Imagine a classroom in a college where the teacher encourages students to play a game of dumb charades or a game of chinese whispers. The course in reference is the Ability Enhancement Course on communication. Average response to this course would be ‘bewilderment’. Why should games at all enter a serious zone like education? Aren’t the teachers expected to ‘deliver lectures’ in colleges? Games are for playing fields, and are not supposed to be conducted in a sacred space like that of a classroom.
This is a sad reflection on the inability of our educationists to understand the fact that, with the passage of time, not just the course content, but pedagogical strategies too needs to be revised, and re-structured. One cannot follow the old system of mountain top teaching in an age, where participatory learning is the order of the day. The adage of old wine in new bottles does not, unfortunately, work with education. So, if a teacher wants to grab the attention of the students to a topic like ‘communication cycle’, the game of chinese whispers becomes a case in point to explain concepts such as senders and receivers of a message, channels of communication, feedback, and obstructions in the communication cycle.
In the same way, the game of dumb charades becomes a case study to explain non-verbal communication, the use of sign language, the importance of understanding cultural signifiers and so on. Games are a serious business and also one of the most versatile means of educating the young mind but is sadly overlooked by academics. Teaching concepts as ‘theory’ is an outdated mode; the gap between theory and praxis needs to be bridged and ‘games’ are worth exploring as a pedagogical tool.
Close to the games is ‘play acting’ or role playing. Those who believe in, theorise about or practise ‘theatre in education’ are not doing so as a fad; they are aware of the tremendous potential of drama to stimulate brain cells as much as they activate the body. Much research has been done into the word ‘play’ both as noun and as a verb form. Of the many synonyms of this word, what is of significance is ‘re-creation’, ie if interpreted in one sense: We create ourselves anew through ‘playing’.
One of the disciplines where role-playing works best is history. Many people have an aversion to this subject because they remember it as nothing more than rote learning of a string of dates and events and about people they cannot identify with. Well, one way to make the students not only remember the dates but also the processes at work at a certain historical point of time, is by getting them to simulate.
It is also a fact that letter writing is now a lost art. Telegrams are now a collector’s item as the telegraph system has shut down due to nil usage. One wouldn’t be surprised if the postal department too just becomes a office for parcels ver soon. There are few people who write letters these days. Educationists will do well then to revive this lost art and prevent it from becoming extinct by adopting it as a classroom strategy and thus serve a dual purpose.
As of now, letter-writing is an exercise that language teachers are expected to pursue. And the way they do it is to teach the students the format of a letter under the various heads of formal/informal/business etc. That is really such a chore that no wonder, students are loath to write letters. Letter writing can actually step into say, a geography class. Get the students choose a country/city/village of their choice and then get them to write letters to each other about all that they find important and interesting in that location. Tell them to make their letters funny or tragic, anecdotal or dramatic and even graphically illustrated with line drawings or doodling. The results will be surprising.
Once the students exchange letters, they can vote on the ones they think are best and a question answer session can follow. Not only will the children consume geography willingly and easily, they will also learn the principles of effective letter writing. Writing post cards from the past to each other, writing obituaries are again other forms of letter, writing that motivate students to learn history as well as language. Why must a student creep like a snail, reluctantly to school as Shakespeare says in that famous Seven Ages of Man that the world is familiar with? If teachers teach creatively, suggestions made here are only a fraction of infinite possibilities in this domain, learning would be so much fun.
(The author is teaches in the Department of English at Janki Devi Memorial College, University of Delhi)