x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Al Ain teachers swap ideas on how to get their students to learn

The forum was attended by about 300 public and private school teachers from 27 schools - it gave some teachers 10 minutes to present an innovative, practical classroom idea that their colleagues could easily replicate.

A forum suggested that teachers need to plan lessons around activities the pupils like, and show appreciation to encourage them. Ravindranath K / The National
A forum suggested that teachers need to plan lessons around activities the pupils like, and show appreciation to encourage them. Ravindranath K / The National

AL AIN // Should little sheikhs be treated differently from other children in the classroom? How can teachers make maths more tangible and fun for pupils? What is the best way to engage shy children in class?

These are typical challenges for teachers, and a forum in Al Ain has given them an opportunity to share their solutions.

The forum, attended by about 300 public and private school teachers from 27 schools gave 10 teachers 10 minutes to present an innovative, practical classroom idea that their colleagues could easily replicate.

“We really want teachers to share ideas, we don’t want them to work in isolation,” said Judith Finnemore of Focal Point, the education consultancy that hosted the forum.

“What we want to do with this is to actually get people thinking about education, thinking about good ideas, the bottom line is that it has to have impact on the students. All the ideas that we have here tonight, they’re all to do with making teaching better.”

Armandee Drew, a school counsellor, told a story set in a Grade 2 classroom where exemplary pupils received an award every Thursday.

“In this particular classroom there’s a little sheikh who we’ll call Hamid,” said Mrs Drew. “Hamid is really excited when he gets an award, of course, as all the other children are. But on the Thursdays when Hamid doesn’t happen to get an award, he’s having a lot of difficulty.”

The teachers tried encouraging Hamid to celebrate his classmates’ achievements, but each week he failed to receive an award he was confused and uncomfortable, prompting the teachers to change their strategy.

“When we put ourselves in little Hamid’s shoes, we realised that culturally there’s something called ascribed status and achieved status. Most westerners have been raised achieving status, achieving their merit by what they have done,” Mrs Drew said.

Whereas, in Middle East countries, “it’s more about who you are and who you know”.

By applying what Mrs Drew called inter-cultural intelligence, the teachers decided not to enforce “a western perspective” on Hamid. Instead, they accepted both cultures in the classroom.

“We decided that he should be the sheikh, that’s what he is and that’s how he’ll grow up and be,” said Mrs Drew. “We suggested that he give out the awards to the other children, and of course this changed the dynamic in the classroom. The awards going to the children, the receivers of the awards, they were thrilled. It made it more special for them and for little Hamid, it made sense for him and he was able to be in that position and celebrate with everyone when they got the awards.”

Terrence Lorick, who teaches Grade 5 pupils at a government school in Al Ain, also presented advice for managing children in the classroom.

“The best advice I ever got as a teacher concerning discipline is that authority is an illusion,” said Mr Lorick. “We don’t really have any authority over the children, they’re only going to do what they want to do, so we have to try to engage them to the point that they will want to do what we’re asking them to do. And we want to keep that illusion intact as much as possible.”

Mr Lorick offered eight tips for establishing a “controlled learning environment”.

He said teachers need to establish a presence in the classroom by making eye contact and speaking clearly and concisely with the pupils, develop a rapport with them that shows genuine care, plan lessons around activities they like, establish routines and show appreciation for students who follow the procedures. They should also know the extent administration will support your efforts, engage parents in their child’s progress, be committed and consistent, and reward children who buy into your system.

rpennington@thenational.ae