Social Sciences Mentor Teacher Workshop II

Social Sciences Mentor Teacher Workshop II
December 14-16, & 19, 2017
District Institute of Education & Training, Keshav Puram, New Delhi
Participants: 20 Social Science Mentor Teachers of Delhi Administration Schools
TFC Team: 6 Faculty Members


In continuation of the professional development of a cohort of Social Science Mentor Teachers of the Delhi Administration Schools, The Ferdinand Centre organized a second 4-day workshop in December. Based on the mentors’ and TFC’s analysis of the current educational scenario in which teaching and learning takes place in school classrooms, reflection on existing gaps, and TFC’s visits to zonal workshops for teacher development conducted by the mentor teachers, this second workshop was conceptualized as one step within a longer program of professional development for social science mentor teachers.

Professional Development Program Overarching Goals 

  1. Mentors develop a shared understanding of the aims of school education in the 21st Century, and the role of Social Science in promoting them;
  2. Mentors understand the concept of curriculum as a composite construct of content, instructional design, assessment and learning environment, and are able to define a coherent curricular unit;
  3. Mentors understand the concept of “curriculum” and of a curriculum framework for Social Science and are able to develop the backward linkages of a topic to the overall NCERT goals of Social Science as well as backward, forward and cross-linkages with concepts within and across grade levels;
  4. Mentors understand and are able to design a 21st C learning experience (including a facilitative learning environment) for their mentees;
  5. Mentors understand the use of technology as a hook and as an enabler and are able to use technology to perform informed searches, collaborate with others, and present new knowledge;
  6. Mentors understand mentorship as leadership, are able to reflect on the characteristics of facilitative leaders, and to assess their own capacities in light of 21st C capacities defined by them;
  7. Mentors develop a community of learning and practice for ongoing collaboration and professional learning to improve student learning on an ongoing basis, beyond the life of the PD program.

While these are the identified overall goals of the Professional Development program, the December workshop focused on deepening understanding of the History curriculum of Classes VI – VIII while keeping the following broad themes integral to the design.

Theme 1: Aims of Education for the 21st Century

Theme 2: Understanding Curriculum: What is History? Unpacking History Curriculum and Exploring Curriculum Design

Theme 3: Understanding Self-Development, Mentorship and the Creation of Facilitative Learning Environments:  Mentoring for School-based support and Facilitation of Zonal workshops for teacher professional development towards developing a community of learning and practice

Theme 4: Technology-enabled learning

Key Processes & Emerging Understandings:

Theme I: Aims of Education for the 21 Century

Mentors discussed the need for school education to equip students in new and complex ways for life beyond school, for higher education, for employment and for civic life, as citizens of a rapidly modernizing and global society. They consolidated insights from the preliminary vision articulated in previous workshops and reflected on the goals of education, especially social science education, in fostering the spirit of equity, justice and fraternity in our society and the shifts in mindsets that must first begin at the level of the teachers and schools at large.

In small groups, using Internet research supplemented by their own experiences, participants explored the 6 Cs–Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration, Creativity, Character and Citizenship, along with Content knowledge–that are critical to build student agency for higher education, work and life in the 21st Century world, and identified some characteristics describing the 6 Cs.

Emerging Understandings:

The active engagement of about a third of the mentors with the 6Cs framework and the development of defining criteria towards creating a shared framework provided an encouraging beginning to a critically important piece of the mentors’ professional development.

From the discussions and reflections, participants concluded that the discussion of the aims of education and the 6 Cs of the 21st century learning experience is an ongoing dialogue through which the group and individuals will evolve their own understandings over time.

Theme II: What is History? Unpacking History Curriculum and Designing a Complete Learning Cycle

Several sessions were devoted to building an understanding of historical methods and approaches that have informed the writing of the history textbooks and discussing critical questions raised by the authors themselves about history, about the nature of questions asked, the sources used, the nature of narrativisation and periodisation in history etc. The facilitators sought to engage mentors in a full learning cycle on a chosen theme from the textbook such as colonialism to create learning tasks, identify steps to create an appropriate learning environment, and use inquiry based pedagogical tools and assessment to effectively engage with the topic. The processes of content mapping and designing a full learning cycle was subsequently undertaken by the mentors and presented to their peers for feedback and revision.

  1. Introduction to Historical Methods: The Historian and his Sources

Hunting for Sources: To emphasize one principal preoccupation of historians, the search for authentic sources of information, participants engaged in a treasure hunt to look for various items (“sources”) that were hidden in and outside the room. The goal was to understand the nature of sources used by historians, the significance of the choice of particular sources over others, the ease and availability of sources, and questions of legitimacy and interpretation of historical sources.

  1. The Role of Narrative in History

Writing History: In pairs, participants undertook to write the life history of a person for a particular time period, the decade of 2000-2010.  The participants had to interview their partners and narrativise their partner’s history in their own words. Through the process of narrativising a person’s life history, teachers began to reflect on the validity of sources, how history is written and how it is represented.

