To human beings, learning is an instinctive and intricate process. It is in essence, an assiduous journey which starts the very second we enter this world. The role of education therefore is to augment and consolidate this learning process thereby equipping the learner with knowledge and understanding of the world around her/him. However, there are underlying factors, which contribute to positive or contrary learning experiences. In this review, I shall discuss and analyse the factors that contribute to my competence in English and also evaluate the hindrances that I have faced in establishing a similar proficiency in Science. I shall also outline strategies for further development in Science by including an action plan to assist and contemplate the identified subject knowledge requirements.
In addition, this action plan will also incorporate ideas to expand and promote further capability in English.
I was home schooled until the age of eight. I was taught to read and write Urdu and English by my mother and a well-meaning aunt. I recollect those experiences with great fondness because the aunt who taught me English had no children of her own and so showered me with constant praise and approval.
School however, came as a shock to me since I found it arduous to sit hour after hour through facile exercises in grammar, spelling and punctuation. Also, by that time, I had evolved at home into a prolific reader and had gone through the textbooks for both Urdu and English with great relish over the summer, therefore the daily recital of individual lessons and chapters held little interest for me. Recollecting this, I realise that during those four years, my literary growth was somewhat stunted with the start of school because the teachers followed a rigid Behaviourist approach.
“This teaching may not easily connect with the child’s learning, existing knowledge or understanding of the world. One criticism of behaviourist approaches is that learning may be fragmented or superficial.”
The beginning of secondary school however was the start of a whole new era for me because I came across teachers with a passion for language, whether it was Urdu or English. The syllabus as well had improved in leaps and bounds and poetry in those days held a particular intrigue for me. I had started to write poetry in Urdu and it was in this context that I started to appreciate the work of Wordsworth and Keats. It is appropriate to conclude here that this was a stimulating time for me because my teachers followed a Social Constructivist approach to learning.
“A child working alone will reach a certain level of understanding. With the intervention of skilful and knowledgeable others, however, the child is capable of reaching a higher level of understanding. The distance between these two levels is the Zone Of Proximal Development or ZPD.”
My learning then, was accelerated by the positive reinforcement from my teachers and the enriching world of poetry.
It has also dawned on me after joining this course that one of the reasons behind my motivation in English is the affection that I developed for Urdu as a child. Being a bilingual learner, I transferred my “meaning-making” skills from my home language to my school language, which enabled me to perceive the enrichment that metaphors and similes brought to prose and poetry. Dutta also discusses this in these words:
“Poetry plays an important role in bilinguals’ development of language and literacy. It helps them to tune into a new language and enables them to experience the whole shape and rhythm of the language.”
I went on to luxuriate in the same level of success in high school and later on decided to pursue English for my degree.
While I received undiminished support for literacy at home, the same could not be said for my cognitive development in science. My father being an accountant and with my mother not harbouring any particular affiliation towards science, I was confronted with the daunting notion at school that this was one subject I knew little about. Because of the teachers’ emphasis on reading and revising chapters from the textbook as well as the lack of any collaborative discussions among my peer group, I found it difficult to grasp scientific concepts such as Properties of Matter, Photosynthesis, Structure of the Atom etc.
The only solution to passing tests and exams was cramming key facts and answers to vital topics. This resulted in decent grades but destitute scientific knowledge and insufficient learning. Experiments, a crucial aspect in teaching and learning primary science were conspicuously absent from the classroom and the whole learning experience suffered from a general lack of resources such as computer programs, video/audio cassettes as well as trips to scientific establishment i.e. museums etc.
Through my readings for this course, I have come across the idea of collaborative learning and the abundant advantages that succeed it. For example the following excerpt suggests the same idea:
“Vygotsky and Bruner emphasise the importance of the social and cultural context in which learning takes place. Learning is seen not solely as the work of the individual learner but as a social process. Applied to the classroom, it is the theory which underpins group and collaborative approaches such as those of investigative work in science or technology, shared writing or problem solving.”
Through my experience in this course, I have also realised the significance and benefits of hands on experience in science lessons through which children consolidate the learned facts and establish them as factual knowledge. For example, Wynne Harlen suggests that the following situations should be avoided as much as possible whilst teaching Science:
“-Introducing ready-made ideas about opportunities for children to try them out and compare them with their own ideas.
-Confining children to tasks so circumscribed that they are not free to discuss and share thinking with others.
As I entered secondary school, science was divided into three branches: Biology, Chemistry and Physics. Again I found it increasingly strenuous to cope with the arduous requirements of these subjects combined with inferior teaching skills. My parents enrolled me for extra tuition in physics and chemistry, which was of little help. Again I went through the exams by cramming chemical equations and memorising laws of motion.
Biology, however, went on to become one of my favourite subjects due to an outstanding teacher who brought a profound enthusiasm and fervour to the class. The result being that even now I can successfully draw and label the single cellular diagram of an Amoeba and explain the basic differences between animal and plant cell structure. I can also recall the process of Mitosis and Meiosis.
When faced with career choices, I evaluated my options and seriously considered Biology as my degree subject but I was required to demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of chemistry.