Teaching is an emergent practice.
India spends only ₹ 9.39 on teacher development from every ₹ 100 set apart for school quality improvement.
During our analysis of the recent Report on Foundational Literacy and Numeracy, published by the Institute of Competitiveness, Gurgaon, we discovered that at least 20 States in India do not spend any money directly on teacher development. The rest of the States and Union Territories put together spend only ₹ 9.39 out of every ₹ 100 on teacher development initiatives like training. Where does the rest of the money go?
The Report on Foundational Literacy and Numeracy does not explicitly mention it in numbers, but a detailed reading may shed some light on where the rest of the money goes. From our reading, we noticed that our school education system might be spending ₹ 90.61 from every ₹ 100 set apart for school quality improvement majorly on two things. What are those two things?
Are we spending a lot of money on improving textbooks?
Our States and Union Territories could be spending a large portion of this money set apart for school quality improvement on designing and printing, or sourcing, and distributing better quality textbooks and student workbooks. According to the Report on Foundational Literacy and Numeracy, several State Governments in India collaborate with private players on school quality improvement projects where better textbooks and student workbooks are one of the critical deliverables. It is possible that this happens because our top level education policy executives believe better quality textbooks and workbooks can accelerate the improvement of student achievement in a country where only 15 out of every 100 school-going children exceed grade-level minimum learning proficiency.
Can textbooks that follow every rule in the instructional design playbooks help us increase the number of children in our country who exceed grade-level minimum learning proficiency? We reviewed several research papers to understand the effect of textbooks on student achievement. For every researcher who claims that textbooks have a significant impact on student learning, there are several others who can establish that textbooks have negligible effect on student achievement. However, almost all of them agree on one thing: the impact of textbooks on learning is directly proportional to the ability of the teachers to train their students to use it.
As we were trying to understand how textbooks influence learning, we came across two interesting studies on the effect of textbooks. A group of education researchers from Purdue University conducted the first study in 1993 that we found interesting. Thomas E. Scruggs and his team from the Department of Educational Studies, Purdue University, set out to conduct an experiment to understand the relative effects of textbook-based and inquiry-based approaches to learning science on student achievement. Over a two-week period, they allowed four special education teachers to teach two science units, using either activity-based and inquiry-oriented methods or a textbook-based approach. What did they find out?
Scruggs and his team found that regardless of approaches, lessons must be appropriately structured, “given that the instruction is oriented to their level of prior knowledge and academic abilities.” Another interesting finding was, “across both conditions, vocabulary items were learned the least well of all, with students typically learning and remembering only one or two new words (out of eight tested) per week of instruction.” Scruggs and his team says this could be because “of semantic memory problems commonly reported for students with learning disabilities.” However, we feel that this has got to do more with how the teachers taught those new words. In other words, whether or not you are using a textbook, learning largely depends on how a teacher approaches teaching. As Scruggs and his team point out, this study applies to all classrooms, not just special education classrooms.
In 1986, Nancy S. Mengel from Arthur Andersen and Company, Center for Professional Education, Wisconsin, USA, conducted the other study that we found interesting. Mengel got a panel of nine Instructional Designers to redesign the instructional material she picked from a commercial textbook. She got 59 postsecondary vocational teachers to review the original material or the redesigned material. She also got together 74 vocational students to spend half day reading and studying any one of the two sets. Mengel found that the teachers noticed the content and visual appeal of the material rather than the design features supplying the instructional events in the text. The test scores of students who read either set did not differ significantly.
From what we know, the National Council of Educational Research and Training already has a list of learning outcomes and textbooks designed to allow teachers to deliver those learning outcomes. No amount of redesign will make any significant difference in student achievement unless we equip our teachers to use these textbooks effectively.
Will ready-to-use curriculum help?
The second thing most State Governments and Union Territories in India and the private players who collaborate with them seem to spend money on is the ready-to-use curriculum, according to the Report on Foundational Literacy and Numeracy. Even unaided schools in India seem to be investing heavily in ready-to-use curriculum packages, just as they used to in interactive whiteboards a decade ago. Many key decision-makers involved in school education policy implementation seem to believe that a ready-to-use curriculum will make implementing the National Education Policy 2020 easy for teachers. What is the truth?
To help you understand what a ready-to-use curriculum looks like on the ground, we would like to share two experiences about it with you. A few weeks ago, one of us received a call from a teacher we know. Based on what we know about him, he teaches well and uses many contemporary teaching methods in his classroom. As he told us, he has been starting to dislike his job because his school insists he use their newly-introduced ready-to-use curriculum rather than his own lesson plans. He told us,
“Ready-to-use curriculum follows a classic one size fits all approach. It is one way traffic where the teacher “delivers" lessons. The teachers are trained to deliver it, but the chances that we apply our inherent knowledge about teaching while delivering it is zero. It dumbs down teachers and students, and creates the unnecessary opportunity for poorly equipped teachers. This is a recipe for disaster.”
Our teacher friend is not the only one who resists the idea of a ready-to-use curriculum. America’s social writer, Jonathan Kozol describes his problem with ready-to-use curriculum in his famous book, On being a teacher. Kozol calls the ready-to-use curriculum “teacher’s guides.” He says, “A teacher's guide provides instructions for the teacher as to certain methods guaranteed to help us lead our students to a set of seemingly inevitable conclusions, yet simultaneously to get the students to believe that it is they who have arrived at these conclusions on their own. There is a separate guide for each commercial line of standard texts.”
