All posts by Balkrishna Sharma

Conferences and professional development: An exclusive interview

Conferences help recharge the batteries of your profession!

Bal Krishna Sharma, PhD is an Assistant Professor of TESOL in the Department of English at the University of Idaho, United States of America. He teaches courses on applied linguistics, sociolinguistics, intercultural communication and second language acquisition. He is one of the founding members of ELT Choutari, and a co-editor of the Journal of NELTA from 2009 to 2012. Dr Sharma has a good exposure of national and international conferences. In this connection, our Choutari editor Jeevan Karki has spoken to him to explore the conferences then and now, roles of conferences in the professional development of the ELT practitioners and other forms of continuous professional development.

1. What were the ways of professional development in your time in Nepal? And what changes do you see in the trends of professional development at present?

I can think of NELTA as the only key venue for opportunities for professional development in the late 90s and the early 2000s. I attended several NELTA conferences before I made my own presentation. The annual NELTA conference was meaningful for young ELT scholars like me for several reasons. First, this was an opportunity to leave your school or hometown for a few days, experience a difference, and engage in conversations about English pedagogy and materials development with a wider audience. Upon return, you could use the conference as a resource to boast your pride of professional development and international exposure among your peers. Second, you could meet people whose names you had only heard of, both national and international ELT celebrities. Just being able to see people like Dr. Jai Raj Awasthi, Dr. Ram Ashish Giri, Dr. Govinda Raj Bhattarai and so on, and greeting them, exchanging smiles with them was a big accomplishment for many English teachers, especially those who were from outside Kathmandu. International scholars whose names were familiar to you but you never imagined seeing them in your life—would be at the conference, and seeing people like Dr. Diane Larsen Freeman and Dr. Ted Rodgers was like seeing ELT Goddess and Gods. That was the feeling I could see among many of my friends in the early days. The Linguistics Society of Nepal would also feature some ELT/Applied Linguistics presentations at its annual conferences, and that was exciting too. In addition, when I was a teacher in Chitwan in the later part of the 90s, I remember attending a few workshops conducted by textbook publishers and authors. Paul Gunasekaran, a scholar from India, was one of a very few people I was impressed with as he talked about the usefulness of the Oxford English textbook in schools. I also used visit the British Council library to read recent articles from The ELT Journal.

The professional development landscape has changed recently with more opportunities. Colleagues have chances to travel internationally, access online resources, and create their own venues for developing their portfolios. ELT Choutari and NELTA ELT forum are two key examples. Some colleagues have personal blogs that showcase their narratives of teaching and research. There are more publishing opportunities in journals today.

2. You have recently presented your papers in AAAL (American Association for Applied Linguistics) and TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) conference. Could you reflect briefly how this participation and presentation supported in your professional development?

I travel to conferences for a few key reasons. Apparently, one pragmatic reason is the constant need to update my CV, utilize the fund that my university offers, and update my professional portfolio that is needed for my tenure and promotion. But my biggest drive to travel to conferences such as TESOL and AAAL is to create my scholarly space and identity in the field, update my knowledge repertoires with recent developments in scholarship, and network with junior and senior colleagues. For example, I presented a research project that was completed collaboratively with my graduate student Andrea Mason at the TESOL convention last March. This was a unique opportunity to mentor a junior colleague and learn fresh perspectives from her. Likewise, I organized a colloquium with a senior scholar Suresh Canagarajah from Penn State University, and the colloquium included 5 presentations by scholars from around the world. This was a special opportunity in another sense: I had an opportunity to collaborate and learn from somebody who is a very popular name in applied linguistics. We are publishing a journal special issue from this colloquium. In addition, I take these conferences as social networking opportunities. I met my friends from Nepal, Hawaii, and many other parts of the world; had conversation and dinner with them; had pictures taken, and so on. The social part of conferences is not less important than the academic part. When you return home from conferences, you sort of feel that you are recharged with a new pair of batteries.

3. In Nepal, there are two annual ELT related conferences taking place. Could you share your views on them including their strengths and areas to improve?

I’m glad that these conferences are happening with a wider impact both in scale and scope. Since I’m away from home for about a decade, I’m unable to offer evaluative comments. Based on details in social networking sites and conversations with friends, it’s quite noteworthy that the opportunities are accessible to many more individuals now. For example, the NELTA conference took place in Hetauda this year. My long-time colleague, friend, and collaborator Dr. Prem Phyak has been instrumental in beginning a new tradition at Tribhuvan University, mainly by starting the annual ELT and Applied Linguistics Conference. This is a history in the making and I hope it goes on and on. There still are a couple of areas that need to be addressed for a positive transformation. Culture of professionalism and scholarship: We do not yet have a standard in recognizing publications and presentations in making hiring and promotion decisions at universities. As a result, the environment in academic institutions does not create conditions for continuous professional development. I was a co-editor for the Journal of NELTA for three years form 2009-2012, and the number of manuscripts we received was not encouraging. This is perhaps because the role of publications in individuals’ career is not as valued and recognized as it had to be. I think this situation continues today too. While it is exciting that the journal is having an international impact as it includes contributions from scholars around the world, it certainly is not a good sign that the number of contributors from home is shrinking. Another point to note is how we organize presentations at conferences. Learning to ask good questions to the presenter is as important as being a good presenter. In the best case scenario, the Q&A part after presentation can generate rich discussion on the topic; the presenter can get constructive feedback; and eventually the presentation can be turned into a publication. I think we need create this kind of environment at conferences in Nepal.

4. ELT practitioners from Nepal are making their way up to giant conferences like IATEFL (International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language), TESOL and so on for the talk and presentation. What’s the perception of the participants towards us? On what areas should we focus to make our presence well-received?

I haven’t been able to talk to international participants about Nepali scholars at international conferences. But I have some observations. The key aspect of this is international representation of Nepali scholars. With this, questions and topics related to ELT and applied linguistics in Nepal are heard, noticed, and talked about in international venues. Many of our colleagues have won scholarships and awards to travel to conferences, and have been chosen as conference ambassadors. This is great. With this, I also feel that we need a greater representation in terms of who has access to these opportunities. Teaching in Nepal, and in general on a global scale, is a very gendered profession—more women working as teachers than men. But when we I see the faces of our ELT delegates at the international level, I see a significant under-representation of female colleagues. Likewise, the presence could be made more inclusive by representing individuals from historically marginalized groups, and professionals from outside Kathmandu.

5. What other ways do you suggest for Nepali educators and ELT practitioners for the continuous professional development?

Not minimizing the remarkable strides we’ve made to date, professional organizations and academic institutions can move to two simultaneous directions for professional development. First, our teachers and teacher educators at home have tremendous amount of narratives documenting the opportunities and challenges in teaching English; e.g. large classes, lack of adequate infrastructure, inadequate training. Amidst political influences and challenging work conditions, Nepali professionals have motivation, desire, excitement, and curiosity to learn what is going on around the world. They have the courage to rethink how their practices fit into grand theories, concepts and teaching approaches that are developed in social contexts very far from where they live. This commitment and perusal is very inspiring and unique. Second, institutions and organizations in Nepal can look for ways to attract diaspora Nepalis to contribute to professionalism and scholarship in Nepal. Now, we have Nepali ELT scholars at leading universities in the US, UK, Japan, Norway, Australia, and in several other countries. The next move is to utilize their expertise for professionalism in Nepal. Some of my colleagues have already started mentoring and offering professional development workshops online for colleagues at home. These two directions are not mutually exclusive, but inform one another—can work in collaboration.

To cite this: Sharma, B. (2019, April 25). Conferences and professional development: An exclusive interview. Retrieved from http://eltchoutari.com/2019/04/conferences-and-professional-development/

More to ELT: Two Books on Language Education and Communication

Balkrishna Sharma*

In our last conversation, Praveen asked me to offer some recommendations for some recent “good” books on ELT for our English teachers in Nepal. I, promptly, but hesitatingly said ‘yes’. I was hesitant mainly for two reasons: reflecting on what I read last year, it was hard for me to remember the names of the books I read; I found that my teaching and research is largely shaped by journals articles in applied linguistics these days. Second, on topics of ELT- and this was mainly due to the reason that English education has been historically equated with ELT, which again is largely confined to teaching methodologies, four-skills, and evaluation.

However, my interest in recent years again has to do with larger social and political forces that shape language education and language teaching, e.g. politics, culture, society, policy and so on. Developing knowledge and awareness on these broader issues is as important as, and sometimes, more important than, the practical skills that teachers need in teaching English. Language teaching is more than ‘language’ teaching; it encompasses larger socio-political-cultural issues that impact teachers’ and students’ lives.

From my hard-to-remember book list, here are two texts that are tremendously useful for our English teachers in Nepal. If you tell the whole narrative of what you think is a good movie to your friend, chances are that your friend may not want to watch the movie anymore because s/he knows the plot and the characters already. Applying the same logic, if I give you a run-down of everything in the books, I may kill your interest to read the books. Therefore, I am giving only a few words on what aspects of the texts have impressed me.

1. Engaged Language Policy and Practice

Year of publication: 2017

Authors: Kathryn Davis and Prem Phyak

Year of publication: 2017

This book situates language policy and practice as a form of social activism and transformation. Rather than conceptualizing language policy as a form of government document or a constitutional manifesto, the authors conceptualize it as enacted by various social members in different levels. English language teachers and learners, for examples, are agentive individuals who have the power and awareness to resist dominant ideologies and practices, and bring about social changes through multilingual practices. The authors argue that an engaged approach to policy and practice pays attention to raising individuals’ “awareness of the conditions of their own oppression” (p. 30). By reading the books, language teachers have a chance to learn and critically think about some broader issues of multilingualism, language ideology, neoliberalism/capitalism, critical language awareness, and critical pedagogy. And these are the issues that impact language teachers’ lives, directly or indirectly.

2. Exploring Intercultural Communication: Language in Action

Author: Zhu Hua

Year of Publication: 2014

This book addresses concerns of contemporary globalization, diversity, and the intercultural nature of communication today. With the rapid flows of peoples, cultures and media across national borders, many social settings have become linguistically and culturally diverse. As people from such diverse backgrounds meet face-to-face or in online contexts, their meeting becomes a site for an intercultural encounter where they negotiate meanings, social identities, and power relations. The field of language education in particular is impacted by this diversity in a number of ways. For example, second language teacher education courses inevitably must deal with new notions of culture as well as which cultures to teach and how to teach them. Language professionals in particular should seriously reconsider how the issues of culture are represented in teaching materials and addressed in classroom practices. Keeping this in mind, the book approaches the notion of intercultural communication primarily as a communicative practice. The chapters present theoretical concepts and empirical cases of intercultural communication from a wide range of social contexts such as family, workplace, business, and education. This then naturally leads English teachers to ask questions about the role of culture in language teaching. Questions such as these are of paramount importance: how to teach culture in second language classrooms, how cultures of the self and others are represented in teaching materials such as textbooks, and how they are addressed in classroom practices, and how intercultural learning is assessed by second language teachers.

Why English-only ideology and practice

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Bal Krishna Sharma

It is often assumed that a target language can be best taught in the target language. This assumption basically developed from the Direct Method, which emphasized that translation and use of the learners’ language is detrimental to the learning of the target language. This ideology influenced the succeeding methodologies in the field of English language teaching and teaching of other second languages. In the audio-lingual method also, teaching and use of the learners’ first language was considered a detrimental factor in the success of language learning. This ideology and practice is best suited in contexts where learners are almost fully competent in the target language. However, this case is very rare because if the learners are already competent in the target language, why should they bother to sit in the second language classroom? Learning in the second language, for example in English, may provide more exposure to the learners since they may be able to receive more hours of English. However, lack of adequate proficiency in that language is likely to severely affect their general learning as well as their learning of content subjects such as mathematics and social studies. When the learners do not grasp what the teacher is teaching in the classroom, she does not only abstain from important information being taught, she also feels left out, excluded and discriminated. Research literature from around the world shows evidence for that.

The concern regarding the use of English as a medium of instruction has drawn a considerable attention from both teachers and policy makers in the context of Nepal. While the “English-medium” private schools have long been bragging the English-only policy and practice in their schools, teachers have always been agentive in resisting this ideology, making varied use of learner’s language. I was an English teacher in a private school in Chitwan for about five years from 1996-2001, and while teaching English, I consciously made use of Nepali in various degrees. Teaching English, only in English benefitted only those who had developed a considerable degree of proficiency in English; those with little knowledge of English suffered a lot.

Translingual pedagogy: some cases

The concern regarding the benefits and drawbacks of English-only policy is not a Nepal-specific issue. In order to address the complexities of bilingual and multilingual schools and societies, researchers and teachers have recently shown an increased interest in using a translingual pedagogy. Translingual pedagogy or translingualism largely refers to a conscious and dynamic use of two or more languages in a language classroom. In such contexts, the teacher is competent in using both languages. Professor Ofelia Garcia is well known for elaborating this concept in bilingual classrooms in the US. In a thought-provoking post that she wrote a while ago for Choutari, she mentions:

Translanguaging in education can be defined as a process by which students and teachers engage in complex discursive practices that include ALL the language practices of students in order to develop new language practices and sustain old ones, communicate and appropriate knowledge, and give voice to new sociopolitical realities by interrogating linguistic inequality (Garcia, 2013, https://neltachoutari.wordpress.com/2013/07/01/translanguaging-to-teach-english-in-nepal/).

