Why should we rethink how we approach student involvement in our classrooms?
The role of students in learning often remains understated and suppressed in most Indian schools. As educators, we must understand that schooling is not only about students having takeaways from lessons, but they also have something unique to bring to the table and add to the learning process. In other words, the idea of reciprocity of learning remains unexplored in Indian schools.
Many of our schools may vociferously accentuate the value of active student involvement and claim to be encouraging student participation. However, on closer look, their attempts to ensure student involvement appear to be highly controlled, providing limiting opportunities for self-expression as teachers who call for student participation seek to steer student voices in predetermined directions and choose to contain them within lower levels of cognition. As a result, authentic and deeply-thought-through self-expression might be a hard find in our classrooms. Given this unacceptable scenario, it is crucial and urgent that we actively promote meaningful reciprocity of learning in our classrooms.
Why should we promote reciprocity of learning in our classrooms?
Regardless of what education policies state, our approach to schooling constantly and consistently focuses on uniformly distributing knowledge. As our schooling system frequently hounds its students with prepackaged modules of facts, they may not find sufficient opportunities to develop their cognitive processes, reflect on their perspectives and polish their vision in ways that nurture their humanity and ability to become lifelong learners. Sadly, most of our children look for ways to blend into the system than gain the confidence to stand out and think for themselves. We must protect our children from the intellectual slavery we knowingly or unknowingly subject them to in our classrooms. Making learning reciprocal, where teachers seek to learn from students as much as they teach, is one of the proven ways to develop cognitive clarity, emotional maturity, and social confidence in children. If we mean the schooling vision and learning goals stated in the National Education Policy 2020, we must not only allow free thinking and expression in our classroom, but our teachers must utilize the opportunities to learn from their students,
Many adults today struggle to find their voice, know themselves, express themselves freely, make sudden shifts in their careers, manage relationships, and navigate life. They are incapable of expressing their authentic selves because of our restrictive approach to teaching, where we limit the role of students in the classroom to that of parrots who respond as we would like them to. Reciprocity of learning can go a long way in helping children start their journey of mastering authentic self-expression at a very young age.
How do we cultivate student voice, encouraging reciprocity of learning in our classrooms?
In 2005, in Kappa Delta Pi Record, a peer-reviewed educational journal, Theoni Soublis Smyth listed respect for diversity, reciprocity of learning, and reflection on teaching as powerful instructional approaches. Smyth mentioned in the paper, "Though details and events will vary from classroom to classroom, I believe that respecting diversity and developing safe classroom environments, learning from our students, and reflecting on our teaching are effective practices for any teaching situation." Reciprocity of learning becomes meaningful and authentic in safe classrooms, where teachers are culturally responsive and reflective, and students do not pass disparaging judgments on each other.
How we provide outlets of expression is an essential factor to consider. While all students have a voice, how they express themselves may vary. Open-ended activities that allow space and freedom for personal interpretations can help. Once students gain the confidence to express themselves freely, we can build elements of self-reflection into the activities. It can include activities that require self-analysis and peer review. As we engage in these, we must clarify and communicate the purpose, processes, and benefits of shaping students' voices. As teachers, we must approach the expression of students' voices as an opportunity to learn, encouraging reciprocity of learning.
I once observed a lesson in our school. I noticed that only a few students actively participated. It had become a pattern that only a handful of students responded to the teacher every time. We began by encouraging teachers to direct questions to as many specific students as possible during a lesson. Even if the students were not giving the so-called 'right answers,' we would appreciate them for using the opportunity to speak. Though it was a struggle initially, we noticed that our students were opening up.
As the next step, we planned an event in the school, which was to be organised wholly by the students. We did this because we knew that opportunities outside of the classroom help students express themselves freely. We allowed the students to decide the roles they wanted to play while organising the event. We were amazed to see the children opening up, and our teachers seemed to learn a lot from our students about managing and organising events. We witnessed how the reciprocity of learning feels like in action, firsthand.
On the farewell day in our school this year, one of our boys teared up. He was a student who started showing up, speaking, and volunteering more in the past year as we were trying to redefine our approaches to student participation. He was much more visible in the school last year than in the previous years. Our attempts to encourage the reciprocity of learning in our school allowed us to see him in a new light and allowed him to see himself in a new light too. A boy who used to shy away once, held his head high while holding an attentive audience, was able to hug and cry and just be himself.
About the Author
Mannat is the Director of Anantam School in Haryana. She left a highly promising career in fashion technology to become a teacher and school leader. She is a passionate and promising young educator who is currently engaged in research on assessment in classrooms. You can reach out to Mannat here.