  1. Critical Perspectives in History

A presentation on Historiography was used to introduce the concept of different approaches to historiography: Colonialist, Nationalist, Subaltern and Gender, Caste & Tribe. In small groups, mentors explored these theories on the Internet, using tablets and laptops. They then prepared and presented a summary of the critical theory they had explored and received feedback from their peers.

Emerging Understandings:

Through the three learning tasks, some important understandings about history were reached:

  • A consensus that it is important to consider diverse perspectives and different sets of facts while looking at sources for writing history.
  • Critical engagement with the idea of history resulted from the high motivation levels triggered by the “historical sources” treasure hunt activity.
  • The group also reached the understanding that how history is written and how it is represented depends largely on how the historian perceives the sources and how s/he presents the “story”.
  • The group concluded that though power in written histories rests with kings and rulers, oral history or life history which presents the stories of the common person, the songs of the tribals re-telling their history, must all be considered valid sources.

Curriculum Development: Understanding by Design

Mentors claimed familiarity with UbD, the rationale for the backward design of curriculum and the elements of a rigorous unit design such as essential questions, emerging big ideas and skills, etc. Using the UbD framework, the facilitators’ team derived the history learning cycle used in preceding sessions. After the elements of the learning cycle became explicit, mentor teachers worked in groups to map chapters from the Standard VIII history textbook.

Emerging Understandings:

Teachers were intrigued by the backward design framework. It was noted that the teachers have a tendency to move towards the lesson plan (Stage III of UbD) without giving much thought to the emerging understandings, knowledge, skills, essential questions (Stage I of UbD) and assessment design (Stage II of UbD) from the unit. It became clear that much more intensive engagement with this UBD framework is required by the teachers.

The engagement of all mentors with the first learning task and most mentors with the second and third, more conceptual tasks, suggests ways to hook and hold the interest of mentors as they work on understanding curriculum and instructional design.

The mentors zeroed in on the importance of ensuring the teacher’s own conceptual clarity.

Theme 3:

Understanding Self-Development, Mentorship, and Creation of Facilitative Learning Environments : Mentoring for School-based support and Facilitation of Zonal workshops for teacher professional development towards developing a community of learning and practice.

The workshop sought to provide opportunities for mentors to reflect on their learnings during the workshop and combine them with their own experiences to create new, valid and contextual understandings that they could then take to their mentees. 

With the goal of helping mentors understand Mentorship as Leadership and reflect on the characteristics of a facilitative leader, mentors engaged with the concept of Lifelong Learning, followed by a discussion on the importance of feedback in the process of continuous learning.

Emerging Understandings:

The discussion led to the conclusion that when we focus on lifelong learning, we need a growth mindset to learn from experience and learn with acceptance, which in itself fosters a habit of learning to learn. Participants understood that there is an explosion of information and that it is important to learn to access and process the right information, as well as to challenge our comfort zones to expand the horizons of our understanding.

The concept of feedback was introduced at this point: continuous learning depends on positive and specific feedback so that individuals can continuously learn and evolve. Since mentors were clearly excited about giving feedback, they were invited to begin with their feedback to the TFC facilitation team. 

Taking forward the goal of developing an understanding of the 6 Cs, a self-assessment scale was also introduced to help teachers engage with a tool for a range of 21st century skills on which they could map themselves. Preliminary analysis of their self-assessment indicates that mentors must develop greater awareness of the criteria and indicators of specific strengths and skills so that they are able to assess themselves accurately and rigorously in order that they may continue to learn and grow.

Consolidation of Workshop Understandings on Curriculum Design, Mentorship and Facilitation

The final day of the engagement was an attempt to help mentors consolidate some understandings developed in the workshop about the study and teaching of History and to articulate a plan of action for communicating their learnings in Zonal workshops for teachers. 

TFC team shared two lesson plans on Understanding Sources of History and Understanding Narrativization in History Writing Using Life Histories with the mentors. The lesson plans outlined the key objectives, essential questions and teaching learning process used for the historical method sessions on Days 1 & 2 of the workshop.

The mentors were asked to critically analyze these lesson plans in pairs and reflect on:

  • the principles used in creating the learning plan
  • the pedagogy that was used in the lesson
  • the advantages and limitations of the particular pedagogy for different kinds of topics, subjects and classrooms

Mentors very skillfully analyzed the plans and articulated some of the guiding principles of lesson design. The subsequent debate on use of experiential pedagogies in the classroom helped us understand some of the thought processes and concerns that teachers have while using such methods. The discussion highlighted the importance of expanding the awareness and sensitivity levels of teachers and providing appropriate exposure and training in experiential methods so that teachers can employ them in classrooms judiciously to achieve the desired learning. In connection to this point, Facilitators felt that Marginalisation was a core concept that could be used to explore many other inter-linked concepts and to understand how experiential pedagogies could help deepen students’ understanding of such complex concepts.