Two other researchers, Adrian Blackledge and Angela Creese, from the UK have also shown compelling evidence of using two languages concurrently in a second language classroom. They write:

We also find examples of the need for both languages, for the drawing across languages, for the additional value and resource that bilingualism brings to identity performance, lesson accomplishment, and participant confidence (Creese and Blackledge, 2010: 112).

Such evidences suggest that learners benefit largely by being taught in two languages.

Translingual practices in an ESP classroom

I have long been interested in the use of English in non-formal and informal educational contexts in Nepal. One of my previous studies investigated how learners of English in Nepal navigate information technologies such as Facebook in order to enact and practice their bilingual identities. Recently, I have been researching on the teaching, learning and use of English and other foreign languages in Nepal’s tourism industry. As a case in point, Travellers’ World (pseudonym) in Thamel, Kathmandu, offers English courses for porters and trekking guides two times a year – in monsoon and in winter- each lasting for about a month. I was in the monsoon class for a month in 2013, observing the class, taking notes, recording classroom interactions and interviewing the teachers and the students. As a noticeable finding relevant to the present essay, I here provide two examples which at times show contradictory practices.

Point 1: Travellers’ World has a policy to hire “native” English speaking volunteer tourists who tend to be from English speaking countries such as Australia, the UK and the US. I was in a class taught by a volunteer teacher from the UK. She hardly spoke any Nepali. The students, as you might guess, had only basic language and literacy schools, and their English competence was notably poor. Here, I reproduce my observation notes and a piece of classroom dialogue below.

The teacher was teaching how to write a CV. She first briefly explained what CV is and what it is used for. She wrote Curriculum Vitae on the board and asked the students if they knew it before. A few nodded. One student mentioned that CV means bio-data. The teacher acknowledged the student’s response and distributed a one-page handout that contained a template for writing a CV. She then divided the class into three groups. The students seemed confused, looking at each other and at the teacher, speaking unclearly in Nepali. The following interaction occurred meantime:

T: What are you writing in your CV? (addressing to one a student)

S: (pause) I am writing…

T: Okay. You need to write your education background.

S: (pause)

T: You can write about a famous person. Write about a famous person’s CV.

S: Okay.

T: Oh yeah. Write Barack Obama’s CV for the presidential post? For example you are Barack Obama and you want to apply for the post of President. How do you like the idea?

S: Good good. (laughs)

(pause for a while)

T: What about you (to another student). (pause) Do you like sports?

S: Oh, I write David Beckham. I like football.

Most of the students did not have their education beyond the School Leaving Certificate (SLC, equivalent to Grade 10). Some of them were school dropouts, who did not continue their formal education after grade 5. At first, writing a CV that asked for their university education obviously created a problem for them. Rather than helping students to prepare a CV that included their own information, the teacher assigned a more daunting task of writing the American President’s CV. Another student perhaps thought only the famous people in the world have their CVs and he proposed writing a famous British soccer player’s CV. CV for them meant biography. The students encountered more problems later when they had to write their previous work experience for the posts they were supposed to be applying for. Second, because the students could not grasp the teacher’s English, they could hardly make sense of what she was saying. Since the teacher did not speak any Nepali, there was no way that the students ask her to translate words or explain the meaning of the English words in the language they could understand. Even if she explained them the meaning, it was in English, which often lead the students to more challenging cognitive tasks. Often, students would look at each other talking with their eyes or gestures. Their silent talks were in Nepali, and they apparently were looking for meanings and definitions in Nepali. Those who were sitting by me would ask me ‘Nepalima ke bhnacha, sir?’ (What do you say in Nepali, sir?). I would happily volunteer to help them out by telling them in their language. At the same time, however, I feared that teacher would not like my intervention since I was permitted only to “observe” her class, not to make any interventions. Had the teacher known some level of Nepali, the students would have benefitted significantly. My point of giving the example above is that both the students and the teacher should be able to understand each other and the task being implemented in the classroom. There were problems with English-only instruction: students were lost and often solicited my responses.

Point 2: Students’ practices were reasonably translingual. Their conversations among themselves were in Nepali. They tried to speak to the teacher in English, but at times would insert Nepali words (which, as you know, did not make sense to the teacher). Their class notes reflected their translingual competence. Given below is an example of class notes by one of the students named Chhatra.

Image text

Chhatra’s note was produced during a group work. The students were asked to report their activities in the past simple tense. Chhatra took notes using the past tense before he reported his activities to his group members and to the teacher. His notes show the characteristics of what they recognize as broken English. Chhatra told me that his writing represents English words as he hears them. First few lines are in Nepali with occasional translation into English and vice versa. His literacy skill in Nepali also shows characteristics that do not conform to the standard Nepali writing. For example, the word उभएचा (ubhaecha) in the second line should be उभएचर (ubhaechar) in standard Nepali, and the word डेफे (defe) in the third line should be डाँफे (danphe) if we follow the standard writing system in Nepali. Similarly, Chattra’s English writing shows orthographic peculiarities in its use: he uses ‘treek’ for ‘trek’, ‘languse’ for ‘language’, ‘contuse’ for ‘continuous’, ‘averyd’ for ‘everyday’, ‘staday’ for ‘Saturday’ and ‘vigited’ for ‘visited’.

To take the point further, Chhatra shows his complex translingual skills. Although the language of instruction of his class is English-only, he appropriates that with his “non-standard” English skills, combined with various degrees of proficiency in Nepali. This shows that students look for and benefit from combining varied linguistic and literacy resources at their disposal.

Final words

Societies are being more multilingual today. Students come from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds. If teachers can wisely use bilingual resources, students will benefit more. Teachers in Nepal have been doing this although schools may have various policies regarding the use of English in classrooms. To conclude, while it at first seems that students get more exposure of learning if they get more hours of English talk in their class (in ideal cases where all students equally understand English and the concepts being taught in that language), systematic and dynamic use of English and Nepali (or another local language) will have more positive learning experiences and outcomes.

Works Cited

Creese, A. and Blackledge, A. 2010. Translanguaging in the Bilingual Classroom: A Pedagogy for Learning and Teaching? The Modern Language Journal, 94, 102-115.

Garcia, O. 2013. Translanguaging to teach English in Nepal. Retrieved on July 23, 2015 from https://neltachoutari.wordpress.com/2013/07/01/translanguaging-to-teach-english-in-nepal/

The author, a founder of ELT Choutari, is a Ph. D. scholar at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, USA.

This is how mentoring worked for me

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Bal Krishna Sharma,   PhD Scholar   University of Hawaii, Manoa, USA

I went to pursue my graduate studies at the University of Hawaii in 2008. Since I was in a new academic environment, any academic help extended to me would be tremendously helpful. I first had little idea on how the US academic system would work, for example, choosing academic advisers, completing assignments, presenting at conferences, finding and using scholarly resources and connecting to the local ELT professional venues. Thanks to the East-West Center, my scholarship sponsor organization, that connected me to an experienced and very helpful mentor, Elaina. Also thanks to the Second Language Studies Students’ Association that provided me an opportunity to work as a mentor for a BA student. In the following sections, I will briefly describe my experience and learning opportunities from these mentoring programs.

Being a Mentee

The East-West Center Alumni Association asked me to fill out a mentoring form providing details of my academic and professional background, academic interest and my expectations from my mentor. However, I had little idea regarding how this would work and help with my graduate studies at the university. I thought at least I would have an opportunity to connect to an ‘American’ professor. The alumni association also asked the potential mentors to fill out similar forms. By matching common interests between the two parties, I was assigned to a mentor at a local community college. I was excited. I wrote my mentor an introductory email and told her that I was her mentee and wanted to know who she was. Elaina took me to an Indian restaurant for dinner for our first meeting. We chatted about our personal and academic interests, family background and future goals. Continue reading This is how mentoring worked for me

Shifting Focus: Building ELT Practices and Scholarship from the Ground Up

Prem Phyak, Bal Krishna Sharma and Shyam Sharma

The subject of this post is our shared recognition that there is a tremendous need for Nepalese ELT practitioners to build on what we already have and what we already do, rather than focusing on what we lack and what we don’t do well. We highlight the importance for teachers to understand/appreciate their great potentials to do things innovatively, creatively, and transformatively. We organize this post in three interconnected discussions about the need for shifting the focus of our local ELT conversations and scholarship.

From Focusing on Problem to Focusing on Practice

Academic and professional discourses on ELT in our context tend to be too focused on  problems and failures. At workshops and conferences, as well in theses produced by our university students, a lot of attention is paid to a more or less fixed set of problems such as large classes, lack of resources, lack of teacher training and proficiency, and so on and on. These discourses often end with a set of recommendations, which again are quite predictable, such as: “teachers should be trained,” “the government should provide more resources,” “classes should be smaller,” and so on.

What is left out from such discourses is how English teachers in Nepal work under constraints and are still able to teach very effectively. Seemingly small examples sometimes do a great job. We remember our secondary school days when our English class consisted of more than 50 students—which is too large by most ELT standards. Our English teachers used to move around the class, make frequent eye contact with us, call names and ask simple questions such as “what did we study yesterday?” “can you see my writing from the back?” etc. We felt great when the teacher called us by name, cared whether we heard her from the back, and valued our contribution; we did our best even while sitting at the back end of a large classroom. We know that even such simple classroom management and motivation strategies can help us overcome many of the seemingly insurmountable challenges of teaching our large-class contexts (Hayes, 1997).

However, in our ELT conversations/scholarship, we seem to regard even the highly effective strategies used in our classrooms too trivial to discuss, too inauthentic to theorize. We lack the confidence to talk about our own and our fellow teachers’ successful teaching practices as the basis of our professional conversations. We rather seek answers to our challenges in the big books, fancy theories, and the occasional trainers who might show us how to fix our problems.

In some ways, our ELT conversations are already rich and substantive, so it is a matter of valuing better our everyday practices. We need to start and promote much more practice-based conversations where we can share how to tackle our challenges and teach effectively in ways that fit our needs. Doing this will help us overcome the particularly crippling hesitation that we have toward developing new knowledge out of our own experiences [See, for example, Jeevan Karki’s post on developing students’ creativity].

Of course, there is no need to try to replace conventional methods/practices with whole new sets. But it is necessary to prevent the limited number of “god words” of mainstream ELT discourse from making us believe that what they tell us is incomparably superior and more authentic than anything we know and do in our particular contexts, anything that comes out of our own daily practices and ground realities.

When we think about scholarship/theory about ELT methods, strategies, and practices (including specific classroom activities), we should go beyond thinking in terminologies that we read in textbooks during our college and university days. Communicative or content-based approach should enter our conversations, but they shouldn’t become the only frame of reference in all our conversations. We should not hesitate to go beyond the big words and into our practices, with whatever words fit our needs, inventing our own terminology where fit.

From Reading Theory to Telling Stories and Sharing Our Experiences

Another major way in which we could shift our focus from what we don’t do into what we could and should do–and what we already do–is to recognize the significance of our ELT conversations based on our ground realities as *material for genuine “scholarship.” That is, our hesitation to produce ELT scholarship/knowledge–which seems even more debilitating than that of sharing and valuing our teaching practices–needs to be overcome as well.

We have an abundance of knowledge that are embedded in our everyday life and socio-cultural practices; we also have creative language teaching and learning practices shaped by our multilingual, multicultural, and multiethnic realities which can motivate students to speak, read and write English. If we think about it, the kinds of stories of hardships that English teachers are facing in rural villages of Nepal can be a foundation of powerful ELT discourse for us and even for fellow teachers around the world. [For example, see Ahok Khati’s discussion on how English teachers in Nepal construct their identities drawing on local values and knowledge].

Our teachers do not just know how to deal with textbooks and teach English grammar; they are usually larger-than-life figures who have tremendous impact on social issues, great respect from the community for their ability to resolve conflicts in society, and an understanding of social values and ethics. Their success as teachers comes much less from ELT theories and methods they have learned from textbooks than it does from their immersion in society; it comes from their knowledge/understanding of the community and students, their status and role in society, and their prestige and identity.

The same is true about their students: many of them may not even have a single pen and notebook, enough food to eat and clothes to wear, and parental guidance/understanding of their education. But the students complete the other half of our success stories through the sheer power of their sincerity, motivation, and hard work. This makes us ask: how can we capture such larger, deeper issues in ELT pedagogical theories and conversations of our own?

