On 17th April 2014, David Merrill’s performance-content matrix acquired a new, enthusiastic and a rather unusual set of learners. They were the school teachers of villages Turia and Teliya in Pench, Madhya Pradesh, India. This workshop was organized by Conservation Wildlands Trust. In acknowledgement of the fact that teachers also need to receive periodic updates in their knowledge, the Conservation Wildlands Trust decided to extend their support to school teachers. They commissioned iDesign Skills to conduct a workshop for teachers to teach them about using interesting teaching methods, specifically the use of stories for teaching.
This workshop was conducted at the Interpretation Center at the Turia Gate of the Pench Tiger Reserve, Seoni, MP. The E-base serves as a space for classroom and training.
School teachers in Turia and Teliya villages operate in difficult conditions. Lack of basic infrastructure, shortage of funds for basic school operations, coping with absenteeism of children who either don’t attend school or are forced to drop out are some of the challenges teachers deal with on a daily basis. In their struggle to fulfill their basic teaching and administrative responsibilities, teachers barely have the inclination for any kind of lesson-planning. To think of spending time for using creative teaching methods to keep children engaged is almost a luxury. As a result, most of the teaching activities are lecture-based which most children, even those interested in learning, find ‘boring’.
The Conservation Wildlands Trust, in recognition of the challenges described above, sought inputs from iDesign Skills on how teachers could be taught and encouraged to use interesting activities like stories, games and experiments in class. We proposed a one-day workshop where teachers would learn a basic, simple, task or content analysis method followed with a session on how to craft simple stories and use them for teaching parts of the syllabus.
Design of the Workshop
In planning for this workshop, we chose to teach Merrill’s performance-content matrix.
We selected it because of its simplicity and intuitive application in school syllabi. A content analysis model was a must because it is an essential pre-requisite for selecting appropriate teaching methods.
During the design phase of this workshop, we were made aware of the attitudes of teachers toward external interventions like the ones we were about to conduct. Teachers, we were told, had this perception that those who came from the cities and economically forward regions did not quite understand the plight and realities of the rural schools. We had a sense that we might be met with disdain or passive resistance if not active opposition to whatever we were teaching. Not a good environment for learning, we concurred.
In light of the context, the selected content and the possibility of encountering aloofness from teachers, our core objective was then to convince teachers of the following:
- While their challenges were real and difficult to address, there was one thing within their control – quality of teaching. They could take charge if they wanted to.
- Simple lesson planning was not time consuming. Besides, it was a one-time incremental effort after which it would be reusable through forthcoming academic years.
- Stories were an accessible medium which would increase classroom engagement levels.
- And most of all, the teachers would be able to write their own stories with help of basic guidelines.
The session was planned and delivered in Hindi.
An Interesting Start to the Workshop
Except for one, most of the teachers attending the workshop had at least 10 years of experience. During the introductions, we found teachers to be curious and also participative, much to our relief. The disdain or aloofness we had feared was not visible. It gave us confidence to move ahead with the opening activity we had designed. We asked them a question “If you had a magic wand (jadoo ki chhadi) or a super power (divya shakti), name one thing you would change about the current situation in the school.” And we heard some amazing insightful answers!
“I would do something that would make content ‘fit’ in the children’s memories” said one of them.
“I would use the magic to instill instant discipline because lack of discipline is the root of all trouble” said the next teacher.
“I will use my magic to make sure all parents would cooperate with us and send their children to school daily” said one teacher who had served for 32 years.
What was interesting about the responses we received is that none of them ill-targeted or complained about children, parents or the system. Their “wishes” were obvious, valid even, given their current realities.
Addressing the Key Objectives
The workshop got even better from this point onward. Our biggest surprise however was how rapidly they understood and applied Merrill’s Content Classification model which translates in Hindi as ‘Vishay Vargikaran ka Dhancha’. After a quick explanation, followed by an exercise where they had to classify a given list of content points, we felt they were ready to apply the new learning on the textbooks. Using a simple table-template, each of them was able to identify Facts, Concepts, Procedures and Rules from a chapter in the Science and Social Science text books.
We urged them to think about the teaching method for each type of content. They had no trouble in coming up with basic teaching methods like ‘drill’ technique for Facts, examples for Concepts, and demonstrations for Procedures. We later supplied them with a list of more teaching methods they could use for each content type.
The Story-telling Part
The session after lunch was completely focused on how Concepts could be taught through stories. We started this session with a story from the Panchatantra called ‘The Weaver and the Princess’. A funny, witty, yet poignant story with interesting characters, multiple plots and multiple morals too. We de-constructed this story into elements:
- A time-line (takes place over a month)
- An outline of an event (a poor weaver falls in love with a Princess and ultimately marries her against all odds)
- Characters (primary and supporting)
- A plot and/or twists (the King agrees to the unusual match only because he thinks the weaver is actually an avatar of Vishnu, which the weaver was not)
- Morals or learning (one learning is “when you lie about something it can hurt not just you but also those who you love” or “when you make a brave effort even Gods will come to support you”)
After a brief discussion of each element and their examples, we had them think up a story of their own. And they did so, using their experiences. We urged them to think about how they could come up with stories around various syllabi related concepts. They did have great ideas but we were really out of time to have them implement these ideas in the class. The day was almost over.
Concluding the Workshop
We closed with an action plan – each of them would write a story based on a topic from the Science or Social Studies syllabus and share it with us at the beginning of the new academic year. Teachers were curious about other such tools and walked away inquiring about the next workshop.
We have conducted many workshops on Instructional Design and its tools for teachers in city or urban schools. Teachers usually enjoy the workshop and see the merit of the tool. They however also feel burdened at the idea that using these tools may increase their workload considerably. Based on this experience, we asked our Pench village teachers whether they would also find it cumbersome to use these methods in day-to-day life. Their response was quite unusual and heartening. They said:
“We are happy that we are also considered for such inputs”
“We spend our evenings and holidays canvassing around the village to ensure parents send their children to school. Compared to that effort doing a bit of extra work on lesson planning is a small thing for us if it gets the child to school”
We thought that was quite a sense of commitment coming from them all unanimously. Whether and how the learnings will actually be implemented in the next year is a post for another day. But on that day it felt wonderful to conclude the workshop on hope and a good feeling in the heart.