Tag Archives: Teaching

Should I Add More Details ?

descriptive-writing

As an Educator I feel a real high when an experiment works. A little while back, I was struggling with getting my 13 and 14 year old students to accomplish the finesse required for Descriptive Writing. Despite the many examples I shared with them, or the standard teaching tools I tried, every piece they would write would turn into a Narrative. When I spoke to them to evoke the senses, the sense of sight overwhelmed their writing. They would describe what they saw so well, however, miss the point completely with the other senses. I would ask them to add details and they would look flummoxed. There was something seriously amiss and I was wondering where I was going wrong.

It was right about this time my husband came back from work one day and shared an experience he had in office. There was a lunch arranged for him and his colleagues to expose them to the challenges of the visually impaired. They were blind folded during the entire process from finding their own seats to eating the entire meal by just touch and feel. He told me how it felt as if the tastes took on a new meaning and how overcome he was by the entire experience.

It struck me to try a similar experiment with my students. I prepared my materials for the evening class with great care: some scarves and some everyday objects. When my enthusiastic bunch trooped in I shared with them what I had planned and they were very excited. After blindfolding them I handed in each of their hands a different object. The rules were simple, they were to feel, smell, taste, listen for a few minutes in complete silence. I told them I would take the objects away before they opened their eyes and hide them in a bag. They were then to write whatever they wanted to about their object. It could be a short paragraph, an essay, a story, anything. I gave them complete creative freedom. Once they finished they could read out their piece and only then could they view their object. I was hopeful of the outcome of this activity, but the results astounded me. Without much ado, I will share some and let the evidence speak for itself. There are many more. I will add them later as I am still waiting for my kids to share the soft copies with me.

 

The Holy Object

Pragya Singhal (Age 14 Grade X)

As I held the average sized object in my hand a number of ideas floated through my mind. I started from the top which felt grainy and uneven. I moved my hands further down which felt smoother and suddenly there was a huge bump which was hollow from inside. As my hand caressed the part under the bump I felt a pointed nose protruding put and further down smooth lips with a partition in between. I moved my fingers sideways and a curved and smooth ear was coming out on either side of the face. Then I knew that it was a small sculpture of Buddha and a sense of spirituality rushed through my body.

 

Lemon & Honey

Aditi Inamdar (Age 14 Grade X)

As I grabbed the object, my hands felt lubricated and the smooth texture of wax did not make me want to leave it. It smelt like lemon with a drop of honey. It seemed to have lightened up my mood and made me feel extremely calm. The rush of all these feelings inside me made me realize that it was a candle. I slowly moved my hand further up and felt that the wick was hard and short. It was rough and felt like the string of a badminton racket. Around it, was a small depression which seemed to be a perfect, symmetrical small circle. The candle was about the size of my palm. The edges of the cylindrical object were slightly curved. On the whole, the candle perfectly fit in my hands and the fresh scent refreshed my mind, leaving behind a soothing effect.

 

A Common Household Object

Vidush Gupta (Age 13 Grade IX)

The rectangular object pressed into my hand instantly brought rich chocolate bars to my mind’s eye. The crackle of plastic tempted me with the crunchy, creamy chocolate that I thought that it contained. This fantastical illusion was broken by the satisfying click of a button. That sensation and the familiar, comforting shape was reminiscent of the very symbol of control – the remote. The subsequent clicks of multiple, closely packed buttons revealed to me the truth- that I was holding the most revered of common household objects, the source of many wars, crusades and quests, the doorway to the bane of boredom itself… I was holding the elusive, immensely valuable television remote. Legend has it that in the time before time, when flip phones used to be a thing, the television remote was equivalent to Thor’s hammer. Only the worthy and powerful could hold it.

