When I look back, it's clear that my best lessons have not been the ones where I was able to perfectly execute the lesson plan, even though planning is thought to be essential to teaching. In fact, the lessons I remember as the most successful were those where my students took the lead and rendered my plans unnecessary.
The most recent example was during a unit of enquiry on natural materials and the changes they undergo (reversible, irreversible, physical, chemical). I brought in a few natural materials from home, hoping that they would arouse my pupils' curiosity (or "attitude in focus", as my lesson plan put it) and kick-start the unit. I wanted the children to gain hands-on experience of the things we would be studying.
I placed all the materials - soil, mud, water, salt, oil, leaves, coal, rubber, chalk powder, milk, stones and baking soda - on a table in the middle of the classroom. I planned to give the students some instructions or at least an introduction to the topic, but it did not work out that way.
When the bell sounded, my pupils poured into the classroom and pounced on the materials straight away. Without any prompting from me, they began exploring and engaging with every single item on the table. I wondered whether to stop them and provide instructions, but then I realised that this was exactly what I wanted: engagement.
The second step on my plan dictated that students should mix salt, oil or chalk with water and consider why the substances did or did not dissolve. Again, I wondered whether I should interrupt the children's spontaneous exploration to enforce my will, but I found that they were already mixing the materials.
It was amazing to watch them try out the various combinations of substances, mixing oil with mud or chalk with milk. They were excited. They were engaged. But were they learning?
They certainly were. The pupils made observations and asked questions, putting me in the role of facilitator rather than teacher. Their reaction made me question myself. Was it real exploration? Was it authentic enquiry? Yes, indeed!
Vandana Parashar is a teacher of Grade 5 (ages 10-11) at Pathways School Noida in Uttar Pradesh, India