Monday, March 29, 2010


Sudeshna and Sonali from Shikshamitra visited Swanirvar on 11 November, 2009. Maggie Flannagan, the retired British school teacher, was also present. Total 23 teachers from different schools of North 24 Parganas participated in the workshop. Pre-lunch session
The workshop was divided into two sessions. The morning session started with Sudeshna asking the teachers to fill up a form that contained questions on their class size, total time taken to commute to school, whether teachers can have access to AV medium if they want to, and such like issues.
Based on the questionnaire given to the teachers a few months back, a summary of problem areas were then written down on the blackboard. A brainstorming followed on these. Certain issues came up repeatedly during the brainstorming session.

For Class V , the starting year of secondary schools

• At present 40-60% students can write A – Z in the alphabetical order.
• 20 – 30 % students can read and write small words like cat, bat.
• Teachers are very much bound by the textbook and the obligation to finish the syllabus on time.
• Unit test is a headache that takes up a lot of time and deters the teachers to experiment with the class.
• Huge class size, with an average of 60-70 students per class, is a deterrent to effective teaching.
• Correcting copies of so many students doesn’t leave much time for the teachers to think about innovative teaching.
• Children do not do their homework, in fact most of them do not even open their textbooks once they leave the class. In most of the cases, parents do not take active interest in the studies of their wards.
It was noted that all the problems that the teachers highlighted, are typical of a primary class. They also agreed that if any intervention can make a difference, it can only do in class V when children are still in a malleable stage.

At the end of Class V, the teachers wanted the students to

• speak, write, comprehend English;
• read simple sentences; and
• love/ like the language.

Maggies’s session

The discussion veered towards the use of TLMs (teaching-learning materials). The teachers stated that they use charts, pictures and audio-visual materials (sometimes) in their classrooms.
Maggie then started with her demonstration on how to build up the pre-primary language skills of the students that requires identifying, reading and writing letters of the alphabet. She stated that children could be given letters and asked to make small words like cat, mat, hat, etc. While teaching letters, she mentioned that lower case has to be taught first since that is what we tend to use a lot in real life.
She demonstrated the way social language (What is your name?; How old are you?; Where do you live) can be used in classrooms to enhance the speaking skills of the students.
She also brought to notice the fact that the new English Book of class I published by the government of West Bengal is quite good and the teachers can take quite a few ideas from it for their classrooms.

Post-Lunch session

Maggie’s demonstrations went on for quite some time after lunch. While she was demonstrating, quite a few teachers raised the issue that Maggie’s demonstration is pre-primary teaching. Given the paucity of time and the obligation to finish the syllabus before unit tests, it is not possible for them to go into the kind of methodology that Maggie demonstrated. Interestingly, the teachers failed to see the point that once the student learns the letters it will be easier for the teachers to teach in the higher classes and all the problems that they had earlier mentioned could be arrested to a certain extent.
It was then that the model class plan was given to them with times allotted for all the four aspects of language teaching; viz, speaking, listening, reading and writing. It was told to them that with this structure they would be able to rectify the basic problems within 3 months. However, teachers were not too convinced again because they felt that this would lead to loss in teaching hours and would affect in their finishing of the syllabus.
Sudeshna then mentioned that the 3-month remedy classes would address a lot of issues concurrently. For example, if they know how to read letters, their vocab base will automatically increase, reading will improve and, in general, phobia of the language will go away. She then demonstrated a few TLMs (colour vocab) and it was decided that the next sessions will address the issue of TLM-making as well.
The teachers were then asked to give a feedback. They came up with the following.

Useful ideas

Importance of group activity
• Use of teaching aids
• Maggie’s method
• Social interaction in class as demonstrated by Maggie
• Learning through games
• Idea of engaging students to make teaching aids

Meaningless ideas

Forgo syllabus for the period when remedial classes are going on.
• Desist from assigning homework for the first six months.

Follow-up action
After a lot of back and forth, almost 70% of the teachers were convinced that an effort could be made to address the shortcomings of the learners. The next workshop has been fixed for 16 February, 2010. Following are the issues that are likely to be discussed.

Large classroom and multi-level teaching
• Syllabus-based demo, starting from class V
• What happens to good students when the others are going through the initial remedial programme?
• What does the teacher of class VII-VIII do if s/he gets a learner group who has no idea of letters and who can’t read?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

SWANIRVAR starts a Maths Network for Govt High School Teachers

From 2006 we started a programme to gradually improve the total quality of ~ 20 govt secondary schools in and around Baduria block of N.24 Parganas district in West Bengal. . To start with, this means getting the teachers motivated and excited to learn and do things differently . To some extent this has taken off . In June 2008 we were able to form a network of Work Education teachers and they are doing all kinds of new and different things and also having fun.
The Maths teachers had been pestering us for a year to start something with them as everywhere Maths is the most scary subject with most failures . But it has not been very easy to get Maths Resource persons. In May – June 2009 two resource persons became available : Swati Sircar ( taught Maths in Seattle , USA for many years ) who is a part timer at Shikshamitra and Sabyasachi Mitra , who has returned to West Bengal after being associated with Jodo Gyan Delhi and has conducted various workshops in many parts of India. And so finally the Maths “network” is starting.

