Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Use Lesson study method to improve teacher-centric method of education

If you want your student to learn, Teacher-centric method is inherently more difficult method because it is focused on the delivery of content, not on the student's understanding of content. We have earlier seen how the Swedish method of getting feedback from the student after the content is delivered in the class is one way of improving teacher-centric method of education. 


Here is another method. It is called Lesson study practice in Japan. Read this link to understand more about it. It is basically a method that is aligned with inquiry-based teaching. 

Lesson study can be bifurcated in six steps and should be done by a group of teachers together. Here are the steps in short. For more detailed steps, go through this pdf.

Step 1: Identify the teaching problem one wants to solve. The problem could be 'teaching fractions', or teaching division with remainders, or teaching subtraction where one has to carry forward the 'ten' like 31 minus 13. The problem could also be of retention. For instance, students, after being taught a subject in Physics, say a Lesson on measuring Reflection of Light , do not remember the content while writing the answer sheet.

Step 2: Teachers should discuss and dialogue with each other and find out the 'exact problem' that the teachers are facing. Talk with teachers outside the school to understand the difficulties that student face. That will help the teacher 'scope' the problem in a better way. 

Step 3: Do some 'research' to understand the issues in more detail and specifically how other teachers have 'solved' the difficulties identified in the problem, if any. This step may require an 'outside consultant' to locate the research papers so that the third-person objective analysis can be done. 

Step 4: Design a Lesson plan that will help the students to 'understand' the lesson in a more effective manner. Teachers will also list down the different 'measurements' that will help the teacher to 'measure' the effectiveness of teaching plan. Will it be a test after the lesson? Or will it be a specific question which is indirect? 

Step 5: Teach the 'lesson' according to the lesson-plan to one class. While teaching, one teacher will teach, while rest of the teachers will observe. The observers should focus on the student's learning, not on the teacher's teaching. 

Step 6: Incorporate the feedback of the observers and improve the lesson plan. Use the new Lesson plan to deliver the lesson. 

Conclusion

Lesson study method is meant to improve 'teaching', not the 'teachers'. This method is more difficult to implement because the teachers have to sit together and openly accept their problems to find better solutions. Teachers often do not like doing this.

This is not a quick-fix method. Schools often send teachers for 'training' and hope that the training will directly help the students, or they will call an "Expert teacher" to give ideas and tips of good teaching. In this method of Lesson study, the teachers are forced to think, take feedback from others, and improve teaching. 

As you would have guessed, a big benefit of this method is that the relationship between the teachers also change: they become more collaborative, invite feedback on their teaching method from other teachers, and more importantly focus on the student on how they learn.  

Monday, April 20, 2015

Which rope ladder design should we use to enable learning of child?

Here is a beautiful symbol of teacher-centric education. Watch this rope ladder put in a school. Do you think the child will learn to climb the ladder? At the end of six months, how many children do you think must have climbed this ladder?

Teacher-centric design: Rope ladder with granite flooring

Answer: This design almost guarantees that no child will learn to climb the rope ladder. In six months, not a single child could climb the rope ladder. Why ? 

One, because the floor is granite, the teacher wants to help the child to climb the ladder every time so that the fall may not hurt him so much. This dependency cripples the child in choosing his own time to climb. Two, because the teacher is helping ( we call it teaching ) the child to climb, the child never learns when to leave the rope with his hand or when to push his legs to climb the next rung even though the teacher may instruct him. Three, until he does it repetitively, the child will never build enough 'muscle strength' to balance his body. But the child cannot do this repetitively, because he has to depend on you every time to attempt it. Four, the child even if he had initial confidence, slowly loses his confidence that he can do it on his own and then becomes over-dependent on you while climbing. This is the final nail in the coffin of learning.  

Now, let us change the design a bit. The ground is of sand. 

Student-centric design: Rope ladder with sand flooring

Now the child can climb on his own. With no help from teacher, the child can learn to coordinate his hands and legs faster.  More importantly, the child can do this repetitively as many times as she wishes. This helps the child to build her muscle strength making it more and more easier to climb. At the end of six months, more than 50% of the child were climbing the rope ladder upto 5 steps. Some were climbing upto 2 steps. (By the way, this is the real record of a school where this was installed) 

Lesson : Design the ' education system' to enable learning

In education, the design is the most important element, not teachers, nor curriculum ( SSC, CBSE, ICSE or...) nor infrastructure ( e-learning, computers), nor extra curricular activities ( like horse riding, swimming or). All these elements are 'tools' to achieve the final end-objective of enabling learning of the child.

