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How Do We Start Writing?

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Many of us, who have just begun their writing journeys, are struggling with this question. Invariably, most of us delay our writing assuming that what we want to say would develop in our mind first and then, we would put it on paper. This is also an excuse for postponing our writing. We keep trying to think of something substantial before putting our thoughts down on paper. We fear that without any thoughts we would be staring at the blank paper.
Some other times, we think that we know exactly what we want to write. It is all in our mind, we just need to put it down on paper. However, when we start putting it down, the entire structure begins falling apart. We realize that the structure we thought was reasonable cannot be supported through any evidence or theory. We feel that we have to start again.
In both aforementioned scenarios, we are making the mistake of assuming writing as a mechanical process. We think that it is just about jotting down on pen and paper or on our laptop. We think that we think through our minds and our hands just mechanically process it. This is one of the biggest problems of modern society, which has undue importance to the mind at the cost of the hand. The movement of our hands facilitates the flow of our thoughts. It is our hand that has the capacity to engage our mind in an extensive manner. Maria Montessori (1949), in The Absorbent Mind, has argued that the development of our mind remains stunted if we do not pay attention to the development of our hands.
We can start writing with a blank mind. We might sit on our desk with nothing to write but this act would help us to focus our mind on the task at hand. It would encourage us to pick our pen to write something. This would get the ball rolling and we would get into the writing mode. Once we force ourselves to write consistently for a few months, we realize that the more we write the more organize our thoughts become. Our thoughts develop and shape through writing. We may start with a brief outline or an overview but while writing our thoughts gradually pick up a logical sequence.
Writing everyday is the most important activity for a writer. Every time you think of postponing writing, you must remind yourself that it is you fear of writing and not the lack of ideas and thoughts.

From Writing First Draft to Re-writing: Note to Self

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I began my writing journey with the fear of writing. I would do most mundane tasks to put off writing. Gradually, I overcame this fear by forming a habit of writing everyday. It was an uphill task and it took me more than a year to start writing everyday. This exercise made me comfortable with writing. I am not saying that I write everyday now but I find it comparatively less difficult and I write quite regularly. This was the first milestone in my writing journey.

I reached my second milestone when I began reading Paris Review Interviews. These interviews taught me to perceive writing as essentially re-writing. It is in the process of re-writing that we gain control over our writing. This idea inspired me to begin my first big writing project. My research for this project was complete and I had ideas I just needed to sit down and write. My first draft was prepared with a lot of anxiety, agony and physical labour in two months. I have written about this experience in my previous posts. The joy of being able to put your thoughts in words in the way I wanted inspired me further and kept me going.

By the time I finished, I was drained physically, emotionally and mentally. I could not sit to read and write further. Then I decided to take some rest. During this time, I read Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. I also looked through some other texts but I did not engage with anything. In retrospect, maybe I should have. It would have kept me going. I was still writing everyday, mostly writing my journal. However, as time went by, I became more and more relaxed in my reading writing routine.

Now it is time for the third milestone and I find myself procrastinating. Like the first one, I have been delaying it for two months now. This time I fear it because it is a humongous task. However, it is most essential. It is the task Paris Review Interviews taught me, that is, re-writing. I have to read my work sentence by sentence and edit or rewrite it. I think I am facing two roadblocks. Firstly, reading triggers writing and I am not spending enough time in reading. Secondly, I realized re-writing like writing requires practice. Cultivating a habit of re-writing everyday along with reading and writing will gradually improve my editing skills.

At present, I am struggling to re-write and edit my writing. In each attempt, I struggle with new kinds of grammatical and pragmatic issues in language. Sometimes, I struggle with the use of ‘but’ or semi-colon, or the issue of re-writing the entire paragraph to make it more accessible and coherent.

My writing journey has been slow. Struggle that accompanies each of these milestones appear daunting in the beginning and requires a lot of hard work and discipline. Sometimes, I want to quit. But the silver lining is that reaching a milestone assures me that I am moving in the right direction. It is this struggle that makes me feel alive.

