Let Learners Think Critically
Exploring the context
As being a facilitator of English course not only of school level learners but also of university level learners, I did not find myself in the position of creating opportunities to think critically on various subject matters; but in the position of preaching the content without letting learners think even a single minute during my time frame of teaching.
When I was a student of both my school level and university level, I wished my teachers provided me opportunities to share something on the subject matters they were imparting to us. At that time, I would think that I could contribute something participating in different activities. However, our teachers used to come in the class with empty hands, ask for the textbooks from us; and start the lesson directly without consulting their learners. We used to listen and watch the teachers’ activities during the class period. After sometime, they used to ask some questions and if there were no accurate answers from us, we had to be ready for the punishment decided as per their whims.
After completing my school life, I got an opportunity to be a university student. Though a regular student of my class, I was hardly introduced with my teachers; and got chances to share something among a large number of classmates. When I got an opportunity to be a university level student of teacher education, I got the exposure of various dimensions of learners, learning strategies, teaching principles and strategies, current trends of teaching learning practices and findings of researches and experiments.
As soon as I graduated from the university, I got an opportunity to teach in Surkhet Campus (Education), a constituent campus of Tribhuvan University, as a part-time teacher where I was assigned to teach the course entitled Reading, Writing and Critical Thinking in B.Ed. first year. This is the course studied by the students, who are specializing in English Education. As its name suggests, this course is highly based on the reading, writing and critical thinking activities with active participation of the students. Before I began to teach the course, I thought of going through the course thoroughly; and then plan and present the lessons so that I could present overview of the course; and make them feel that I could teach them well. I did as I had thought and prepared my first lesson and then went for the presentation. Here, I am going to share with you all how I presented my first lesson on the course.
Reflecting my experience of teaching through critical perspective
As per the nature of the course of study and my exposure on the ELT theories, ideas and practices obtained from attending national and international conferences, workshops, seminars and trainings, I planned to translate all of them into reality expecting to be a figure of appreciation not only in the heart of learners but also in the eyes of administration. The first lesson of the course prescribed to be taught from the book New Directions: Reading, Writing and Critical Thinking is ‘American Values and Assumptions’ written by Gary Althen. I started my first lesson with university level students for the first time from my own introduction letting them get chance to guess with appropriate clues. I asked them to guess my first name by providing one clue: “My first name is after any one of the three supreme gods of Hindus. Can anyone guess?” Somebody said Bishnu, some others guessed ‘Shiva’ and very few of them said ‘Brahma’. I asked them to raise their hands who said ‘Bishnu’ and asked rest students to clap loudly for their accurate guess. After letting them to guess my name, I introduced myself as ‘busy Bishnu’. Then I asked all the students to think and write one adjective after their first letter of their name which characterizes them best or at least they prefer to be called or introduced by that word. After few minutes later, I asked, “Did you complete your task? Are you ready? “I asked them to introduce with their first name along with one adjective that characterizes them best from the first letter of their first name. Each student introduced himself or herself by remembering the names and adjectives of their previously introduced friends. During the introduction with an adjective, some students reported that it was very difficult to find adjectives. I helped them find the suitable adjectives.
Having done the introduction chapter, I asked them to think and write a paragraph about the American people, their way of life they have known or imagined, their behavior and daily activities, the norms and values they are guided by, their perspectives towards other people and the world, etc. The students were asked to share their writings and after that they were divided into five groups assigning the names after the first letters of the key feature of American Values and Assumptions: Individualism and informality (I), competition and change (C), privacy and progress (P), equality (E), time (T), and action and Assertiveness (A). Each group was assigned to read the given key features of American values and assumptions given on the reading text and list out some key points. After that, they were asked to share their understandings among others and think about their own practices in their own context and culture regarding the key features. They were asked to involve in group discussion, ‘Americans are not trained in close-knit interdependent family, religious group, tribe, nation or any other collectivity (Gardner, 2005, p. 5)’, what about in your context and culture? ‘Individualistic Americans naturally see themselves being in competition with others (Gardner, 2005, p. 7)’, what about you in your context? Americans believe ‘History doesn’t matter, it’s the future that counts’, what do we think? etc. After the discussion, they were asked to write an essay on “Nepalese Values and Assumptions” as their home assignment. At last, the lesson was summed up. Can we create critical thinking-friendly environment in our ELT classroom?
What I enjoyed in my first class of university level students was that I was not feeling of teaching and being tired of crying loudly but just playing with them and letting them to do something themselves rather than preaching them everything from my best effort. For the first time, I felt like teaching It was a fun creating and playing with content letting the learners to explore themselves and facilitating the learners to explore the subject matters wherever they need. When I tried to continue of teaching from that perspective I encountered some challenges too because the expectations of the students and current practice of teaching were not compatible. I did not provide any notes and summary of the texts rather let them write themselves. The students complained to the administration and to me demanding that I should provide summary of the reading texts because this is what they will be asked in the examination. They wanted to learn what would be asked in the examination; no the thing that creates fun and burden to think and do activities themselves. They asked me to give them the summaries of the lessons and tips, which were supposed to be very important for the examination purpose. The students were worried about the examination; rather than learning something with their own best efforts. Then I decided to change my teaching strategies to provide my perspective on the subject matter as the note to them not at the beginning but at the last of the discussion after letting them to read, think and write something on the subject matter. Although it can be problematic in large classes, we can create learning- friendly environment through critical thinking perspective by changing the software of students and teachers’ traditional perceptions and practices of teaching-learning process.
Critical thinking is an essential skill that every one should develop in course of time. The higher the level of education, the greater is the importance of critical thinking. Therefore, we should let the learners be well-informed that they are basically responsible for their learning. They should not be just passive receiver of knowledge, but also active participant in the classroom. Creating critico-creative learning-friendly environment in ELT classroom is urgent in the post-method practices. For that, it is necessary to change both policies and practices.