A reflective journal on a students own learning experiences

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Writing this journal I had to make a conscious effort to recognize my own learning experiences. I was overwhelmed by the thought that reflecting upon all my learning experiences and matching these to theories would be a chore, and would be time consuming. I didn't recognize it as a beneficial piece of work. I could not determine whether reflecting upon my learning felt a natural process that I went through on an everyday basis but was now putting onto paper or whether it was a forced process that I was adhering to as a requirement of the course. I had to write it down for the purpose of the course but at the same time I found a channel through which to develop my thinking.

Like many developing countries Pakistan faces enormous developmental and social problems. Many of these challenges are deeply reflected in the field of education. Teacher performance is severely handicapped by an insufficient number of teachers to keep pace with the growing number of children, often resulting in unmanageable large classes. Other factors are poor quality of initial teacher education, poor supervision with little attention to performance in the classroom and a chronic shortage of qualified teachers. The curriculum often lacks relevance, and teaching and learning strategies are largely shaped by ineffective testing and an examination system which fosters rote learning and passive student roles. Teachers continue to teach in the same teacher centered rote learning manner that their childhood teachers had used and hence the cycle continues.

The practical aims of teaching is how best a teacher can get into the students head and develop their assertive and learning skills. Best teaching aid for teachers is to teach the students to recapitulate their own learning experience and how our own teaching is perceived. I would highlight the problems that we face in institutes. The main issue is the transmission of knowledge. Our teachers are mainly pressurized in schools to cover the syllabus. Classroom practices depict a traditional view where teacher talk dominates and students listen passively. During class there is no evidence of developing student's critical thinking through questioning. Mainly the staff with their long experience of teaching develops confidence about their knowledge and do not encourage students who have questions. Such teachers are not welcoming and hesitate to transmit their knowledge. Whereas the new teachers believe that through questioning a teacher could help students enhance their knowledge and clear their concepts. It is acknowledged that we teach children to believe whatever information is written in the text book is the ultimate truth. This way we are not helping them to become literate. We follow the syllabi and accept everything blindly. We are not helping the students develop their conceptual and contextual understanding. We teachers are more inclined to teach through lecture method. We hardly make our students learn how to analysis an issue with an open mind and with reasonings. The moment a child starts analyzing and reasoning we teachers get threatened. The fear factor that we as teachers have as to how to answer their queries does not encourage the students to develop their skills. Confessing a lack of knowledge is generally considered as a matter of shame and threat. This is highly embedded in our cultural norms.

We as teachers come across number of students everyday who have different backgrounds. And teaching and guiding such children is a challenging job. We at times fail to adopt certain strategies which can help us groom such children. Most of us do not tend to test ourselves through real life situations and reframe our experiences. We as teachers mostly fail to discover our potential for leadership. In such cases a principal of the institute plays a pivotal role. His/Her steady and confident presence can impact consistent performance of both teachers and students.

Most of the teachers lack self-awareness. They are unaware of their strengths and weaknesses. They lack perception about their own talents, strengths, sense of purpose, core values, beliefs and desires. Also the awareness of one's knowledge, experience and capabilities is unknown to most of us. This leads teachers having difficulties both in addressing students' thinking processes and in helping students get the right answer through their own reasoning. They hardly seem to notice that student develop different interpretations of what the teachers had been asking or presenting in the class. Nor do they clarify what was inappropriate in student's explanations and why. Children are left alone with their confusions and without any clear justifications for the correctness or incorrectness of their answers. Teachers dominate the discussion, thus limiting the students' participation. The administration focuses more on new aims and styles of teaching. Teachers face difficulties in achieving their new aims and techniques within the given school and lesson time. It demands quality time to comprehend and rationalize new aims and practices. Teachers are under pressure of their annual appraisals, their completion of the text books, their planners and students examinations. These affect the teachers' practice and confidence in tackling their new aims of teaching.

All these additional jobs have minimized the capacities to improve teaching. If the child is not able to answer the teacher the administration thinks that the teacher is not performing his/her job well. If they answer all the questions correctly then they think that lesson had already been taught. Every time the blame is on the teacher. Then the financial stress requires the teacher to do various jobs besides teaching. All these add up to the frustration and tensions of the teachers having low financial and social status in society.

Mistakes are generally not accepted so as to save one's job. For example in one case a teacher was questioned by a student about some information/date in Islamiat. She answered without consulting and was incorrect, but when the student stood up to say that her answer was incorrect, instead of accepting her mistake, she started blaming the student and then relating her answer to all her tensions and frustrations. Conveniently said she tried to cover her mistake and not accept it. In this way the student started questioning her abilities and not leaving a good impact on the students mind. Such incidents when occur are not pleasant. Mostly teachers use harsh and abusive language discouraging the students to come up with their problems. The concepts are not clear with the fear of being abused in front of their fellow beings, they hesitate asking anything. Fear of being abused is a hindrance in their learning. We are inculcating a culture of rote learning rather than reasoning and analyzing. And fear in teachers being questioned by students is not helping in having a productive environment. This fear on both ends is not letting any of them learn and teach. Whereas learning is an ongoing process on both ends.

"Seek knowledge from cradle to grave' - saying of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)

With this I proceed my journal towards a few suggestions that can help in building better work environment where learning, reasoning, analyzing and knowledge transmission is focused. Teachers should encourage students to participate actively and should effectively open up a possibility of learning with understanding. They find ways to conceptualize their work with pupil in the classroom. The teachers should be compensated with new teaching styles in the available time in relation to introducing innovative ideas. Programs/workshops should be held on regular basis preparing them to reflect on their current practices and acquire new skills and apply these in their own context to aid their personal and professional development. They would then be in a better position to bring about a meaningful change in their institutes. Peer observation can provide opportunities for teachers to view each other's teaching in order to expose them to different teaching styles and to provide opportunities for critical reflection on their own teaching. Teachers need sufficient time to develop an understanding about critical thinking and its importance. Programs should be held to enhance their knowledge and skills regarding teaching. Concepts should be clarified not just follow the text blindly. Research and project work should be assigned in which students can learn and explore. This would enhance their learning skills. Teachers should encourage students to raise questions. This would help in building up a bond of respect, trust, faith and encouragement between the students and teachers. Hence all such solutions can be implemented to run a smooth and effective system.