Post Writing Experience

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Writing is very tiring. It is physically tiring. I have been chasing a deadline and so writing for most hours a day and it reminds me of Earnest Hemingway’s quote, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down on your typewriter and bleed”. I relate more to the last part of the quote more as there are moments when I feel my fingers are bleeding.

In this post, I wish to share my post writing experience. Once the text is completed even if it’s the first draft, it fills me with joy, joy of accomplishment. The joy of creating something after hours of concentrated effort, physical labour. For a few moments, I enjoy this feeling.

This feeling leads to a trail of thoughts about my writing. I begin to reflect on my argument, on the illustrations I used and their appropriateness and the conclusion. How did I tie the entire paper in the end?

Soon, these reflections lead me to dilemmas and then doubts. Did I conclude it properly? Could I have used more threads from introduction in the conclusion? Did the analyses of the situation make sense? Was the analyses properly done? Did I analyze all important points of the illustration?

Then I begin to think of things I could have done differently but worse, I begin to think of things I missed or completely forgot writing. This makes it worse. I am now compelled to re-work on it. It is a good thing if I have not submitted it, but really bad if it’s gone.

In moments like this I remember my teacher’s voice to complete the draft and then leave it for a few days. A fresh set of eyes after a few days will help you improve. This also means planning your writing. If you have to submit something in ten days, you work on it in your mind in the first three-four days, then you take two days to write it, then you keep it on a back burner for three days. Then you pick it up again and re-work on it. This time management always works but I often forget and sit with my paper on the last day.

Technology in Classroom

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Today, learning has become techno-centric. Everything is available on the internet. It is hard to think of a word or a topic that cannot be googled to generate a long list of responses moving from most relevant to irrelevant. Google also calculates and share the time (in seconds) it used to generate such a long list of responses. Children get assignments from school in which they google information, note it down and share it in school. Children often get a lot of time in school to search for information on the internet. Surfing for information, which was limited to computer room now enters the classroom with ‘smart board’. So now teacher can use information from the internet arrange it in the form of a power point presentation and give a lecture to students. It is more appealing because of the visuals and speed. Exploring literature, discussing and questioning texts, writing, experiencing and thinking seems to be the elements of the bygone era.

So learning gets reduced to three things- information; rote-memory and speed. The faster and more accurate information you can find and the way present is what matters most. In a country like India, this has widened the gap between privileged and under-priveldged sections of the society. As the better technologically equipped you are the better you score, leading to better opportunities.

There are some positive effects of using technology too, such as sharing of information is easier. However, it is important to take a minute to think about what kind of information can be educative. In this post, I have only mentioned adverse effects of technology in educational setting because we have been advocating the importance of technology without giving it much thought. A ‘smart’ classroom is certainly good for corporate businesses but is it really good for our children? In what ways? And how can we judiciously use it in our classroom? These are some of the questions we may want to spend a minute or two at least.

The following link is a recently published editorial in The Hindu newspaper on this issue. It is written by Prof. Krishna Kumar, who teaches in C.I.E, DU. It is the only editorial published in India that I have come across that discusses the role of technology in classroom in the context of OECD report. Please see and do share your comments with us.

I have to educate her

“Her father is dead.” She said pointing towards her daughter. “My mother got me married again. The previous one used to drink a lot and after drinking would start hitting me. I got married very early…I think I was fourteen years old when I got married…She was also born soon after my marriage I think I was fifteen. Around that time my husband started drinking a lot…I kept telling him not to drink, I used to say your life would be spoiled but he did not listen to me. He used to say that I can leave you, I don’t care if you go but I cannot leave this, I can leave my family also but not this. So I said Ok, then leave me…why should I spoil my life with him.” And she laughed, a sweet carefree laugh. She must have been in her early twenties. She continued, “so I left him and came to live with my mother even before she was born. She was born in the bada hospital, I have been here only since then. After that my mother looked for a good match and fixed my relationship with him. By god’s grace he is a good man. All the family member’s are nice. They also drink but they do not beat me…and give me food etc…over all keep me well. Otherwise those who drink do a lot of maarpeet they would drink everyday and beat everyday.” She then looked towards her son who was intermittently crying and said, “It is only four of us. Me, my daughter, this one and my husband. Although she is from my other husband but he treats her well. He never says that she is not my daughter. Though she lives here with my mother. I thought now that my younger sister is also married my mother will have nobody so let me leave her here only.”

