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January 04, 2018 Thursday 01:16:43 PM IST

Beyond Chalk and Talk…

Rajagiri Round Table

Is the Chalk and Talk method working? Is there a felt need to revisit the fundamental assumptions of the traditional classroom? What creative teaching interventions and newer ways of curriculum design and delivery transform the classroom? How do we, therefore, ‘unteach’ to teach in a more creative and learner-engaged environment? Chalk & Talk or ‘Direct Instruction’ cannot be entirely disregarded.

But how do we extend the boundaries of the method by fostering ‘Enquiry Learning’? On one hand, research has shown that ‘Direct Instruction’ helps the learner in assimilating and processing information more effectively, while on the other it is also widely believed that non-explicit and less direct instruction can be counter-productive.

How do we break the chalk? And how do we walk the talk? That’s assuming that Chalk and Talk isn’t working, or perhaps isn’t doing so adequately. These were some of the leading questions the 31st Rajagiri Round Table held on 13 December 2017 considered at St. Albert’s College, Ernakulam.

Claire Grant is a philosopher who lectures at Cambridge. Writing in Times Higher Education late last year said she swore by the ‘walk, chalk, and talk approach’ and how it had unfailingly stood her in good stead for over a quarter century. As with life itself, there are exceptions and, equally, there can’t be the stark either-or binaries, and so it is with ‘chalk and talk’.

Cut back to Aristotle in the 4th century BC. The great philosopher-teacher was a master at imparting what came to be known as ‘peripatetic’ learning to his students. He held his lessons on a walking tour of the Lyceum in ancient Rome. But there was a difference: Aristotle perhaps walked the talk. More importantly, the student, aided, but not instructed, by Aristotle, would independently discover facts, and would then use inductive and deductive reasoning to understand or apply those facts.

How are we faring in the teaching and learning community?

Dr. Godfrey Louis, Former Pro-Vice Chancellor, Cochin University of Science & Technology: There obviously cannot be a binary choice, because of the types of students we teach in our schools and universities, it calls for different processes of teaching. The method we use in teaching smaller children cannot be applied to higher-level learners. There is perhaps a limit to demonstrative teaching at the higher level. It is, however, important that a certain regime be imposed on students while at once demanding a certain rigour of our students. Enquiry learning is certainly more relaxed and demands a high degree of curiosity on the part of our students.

Dr. M.L. Joseph, Principal, St. Albert’s College: Our teaching methodology should help inculcate in our students creativity and critical thinking to ignite higher-order cognition. On the other hand, how many of our students come up with questions? Students should be able to ask questions that teachers cannot answer. So the classroom should become a forum to merely clear doubts, which means that students should be doing their ‘studying’ at home and the library. There is another issue at play: We also need to deliver the curriculum well within time. That said, it calls for a significant pedagogical change, incorporating modern learning strategies, such as Cooperative Learning, Blended Learning, and Fishbowl Learning, among others.

Shivali Chawla, Assistant Director, National Institute of Open Schooling, Kochi: Chalk & Talk needs to be supplemented by technology. What is the fundamental purpose of education? While equipping our children with essential life skills, such as creative and critical thinking, ability to build empathetic relationships, imbibe accountability, responsibility, and socially responsible citizenship, it should also provide them with a sustainable livelihood. Vocational skill sets are critical. So while we need to increasingly embed our classrooms with technology, our objectives should be closely aligned to learning outcomes in view of the higher imperatives of education. Teachers need to be facilitators in a classroom which fosters a learner-engaged environment.

Major Aneesh Gurudas, Trainer/Teacher & Founder, Illuminare Academy of Behavioural Science: It calls for a paradigm shift, from one of learning to teach to how we learn — we need to address the fundamental question about how knowledge is being delivered. Our teachers need to be given a perspective on that aspect. There needs to be a shift from the craft model to a reflective model. Without giving a free hand to confront and reflect on ideas and ideologies, no classroom can be a learning place. Teachers need to be increasingly intuitive facilitators, where they become a researcher and a co-creator of learning and knowledge.

K.J. Sohan, Former Mayor, Corporation of Kochi: Fundamentally, we should do away with ‘teaching’ and shift to a genuine process of learning. The experiential dimension is of the essence in learning, meaning teaching needs to transform itself into a learning to visual to experiential process. Unfortunately, few of our teachers have field experience, in fact, few even venture out to the field as it were. Research needs to be fostered and built into our learning process. Only the tactile and the experiential, coupled with vigorous physical activity, can make any learning process complete. Another key dimension is the gender barrier and indeed gender sensitivity. Gender studies should be part of our early learning process so that our boys, in particular, grow up without prejudice and stereotypes.

Dr. P. R. Poduval, Former Director, School of Management Studies, CUSAT: We should pose this question about ‘Chalk and Talk’ to our children and you will be surprised by their response. The higher we move up the academic echelons, greater is a narrowing of sorts, ironically. So context and, indeed, content is important. Teachers are no meant to ‘impart’ information and when they do the focus is exclusively on teaching rather than learning. What is even more critical is that our top preoccupation in education is to convert heterogeneity into homogeneity. Unless we demolish this attempt, nothing meaningful can transpire. One of the fundamental requisites, therefore, is the freedom to design and deliver curriculum based on the needs of our society. Learning ought to become like an experiment in a laboratory that stimulates curiosity and makes the process of learning interesting and useful. We are preparing our young not for the future but for the present.

Dr. Varghese Panthalookaran, Professor of Engineering, Rajagiri College of Engineering & Director, Rajagiri Media: We need to fundamentally revisit our education system, which cannot be merely confined to imparting knowledge so to say. The mind is of the essence and our students need to be empowered to think creatively and critically. The method may be secondary in the process. The key question is what fundamental skills remain with our young in the process of learning that they undergo in order to face life outside their classrooms.