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Samrita Trust is an NGO started in 2006, that works for educating the visually challenged. Started by Air Vice Marshal(Retd) N.S.Sastry and his wife Mrs Anasuya, this organization has several committed volunteers who produce learning material for VI people.
Until recently, the government used to give an allowance for a reader and a two-in-one (cassette player and radio) to VI students enrolled in government colleges. These readers were quite erratic and the cassettes were also made only by motivated teachers. In general, these students were at the mercy of uncertain resources for their learning. But all that had to change once mp3 technology was available. Samrita Trust not only created study material, it worked with the government to change their policies and enabled students to receive modern equipment and not depend on readers.
What will surprise you is that this entire technology is tried, developed and tested by Sri G. Annaji Sarma, He worked for 34 years in Bhilai steel plant and retired as Chief Engineer. He and Mr Sastry at 70+ age, are excited with available technology, they figure out solutions by trial and error and are passionately spending huge amount of time in this endeavor. Their wives comment that they are busier than when they were employed!
The story of Samrita is not as easy as it sounds here. In spite of sincere efforts it is very difficult to even reach the needy students. It’s virtually impossible to get the data about VI students in colleges, schools, and in applications for employment. Further, donors need some trace of their donations, so a tracking system needs to be put in place. Donations have been raised through individuals, through Give India and through corporate like banks and private companies.
What strikes you about Samrita Trust is that it is run very professionally, with commitment and purpose.
You can read more at http://www.samritatrust.org/
Initially volunteers of the Trust started reading books and creating CDs. Telugu and English medium books in History, Political Science, Economics, Civics, Commerce, Public Administration were read for BA and Intermediate. Using software called Goldwave, almost 12 books could be read and put on a DVD. Now these students needed CD players. The Trust donated hundreds of players initially. But the significant philosophy of Mr Sastry is to make a self sustaining model and to involve government in creating systems for it. So after several trips to the concerned departments, DVD players were distributed through government also. Same story was repeated a couple of years later once mp3 players were affordable and more convenient. Now an entire BA syllabus could be put on a single mp3 player and carried in one’s pocket. This is a huge empowerment for VI students who are also poor and cannot afford latest gadgets.
Moving to competitive exams
Once they got a taste of audio books, the college graduates started asking for more. They wanted to get jobs by writing competitive exams. So Samrita promptly recorded material and model papers for Bank exams, Group II and IV, RRB etc and supplied at hostels and colleges. Several candidates could qualify and get jobs.
Many competitive tests have become on-line and just practicing with audio books wouldn’t help. So Samrita promptly set up mock on-line tests for them.
Braile Kits for young children
Partnering with Vidya Vriskhah, an NGO who manufacture Braille Kits, and Worth Trust that also trains differently abled people, Samrita distributed hundreds of kits to VI children in several districts of AP with the help of Sarva Siksha Abhiyan team. In fact, Samrita initiated Vidya Vriksh to make the kit for Telugu.
While audio books are convenient, compact and useful, spellings, reading, drawing and writing can be learnt only with Braille script.
Samrita Trust prepares typed version of latest text books published by AP Govt. One hard copy of the Braille book is produced and proof read by a blind teacher. Final corrected version is given to NIVH Chennai, which embosses the Braille books and supplies to schools which ask for them.
Mr Sastry was always clear that colleges and schools have to play a pivotal role to sustain this system. He has insisted on the CD players and audio books to be available in an audio library that should be maintained by some teacher in the school or college.
(From Mastering Teaching Skills Series – Explaining and Questioning by Trevor Kerry)
As teachers, most of our professional talking in class is about explaining something to students. This is by far the most important skill for a teacher to have. If you get your hands on this book, you will enjoy because it has examples of progressively better explanations and also has exercises for you to work on.
Purpose and components of and skills for good explanations:
An explanation means giving understanding to another. It has three aspects – a content (to explain), a style or type of explanation and the involvement of the learner in getting the points across.
Explanations can be of three types based on questions they try to answer:
What? - Interpretative explanations e.g., what is climate? What is graph?
