Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Towards more effective teaching of Humanities

Teaching is both an art and a skill. It combines intelligence, aptitude, empathy, and a youthful eagerness or zest. Truly it is said a teacher never grows old as long as he teaches, a good teacher is both a learner as well as a giver of knowledge. Today however, with an exponential explosion of knowledge, thanks to the electric media and the internet, the role of the teacher has become more of a guide than a giver of knowledge, because knowledge and information can anyway be found on the internet!
Teaching of Humanities, languages, arts, and Social Sciences however require special abilities and skills in teachers. It is not enough for the teacher of Humanities to be an encyclopaedia of knowledge, rather it is important for him to be able to enthral his students by making his topic interesting! How would you make the battle of Waterloo, or the battle between Porus and Alexander interesting, to young teenagers who’d rather be playing on their PlayStations? How would a teacher of Geography make the lessons of grasslands, climate, or map reading interesting to students who would rather be at the PVR watching a block-buster movie?
These are questions that confound most educationists! It is a challenge for all teachers all over the world to make dull and  boring topics interesting! There is this story about an argument that Einstein had with his History teacher regarding the need to memorise dates! Einstein had not memorised when the battle of Waterloo had taken place, and how many Prussian soldiers had died! When challenged by his History teacher, Einstein told him with his unthinking honesty that he did not believe in learning of dates, rather he wanted to learn why the Prussian and French were killing each other! The History teacher was astounded at this answer because Einstein’s theory of Education went against the concept of rote-memorisation and mugging!
It is this traditional method of teaching through rote-memorisation and mugging that makes the topic and class boring. It is when the teacher fails to arouse the interest and curiosity of the students that they start fidgeting and talking to each other. It spoils the discipline of the class and the teacher has to put in more effort in controlling the class. A spoilt opportunity, no doubt! What then can the teacher of an abstruse subject do to make it more interesting? Well, for one thing, he should be a good story-teller! Secondly, he or she should be a juggler, a person who keeps adapting his style of teaching according to the topic or the mood of the students! There have been times when students told me that they didn’t want to learn, so I started playing word games, and when they got into the right mood, I gradually drew them on to the topic! By the end of the period, the students would wonder how I had so cleverly ended up teaching the topic after all! It goes without saying that to be a good teacher of Humanities, you should be a good story teller, teach the students with the help of anecdotes, and stories! Connect and link the topic as much as possible to things which the student can relate to! Create in them a curiosity to learn more about the topic. Just the other day, I went to one of the tenth classes, and began to talk about the impact of pollution on the environment. Examples were taken from some the the English movies, and a reference was made to the documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth”. Time flew, and we were all engrossed in the topic, “Pollution”. This was because the topic of Air Pollution had become so interesting, and the question answer, and discussion method of teaching was adopted. In some cases, the lecture method suffices, but in other cases one may have to adopt a mix of different methods of teaching! It is only when interest is created in the lesson that teaching becomes effective!

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