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June 04, 2019 Tuesday 12:54:36 PM IST


Cover Story

It is interesting to note that everything happening under the sun adheres to some fact-based principle irrespective of who is the operator behind them. For example, there is a principle behind the working of an automobile. It will function according to some predetermined principle irrespective of who is in the driving seat. If the person in the driving seat aligns his mental faculties with those principles, he can safely reach the destination.

Unlike the rigid principles ruling the machine world, principles dominating human life are dynamic in nature. They co-exist with ever-fluctuating factors arising from social, political, cultural, economic or technological aspects of human existence. For the same reason, the principle behind the phenomenon called teaching and learning never remain static. Still, they are cogent resources which teachers and students can rely on for the optimization of learning and teaching. 

When there is an underlying principle, it is easier to predict the consequence of an ongoing process. The fact that the process of learning adheres to some clear principles is very much welcoming to the teaching fraternity. These principles, at least, can alleviate the ambiguity regarding the propriety of choices teachers make in the classroom.

What is a principle?

Cambridge English dictionary defines ‘principle’ as a basic idea or rule that explains or controls how something happens or works. In the context of learning, what is called a principle?

Learning as a process is a collaboration of effort orchestrated from three focal points - the student, the teacher, and the learning context. A principle is a suggested pathway to organize the activities from these three functional points so that the optimization of learning is guaranteed. If anybody follows that path, the likelihood of learning to happen is very high.

A tentative pathway gets the title of a principle only if it is functionally replicable in all intended contexts. A principle warrants universal application only if evidence-based results ensuing from repeated random trials affirm its infallibility.

20 principles of learning/teaching

A coalition of psychologists who call themselves as ‘Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education’ supported by American Psychological Association, tried to juxtapose latest psychological principles with the dynamics of classroom teaching. In the process, they formed 20 cardinal principles for teaching and learning. All the principles have undergone year-long rigorous scientific process, including meticulous evaluation procedures for validating their applicability in the classroom.


They addressed five questions that usually arise in the minds of any educator: How do students think and learn? What motivates students? Why are the context, interpersonal relationships, and emotional well-being important to student learning? How can the classroom best be managed? How can the teachers assess student progress? Here are the principles.

1.      Students' beliefs or perceptions about intelligence and ability affect their cognitive functioning and learning.

2.    What students already know affects their learning.

3.    Students' cognitive development and learning are not limited by general stages of development.

4.    Learning is based on context, so generalizing learning to new contexts is not spontaneous; instead, needs are to be facilitated.

5.     Acquiring long-term knowledge and skill is largely dependent on practice.

6.    Clear, explanatory and timely feedback to students is important for learning.

7.     Students' self-regulation assists learning; self-regulatory skills can be taught.

8.    Student creativity can be fostered.

9.    Students tend to enjoy learning and perform better when they are more intrinsically than extrinsically motivated to achieve.

10. Students persist in the face of challenging tasks and process information more deeply when they adopt mastery goals rather than performance goals.

11.  Teachers' expectations about their students affect the students' opportunities to learn, their motivation and their learning outcomes.

12.Setting goals that are short-term (proximal), specific and moderately challenging enhance motivation more than establishing goals that are long-term (distal), general and overly challenging.

13.Learning is situated in multiple social contexts.

14.Interpersonal relationships and communication are critical to both the teaching-learning process and the social-emotional development of students.

15. Emotional well-being influences educational performance, learning, and development.

16.Expectations for classroom conduct and social interaction are learned and can be taught using proven principles of behaviour and effective classroom instruction.

17. Effective classroom management is based on (a) setting and communicating high expectations, (b) consistently nurturing positive relationships and (c) providing a high level of student support.

18.Formative and summative assessments are both important and useful, but require different approaches and interpretations.

19.Students' skills, knowledge, and abilities are best measured with assessment processes grounded in psychological science with well-defined standards for quality and fairness.

20.  Making sense of assessment data depends on clear, appropriate and fair interpretation.

Will you apply these principles?

Basically, the teaching community can be categorized into two. The first group permits what they learn/read/listen about teaching or education in general to influence their consciousness and professional activities. Their professional disposition is that of seekers who are in search of new knowledge and information. They surrender their intellect to ever-flexible nature of the systemic values and standards ruling their profession. They commit themselves to respond to any call for change. They set out to experiment and gradually try to assimilate the new principles into their professional behaviour.

The other group does not trust in the dynamic nature of classroom teaching. Their only source of information is the day-to-day events taking place in the classroom. They firmly believe that there exists a wide gulf between research and practice which can never be resolved. They keep on stocking odds to strengthen their belief from the wrong conclusions they draw - all with the help of their static wisdom. What they literally do is recycle the same data/knowledge they gathered years ago during their professional training period, not knowing that they are outdated to the contemporary world.

Decide for yourself...which is your group - former or later?

Welcome change

Let us be the carriers of dynamic professional attitudes. Let us commit ourselves to openness and get ready to shed off our convictions, belief, and attitudes about teaching and learning once it becomes clear that our old ways are no longer making a significant impact.  We must be willing to accept novel evidence-based scientific principles and re-skill ourselves accordingly.

Classroom experiences alone - however explicit or realistic they may appear - will not make professional growth a reality. The teacher, whose only reference book is hands-on classroom experiences, fails to perceive anything new because most often, the teacher will be witnessing everyday classroom happenings through his/her old eyes. Even after decades of professional experience he/she will be just regurgitating his/her old ways, for sure, not consciously.

Growth-minded teachers keep their senses tuned to the new findings in education and the related human sciences such as psychology and sociology. Let us dream of a tomorrow where teachers are constant seekers of facts - the facts which lead to better classroom teaching and the teacher-student relationship. 

Dr. Jeny Rapheal

The writer is a Teacher and Psychologist Read more articles..