Driving along the crowded and dusty roads of Guwahati reminded me so much about my home town in the Western Ghats. A stunning rocky hillock towering on the left, patchy forests on the right, fresh vegetables piled in round cane baskets, Guwahati town felt quaint and rich.
As the road weaved up and down the inclines, my dreamy mind took off on a hike. Soon the taxi stopped in front of Modern English School (MES) – my destination had arrived. In the red mud and brick by-lanes of Guwahati, MES does not physically surprise you in any way. The old walls, un-plastered building, unkept pathways are for all to see. But, all that aside, when you enter, there is an unmissable inspirational whiff in the air.
Stoned to the world, the bustle of the street was still ringing in my ears. I briskly walked through the corridors, greeting teachers and kids. The energy and positivity in this school has always been child-like. The down-to-earth tone is overpowering. It doesn’t take time for the humility to rub off.
Our curriculum development project in MES has been on for a while now. The aim is to reimagine teaching-learning for grades 6 to 8 – all subjects included. However, the honeymoon phase of WOW and AWESOME is over now. A mountain of work is staring at us (meaning all of us, EI team, MES school leadership, the CD team teachers).
On this visit, a lot had to be accomplished – timelines to be planned, project progress to be assessed, concerns to be voiced, lesson flows to be mapped, lesson plan reviews to be shared – the list can go on and on.
Besides all that, one of my chief motives for taking the flight to Guwahati, is to interact with Pankaj and Jonali. Here’s why - Jonali, the principal of the school, is one of the most unassuming human beings I have ever met – demure, intelligent, well read and a very insightful person. She also holds a Masters degree in Education from the University of South Hampton, UK. Pankaj, a doting husband first and then the Director of the school is so passionate about improving the quality of teaching-learning; it is infectious. With sheer enthusiasm and decisiveness he ensures that you feel as committed and motivated to work.
And not to be left behind are their ‘every-ready’ band of teachers – it is not very often that you come across teachers who are equally passionate about teaching and are willing to match steps with the school leadership.
My discussions with Pankaj and Jonali have ranged from constructivist theories, William Dylan’s views on formative assessment, Andrew Pollard’s compilation for a reflective teacher to the politics of education in Assam. I thoroughly enjoy these interactions and on this visit was happy to be a part of another such informing discussion. This time it was on lesson planning.
Mushrooming education companies in the metros have put the spotlight on lesson planning like never before. It is considered fancy and a must-have for schools these days. But here at MES we were attempting to empower teachers to do the same. Having reached the lesson planning stage, we were discussing the instructional detailing in the lesson plans. The central questions were – how much detail is too much detail? Or is there anything called too much detail? How detailed should the instructions be?
I pulled out 3 samples of the same lesson plan written in 3 different ways. 1. Very directive, explicit and clear. 2. Very concise, offering a gist and direction to the teacher and 3. Was sometime in between – neither too explicit, nor too brief. Jonali also pulled out some samples and we also photo-copied another plan created by a leading curriculum development company. So we had 5 samples to compare.
Jonali and I reminisced about how originally when the concept came about, the ‘ideal’ school teachers would write their own lesson plans and therefore the instructional clarity did not matter. I totally agree: at the end of the day, it is just a few teaching ideas arranged in sequence for the teacher’s reference.
But given the perils of teaching (number of classes, students etc.) in India, teachers often did not have the time, energy or wherewithal to engage is such a creative exercise. And therefore the plans have to be created. Luckily this time it was being created by teachers of MES itself.
Anyways, coming back to the central questions, after half hour of thrashing out, we realized that there can’t exist one-fit-for-all answer to these questions. The level of detailing is directly linked to the proficiency of the teachers. A highly evolved teacher would perhaps get put off by an acutely directed plan which constantly told him/her what to do and say – in that case a summary of ideas would do. However, a teacher in the beginning years of work could feel empowered with a detailed plan that explains to her each and every step. Given these variables, often times, giving either end of the spectrum what they would not appreciate is road to disaster. Ultimately if they are too challenging or too handheld - the usage of the plan will depend on which audience it is being presented to. We neither want to spoon feed nor stifle an able teacher. Of course we do not want to leave the beginner teacher directionless.
Therefore understanding the target teacher audience is critical in the curriculum development space I feel. It baffles me to believe that there can be one-size fit lesson plans out there for purchase.
Anyways, post our loud discussion, it felt like I had a halo around my head ;-). Needless to say, we chose option 3 for MES lesson plans.
As I head back to Delhi, my memories of the school leave me so inspired to continue work in this space. The warm sunshine of Guwahati, bright young and open mindsets of people I interacted with and a restless energy to make a difference to how students learn – I hope these winds blow towards Delhi. Hello! Anybody listening?