“I wish he would sleep now…..but he must be hungry…you will not believe how difficult it is to do any work with him. He cries so much. If I am making roti I will make one roti then come to him…then when he will sleep go back to making roti by then the wood is all burnt. So, I have to start the Chulha again. I also most of the time live with my mother only. My husband’s family is from the village but there you get no work. My husband has got work here. And I also go to the bungalows and do cleaning and utensils. A lot of big people live here, so if I go and work, then I can earn something, but in the village there is nothing to do. You can work on the fields or something but no money. Also because my mother’s house is nearby I have no fear. If my husband comes late, then I come here and wait.”

“I am not educated, as in those days people did not educate their daughters. Nobody would marry educated girl, they felt that if she is very educated then she will leave the man. But then they started realizing that if she is not educated and the man leaves her, what would she do. My sister and brother both have been to the school. Didi I at least have my family to support me, my daughter does not even have saga baap. What will she do! So, I have to educate her so that she is able to do something in life. Padha likha to padha likha hi hota hai…anpadh to anpadh hi hota hai!

A chance encounter with a “professional researcher”

This is a story from city X. It is a medium sized semi modern city but if you talk to the old timers they would unanimously praise its education system. The story is about an ex-colleague and a friend of mine, whom I happened to meet on the road after a very long gap. After the usual pleasantries I asked him,” So, how come you are here Raman.”

It is difficult to study at home, so I come here in the morning and sit here till the evening”

“That’s good, same with me I find it impossible to study at home so I go to a friend’s house which is empty the whole day and becomes my den” I quipped, “You are also doing your PhD na?”

“Didn’t you read the newspaper?”

“No, what happened?” I asked thinking he must have completed but do the newspapers publish the names of the people who complete their PhD.

“He said I topped the written exam, you remember I had told you.” “yes”.

“Well later on I found the marks of the written exam have no weightage in the interview, final selection is only on the basis of interview, I got 3 out of 20………. I have filed an RTI also….but don’t really expect much….At the time it happened it was in news also, that many politicians relatives have got admission in PHD and deserving people like me…..but I am preparing for first grade vacancy…this is my last chance…lets see what happens….After what happened I don’t feel like doing a PhD also, whats the point Richa….It would just be a waste of time”

“ya, it is only helpful if you get job based on that”

“Ya, and there is no point in getting a job in a B.Ed. college, they don’t pay you well….” after a pause, “14 thousand….it is not that you actually get that also….they make you sign on 14 thousand….actually they pay even less. I would rather work in a school, but I wish I get a government job.”

“Ok, so you basically want to go back to school teaching”

“Actually now I am a ‘professional researcher’. So, I would continue that also”

I was wondering what was he heading to. May be he wants to work with some research organization, but before I could say anything he said, “You know in last one year I did 15 M.Ed and 5 PhDs”

“What!!

“yes, I do everything for them”

“So, how much do you charge?”

“twenty thousand”

“And how much time is needed in this”

“See, synopsis they have to write on their own then chapter 2, I sit on the net and write it, I also make the tools. Then they give me the data, I do the analysis and prepare a report. It takes around 10 days.”

“And see here…it has been two years and I am still doing data collection”

“But why are you taking so long”

I smiled not knowing what to say….

“Raman, this is a very interesting business model but tell me if there is a case of plagiarism then who will get caught?”

“Why would it be? I take very good care…”

“But assume it is”

I would not be responsible…my name is no where…This is not my fault…people come to me…but you only tell me what are they supposed to do, they are unable to learn research in a year. And what to say, I would name them but there are faculty members also who have asked me to do their research…they had been struggling for a long time and they then asked me to do it.”

