Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Schools - some observations, some comparisons

It seems funny now to think that one of the biggest worries I had about moving to the US was whether Puttachi would adjust to school. Would she understand the accents of the teachers and the students? Would she make friends easily, considering that she would be entering at a time when friendships have already been established? Would there be a period of adjustment, would I have to suspend all my work and stand by until she is settled in?

As it turns out, all my apprehensions were unfounded. She has no problem with the American accent. Probably due to the fact that kids are shuffled around between sections at every grade, she entered a class where all the kids were more or less new to each other. And so, she had a best friend by Day 2, and had exchanged mothers' phone numbers with her by Day 3.

After the first three days, I asked Puttachi what the most glaring difference was, between school in India and school in the US. She thought for a moment and said, "Our classroom here is so silent. I love it." Now that wasn't what I expected at all!

However, two weeks into school, she herself told me, "The biggest difference is that school here is very activity-ish. In India, we would just sit and listen to the teacher. Here, we DO a lot of things." There you have it, in a nutshell.

By the way, if you are wondering why her classroom in the US is so quiet, it is not because of the number of children in a class, because she has 30 kids in her class here, and she had 25 kids in one class in India. It is just that her teacher has devised some signs to tell each other to fall silent if they feel that the noise level has increased. It is a kind of self-regulation system.

Talking about self-regulating, there is another system her teacher Mrs A has in place, which she told us about when we went to the presentation that the teachers gave the parents last evening in what is known as "Back to School night". This is to reduce tattling and discourage tell-tales. If a child has a problem with somebody else, he or she has to do two things out of the dozen suggestions that have been put up on a chart on the board - which involves things like talking to the other child, etc. If those strategies don't work, the child has to write the complaint on a piece of paper and drop it into the complaint box. At the end of the day, Mrs A empties the complaint box, and deals with the more serious of the complaints. But more often than not, both the students in question would have forgotten about it entirely, or else, they would have already sorted out the problem! 

The teacher also has some coloured post-it notes on the board, and it works like a football game, where one instance of misbehaviour or irresponsibility means you get a yellow card, which has a loss of privilege associated with it, and two mistakes in a day means an orange card, meaning a further loss of some other privilege and so on, until a red card, which is the worst case. This, says the teacher, is to instil discipline in the kids. Puttachi, for instance, came back one day and said that she got a yellow card, which means she lost the opportunity to gain a "Well-done" sticker, because she forgot to put her chair up on her desk at the end of the day (to make it easy for the cleaning staff to clean up.)

They also have duties and responsibilities, about monitoring themselves and the rest of the class on various aspects, and there is a rotation of the responsibilities each week. For instance, this week, Puttachi is in charge of transporting the snack box basket, which post she begged for and got, and is very proud of.

As for the subjects themselves, I cannot do a comparative analysis yet, because classes in all subjects haven't started full swing. I do know that Puttachi is ahead in Math compared to what is being taught to the class now, but because the way they teach them is different, she is not getting bored. The kids analyse the problem, and the focus on many problems is on how to solve them, the approach, rather than the final answer. Besides, in some cases they are encouraged to formulate a question on their own, based on some data that they are given.

English is interesting, centred around a lot of activities. They use thesauruses in their work, and suggest composition topics to each other. They have to apply their brains for most of the things, and in many cases they can choose and they have control over what they want to do. For instance, homework for the last two weeks, consists of a list of twenty words, and the children have to do various things with those twenty words, selecting from a "Menu" that they are given. They can build a story, or just write them in capital letters, or write them backwards, or draw a picture and hide the words in the picture, and fun things like that. Puttachi chose to create silly sentences around the words, and write them all with her left hand, and think of rhyming words for them, etc. So it is nice, I guess, for them to be able to do what they want to, and at the level they are comfortable with. The basic idea is to get the children to be familiar with the words.

The children are also arranged around tables, six to each table, and they have a desk each which they are expected to keep neat and clean--homework is usually in sheets which they have to file responsibly in binders--these are things which make Puttachi swell with importance. :)

One teacher usually handles all the subjects at this grade - and this is crucial - this is where the teacher is of paramount importance. The teachers here are extremely invested in their job. There is no other option. Each class has a teacher who teaches those kids in their own way, and the number of resources and the amount of work they have to put in to make this happen--it makes my  head ache just to think about it. And that is why, I think, a good school is that important, and that is what makes for a good school district and that is why we are paying such high rents to stay in this school district!

One teacher for one class (in Puttachi's case, a different teacher comes in on Fridays) ensures a kind of bonding between the child and the teacher. The teacher is also much more informal, telling the kids about themselves, about how many children they have, where they are from, where they are going to for the long weekend, etc. In fact, Mrs A had to leave early one day to catch a flight, and after she left, the kids found a bunch of keys that the substitute teacher said look like suitcase keys, and Puttachi worried for the entire weekend about what if they were Mrs A's keys and whether she would be able to open her suitcases. She looks upon her teacher like a family member. Though she adored the teachers in her school in  India, this is at a different level. I think the classroom setup itself is like that.

I can see why people complain about the standards being very low here compared to India-- that children in India are learning far more than the students in the US. And I also feel that way sometimes, that it is like Puttachi is going backwards, esp in Math, but I do realize that the entire teaching system and intention here is different from what it is in India.

The above are just observations made after seeing Puttachi go to school for two weeks. And it is not the intention of this post to make comparisons and show up one method of schooling as the better one. As the year progresses, I'll be in a better position to comment, I think. But I find it immensely interesting to observe the difference, and how Puttachi is reacting to it.


Radhika said...

Interesting to read Shruthi. There seems to be lot of space, time for every child I feel which is really required. But we are always in a hurry to finish fast than spare time to think about the topic being learnt. I'm feeling that speed now a days in Ananya's school. We would have just finished the tests and signed the test papers and there's time table for another test waiting already. Heard from other parents that higher classes are even more taxing on the students that they have no time to think of anything other than studies. Just hoping it is not too hard.

Aarthi said...

Nice write up Shruthi. I always wondered about the difference. Btw did you get my email few weeks back?

Anu said...

I found that the "standard" of education to be the same as kids go into higher levels. I once bought a textbook to compare. The kids are learning the same things - but as you have pointed out in a different manner. The approach and the steps towards arriving at a solution and practical applications are more the focus here.

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