When Pradeep looks at an essay that has been written by a student, he does not look at the content. Instead he looks at what all got used by the student.
- Did the student use his head? Which means, are the ideas thought through; has there been thinking involved?
- Did the student use his hands? Which means, was the essay a mess, were margins present, was it done in a manner which shows neatness?
- Did the student use her heart? Was she convinced about what she was writing or was it only for academic purposes?
He calls it the 3H model. The Head, the Hand and the Heart. He feels that 3H focuses on how to learn. Part of the 3H model is also the teachers heart. She should ensure that the kids are appreciated. Applaud their solutions. Display their work in the class, and outside it. Most parents come to PTA meets with complaints about their children. Why is it that they don’t talk about the good work the kids are doing at home?
The parent should concentrate on her area of influence: make your child sit at one place and do something, without being distracted by TV and mobile. You can start with 10 minutes for this exercise and later on stretch this time. Another anti-distraction measure: When the teacher talks, students don’t do anything, but listen. When students are doing something, teachers don’t talk!
Today’s teachers are overstressed. It is because of their focus on teaching. Instead they should concentrate on peer learning. If a student can’t explain something to her friend, she has not understood it. Btw, this applies for teachers as well. Teachers, no matter what their experience, need to think before they teach. Have you ever asked a student to explain why 2 + 2 = 4? Teachers should focus on the things that kids should be knowing, if they have to understand the idea in a chapter. Not the chapter itself, but the prerequisite skills for understanding the chapter.
Pradeep is a big fan of activity based learning. Only teach those things that you can teach through activities. His approach to English teaching is simple. He wants students to speak new words. Start talking about seasons: rainy, winter, spring, summer. He asked students what their favourite season was. More students thought it was summer. Then he asked them to come up with as many words as possible that one associates with summer. And then we used these words to create poetry. A lovely activity, with an interesting side effect of students picking up the concept of rhyming words.
Inside of activities, his focus is more on aesthetics, which he believes is neglected in our education. During his first visit to Peepal Tree, he got kids to trace outlines of their hands on newspapers. After that, crayons were given, and they were asked to colour these outlines. They were asked, what did these outlines resemble. The answers ranged from trees and fishes to birds. Do small things, but do them well – the Do Little philosophy. He gave an example of origami. The first step in origami is making a square. He spends hours making students practice this. When he comes to Peepal Tree, Pradeep’s the expectation from our students is simple: perfection in writing. All writing has to exactly touch the line. In his class, erasers are not allowed. All the erasers are kept on the teacher’s table. If a student makes a mistake, she should cancel it with a straight line. Make beautiful mistakes!
One concern area that we have at Peepal Tree is that most parents have not studied English themselves. Pradeep has himself studied in Marathi medium till 10. He believes the only way of learning a language is using it. Another piece of advice he gives related to parent interaction. Talk to parents in a cultural language that they understood. ‘You are an electrician, why do people come to you? It’s only because they know you as one who does good work. This is a philosophy that has to be ingrained into your child’s mind. That the only demand is for good work.’
We discussed Pradeep’s observations about Nagesh Mone, the principal of New English School. Nagesh is a good friend of the Pradeep, who thinks that Nagesh is one in a million teachers. We asked him what is special about Nagesh’s teaching? Pradeep mentioned that it is mostly the small things, the details, which make a difference. He recollected a class of Nagesh in Sangli. What Nagesh usually does is, if any student has got a math problem right, he puts his name on the board. Even if he knows the name of this student, he makes a habit of asking the student’s name. The names are not wiped out from the board, even after the teacher leaves the class. One day, Nagesh wrote on the board, the name of a girl, whose answer was obviously wrong. Students observed this and questioned him about why her name was written. He replied, because her thinking was right. In Nagesh’s class, students don’t shout answers, they raise their hands. If someone has finished, ask them to do a Thumbs Up. Then count the number of Thumbs up. Some natakbaji is required by the teacher for class control. There is a big difference in morale because of this.
One of the kaizens that we see from Pradeep’s practice is worksheets. Whenever a teacher takes something into class for distribution to students, the enthusiasm and energy levels of the class increase. In fact, in our community, even a single piece of paper is treated with a lot of admiration. The other day, he asked students to write about their favourite animal, in the first person. He told students that you have papers at home so write up that essay and get it next time. Most students objected, saying that they don’t have any paper at home. In his magnanimity, Pradeep took out blank A4 papers and distributed them to students. Plain sheets can also become worksheets!
Another Pradeep kaizen is in HW. After his lesson gets over, he tells students, ‘I have two words in mind. Your task is to guess them.’ This discussion helps reinforce the learning. So, the teacher works less and students more. When it comes to choosing subjects, choose easy ones, so that all can do it. 60% of our students have started doing Pradeep’s homework! Homework should always be pitched to students as something which is very easy. Most creative home works are seen to be easy. One more thing, which I liked about his homework strategy is that he assigns himself homework. And he will get it to the next class, to prove to the students that he is as much a part of the team as they are.
Yet another kaizen is in classroom management. He always closes the door, seeing that it reduces the distractions for students. I had a contrary view keeping ventilation in mind. One of his observations was about our circular seating. Posture is very important in handwriting. He believes that desks with their gentle slopes are important to build a good writing posture. The hand has to rest entirely on the table. This is not happening in our classrooms because of the height of our tables. I asked him if we can then shift to the floor. He thinks that floors are not good for writing activities.
When Pradeep had just started teaching a fifth standard class in Aksharnandan, a girl sitting on the first bench, throughout his class of math, just did colouring. He didn’t know how to react. When he was walking out of the class, she ran after him. She showed him her drawing and asked for his reaction. He didn’t have any option, but to praise. Moral of the story: don’t worry too much about such students. They will understand with time. Also, teachers need to teach, leveraging a student’s interest. It’s wise to rebuke publicly, but without pointing fingers. This leads to an indirect education, because of peer pressure. One technique that he uses for class control is, discuss how many kids have you observed in the class who are talking. This observation is repeated at different intervals. No fingers are pointed at students. But they realise, who are being talked about.
According to Pradeep, India’s priority should be primary education. Learning is best till 5th standard. These are the years in which we build a strong foundation. He thinks that for our school the role model is the Kolhapur based Shrujan Anand School. Must visit some time. What happens in this school is that the boundary between subjects is erased. When you teach a paragraph in English, make students write its summary. Then a poem, based on the ideas they have seen in the paragraph. Then make them draw a picture based on the same idea. Then have a discussion of this idea. This is holistic learning!