The Bachelor of Elementary Education – an integrated four year Teacher Education Programme was introduced in Lady Shri Ram College for Women in the year 1998. The endeavor of the Department of Elementary Education at Lady Shri Ram College for Women, popularly known as LSR, has always been to contribute to the strengthening of the epistemological basis of Teacher Education through a continuous engagement with the discipline. Through this programme, LSR, a premier institution in Social Sciences, provides a platform to budding teachers and the discipline of education to forge relationships with and between subject matter and the varied teaching-learning contexts.
The bilingual nature of the program adds flavour to the teaching learning processes in the department. Unlike other graduate programme where there are different sections for ‘Hindi/English’ medium, the department of elementary education does not believe in segregation and echoes the spirit-that language is no barrier as far as knowledge construction is concerned. The classroom processes and transaction are done in both languages with such an ease that there is neither a deliberate effort nor awkwardness.
The department takes pride in heterogeneity in the student’s population as well as faculty. The entrants in this programme are from diverse strata of the society. This contributes to the richness and vastness of the identities and experiences of the students, which in turn facilitate the process of knowledge acquisition through dialogic reflection. Being a student in the Department is about exploring one's talents, ambitions and creativity, experimenting with one’s capabilities and dabbling in the joy of realizing one’s potential.
The faculty of the department comprises of people drawn from a wide variety of academic disciplines and diverse work experience. This very fact makes the department of elementary education unique and different from other departments of the college. They work as trainers, pedagogues, guides, mentors, tutors and educators to help the young girls reach the goal of their earthly and spiritual life. The faculty incessantly works on LSR’s great insistence on self-effort, self-development and self-achievement. Let the students learn at her own pace and own way-is the mantra here.
Unlike other courses, there are no ‘prescribed books’ for this course. The concept of prescribed reference material is against the spirit of the department. Here the faculty takes pride in its capabilities to develop a critical view of the prescribed knowledge by the learners and to evolve pedagogy in consonance with the emerging view of knowledge. In other words, the students and the teachers collectively generate knowledge and the classroom interaction creates a rich knowledge base.
Another unique aspect of the department is the student-teacher relationship. The teachers only facilitate and enough space and freedom is given to students to critically reflect explore, inquire, discover facts themselves in suitable ways.
The infrastructural facilities of the department include a Resource Room, a Curriculum Laboratory apart from the usual classrooms. The resource room of the department has a collection of documents, books, projects reports and other study material which is frequently required by the students and teachers. The students have access to the computer in the resource room. The curriculum lab of the department provides space to the students and teachers to create and use different curriculum materials, crafts material, science and mathematics laboratory equipments, charts, teaching aids, etc. The use of technology and multimedia is encouraged in the department and facilities for the same have been provided in the curriculum lab where students use OHP and LCD during their presentations.
The way in which we plan teaching learning, the manner in which we engage students, the elicitation strategies we use, our consideration of the social milieu in which learning takes place, the assessment strategies we draw upon etc, reveal our understanding of what constitutes knowledge and our sense of relationship between the knower and the known. The teaching perspective is important in any exploration of pedagogical practices that teachers employ in their interactions with students. The B.El.Ed programme is based on an alternative discourse that centres on the construction of knowledge, ways of knowing and critical pedagogy instead of the traditional discourse of learning to teach, which emphasizes a primacy of teaching methods and mastery of skills. The teachers in the Department of Elementary Education have a humanist constructivist and developmental view of the context of learning. A lot of stress is given to the learner’s point of view and in trying to understand how learners think and reason about content. Importance is attached to learner’s prior knowledge, experiences; misconceptions as well as myth conceptions. The teachers also believe in the emotional component of learning and hence try to promote goals and support a climate of care and trust by helping students set challenging yet achievable goals and support learners’ efforts as well as their achievements.
Learning begins by unlearning...
The students are given space to express, interact and reflect upon their learning and reconsider the existing view of knowledge. The construction of new knowledge begins by unlearning of prior conceptions. Their understanding is challenged through open discussions, debates, working on authentic tasks in real setting where both teaching and learning are rooted in experiences, experiments and reflections.
A Culture of Critical Inquiry
Teacher and the taught engage in a process of personal meaning making which is driven by a quest for knowledge and questioning in the process of teaching and learning. For promoting this culture, uncertainty is valued and supported. The whole process is geared towards questioning and learning. The students undertake observations of children are diverse backgrounds in order to understand them and develop tools such as interviewing, questionnaires etc to gather data. The dialogic reflection, which takes place after community interaction, may lead to disagreements and tensions that are inherent in education and ideological frame works. This helps in gaining multiple perspectives on the subject, as teachers and trainees realize that they need to suspend their beliefs and values enough to consider the perspective of others for informed choices. It is believed that teaching and learning in the manner of systematic, intentional and self-critical inquiry will help the prospective teachers to sustain and strengthen their inquiry stance as beginning teachers. The results of inquiry are presented in formal presentations before an audience composed of teachers and peers and the discussions, which go beyond immediate proficiency in some skills, heighten challenges but nevertheless create a learning space for both teachers and students. The projects of this kind are a part of almost all the papers. Students develop theoretical analytical skills along with critical analytical abilities and also learn to seek possibilities and answers to issues they encounter.
