My Experience of Teaching Reading in Higher Secondary Level
I began teaching English some eight years ago in a way that I could not help commencing it as the profession. One of my friends requested me to take classes on her behalf when she was not able to continue teaching in the middle of the academic session. When I recall the first day, I was really nervous standing in front of the staring eyes of several students, though it was my luck that I was appreciated by them. The appreciation from the students and my own rewarding experience during this period motivated and encouraged me to take teaching as the career. In the beginning, I found many reading texts quite difficult to interpret to the students. I had had many sleepless nights to prepare those texts. In this short blog post, I share my experience of teaching reading texts in post-secondary level in far-western part of Nepal.
During these eight years, I taught English in a few community and private English medium schools from secondary to university levels. I mainly collected experiences at the post-secondary level i.e. grade 11 and 12. I facilitated both compulsory and major courses of English which contain various genres of literature such as poem, story, essay, drama, novel and so on. While teaching these genres, I have gained some inspiring experiences.
When I was teaching reading an essay “Look At A Teacup’, the girls of grade 11 hid their heads. Furthermore, they were seen absent the next day. I learned that the reason of their absence was the sexual context in the text. They did not feel comfortable with the content. I consoled them separately and made them feel comfortable. And I also adopted a rapid reading strategy for that particular text. However, I have had quite contradictory experience of teaching a story i.e. “About love” to the students of grade 12. The students were too curious to listen to me. I observed that they were found excited to listen to the story. They paid full attention with no hesitation and wanted me to translate the story in the Nepali language. I realized that the content about love attracts those teenagers.
Another different experience was teaching a dramatic story “The Three Day Blow”. Students became quite passive and felt bored while reading the text thoroughly as it is too lengthy. They reported me that it has some unnecessary conversations. I made a summary of this particular reading. Then I realized that they made meaning in a way that love is like ‘The Three Day Blow’ at the present-day world.
One different situation that I had gone through was while teaching a poem entitled “My Heart Leaps Up When I behold”. Even though it was simple and short, students became quite confused with this paradoxical line: The child is the father of Man. Later on, I changed the strategy to impart the meaning showing a chart to make the meaning clear and they received the hidden meaning of the paradox. I felt quite happy when they comprehend the figurative meaning and internalized it.
I love reading poems but it is hard to deliver the underlying meaning of those poems to students in some cases. Most of the students prefer reading stories and novels to other readings as it has denotative meaning, whereas poem has connotative meaning. One of the girls from grade 11 said, “reading novels and stories interest me because it is easy to grasp the meaning of reading and provide us pleasure.” And a boy also said, “Novels are real-life based, and the stories reflect our characters and lives.”
Challenges and my Strategies
Like other teachers in this region, I also faced a lot of challenges to teach reading texts regarding the contents, students’ behaviour, learning environment and teaching techniques. At first, I used to apply the lecture method. Later students’ progress and my deep engagement motivated me to use student-centred techniques to make students more active and engaged in their classroom and improve their reading ability.
While teaching reading in one of the government schools of a remote area in the region, I had to face a lot of challenges because students were very weak in reading and writing in English. So, I used the Nepali language for every English words and sentence. When I read in English, they were startled and had no responses in the beginning. However, while I was reading something in Nepali, they were quite happy as they found the texts easier to comprehend and grasp the meaning of them. In that situation, I had to take extra (out of office hours) classes to facilitate reading and focus on simple grammar rules, structures, vocabularies and pronunciation of the new words.
As English is a foreign language in my context, there is no doubt that everybody feels some difficulty to master over it. Children in the school coming from different linguistic and social background also feel hesitation and difficulty to speak English. Practice makes man perfect. In earlier days, I used to stay the whole night for reading, underlining the words and write down their meaning. I constantly scanned my own comprehension. This is not something happens at the end of every page but this happens at the end of every sentence. I was scared of thinking that what I should do if I do not understand what I am reading. So reading helped me to deliver the content confidently. I was particularly inspired to see my students’ progress in reading and I think, reading never ends.
I feel that students need to be engaged in reading books of their interests, magazines, newspapers, stories, novels, comics and so on in Nepali, English and the languages they feel comfortable to enrich their reading habit. During these eight years, I find that reading allowed me to expand my knowledge, explore and understand my own identity and made my mind creative and critical.
Ms. Yashoda Bam is a post graduate teacher (PGT) at Sainik Awasiya Mahavidyalaya, Teghari Kailali.