Book Review | The Reflective Learner: Seeing ‘Missed Takes’ in Mistakes

The Reflective Learner: Seeing ‘Missed Takes’ in Mistakes”. Compiled and edited by Neeraja Raghavan.

Education has always been a domain that has caught my interest for its ability to not only critically transform the lives of students but because it also holds the potential to transform the pedagogue or the teacher into a “reflective learner” herself. 

The process of teaching reminds the pedagogue of the need for humility, empathy and understanding and that a true teacher ought to commit herself to becoming a life-long learner. 

This understanding and awakened perspective livens an otherwise dull, one-sided teaching-learning process and transforms the classroom into a laboratory for exploration. 

It is in this context that, “The Reflective Learner” becomes a handy tool for all those interested in the domain of pedagogic innovation and educational research.

 This is a book about the need for teachers to acknowledge that their work has the potential to transform the student’s personality, instill a confidence and self-worth and ultimately leave the seeds for intense growth and unfolding of inner potential. 

This work aids teachers in understanding how they can play the role of catalysts in creating a conducive environment for children where they can express themselves without fear and where they look at teachers not as distant, inaccessible sources of power but as comrades and partners in the journey to self-exploration. 

The acknowledgement of this possibility creates an ambience wherein all students are able to unleash their inner potentials, express themselves without fear and cultivate themselves in an ambience that allows them to be spontaneous, free and unafraid of making mistakes. 

While there are many teachers around us who are aware of the emotional and learning needs of their students and take special care of the needs of students who are lagging behind, there are also classrooms where fear and external discipline suppress the voices of students and marginalise them, pushing them further into the dens of low confidence, lack of self-esteem, worthlessness and fear. 

While, the academically ‘smarter’ kids easily pave their way through school, it is the ‘slow-learner’ or the academically ‘weaker’ child who begins to lose interest in the classroom, feels left-out and begins to think that there is fundamentally wrong with him or that he is unable to study because there is something ‘lacking’. 

There are teachers who feel pained when they see some children within the classroom being pushed to the margins or being systemically told that education is not for them or that they are not as “gifted” as the others and therefore begin to gradually cut-off and dissociate themselves from what goes on in the classroom. 

This book is a reminder that if a teacher wants to make a difference, he/she is capable of doing so and that it is the teacher alone, who holds such a power.  But how should a teacher make this difference, what should be the steps to bring about change? This compilation of articles, suggests some very creative and interesting ways of understanding how pedagogic activities and classroom interventions can bring about a change in the lives of the struggling children in the classroom.

By presenting the works of four teachers who have themselves gone out of their ways to help out struggling students and enabled them to develop a self-confidence that was earlier unknown to them, this book surely opens up a wide range of methods, exercises and explorations that we can undertake in our own classrooms to help out students in need.  What is at the heart of the these explorations is the willingness of these teachers to empathise and empower their students, to make them realise that making ‘mistakes’ is an integral part of the process of learning and that only when one makes such mistakes and learns from them, can one truly gain from the educational experience. 

It also underlines the fact that an education system that attaches a ‘stigma’ to mistakes ends up wounding the child’s consciousness forever and makes her loose her self-confidence for life. But if the teacher cares to penetrate a little deeper into the problem, stops looking at mistakes as things to be hurriedly pushed under the table or hidden and begins to look at mistakes as “missed takes” then perhaps, they will become qualitatively better facilitators within the classroom.  

While helping struggling students turn into “reflective learners” and grow out of their under-confidence, the teachers will also themselves have become more contemplative, engaged and sensitive to the needs of diverse children within a classroom.

What makes the book very interesting and relevant is the fact that all the four teachers(the story of whose pedagogic journeys are described in this work)discuss problems that teachers in general struggle with in their classrooms. These include spellings, grammatical errors, punctuation errors, mathematical operational mistakes, lack of concentration, hurried completion of tasks, inability to think through a problem etc. The teachers made sure that instead of stigmatising a student for her mistakes, he/she took each and every mistake as an opportunity for the examination of their own pedagogic methodologies and an opportunity to investigate the minds of the learners and develop better tools in the form of worksheets, games and specialised activities. 

It also gave them an altogether new opportunity to work in their classrooms but this time with better understanding and greater empathy.

What makes the book significant and relatable is the fact that it draws from the real experiences and endeavours undertaken by teachers and takes us through the process of “learning to learn, unlearn and relearn.” The book reminds us yet again that it’s very important for pedagogues to be able to reflect on and investigate their own thought processes in light of achieving this aim. 

The book underlines the possibility of identifying and observing children and noting how there is a constant pattern in the ‘mistakes’ that students make. 

The teachers ask and look for the source of the ‘mistake’(carelessness, low attention span, conceptual difficulty, inability to comprehend the question or difficulty in catching up with a specific educational method). Once the source and cause of the ‘mistake’ are identified, the teachers devise innovative ways to deal with them. 

The entire action-research process of the teachers had been well documented since the beginning. Moreover, since the book carries the actual email conversations between the facilitator and the teacher, samples of children’s works etc, it makes it very resourceful for educational practitioners. 

What was interesting about the journey undertaken by the teachers was the fact that it not only tremendously helped the students but it also empowered the teachers and made them better pedagogues.

The book beautifully declares, “Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes”(Oscar Wilde). 

Indeed the book reminds us that if teachers want they can introduce innovative ways to help out weaker students and help them regain their lost confidence.While the teachers have carried out these experiments in English and Mathematics classrooms, these can easily be carried out across classes. 

How can this be done? Where should a teacher begin and what are the challenges that she is likely to face? These are some of the questions to which we find answers in the last section of the book. This section shall trigger our own reflections and pedagogic experimentations. 

“The Reflective Learner” is indeed a book that reminds us of the very significant role that teachers are capable of playing in the lives of students only if they make an effort to become partners in their learning-journeys and enable them to see that “mistakes”are nothing but “missed takes” and can be utilised as opportunities for growth and betterment.

By presenting four engaging journeys, the book leaves a lasting impact on the available literature on pedagogic experimentations in India and invites teachers across various settings to undertake such explorations in their own distinct classrooms. 

The Reflective Learner: Seeing ‘Missed Takes’ in Mistakes; Compiled and edited by Neeraja Raghavan; Published by Notion Press 2019. Price – Rs. 250

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