Here is a report by Swati of two workshops held at Swanirvar

First Maths teachers wshop on 23rd June , 2009
There were around 30 teachers from 20+ different schools, some of the KKB staff, Gopal Mondol (the key math person in Swanirvar primary dept ) & Sabyasachi & I as resource people.

We started around 11:00am with a round of intro followed by what the teachers perceive as problem areas while teaching math in high schools. There were mainly 2 kinds of problems:
(i) the type coming from common practices in the society like going to a tutor & then conflicting ways of the tutor & the teacher. & (ii) problems on how to explain things to the children so that they get a clear concept.
We mentioned (& do need to be very clear about this in upcoming meetings as well) that we can't help them much with the type (i) problems other than telling them what's correct. Somehow these teachers will have to ensure that the children have more faith in them than the tutors.
Among the type (ii) problems the teachers mentioned the following as most problematic areas:

1. Use of inverse proportion in Class V as part of unitary method - we suggested that the children write one sentence using their common sense whether the concerned quantities will increase or decrease. After that they will be able to figure it out. They shouldn't be blindly applying an algorithm without using common sense.

2. There was some conflicting definitions in different editions of textbooks. We cleared those up.

3. Transformation geometry in general - We showed them a glimpse of how this can be taught in class. But decided to go deeper into this in a later meeting.

4. Some application type problem of mensuration.

5. How to correctly say a fraction in Bengali.

6. Some more language related issues.

While the teachers were mentioning these areas we often started discussing what we can do about it & spread into other related areas.
In the 2nd part after lunch, we specifically took on some concrete things that can be done immediately in class. Those included -

1. Introducing & dealing with negative numbers using very simple TLMs (e.g. 2 different colored but same size & shape buttons). It was interesting that the teachers weren't impressed while we did it on the board, but really liked it when we used concrete material.

2. How to show translation by folding a paper. This also led to a very interesting activity led by Sabyasachi on why transformation geometry & how it can be a very useful tool. The teachers were given a couple of problems. They all attacked them with conventional methods - mensuration & could hardly get the correct answer to the 2nd one. However when Sabya used transformation the answer became obvious to everyone without any calculation.
After that we decided on the format of how the teachers wanted to take things forward. It was decided to go topic by topic & spread across different classes - thus giving us the opportunity to do justice to it. Though it was originally thought of as Class VI-VIII, the teachers have stretched it to Class V-X.
For the next meeting on 14 Jul, they decided that we will work on "ratio-proportion". Part of the reason is that this topic comes earlier in the school year, so whatever they learn with us, they can apply in class immediately.

Second Maths teachers wshop on 14th July , 2009
We had planned to discuss ratio & proportion specifically. We started the discussion with why we need ratios even though it is so similar to fractions. We discussed situations where ration is more appropriate than fractions & where fractions won't help. Several examples came from the teachers. Then we discussed ratio-proportion vs unitary method - i.e. which method should be used while doing problems. Some activities were suggested that can be done by the students in class. Teachers commented on which can be done by class V & which is more appropriate for class VII. Then as a follow up to one of the activities I asked 2 puzzles to the teachers, one leading to the Golden Ratio. One of teachers solved & got the Golden Ratio during the session. Many were interested to know more about it. So in the next session I will show them more material on it.
We also digressed with every one's consent to some geometry as well. & for the next session we have decided to look at fractions & geometry and also make some simple geometry teaching kit consisting of various shapes.
We plan to gradually expose the teachers to various resources including good textbooks, math booklets on interesting topics, magazines & online math groups.

