Expanding Education: the need for interactive learning, imagination in Moroccan classrooms

By Abdallah Zbir

Chicago – MWN

The Coccinellidae are a family of small beetles that are commonly known as ladybirds. Their color varies from yellow, orange to scarlet with small black spots on their wings. These beetles represent a vivid childhood memory that I hold dear. A memory that is now an answer to a question I still share with many educators over what can ensure efficacy and productivity in our teaching choices. This memory took me back to 1996 and my hometown of Kenitra while also cultivating a passion for understanding and reforming our education system.

Unfortunately, we still limit our choices and thoughts on education to traditional perspectives. We still measure the effectiveness of our schools by the efficacy of our teachers, and we still measure their success by evaluating tests and numbers. Education is a culture, a climate and so much more than numbers and standardized tests.

In March of 1996 my colleagues and I at the Teachers Training Center of Kenitra were introduced to a videotape of a French teacher in a French school giving a Natural Science class on Ladybirds. I still remember this teacher welcoming his students with a confident voice to another exploratory journey in the world of insects’ breeding, nutrition and living.

The classroom was colorful, well organized and adequate materials were present. A welcoming word from a teacher with few instructions for a picnic/class in the beauty and richness of a neighboring forest. The camera then took us to an outdoor view of a group of students walking around the trees observing and taking notes. The teacher was seen to be frequently engaging in short talks with his students. The class ended with the students being asked to review their notes and try to consider other alternatives in studying Ladybirds while also encouraging more research in libraries and scientific labs. It was a rainy day, I still remember the scenes from the window across the teacher’s disk. The teacher stood up and moved with the same confidence again towards the center where he could have close contact with every individual student in the classroom. The remarks were shared. Questions were asked and answered and illustrations were introduced to prove their conclusions.

The class reflects a theory of learning that I greatly admire and present a man that educators still appreciate.  They value his impressive and significant contributions to educational psychology. Jererome Seymour Bruner, this American psychologist, with his influence on constructive learning and his focus on social and cognitive aspects of knowledge, has made learning a shared experience between teachers and students in which both build on previous learning experiences and occurrences and cooperatively construct knowledge about new ideas through an active process of investigation.

“Bruner, suggests the instructor, should encourage students to construct hypotheses, make decisions, and discover principles by themselves; in effect they should present information in such a way that students may build new knowledge on existing knowledge to facilitate a recursive learning process.”  A learning process where students work in teams to explore and investigate various content while the teacher can explain and clarify possible misconceptions while also determining the levels of understanding at each stage of the class. Once new concepts and new lexical items are introduced, students can elaborate and expand on their knowledge allowing teachers chances to evaluate their work and assess their learning.

Burners’ five academic elements, known as the Five E’s; engage, explore, explain, elaborate, evaluate; is not properly implemented in most of our classrooms. Teaching for us is merely a routine process where every class is a lecture. I remember my teachers, and I remember their focus on diction and memorization. I remember a blackboard and a ruler, and I also remember the introductions and the conclusions. The rest were simply empty moments and gaping holes.

No spirit, warmth or personal touch; no conceptualization or reflections; no problem-solving skills, and more dramatically, no possibilities for our children to explore and discover. The teacher was merely a source and idol of absolute authority. Classes were a set of practices and rules being measured to enable extreme obedience to academic technicalities. A natural science class in elementary school was simply a 40 minute exercise in the non-stop action of telling and telling and telling with few pictures, props, or other additional material. Everything was an endless chain of lecturing, and we were caught in the middle of nowhere, unaware of the truly liberating experience of curiosity, learning, discovery, and critical analysis.

Bruner’s three stages of learning; inactive, iconic, and symbolic, see beyond our traditional understanding of learning as a process of loading and our traditional consideration of teachers as sources of authority and knowledge. Learning now is a noble agreement between teachers and students on a co-operative and inter-active process of inquiries. As educators, we are required to comply with pre-defined regulations in all areas and corners of our academic structure. Yet, our personal touch and initiatives should always be encouraged and supported so we can freely engage with our students in the world of learning. Our classrooms are transitional stages where teachers and students should always be given confidence so those stages are of inspiration and motivation. Otherwise, the failures of our teaching pedagogy will continue to bring despair and handicap our efforts to teach and learn, as both students and educators.

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