Archive for the ‘Innovations in the classroom’ Category

As I am writing this note I would just hope that I don’t read about one more scandal in our country tomorrow morning. Inefficient government, corrupt politician and bureaucrats, selfish business houses, inflation at its peak and dying common man. This is the situation of our country.

Things need to be changed but how, who will do it? The onus is on us but it is very hard for a young passionate Indian to think of a change and get started with it. I was lucky enough to get this opportunity. Teach For India gave me a platform where I can work at the bottom of pyramid, work with hundreds of other passionate, committed youth.

Not only I, my close ones also feel tremendous personal transformation in me over this period of fellowship. Today rather than just debating over a problem, I feel like providing or finding a solution to it, I feel myself to be more a responsible and proactive citizen. The classroom and the community has been a testing laboratory for me, there is a great deal of learning here. A simple thing is that if I need to find a solution to the problems of the half a billion Indians, I need to have spent time with them, seen them closely and should have the ability to connect to them. An elite who has been to such places only after a disaster or any natural calamity can’t give solution to their problems because he can’t connect to them. My classroom and community gave me the opportunity to learn more about them and strengthened my personal belief towards being a part of the political system.

Working in a government school for two years has helped me a lot to understand how the government system is made dysfunctional. Education which is one of the root causes of our nation’s problem is given least importance in a school. Today I can say that in most of the government school where the focus should be its student, the focus is on completing attendance register and the students are the last item in their priority list. Here I would like to share an incident from my class. One of my “Superstar” Shahid was categorised as mentally challenged by the school authorities and I was told about it during the beginning of the academic year. I tried to notice him and yes he behaved in some unusual manner, he was a very quite child but always had a big cheeky smile on his face. What I found over a couple of months was that he lacked in self confidence and was afraid of people around him. I had many one to one conversations with him, met his family and went out for partying with him. The change was evident, I used to praise him for his smallest accomplishment in classroom, he started gaining confidence and one day I told the longest word in English language in class and Shahid was the first one to spell it correctly. This was the day when he really gained his confidence and I was the happiest teacher on planet. In the next term examination he secured 13th rank in class and I believe that in future he would be a different person due to this gain in confidence. This is the story of one such Shahid and there are many more such Shahids in Indian classrooms who need the right direction and some love. There are many such stories of transformation which I have witnessed in my classroom and I feel blessed to be a teacher because these small smiles give me the confidence to move ahead and take the bigger challenge.

The level of confidence that I have in me is immense, now I believe that yes “I Can” be the difference because I have seen things changing. Personal transformation is not a small thing, it happens only when something challenges your belief every day, breaks you down and that happens in a classroom ever day. I love being in my classroom, my real life experimental lab where my kids are my teacher, teaching me the important lessons of life before I take the bigger challenge.

Thanks “Superstars: The Leaders of Tomorrow” and thanks “TFI Family”….!!!

“Service before Self”

– Love Prakhar Bhartiya

Writer is a pioneer batch(2009) fellow in TFI. He is a Gandhian, budding politician, a social entrepreneur and an agent of change. Follow him on:  http://www.prakharbhartiya.blogspot.com/


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This is another game that has been working well in class. While thinking of ways to make learning sight words more fun, I remembered an idea I had read somewhere – you could paste important words on the floor, walls of the school so that the kids read it every day and retain. Since our floor is muddy, there is no easy way to paste words. The next best thing is to write with a chalk that has been dipped in water.

So, rather than just writing the words on the floor, I make it into a game. Here is how it goes:

1. Write some 20 sight words on the floor before the kids come into classroom with chalk dipped in water (better visibility + lasts longer)

2. Pick a random name using ice cream sticks (names of kids written on them) / chits of paper with kids names

3. Give a word to the kid and he/she has to go find that word WITHIN a minute. If so, his team gets a point. If he can’t find that word, you can give a homework based on that word.

4. While one kid is finding the word, other kids can be engaged in reading the word list or just cheering the kid who is trying to find the word.

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In the few hours that my children and I get within the classroom, I am striving to make it a learning environment that speaks of excellence.Excellence in every inch inside the classroom. While planning for one of the lessons, whose objective was to make kids learn signs and labels from their environment, I had used wrappers, biscuit covers and everyday things to show the children that they can pick up English words from these things. They loved it ! And I was a happy teacher that day because I got to do something creative without spending much money :)

The other day, I was thinking of a way to make use of this corner space in the classroom, when this idea was born – why not convert it into a display of sorts where we could permanently (ok..not so much permanence here !) stick these things and keep telling the children everyday that they can learn English all around and not just in the classroom.