Third Maths Teachers Workhop 18th August , 2009 :

The main focus of this meeting was to make simple TLM's for geometry. We had also brought some books that discussed Fibonacci numbers & golden ratio & other things. Some of the teachers wanted to buy those books & placed order. We discussed some general questions the teachers raised on fractions & ratio-proportions. These included some confusion that the teachers had on various methods their students are using as well as some simple steps that make solving equation easier.
Then we got immersed in making various geometry shapes out of mount board. We 1st made a list of common shapes of various triangles & quadrilaterals the teachers should make. We also showed how the left out pieces can also be used to check whether the students have understood the concept of say, what a triangle or a polygon. Many teachers collected a lot of such "left-overs" at the end. We demonstrated how this cut-out shapes can help the teachers in the classroom. These included - (i) to show a shape, (ii) to quickly draw a shape on the board, (iii) to show a shape in different orientation (e.g. the top angle of a right angled triangle can be the right angle).
We also demonstrated some simple geometry models made by straws & staplers. Some teachers made some straw models also. Some took some straws home to make their models.
They wanted to know how to tackle the transformation geometry section (in class VII & VIII) - a major head-ache for most teachers. We showed reflection. But since we didn't have enough time, we decided to devote the next meeting on a workshop for geometry using paper folding & paper cutting. This would include the rest of transformation geometry.
Due to puja & Id holidays + unit tests etc we decided to skip Sep & have our next meeting on 26 Oct.

4th Maths Teachers Workshop 26 Oct , 2009 :
The main agenda on 26 Oct meeting was geometry. We started with some folding activities & the geometry theorems / corollaries behind them. We explored many theorems by folding or cutting papers. For the teachers it was like doing a practical in Math - something they had never done. We discussed how they can & should use this in classroom to engage the students & give them a feel for geometry. Then we did some activity on transformation geometry (class VII & VIII). We explained how these activities can cover this part of the syllabus in 3 periods. The teachers were visibly very engaged in & excited by these active way of dealing with geometry.
We asked the teachers for feedback on what they have learned so far & on their experience in trying those things out in class. Most are going to write & give it to the KKB in-charge. Some mentioned that children are understanding & remembering better, One even said that earlier it used to take him few minutes to settle the class down. Now as soon as he takes out a TLM the class immediately gets in order to see that!
The teachers had also ordered some books which were distributed. The author is going to join us for the next meeting in 7 Dec with his innovative algebra.
We are going to visit 3 schools on 16 Nov.

5th Maths Teachers Workshop : Dec 7, 2009:
Due to some travel arrangement mishaps, I reached Swanirvar around 1 pm. As per my suggestion, the teachers wrote brief reports on the impact of these monthly meetings in their classes. When I reached they were finishing up. We had 30 min before lunch & 1.5 hours after.
Main presentation / activity was around doing algebra using Subir da's techniques. We covered

1. 4 operations of integers with algebra pieces

2. + / - on integers with integer scales

3. + / - of quadratics with algebra pieces

before lunch.
After lunch we covered
1. multiplication of linear polynomials resulting in quadratics

2. factoring quadratics

3. division of a quadratic by a linear polynomial (with remainder)

all with algebra pieces.
Algebra pieces are essentially 3 types of rectangles / squares in 2 colors - 1 color for positive, 1 for negative
1. 1 unit x 1 unit = +1 or -1

2. y unit x 1 unit = +y or -y

3. y unit x y unit = y2 or -y2
We didn't have time to cut out the pieces from the EVA sheets. We plan to do that at the next meeting on Mar 9. So I showed it on the board. I showed them the integer scales. The teachers felt they are 2 small to use in a class of 60-100+ children. But they got the basic idea & hopefully will create their own. One teacher mentioned how he will create a bigger one from class demonstration.
We also created class-wise subgroups from the teachers present - 3-4 teachers per class. The job for these teachers will be to make a list of problem they face while teaching in that class (remedial or otherwise) & give it in writing at the next meeting. Then we take it from there.
We won't be meeting in Jan or Feb as all the schools will be busy with the remaining unit tests, remedial ones, annual exams & reports.
I also thanked the teachers because their experience helped me as trainer at the Nadia DIET workshop with high school math teachers just like them.

6th Maths Teachers Workshop : Mar 9, 2010:
1st part of the meeting included a brief sharing of my experience on teaching integer multiplication (negative x negative = positive - in particular) at the Learning Network Conference & through emails in ActiveMaths yahoogroup.
After that the 21 teachers got in 4 groups & started working with the EVA sheets to make the algebra pieces (mentioned in last report). Each group had one white & one colored sheet. The process was as followed:

1. paste one sheet over another with some non-soluble glue like Dendrite

2. draw a proper rectangle on the joined sheets - this was a challenge as none of the edges of the sheets were straight + there were no long enough scales

3. draw a grid in the rectangle - this grid on cutting gave 2 inch x 2 inch, 2 inch x 2 cm & 2 cm x 2 cm pieces

4. cut out the grid

5. do damage control - checking if the 2 layers of the pieces are stuck together or need some further glue & fixing as necessary

6. distributing the finished pieces equally among the group members
The process was neatly streamlined & in 2 hrs every teacher has a goody bag of TLM. We also demonstrated that these algebra pieces when dipped in water do remain stuck to the black board. Therefore these pieces can be straight away used for classroom demonstration as well.