Take the 4 design elements of new rope ladder design. 1>You simply must give 'freedom' to the child to climb as many times as he/she wishes. You do not need a 'class of rope climbing' at fixed time and of fixed interval. 2> You need 'fail-safe' method to ensure that even failed trials will not physically harm the child. More importantly, you need a system of not punishing the child after his failed attempts. Because, if you punish his mistakes, he will stop trying. 3> You need to give freedom to repeat it as long as the child masters the climbing. Not when you want him to stop climbing 4> And you do not need 'grading' system to find who climbed how many steps. Only when the child wants to become an expert climber, you may set up a 'grading' system to measure his progress. Or you may hire 'experts' to train him. In other words, the system should be 'customisable' for a student. In short, student-centric.

Where are the designers of education system please? Schools do not need smart teachers, or sophisticated technology, or brilliant infrastructure to help the child. We want designers who can 'put' all this elements - teachers, technology, infrastructure -  together in enabling learning of the child, and not to perform better teaching. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Ideas for injecting student centricness in teacher-centric schools



Teacher centric schools, the most popular format of schools in India, often suffer from one big disadvantage. As teacher teaches students in a group, he cannot customise his 'instructions' for each student to ensure that student 'gets' it. Some student learn, some do not. Child-centric schools like Montessori do not face this problem, because each student is 'addressed' separately by a teacher.

Can teacher-centric schools do something about this? For instance, the best teacher-centric schools in the world, the schools in Finland, have one of the best system to counter one of the central weakness of teacher-centric system. They assess every student immediately after the lesson, spot the lagging student, and then do immediate correction through an alternate teacher.

Another BIG idea that can help a school is to guide student based on his/her strengths and preferences. How can schools do this?

Schools can use Student Guide to help them.

Role of Student Guide : His primary role should be to help the student 'discover' his potential abilities, nurture it using different support systems, and use corrections in the nurturing by monitoring the student's progress. Many schools currently have Psychological counselors, who counsel 'mentally sick' students. Student Guide however should coach 'mentally healthy' students and help him prevent sickness instead of correcting after getting sickness.

Tasks of Student Guide: Student Guide will have 4 main tasks:

1. Profile every student in the school : Profile every student to understand his/her strengths, preferences, study habits, learning blindspots and challenges. More importantly, this should not be done through standard psychometric testing, because these 'snapshot photos' are too static and do not capture the dynamic changes of a child ( at least in India). Instead, this should be done through 'interactive sessions', meaningful engagements, and multiple observational inputs from teachers, students friends. This profiling can be done only for students beyond 7th/8th  class to ensure that students guidance can be focused and deep enough to yield results.

2. Guide students and their parents to unfold their abilities : Use the profiling information to guide student on a path to nurture those strengths. Because a student is too young, he also needs support from his 'family support' system. This includes enabling the student to gain the three core skills of self-starter: planning, communication and self-management. Ideally, this should be incorporated in the basic method of teaching. But , if it is not possible, external 'crucible' interventions can be used.

3. Utilise subject teachers in nurturing these strengths : Enable subject teachers , like physics, maths, language and History to nurture the student's strengths. For instance, helping the teachers to understand the development of three 3 key abilities and what can teachers do to build them in their given subject. The two connections that teachers can help the student are building real life connection of a topic and showing how the topic connects with other subjects. Not every school may be able to utilise teachers due to readiness of the teachers. In that scenario, external teachers can be used to support the school teachers. Many schools use Maths Lab and Science Lab to help their student nurture their specific logical abilities.

4. Fine tune the guidance by monitoring the students progress ( or lack of progress) so that the student gains self confidence in his own abilities. A student whose abilities are rewarded by the school, such as in Science and Maths, do not face this problem. But student with 'different abilities' often suffers from poor self confidence. Such students often need to see the 'ideal path' as well as the 'possible destinations' that their abilities will help them reach. More than anything, student must become a self-starter, who can chose his own direction when the time comes and then has the 'necessary skills' to execute those decisions.

Summary

Having worked in 'Talent identification and nurturing' for last 10 years, i have found that the role of schools is not in identifying or nurturing talent, but in exploring cognitive abilities in different domains (arts, science, history, language ) and ensure that the requisite abilities are learnt. Therefore the suggested role of Student guide is not 'talent identification', but 'abilities exploration'.