Btw, the Minute Maid Orange juice bottle is empty :) It looks full of juice because of the orange color paper in the background !

I ll write about this idea in a few weeks from now to tell you whether it’s been working or not.


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Here are a few links to some blogs by TFI fellows from the 2009 and 2010 cohort and TFI staff members.

  • TFI Journey: Srini, a 2010 Teach For India Fellow, writes about his journey with Teach for India and  his stories of change both inside and outside his classroom in Dharavi, Mumbai.
  • It’s Political Motivational and…: Prakhar is a 2009 Teach for India Fellow. He has been teaching for a year now and his blog is an amazing repository of stories about his time as a teacher in a school called Sant Gadge Maharaj in Kondhwa, Pune. Do check out the “Letters to my friends” section on his blog for some great snippets of his life as a TFI fellow.
  • Teaching as Leadership (Astitva): Another 2009 Teach for India Fellow, Dhiren teaches in K.C. Thackrey Vidya Niketan school in Pune. Besides his refelctions on his two year stint with Teach For India, a strongly recommended section on his blog would be his strategies to teach mathematics to children.
  • Belief: Ritika is a Teach for India fellow from the 2010 cohort. She teaches in a school in Mumbai and the blog is her diary about the TFI experience. Keep an eye out for some great pictures.
  • Mahesh Prajapati: Mahesh is also a 2010 Teach for India fellow. He teaches in Mumbai and writes about his experiences on the blog. He also writes lovely poetry in Hindi!
  • My White Lotus: My White Lotus is Tarun’s exhaustive and wonderfully written description of his journey as a Teach for India fellow since the past year and a half in Pune. Do read his recollections from his recent trip to visit charter schools in NY as a Teach for India fellow.
  • One in billion: Taylor is a staff member at Teach for India and has helped launch the Teach for India movement. His blog, as the introduction says, is about five things “- experiences related to living and working in India, happenings at Teach For India (my employer), development and fundraising-related, career-building, and entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship, smart business ideas. “
  • I Teach for India: With a very appropriately named blog, Divesh is a 201o Teach for India fellow. Read about his journey and “Why” he chooses to Teach for India.
  • Reflections of my mind: Aritra is a part of the 2010 batch Teach for India fellows and the blog is his reflection as a Teach for India fellow in a school in Pune.
  • Walking in their shoes: Raisa is also a 2010 batch Teach for India fellow or a “tenner” as they are called. She teaches in Mumbai and her blog is peppered with some great pics displaying her immense creativity.
  • Insane Inanities: A 2010 Teach for India fellow, Anurag seeks to write about his journey to Teach from India from his college. He teaches in Mumbai.
  • Frogs in my class: Meera is a 2010 Teach for India fellow. The curious title of the blog alludes to some real frogs who share Meera and her students’ class with them. Her blog is filled with her experiences as a teacher in a school in Pune and sometimes even a humourous take on them as the title of the blog suggests.
  • With the Left and the Right: Srikanth, also a tenner, teaches in Pune and the blog is a mix of his experiences in the classroom as a Teach for India fellow and all that he gets to do in his spare time (whenever he might find it).
  • Edoocation: Milind is a 2009 fellow and has been teaching in Mumbai since the past year and a half. On his blog, he speaks about his views on Education policy and issues as seen through his experience as a Teach for India fellow. He also came up with the wonderful idea of listing down the dreams/aspirations/ideas of all the 2009 fellows post their two year fellowship. Read about them on his blog.
  • Words Raining: Dhanya is a 2010 Teach for India fellow teaching in Mumbai. On her blog, she writes about her experiences as class teacher in a school in Mumbai as a tenner.
  • They Teach; I Learn: Subhadra is from the 2009 cohort of Teach for India fellows. She teaches the 5th standard in Mumbai. They Teach; I Learn, a blog title which speaks volumes, is a rich and often moving record of her experience as a teacher in Mumbai.
  • Be the Change: Be the Change, which is also the Teach for India motto, is Rahul’s blog. He is a 2009 Teach for India fellow and teaches in Mumbai. His blog not only contains his experiences as a TFI fellow since the past one and a half year but also his opinions and ideas drawn from his work as a Teach for India fellow, on how to improve the state of education in India.
  • Delusions, allusions, illusions, visions: Meenakshi is a 2010 Teach for India fellow teaching in a school in Pune. She muses, alludes, talks about her life as a teacher in Pune and the delusions, illusions and visions therein.
  • The classroom for learning: Manu is a 2009 Teach for India fellow and has been teaching in a chool in Pune since the past year and a half. As a part of his summer internship, which he did as a part of his Teach for India fellowship, he interned at the Druk White Lotus Shey in Ladakh. He has posted a video of his experiences there. Also read about his experiences as a TFI fellow accompanied with some great videos and pictures.
  • Conviction in Your Thoughts: “Conviction in Your Thoughts” is the title of Ritesh’s accounts of his two year stint with Teach for India. He is a fellow from the 2009 Teach for India cohort and teaches in Pune. On his blog, he reflects as an individual and as a teacher about his experiences during this fellowship. Read his post on “The challenges of being Abu“, which is his chronicle of his student, Abu’s, life with him.
  • in on under above : Neha is a 2010 batch fellow. She writes about funny incidents and sometimes revelations in her classroom. Currently she is a grade 2 teacher in Worli Seaface BMC School in Mumbai.
  • Gunvant Jain : Blog by 2010 Fellow and IIT-Madras graduate Gunvant. Some excellent articles on skill-based learning.