In the 2nd half, we discussed & finalized some logistical details regarding next meeting & next visit to some schools. The teachers got in to class-wise groups - Class V, VII, VIII & IX-X to discuss & write down the following based on their past experience:

1. What are the children, who are in this class, capable of doing?

2. You will be happy, if the children achieve the following in during this class:
There were no teacher who had experience of teaching class VI. It seemed many teachers didn't have a clear idea of what their students really knew / can do & this exercise got them to think about that. I intend to send a more detailed questionnaire to them for need analysis.
At the next meeting we have planned to do a syllabus analysis & choose which are things we should focus on more in depth & which should be covered lightly. This is all the more important because this session is for only 11 months & not the usual 12 months. The teachers agreed that this analysis will be helpful at the beginning of the session.

Reported By,
Swati Sircar


Key Persons : Prosanto Mondol and Gopal Mondol and assisted by rest of Primary team

The West Bengal govt has two kinds of primary schools (i) the regular primary schools run by education dept numbering about 60,000 (ii) Shishu Shiksha Kendras ( SSK) run the Panchayat & Rural Development dept numbering around 20,000.

The following activities were done with govt schools ( both regular primary schools and SSK)
1. Empowerment Training for Interested Teachers
Last year some of the govt teachers had requested our Shikshamitra resource person Sudeshna to conduct a training on “assessment” . Accordingly a two day workshop on “ Alternative assessment ; what to assess ; open ended questions” was held at Swanirvar on 14-15 April 2009. This was attended by 10 govt and 4 Swanirvar teachers. Normally this is something very new to most teachers and they have difficulty in translating the concept into creating different kind of questions. But the workshop involved lots of examples and actually making the teachers do many exercises. We do not expect immediate changes in govt schools . But this was really an eye opener to many of them and will hopefully lead to widening their horizons.
2. Individual Sahitya Sabha
This is a cultural event where children put up various performances involving reading , reciting , singing , dancing , acting and the whole thing is conducted by children. We used to organize this with 10-15 govt schools participating where each school would send 4-5 children. But now we are shifting to holding this event in each individual school so that many children can participate and local community can also enjoy and be part of this. Parents , ex students , ex teachers , panchayat members came to these programmes .
We had four events in this period . There was excellent participation from large number of children in the latter two schools.

Date School PerformersAudience
17.05.09 Jasaikati SSK 30200
19.05.09 Kalinga Adarsha FP 20500
15.09.09 Lakshinathpur FP 80300
23.09.09 Jashikati FP 70250

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


GOAL: To assist a visible number of govt rural high schools to become high quality institutions for imparting holistic education. Guide them to gradually move towards a need-based , much more diversified curriculum catering to all kinds of children; and to see that these schools play an active role in enriching rural life in many ways.

From 1997 till 2006 Swanirvar has worked with 10-16 year old school going children by forming village youth groups .In their free time , once or twice a week and more during their vacations , they did a lot of surveys, their analysis, other useful activities and also learnt a lot of songs, dances , theatre , puppetry etc. We felt that all this should be part of school curriculum. In 2006 the Govt of West Bengal, following the Supreme Court order, decided to start teaching Environment as a separate subject from Class VI onwards. But no teachers or any training was provided. Many school asked Swanirvar staff to become the teachers of Environment. In 2006 we started with 9 schools. Currently our 12 staff teach in 21 schools with 14,000 students . There is now mounting demand and we are moving towards teacher’s capacity building.


(i) Almost all classes have garbage bins while there were none before
(ii) Children’s committees are coming up for cleaning classrooms and school in general
(iii) Environment classes involve going outside the school to do ecological studies and pollution monitoring
(iv) Surveys and analysis are being done of home garbage , village demographics , birds , insects , herbs, fuels , livelihoods, tubewells, water bodies, domestic animals, crops, markets, electricity connections & appliances, use of water etc
(v) Use of work cards , group work , quizzes, framing of questions by students started in Environment classes and have percolated into other subjects
(vi) There is a simple piece of wall earmarked as “news wall” with environment and other news being put up by teachers and students
(vii) The office and teacher’s room have important school information on their walls
(viii) Several schools have a student managed school garden
(ix) Many students have learnt and are building up totally organic intensive kitchen gardens at home
(x) In many schools children are making wonderful handicrafts in their work education classes
(xi) Two schools have started the reading of news in assembly instead of only singing the same national anthem everyday
(xii) One school is forming a singing group.
(xiii) A network of work education teachers who meet every month to learn from each other has been formed in June 2008
(xiv) A similar Maths teachers network has started in June 2009 .

Report August 2009