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Rethinking Learning: Using cognitive learning in elementary school classrooms

By Shibani Ghosh, Co-Founder at The Museum School, Bhopal

Cognitive learning is constructive, long-lasting, and fully engages children in learning while discouraging rote memorisation. Children in the Indian education system have severely lacked cognitive skills due to the absence of the cognitive learning approach in elementary classrooms.

At The Museum School, we use cognitive learning approaches to teach everything, languages, mathematics, science, accounting, and business. We have added another component to cognitive learning by including observational skills. This additional component helps children learn deeply from the exhibits inside the museums through observation, inquiry, and experience, relating to past knowledge and building on it further.

The teaching process begins by taking the children on a walk inside the museum towards the exhibit to be used as a teaching aid for the day. While walking, the teacher narrates a story, and the children look around every exhibit to see which one of them matches the story the best. This helps the children improve their art of listening, observational skills, and eye for detail. The first person who identifies the exhibit correctly gets the opportunity to ask the first question. The teaching session begins only when the children start asking questions. So this makes the children observe the exhibit, operate it, touch and feel it, experience it, and relate it to something similar they might have experienced before. The unknown behaviour or appearance prompts them to seek an explanation from the teacher. This starts the process of inquiry within them. Based on the information shared by the teacher, children take a closer and deeper look at the exhibit and, if required, ask more questions. This question-answer series helps each child to build upon their existing knowledge and take it 1 or 2 levels higher. After the explanation is complete, children are asked to write all they have understood about the topic in their notebooks in the language they are comfortable with. Peer-to-peer learning at this stage is encouraged to help children improve their writing skills by looking at others and expressing it in their way. It also helps children recall parts of the explanation they failed to remember, improving their memory.

We use cognitive learning approaches to teach everything, languages, mathematics, science, accounting, and business.

Children learn shapes and geometry by observing and naming known patterns on wood, leaves, flowers, and other natural materials. They learn basic mathematics by counting and collecting leaves and pebbles on the museum grounds.

At The Museum School, we use music and theatre to teach languages. Through songs and music, children learn languages and correct word and letter pronunciation. When delivered through songs, even the most difficult words are easily pronounced. The actions and gestures associated with the lyrics help children understand the meaning of the words and use them appropriately when communicating in the language.

At The Museum School, children do not realise they are learning something, as the cognitive learning approaches used by our teachers help the students subconsciously build upon their knowledge, abilities, and skills. It is only when the children start interacting with children of other schools, family members, or community members that they realise the significant improvement in their knowledge, confidence, and communication skills and when others start appreciating them for the same.

Children in our elementary school are exposed to various vocations such as woodworking, pottery, bamboo work, metalwork, and so on, as they relate some of these to their parents' occupations. Children who have grown up watching their parents work in similar fields already have some basic knowledge and skills and are eager to share them with their peers. While this encourages peer-to-peer sharing and learning, it also helps children explore other vocations of interest and instils the dignity of labour.

At The Museum School, we emphasise helping kids develop their morals and values through hands-on learning. Children are presented with situations that cause them to react in unique ways; afterwards, they reflect on their behaviour and fix it immediately. They become more resilient due to this ongoing correction, which forces them to consider their actions and reactions before taking them.

The Museum School uses a variety of cognitive learning approaches to teaching different courses to the students so they can learn to study subconsciously throughout their life without relying on pricey resources. We recognise that, just as a sapling requires a favourable environment to seek water, minerals, and sunlight to develop into a tree, a child needs to be placed in a learning environment that helps the child discover his or her ways of seeking knowledge and develop abilities and skills to grow into a confident adult.

Author Bio: Shibani Ghosh has a master's in English literature and a bachelor's degree in education. In 2005, she founded a museum-based school to instruct poor kids using museum exhibits.

She has won numerous honours, including the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Education Innovation Award 2016 in Beijing and inclusion on Hundred Finland's list of "100 inspirational Global Innovations in Education" for the initiative "The Museum School."

In 2019, Shibani was given the SUPER 30 TEACHERS AWARD. She was the only recipient of this honour from M.P. For the years 20-21, Education World placed Museum School in the 14th spot.

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