This means that we must situate our ELT discourses in our local contexts, our understanding of the environment, occupations, cultural practices, social harmony and cooperation, and so on (Wallace, 2002). Only when we develop practices/methods that recognize the realities of our and our students’ lives can we truly encourage them to read, write, speak, listen, and learn meaningfully. It is important to focus on helping them develop their ability to talk about their own culture, community and knowledge first. For example, if our students can read, write, and discuss local society and culture, politics and policies, family life and community issues, environment and occupations–at the level that they are interested and able to engage–then they will learn language quite effectively. More importantly, they can also use these phenomena as a source of ideas, metaphors, perspectives, and professional conversations in the future [Also see Bal Krishna Sharma and Prem Phyak’s entry on critical literacy in the local context].

Very often, we focus on how much our students lack “English language proficiency.” But if we look closer, we can easily realize that whenever they communicate about issues of their own lives and societies, their competency instantly shoots up–even as their accent lingers, their syntax remains shaky as they grow up. Indeed, this is true of our teachers’ own language proficiency and scholarly conversation as well. When the contents of our teaching/learning are our own life-stories and social realities, we automatically sound much more competent and capable–for if we do not know what we want to read/write and speak about, our proficiency in language itself will remain to be of little significance [You can refer to Shyam Sharma’s blog post on local linguistic practices as a further reference].

From What We Don’t Have to What We Do (Well)

One question that we often hear from teachers in various workshops and conferences in Nepal is what method they should use for solving this or that problem of teaching English. Too often, we seem to assume that there must be a recognized method for fixing every problem, a method that is more advanced and powerful than anything that we can develop/improvise ourselves. For example, when students do not speak up in class, we reach for “communicative techniques” like group work and pair work, but we are far less likely to recognize that we’ve already been using other strategies that would work as well.

Suppose that a teacher has developed the following strategy to promote speaking: she walks into her class with fifty pieces of paper (one each for all students) with five pieces containing the word “lucky.” Then she lets her students find out who is lucky, asking them to either prepare and speak during the same class or come prepared for the next class. Also suppose that this speaking activity involves simply summarizing an essay or retelling a story. Now, does this activity fit into any theory or method? Let us say that it doesn’t. Will the teacher feel confident talking about it as a “teaching strategy” in an ELT conversation? Probably not. The first activity could be seen as “putting students on the spot” and the second one may be considered as “regurgitating textbook content” within conventional ELT methods/practices.

Unless we as teachers are confident that different local cultures and contexts validate, as well as necessitate, different pedagogies, we may not find our local practices worth even talking about. When we build that confidence, we will shift the current field of ELT in Nepal from worrying about finding the established method in mainstream ELT discourse toward building and appreciating our own practices that work best in our own context.

More broadly, in our professional conversations, we should legitimize and build on what we already do, rather than focus on what is lacking. Often, this is only a matter of looking at our own work a little differently. Imagine a conference where a bunch of us as ELT scholars have gathered to discuss the theme of “ELT in the multilingual/multicultural context of Nepal.” Then imagine that we take turns at the microphone to lament the lack of “policy” about multiculturalism and multilingualism in Nepal. Say that no one challenges the assumption that “policy” doesn’t (or shouldn’t) only mean what is written on paper, formally adopted by some authority, implemented in a top-down manner, etc. Also suppose that the expert invited from abroad makes a great PowerPoint presentation, highlighting some good theories and perspectives but not really touching on multilingual and multicultural social realities like we have in Nepal.

Now, think about it this way. What is it–if it is not “policy”–that teachers in some schools punish (often corporally) their students when they speak their home languages? What is it when our district education officers quietly, informally encourage community schools under their supervision to switch to English medium in order to retain students and save the schools? What about the whole society’s understanding that English medium is a good enough reason to determine quality of schools? None of the above are formal and recognized, governmental or institutionally implemented policies. But they are “policies”. Some are tantamount to institutional policies, others are socially established practices and expectations, and yet others are individual preferences. The lack of explicitly formal, documented, and top down policies doesn’t mean that there are no policies at all.

So, the scholars in our imaginary conference could be talking about a lot of things instead of repeating that there are “no policies.” Simply adopting an established, mainstream definition and theory of the key terms can deflect our focus from the real situation and turn reality itself into a gigantic blind spot instead of being the subject matter!  Hence, a lot could be done by adopting the right perspectives.

Conclusion: Building Critical Mass

In this brief post, we have argued for adopting a bottom-up approach not only for promoting our students’ English language abilities but also for enhancing teachers’ own confidence in their practices and, from those practices, local scholarship. Teachers should not be passive recipients of knowledge about grand theories; rather, they should be “change agents” (Kumaravadivelu, 2003).

We are not thinking about “where to start” because our point is that we already have thousands of starting points: we just need to recognize and validate them. More and more of our colleagues across the country need to just come forward and share their ideas. There are an increasing number of ways for doing so: increased numbers of workshops and training events; local, regional, and national conferences; professional events abroad; opportunities to start local and national newsletters and magazines using alternative modes of publication like blogs and wikis; promoting personal blogs and podcasts that teachers may already be doing; and so on.  This process, we believe, will help the community of Nepalese English teachers build a critical mass to transform ELT profession from the ground up.

As the current Choutari  team completes their first year and rekindles its energy (including additional, enthusiastic members), we are ever more hopeful that this venue will help our professional conversations shift its focus from gazing at failures and lacks to building on our successes and resourcefulness.

As always, please join the conversation!

References

Hayes, D. (1997). Helping teachers to cope with large classes. ELT Journal51(2), 106-116.

Kumaravadivelu, B. (2003). Beyond methods: Macrostrategies for language teaching. Yale University Press.

Wallace, C. (2002). Local literacies and global literacy. In Globalization and language teaching (pp. 111-124). Routledge.

Nelta Choutari’s Four Year Journey

NELTA Choutari: Looking back and moving forward

Bal Krishna Sharma and Prem Phyak

1. A brief history

“Over the course of the last few months, Bal, Prem, and I have been talking about a random but very significant set of issues via email (copying among the three of us). I am beginning to wonder if we should redirect that time and energy into something more productive, more shared, and more beneficial for a larger community. As Prem and I talked on Skype this afternoon, we should archive and share these discussions through blogging (I created this blog after our talk), through a wiki (I set up since that email also), a discussion list (way to go), or anything better than email–email is not designed for collaboration, for Pete’s sake!”

The above excerpt is what Shyam wrote on the very first issue of the NELTAChoutari in January 2009. Prem was in London, Shyam was in Kentucky, and Bal was in the middle of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii. Before we gave birth to the Choutari, three of us used to exchange chains of emails looking for ways to get reconnected to our beloved Nepalese ELT community even if we were physically disconnected. Nelta Choutari was an outcome of that motivation and interest toward taking our ideas outside of our personal spaces (email) to a “choutari” (for those who don’t know this Nepali word, it’s the platform under/along with a tree, in or on the way to a village). In due course, three colleagues, Sajan Kumar Karn, Hem Raj Kafle, and Kamal Poudel joined the forum as moderators and connected Chouatri to the ELT community across the country back home; with their extensive experiences working with NELTA and its branches, affiliation with universities in Kathmandu and beyond, and added knowledge and skills in the field, the new colleagues helped take Choutari to its next level.

Choutari was also the product of increasing interaction between ELT and technology. But as we witnessed how technology was largely redefining ELT and professional networking across the world–through such affordances as online discussions, professional email listservs, Facebook updates and comments, online teaching and training, and so on–we also realized that technologies such as blogging were not penetrating very deep in Nepal, partly due to the lack of widespread access to the web and partly due to the academic systems that do not encourage individual teachers and schools toward educational innovation through ICTs. However, we were driven by the idea that we cannot wait until the house catches fire for the Nepalese ELT community to start talking about technology in ELT and education. So, we paid some attention to the subject of technology itself as well as using it as a vehicle of our discussions of all kinds of issues in the village yard.

More broadly, the main objective to establish the Choutari was to provide a professional space in which ELT practitioners across Nepal could learn by exchanging what we know and generate new knowledge from the bottom up. We wanted to promote local ELT scholarship through critical academic discussions; as some of our earliest posts (which we started publishing as monthly issues and called Choutari a “blog-zine”) indicate, we were interested in injected critical discussions on issues like critical pedagogy, the politics of language and ideologies undergirding language policies, the place of ELT in the bigger picture of education, democratization and decentralization of scholarship, and so on. One of our most passionate interests has been to let our colleagues at the grassroots level speak up as teacher-scholars through this forum.

In our attempt to bring out the voices of teacher-scholars across Nepal, we have tried to publish oral interviews, branch updates, success stories, personal teaching anecdotes, and even classroom humor from colleagues from NELTA branches. Not all the “columns” we tried were successful, but we believe we have excelled in publishing issues with a good variety of materials. We have spent hours and days discussing what kinds of posts and publications would cater to the needs and interests of our readers. Thanks to Skype, we have conducted several conference calls, argued for the best possible alternatives, constructively criticized each other’s ideas, and eventually formed consensus.

Choutari has come a long way and there certainly have been a few good challenges along the way. Often we would come up with brilliant ideas and try to implement them but some things didn’t go as well as we hoped. Our contributors, as well as we the coordinators, are very busy, and so participation has often been a challenge. For example, out of ten potential contributors we communicated to, seven would respond and five of them would promise to contribute a piece by the end of the month. When sent a second or third email, some of them either would not respond or would postpone their contribution for the following month. One or two of them would send the entry.

However, we always remained confident and enthusiastic and we are grateful to many colleagues who continued to contribute entries and comments. We are particularly grateful to a few wonderful and regular contributors who promptly responded to our requests, and sent the entries by the deadline. They were instrumental in keeping this blog alive. We also owe special thanks to a few NELTA leaders like Ganga Gautam who contributed content (including this interview) and provided great encouragement during and after his presidency. Our colleague Kamal Poudel joined us as a liaison of NELTA; with him on board, we began to conceptualize the idea of NELTA networking, a larger framework that would consist of blogging (Choutari), microblogging (Twitter), social networking (Facebook), content creation (wiki for branches), and so on. We have also tried to connect Choutari to the larger world of ELT conversations. For example, by blogging for the IATEFL conference in Glasgow in 2011, Choutari became an IATEFL registered online blogger; this kind of international networking is another area for further exploration for the growth of Choutari and other professional networking platforms in Nepalese ELT.

We believe that Choutari serves an important but a specific purpose (of being a space for discussing ELT issues); but we have always viewed this work not only an independent but well-aligned project that is meant to help fulfill NELTA’s central mission of promoting scholarship and professionalism. Furthermore, as indicated above, we have also viewed Choutari as a part of a potentially much larger substance-based professional networking initiative that can help NELTA fulfill its key missions. We have discussed the larger project extensively and it remains a great potential; as we hand over one successful part of that larger mission to a new group of ELT professionals, we are willing to further engage in that larger discussion with the new colleagues, NELTA leaders, and/or any other volunteer colleagues within the organization. We may not be able to dedicate as much time as we have the past four years but we remain as passionate as ever for contributing new ideas and helping to enhance Nepal’s ELT–its scholarship, professionalization, as well as its pedagogy–as much as we can.

2. Themes we discussed
Local literacy and critical pedagogy: One of the major themes that emerged out of the posts in the Choutari was local epistemology/literacy/pedagogy. We not only discussed what critical pedagogy  and local epistemology means in theory (see 2011, January Issue) but also presented some practical ideas based on teachers’ experiences, oral history project and interviews. Most importantly, we tried to generate critical ideas from the bottom-up while being aware of global ELT theories and practices. Critiquing on how the taken-for-granted globalized ideology of ELT may not be helpful in promoting diverse local epistemologies, Phyak (January, 2011) says that:

What I am saying is our full dependence on global methods, norms and textbooks in ELT may not help to promote and sustain our identities and treasure of local knowledge.  What I am saying is that we have wonderful ELT practices that we are not able to share with the people from other parts of the world which we need to do urgently.

Reflecting on his own dilemma created by the tensions between global and local and theory and practice, M. Kafle (November, 2012), S. Adhikari (August, 2012); Regmi (4/2011) and Limbu (March, 2012), deconstruct the notion of top-down literacy and pedagogical practices in English language teaching. While M. Kafle argues that we should critically look at whether or not the way we teach should foster  ‘semiotic process’ and ‘creative languaging’, focusing on the intelligibility, S. Adhikari argues that any varieties (not only British or American) which help us establish communication ‘emancipate us from western centred linguistic imperialism’.  Viewing from the perspective of global and local divide thanks to digital advancement, Limbu calls for teachers’ agency and collegiality to deconstruct dominant globalized pedagogical practice and look for opportunities that foster democratic pedagogies in which both local and global can go together. In this regard, quite related to H. Kafle’s (October, 2012) call for ‘interdisciplinarity’, Bhattarai and Yadav (November, 2012) and Sharma and Phyak (August, 2012) have worked with teachers on how different social issues like gender, poverty, child labor, human rights, and pollution can be brought into the classroom and help children find  a creative space for capitalizing both local and global literacy practices.