The opinions or column written by these fellows or staff are their  own personal experiences.

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[Sachin Jain is an engineer and a class teacher at grade 4, Supari Tank Municipal School, Mumbai. He is a Fellow of Teach for India: a private national initiative to attain educational equity, where outstanding young professionals commit to teaching full-time for two years in under-resourced local schools in India.]

“Aandhi ki tarah aao,

Toofan ki tarah jaao,

Chhaap chhod jaao!!”

(“Come like a storm, go like a tornado, leave your mark!”)

These words by superintendent Craig Johnson rung across the main hall of the American School of Bombay and electrified the 300 delegates as he opened the 1st day of the InspirEd conference on August 28, 2010. This conference brought together educators and those working closely with the cause of education, from various parts of India and abroad.

The two theme over two days – teaching as leadership and innovation in action were designed to equip the participants with inspiration and empowerment. The idea of the conference was to have a space where minds of Indian educators from disparate contexts, regions and cultures who each deal with a unique piece of the jigsaw puzzle of education in India could have a chance to see the whole picture. We can thus align ourselves with where we are, and where we are headed, and apply our minds in unison to getting there.

The opening night at St Xavier’s college on August 27 had a magical illuminated imagination tree, leading luminaries of Mumbai sitting in a classroom and being quizzed by students and some cute performances by students. The mascot of the conference is a pencil, this seemingly ubiquitous object that can magically transform into so much more with some imagination – just like the dreams of students.

I went into the conference as a participant the next morning excited to meet educators who were passionate and committed to being the chance in their classrooms, but who followed theories of change different from ours. I was not disappointed. Key trends in the Indian education landscape in recent times are focus on learning and outcomes, scaling up of efforts, ultra low-cost models, for-profit schools, new careers in education and public-private partnerships. In the area of primary education which is of crucial concern to me, we have fared relatively well in providing access to primary schools and achieving enrollment, but we have miles to go yet with respect to quality, retention (preventing drop-outs) and equity.

Craig Johson of American School on Bombay did a brilliant deconstruction of culture and myth in India, of how teachers can become creators of “Outliers” that achieve exceptional things. He borrowed from the work of eminent Indian mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik to establish how the pupil thinks of “My world”, how the rules and procedures of the school impose “The World”, and how problems arise for the student from the conflict.

Another inspiring session on the 1st day for me was by Dr. Mahmood and Shamsi Hasan of GSS, Bangladesh. It was inspiring to see how they were able to provide quality primary education to so many pupils at such a low cost. We could identify their struggles, in the context of the South Asian subcontinent, and we were really touched by their commitment to provide an excellent education to all children in their country.

Then was an informative panel discussion on Right To Education, providing teachers insights on how to bring it into practice. The day ended with a reflection session in different groups, one of which I facilitated. The teachers and principals at the session shared insights on  the importance of self-evaluation, understanding student feelings and not imposing a bias. They were able to establish a connection between teaching and leadership – have faith, inspiring, motivating, setting good examples, firing imagination and curiosity. They wanted to create a fun environment in class and integrate students who came from diverse backgrounds. Overall we were left with a feeling of self-confidence and positive thinking.

On the second day, the theme was innovation in action. The day began with a spotlight on innovative schools like Riverside, Akanksha, KIPP and Shishuvan. Then the workshops I attended included phonics by Mary Kayt Norris and information literacy with library specialist Heeru Bhojwani. Heeru showed us what amazing things could be done by students in projects using free softwares from the internet, and how as teachers we could encourage higher-order skills of analysis, evaluation and synthesis among our pupils. Then Galli Galli Sim Sim did a presentation on using TV as a teaching tool. Finally, there was a panel discussion among youth who are at the forefront of pioneering movements in India in environment, youth ventures, government and education.The reflection session produced insights like storyboarding, teaching through art, fun way to impart character eduction, enacting a skit to dissuade the use of foul language, using rubrics for evaluation and giving students advance intimation of what they entailed.