 

The Mysterious Object

Navya (Age 14 Grade IX)

The mysterious object, possibly a paper weight, felt extremely unique in my hands. I had never in the past felt something like it, something so tiny, yet heavy, as if it contained numerous stories and memories. Its upper metal portion seemed as though it was a carving of a pattern or a figure. It felt cool under the comfortable temperature as I slid my fingers about it. The metallic part however, was

attached to a rather coarse base, circular in shape. Textured like sand paper, it was nothing similar to the smooth upper portion of its body. The object somehow seemed as though it was an important and cherished part of someone’s life, gone through years of handling. A thing that I could easily wrap my fingers around, an item so smooth, yet rough, it just reminded me of life. Each one of us faces struggles, endures pain and travels through hardships, yet we bear them and find a solution, a solution that guides us through to emerge as a strong, beautiful and unique being. Our polished exterior is a result of all the rough times and experiences that we have been through. It is this strong base that makes us who we are, gives us support and helps us face challenges. This mysterious object too, possibly a treasured belonging, had a smooth top simply held by a rough base.

 

A Pyramix

Grisham Bhatia (Age 14 Grade X)

The Pyramix felt as light as a feather in my hands. Its smooth surface reminded me of silk cloths. Its numerous and flexible pieces moved as gently as they could. A slight push was all that was needed to move its pieces and give the Pyramix a new shape and structure, a structure which felt as rough as sand paper. The ease with which it changed its entire nature familiarized me with the dark thoughts that people can also change themselves in a moment’s notice. On the other hand, the Pyramix also took me back to my cherished childhood days. Holding it in my hands, I remembered the good old days when I used to play with blocks as small as my fingers, and innovate things which are yet to be discovered or created.

 

The Object That Was Barred From My Sight

Aditya UK (Age 13 Grade IX)

The unknown object which was barred from eyesight felt very prickly, it kind of reminded me of the thorns of the rose but just a lot more in number and less sharp, after observing it for more longer my definite conclusion was that the prickly structures were mini bristles. After feeling the object for a little more time, it seemed to be cylindrical in shape with open endings in both the sides. The object was very light and had these small line-like protruding structures which were fixed in the inside of the hollow cylinder. It had a smell but it was unrecognizable. I thought the object I was holding was a hair roller as it felt a lot like one that my sister uses at home or it might be a mini-pencil stand too.

Needless to say the quality of their writing has improved as they now understand they must not let their sense of sight overwhelm their other senses.

 

Should I Add More Details ?

descriptive-writing

As an Educator I feel a real high when an experiment works. A little while back, I was struggling with getting my 13 and 14 year old students to accomplish the finesse required for Descriptive Writing. Despite the many examples I shared with them, or the standard teaching tools I tried, every piece they would write would turn into a Narrative. When I spoke to them to evoke the senses, the sense of sight overwhelmed their writing. They would describe what they saw so well, however, miss the point completely with the other senses. I would ask them to add details and they would look flummoxed. There was something seriously amiss and I was wondering where I was going wrong.

It was right about this time my husband came back from work one day and shared an experience he had in office. There was a lunch arranged for him and his colleagues to expose them to the challenges of the visually impaired. They were blind folded during the entire process from finding their own seats to eating the entire meal by just touch and feel. He told me how it felt as if the tastes took on a new meaning and how overcome he was by the entire experience.

It struck me to try a similar experiment with my students. I prepared my materials for the evening class with great care: some scarves and some everyday objects. When my enthusiastic bunch trooped in I shared with them what I had planned and they were very excited. After blindfolding them I handed in each of their hands a different object. The rules were simple, they were to feel, smell, taste, listen for a few minutes in complete silence. I told them I would take the objects away before they opened their eyes and hide them in a bag. They were then to write whatever they wanted to about their object. It could be a short paragraph, an essay, a story, anything. I gave them complete creative freedom. Once they finished they could read out their piece and only then could they view their object. I was hopeful of the outcome of this activity, but the results astounded me. Without much ado, I will share some and let the evidence speak for itself. There are many more. I will add them later as I am still waiting for my kids to share the soft copies with me.

 

The Holy Object

Pragya Singhal (Age 14 Grade X)

As I held the average sized object in my hand a number of ideas floated through my mind. I started from the top which felt grainy and uneven. I moved my hands further down which felt smoother and suddenly there was a huge bump which was hollow from inside. As my hand caressed the part under the bump I felt a pointed nose protruding put and further down smooth lips with a partition in between. I moved my fingers sideways and a curved and smooth ear was coming out on either side of the face. Then I knew that it was a small sculpture of Buddha and a sense of spirituality rushed through my body.

