Each summer, my colleagues and I set out on a Yatra to see what is happening - actually happening - inside the schools we work with. This one was ten days long journey that took us to six cities and almost thirty schools. We had a fine selection; we went to all kinds of schools big/small, rich/poor, metro/non-metro, new/old, famous/unknown. All these schools had introduced XSEED - a scientific teaching method that emphasizes learning outcomes, hands-on experience for children, questioning and reflection, and regular assessment of student progress. Since this method requires teachers to acquire and practice completely new skills, which go beyond the traditional "40 minutes of telling", the first 6-8 weeks of implementation are critical. There is some struggle, support is needed, and the leadership's belief in change is tested. We travel to witness all this in action. One would think there is only so much you could get out of visiting schools year after year. But each time it's such an eye opener that I shudder to think that we might not have done it.
We moved on to "Y", our next school. Even the smiling principal, and the enthusiastic stride of the coordinators had not prepared us for what was to come. We went up to the classrooms in pairs, as we usually do when we visit a school, and slinked to the very last bench of the Grade IV math class, where children were learning about how to discriminate (greater than/lesser than) very large numbers. An activity in which children were given colored strips of paper with large numbers written on them and others with ">/<" signs was to be conducted. Groups of 4-6 to be made, children be allowed to play the game and compare their respective numbers, discuss, acknowledge errors, and then note responses in their workbooks. Madness was supposed to follow, and all hell was supposed to break loose. Right? Wrong. Instructions were given simply and firmly, twice. In 90 seconds children were organized into their groups. There was talk, but only meaningful talk of numbers/comparisons/signs. They smiled, participated, ocassionally argued, but were always engaged. She gracefully wafted up and down the aisles to check if all was going to plan, frequently stopping to observe, help, bring order - whatever was needed. The tone (oh! thats so important) was always kind but firm. Those twenty minutes we were in there we witnessed a performance no less magical than the Swan Lake. We stepped out to see the smiling faces of our colleagues - three other classrooms had witnessed similar stuff. It was possible.
There were 60 children in each classroom.
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