Publishers, when Kozol was writing On being a teacher, used to prepare these guides to help teachers put across lessons “without needing to devote a vast amount of time to preparation.” Kozol continues to explain his problem with ready-to-use curriculum,
“We obtain a set of neat, swift, "classroom-tested" lesson plans to sell these mediocre texts to children. The guidebook sells the series to the teacher, and the teacher sells the textbook to the class: a progression of increasingly well-planned seductions. In the end, we are the pitiful addicts of the little red annotations printed in the margins of our book, suggested by an invisible expert in a distant city. The expert is rarely a person we recognize by reputation. But this is only a small part of the problem: the insult to the teacher. There is, above all, the insult-and the injury-to our students. Most of the guidebooks offer confident predictions on the way that students will react (or "ought to") in the face of certain stories, poems, ideas. ("Children can be easily led to recognize and understand the special beauty of the image heart like cracked gravel, line six, stanza three. Point out, if the opportunity occurs, that this is a simile.") The passage above does not do serious damage to a student's heart and mind. It falls into the category, rather, of a foolish, somewhat boring and dishonest waste of time. (What if a student happens to be bright enough to understand, for instance, that this is not a "beautiful image" after all, but an impossible image in a very, very sorrowful piece of verse?) The guidebooks that are truly dangerous, however, are those which try to tell us how to lead a class of students to a "logical" conclusion in the areas of politics and current issues.”
Our second experience with ready-to-use curriculum has to do with how we saw teachers use it on the ground. Let us give you an example of a lesson we observed, in a school where all teachers were supposed to stick to a popular ready-to-use curriculum. The teacher was teaching about simple machines. The ready-to-use lesson plan detailed how a teacher could divide children into groups of four, give a packet of objects to each group and instruct the group to work together for a few minutes to sort out simple machines from the packet. The teacher did everything mentioned in the lesson plan except one thing. Once she distributed the packet of objects to each group, the teacher put the ready-to-use slide deck that came along with the lesson plan on the Interactive Whiteboard and started giving out the list of simple machines in the packet without allowing the children to spend even a second in groups to figure out the answers. The problem with a ready-to-use curriculum was unravelling in front of our eyes in that science classroom. No matter how effective a ready-to-use curriculum is, the kind of impact it has on learning depends on the ability of the teacher to transact it as expected.
Will teacher training solve the problem?
According to the Report on Foundational Literacy and Numeracy, many of the current school improvement initiatives adopted by our State Governments and Union Territories seem to have three deliverables: a textbook component, a ready-to-use curriculum component and a teacher training component. Many of these projects include teacher training interventions based on the 'cascade model,' where Master Trainers travel across different States and Union Territories to equip and train Ground-level Instructors. These Ground-level Instructors then conduct workshops and seminars for teachers on various pedagogical principles. They observe teachers in the classroom and give them feedback. Does this approach help the teachers to transact the ready-to-use curriculum and use the redesigned textbooks effectively?
The Report on Foundational Literacy and Numeracy answers this question at one point. It quotes a 2021 Report from UNESCO and states, “Teaching is influenced by the personal attributes of teachers themselves, the learners, and the milieu of the school, making it more of an ‘emergent’ practice rather than the result of applying pedagogic principles.” What is emergent practice? In his book, How creative workers learn, Alexandre Magno defines an emergent practice as the one that a team or an organization identifies as needed to be implemented in their context, not necessarily a new practice invented by them. Judith Warren Little published Norms of Collegiality and Experimentation: Workplace Conditions of School Success expanding what emergent practice looks like in action in the context of schools. Little tells us that four things happen in successful schools. In successful schools teachers talk about teaching, observe each other, collaborate to plan and evaluate lessons and teach each other.
Participate in #TeachwithInnerkern!
We want to be outrageously honest with you here - what Judith Warren Little proposes will not improve the quality of teaching in most schools in India. Why do we say so?
At Innerkern, we document classroom transactions in connection with Classroom Shapeshift, our flagship school improvement and teacher development intervention for unaided CBSE schools in India. A significant number of our teachers are yet to transition from chalk-and-talk in the classroom to contemporary pedagogic practices like experiential learning, outcome-based instruction or concept-based learning. Forcing these teachers to talk to each other about teaching, observe each other, plan and evaluate lessons together and teach one another will only result in sustaining bad classroom practice. We launched #TeachwithInnerkern to support schools to overcome this challenge.
Until last year, we were mostly publishing articles and twitter threads on good classroom practice in connection with #TeachwithInnerkern. This year, we are taking #TeachwithInnerkern to the next level. In February this year, we launched our YouTube Channel to support teachers and schools who want to improve their classroom practice.
If you are a school leader or teacher who is open to mastering the routine teacher habits that will help you pull off contemporary pedagogical approaches in your school, you must subscribe to our YouTube Channel. You will find videos on our channel on various teacher habits that can improve the quality of teaching in your school. Here are some examples:
This video will help you understand a simple technique that great teachers use to improve teacher-student interaction in their classroom.
This video will help you transform a highly unproductive teacher habit into a very effective one.
This video will help you improve the quality of your lectures and transform it from a passive listening opportunity into an active one.
Leverage emergent practice in your school!
Now, it is not enough that you watch these videos once. Considering teaching is an emergent practice and if you want to leverage it, pick a video and watch it with your colleagues. Talk to each other about the teacher habit we throw at you in the video and rehearse it in your group. If you have any problem in making sense of what exactly these teacher habits would look like in practice, we are here to help. Send us a mail to email@example.com and one of our team members will get in touch with you to support your team. Also, share your experience of using these videos to promote teaching as an emergent practice in your school. When you share your experience, it will inspire hope about learning in more teachers in our country.
Thank you for your support and time so far.
PS: Classroom Shapeshift, Innerkern’s flagship school improvement and teacher development intervention helps schools to leverage teaching as an emergent practice. You can learn more about Classroom shapeshift here.
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