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Activities with Teacher Trainees

One of the activities that I like to do early on with teacher trainees is one that I've come to call, "The Okra Exercise". It's simple. First I ask someone to buy a kilo of fruits or vegetables from the market: okra, tomatoes, cucumbers, apples ... anything that is frequently used and commonly purchased. Once I've got my produce I place it on a table for trainees to touch and consider, then I give them their first task: to sort the okra into two categories - best and worst - with half placed on one side of the table and half on the other. Everyone has to agree with the final groupings. Much lively discussion always ensues at this point, but it doesn't take long (less than a minute usually) for the group to finish. Then I make things a little harder, asking the group to narrow down their "best okra" group to only twelve, the ones they would choose if their market budget allowed for only a dozen pods. Again, there must be consensus on the final selection. Once the "best of the best" have been decided on, I pose my first questions to the group: - How did you make your choices? What do you look for when you're buying okra? Answers usually involve factors like color, shape, size or firmness. Then comes the next query: - How do you know what you do about okra? Where did you learn these things? Inevitably (in Nepal at least) trainees have learned from their mothers or grandmothers, from helping in the kitchen as a child, from having to learn to cook on their own after marriage or from accompanying older family members to the market. No one has ever told me that she learned to choose okra from a school textbook; no one has ever been instructed in this skill by a teacher; no one has ever had to study okra selection in preparation for an exam. And so I ask, - What things do your students know that they didn't learn in school? Most children learn to walk and talk before they come to school. They learn the rules of games (sometimes quite elaborate). They learn to perform household chores; to help with agricultural work; to navigate their neighborhoods; to babysit younger siblings; to help in the kitchen; to operate radios, TV's and other sophisticated electronic devices ... in other words there is a world of skills and knowledge that children learn via experience and informal instruction, an array of knowledge that traditionally has nothing to do with formal schooling. And that leads to the most important set of questions of all, the culmination of "The Okra Exercise": - How can we use what we've just considered about learning to improve classroom teaching? How can we use experience to help children learn what they need to know from school? I would urge all educators to revisit this question often. What do you know about okra or tomatoes or squash or apples, how did you learn it, and what might that mean for effective teaching practice. (My thanks to Stan Chu for first showing me "The Okra Exercise".) ORIGINALLY POSTED BY BETH NORFORD AT 3:15 PM SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 1, 2015

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