"I was a very introvert girl and I used to feel that except studying, I can not do anything. But through theatre workshops, I realized my potential. Moreover, I realized that I have loud voice and I can act spontaneously.. I'm still introvert..But the difference is that I have accepted it and thus, I can win over myself whenever needed.. Thanks to Imran Sir"
Preparing students to become reflective practitioners
Construction of knowledge through reflection by comparing and contrasting ideas with those of others is central to our understanding of learning. The others in this case may be the theorists and the prescribed knowledge. This may lead to situations in which confusion, complexity and conflict arises and the students and teachers attempt to resolve conflict by critically examining and justifying or negating their existing ideas.
The students in this course are expected to reflect and write about their own growth, experience, concerns with references to dynamic social realities. It is considered important to know oneself before attempting to know children. A reflective teacher identifies the problems, reflects and searches for creative solutions. The reflective reports are an important and inseparable part of all the practicum right from the 1st year to 4th year. This course views student teachers and teachers as people who are driven by respect for the endless challenges a child presents and the reflections on one’s own classroom practices help in producing empowered teachers who can take a moral stand on how to serve the child’s best interests. We look at reflective journals to compare information, trace evidence, confirm hunches and assertions and establish data trustworthiness. These reflective writings help student in improving rationality and justice of their own practices and situations in which these practices are carried out. The reflections also help the faculty and students in developing and creating a vision of education, the teaching and learning process and a critical perspective to understand children by helping them to look within as the consciousness is intensified.
A strong sense of social responsibility is also developed as school, which is a society in miniature offers a lot to reflect in terms of gender, race, culture, conflicts, politics, deprivation, hygiene and prejudices, etc. The students reflect on questions such as...Does learning take place only because it is externally rewarded and certified? Does knowledge have no intrinsic value significant enough to motivate learners? Is it imperative to recognize and maintain differences among learners? Does the present examination system objectively assess the students’ progress and help in their learning? What have we done that scares children so much? How would you judge when some of them sit under a tree and observe different type of vehicles, their speed and count their number? How would you assess the progress of students who started with reluctance but are slowly drawn into activities by their class mates? The students also engage with questions such as how education needs to be redirected, reoriented and restructured to solve the problems of people living in the social and economic margins of the society. Learning in this manner helps the students in developing their own theories of practice and also helps them in examining their practice from a social justice perspective and produce their own teaching knowledge. As the teachers go through the reflective journals, which students write daily as a part of their internship programme, they can see shifts in understanding teaching and constructing their roles as teachers.
"Observing students from various backgrounds helped me to land on reality. The presumption that I had in my mind were not fit enough when tested on real grounds. The depth of gender bias in the mindset of children was present everywhere although the shapes they had acquired were different. There were different threads that brought them together observing children helped to locate these threads."
-Deepika Sharma (3rd year), after observation and analysing the child’s language
"I was shocked and did not know how to react. This family we were talking to was living in a room and offered us water and when we, out of courtesy said yes, this girl disappeared and came back after ten minute. She had gone to get utensils to give us water. I did know how to go on talking to these children after that. Suddenly I was at loss for words. This visit made me realize that actually there are people living in all kind of conditions and is happy."
-Gauri, after observing children practicum
Promoting a culture of inquiry requires a good conversation between the teacher, taught and peers demanding safety, care and trust and a common ground for practice. Students and teachers engage together with the community through open dialogue and critique in an environment geared towards questioning and uncertainty. They also engage in questioning of their actions and how their actions are connected to the belief system. This culture has helped us reach a point in pedagogy where the teachers are open to questions and statements. Reinforcement and praise are seen only as starting point for helping the students to questions, take risks and make changes. The teachers are not expected to have all the answers and the relationship between students and teachers have changed as they
advance together in the direction. The department has made an endeavor to redefine teacher professionalism in terms of commitment to lifelong learning. The dynamic interplay of ideas in this culture may not lead to any solution and may alleviate tension and relational problems as the teachers and learners together advance into newer terrains in an ongoing academic process. The goal is ‘learning, not convincing’ and consensus is redefined as a strategy that structures differences by organizing them in relation to each other. This leaves tremendous scope for the study of marginalized voices and perspectives in order to inform one’s own beliefs and values. The teachers are active partners who search for resources in order to find answers to questions they may not know but do not hesitate to venture into the risky business of genuine inquiry. The classes may begin with quizzing, probing and questioning about differences between the teachers and students interpretation of episodes and events and later the teacher may move away from her previously central role as students take charge.
The students gather data about children from diverse backgrounds and the discussions may involve relating developmental stage with sociological contexts and economics with the socio-psychological developments, which may be seen differently by the heterogeneous population of teachers and students as they view it through the lens of their own experimental contexts. The notion of classroom is changed radically in the programme as the students and teachers are found discussing in small groups and students running in the back lawns with a lens in their hands or the teachers sitting in the audience when the presentation is happening.
The Department follows a mentoring system for the students to facilitate free and easy interaction between the individual students and the faculty. Each student is assigned a faculty member as her mentor with whom the student develops a bond of trust and confidentiality. This mentor- mentee relationship provides space to the students to share any of their problems; professional or otherwise; with their mentors in an anxiety free environment and arrive at a better understanding of the same with the guidance of their respective mentors' advice and counseling.
At LSR, we also use B.El.Ed. as an acronym for Building Leaders in Education
"Due to working and exploring in small groups and close teacher –student interactions, I could see a new personality developing within me-of someone who had become confident and more in-charge of herself."