Teachers’ professional development: We received an encouraging number of posts on teachers’ professional development ranging from classroom practices to strengthening teachers’ associations. While M. Adhikari (January, 2012) suggests ways to deal with mixed ability classes, Ray (2012) critically unravels the tension between teachers’ motive for the monetary gain and professional development. In the similar fashion, Shrestha (September, 2012) and Panta (September, 2012) contend that present teacher training programs in Nepal lack both expertise and atmosphere for their implementation. Suggesting that observation servers as an important tool for teacher development, KC (October, 2012) and Bhusal (October, 2011) present various ways for engaging teachers in effective classroom observation practices while Budha (October, 2011) focuses on the role of reflective practice in teacher development. Other posts (not mentioned here, due to space limitation ) deal with designing tasks, organizing communicative activities, lesson planning, teaching writing and conference reflections. Together, these posts have provided ideas for the bottom-up and critical perspective on teacher development.

Teachers’ narrative: This is the most popular theme in our webzine. Teachers’ personal narratives (e.g., Bashyal, 10/2012; Dahal, 10/2012; Gautam, 7/2011; Khati & Shrestha 10/2012; Rijal, 11/2012; Neupane, 8/2012; Wagley, 3/2011) have provided an important impetus to make the webzine one of the most popular blogs in Nepalese ELT communities. By including the interviews of teachers (initiated by Heml Kafle) working at the different levels of education, we have tried to bridge the gap between the notions of language-teaching-as-it-is-perceived and language-teaching-as-it-is-practiced. We are able to draw on creative writing works (e.g., Dewan, 3/2012) to help students use English in creative ways (please search Andrew Wright’s post in Chouatri). The key issues that emerge from teacher’s narratives are: (a) to what extent we are able to utilize our own literacy practices?; (b) to what degree we are able to address student needs and contextual challenges?; and (c) can we teacher narratives’ be base for promoting local ELT scholarships?. We think that future discussion should go in this line. We see that teachers’ narratives about teaching, learning and attending conferences and workshops may provide an important avenue for looking at what is possible to apply in our own context.

Teacher training:  We also received a significant numbers of posts on teacher training and workshop report. Ranging from Tanahun (e.g., Pandey, 3/2012; Nidhi, 9/2012) to Rautahat to Ramechhap we were able to cover branch updates and their activities. These updates not only tell us about what is happening in different branches, but also contribute to generate discussions on teacher training, classroom practices and organizing conferences. However, we are not able to report on whether or not the training programs NELTA has conducted have been translated into practice. We think that this is one of the key areas we should explore in future.

3. Responses from the readers

The most important part of the Choutari is its readership. We are really encouraged with the increasing number of readers/subscribers of the webzine from home and beyond. The responses from our readers not only generate the critical discussions among the ELT scholars but also form strong sense of the ELT community of practice. We are happy to know that students from Kathmandu and Tribhuvan universities are finding the webzine very useful sources of information. The posts and responses from KU and TU students have shown the academic impacts of the webzine.  Through readers’ responses like the one given below, we tried to promote academic culture among the NELTA colleagues:

 

Kate Miller says:

June 6, 2010 at 11:02 pm

I completely agree with Leknath on the importance of programmes like SQC to encourage linguistic formulation of ideas, in an age appropriate way. Circle time can start with KG children, in a simple story and discussion, with both topics and language being extended according to developmental level. (Refer to work of developmental psychologists Piaget and Vygotsky.) In UK, we are encouraging both creative and critical thinking programmes. Some are based on the work of Reuven Feuerstein who developed content-free thinking programmes, one is called Philosophy for Children, P4C, based on the work of Matthew Lipman. Some people were outraged at the idea of children ‘doing’ philosophy, but it is simply a structured way of unpicking an issue at the level the children are at at the time and extending both their thinking and their language. How can we be expected to develop our own language, let alone a foreign language, without widening concepts.

(Kate Miller’s response to Lekhnath Sharma Pathak’s post of the Students’ Quality Circle)

Lekhnath Pathak says:

May 29, 2011 at 5:55 pm

I am deeply grateful to the readers and colleagues in this choutari. The write up that was posted over a year back is still drawing interest. This shows there is something in SQC. In fact, SQC is a complete package which includes all the issues like critical thinking, teamwork, developing language skills etc. which are quite common themes in ELT and other fields of academia. Officers Department of Education, Ministry of Education,GoN are also getting interested in this. The best thing is it canbe practiced in a well resourced school and quite underresourced school or college as well. Language is also not a barrier.You can do it in any language be it English or Nepali or even in any mother tongue.You just have to learn the systematic problem solving approach, tools and techniques that we teach and then you can adopt it to your own situation. ….

(A part of Mr. Pathak’s response to the readers)

In addition to these themes, we have also included expert’s interviews in which Professor Jai Raj Awasthi, Professor Govinda Raj Bhattarai, Professor Tirth Raj Khaniya, Professor Chandreshwar Mishra and Dr. Vishnu Singh Rai have shared their opinions about recent developments in ELT, language testing, language-literature-creative-writing. We also have teaching tips and classroom humors (though we do not have many) which can be useful for making classroom teaching effective.

4. Future directions

With this anniversary issue, we have handed over our legacy to a new vibrant team of  young professionals, both fresh and seasoned, who have a strong commitment to collaborate with fellow ELT professionals, solicit contributions from practitioners from the grassroots level as well as publicize it as a global academic forum reaching out to hundreds of readers worldwide. The strongest aspect of the new team has to be able to work with the teachers in NELTA branches and bring their professional voices to the public. Teaching experiences and pedagogical practices are valued more when they are shared, replicated and experimented by the fellow practitioners. Thanks to multiple blogs and wiki applications! Those teachers who, for some reasons, cannot contribute their posts in writing can send their oral anecdotes and narratives to the editors who can easily upload them online.

Four key words we want to emphasize and pass on to the new team are: sustainability, collaboration, variety, and coverage. NELTA Choutari should not die, nor should it be weakened in the future. Since we believe in democratic academic culture, we strongly believe in the principle of systematic entry into and exit from this forum although we did not start with any formal constitution. Although there is no such formal rules in this forum, we are guided with academic multiculturalism in which we enjoy working with different conflicting views, reflect each other’s perspectives, and think of grooming new colleagues, who could lead the webzine in future. Thank you to all new team members who accepted to take this challenging academic responsibility further. In this four years, six of us spent our valuable time and had a very productive experience, learning from each other and from the readers. The new team that starts at the dawn of new year can continue the legacy that are worth continuing, amend the tradition for a good cause and prepare next generation of who will replace them when time comes. Second, there is a lot to be done regarding collaboration. Our attempt and success to get the IATEFL blogger registration was one example. We also believe that Choutari can and should collaborate with local ELT branches, other organizations that have ELT as part of their mission, and other international ELT forums. It will be an appreciative task to invite contributions from writers from around the world; to ask them to share their experiences and anecdotes; and to encourage them to respond to the posts we share. When NELTA members travel to other professional venues such as IATEFL, TESOL, and other regional and local conferences, it is important to highlight what we have achieved so far from this forum. Third, we believe that readers always want varieties. Varieties can be in the themes or they can be in the modalities such as visual, oral, animations, images, and so on. Multimodality is something we tried but were not able to present as expected. Pictures of classrooms, videos of good teaching practices, and audio of teacher narratives, for example, are some of the wonderful examples in creating diversity in publication. Four, our subscribers should be in rise. Since technology and the internet has hit almost every regions of the country, local teachers should be aware of the fact that their fellow teachers have a professional khurak to share so that they do not always have to depend on international/foreign practitioners and writers. In addition, getting the Choutari entries to offline in printed format such as in the form of newsletters or small-scale journals would expand its horizon of coverage. This has already been started by our colleagues such as Sajan Kumar Karn and Dinesh Thapa. We always have to remember that we are doing everything for our fellow readers/teachers and they are the center of this project.

We wish successful collaboration among the new team to publish Choutari. Thank you once again for accepting our proposal to take the legacy we have initiated ahead. Please let us know how we can be of your help. We also urge the rest of NELTA community and readers beyond this organization to please continue to contribute to this wonderful venue in any way you can. We did it for fun and we are convinced that it was absolutely worth our time and energy and we can assure you that if you can spare the time and energy to join this conversation, you will find it satisfying as well!

Thank you very much!

Disciplinary Bias, Interdisciplinary Benignity

Hem Raj Kafle

 So many people today — and even professional scientists — seem to me like somebody who has seen thousands of trees but has never seen a forest.

 – Albert Einstein

 

The less effective our schooling, the more limited our sense of academic disciplines can become. The more effective the schooling, the more specific our understanding of them becomes. Both cases entail the growth of disciplinary biases. The first involves deprivation as a root of bias such as in a countryside student who ends up doing liberal arts, education or commerce because of ignorance about and inaccessibility to alternatives, or financial inability to cash other opportunities. The second suggests abundance  (both of money and awareness) as a root of bias such as in a city-born child who grows through a more organized and entrenched academic route, and can choose technical and professional disciplines like engineering, medicine and other applied sciences for higher studies in a relatively more developed place, even including foreign institutions.

And society in general allows the biases to flourish in our attitude towards the relation between intelligence and disciplines. To take a case, there was a time, and partly still is, when passing the tenth grade (SLC) with higher second division or first division marks marked eligibility for science studies. Being in a science college then signified an ‘outstanding’ academic history in the school. And being in other disciplines more or less meant the absence of that history. Then not being in science with that history signified other exceptional conditions: either an indelible intolerance for science, a sudden conversion from brilliance to dullness, or unavoidable domestic obligations for landing elsewhere. That one is not born for everything, or that achievements in school did not necessarily signal potential for multiple talents for later life, or that success in life was the product of manifold experiences in addition to academic achievements, did not really concern people. The subjects in schools were forced upon you as quintessential to your growth envisioned in the general educational policy. The subjects you took in the university were supposed to either compensate certain proficiency impairments, or complement your potential for greater achievements. In both cases, an individual’s realization of the need for pursuing certain disciplines was systematically overpowered by external factors.

The biases have been replete among the academics in universities to the extent of mutual exclusion sometimes, and on other times, the unwillingness to appreciate others’ domains. Becher (1989) describes this condition as follows:

Men of the sociological tribe rarely visit the land of the physicists and have little idea what they do over there. If the sociologists were to step into the building occupied by the English department, they would encounter the cold stares if not the slingshots of the hostile natives … the disciplines exist as separate estates, with distinctive subcultures. (p. 23)

Perhaps Becher’s portrayal of academic biases rings very true about our universities also. We can sometimes ascribe this to a natural condition. For example, when we are limited/focused towards a specific course of study in a university, it seems commonplace to take that other areas of studies would never intersect our lines, and would therefore remain insignificant. We are bound (or taught?) to work within formal disciplinary compartments.  But, such compartmentalization lends itself to narrowing the path of scholarship, which only few people seem to realize even these days. According to Lattuca (2001), growth of specializations to the extent of disciplinary biases can “limit growth of inquiries and explanations” and “delimit the way of knowing.” She further portrays such narrowing of scholarship as “the decline of the front porch from which everyone could survey their territory” (p. 1). This implies the absence of a holistic platform from where every other discipline could be viewed as significant for the creation and sustenance of broader worldviews.

I see, however, that the decline is not finality but a temporary process. As we grow to be professionals disciplines themselves invite us to tread their territories, however shallow or deep the treading could be. Because our intellectual needs and reaches are so diverse these days, we are bound to step beyond our disciplinary compartments. In this line Lattuca (2001) suggests, “Scholars in a specialization may have a disciplinary home, but they often travel elsewhere to work.” Shin exemplifies this with a real story in which a group of scholars in geography traced an imaginary geography in the works of Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Jane Austen, among others, which they did to discuss “the possibility of organizing and constructing an ideal place to live…,” and to understand “how places are related, positively or negatively, to the social and individual life of the people living in it” (“Confessions of an Interdisciplinarian”). This travelling is what forms one of the roots for the formation of interdisciplinarity.

Shin further asserts, “Interdisciplinarity begins when disciplinarians realize that what they are looking for is not found in their own disciplines (“Confessions”). Interdisciplinarity, however, signifies more than an individual’s realization for the need to explore knowledge in other fields. It suggests, as Moran (2003) puts, “forging connections across the different disciplines…or even attempting to transcend disciplinary boundaries altogether” (p.15). In the most general sense, interdisciplinarity can be taken to mean a form of discourse between plural fields of knowledge. The discourse, signified by the root “discipline” and the prefix “inter”, implies the expansion of precise, rigorous and focused subjects into warm, pleasant and discrete but mutually uplifting fields of scholarship (Frank, 1988). This further presents interdisciplinarity as being transformative to the direction of generating new modes of inquiries. Nissani names such character as “creative breakthrough” where productivity comes from “linking previously unrelated ideas” for a holistic perspective and “unity of knowledge” which can “readily spot a disciplinary slip up” (“Interdisciplinarity”). Interdisciplinarity thus is perceived as a representative location from where to examine multiple worldviews.