The closing session featured a moving testimony by one Akanksha student about how her life had been transformed by the power of one great teacher. The conference ended on a high note, with all participants continuing to share their learnings over email groups and the organizers promising a bigger and better InspirEd conference in 2011!


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When was the last time you were really inspired in a classroom? On Friday, August 27, Teach for India, The American School of Bombay, The Asia Society and Akanksha invite you to attend “Back to School”, an evening in India’s most innovative classroom. We hope you can join us as we re-imagine the future of education in India with some of the brightest minds from every sector.

Joining you at the event will be 200 innovative teachers from around India, Chief Guest Indu Shahani, Sherrif of Mumbai, and Keynote Speaker Ashish Kumar Singh, Additional Municipal Commissioner, MCGM, and other prominent stakeholders in education.

Event will be from 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM at Xavier’s College.
Refreshments will be served directly following the event. Please RSVP by August 20, using the form below, or by emailing asiasociety@asiasociety.org.in.

“Back to School” kicks off the two-day InspirED Conference (www.inspiredindia.in) which will take place August 28-29 at the American School of Bombay.
If you have trouble viewing or submitting this form, you can fill it out online:
www.inspiredindia.in/rsvp.php or email asiasociety@asiasociety.in

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If you have read Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography, you would know that he chose 13 virtues that he wanted to perfect and kept a little black book with columns for each day of the week, in which he marked with black spots his offenses against each virtue. Quick analysis of this data revealed interesting patterns. For example, he noticed that  Order was the hardest for him to keep. He took necessary steps towards perfecting that virtue.

I love the fact that objective data tracking can help even in the most abstract of pursuits. I can’t help it – I love love data and what it can reveal.

And btw, if you have not read Franklin’s autobiography I strongly recommend it. You will seriously be astounded by what one man can accomplish given discipline and perseverance.

But, I digress.

I thought to myself, why not a similar framework in the classroom, too? Will it work? Well, there was only way to find out.

The Bodhi Tree

The Bodhi Tree was thus born, to teach the class how to be good. It sits serenely in one corner of the classroom. It has one “Value” to-do per week for the class. The children need to be mindful of that one thing the whole week. For example, it could be “Say Thank You.” Another could be “Hands are for helping, not for hitting.”

Monday morning, first thing, we discuss the Value To-do of the week and why we need to follow it. When the children enter the classroom every morning after assembly, they make a 10 second stop near the tree to remind themselves of the week’s value to-do. At the end of each day, we discuss our success and failure in practising the Bodhi Tree’s Value To-do – sort of a 5 minute end-of-day meeting. There are also home work assignments like “Say thank you to your mother after dinner today.”

Total time allocated everyday to Value reinforcement: 7-10 minutes, sometimes lesser.

Another reason to love the Bodhi Tree: It also introduces the class to BIG words of the week, related to the request. Example: Gratitude, grateful, thankful etc.

I don’t know if this is the best way to teach values to 7 year olds. At least it gives me a framework to introduce and discuss values and also gives them time to practise the same. It is my hope that over time, they would imbibe these values and the Bodhi tree would become redundant.

Another plan is to actively involve the Bodhi Tree in teaching english (through speaking & listening, writing projects and vocabulary related to Value theme of the week). Lets see how it goes.

But, here is an example of why I truly love the five hours I spend in the classroom everyday:

While narrating the story of the Bodhi Tree & Prince Siddartha who after sitting under the Bodhi tree and “listening” to it, became Buddha or a great man, I tell them that Prince Siddartha saw  an old man and asked to himself “Why do people grow old?”

Shaizan raises his hand and answers (in a curious mixture of hindi and english that I just cannot reproduce here), “Miss, people grow tall, get married, become old, then they go to the sky.”

And to the next question of Siddartha, “Why do people fall sick?”

Sanjana says (in hindi, this time), “People don’t wash their hands before eating. They don’t wear masks. So they get swine flu and fall sick.”

At the end of the story, Pushkar declares (after raising his hand!), “I am going to become Buddha by listening to the Bodhi Tree everyday.”

Lao Tze (& Buddha!) would have loved my class, I tell you. They seem to instinctively know the secret to happiness. Eat when you are hungry, sleep when you are tired, that sort of thing.

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