fear and pressure in the minds of children.


    “This crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism. Our whole educational system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career. I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals. The education of the individual, in addition to promoting his own innate abilities, would attempt to develop in him a sense of responsibility for his fellow men in place of the glorification of power and success in our present society.

    “Desire for approval and recognition is a healthy motive; but the desire to be acknowledged as better, stronger, or more intelligent than a fellow being or scholar easily leads to an excessively egoistic psychological adjustment, which may become injurious for the individual and for the community. Therefore the school and the teacher must guard against employing the easy method of creating individual ambition, in order to induce the pupils to diligent work.

    “To me the worst thing seems to be for a school principally to work with methods of fear, force and artificial authority. Such treatment destroys the sound sentiments, the sincerity, and the self-confidence of the pupil. It produces the submissive subject.”
    (Albert Einstein 1949, On Education) 10


    Real Progressive schools all over the world are undergoing radical reforms and have successfully adopted a Non-Grading policy taking the parent body into confidence in this regard. I had been a part of such an assessment culture for over twenty years. Nonetheless a lot of us continue to remain caught in the examination trap, not knowing what it means to assess and how to assess. Non-grading does not mean that you compromise on excellence. Excellence in learning does not fall in the orbit of grades and standardized testing. Assessment is an integral part of the learning process allowing students to play a larger role in evaluating their own progress.

    By Blogger amaranathan, at 12:39 AM  

  • Real learning cannot take place without a quality of relationship and affection. Real learning cannot take place when reward and punishment prevail as it is lack of relationship that creates fear and pressure in the minds of children.


    “This crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism. Our whole educational system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career. I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals. The education of the individual, in addition to promoting his own innate abilities, would attempt to develop in him a sense of responsibility for his fellow men in place of the glorification of power and success in our present society.

    “Desire for approval and recognition is a healthy motive; but the desire to be acknowledged as better, stronger, or more intelligent than a fellow being or scholar easily leads to an excessively egoistic psychological adjustment, which may become injurious for the individual and for the community. Therefore the school and the teacher must guard against employing the easy method of creating individual ambition, in order to induce the pupils to diligent work.

    “To me the worst thing seems to be for a school principally to work with methods of fear, force and artificial authority. Such treatment destroys the sound sentiments, the sincerity, and the self-confidence of the pupil. It produces the submissive subject.”
    (Albert Einstein 1949, On Education) 10


    Real Progressive schools all over the world are undergoing radical reforms and have successfully adopted a Non-Grading policy taking the parent body into confidence in this regard. I had been a part of such an assessment culture for over twenty years. Nonetheless a lot of us continue to remain caught in the examination trap, not knowing what it means to assess and how to assess. Non-grading does not mean that you compromise on excellence. Excellence in learning does not fall in the orbit of grades and standardized testing. Assessment is an integral part of the learning process allowing students to play a larger role in evaluating their own progress.

    By Blogger amaranathan, at 12:40 AM  

  • A wonderful quote, Amarnathan - a lot of learning in there for us. Thanks for sharing.

    By Blogger Shuchi Grover, at 7:13 PM  

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    By Blogger Neela Tatu, at 7:24 PM  

  • Mr. Amarnathan has quoted a wonderful summary of what real progressive schools should do. It would be so nice if we followed it. In fact, India, with its rich culture in 'karmanye vadi ka raste' kind of philosophies is the perfect place for developing school systems that blend ancient wisdom with modern requirements and leave legacies of healthy individuals for posterity.
    Also, it takes passionate individuals to dream/visualise and realise those dreams/visions !

    8:54 AM

    By Blogger Neela Tatu, at 7:29 PM  

  • I fully endorse your views Ms Kini that there is no substitute for intrinsic motivation. Unless we are able to generate love and passion for the subject we teach, no real learning takes place. Though, we all know that this is not an easy task, we should keep trying the new strategies with undaunting patience.If Mr.Koshy is able to trigger off intrinsic motivation in only one or two students today, the day is not far off when he will find a caravan of such students; kyonki-
    Hum akele hi chale the manzil-e-chahat ki aur!
    Log milate rahe aur karavaan banataa gayaa!!

    By Blogger gulab, at 10:16 PM  

  • I fully agree with tara. I feel the results always come very much later. I have had this experience. Few of my students when I meet them after many years still remember the jokes I had told them in the classroom, the activities we had done.

    By Blogger ppsehema, at 7:35 PM  

  • Continuing the tune that hema is singing- I too have a glaring example.A child who I had been trying to motivate for three years pulled up her socks only three months before the final exam and did brilliantly. Through the years she had been this really well behaved, sweet tempered kid in class who did everything right except study/ work in a motivated manner. I had had no clue about the respect or affection she had for me and did not miss it either. On the day of the last class, she came to me with a letter in German! ( To make her write 5 sentences used to be hard work and here was a much longer letter!)It was adressed to me saying how she had enjoyed the classes and learnt a lot and how she was going to miss it all.When she handed it over, her eyes were moist. I did not know how to react.I said thankyou, this letter will be treasured and then went on with the class. But I was very happy that evening, thinking to myself, that my strategies did work in the long run.

    By Blogger Neela Tatu, at 7:50 PM  

  • Thank you Shuchi! What do you think about my response to Einstein's thoughts;Please read the paragraph that precedes and follows the qoute.

    By Blogger amaranathan, at 9:45 PM  

  • Amarnathan-

    Absolutely agree with your thoughts preceding and following the quote. When students share a bond with the teacher, that in itself is often motivation for them to be interested in what the teacher is teaching, because children enjoy the company and the time spent with the teacher.

    The move away for exam-orientation in India is a good one and long overdue, of course. Hopefully schools such as ours will not get pressured by parents to re-gress to a culture of exams esp. in elem and middle school.

    As Mrs. Warrior mentioned the other day "Good performance in examinations does not necessarily equate to good education." (although I'm sure we believe that the converse could be true).

    By Blogger Shuchi Grover, at 8:07 AM  

  • Dear amarnathan,
    "Real learning cannot take place without a quality of relationship and affection". How well said.
    We are almost finishing this academic year. I donot know if everyone feels the same, but i feel i have woven a network with most of the students of the classes i had taught. I remember a card given to me on the teacher's day of 2005. A student had written , " Happy teacher's day Miss kalpana, thank you for calrifying my doubts most of the times even when iam hesitant" I looked at the name of the child and then the child's face, but not the incidents. But i was really moved to see such a card.
    A child in my class accidently calls me ' mama' most of the timesbut feels very shy after that. I assure the child that it is ok to call me mama. Understanding a child and his/her needs itself is an intrinsic motivation according to me.
    please comment.
    kalpana

    By Blogger kalpanau, at 2:27 AM  

  • Kalpana, You are right! But I think the challenge is in not creating the authority of the teacher, exam, grade or any other form of fear to make learning take place. Not to use reward or punishment as a tool to make the child learn.

    By Blogger amaranathan, at 9:23 PM  

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