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The importance of subject overview

EducationWorld October 08 | EducationWorld

The first ten days of every new academic year is the most vital and stimulating time of the school calendar. Its the time when teachers should provide students with a broad overview of the subjects they will teach through the year. What topics will the subject cover? What is their relevance to students? How can it be applied to real life situations so that the pupils understanding of the world grows? This is necessary so that children dont miss the wood for the trees. For missing the wood is standard procedure when we over-focus on texts — even the most well written texts. Ten days thus spent are valuable and give meaning to our work as teachers.To illustrate the importance of subject overview at the beginning of the academic year, let me cite an example of how the joy of learning geography can be infused into children right from the first class of the year.
A week (presuming the school has a five day week) can be spent outlining the ground to be covered during the year; the second week in making the subject relevant to children. Why are they being taught the geography of India? Because India is also a geological representation of the world. Given similar conditions the climate elsewhere will be alike, with some interesting variations; so will the flora, fauna. What is the relevance of learning geography? It becomes the platform for students to understand trade, economics, and international commerce later in adult life.
Can this process be introduced right from the primary level? Yes, with some patience and imagin-ation, teachers can stimulate continuous interest and the joy of learning. For instance, students can begin by drawing or tracing outlines of the map of India on transparent sheets. On the first map feature only the Himalayas. Paste on pictures of the Himadri range, snow, rain, forests, regions, flora, fauna. Likewise on another map feature only the Indo-Gangetic plain and embellish it with relevant pictures, cuttings etc. Place the second map over the first. Continue the exercise of placing transparent map sheets over each other, until children can see the regional and physical features of India at one glance or have the fun of unveiling each feature. You could also use it as a flip chart to acquaint students with topics that will be taught in detail through the year. It will enable them to enjoy the wood as a whole — and the trees within it — better.
Likewise an arcane subject such as ‘revolutions in history can be taught in a creative manner. After all it was only when an individual saw no reason to read by candle light that we have electricity. Similarly another individual saw no reason why computers should be exclusive and the result was Microsofts ubiquitous Windows software. If as teachers we expand the meaning of the word ‘revolution, we can widen the horizons of our students who will take the cue, and discovering revolutionaries will become an exciting quest. To make prescribed texts relevant (textbook writers still regard only the American war of independence, the French and Russian revolutions as revolutions), students can learn that revolutions are incited not only by political discontent but also by economic depression, when human creativity is stimulated.
With such macro visualisation a teacher can set the tone for the year. In my own experience at the middle school level, I find I need only a month to cover the prescribed text and another 15 days to go over the salient features of each revolution. I have the rest of the year in which my students can choose to do projects on revolutions.
Force in science is another subject which is relevant in primary and secondary school, and indeed all through life. The technique of macro visualisation outlined above, can be usefully applied to teach the topic. Since we are still in thrall of the Beijing Olympics, lets apply this technique to archery and shooting. The trajectory of an arrow/bullet is determined by its size and weight which in turn determines its speed. But wind creates friction, and curvature of the earth and breathing of an archer/shooter are other factors which determine accuracy. The breath control of an archer/marksman is the internal force for the hands to obey perfectly. To that extent, archery is a science for which the practice of yoga could prove useful. Indeed thats what Zen books are all about — force and energy. Expansion of the ambit of the subject could endow students with a knowledge of the importance of yoga.
Its crucial for teachers to grasp that the natural learning process moves from the whole to the part. Thats why a mother instinctively shows a whole tree to her infant. Only when the baby is older does she identify its leaves, flowers and fruits. And only when the child is capable of absorbing details does the mother talk of roots, osmosis etc. If as teachers we follow this natural process of comprehension and learning, we would be more effective in improving learning outcomes in our classrooms.
Teach a child to look at the whole; the parts will take care of themselves.
(Aruna Raghavan is the Chennai-based author of Your Child Can be a Genius and is a teacher educator)

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