As a child, I was diagnosed with Dyslexia. My childhood experiences involved numerous visits to Psychologists, Psychiatrists, Special Educators, along with my mother playing a hugely supportive role herself. Within these sessions with the specialists and more importantly my mother, I was exposed to a plethora of techniques, methods and exercises to improve my studying abilities.
For better motor skills my mother made me squeeze a sponge ball regularly, we played games like Simon Says, catch etc. For better memory, we played the memory game in which my mother would put things on a plate and show it to me 30 seconds and was supposed to recall, slowly she would make it difficult by increasing the items and reducing the time and lastly I was supposed to name the items in a specific order like size wise, placement wise etc. For concentration I would listen to music and focused on one particular instrument at a time. For general academics since I used to mess the alphabets and numbers, with my mother I would write A-Z in the air, then on my arm, then on a sand box and then with clay. Then she would hand me the pencil. For numbers I always had rajma beans next to me for counting, place value, addition etc.
Growing up, I realized that the only way I could study and understand the concepts was through visual aids, practical applications and kinesthetic activities (activities involving body movements).
So by the age of 16, when I got a hang of my studies, my upward curve began. After performing pretty well in a highly ranked college for undergrad, I undertook my biggest challenge. I was selected to be a part of the Teach for India (TFI) Fellowship Program.
I was assigned 29 students from Grade 3 ranging from 7-13 years of which 22 were girls and 7 boys. The school I was in was a lower income private school in a community called Seelampur in North-East Delhi. My kids had varied learning abilities and grasping skills and as their teacher it was job and responsibility to tap each of their potentials at any cost.
It was clear that I would have to differentiate my lessons so that the higher level students didn’t progress slowly and at the same time the academically weaker students did not suffer. I planned my lessons in a way that all the students grew at the same time. My co-fellows in school and the organization along with my Program Manager were of immense help here.
My history with Dyslexia came in handy here as I was highly sensitive towards the needs of my students. I tried to understand each lesson as a “dyslexic”. I used each method I had been through myself – visual aids, kinesthetic activities etc.
Not all the methods were a success, but I soon realized which ones were to be used and when. Some of my favorite and most successful lessons were when I taught my kids reading comprehension.
I used various visual representations to depict important vocabulary and put it up in the class. This method is now widely used across all TFI class rooms. I also realized that my body was the best prop I had. So during storytelling, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and enacted my lessons.
For my history lessons, I would make my students do a role play to gauge their understanding of the topic and instill critical thinking in them. A memorable lesson has been my students’ skit on the World War I, where each of my students was a country (be it Allied or Central Power) and they recalled and enacted all the important events.
For teaching Math, I never took a class without visual aids. Kinesthetic activities were very helpful as well. My best lesson so far in my 2 years of teaching has been teaching mathematical operations i.e. add, subtract, multiply and divide through Kung-Fu.
I gave a lot of importance to extra-curricular and practical classes so the first thing I did after raising funds was buy Lego, chess, mechanics, clay and mastermind for my class. The last hour each day was play time, as my school didn’t have a play ground. By the end of my term every student knew how to play chess and some of them even started beating me. These things helped my students to grow holistically and gave them space to unleash their creativity and learn to work as a team. Every month I used to give my students one problem like how to control traffic in the city or how to control pollution and they made a science model displaying their creativity on how would they approach that problem.
By the end of my Fellowship I could see a considerable improvement in my students. I won’t say every child grew in the same way, but given more time, I am positive I could have done a lot more.
For each of my experiences with TFI as a fellow, I give a lot of credit to my background with Dyslexia which equipped me to teach 29 amazing students and impact their lives.
Kush Dhebar is currently pursuing an M.A. in Archaeology from Deccan College, Pune. He is extremely passionate about the martial arts. He trains in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai and Capoeira.