School should also take sufficient time to find the right Student Guide, because this field is fraught with experts who have the 'education', but lack sufficient 'experience' to work in this field.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

School education is only about achieving one central purpose

You see different methods of school education: teacher versus student centric, learning versus development oriented, practical versus theoretical focus and on and on. And there are various combinations that one can devise, depending on one's ingenuity, objective and student community. But ultimately, how should one evaluate these different practices? Is there any benchmark? Here is one 'gold' benchmark.


I think that the purpose of any school education are achieving three ends singly or together:  1>Help the child to understand the 'process' of learning. 2> Help him become a self-starter. 3> Help the child to understand the universe better. 

How far our schools help our children to achieve these end objectives? Let us look at the objectives in the reverse order. 

1. Third objective: Help the child to understand the universe better 

If you pause and look at these three end objectives, it is obvious that most of the school education systems are not meant to achieve any of these three ends. Their sole purpose is to help the student to answer the known questions in the prescribed academic content, be it mathematics, science or geography, and get better marks in the final exam. These schools do not even help the student to apply the content in understanding the universe. 

New schools, i have observed, emerge only to fulfill this objective. Some experimental schools for instance help the student to understand the content better by applying them in real schools. For instance, by helping them understand how 'sugar and charcoal' are same in chemical composition, they help understand one 'essential aspect of universe'. Or by understanding that sun takes 365 plus some hours to traverse the earth, it helps them understand why an year consist of 365 days and why there is a leap year after four years?  It is surprising that some content like accounts, taxation, and public policies are just not introduced to the child. 

2. First objective: Help the student to understand his/her process of learning

We have forgotten that the first purpose of education is help the student understand the process of learning, not the content. Content, such as mathematics, biology, or language is useful only because it helps us understand the process of learning better. That is why it is important to understand the process of finding a solution, not just get the final solution. 

Please read this interview of a school teacher which helps the student to learn the process of learning. This school, called the democratic school, employs student-centric method of learning. In this school, student drives his own learning. It is teachers job to help the student understand his process of learning, instead of learning the content. As an educator, we use the same student-centric method of learning in Montessori and it creates children who are better equipped to face the challenges of learning, than learning something by rote.

3. Second objective: Help the student become a self-starter

Becoming a self starter makes a student makes his own choices and live with those choices. Living with choices is difficult, that is why we use 'others' to make choices. It means student makes his own choices of learning, for instance. He forms his own opinions about his friends and lives by them. He strives for something and lives with its outcome, be it success or failure. He makes mistakes and does not get so much scared that he stops learning.

Summary

Traditionally, the school has always centered on the third objective: helping the student understand the universe better. Even here, the success rate of schools has been very poor. The objective of making a student a self-starter was taken over by parents and society. The objective of helping the student to understand his purpose of learning is taken up by colleges is many of the societies. 

But schools have also been very daring in their approach. Child-centric schools like Montessori have ventured and tried helping student in the first and second objective. You must read about the democratic schools like Sudbury Valley and their success in helping the student to learn the first and second objective. Their success prompts us to use these practices and suggest that we can use them innovatively and help us all the three objectives in one go. 

I feel that the most important objective of school should be to help the student to understand his process of learning. But that is my personal opinion. What is yours?

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Honest intentions are not enough to create good schools

Some educators believe that good philosophy ( whether it is of Krishnamurthy or the IB school philosophy of developing global citizens) can itself help produce good schools. Some believe that attractive tools such as activity-oriented schools, experimental schools or Holistic schools itself will produce good schools. Some believe that good teachers alone can produce good schools, so we have teachers starting their own schools like Toto-Chan's teacher Sosaku Kobayashi who could run a school in a train coach. 

However, Good philosophy, Attractive tools and Good hearted teachers alone are not enough to produce good schools, because good schools have to consistently produce good results. All these three threads have to be tied together in a 'Method of teaching'. This is called Pedagogy in the language of educators. 


Without the right design of 'teaching method', even good teachers cannot produce good schools. We need a good pedagogical method to tie the three threads together. Without tying these three elements in one Strand, each individual thread does not produce good schools.

Please see this video of a brilliant pedagogical method designed by Chennai corporation schools in 2005 for primary school. ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6kxJ0fV0mIU&feature=youtu.be ) Although the entire video is of an hour, you can view the video of 15 minutes ( from 6th to 21st minute) to appreciate the brilliant design of Primary school which now runs in all Chennai corporation primary schools. It was initiated by then Chennai Collector M.P. Vijaya Kumar. It synthesises the principles of Activity based school of Rishi Valley schools and Montessori child-centric method in a tightly knitted thread. 