Interdisciplinarity emanates from and sustains in genuine collaboration between disciplines and disciplinarians. It does not signal the end of disciplinarity, but emphasizes the widening of disciplinary horizons and mitigating disciplinary biases. The true sense of interdisciplinary lies in the fact that scholars make efforts to know many fields of use, but not that they try to know everything. Similarly, it does not necessarily take to achieve the depth of every other field of value, but to be informed about the intensity of their value in everyday life. This should entail the awareness and skills to tackle what Nissani calls the “intellectual, social and practical problems” of life through a multi-faceted approach.

I end this essay with a thoughtful quote about how interdisciplinarity resembles the notion of taking different routes to arrive a single destination:

We all want to make our lives more meaningful tomorrow than they are today. This is our ideal. That ideal can be understood as truth for scientists and as an ideal place for geographers, as a good society for social scientists in general, and as a good life for the people in humanities. Because this ideal is to be achieved in the future, it is open-ended, and it requires the use of intuition and imagination. Again, I want to say that intuition and imagination know no disciplinary boundaries. (Shin, “Confessions”)

Perhaps it is time for us to redefine our scholarly pursuits and preoccupations and to begin to see the world through other people’s eyes — irrespective of how we have been schooled. Would the world look different then? Or, would it change the way we see ourselves?

 

 References

  • Becher, T. (1989). Academic tribes and territories: Intellectual enquiry and the cultures of disciplines. Milton Keynes: Open University Press.
  • Frank, R. (1988). ‘Interdisciplinarity’: The first half century. In E.G. Stanley and T.F. Hoad (Eds.), Words: For Robert Burchfield’s sixty-fifth birthday (pp. 91–101). Cambridge: D.S. Brewer.
  • Lattuca, L. R. (2001). Creating interdisciplinarity. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press.
  • Moran, J. (2002). Interdisciplinarity. New York: Routledge.
  • Nissani, Moti.  Interdisciplinarity: What, where, why? Retrieved October 25, 2005 from http://www.is.wayne.edu/mnissani/2030/ispessay.htm .
  • Shin, Un-chol.  Confessions of an Interdisciplinarian. Retrieved October 25, 2005 from http://www.humanities.eku.edu/interdisciplinarian.htm .

[Courtesy: http://www.kufit.co.cc, April 2011]

Writing workshop: A Report

Praveen Kumar Yadav

Nepal English Language Teachers’ Association (NELTA) started publishing its journal annually after three years of its inception in 1993 AD. So far NELTA has published twelve volumes of its journal till 2011. All the journals are not peer reviewed, however. The Journal of NELTA became a peer reviewed journal in 2010 only. It has been an integral part of NELTA’s mission for ‘enhancing the quality of English language teaching and learning through professional networking, supporting and collaboration’. It is also a means towards achieving NELTA’s goal of providing a ‘forum for exchanges of ideas and experiences at national, regional and international levels’.

Following the NELTA’s announcement for the call for articles for the upcoming volume of the Journal of NELTA 2012, Mr. Bal Krishna Sharma, one of the editors of the journals and a former EWC fellow, who is currently doing his PhD in Applied Linguistics at the University of Hawaii, USA, facilitated the workshop cum presentation organized by NELTA Central Committee at its office in Kamaladi, Kathmandu on 4th Aug, 2012. Altogether fifty members of NELTA, who are interested to get their articles published in a peer reviewed journal, had enthusiastically participated in the workshop.

Mr. Sharma discussed the following issues during the presentation.

  • Things we should consider before submitting a manuscript to a journal.
  • How to Avoid Plagiarism
  • Why are manuscripts rejected?
  • Where do you find more recent academic resources?
  • What do the reviewers focus on while reviewing your manuscript?
  • How to respond to editor and reviewer comments? And many more such questions

In order to contextualize his presentation, he drew samples from the NELTA journal manuscripts and showed the audience examples of papers that were not accepted or publication. Contrary to my expectation, there were examples of research reports that cited from different sources but did not acknowledge the source. In addition, there were manuscripts that did not read like a research paper, but like a textbook chapter or a class note.

Mr. Sharma focused on two different themes in order to address these agenda: (1) formatting a research paper, (2) avoiding plagiarism

Formatting a research paper

A research paper/article usually follows an IMRD (Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion) format although there are variations and different labels/names for that.

1.      Title:

The title of the article should be concise. An author should use the key terms that s/he are going to use in the paper/article. The title should be written in such a way that helps readers to predict the purpose and content of the article. A good title helps the readers predict the content of the article.

2.      Abstract:

The abstract of the research paper/article should include three moves: Purpose/objective; methods; and major findings.

 3.   Keywords 

keywords refer to technical and conceptual terms used in our paper. The keywords help readers find our article in google.com. These are the words typed to find our paper/article.

4.      Introduction (funnel shape— moving from general to specific)

  • Introduction
  • Background
  • Literature review
  • Theoretical/conceptual framework
  • Niche/hole and significance of the study
  • Research questions

5. Methods

  • To describe the theoretical approach, the material analysed and the procedure applied (Swales and Feak, 2004).
  1. is explicit about what the author(s) did;
  2. gives reasons for actions, explains procedures, specifies categories etc., may give examples;
  3. procedures normally written in the past tense;
  4. packed with terminology
  5. sometimes subdivided into sections:
  6.     Context/site of research
    1. Participants
      1. Tools and data collection
      2. Analytical procedure

6. Results/Findings

–     To describe the findings with “variable amounts of commentary” (Swales and Feak, 2004: 157).

–     Answer our research questions

–     Arrange sub-headings according to the order of our RQs

–     Do not set out to answer that you did not propose

–     Double-check if you answered all RQs.

–     Note: It  may merge into discussion

  • It goes beyond factual recount of the findings;
  • It may involve a discussion section as well as the following:

–     Justifying the methodology;

–     Interpreting the results;

–     Citing agreement with previous studies;

–     Commenting on the data;

–     Admitting difficulties in interpretation;

–     Pointing out discrepancies (Swales and Feak, 2004: 171).

7.      Discussion (Conclusion)

 

  1. to offer “an increasinglygeneralized account of what has been learned in the study” (Swales and Feak, 2004: 157).

i.      must go back to the research question(s) asked in the introduction;

ii.      focuses on points rather than facts;

iii.      is interpretive rather than descriptive.

8.      Conclusion (Concluding or Final remarks/Direction for future research..)

Move 1: consolidate your research space (obligatory)

Move 2: indicate the limitations of your study (optional)

Move 3: identify useful areas of further research (optional)

9.      Reference

  • Use the suggested style, e.g. APA
  • Use alphabetical order
  • Cross-check all in-text citations are in the reference section and vice versa
  • Use the latest available resources

How to Avoid Plagiarism

Plagiarism is a form of academic dishonesty. Acts of academic dishonesty include Plagiarism (representing the words or ideas of someone else as one’s own), Cheating (getting credit by deceptive means), Fabrication (making up information), Falsification (altering information/records), Multiple Submissions (using the same work to receive multiple instances of credit) and Complicity (in any of the forms of academic dishonesty above)

People often plagiarize when they do not know about plagiarism and they do not feel their language skills are good enough. Those who are do not have enough time, people often plagiarize. Dishonesty and laziness and cultural differences are also responsible factor for plagiarism.

As consequences of plagiarism, we may defame our names.  We do not get published and we may be expelled from a college. Our thesis may not be accepted and we may not be promoted in our job. Therefore, we need to avoid plagiarism.

To avoid plagiarism what we need to do is to be honest of ourselves. The strategies that can help us to avoid plagiarism are as follows.

• Summarize (and cite the source) = general meaning + our words           + citation

• Paraphrase (and cite the source) = exact words         + our words           +            citation

• Quote (and cite the source + page N) = exact words+ quotation marks+ citation +page no (APA)

 

Paraphrasing is used when we want to report all of the meaning of a sentence or passage, quotation should not be used while summarizing is probably the most common method used when we only want to report the main points of a passage or paper. Both paraphrasing and summarizing are similar in the way that they both involve putting information into our own words.

Quoting can be useful for showing exactly what someone has said about our topic, or when an author’s exact words are very important or interesting. While quoting, we must not quote too much but 10% of total paper –or less-in many fields. We can use quotes as the original words sound better than my words.”

 

Conclusions

Mr. Sharma concluded the workshop cum presentation with Do’s and Don’t’s in publication.

Do’s in Publishing

Don’t’s in Publishing
  • Plan ahead
  • Read and follow submission guidelines thoroughly
  • Review the most recent research on the topic; Review journal articles
  • Find some gap/hole in research
  • Write to the editors if you need resources or suggestions on your research
  • Show the paper to your colleague before you submit; Extra pair of eyes are useful
  • Write to the authors if you did not hear from them
  • If your manuscript goes through the review process, read the reviewer and editor comments carefully; they have spent a lot of time for your paper. Editors ‘never’ say they accept your paper without any changes.
  • Write to them for clarification or any possible conflicting suggestions from reviewers
  • Submit the revision; mention in the email what major changes you have made to the revised version
  • Wait patiently for the final decision; Make further revisions whenever necessary
  • Do not draft your paper overnight!
  • Do not plagiarize. We have softwares and techniques to trace that.
  • Do not write a fake research report. Editors can ask real data and can scrutinize further on methodology. Fake research reads fake.
  • Do not submit a paper that you wrote 10  years ago. Update it.
  • Do not include sources in references that you did not mention in the text, and vice versa
  • Do not submit a thesis chapter!
  • Do not submit a paper that is more like a text-book chapter; Journals publish ARTICLES.  (data-based; empirical)
  • Do not submit one paper simultaneously in two journals
  • Do not challenge editors!

Editorial: August 2012

Dear Colleagues,

This time again, we have a variety of contributions. Raj Dhakal discusses how English teachers can create interest among students. He also gives an example from a Thai context– setting where he is teaching now. Surendra Raj Adhikari provides a critical overview of World Englishes perspective and questions the symbolic dominance of English as a global language. Bal Krishna Sharma and Prem Phyak’s report on critical literacy workshop cogently argues for a need to address broader social and critical issues while teaching language. Umes Shrestha reflects on a number of English expressions from students in his school and asks the Choutari audience to share similar experiences. Bal Ram Adhikari, drawing on his experience as a course writer and teacher trainer of the same course, puts forth new aspirations and challenges that the teachers are facing. And Madhu Neupane’s reflective write-up reviews a number of themes from the American context and provides some insights for a critical pedagogy.

As always, I hope you will share your thoughts and comments. Here is a list of entries for the month.

1. How to Interest Students in English Class? : Raj Dhakal

2. Symbolic Dominance Vs Transformation in Relation to World Englishes: Surendra Raj Adhikari

3. Workshop on Critical Literacy: Bal Krishna Sharma and Prem Bahadur Phyak

4. An English Teacher’s Dilemma: Umes Shrestha

5. Advanced Reading Course: New Aspirations and Challenges: Bal Ram Adhikari

6. My Recent Trip to the US: Reflections and Some Insights for ELT: Madhu Neupane

Thank you.

Bal Krishna Sharma
Editor, August

To Interest Students in English Class: A Common Challenge

Khagendra Raj Dhakal, MEd (TESOL)

Asst. Dean / ELT Specialist

Faculty of Applied Arts

King Mongkut’s University of Technology North Bangkok

Let’s recall when we sat for an uninteresting lesson for hours. I bet you remember a few moments that you spent just yawning in the class. Even a knowledgeable teacher can fall apart to having the students attentive during the class if the lesson doesn’t click them. A teacher’s hard preparation can be less effective when it fails to incorporate what enthuse students in the lesson. This is really true in terms of English teaching in many cases if not all.

So what creates the joy of learning in English class is a common challenge to all English teachers. Does this require a language teacher to have some extra talents? I think it’s more about a vision of a teacher that can take away the classroom stress by designing interesting activities. It takes a lot of planning and work but can pay off well in the end. A meaningful learner friendly activity can create an environment where students face some challenge, make decisions on their work, explore the solutions, don’t get penalized for making mistakes, and enjoy doing the task. Often time teachers have given up teaching profession just getting frustrated from a non cooperative class despite strong efforts from them. Pity those teachers who gave up instead of analyzing what it took to pique the students’ interests.

The key point here is a teacher should know the students and should prepare the lesson that fits them. By considering the students’ language level, age, background, and aptitude, a language teacher can contextualize the lesson in a way that becomes more important to their lives. In the worst case, students do not even understand the 10 % of classroom language due to the limited knowledge of the target language. Expecting such students’ active participation in the lecture that is not connected to real life can be unrealistic. Simple techniques like making eye contacts, calling the students by their names, praising their small effort, grouping them differently can sustain the students’ interest to the lesson. Unless you create the environment that challenges students to be part of your lesson, there is very little or no learning even though factors like culture and loyalty to teachers can make them ideally present in your class.

