Saturday, April 13, 2024 | Shawwal 3, 1445 H
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Teachers required, with artistic motivation

If you are dedicated, motivated, efficient, and teach to the learning objectives... you can do magic, even without books

How can we help our learners learn more, and be better? Maybe one of the problems with global education is that we don’t ask the learners. We keep going to the so-called experts, the educators, psychologists, educationalists, and the administrators, and in the end, simply end up with a recipe that is acceptable to all of them... but very few of the learners, and quite probably, even less teachers.

My time teaching and lecturing in the Sultanate of Oman has left me with many, what I would call, learner inspired experiences that have shaped my educational thinking, both then, and subsequently. My supervisor of the time was Dr Khalfan Hamed al Harrasi, who I have always respected for his vision of teaching and learning, who emphasised that education should “focus on developing artistically motivated teachers,” saying also, “If you are dedicated, motivated, efficient, skillful, enthusiastic, and happy, and teach to the learning objectives... you can do magic, even without books.”

I took his lead and ‘unleashed,’ them. For instance, I sent English classes out to a particular carpark on campus and ask them each to make notes describing different vehicles of their choice. I asked them to be back in the classroom at a specific time, to write up their descriptions, and then write why the vehicle appealed to them. We had some real laughs as those who wished, read theirs out to the class. I also, with my Current Events class, got them to video interview people on campus in pairs, one as a cameraman, the other as an interviewer, and then to swap roles. We also did groups of five each producing a ‘TV News’ segment, with a director, researcher, news, sports, and weather presenters. They loved it!

Many of my colleagues thought I was borderline ‘nuts’ as I would have my students, for example, in Literature, reading Walt Whitman’s ‘Oh Captain, My Captain,’ to each other from 20 metres apart, outdoors. Yet, I know that it developed their speech, listening, and their understanding of the language and vocabulary used by the author. Most rewarding, however, was how, after their initial reservations, they became joyful, ebullient, and had experienced, in that learning, something that was fun! How do I know? I can hear the laughter, see gaiety in their eyes, and will never forget the rosy cheeks, delighted as they realised learning could be fun.

Similarly, I took them out, again to the outdoor auditorium, and in small groups got them to dissect Emily Dickinson’s ‘I Could Not Stop for Death.’ I wanted them to understand the intimacy of Dickinson’s thoughts, how she drew her own conclusions on immortality and the ‘afterlife,’ how personification is an active and legitimate descriptor, and to understand that our world works in strange and different ways. We never know what waits around the corner. We cannot plan everything in our lives, and the truth that ‘man plans, but God laughs.

And how did I know that learning had taken place? They had had some good, thoughtful discussions as I circulated, being a good listener, rarely intervening. With 15 minutes left of the lesson suggested we return to the classroom to summarize. We were walking past the stage, and one of the students asked if she could read the poem to the class, and I felt it was too good an opportunity to miss, as they are not always so ‘outgoing.’ There were more who wanted to as well, so we jointly decided that each would recite one of the six verses.

It was a jaw-dropping thing of beauty, seeing and hearing these young women pour their souls into their compassionate and dramatic elocution of a literary icon. I was emotionally drained by their words, gestures, expressions, and the sense of achievement as they all looked to me for my approval, and their spontaneous dances of joy, and their peer’s applause, all erupted. They would never know that my thumbs up, and gesture of applause, were to hide the fact that I had been rendered speechless. So, wiping a speck of dust from my eye, I turned and led the way back to the classroom.

Goethe said, “Magic is believing in oneself,” and Nayab Suhel wrote, “Magic is not always an Alladin’s lamp.” Giving young Omani learners a voice in their experience, unleashing their curiosity, answering their questions, and embracing their education as being more than four walls and a whiteboard... is magic!

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