 

Lemon & Honey

Aditi Inamdar (Age 14 Grade X)

As I grabbed the object, my hands felt lubricated and the smooth texture of wax did not make me want to leave it. It smelt like lemon with a drop of honey. It seemed to have lightened up my mood and made me feel extremely calm. The rush of all these feelings inside me made me realize that it was a candle. I slowly moved my hand further up and felt that the wick was hard and short. It was rough and felt like the string of a badminton racket. Around it, was a small depression which seemed to be a perfect, symmetrical small circle. The candle was about the size of my palm. The edges of the cylindrical object were slightly curved. On the whole, the candle perfectly fit in my hands and the fresh scent refreshed my mind, leaving behind a soothing effect.

 

A Common Household Object

Vidush Gupta (Age 13 Grade IX)

The rectangular object pressed into my hand instantly brought rich chocolate bars to my mind’s eye. The crackle of plastic tempted me with the crunchy, creamy chocolate that I thought that it contained. This fantastical illusion was broken by the satisfying click of a button. That sensation and the familiar, comforting shape was reminiscent of the very symbol of control – the remote. The subsequent clicks of multiple, closely packed buttons revealed to me the truth- that I was holding the most revered of common household objects, the source of many wars, crusades and quests, the doorway to the bane of boredom itself… I was holding the elusive, immensely valuable television remote. Legend has it that in the time before time, when flip phones used to be a thing, the television remote was equivalent to Thor’s hammer. Only the worthy and powerful could hold it.

 

The Mysterious Object

Navya (Age 14 Grade IX)

The mysterious object, possibly a paper weight, felt extremely unique in my hands. I had never in the past felt something like it, something so tiny, yet heavy, as if it contained numerous stories and memories. Its upper metal portion seemed as though it was a carving of a pattern or a figure. It felt cool under the comfortable temperature as I slid my fingers about it. The metallic part however, was

attached to a rather coarse base, circular in shape. Textured like sand paper, it was nothing similar to the smooth upper portion of its body. The object somehow seemed as though it was an important and cherished part of someone’s life, gone through years of handling. A thing that I could easily wrap my fingers around, an item so smooth, yet rough, it just reminded me of life. Each one of us faces struggles, endures pain and travels through hardships, yet we bear them and find a solution, a solution that guides us through to emerge as a strong, beautiful and unique being. Our polished exterior is a result of all the rough times and experiences that we have been through. It is this strong base that makes us who we are, gives us support and helps us face challenges. This mysterious object too, possibly a treasured belonging, had a smooth top simply held by a rough base.

 

A Pyramix

Grisham Bhatia (Age 14 Grade X)

The Pyramix felt as light as a feather in my hands. Its smooth surface reminded me of silk cloths. Its numerous and flexible pieces moved as gently as they could. A slight push was all that was needed to move its pieces and give the Pyramix a new shape and structure, a structure which felt as rough as sand paper. The ease with which it changed its entire nature familiarized me with the dark thoughts that people can also change themselves in a moment’s notice. On the other hand, the Pyramix also took me back to my cherished childhood days. Holding it in my hands, I remembered the good old days when I used to play with blocks as small as my fingers, and innovate things which are yet to be discovered or created.

 

The Object That Was Barred From My Sight

Aditya UK (Age 13 Grade IX)

The unknown object which was barred from eyesight felt very prickly, it kind of reminded me of the thorns of the rose but just a lot more in number and less sharp, after observing it for more longer my definite conclusion was that the prickly structures were mini bristles. After feeling the object for a little more time, it seemed to be cylindrical in shape with open endings in both the sides. The object was very light and had these small line-like protruding structures which were fixed in the inside of the hollow cylinder. It had a smell but it was unrecognizable. I thought the object I was holding was a hair roller as it felt a lot like one that my sister uses at home or it might be a mini-pencil stand too.