By now I had two or three times laughed out pretty loudly and I was concerned what would the other people on the road think. Behaving in a more composed way, I said “Raman, then you don’t need a job, you have your tuition centre and this thriving business going, no private job will pay you as well”

“You are right, I have made money, that’s why I am able to leave everything and study now. But sometimes I feel I am doing something unethical. But then I also feel that those faculty members who are getting their PhD done by me, what do they teach their M.Ed students.”

To cheer him up I said, “but this is nice you told me about a new business model”

Come on!! This is not new..this is a very old business model, I am new to it. City Y is the headquarters, there you give 50,000 and they will do everything for you…meet them after two years…and take everything”

“But the scholar will have to give their viva right?”

“yes, but they would get a powerpoint presentation prepared for it too.”

“So, how do you get your clients?”

“Just like that, students talk amongst each other and I get call on mobile phone”

“Thank god, you did not say the faculty suggests them”

“No, no. but its not that they are not aware of it. Sometimes, I consult directly with the faculty member, we just remove the intermediary.”

I had to laugh at this….

He said, the irony is that I could not do my own PhD.

The pervasiveness of this as indicated by Raman (name changed)hit me pretty hard. What do you have to say about this “one man research factory”?

Mommy Learns

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This post is written by Richa Goswami, an EPTAF member.

It is not surprising to me anymore that Piaget became Piaget by observing his children. I am a mother of an eighteen-month-old super naughty girl. And I learn with her all the time, I would like to use this space on the blog to share with you my learning. I don’t think I would really come up with a new theory or anything…but there are things about child development that I am learning on a daily basis and losing too due to my laziness to document.

Documentation is important as the process of writing will make me analyze more and learn more….

So, the first and most important thing that I have learnt since she was born is that learning and development is a slow process…..very slow process…

She seems to be on the verge of learning something and then months would go, before she would make any progress. I would share some examples and other readers can share more…you may be parents or uncles and aunts….we all have seeds of being a Piaget all around us, we just never water them

  • I would start with the time when she was 2.5 or 3 months old. Let me start by humbling informing you that I have studied child development and also worked in preparing child development papers for teacher trainees of two states… so wouldn’t I know what to expect. To add to it, I am also one of the google-everything-moms (who isn’t these days). So to cut the long story short I knew that rolling over is a milestone she would achieve by 5 or 6 months age. But there are two more things….worth sharing (at least I believe that): first, my daughter is preterm by two months so the doctors had told me that her developmental milestones may be (the doc said “would be”) delayed by two months. And secondly I am not much believer in milestones anyways….My education has made me skeptical of that and a follower of individual difference. So one Sunday when she was a little less than three months and we saw her roll over…once….twice…thrice….we were thrilled (like most new parents are) “We have got this exceptionally fast baby”……and then the worry, “oh….we need to be very careful now…she can roll over…it wouldn’t be long that she would start successive roll overs and may fall from bed”…..but that’s about it…she did not roll over after that…not until she was almost six months old….in the mean time for many months she would just go on one side and get stuck….but when the time came she learnt that on her own her own and much more…
  • Similarly I remember the time when she learnt to sit and then stand from a squatting position…she would stand near the table and non stop do sit ups….we were amazed…how many times she did the same thing…but she would untiringly and happily do it.
  • And the time when she was ready to walk….This is the time when she had mastered walking by holding…and was about to take her first independent steps…when I saw this I said “may be in a week she would start walking….” But weeks passed….and then there was a stage when she started leaving whatever she was holding and would balance herself but not move….and I waited with breath held…”she is abut to walk” but days passed and then one day we noticed she was walking on her own….but this was much later than we had expected….
  • The last example that I would like to share is about her current phase…is about talking. She is a talkative child (no surprises there!) she non stop communicates, asks, responds, demands or comments…though we understand very few words from what she has said….and she has been like that for more than two-three months…and I the resolute non learner have been making announcements for two three months now, “she speaks so much and such long things….in a few weeks she would start talking …dekhna” but my darling is obviously proving me wrong….she is happily continuing in her own language….and is in no hurry

So, the point is learning and development (I think development has a bit of learning in it) is a slow process…a very slow process…. children take their time and are happy in the journey…unlike us….

Happy learning

Ciao (till next week….coz mommy loves talking too)