Let me share an activity that interested students which I used for undergraduate class recently in Thailand. The lesson for the day was about ‘A City Square’ and students were supposed to learn the use of ‘Prepositions of Place’. I started the lesson by asking my students what they can see in the nearest city center (Siam Square) in Bangkok. They kept telling different things including movie theater, post office, mail box, book store, coffee shop, park, gym, ice-cream shop, ATM, drug store, newspaper shop, hotel, clinic, library etc. I elicited their answers making a list on a side of the white board. Then I asked the students to draw a rough map on the board spotting the elicited places. I urged everyone to participate to complete the overall map of the Siam Square which they love to visit frequently. Some students took the lead by sketching the different roads in the Siam Square and rest continued to complete the map by spotting all the places on the map. Students seemed excited while contributing to the map sketching activity. They completed the map in the best possible ways they could as I saw them advising their friends to spot certain places properly to make the map look better.

The activity didn’t end there. I further extended it into a game. Students were divided into 3 groups each having 7 members and played the Hide and Seek out of that map. In this game, each group sends a representative (in rotation) to the front of the class to hide himself/herself in one of the places on the map and informs the place to the teacher so that teacher can play the role of the judge. While a hiding student represents one group, the rest two groups go on guessing for 5 times taking the turns. To ease the game, I introduced some sample structures on the board. For example: Are you beside…? Are you near…? Are you next to …? Are you on …? Are you  between…? Are you across from…? Are you on the corner of…? Are you behind…? They keep guessing using the questions based on the sampled structures. The hider usually said ‘No I am not’ or ‘Yes I am’ in the response. When students were not sure about which preposition fits better to describe a certain place, they sought my help. The successful group who could locate the hider was awarded with a point. This process went on for 7 rounds. I facilitated the game and scored on the board. The higher scorer group was announced as the winner of the game.

This activity illustrates that presentation and practice stages of the lesson should be interesting. The most important thing during this lesson was students enjoyed the game and learned to describe the places using appropriate prepositions at the same time. The presentation stage should be as short as possible just to introduce the vocabulary and target language while the production stage can relatively be longer. If the students like the activity they work hard to please the teacher spontaneously and practice stage of the lesson becomes more live. I observed both groups cheering their groups during the game. Considering the available time and the students’ interest to the activity, you can vary the length of the practice stage of your lesson.

Production stage is another critical phase to keep students interested in the target language lesson. I have heard a lot of colleagues complaining about the students not being responsive in the last part of the language lesson. Again there may not be any magical wand to keep them interested but offering an opportunity to experiment the language they learned in the practice stage can help it going. You can assign a different game or fun activity during the production stage. Students appreciate the variety in activities just as the fashion lovers do in the dress selection. For the production stage of the lesson discussed above, I assigned a ‘pair talk’. Students worked in pairs and asked each other about the location of the different places on their university campus. By taking turns they conversed like: Student A asked where is the coffee shop in our university? And Student B replied it’s between the 7/Eleven store and the university clinic.  Every one was engaged in the conversation using the earlier learned language skills in a fun way. I just went around and observed their talk. The class was really noisy which I love to see.

At the end of the lesson, I asked the location of a few popular places in Bangkok to the individual students to trail their understanding of the lesson. More than 98% students answered correctly that showed to me that this was an effective lesson. A few students committed some errors in the sentence construction level but still they placed the preposition (included in the lesson) appropriately. Such learning experience was taken very differently by the students than dictating pages long rules of using preposition of place with some paper pencil exercise to practice. As researches support, there could be higher chances that students could apply this sort of learning experiences in new situation and the activities that have touched them deep inside can stay longer in the mind.

The underlying point here is activities conducted in the classroom should be meaningful. The activity that students don’t consider important for them will definitely end up being a burden, thus creates the frustration in learning. This is applicable to language class in a sense language learning is a purposeful act. A Chinese girl who wants to set up a teashop at China Town in NYC may want to learn how to communicate to the customers. If you put her in a situation where she has to talk to the customer in the class, she will definitely put her effort to the best of her capacity. On the other hand, if you gave her a role of a traffic police to deal with a motorcycle rider on the street, she may not put the effort as she did for the former role. Though both situations are student centric the latter one can’t interest her as the former does.

Another thing a teacher can do to interest language students is designing activities that require critical thinking. As a teacher you can pose a controversial issue that is somehow directly related to your students. It helps the students dig out the issues going beyond the cold hard facts. Such activities can give a ground to practice and develop the language and critical thinking skills. Not long ago, I experimented this concept in Grade 9 English class in an international school in Bangkok. Age wise they were critical, generation wise ultra modern, and background wise diverse. So, it was always a challenge to me especially to keep them going throughout the session. The language items I was supposed to deal with, a lot of times used to be already familiar concept, thus my conventional attempts could no way interested them. At times I was frustrated too. However, I didn’t give up but kept contemplating. Consequently, I came up with a new idea of organizing a debate in the class to enhance the same language skills. I divided the class into two groups and allowed them to debate on ‘homework in language learning’ in a parliamentary style.  Apparently, the class went live with strong logics from both sides on the given topic. Even the class ended, students were busy discussing on the feedback of the debate they had. Young students gave me a lot of compliments also for assigning such tasks and requested to continue such in the following classes.

This activity was far more effective than my power point presentations which I used to spend hours to prepare. At the same time this new idea made my work easier, it was just mere an idea that worked effectively. The students today can’t be satisfied by anybody who just stands in front of them in the name of a teacher; understanding them is essential. It gave me a lesson that students of the 21st century are far more different to the students of the past. Even a gap of ten years is producing two distinct generations of learners. A language teacher with the mindset of the 20th century or earlier can blame the new generations for being ‘hard headed’ but may not review his/her teaching approach; carrying a grandfather’s time prescriptive grammar book, s/he enters the class and bores the students to death and boasts with his sophisticated knowledge in the subject matter. Just the knowledge of the subject matter alone may not make one a language teacher in this changed context. A language teacher now requires sound vision of teaching, capacity to understand the learners, knowledge of the new technologies and skills to adapt them all in the lesson.

In my journey of teaching English, I was fortunate to meet students from different backgrounds from Non-native to Native English speakers, the list of countries that my students have come from span four different continents. I dealt with such diverse body of students in different level and contexts from international school to the university settings. There was a time an American parent approached me in the school and raised a question that how come his daughter failed an English test I gave. I had no words to reply him but her answer paper to show. There was another time my students evaluated me as the best teacher of the year as I could understand them better. While dealing with varieties of English courses with such diverse body of students, I have realized that each student I met was a different personality with different talents. However there was one common thing I observed in all of them was everyone loves fun. So this magic of fun can be integrated in language class to interest the learners successfully.

Just to interest students into the lesson is not everything about the greater transformation in teaching that has taken place recently, but it’s one of the major components for sure. Changing oneself to adapt to such transformation in language teaching context is a harder thing to do. In the classroom there are really two sets of learners. The students who learn how to use English better from their teachers, and the teacher who accepts that learning how to be a good teacher sometimes involves how the students react to you. Now I am teaching in a university where the interaction to students gives me new insights to change myself to be more understanding teacher in every new lesson. This way, it took me over a decade to realize that I have a lot more things to learn to be a successful teacher. Nowadays, I try to consider the silent voices within my students as my guidelines to figure out what activity fits them better. I must credit my delightful students for my present outlook on teaching English as they really taught me to think this way. So, here I would like to urge all fellow English teachers to review on how they define their role once and see if they are also taking so long to transform like myself to understand their students.

 

Symbolic Dominance Vs Transformation in Relation to World Englishes

 Surendra Raj Adhikari

(MEd, MA,  MPhil, English)

Rainbow International College

This paper I provide a conceptual discussion on how symbolic dominance of a specific language such as British English is imposed by inner circle countries on outer and expanding circle countries, how the cultural arbitrary is reproduced in dominated groups, requirement of critical perspectives for transformation and thereby validation of multiple varieties of English along with the perspectives of some Nepalese academia.

These days, hot debate is going on regarding the world Englishes. Different academia in different countries are found advocating for ownership building of English. Perspective to look at the spread of English and its position in different social settings has geared the debate of power balance among different varieties of English throughout the world. During colonial period, the voices against colonist and their language remained suppressed and awareness of colonized group towards imperial language such as English became either futile as the demand of circumstance. However, colonizers had already been aware of this fact that they were creating hierarchy among them and ‘others’ – colonized group. This kind of ‘otherness’ expanded in such a way that the colonized group could not properly maintain their cultural and linguistic identity in particular. On the other hand, colonizers – to be specific British and American imperialists– accelerated their influence along with linguistic imperialism. With the advent of globalization and neo-liberalism, English started getting commoditized and those countries which were not colonized also formed the policy of promoting English through formal education system. In post-colonial period, English linguistic imperialism got mixed responses from the colonized groups. The group of academia who do not recognize any kind of imperialism created by ‘the inner circle countries to outer and expanding circle countries’ (Kachru,1996) accept the linguistic legitimacy in the name of standard English as taken for granted and are reluctant to go for the alternative of local variety of English. On the contrary, voices against legitimate standard English are leading nowhere in the country like Nepal. Let me discuss about how symbolic dominance may help for linguistic legitimacy.

Symbolic resources, such as money, scholarship, and so on boost up symbolic dominance. As said by Bourdieu (1991), jobs and educational settings create symbolic market. Having learnt English, people expect to get job. In case of Nepal, parents invest so much amount of money for educating their children in English medium schools with the expectation that their children may find better jobs, scholarship in foreign countries, etc. In this symbolic market, people want to get material resources such as money. This ultimately leads to symbolic dominance of a particular language. This symbolic dominance supports for linguistic legitimacy so that certain norm is created of particular language such as standard British or American English and others have to follow it. The speakers of the particular language such as English hold the ability to control over others. In this regard, influenced by Bourdieu (1977), Heller (1995:373) says, “The ability of certain social groups to maintain control over others by establishing their view of reality and their cultural practices as the most valued and , perhaps more importantly, as the norm.” This creates imbalance of power and there starts resistance. When speakers of other language realize that certain hierarchy is created among native speakers of the particular language (English) they seek for transformation. For instance, some Nepalese academia are raising the voice of Nepali English. However, I have found some academia who are playing the role of skeptical duality – they call for Nepali English but they themselves speak standard English. In this pretext, is it possible for transformation?

Dominated group requires empowerment for transformation. Outer and expanding circle countries which are forced to follow standard variety of English are dominated groups. The idea of transformation opposes with Bourdieu’s concept of a constraint and reproduction of social structures, including inborn cultural capital (habitus), hierarchical socio-cultural status, and advantaged ethnicity. In this regard, while teaching English, learner’s mother tongue can also be used not only to facilitate their learning but also to oppose learning English in the culture of inner circle countries. Supporting this idea, Rivera (1999) who suggested that in educational process, the use of learner’s native language “not only as an aid to learning English but also as a terrain of knowledge and a field of possibilities that linked students’ experiences to collective action” (p. 485). However complete use of mother tongue in English class may create problem in some cases, such as translating everything into mother tongue may not be possible. It may create unintelligibility while talking to the speakers of other varieties of English. Mainly cultural issues that may make dominated group inferior require to be discarded. This shows that to be transformed, one has to go out of the box and start thinking. It is very important for inner circle group to accept multiple realities, too. Not only dominated groups but also dominant groups require to be transformed for maintaining balance of linguistic capital.

Varieties of English in different countries are emerging and English learners are embodied with their own habitus, which may not match with standard variety of English; imposing them to learn in standard variety of  English and their cultural capital may not be justifiable. Though Nepali English has not been emerged as its own existence, its relevancy, need for its existence and its recognition in international level may be another part of research. In this regard, I tried to understand the perspectives of some Nepalese academia.

In Nepal, English language is used as a foreign language in academic institution. As far as my experience shows almost all of the people are in favour of standard varieties of English. However, a few academia are found advocating for Nepali English. I know that the large number of academia is very radical supporter of standard British variety of English and advocates for teaching and learning strategies in the same line. Similarly, the English curriculum is also designed in the same way, which aims at producing the students as native like competence. English curriculum at the Faculty of Education, Tribhuvan University, the greatest and oldest university of Nepal, which produces teachers, lays more emphasis on correctness in English based on Received Pronunciation (RP), grammar, linguistics and English language teaching. British English is given more preference in academic sector than American one though the latter is not rejected. Based on this, in an informal talking with me (on 2nd June, 2012), Kamal Pandey (pseudonym), the strong supporter of standard British English and experienced campus level English teacher of T. U., contended:

“English is not ours [……] I think that ownership building is narrow-mindedness. [….] If different countries make different kinds of English, communication may be broken when we happen to communicate in international level. We started learning English as spoken in England, were asked to follow Oxford advanced learners’ dictionary and have been asked to teach our students in standard way, however, we have not been teaching students properly.  If we use the same dictionary properly, communication with native speakers can be effective but making English of different kind is foolishness and it may not help our children, when they go to international locality. This is the reason why our students are feeling regret – it is the biggest problem in Nepal now.”

Mr Pandey’s opinion shows how ‘symbolic dominance’ (Bourdieu, 1991) is affecting reproduction of cultural arbitrary. Regarding Nepali English he said a bit emotionally:

‘We never make English! If they don’t have their words, they may borrow our words. We may fail if we start speaking English in our own way.”

