Do you think that the best way to teach is to explain everything in detail? Maybe, give a few examples to illustrate the idea behind the concept! Most people may agree with this method of teaching as that is what they have been exposed to in a classroom scenario. But, then why do most students struggle when they are tested on these concepts in independent exams? When students from two Indian states participated in PISA (Program for International Student Assessment), India placed 72nd among the 74 participating countries. The assessment is specifically designed to test education systems around the world. It evaluates students’ skills in science, math, and reading, with a focus on solving problems in new and unfamiliar conditions.
So where does the problem lie?
One may say that the quality of the teaching is not good. But what do we mean by quality? Is delivering the content not enough? What was so different in PISA that we don’t see in our exams?
Research shows that you are able to retain only a fraction of information from a classroom lecture where most of the time a teacher is speaking (also known as passive learning). Moreover, our tests are mainly focussed on testing how well a student can memorize and reproduce the content as opposed to their ability to solve problems in new and unfamiliar conditions (as in PISA). So, just by changing the way of assessment, can we improve the understanding of concepts? We at Opendoor Education, have shown that carefully designed assessments can really help in identifying misconceptions and improve understanding of a concept. However, if the students are not challenged enough in the classrooms, how can we expect them to develop critical thinking abilities when it comes to writing exams like PISA?
Studies suggest that the retention and understanding can improve greatly when students are allowed to explore on their own and the teacher becomes a facilitator, whose major role is to guide the students on the right path of learning as opposed to someone who just delivers the content.
So how do we do this?
Well, our primary goal should be to make the students a better thinker or a better learner so that they are able to self-explore. Now, what do we mean by self-exploring? Self-exploring simply means that the students can read, listen, discuss and question anything that is presented to them – it can be a concept that they are learning for the first time or something that they are building up from their previous knowledge. When they can read, listen, discuss and question in the right way, they can become better learners.
One of the ways to make the students think is, whenever a concept is introduced, the teacher may ask a thought-provoking question or give them an imaginary scenario in which they have to explore the concept. They should be allowed to discuss among themselves so that they can use their previous knowledge to come up with ideas to find innovative solutions to the given problem. The discussions will make them dig deeper into the concept. They might struggle, but the process they would have to go through to find the answer will leave a long lasting impression. This will lead to a better learning outcome and understanding of the concept.
Let us take an example. Suppose our goal is to teach the students about food sources. One way is to teach everything about where the food comes from, supported by useful examples. Another way is, before starting the chapter, asking a question like this – Which food ingredients do not come from either plants or animals? Give this a thought for a minute and try to come up with some examples yourself. You will find that it is difficult to think of many such food ingredients. When these type of questions are asked in the classroom, students would have to really think to come up with appropriate examples. In this process, they will realize that most of our food actually comes from plants and animals. These type of ideas will lead to a better appreciation for any concept.
Opendoor Education has recently launched its new product called “Thinking Classroom”. It is a collection of Science and Mathematics books for class 6th to 8th. The books consist of many such thought-provoking questions and discussions. Thinking Classroom combined with the Mastery Assessment program can serve as a powerful tool to master the concepts.