I earnestly request you to spend 15 minutes in seeing this video to appreciate the 4 basic pedagogical principles of designing a good school:

1. Child-centric design of teaching: Child determines the sequence and pace of learning curriculum. Child-centricmethod compels a teacher to teach every child individually, not in a group. When child determines his pace of education, learning is guaranteed. In a teacher-centricdesign of teaching, where a teacher teaches a group of student at his pace, learning is guaranteed to fail.  Despite a wonderful philosophy and brilliant teachers, a school cannot succeed if the pedagogical method is not child-centric.

2. Tools and kits to impart teaching : If you have observed the video carefully, you would observe the cards and pictures for Language material as well as the 100-year old Montessori beads for teaching Mathematics. Observe the use of blackboards which are meant for children. These kits are part of good design. If you have seen any Montessori, you will see the entire set of kits which help a child choose them according to his needs. I have seen many of the wonderful brilliant schools who do not have any tools and kits to impart teaching. Without these tools and kits, the child is unable to self-learn and take guidance when needed.

3. Self-corrective design to detect and correct the mistakes : When a child is trying to learn something,  mistakes are bound to happen. Pedagogical method should be designed in such a way that these mistakes can be detected by the student himself so that he/she can also correct it. This simple principle of design is necessary to ensure that the student does not feel demotivated while making mistakes. Unfortunately, very few pedagogical methods incorporate this principle in the design. I know of one method which incorporates self correction in the design: Montessori method.  

4. Well trained teachers in the designed pedagogical method: Teachers have to be trained in the designed pedagogical method, not just be a good teacher. Although qualities of good teacher, such as self-reflectiveness and empathy, are required in a good teacher, these qualities are not enough to ensure learning. Teacher's qualities are determined by the pedagogical method. For instance, subject-wise knowledge of a subject is more important in teachers in certain pedagogical methods of teaching.

Summary

In my last 2 years, I have met many educationists, school founders and teachers. I have been surprised to observe that piece-meal thinking ( that only one element can produce good school) is popular in the world of education. Schools are supposed to produce learning, and they can do this only, if all the elements are synergised together in one strand of pedagogy. Only good teachers, beautiful infrastructure, learning aids such as computers or well articulated philosophy of teaching is not enough to make good schools.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

We need only one reform in education

Almost everyone involved in education wants to be a 'reformer' to show how the current education system does not work, and how his 'reform' of education can solve the problem. Some try to nudge the system by adding 'practical ways' of teaching - like experimental education, project based schooling - while some try to shift the education system introducing standardised curriculum. Some try to follow a modern route and claim that 'technology' can transform the education by using different teaching systems.

But very few educationist are willing to admit the basic flaw in the current education system: that the education system is basically 'coercive' and one cannot learn if one is coerced to learn. You can take horse to the water, but cannot make the horse drink. Imagine helping your child to learn something, say addition of fractions. You can make him/her sit on the desk, but cannot ensure that the child learns ' addition of fraction' if you sit and teach the child. In education, one can 'enable' learning to happen, one cannot make it happen.One can teach someone, but one cannot however ensure that the person learns.

One can teach someone, but one cannot ensure that the other person learns.

In short, the current 'coercive' education system cannot work, whatever tinkering one does with it. It needs just one basic reform: Change the education system to 'non-coercive' so that the students and kids take charge of their own learning. 

If the education system is coercive, nothing will work, because we are coercing child to sit even when he is not willing or ready. Periods and sequence are fixed. Group teaching further thwarts any discussion on the subject. Without ensuring basic willingness of the child, better technology will not enable learning. Good intentions won't help. Effective learning philosophies will not be useful. Better curriculum won't ensure learning. Experimental method of teaching won't work.

On the other hand, if the education system is non-coercive, it will work, because we learn only when we want to learn. If the answer is so self-evident, then what is the basic challenge in setting up a non-coercive system of education? It faces three design challenges. 

1. Non-coercive education needs a robust design of curriculum and 'teaching tools': Coercive system is structured, systematic and ensures control. The perception of control is important for both educators and parents. Non-coercive system, because it depends on the voluntary efforts of students, cannot lend this feeling of control. Parents are worried that "if their children do not produce voluntary effort, what will happen to their lives"? Educators cannot take money from the parents for the education of their children if they cannot ensure that the child learns. What structure can offer both the benefits :control for the parents and educators, and freedom for the students? 

