Making Sense of the term — ‘Practical learning’

Teaching, seems to be easy of all professions, however it is by far one of the most difficult professions to be in. The actions and words you choose as a teacher, knowingly or unknowingly, impacts students’ actions and mindsets too. As the sector is evolving, we can see around that there are many evolving teaching methodologies adapted in different types of school, but needless to say, everyone from Government to low-income to high-income schools is trying new methods and technologies to stay at par with developments.

One such shift is brining ‘practical learning aspect’ to teaching. The realization of its importance is accepted widely, however the implementation and understanding of the same seem to be varied and broken too, at times. What is majorly understood is ‘practical learning can happen using practical objects’ , which is not wrong but what is most important of all is ‘how can these objects be used’ which will ensure real learning. The difference lies in using certain tools to achieve certain output vs creating an experience using those tools which would ensure learning. The capacity to create that experience and methodology is somewhere the real power of transformation lies and not in the objects.

In one of my interviews with students, where we were trying to make sense of multiplication as repeated addition, I observed that 90% of the class could do basic mathematical operations but when asked students thought provoking questions like ‘what is multiplication’ ,why do we need it’ and ‘where do we use them’, students seem to perplexed and quiet.

Creation of Mathematical understanding using only procedural methods is probably one of the oldest and rote methods of teaching adapted across globe since the time of industrialisation. However teaching the same using activity based learning or practical objects seem to be the solution adapted by many schools of our time.

In one of my other visits to school, where Math lesson was taking place, I observed students learning fractions by splitting the piece of paper in pieces and then making fractions by physical representations of the chits. I wondered that my question pertaining to basic understanding of the topic like ‘ What is fractions’ and ‘why it is used’ may get answered there. However, though I must say students performed the activity with sheer discipline, the gap in understanding the mathematical implication of a topic still seemed to lacking even when a ‘topic was taught practically’.

This makes me think, even though we know how crucial is the establishment of basic ‘what and whys’ of a topic and how neglected it remains throughout the learning phase that takes over years. This makes me question are we actually bridging the gaps by stating that ‘We are using activity-based learning’, teaching using ‘real life context’ or are we just painting a cracked wall, without actually fixing the real gaps?

By Ritika Shukla — Educational Specialist

Ritika Shukla, an Educational Specialist in Large Scale assessments at Educational Initiatives, is a Teach For India 2014 alum who after working with low income communities of Ahmedabad by teaching 2nd and 3rd graders, mobilized change in the community strongly believes education is the only way to harness true potential of our country and by working with EI she hopes to achieve the same. She is born and brought up in Udaipur, a small city in Rajasthan and completed her engineering in Chemical from SRM University, Chennai. Apart from her work in field of education,she is a classically trained singer, a sports fan and a movie enthusiast.

Originally published at on February 16, 2017.