What good schools do to improve classroom learning

I have just about started learning French. I was most excited in class though when we learnt a  French song by ‘Kids United’, said Anu, a sixth grader.

Apart from the fact that curriculums are taught to reach particular outcomes, the manner in which they are taught has become a topic of discussion every time parents get an opportunity to gather.

In recent times good schools recognise the need to align entire curricula to four learning styles. They are usually referred to as the VARK model ( Visual, auditory, Reading/writing preference and Kinesthetic.)  It greatly benefits a classroom full of learners who need different stimuli at any given time but nonetheless need to be treated equally.

close up of woman working
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This does not mean that the learners need to be strictly categorised into one or two of these groups. The fact is that all students need all of these learning styles except that they receive it differently based on physical abilities, environmental and psychological factors. To be bereft of any of these teaching styles in the classroom would not be advantageous for any student, even if one way is more suited at a given time than the others.

The idea of ‘testing’ is often debated upon, where even intent to merely diagnose becomes a rabid race towards top grades. The fact is that although it cannot be ruled out completely being the only tool to compare the abilities of students, an important addition to this at some schools has been to teach children how to self assess their knowledge. Based on example questions for detailed answers, questions where knowledge needs to be applied, and problem-solving questions, children must learn to form their own questions. As Kathleen Listman, suggests educators could then motivate children by picking from among their questions to set final exam question papers.

Coming back to understanding how different and unique learners, can be helped, one of the outstanding ideas practised at modern schools is to encourage children to create a portfolio of their best works. Children can reflect upon and choose both practical records and coursework that they are most proud of in all subjects, to be compiled into their portfolio. Surely it would make sense to them to be judged on their strengths rather than on their weaknesses.

Schools that organise student-led conferences, once again help students take ownership of their learning. It helps them relate the ideas in the classroom and those that they learn from the teacher to the objectives of the outside world. It gives them an opportunity to be articulate and expressive of where they are in their learning and where they would like to be.

All of this means that schools need to bring the size of the class to a number that can be effectively managed by a teacher. There is ample research done on the benefits of small class size. Many of the elitist schools in India that demand three to four times the fees than the regular private and state schools, try to achieve on an average, a 1: 8 teacher to student ratio. Depending on the school’s finances, the productivity of such a measure is weighed against the remaining factors concerning the overall increase in student-learning-experience.

Access to digital education has, therefore, become one of the primary requirements of a good school. Many schools today have facilities to cater to teacher training, keeping them on the front foot, ready to adapt to the quick changes, and making full use of technological potential.

In the end, though, the kind of classroom environment in a good school is reflected in the students and their teachers themselves. The best quality of a school is when it has teachers who know the hopes and strengths of all their students; who facilitate the right environment needed to let children find their voice. They have students who, in turn, are not afraid to reach out to their teachers, and formality is reserved only for special occasions.

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