Theme 4: Technology-enabled learning

This theme was a thread that ran through all sessions, with the exploration of Internet based resources for collaborative work on each topic mentors engaged with.

Emerging Understandings:

In workshops, technology is the piece that gets cut out when time is short, possibly due to the time required to build a particular skill, given the mentors’ steep learning curve in this area. Participants felt that the Education Department must focus much more attention on developing information technology skills as well as information literacy, towards building both global and digital citizenship of students and teachers.

Workshop Outcomes

Participants agreed that discussion and reflection on the Aims of Education must continue to be an integral part of the Professional Development program.

Participants engaged with the idea of learning how to learn, expressing their understanding that given the exponential increase in information, it is important to learn to access and process the right information and to develop new knowledge and skills to remain flexible and competitive in a changing world.

They suggested that it is important to challenge our comfort zones to expand the horizons of our understanding and that a growth mindset was necessary in this new world.

They engaged with the idea that continuous learning depends on positive and specific feedback so that individuals can learn and evolve on an ongoing basis.

By the end of the workshop, some mentors appeared to be quite vested in the process of learning and developing curriculum.

Some mentors were able to apply the UbD framework to analyze the lesson plans presented to them and articulate some of the guiding principles of lesson design.

Mentors engaged in a substantive debate on the use of experiential pedagogies in the classroom. The discussion highlighted the importance of expanding the awareness and sensitivity levels of teachers and providing appropriate exposure and training in experiential methods so that teachers can employ them in classrooms judiciously to achieve the desired learning.

Stumbling Blocks

There was not always time for consolidation of learnings at the end of each learning task. Since this is the most important step, and one which teachers frequently skip, much better time-management will be needed in the future.

Having most resources, especially Internet-based resources, available only in English was both time-consuming and demotivating for the mentor group.

Theme 3 was not adequately addressed and plans for transferring the learnings to the Zonal Workshop were not developed.

Theme 4, the use of technology, was introduced on a fairly superficial level.

Next steps

Theme 1: 21st C Strengths & Skills

The following important next steps emerged through the engagement with the Aims of Education and Self-Assessment of strengths and skills:

  • to arrive at a shared assessment framework of critical capacities to be developed through school education,
  • to help mentors assess their own capacities once again with greater awareness of the criteria,
  • to conduct an analysis of existing student and teacher capacities to get a sense of where to pitch lessons for different levels of students while simultaneously building mentor capacity for assessment against the shared 6 C framework.
Theme 2: Understanding Curriculum

The TFC team understood the importance of contextualizing the Understanding by Design framework according to the on-ground class situation in order to enhance the utility of this framework in everyday teaching. While there was consensus that conceptual clarity is a critical need for teachers, it also became quite clear that first mentors must develop a comprehensive and coherent understanding of student learning goals at each level of Social Science learning. Thus, they must understand the connections between the Aims of Education, overall Social Science Goals as articulated in the Position Paper of the NCF Social Science Focus Group, the subject-wise goals of subjects in Social Science and the specific learning goals of each Class and each Unit, so that the big picture is clear to them, along with the place of each topic and each unit within that picture.

One important next step would therefore be for them to themselves develop the SS Curriculum Framework for Classes VI to X.

Thus, the focus on conceptual clarity for Social Science topics must take priority over Instructional Design. Using the UBD framework to illustrate and then have mentors develop Learning Goals for different Units would be an important next step before moving on to Assessment and Instructional strategies.

Theme 3: Understanding Self-Development, Mentorship and the Creation of Facilitative Learning Environments

Next steps must include an analysis of the role of mentors in the facilitation of teachers’ learning, initiating a process of understanding how learnings from the workshop can be transferred to the classroom, both their classroom of teacher-learners, and teachers’ classrooms of students.

Topics to be addressed include the principles of adult learning, and leadership principles of providing coaching and learning support rather than supervision, of examining motivation and purpose as important to the fulfillment of any professional goals, and honing of skills of positive and clear communication.

Next steps will also include deliberate development of collaboration and citizenship skills so that group time is used for learning and creating new knowledge with focus and interest, and a focus on developing and achieving long term goals, resilience, rigour and open-mindedness.

TFC needs to improve session design by communicating goals and instructions with greater clarity and ensuring effective time-management.

All resources and materials must be bilingual, in English and Hindi, as far as possible.

Finally, experiential and other interactive pedagogies must be used and then analyzed in subsequent workshops to build mentor capacity in their use.

Theme 4

Since it is clear that 21st C capacities are deemed to be important, both TFC and the Department of Education will have to build in dedicated time and resources to introduce and support the use of technology to learn, to teach, and to collaborate.