Innovative teaching techniques that help children learn better Life’s lessons from the humble snail

On April 12, 2019,

Attributed to Ms. Mona Seervai – Head of School, Mount Litera School International and Ms. AkshataKamat – Teacher, Mount Litera School International

Schools no longer follow the conventional ways of teaching only from the letters of a textbook. The international curriculum focusses on how children learn best, and we are cognizant of the skills and behaviors that children use to engage in learning. As a school, we provide opportunities for children to take initiative and develop curiosity. By supporting children, they learn to navigate learning experiences which are rooted in real life, and learn over a period. Each class develops their own engagement, and each of these is then age appropriate.

This account describes a yearlong exercise with a group of lively five-year old students. Most of the learning for students happens through a process of inquiry. This is a pedagogical methodology adopted by many schools. In younger classes, the process works best when guided by the teacher.

The teacher in our five year old classroom thought if she wantsher young ones to understand the value of life, what better way to learn this, than to look after a living being within the four walls of a classroom. Even while the teacher was on a weekend break, she did not stop thinking about her students, and when she spotted a snail in the resort, she picked it up and brought it in on Monday morning, not only to enthrall her young students, but also to teach them the skills of research, inquiry and collaboration.

Thisbecame a dynamic learning process, as many facts came alive through the story of Ben and Holly – the snail! Why did the children name the snail Ben and Holly? The first interesting research fact the class found out is that a snail is a hermaphrodite. This means that the snail has both male and female reproductive organs, and may or may not need to mate with another snail. The children thus named the snail with both Ben and Holly, in order to be true to both genders.

The next question that arose was that a living creature would need nourishment in order to survive. Hence the students did some more research and found out that snails are unable to digest salt or sugar like we humans consume. Hence, the concern of the class was to make sure the specific dietary requirements of the snail were met. It became apparent that snails like to feed on fruit, vegetables, leaves and flowers. The school serves breakfast in the cafeteria. Every morning, one student was assigned to carry a piece of fruit down from breakfast. When any personhad a pooja in a home, the flowers were collected carefully for the snail the next day. The quantity of food for each meal may be little, but the responsibility to remember is huge! The class asked about who would look after the snail during weekends. Doing a little math helped them realise thatthe snail would have enough food. However the same would not hold true during a school vacation. Hence the class needed to plan, and putting all the collaborative skills to work, they suggested that a member of the helping staff could be assigned to ensure the snail had enough to sustain.

Every day was a learning adventure. One day, the snail could not be found. Panic arose, and looking around, the students discovered that it was not on the cold marble floor, but clinging on to the wall. Strange, but maybe not so. The wall is made of choona or whitewash, and the snail clings to the wall instead of staying on the ground to fulfil their calcium requirement from the calcium carbonate. Some more research on the snail revealed that snails require a large supply of calcium in order to repair and maintain its shell. Moreover, the snail can absorb calcium through the foot. One would have thought this to be a complex chemistry fact for five year old children, however, this was easily uncovered by seeing it live in action.

Students did not only focus on the facts about the life cycle of the snail, but also imbibed softer skills like caring. Each student was given the responsibility to look after the well being of the snail every week.What would happen during exit when the school had a routine fire drill? Well, even if we were instructed to leave all psossessions behind, it was imperative that the responsible student take Ben and Holly along.

So why is all this innovative? The students get to observe and experience first-hand the responsibility towards another living being and how they must cater to their needs. They share a collective responsibility towards a living creature, and this is relevant in the pyramid of life. All children do not feel comfortable with the idea of a pet snail from the start. However, other children who were more open-minded helped their classmates overcome the initial hesitation. Once these boundaries were broken, there was a universal sense of sharing the care. While, the activity may seem simple, the learning and experience it provides is beyond quantification.

The most important existential question we now need to address, is what will the class do with Ben and Holly once they year is over. The dilemma will be whether to take Ben and Holly to the next grade or to return the snail back to nature. Believe me, this group of students will have many detailed discussions and take an ethical decision. These are the approaches to learning that consider any situation from all dimensions, and ensure that each one of us learns to take the right action.

It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes a class of lively 5-6 year olds to care for a snail through the academic year!