Mr. Pandey’s opinion seems to be very positivist. He claims on single reality of standard English but hesitant to accept multiple realities of socio linguistic situation of the world. Furthermore, his statement such as, “Nepalese can also speak like native English speakers, can’t they?”shows how ‘reproduction of cultural arbitrariness’ (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977) imposed by inner circle countries is reflected.

Mr Kumar Dahal (pseudonym), the English lecturer of Tribhuvan University and supporter of world Englishes said:

“I prefer to make Nepali English and respect world Englishes. English is getting its popularity along different communities of the world with ownership building. English speaking countries are trying to colonize us mentally. We can speak English in our own way but it should be based on the communication purpose. I mean it should be understandable throughout the world. Making Nepali English does not mean that it should not be understood by other people of the world” (25th March, 2012).

Mr Dahal’s idea seems to be in favour of resistance of power imposed on outer and expanding circle countries by inner circle countries – it further supports argument against symbolic dominance; he is aware of Western chauvinism to avoid so- called standard English which is supposed to be an exclusive vehicle.

Concluding Remarks: My perspective regarding varieties of English aligns with multiple realities and emancipation from the oppression of  so called legitimate Standard English , the exclusive vehicle, which carries symbolic violence implicit ‘in the hierarchies of language’ (Thompon, 1984), whereby I neither favour Western chauvinism in the form of linguistic imperialism produced by ‘misrecognized cultural arbitrary’ (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977) nor breaking the structural integrity in the name of different varieties of English, such as Nepali English which may be unintelligible in international community.

Intolerance of many possibilities by inner circle countries and ranking standard British or American English at higher level whereas other varieties such as the varieties spoken in the countries of outer and expanding circles as inferior may have a threat to  ‘individual prestige and status’ (Tsuda, 1997), that being so, I would stress on celebration of world Englishes regardless of legitimate and illegitimate varieties ; transformation of  speakers of all varieties of  World Englishes by stressing ‘the WE-ness among the users of English’ (Karchu, 1996: 135) is required – native speakers of standard varieties may be respected if they are able to tolerate many possibilities getting rid of linguistic imperialism and those speakers of other varieties of English, breaking the taken for granted cultural capital imposed by inner circle countries, through critical literacy, need to celebrate their own identities reflecting socio-linguistic reality with autonomous structural linguistics without breaking structural integrity among different varieties of English of the world. In case of Nepal, as English is not used as native variety, being critically aware, following any variety of English such as British or American  or any other or our own if it is intelligible in the international community might emancipate us from western centred linguistic imperialism.

References

Bourdieu, P. (1977). The economics of linguistic exchanges. Social science information16(6), 645-68.

Bourdieu, P. & Passeron, J. C. (1977). Reproduction in education, society and culture (R. Nice, Trans.) London: Sage.

Bourdieu, P. (1991). Language and symbolic power. (G. Ramond & M. Adamson, Trans.) Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.

Heller, M. (1995). Language choice, social institutions, and symbolic domination. Language in Society, 24, 373-405.

Kachru, B. B. (1996) World Englishes: agony and ecstasy. Journal of Aesthetic Education. 30 (2), 135-55.

Rivera, K. M. (1999). Popular research and social transformation: A community-based approach to critical pedagogy. TESOL Quarterly, 33(3), 485- 500.

Thompson, J. B. (1984). Studies in the theory of ideology. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Tsuda, Y. (1997) Hegemony of English vs ecology of language: Building equality in international communication. In L. E. Smith & M. L. Forman (Eds), World Englishes 2000 (pp. 21-31). Honolulu: University of Hawaii.

Advanced Reading Courses: New Aspirations and Challenges

                                                                                     Bal Ram Adhikari

                                                                                    Mahendra Ratna Campus, Tahachal

The contribution of reading to the development of overall language proficiency cannot be overrated, especially in the EFL contexts like ours where students’ contact with English is almost what they read in and outside the classroom. Our students often end up with reading, and with some vocabulary and grammar practice activities that follow. Sometimes, the position the reading skill has enjoyed in the course, classroom practice and examination is at the expense of other vital skills of English, namely listening and speaking. Despite this, written texts are the most accessible, reliable and structured source of English input for the majority of our students, who, in their attempt to appropriate the foreign tongue, are struggling in the under-resourced academic environment. The challenge that looms large in front of university teachers teaching the reading courses is how to assist their students in exploiting the reading materials at the fullest for multiple purposes. The purposes range from reading for gist, specific information, and language awareness to extensive reading for one’ pleasure as well as professional development.

Having students read a variety of texts in the classroom and encouraging them to do the same outside are motivated by the twin-goals of knowledge acquisition and language acquisition. That is, the ideal combination of knowledge component and language component leads to the organic development of language in students. It is possible when the latter is subservient to the former. The focus on the knowledge component engages students in the comprehension, analysis, synthesis, application, evaluation and most importantly creation of knowledge by employing the linguistic and non-linguistic resources at their disposal.   The courses Reading Writing and Critical Thinking, Expanding Horizons in English, Readings in English, prescribed by Tribhuvan University for its B Ed and M Ed English students reflect the emphasis on the combination of knowledge and language components, and the integration of language skills backed up by the critical thinking component. For this, the reading textbooks under these courses consist of authentic texts from the diverse fields of knowledge such as humanities, pure and medical sciences, social sciences, environment science, psychology, religion and mythology, spiritualism, language and society, gender studies, cultural studies,  mass communication and technology, to name but a few. Obviously, it is our first experience of being exposed to such a vast array of authentic texts from different fields.  As a result, the teachers and students both are overwhelmed by the demand made by the courses. The challenges they have been facing since the implementation of the courses in 2010 are many. The teachers express mixed feelings about the nature of the courses and possibility of their effective implementation.

Against this backdrop, I’d like to shed light on some of the challenges that teachers and students of these courses are facing. Also, I’d like to make some workable suggestions to overcome them.   To serve this purpose, I have drawn on my own experience of working in these course books as a contributor and trainer.  Some of the insights into the challenges faced by the teachers and students are also based on my personal communication with the teachers during the different training programs. I begin with the common aspirations expressed in these reading materials, then move to underlying theoretical assumptions before I discuss the common challenges and ways of overcoming them.

Common aspirations expressed in the course books

The prescribed books, namely, New Directions: Reading, Writing and Critical Thinking (ed. Gardner, 2005), Expanding Horizons (eds. Awasthi, Bhattarai and Khaniya, 2010) are prescribed for Bachelor’s first and second year students majoring in English education, and Reading Beyond Borders (eds. Awasthi, Bhattarai and Khaniya, 2011) is for Master’s second year students. These books contain the authentic reading materials from the diverse fields of study. The aspirations expressed by the editors of can be summarized in the following points:

  • Enriching students’ vocabulary through implicit and explicit exposure to authentic written texts.
  • Fostering critical thinking in the reading and writing process.
  • Emphasizing the role of the critical thinking component  in the English for Academic Purpose
  • Training students in reading and writing strategies through intensive reading activities in the classroom so that they can transfer such strategies to out-of-classroom reading and writing.
  • Fostering simultaneous development of English language acquisition and subject matter acquisition.
  • Encouraging students to use English as a means of accessing content information on the diverse fields of contemporary world.
  • Integration of all language skills and language aspects.

The editors are also aware of the fact that academic or advanced reading is incomplete without academic writing. That is, the tasks for students are developed in such a way that reading and writing feed off each other and the critical thinking component backs up these two processes.

Theoretical assumptions of the courses

The following theoretical assumptions seem to underpin the reading courses:

  • Reading is an interactive process.
  • Reading is a purposive process.
  • Reading is a critical process.
  • Reading proficiency calls for extensive reading habit.

Of them reading as interactive and critical processes deserve a special mention, for they challenge the traditional notion of reading as a passive skill and the reader as the mere recipient of information. Contrary to the passivity of the reader and mere receptivity of information, these two assumptions redefine reading as a highly productive, interactive and dynamic process. To be more specific, reading as a critical process has been the prime focus of the courses, at least in theory.

Reading as a critical process

Any reading which is critical is also purposive and interactive. Reading as a critical process can be interpreted from the two dominant perspectives. The first perspective deals with the cognitive aspect of reading that requires readers to engage in the higher order thinking as postulated in the Bloom’s Taxonomy (Bloom 1956, and Grondlund, 1970, as cited in Law and Gautam, 2012,  p. III).  The second perspective takes reading as “a social process” (Kress, 1985, as cited in Hedge, 2000, p.197). According to Hedge “from this perspective, texts are constructed in certain ways by writers in order to shape the perceptions of readers towards acceptance of the underlying ideology of the text” (ibid.). A text is a dynamic space where the ideology (i.e. socio-cultural, political and professional beliefs and values) of the reader comes in direct contact with that of the writer often in the form of either resistance or  submission. Critical reading in both cases calls for the active interaction between conscious readers and the writer. Such interaction can take place in two different but interrelated modes.

a)      Interaction with the text

In this mode of interaction, the reader interacts directly with the text. It can also be termed as the outer-projected interaction in which the reader interacts with the textual features: its theme, characters, linguistic features, cultural elements and writer’s style. This mode of interaction is active mainly, but not necessarily exclusive to, the while reading phase, which focuses on the extraction of the required information and comprehension of the gist. The strategies employed by the reader can be receptive reading, skimming, scanning and intensive reading.

b)     Interaction with the Self

Comprehension is necessary but not sufficient. Readers have to transcend the mere extraction and comprehension of information. They should relate what they have comprehended from the text to their experiential world, reflecting on what they have learned, what it means to them, and pondering how they can use it. This mode of interaction can also be termed as the inner-projected interaction. Readers who do not relate textual information to their purpose, experiential zone and existing knowledge fail to move upward in the higher order thinking skills such as analysis, synthesis, evaluation and creation. It is also difficult for them to challenge the writers’ viewpoints and maintain critical distance from them. This mode of interaction is active mainly, but not necessarily exclusive to,  pre-reading and post-reading phases. The reading strategies employed can be reflective and refractive.

Organization of the textbooks

The texts from different sources are structured under different thematic headings. The overall organizations of the materials can be divided into macro- and micro-levels. At macro-level, each book is thematically organized under different headings such as Intercultural Communication, Education, Mass Media and Technology, Gender Roles and Work (New Directions, 2005),  Humanities, Social Sciences, Human Rights and Freedom, Education and Language Teaching, Globalization and Postmodernism, East and West, Masterpieces, War and Piece, Travel and Adventure, Health and Medical Science, Sports and Entertainments, Science and Technology, Nature, Ecology and Environment ( Expanding Horizons in English, 2010), and Literature and Art, Democracy and Freedom, Multiculturalism, Globalization and Postmodernism, Philosophy and Ideology, Memoire and Revelation, Science and Technology, Sports and Entertainments, and so on (Reading Beyond Borders, 2011).  Each thematic heading is fleshed out with different relevant texts.  The variation in the macro-level organization seems to be the matter of choice, interest, and focus of the editors. At micro-level, each chapter is structured under the different headings such as Unit Opener, Core Readings, Making Connections, Additional Readings, and Easy Topics (New Directions); Before You Read, Vocabulary, Dealing with the Text, and    Beyond the Text (Expanding Horizons in English); Dealing with the Text, and Beyond the Text (Readings Beyond the Borders).

Classroom pedagogy

The classroom pedagogy suggested in all these course books is an integrated approach. The teachers are supposed to interpret the term integration from two perspectives: integration of content areas with the English language, and integration of major language skills and language aspects. The first implies that learning English with relevant content areas leads to deeper processing and hence ensures better output. The second implies that integration of two or more language skills is a natural phenomenon in real life language use, and vocabulary and grammar are integral components of language skills. Hence, “students might read and take notes, listen and write a summary, or respond orally to things they have read or written (Richards and Rodgers, 2001, p. 208).

