Steering discussion in the classroom

Steering discussion in the classroom

Tomato is a fruit. Knowing that tomato is a fruit is knowledge. Not using tomato in a fruit salad is intelligence. Learning how to make the tomato sauce is a skill.

Packaging and selling tomato sauce with good taste and affordable cost consistently is a competence.

If our teachers steer such discussions in the classroom and build appreciation that a person is able to distinguish between knowledge and wisdom and simlarly able to understand the difference between skills and competence, then it will make the classroom learning interesting and refreshing. It will also open the academic climate for more experiences!

Teachers have to use multiple teaching approaches to teach the given subjects to their students.

Some subjects are taught better through a traditional method, while others may require participative, interactive and experiential methods of teaching. Based on the context of teaching-learning process, teachers may use the top-down and bottom-up approach to teaching to improve and enhance the learning experience.

Top-down approach to teaching

In this age of Internet and mobile, students like to learn through a top-down approach. The top-down approach to teaching focuses on generic aspects first and then builds upon the specifics.

Here, a teacher provides students the big picture of the subject with appropriate examples of application to generate interest in them in uncovering the underlying concepts.

Students appreciate this approach as they are able to follow the natural path of know­ledge acquisition through listening to the real-life examples. 

For example, in the class, the teacher may mention about the touch interface. Many people are using mobile phones with touch interface these days which help in understanding the topic under discussion quickly. However, they do not know how and why it works like that.

The teacher while teaching the topic “types of input devices” can show a smartphone or a latest desktop which has touch interface and run some applications on it by touching the icons, zooming-in and zooming-out pictures, savings documents, sending messages, deleting unwanted items etc. And, then, the teacher could ask why and how did that happen. From here, the teacher can build down the fundamentals of touch-user interface (TUI). This approach to teaching will impress both child and adult learners. Both academia and corporates can use this method for better and effective learning.  

The top-down approach to teaching is a learner-centric and the teacher makes the students to discover knowledge to achieve higher level of learning. Here, the teacher takes the role of a “guide on the side” instead of the “sage on the stage”.  

Bottom-up approach to teaching

This is the converse of the top-down approach to teaching. Here, the teacher teaches the specifics first and then builds up the generic aspects. This is a traditional teaching approach which is being practiced in almost all our schools and colleges. For example, in teaching a computer programming language, teacher starts teaching subject with programming constructs like alphabets, numerals, words, control structures, arryas, functions, strings, structures, pointers etc. first and then teaches how they can be used in developing program and software applications.

Similarly, in a language class, the teacher will teach alphabets and words first and then start teaching simple sentences, and later teaches grammar and subsequently how to speak.

The bottom-up approach is a teacher-centric and teacher only discovers and delivers knowledge to the students. Here, the teacher becomes the “sage on the stage” and discourses the subject.

Which approach is better?

Some subjects demand the top-down approach to teaching, while other subjects would require the bottom-up approach. Therefore, the teacher has to decide as to which teaching approach is best suited for the chosen topic and apply that in such a way as to get the point across in a simple and easy to understand manner. Inspiring students with impactful teaching approach will make classroom learning a great experience. The teacher must use both knowledge and wisdom aptly and effectively to create life skills amongst the students.

Finally, I must quote Anatole France to conclude: “The art of teaching is the art of awakening the natural curiosity of young minds.”

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