One may live through many experiences every day, but it is reflecting upon these experiences which brings learning to life. Such reflection requires a deep and conscious level of inward journeying and an ability to express one’s perceptions in a viable, fearless manner. As Krishnamurti says, “A man who has no fear of any kind is really a free, a peaceful man”.
To create such a space where the learners not only articulated their thoughts and feelings, but also challenged themselves to re-define—in their own terms— the implication of their ideas and thoughts, I designed an ‘active reflection’ for a group of learners-educators (students) of class 9. These classes provided space for them to become aware of their own thoughts and feelings; to give expression to them through presentation and sharing, through body movements and using other materials; and most importantly, attempting to build a trusting and considerate relationship with their peer group. On the one hand, they could introspect upon themselves, while on the other, they could give encouraging feedback to their classmates, which created a meaningful mutual learning experience.
We embarked on this journey with an activity of drawing self-portraits. We could see how drawing an object or another person’s portrait was relatively easier than drawing oneself. It was not just the skill of drawing facial features but the way one sees oneself. Art can be an effective medium which allows an individual to express oneself. Learners held paint brushes and used water colours to let their emotions flow. Reflecting on a recent happy and sad experience, they let their brushes choose the colour and move freely on a sheet of paper. They learnt to their surprise that art could give form to their emotions in this manner.
Next, they used clay to give shape to their own dreams. Created by their own hands, the learners could see their imagination turning into a concrete shape. For example, equality for women could be imagined in the form of a girl standing on a stage with straight shoulders—this concreteness may perhaps help them to visualise the dream more graphically. Guided meditation was another such activity which provided space for learners to pause in their daily activities and be more aware of the thoughts running in their minds.
The above activities allowed learners to introspect at an individual level. The space was equally important in building trust and allowing space for reflection within the peer group. In the beginning of the ‘trust-fall’ activity, it seemed an easy task to follow the instructions given by the group. However, when one stood with closed eyes in the centre of the circle, it was challenging to trust the group members and allow oneself to freely fall, though one was familiar with everyone in the group.
In yet another exercise, learners sat in pairs with their backs facing each other— one partner gave instructions without naming the subject, and the other drew a figure following the instructions. It was interesting to see how a fish could turn out to be a funny figure or a star-with-a-dotinside could be understood as a trianglewith- a-bigger-circle-inside. It made them reflect on the use of words and the need to be precise in one’s communication with others, as there can be varied interpretations of the spoken word. Seeing it vividly in the form of a drawing was evidence of this. In a different activity on communication, a pair of learners explored their responses to situations and people based on their needs and their relationship with the other. Taking on the imaginary role, say of a politician, one answered the questions of the audience in a formal manner, while the other person standing behind was giving words to what perhaps went on in the character’s mind. It opened the space for everyone to discuss about the nature of interpersonal relations.
Stories are an important communication tool in many societies and cultures. Human beings as social creatures are attracted to stories, be it in daily life or in spreading ideas. In our story telling sessions, we shared stories from our lives that had left a significant impact on us. We also shared experiences which we had found difficult to engage with, but the other members pointed out the positive elements in that story by sharing their views. Reading one story from different perspectives helped us to consider various possibilities in a situation and empathize with different characters. It helped to connect with real life contexts and see different people responding to situations differently.
Articulating one’s ideas and feelings by writing in a co-learning environment and giving feedback to others was an important part of these classes. At an individual level, they responded to writing prompts such as how they are as a person; important people in their lives; a compliment received recently; any new skill they had learned lately; things that make one happy, sad, angry, afraid and what one does to feel better in times of difficulty. This helped them to share their own experiences, articulate the difficulties they faced and reflect on a similar situation which could be met differently in future. The peer feedback was a significant part of these reflective sessions. Apart from building a cooperative learning environment, it helped the members of the group to know about each other more deeply in this journey of learning and growing together.
In Krishnamurti’s words, “The more you know yourself, the more clarity there is. Self-knowledge has no end—you don’t come to an achievement; you don’t come to a conclusion. It is an endless river.” Our schools certainly are committed to creating a space for a child to grow holistically. These classes were a small step in that direction.
As an Educator-Learner (teacher), it was delightful to facilitate these reflective sessions through various activities. At the same time, it was a good learning experience to create a classroom environment without judgement. A common element in the feedback was an increased awareness of their emotions; confidence to speak for the right causes; to build trust among members of the class and thereby enable them to speak openly without fear!