Sunday, March 08, 2015

Less is More

For the first time, I took students out on a field trip, not on the basis of merit but based on them being members of the different groups of my class. I thought may be this is what these students need to understand how what they learn is directly connected to the larger world around them. It could help invest them more deeply in their studies.

Seeing the aquarium, they would be able to connect with the levels of organization of living things they learnt about in Science. They would understand how the garbage they throw in the sewage drains directly impacts the lives of some of the creatures they see in the aquarium. Seeing the natural history section of the museum, they would be able to watch life sized models of different types of animals, that they learnt to classify in grade 6. Seeing the sculpture section, they will identify the relevance of the timeline in the context of our long history that runs into hundreds of centuries. See the artifacts from pre- and proto-history, they will be able to identify with some of the sources of history they read about in their chapter on the Harappan Civilization.  My messaging to them about the trip was clear "It is not a picnic, but a learning exercise outside the classroom." I had even planned out a sheet that will help them organize their thoughts in the different places we visit. 

To my utter disappointment, the students who were given a chance to go on the field trip because of my magnanimity ended up taking up all the teachers' attention, so much so that they ruined the learning opportunity for the other students who came with a sense of curiousity. They repeatedly embarrassed their whole school shouting out names from the bus on bystanders on the road. They defied and insulted the volunteers who took out their precious time to help us.They touched the various exhibits in the museum that could have led to damage of some valuable pieces of history. They spat and threw garbage into the sea. 

While these students formed a small minority, I kept wondering if we had influenced them at all. Did the really understand the 'why' of everything we teach? Did they ever meaningfully reflect on the choices of their action? Did they deserve all my attention in the last 30 days that we have remaining together as students and teacher?

Alternately, I felt extremely sorry for the ones who had come to learn because all the effort, time and money spent in the sweltering heat for the sake of their learning did not produce the experience that I had planned for them. Had I only taken these students, they would have absorbed everything that the surroundings had to offer. They would have synthesized their experience and been able to connect it classroom. They would have met strangers with respect and done an act of love or kindness to make them smile.

Waking up today morning, the answer was clear. In the time I have remaining, I am going to remain a subject and class teacher to all the students I teach. However, I will only go the extra mile for those students who show gratitude and respect for the learning opportunities that I create for them. I will make this choice, not because I don't believe in ALL children's potential, but because the remaining 20% of students who don't care will take up 80% of my remaining energy and time. Whatever effort I put in the one month I have remaining, will have marginal outcomes on their life. Alternately, if I do focus on 80% of my students who wish to maximize their learning, they may attain that escape velocity where they can significantly help the next fellow to support those 20% of students better. Notwithstanding my decision, I also understand what these remaining 20% of students need to be able to fly and I will help the incoming fellows create a strategy to meaningfully work with them.

Hence, from now on, my students will have a choice to opt out of the wider gamete of extra-curricular activities planned for them, while the classroom expectations will remain unchanged for all students. If someone opts in, they will have to do whatever takes to help the group learn. If someone opts out, either because they want to or because they can't meet the basic expectations of the group, I will ensure they spend their time meaningfully at home preparing for their upcoming exams. It is unfair to differentiate but considering my own situation, this is the only choice my students leave me with.

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