How? – Descriptive explanations e.g. how does climate change in India? How can we construct a graph of our class scores?
Why? – Reason giving explanations e.g. why does climate change? Why is this graph of scores useful?
A classroom explanation will have elements from all three types and you should be able to transition between the three. This is also the essence of Kolb’s learning cycle where every learner must be taken through why?what?how? questions in order to complete the understanding. The basic requirement here is SEQUENCING. If you jump back and forth between these questions because you have realised that there were gaps – learners will get confused and worse still, they will lose interest.
Explanation style also changes with the kind of audience you are addressing and the purpose of explaining. Oral explanation is enhanced by using various stimuli or support like pictures, diagrams and verbatim texts for definitions. Here we are not going to explore written explanations but if a teacher can write down his/her explanations before talking in class, it will be an extremely useful exercise.
Purpose: An explanation can be given to explore or solve a problem, to operate an instrument or conduct an experiment, to tell a story, to analyse a situation, to defend or argue a point of view, to offer conclusion. It is important to realise what is important in each of these contexts. While it is critical to follow exact steps sequentially in learning to conduct an experiment or operate an instrument, generating interest may be more important in story telling. Similarly, analyzing a situation requires a balanced view while defending needs a strong supporting evidence for one particular view.
Summarising or concluding explanations are as important as the introductions because it is here a learner knows the topic is coming to an end and will pay attention to any significant points. Further, as we will see later in “connectives” – the language you use enhances the meaning conveyed to the learner including sequence and summary. For example, “finally”, “before this”, “as soon as we finish this step”, “to recap” etc.
An effective explanation spanning these three types needs the following skills:
1. Making a dynamic introduction
2. Defining key terms/concepts that will be explained
3. Linking the concept with concrete examples
4. Using both positive and negative examples
5. Creating tasks that learners can do to enhance learning (active learning)
6. Familiarizing students with the technical language (of the subject)
7. Developing rules and principles from explanations
8. Using connectives to enhance learning
9. Using language effectively
10. Using repetition and emphasis (multiple types not just rote)
11. Adopting an appropriate pace
12. Numbering points
13. Using appropriate humour
14. Linking the explanation to other knowledge
15. Building the feedback loop – assessing learner’s understanding
In a traditional class, the teacher uses the time to pass on information or material to the students in the form of a lecture or any other audio-visual form and then give them home assignments. . The teacher is the ‘sage on the stage’. Now many teachers are turning this model on its head, asking students to watch videos of classes before coming to class and then use the session to discuss and apply the knowledge or work on assignments. This is called ‘flipped classroom’. In October 2012, during a training session at ITM, Mussoorie, we had given participants a book on using Emotional Intelligence. There were also a couple of other papers for reading. What we did was have a 30-60 minute slot the next morning to discuss the application of that material to their workplace. This turned out very productive and generated an animated discussion on the material which we had to cut short due to our tight schedule. A lot of learning took place which wouldn’t have been possible in the traditional way.
This idea existed since several decades where teachers would give pre-reading material for their courses. Very often, it was difficult to enforce the reading especially if the class was large. Now that it is so easy to put videos and slides on the internet, and also have discussion forums and networking, it has suddenly become very easy to use a flipped classroom. In fact, many students would actually want to come to class if there was something beyond what they could get freely by ‘Googling’.
Many studies have indicated that student success rates are higher with flipped classrooms.
Not a panacea for all problems
Flipped classroom is one way to promote learning and interaction in students.
It is dependent on the access to technology, the size of the class and the competency of the teacher to engage in an active discussion. It may sometimes depend on the nature of the topic or subject. It needs an ability to guide individual students if necessary.
Like all other ideas it should be customized to one’s own situation and style. It cannot be used too often lest students get bored!
You can have a few flips to begin with!
I have been using this model for the last 20 years of my teaching at UC Berkeley. I give a 10% grade on this activity and students tend to learn better, retain longer, participate more in a flipped classroom. Of course, the teacher must also be equally knowledgeable and enthusiastic and can use some motivators like chocolates! – Pratap Chillakanti, Founder, Lensoo Inc