Needless to say the quality of their writing has improved as they now understand they must not let their sense of sight overwhelm their other senses.

 

X Marks the Spot

Born in the 70s and educated in the 20th century, I have some serious bones to pick with the systems that governed my education. In the memories of childhood academics, the one that I have no fondness for is the X in my answer sheets. I do not mean the ‘x’ of algebra (surprisingly I had bigger problems with Math than the elusive x.) What I am writing about is the red X or cross that the teachers would mark an incorrect answer with. Some teachers used small ones at the end of the answer as gentle reminders and some boldly crossed out entire answers to let you know how deeply you offended. Whatever the shape or size of the red X, it only ever shouted out WRONG or INCORRECT or MISTAKE!!

As I approached the learning process, discovering new lands and delving into the past, Math was fraught with anxiety yet the sciences took up my imagination. Literature and language become my greatest loves, the arts though neglected during early academic years became my sustenance in later times. Someone who considers herself a lifelong learner, I did not enjoy writing exams so much and getting back the answer sheets even less. There were some sheets that would not have a single X marring them, and then there were some that the Xs crossed, causing a lot of despair. Over the years the number of red Xs became fewer though they followed me everywhere, hoping to goad me into doing better. Did they succeed? No, they only caused resentment and did not hit their intended mark.

As an aspiring educator in the 21st Century, I was pleasantly surprised to discover during my training that we were expected not to mark a child’s answer with an X and especially not with red. There were studies, we were told, red used to denote danger, stop signs and warnings. It was a color that signified negativity to a child’s mind.

Finally someone had said what as a kid I had wondered about. Why the love for the red does a teacher prize, their vocation is to enlighten, and not to dishearten. There are so many colors in the spectrum why not a pleasant blue that calmly reminds? A sassy pink that with verve refines? A pale green that coolly propagates? A bright orange that hopefully energizes? A vibrant violet that disguises reproofs as prizes?

As for the X, does it not exclude creativity? Penicillin, the pacemaker and x-rays are discoveries that would not exist had it not been for someone making a mistake. So before you correct with a large X, stop and consider, let it not be a factor to curb innovation. Let it not continue to be a prophecy of inadequacy for a child who stops trying, due to the X’s intimidation. Reclaim it as a tool to fuel adventure, only on maps, for X marks the spot where treasure is to be found.

Empathy a Point of View

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view” –Harper Lee

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Reflection

During my tenure as a Primary School teacher I had the privilege of having special needs children in my classrooms. My first introduction to a special needs child was in a mentor’s Grade 1 Classroom during my training period. The task for that day was to observe the Educator’s interaction with the children. My attention was drawn almost immediately to a child who towered above the rest and was mumbling to himself. Since I knew I too would soon be taking over my own classroom, I was keen to learn from my mentor how she incorporated the needs of this child with the rest of the group. What I saw that day humbled me. My mentor’s patience and her absolute devotion to her group of children was not unknown to me.

How I was humbled.

But, it was the children in that classroom that taught me the most. There was to be a group activity that day. Team leaders were chosen by the Educator and she asked them to choose the other members of their team one by one. I expected this child to be the last to be chosen and already a wave of pity overcame me. That he would be the first to be chosen surprised me and I was even more surprised with the fact that the other team leaders looked disappointed. One very helpful and talkative young lady sitting next to me whispered, that team is sure to win, he’s our classes’ good luck charm.

Through the day I watched the children as they took him under their wing helping him, and guiding him for all the activities of the day. For them this child was no different from them. I adopted the same philosophy in my own classrooms and was blessed to work with these beautiful children who not only respond to the love that we give them, in return they leave us far richer.

My learning grew further.

While all my children and almost all their parents were supportive of their friends I have had my share of difficult questions by parents. But then how could I blame them, they came from a place where they only thought of the needs of their own children. The first few times I was confronted by some of these parents I reacted with anger and tried to make them feel small for their pettiness, as you can imagine that did not go down very well. Then I hit open a novel approach, I asked them to speak to their own children about the child whose presence in the class was of concern to them. Needless to say they never came back to me.

