Working with the intentions of the Krishnamurti schools takes us deep into the question, ‘What is learning?’ We can explore this better when we do not divide or compartmentalize learning into academic and non-academic, and separate this from day-to-day living.
As teachers, the question challenges our very deep conditioning about knowledge and its place in learning, as well as the position of the teacher as an authority in the classroom. A journey with the question based on the intentions of the school necessarily involves a process of ‘unlearning’ for the teacher in relation to conceived notions about how learning takes place. Discussions and dialogues from K’s books and talks, amongst the teachers and within oneself, can be a great source of support and strength to explore and find the right approach to learning. The Valley School, Bangalore, has had a history of breaking down rigid structures in academic learning and questioning approaches to relationships.
The idea of creating a learning environment called ‘The Open Classroom’ emerged from a long period of debate and discussion. Learning in mixed-age-groups was introduced into the junior school three years ago, inspired by what was happening at The School at Chennai. We began with activities like art, gardening, drama and music. Last year while reviewing this initiative, it was felt that the programme could cover academic learning as well. Thus the idea of the Open Classroom was introduced.
About a hundred children ranging in age from 6 to 9 (classes 1 to 4) are grouped together into four randomly mixed groups. While two groups work in the two open classrooms, the other two groups engage in art or games. Each group takes turns to work in the open classroom twice a week.
What are the objectives of the open classroom?
- Create a learning environment where children experience a sense of freedom to work according to their own level, interest and pace.
- Create an opportunity for children to experience the joy of learning by providing various activities and materials that can inspire them to explore.
- Encourage the child to grow with a sense of responsibility for his actions and his learning by providing an opportunity to choose and plan his own work schedule.
- Learn to work together with children of different age groups in an atmosphere where there is no comparison and where relationships can grow to be friendly, helpful and constructive.
What does the open classroom look like ?
The room is large and airy with 9 different spaces or corners designated for Reading, English, Maths, Hindi, Kannada, Art, Puzzles, Science, and Listening. The children move from one space to another, interacting and learning from the activities provided. Every corner has space for 6 children to work at a time.
How do we work in the Open Classroom?
Start: Circle time
When the group enters the classroom, they come together in a circle for about 15 minutes. This is the time for the teacher and the children to share common questions and concerns. The teacher introduces the new activities that are placed in the corners and discusses the guidelines for work and behaviour in the open classroom. Sometimes a discussion on freedom and the meaning of responsibility may get started by responding to what is taking place in the classes.
This comprises of two 1 hour sessions (with a short break of 10 minutes for coming together for a cup of ragi porridge).
After the circle time the children go to the corners. Every child chooses a corner by picking a card with a symbol of the corner from the tray. As there are more spaces than children, there are empty spaces in some of the corners. When a child completes an activity in a corner, he chooses another card from the tray. These cards are designed to develop interest and independent learning skills and are therefore graded according to the level of challenge. We find that children in this age group possess a natural urge to handle work on their own.
In the art, puzzles, science and listening corners, the children often find reassurance and confidence in their own abilities. The activities in these corners are kept openended, so that children can use their creativity in expressing their ideas. Observation of the work created in these corners brings forth interesting facts for the teachers in understanding the individual child and her needs.
The reading corner is a favourite and every child makes time to visit it. Browsing, quiet reading, writing down a story, a poem or facts in small self-made booklets are some of the activities that have evolved from the children’s own initiatives.
The materials in the maths, English, Hindi and the Kannada corners are colourcoded to show the different levels. The plan of work for every child includes working with concrete and semi-concrete materials, followed by skill and practice work. Children are ready to pick up a hands-on activity, a worksheet or a work card and settle down. They are encouraged to read the instructions before asking for help. The older children are comfortable asking each other for help. Interaction between children of different age groups takes place.
An interesting activity, which came about, was that the older children made worksheets for the younger children. Presenting material in a worksheet format involves a lot of thought and organization. They did not mind the corrections and the re-writing, which became part of their work.
As there is no time restraint, some children use the opportunity to bring a lot of details into their work. Every child has the time to complete the activity taken up. At the end of every activity, the work is checked and corrected by the teacher. The record sheet showing the different corners is marked. Slowly the children learn to use this record sheet to plan their work schedule for the day. Surprisingly, there is no resistance when they are asked to visit all the corners. Children are willing to give a fair share to all the subjects.
End: Circle time
At the end the children gather together again in a circle. They are ready to share their experiences, feelings and ideas with the group. The children are reminded to listen to others with the same interest and attention that they would like for themselves while they are speaking. It seems to be a difficult task to listen with attention and sensitivity and to respect each other’s thoughts and feelings. It calls for a great deal of patient insistence to develop this quality of ‘unconditional listening’.
What are the teacher’s roles and responsibilities?
The environment in the open classroom is learner-centred. The teacher is not actively teaching or instructing, but is moving around, observing and assisting whenever help is required. The teacher has the opportunity to act in different ways to facilitate and motivate learning in the room. She is also actively involved in creating and organizing the learning materials in the open classroom.
What is the nature of evaluation?
Evaluation of the child includes his participation in the learning of the various subjects and his behaviour when learning on his own and in a group. A record sheet is maintained for both these aspects. Selfevaluation by the students is encouraged. The record sheet also helps the teacher to observe the child’s developing interests by noting the manner in which he selects the corners.
Difficulties experienced by the child can also be observed and attended to immediately, as suitable materials of different levels are available at hand.
Self-evaluation by the teacher of her own growth is equally important. Apart from learning to create appropriate material, the teacher’s interest in exploring the wider and deeper aspects of learning needs to be considered. This reflects in the teacher’s readiness to move along, to respond to situations as they arise and let the right approach to learning evolve in the classroom.
At the end of the day the open classroom cannot be described as a method or a system. It is a quality of learning which the teacheralong with the children creates.
There was a child went forth every day,
And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became,
And that object became part of him for the day, or a certain part of the day,
Or for many years or stretching cycles of years.
The early lilacs became part of this child,
And grass and white and red morning-glories, and white and red clover, and the song of the phoebe-bird,
And the Third-month lambs and the sow’s pink-faint litter, and the mare’s foal and the cow’s calf,
And the noisy brood of the barnyard or by the mire of the pondside,
And the fish suspending themselves so curiously below there, and the beautiful curious liquid,
And the water-plants with their graceful flat heads, all became part of him.