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Tag Archives: Experiences of teaching

Favour: A Malignant Tumour

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‘Favour’ seems to be a very innocent and positive term. But in practice it is a malignant tumour, which is hard to diagnose and when discovered it is too late for treatment. It multiplies uncontrollably. It dominates other cells by suffocating them and then it kills them or converts them. Gradually, it kills the patient.
Let me deconstruct this term for you. Dictionary meaning of the term ‘favour’ is ‘an act of kindness beyond what is due or usual’. By asking for favour a person becomes vulnerable in front of the person giving favour. She is then obligated to return the favour. One must note that in the definition itself, favour is described as an act of kindness that is beyond what is due or usual. Why would anybody help you beyond what you deserve? But before answering that question, let us just take a moment to think that if this person who is asking for favour does not deserve it then, is he taking something away from a person who deserves it? What becomes of the person who deserves it but does not get it because somebody else received it as a favour?
I have grown up hearing ‘there is no such thing as free lunch’. So, obviously now this person who has been favoured will have to return the favour. In the doing so, another person who deserves something will be deprived to accommodate this person. This goes on and on. If an institution has one such person who has this habit, he or she will bring another and attract a few others. The circle becomes bigger and bigger with each favour. Soon the institution has a number of people who have been favoured, in other words, who do not deserve this place but by an act of kindness were accommodated snatching it away from someone who deserved it.Can an institution survive with so many ‘favoured’ people?
Now what happens to the people who do not agree with this policy of giving and receiving favours? They are sidelined and are often part of the collateral damage. They are suffocated till the time they die or are converted. Converts, we all know, are never really included in the group. So what happens to the institution?

Book Club Launch- Pustak Vimarsh

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Finally after overcoming so many hurdles and delays, I managed to launch a book club in my department.This club is inspired from Virginia Woolf’s description of a reader. She stresses on the independence a reader needs in order to enjoy the text. She describes a reader as someone who reads to converse with the writer through her creation. A reader learns to appreciate the text. But in order to enjoy this freedom and appreciate the text she also emphasises upon training the mind. Book Club called Pustak Vimarsh is a platform where we all could discuss and share our reading of the text with each other.
We began with the reading of first five chapters of Mahatma Gandhi’s text Hind Swaraj, which is also considered a modern political treatise.
Inaugural session went very well apart from a few hurdles, it was enriching for all of us. We had invited an expert to speak on the specified section of the text and he not only presented his views but also answered a lot of questions that my students asked. Everybody participated and it was good to see students asking questions.
In my next post, I will share my write up on this section of Hind Swaraj.

Imposing Furniture and Pedagogy

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Our classroom seating arrangement influences pedagogic interaction. We have known this for a while, but sometimes the rigid educational structure does not allow us to make changes so specific to our classroom.

Every time I enter my classroom (I teach post graduate students), I cannot help but remember John Dewey’s statement about furniture that is made for passive recipients. Furniture that is heavy and imposing, where students try to fit their bodies in. Furniture that is pointed towards the blackboard, thus fixing the seat of the teacher as well. In such a classroom, it is difficult to talk about constructivism and active participation. No wonder my students still have not develop ownership in their learning because they stare at me with blank faces expecting me to fill them with knowledge, something that they so unquestioningly believe that I possess.

Today, I have decided to change this seating arrangement for my class at least. These imposing desks which force me to teach instead of facilitate discussions will have to be arranged in a better way.

Reading in a Sociology Class

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When I began teaching Sociology of Education, there were certain skills that I was assuming my students would have acquired by now. These were basic skills of reading. But after my second class, I realized that my students are not used to reading in fact they have been spoon fed till now and are used to rote-memorization of guide books. A huge challenge was facing me as my students were finding reading classics a difficult task. I assured them that I will spend enough time on each original text but I will not dictate notes. Now I had to think about strategies to build their reading skills. Till now I had assumed everybody devises his or her own ways of reading. Imposing one way of reading takes away the independence of a reader, which is against constructivist approach to reading.

By reading I mean, an active engagement with the text. A reader attempts to establish a dialogue with the writer through the text and construct meaning from it. Once the meaning is constructed, the reader then, reflects on the text. This is the process of reading for me. This process requires certain skills such as awareness, curiosity, questioning and reflective thinking. Now I had the task of initiating the process of reading in my class.

I began with thinking about how I read and what steps do I follow while reading? I realized that I read a text minimum of three times before going to my class. Following is the description of these three readings that I often do:

First Reading: I read the back page of the book first. Then I read the text in its entirety in one go. I try to focus on the introduction and conclusion in this reading.

Second Reading: Before reading the text second time, I read up on the author, her area of specialization, her other publications and her biographical sketch. Then I read slowly for the second time trying to understand how the author has constructed her argument. What are her philosophical leanings?

Third Reading: I read for the third time only to take notes.
Following the third reading, I summarize the text.

This requires time, therefore, I began my preparation for a class at least three days before it is scheduled.

My students gave me an opportunity to think about reading as a process. I had always taken this skill for granted. I explained my process of reading and asked them to see it just as a suggestion. They should try out different strategies of reading to develop their own most helpful reading strategy.

This class certainly helped as students begin to engage with the text and not leave it after one reading. But I understand that reading is a long and continuing process.