2. Non-coercive education also requires assessment to correct the progress of student: Because of the structured system of Coercive education, students can easily be assessed, compared, and then hopefully shown the path of correction based on their grades. We now know that we have abused this system of grading so much that it is now ruling the 'process of education'. Progress in non-coercive education is difficult to assess. Because every individual is growing at a different rate, it cannot be compared. One therefore requires a different 'benchmark' for assessing a child's progress in non-coercive education, if the system has to flourish in the current educational system.

3. Non coercive education requires active partnering from the parents : Currently, in the coercive education system, parent can outsource education to the 'school educators' and let them do whatever they deem fit. In non-coercive education, parents cannot take this approach of 'outsourcing'. They need to partner with the school, understand the progress of their child, fill the gaps themselves when the school cannot tackle the needs of their unique child. In short, parents need to participate more actively with the school educators. Both school educators and parents need to work together to create a mechanism for mutual coordination and control.

Summary

It is not difficult to design these three elements of non-coercive education system. We already know of two such systems which are well proven. Montessori system is one such design. For more information on Montessori design, see these details. Another well tested system is of Greenberg's Sudbury Valley school which started in 1968 and is therefore equally tested.

In other words, the design is available to launch a non-coercive school anywhere in the world. Do we have the educators who have the gumption to take the challenge? Or do we have enough caring parents who would walk a mile to help their children?

Update after the post

1. Here is an update of Fairhaven school which uses Sudbury valley system method ( democratic school)
2. Here is an interesting differences and similarities between democratic school and other models like Montessori and  Waldorf.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

What is the purpose of today's Indian schools ?

Despite Korean students ranking first in reading and maths, and third in science, in the 2009 PISA survey, South Korea’s ex-minister for education Byong Man Ahn made this comment on South Korea's system of education

“While Korea's students excel at learning, they believe its purpose lies not in self-development based on personal interest or motivation, but in entrance into a highly ranked university. Students have no time to ponder the fundamental question of “What do I need to learn, and why?” They simply need to prepare for the test by learning the most-effective methods for digesting tremendous quantities of material and committing more to memory than others do.”


When I read this, i thought that the South Korean Minister is speaking of Indian schools. Our schools are also, I think, preparing students to get into better Engineering or Medical colleges through digesting huge material in the coaching classes ( not schools) and then getting it out in the engineering or medical entrance tests. Although accounting stream and vocational courses like ITI are encouraged indirectly through the focus on basic skills of numeracy, other streams of arts, design, or literature ( literacy oriented) are not even encouraged indirectly. But even in the basic education skills of numeracy and literacy, India ranked below average in the PISA 2009 ranking of countries, so I am not sure if we are doing that well in the basic education of numeracy and literacy.

And if you look at our education system, the purpose of school system is very confusing. If you see the number of ITI insitutes in India , one wonders if the schools are meant to provide a set of skilled employees for the industrial labor market  to the growing industry? If you see the scampering of students in IIT's and engineering colleges, one wonders if the schools are meant to provide top level students in science so that national economic competitiveness is improved ? Or, if you see the growing number of alternate schools in India, one wonders if the schools are meant to develop the ‘whole’ child – emotionally, intellectually, creatively? Or if you see the Governments attempt to make education compulsory, are the schools meant to just help the students get the basic skills of numeracy ( numbers) and literacy ( language speaking, reading and writing)?

Because, if we get our objective right, we can at least find the best possible route. All the above objectives are not either/or. They can coexist. But the objectives should be clearly articulated. Because it then helps to focus on making the system more effective. For instance, if want to develop more ITI students for the industry, we can 'spruce up the ITI curriculum, get more industry participation, add curriculum of entrepreneurship for trades like plumbers and electricians . If you agree on a destination, you can at least find the best possible use of limited resources.

Instead, what we’re left with is a public discourse permanently afflicted by the curse of binary, oppositional arguments. The either/or positioning (selective vs. comprehensive school systems; instruction-led teaching vs inquiry-led; head vs hand; academic vs vocational; knowledge vs skills) is further aggravated by constant political interference, resulting in a series of pendulum swings with every change of administration. That diffuses the already limited resources and we are left with nothing in hand.  No real progress can be made in such a situation.