Monday, August 18, 2008

Meandering Thoughts on Classroom Strategy

I have taught this novel, Hard Times for a number of years. And we have it in the BA (Ist) year English major curriculum in our University. It has always been there in the curriculum. I can understand the exigencies and the problems of making a curriculum--I have been willy-nilly a part of it as well. Since 1995, when I began teaching, Hard Times has always been a part of the course.

I have taught it for such a long time that I have even forgotten the first time when I started teaching it in my career. But ever since I started teaching this text, no one in my department has ever opted to teach it, except perhaps once or twice, a couple of friends, who were junior to me. And we follow the *seniority principle* quite strictly--again, one can't simply fault it because these are administrative matters, which are best left outside the purview of this blog. We might discuss them in my other blog that focusses on academic matters, Issues in Academics at http://issuesinacademics.blogspot.com

Anyway, my students have always found it to be a pretty difficult novel. In India, I guess things are a bit different from the West. Here, the students start reading the text after they come to the first class. And right from school, the students have become so accustomed to being spoonfed by their teachers that they seem to have less initiative and confidence among themselves.

It would be wrong to state entirely that they do not possess confidence but they do have less confidence when it comes to reading or being inquisitive about knowledge.

This year, when I started teaching the novel, I asked my students to buy the book (that's what you do in the first lecture. So sad, isn't it? You just waste a 45 minute slot!) and we have had teaching for a week, which includes two lectures last week and actually, I had the third lecture today. Looking at it from a retrospective point of view, I think the response has been fine. I have the next lecture with them on Thursday, August 21st and I'm sure most of my students would have completed reading the novel.

I have also given assignments to two students. There's one girl, who clearly professes that she doesn't like reading. I like her honesty. I have rarely seen such young people who are so honest but she seems bright and she seems hardworking. She will write a plain vanilla summary for me on Thursday. Then there's this boy, who seems articulate and likes talking to both girls and boys among his peer group. He seems to be articulate and seems to command some attention amongst his peers. I have asked him to write a detailed character sketch of Thomas Gradgrind.

It would be nice to have these two kids working on the novel. I believe that this girl, who says she doesn't like reading has quite some promise. I am going to take it as my personal challenge as a teacher to make her like reading and make her love literature. After all, literature's a great subject to study.

The other boy would be good in the class too. People who can command the attention of their peers are nice people in the classroom.

I have already outlined the novel to them in the classroom. I have already told them about how tragic Stephen Blackppol is as a character. I have given them few pointers.

But the challenge actually starts the moment they come with the books well read to the classroom. But that's not just the challenge, its also the fun part as a teacher. It all depends a lot on the teacher and the teacher's teaching philosophy and strategies. If the teacher is able to motivate and inspire the students, they really work well and they become pretty malleable. If the teacher is too hard, then it really fails.

There is no communication when the teacher is too hard and unbending. I have seen so many teachers who are hard but we don't have a system of student feedback and they never get to know what's actually happening in the world around them. Many of them also live in ivory castles thinking that they are the best. But lack of two-way communication in a classroom situation can be fatal to the learning process. It becomes something quite similar to the chaos seen in Harold Pinter's famous and unsettling play, The Homecoming.

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