As a society we have come a long way from the times when the differently abled were ostracized and hidden away in homes. I did not study in a school that had integrated learning facilities, my own children do and it makes me so proud to see them develop compassion for their friends. Human actions and consciousness both shape and are shaped by surrounding cultural and social structures. And empathy is the key to understanding, when we learn to walk in the shoes of others we will bring hope to the countless in need of it. Let us learn from our children.

2nd April, 2017. Are we really  that different?

I wrote this post a year back, today in honor of World Autism Awareness Day I am updating it with a few more thoughts that I have  understood with 365 days more added to my search for understanding.  Empathy is a feeling that can come naturally to many, but many a times empathy can also be developed.  Shakespeare’s Shylock in The Merchant of Venice puts it perfectly through his speech on Common Universal Humanity, fans of the Bard will remember the lines “If you cut us do we not bleed,” to understand where I am going with this. Without regurgitating the entire speech here I shall come to the point. People with Autism feel the same love, happiness, pain, sadness just like any of us. In fact sometimes they feel each of these emotions to a far larger extent than us. They just express it in a different way than us. But, feel they do.

How to find Empathy.

Who among us cannot recall situations in which we have felt left out, been the underdog or just a misfit. Do you remember those times? Do you remember the hurt that caused? Do you remember how it corroded your self-esteem? If you do, transfer that pain to the part of your psyche that does not understand the need for inclusion. Sit on the bench of hurt for a while. Reflect.  I am hoping now you will find that simple human quality that will set you apart. It is called Empathy.

How can we ensure that we are as inclusive as we can be?

Do not avoid. Do not look away. Speak to these beautiful people just as you would to any interesting stranger. But tread with caution, do not give them a verbal overload. Then give them time to respond they take time to organize their thoughts. Be patient. Be positive. Be supportive. Give them  Love and find it making its way back to you a thousand fold.

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Antonio Was Gay!!

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As I discussed Antonio’s letter to Bassanio, expressing his need to see the latter one last time before he succumbed to Shylock’s malice, with two of the tenth grade students I was tutoring.

One of my boys burst forth, “Antonio had to be gay and in love with Bassanio, Ma’am!”

I looked up from the text amused and true to habit I said, “Justify that.”

“Who in their right mind would write such soppy stuff to another guy,” continued the 16 year old.

“Why only Antonio? Why not Bassanio?” I asked.

“Obviously Bassanio can’t be. He’s in love with Portia and is at Belmont to marry her,” drawled the other genius.

The argument had its merit and even though I was a bit apprehensive about what my students’ parents would think of my openly discussing homosexuality with their wards (I live in India where the topic is still taboo in certain homes) I let them continue.

“What do you think, Ma’am?” asked the perpetrator of this deliberation.

My honest reply to this query that I do not agree he was, was as you can guess met with adolescent derision.

“That’s because you are a grown up and do not want to tell us,” pat came the response.

Who could blame them, they had probably been around too many adults skirting the topic. But, not this one, “I respect your opinion, my only trouble young man is that you need to convince me of your view point.”

Teachers in a class full of adolescents, hard pressed for teaching time, steer clear of throwing the gauntlet to this argument hungry lot. But, since I only deal with a handful at a time I love this aspect of teaching the most. How these hungry minds develop an argument full of merit that expands their thinking is one of the pleasures that fuels my creativity as well.

So we argued back and forth.

Their reasoning seasoned with the outlook of their times was persuasive. A man in today’s time does not use the words “sweet Bassanio” and “if your love do not persuade you” and ask “give me your hand” as he prepares to face death, to another man. Who lays down their lives to pay another’s debt, and then beseeches the other for the sake of “my love withal.”

And mine on Courtly and formal language in the times of Shakespeare. The gentlemanly code of conduct and many others. In the end I did manage to get them around to understanding my view point and I accepted theirs. And we read on while I mentally rubbed my hands in glee, waiting, for the next thought that would trigger another break in my lesson and take us on another quest of discovery.