Involve Edu
  • By involveAdmin
  • 28.03.2024

From Chalk-and-Duster to Activities and Stories: A Content Writer’s Journey into Student-Centered Learning

Anjali Verma, Content Lead

“I have been trying to explain this to you for 2 to 3 days. Why can’t you understand, Nadan?”

For days, I had struggled to teach him single-digit numbers. Frustration and irritation crept in as he struggled to recognize numbers, leading me to question if there was an underlying issue with his learning abilities.

One day, after a week of our learning efforts, he returned from school and excitedly pointed to the digits on the calendar, exclaiming, “Look, Mommy! One, two, three, four, and five are written on the calendar!”

“Wow, you learned all these numbers in just one day?” I asked my son in amazement. His swift grasp of the concepts piqued my curiosity.

It turns out, my son attends a Montessori school where they employ a variety of engaging methods such as activities, stories, and teaching/learning materials (TLM) to teach children.

As an Academic Content Writer, my educational background was steeped in traditional chalk-and-duster methods. I found it challenging to grasp topics that involved activities or interactive learning. In the environments I grew up in, lectures dominated the classroom, with minimal emphasis on hands-on experiences or storytelling. Believing that lectures were the only effective teaching method, I carried this perspective into my professional career.

In various organizations, I crafted content based on my belief in text-heavy explanations as the key to universal understanding. However, this approach was challenged when I encountered difficulties while trying to teach my son using lectures.

My perspective shifted when I joined “INVOLVE,” a non-profit organization dedicated to peer-based pedagogies and empowering student agency. Assigned to write about fractions, I initially produced content heavy on text and light on activities. However, feedback from my team highlighted the limitations of this approach in promoting foundational numeracy among children.

“Why?” I inquired.

Their response outlined several challenges:

  • Many students struggle with reading proficiency.
  • Students find enjoyment and engagement in games and activities.
  • There is a lack of foundational understanding of concepts among students, necessitating efforts to bridge this gap.
  • The student population includes multilingual learners, adding complexity to teaching strategies.

Despite initial scepticism, I embraced the notion that students learn better through activities and stories. With guidance from the curriculum team and reference material from previous years, I set out to develop new content in this format. Incorporating activities into my writing, I crafted a Math book rich in interactive elements such as activities, pictures, and stories, with minimal text. Topics covered included addition with and without carryover, subtraction with and without borrowing, and division featuring comic characters.

Collaborating with my team, we brainstormed various engaging methods to captivate students’ interest. This led to the introduction of Math Fun Days and Personalized Math Facts initiatives. We also introduced cartoon characters like Polly the Panda, who narrates Math facts, and Curious Parrot, who poses thought-provoking questions like, “What would we have done if we did not have a ruler to measure?”

I found great pleasure in exploring activities, delving into stories, and devising games to enhance learning experiences. One day, as I casually perused the topics in our book, a curious thought crossed my mind: “Did I write this?” It struck me that a student, who typically shied away from activities, had authored a book that beautifully explained concepts through engaging activities and stories.

Months later, during a routine check-in, our team marveled at how students embraced the material with enthusiasm, connecting deeply with the provided pictures, stories, and activities. Their excitement while playing games and tackling problems was palpable. Motivated by this, I began frequenting schools more often.

Creative teaching in action
Creative teaching in action: A student leader uses small stones as visual aids to explain addition and subtraction concepts, making math come alive and resonate with peers during my school visit.

Despite spending years observing teachers, my perspective shifted significantly when I immersed myself in school environments with Involve. Witnessing students engage with activities and relate them to real-life experiences opened my eyes to a different realm of learning.

I came to realize that not every student fits the mold of a traditional learner. My son, along with many other children I encountered, thrived in environments rich with activities and stories, contrary to my earlier belief in lecture-based teaching. It became evident that such interactive methods not only fostered better understanding but also enhanced enjoyment in the learning process.

A study by Celik in 2018 supported what I experienced. It found that activities improved sixth-grade students’ math performance and their attitudes toward math.

This journey reshaped my perception of education. While it’s natural for parents and teachers to stand by their preferred teaching methods, it’s vital to acknowledge that every child learns differently. My experiences with my son and Involve underscored the importance of embracing student-centered approaches. However, a part of me still questions: “How much is too much?” How do we strike a balance between incorporating games and activities while operating within an educational system that primarily evaluates based on procedural steps rather than genuine understanding and knowledge? Now I believe the challenge lies in finding the delicate equilibrium.


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