Major challenges

The type and the magnitude of challenges faced by teachers and students vary depending on the nature of texts and the amount of schematic knowledge the readers bring in, and resources available to approach these texts.  The common challenges can be discussed under the following headings:

1)      Nature of the texts

The text is what students interact with for the enrichment of language and subject matter knowledge. The output from this interaction cannot be high if the the text itself poses a problem for students.  The interaction between students and texts can be negatively affected if the text has its origin in the culture almost unknown to the students and if its language and subject matter are too taxing for them to process. Povey (1979, as cited in Celce-Murcia and Hilles, 1988, p.123) has used the terms cultural, linguistic and intellectual humps or barriers for these constraints imposed by the reading text itself.

a)      Cultural barriers: Cultural barriers include imagery, tone and allusion (Celce-Murcia and Hilles, 1988, p. 123), along with myths, folk tradition, religion, national history and a way of life embedded in the text. The reading materials which belong to foreign cultures are more difficult to interpret than those belonging to readers’ national or regional cultures. Because of the cultural elements embedded in them, the chapters such as Paradise Lost, Contemporary Writing in Arab Countries, Death Valley, and Iliad from Expanding Horizons are obviously more challenging for our students than OM, The Bhagvat Gita and The Necessity of Religion. The texts with foreign cultural elements require sufficient contextualization before students deal with them.

b)      Linguistic barriers: Linguistic barriers include complexity of syntax, lexicon and style of the text. Language used in the text can be seen as one of the major barriers to the effective interaction between text and students. This barrier seems formidable, especially for those (both students and teachers) who lack extensive reading in English. The chapters such as The New Age of Connectivity, What is a Novel? , Contemporary Writing in Arab Countries, The Birth of Sex Hormones, etc. from Expanding Horizons do not lend themselves to easy interpretation because of their jargon, complex sentences and formal style.  Similar is the case with the chapters like  Post-structuralism, Asymmetries of Commerce and Culture, Religious Tolerance- Peacemaker for Cultural Rights, and Japan included in Reading Beyond Borders. Because of area-specific words, lengthy and complex sentence structures, and highly formal style, many texts in the course books are linguistically too challenging for the readers to process the content. These texts call for a lot of language preparation work before making entry into them.

c)      Intellectual barriers: Intellectual barriers occur when the reader lacks “intellectual maturity and sophistication necessary to appreciate, relate to, and comprehend the subject matter” (Celce-Murcia and Hilles, 1988, p. 123).  The texts such as The Birth of Sex Hormones, The Science of Heredity, The Promise of Global Institutions, The Age of Connectivity and Cubism are not intended for general readers. These texts represent the recent findings in their respective fields. The editors seem to presuppose that students have sufficient knowledge in the fields like genetics and anthropology, Information Technology, and painting and sculpture. The teachers during the training often complained that the issues discussed in these texts are too difficult for them to understand, let alone their students.

2)      Attitudes to reading skill

The prevailing attitude towards reading as a receptive skill has also remained as one of the major barriers to the successful implementation of the courses. As discussed above, the courses embrace the recent trends in teaching reading as an interactive and critical process while the prevailing classroom practice shows that all that a good reader needs is the ability to answer the comprehension questions given in the course book. Similarly, there seems to be a gap between what the teachers and students expect from each other. The teachers expect their students to read the text and answer the questions that follow. Students, on the other hand, expect their teachers to read the text for them and supply summary and answers.  This classroom practice fails to see the value of pre-reading and post-reading activities and is almost confined to the comprehension phase of reading. As a result, the integration of other language skills with reading is missing.   For such teachers and students the reading activity begins from and ends with the given text itself, i.e. for them the text is the end not the means.

3)      Text as an end: Those we consider reading as a mere receptive process tend to take the text as an end to itself. Such a view undervalues the multiple purposes that the prescribed reading materials can serve. A text should be taken as a means to access information and language resources. In other words, a text is a means to   activate the reader’s schematic and language knowledge, to play with various writing styles and strategies, and to create another text that either conforms to or resist the writer’s stance. Its classroom implication is that readers should begin from and end with the non-textual world vial the textual one.

4)      Institutional constrains

Lack of adequately trained teachers, sufficient orientation to them, sufficient preparation time available for them, and the large class size have remained other challenges to the teachers and students.

Insights into the nature of the courses, organization of the reading materials, the suggested classroom pedagogy, and challenges faced by the students and teachers in the actual classroom can help us to think of the areas to be addressed and design effective classroom procedures.

Some basic questions to be addressed

It is important that the teachers address the following issues before engaging students in the actual act of classroom reading:

  • What to do before, during and after students read the text.
  • How to guide students   through the text to read meaningfully, purposively and critically.
  • How to have students read/learn cooperatively in pairs and groups.
  • How to assist students in connecting what they already know to the text and what they have learned from the text to the real world.
  • How to integrate the reading skill with other skills.

Classroom procedures

The prescribed course books Expanding Horizons in English and New Directions have followed the established practice of the three-phase procedure: Pre-, While-, and Post-reading. These phases can also be termed as anticipation phase, building knowledge phase and consolidation phase respectively (Crawford et al., 2005). Crawford et al.  have used the organic metaphors to highlight the value of these phases of critical thinking and productive learning. In the anticipation phase a wheat seed is planted in rich soil, the seed sprouts and a plant grows in the building knowledge phase, and finally in  the consolidation phase the head of wheat is mature, and contains seeds of many other plants (2005, p. 4-5.)

New Directions and Expanding Horizons both are rich in the variety of reading tasks under each phase. However, Reading Beyond the Borders has skipped the Pre-reading phase, leading the students to an abrupt confrontation with the text. If not handled by an experienced and trained teacher, the students are likely to experience a sense of bewilderment for want of background information required to enter the text.

a)      Pre-reading phase

This is the preparation or schemata activation phase. While engaging students in the pre-reading or anticipation tasks given in the books and teacher’s manuals or designed by the teacher himself, the he should

  • respect and capitalize on the student’s experiences, knowledge and language resources.
  • assess informally what they already know, including misconceptions (Crawford et al, 2005, p. 2).
  • provide a context for understanding new ideas.
  •  ask them to write down what they Know about the topic and what they Want to learn or expect from it.

b)     While Reading Phase

The students in this phase deal with the text. The teacher should set tasks that require them to inquire, find out and make sense of the reading materials. The while reading tasks should encourage students

  • to indentify the main points and their supporting details.
  • to find new pieces of information from the text.
  • to compare their expectations with what is being learned, and to revise them or raise new ones (Crawford, et al. 2005, p.3).
  • to react to the opinions expressed, ask themselves questions, and to predict the next part of the text from various clues (Hedge, 2000, p.210).

c)      Post-reading Phase

This phase takes the students beyond the text. However, the tasks in this phase should be tied up with pre-, and while-reading phases, and should lead to writing and speaking tasks.  That is, this phase has both backward-looking and forward-looking purposes.  The instructor in this phase should set the tasks that require the students:

  • to reflect on what they have learned by summarizing the main ideas in their own words.
  • to interpret the main ideas.
  • to share opinions in groups
  • to agree or disagree with the writer’s stance.
  • to role-play major situations or characters given in the text.
  • to create a parallel text.

Although the classroom reading procedures are divided into the three different phases for the theoretical convenience, these phases and activities under them lie in the continuum. In the actual classroom practice, it is almost impossible to say when one ends and another begins. Such compartmentalization is not desirable either.

Conclusion

Compared with the previous ones, the courses Reading, Writing and Critical Thinking, Expanding Horizons, and Readings in English prescribed by Tibhuvan University for its Bachelor’ and Master’s programs mark a paradigm shift in English Education . The reading texts under these courses have embraced current trends in ELT that gives priority in flooding ESL/EFL learners with relevant, contextualized and authentic texts.  However, it goes without saying that the effectiveness of these courses depends on how the course books are exploited in line with the aspirations expressed in them. Both teachers and students should bear in mind that there is no easy and direct route to journey into the textual world.  Much depends on how clear we are about our destination, how well prepared we are for it and how skilled and experienced we guides are.

Awasthi, Bhattarai and Khaniya (Eds.) (2010). Expanding horizons in English. Kathmandu: Vdhyarthi Prakashan.

Awasthi, Bhattarai and Khaniya (Eds.) (2011). Reading beyond borders. Kathmandu: Vdhyarthi Prakashan.

Celce-Murcia, M. and Hilles, S. (1988).  Techniques and resources in teaching grammar. Oxford: OUP.

Crawford, A.,  Saul, E.W., Mathews, S. and Mkinster, J. (2005). Teaching and learning   strategies for thinking classroom.  Nepal: Alliance for Social Dialogue

Gardner, P.S. (Ed.) (2005).  New directions: Reading writing and critical thinking. Cambridge: CUP.

Hedge, T. (2000). Teaching and learning in the language classroom. Oxford: OUP.

Law, Barbara, and Gautam, G. R (2012). Teachers’ manual: Expanding Horizons. Kathmandu: NELTA.


[1]  I am grateful to Dr. Barbara Law and Ganga Ram Gautam with whom I had an opportunity to work as a contributor to the teachers’ manual for Expanding Horizons.  The basic outline of this article was developed during the training we (Barbara and I) conducted together in Gulmi.

Reflecting on my Trip to the US and Some Insights for ELT

Madhu Neupane

Tribhuvan University

Teaching language also involves teaching of culture. While the profession of ELT in the past mainly emphasized teaching the culture of ‘native’ English speaking cultures (e. g. those of the US or the UK), EFL practitioners have now become increasingly aware of the importance of teaching multiple cultures from around the world and develop learners’ cross-cultural awareness. I also believe that the US culture, for example, is not the culture we should be teaching, but one of the cultures our students need to know about and be aware of as more Nepalese youth opt for higher education in the US and have been more influenced by popular culture developed in the West. The goal of this essay is not to teach American culture or offer pedagogical tactics in teaching students’ non-native culture, but to provide my reflection of experiencing a culture different from the one that I grew up with and shed some lights on how different themes can be important for a critical pedagogy. This is based on my recent visit to a number of US states sponsored by a program called the US Society and Culture.

The central focus of the program ‘US Society and Culture’ under Study United States Institute (SUSI) was America’s reconciliation of cultural and social diversity with national unity. The successes and failures of the United States in achieving this reconciliation was discussed in the program with the help of lectures, panel discussions and accompanied field trips to different places.  North America was founded in the conviction of diversity of its component groups for the establishment of a well ordered society. For the promotion of autonomy for supporting diversity and liberty, decentralization has been applied.  Federalism based on the principle of decentralization seems to be working successfully in America. Richard Pious, Ochs Professor of American Studies, Bernard College and Columbia University highlighted the concept of marble cake federalism in American government. Even with the federal system whole postal service is national and the collection of revenue is highly centralized.  Education has been extremely privatized and not enforced by the states. There is involvement of interest groups in all the areas. Ethnic interests are marginalized as far as possible. People have nationalized culture, very effective internal security system, and conflict management system. American people place high premium on national identity “American creed” and take pride in it.

The management of diversity with national unity has been central to the discussion in academic disciplines, research and literature. In the book Achieving Our Country Richard Rorty emphasizes the Darwinian view of animal in human life. Our sense of community, according to him, is the product of evolutionary course. Communities are always shaped by the ongoing urgency of environment. There is no more reason to live rather than responding to urgency. Rorty’s view is oriented to future and hope for the betterment of community. It leads to the idea of democracy. Everyone is involved in the project of forward looking community. Democracy, in Rorty’s view, is something that is yet to be achieved; it is not something that a country has already achieved. Underlying meaning of his discourse is that unity in diversity is yet to be achieved in complete sense because we need to work for better situation than the one existing now. The play “Other Desert Cities” by John Robin Baitz also shows the tension between independence and control as well transparency and withholding of information.

Principally there is no dominant religion and the state secular. Everyone is free to practice their religion. However, the country in practice seems to be dominated by Christian Protestantism.  According to survey conducted by Pew Forum in Religion and Public life, American people believe that religious faith lead to eternal life. “In God we trust” is printed in notes and coins. Though secularization is the part of democratic process people belonging to Muslim religion are having hard time in America. Khalid Latif, personnel in New York police department emphasized that the country has negative attitude about Muslim today and the situation has been worsen by the narratives produced against Islam though most of them, in his opinion, are based on stereotyping and propaganda. The impact of September 11 has remained the same even today. Even if Latif is a police personnel in New York Police Department, while travelling he has been detained and questioned for 2 to 6 hours. “You are young, you are male and you are Muslim. These three things do not go very well here”, they say. The idea ethnicity and religion is still very powerful. The understanding is that it is essentially being radical posing challenge to the unity in diversity.

America has been very successful in entrepreneurship. In the beginning America was an agrarian society with many people living in the rural areas but now the percentage of individual farming is very low. Because of industrialization, America has been successful in increasing its GDP dramatically by generating wealth through trade and maximizing difference between input and output in production. The factors that have contributed for the economic success in American community, according to George Smith, Professor of Economics in NYU, are: good institutions, vibrant entrepreneurship, sophisticated managerial capacities, enabling political system, and effective financial system.

Joshua Freeman, Professor of History in Queens College mentioned that most Americans lack class consciousness. Whether there are classes is a controversial issue in the United States. Class consciousness is considered to be inherently negative. The idea is that classes do not exist and if they do exist it is a bad thing for society. Many people identify themselves to be middle class which lacks an agreed upon definition. The labor movement is certainly getting weaker and unions are not central to the discussion. The government has passed a lot of rules protecting people to organize.  The legal protection for workers has declined and welfare system has gone down. However, the union has played important roles in the life of workers. Many people associate unfavorable working conditions with weakening unions which are under tight regulation. Government wants to do away with any type of class. However, the class war is going on whether someone is conscious or not. The enemies of union have devised wonderful language and want destroy it at all cost. They want to have right to do anything they like and say that “let the free market decide”. There has been an attack in public sector with the slogan “get government back”. However, the class war is going on whether someone is conscious or not.

Though America is one of the richest countries in world, 15 percent of American people live below poverty line. Though people tend to define poverty in terms of how much they earn, it really depends on income and expense both. Forty-six million people in America live in poverty. Though the country has the highest per-capita income in the world it does not have the lowest poverty rate. Because of the great recession poverty has increased because of the increase in unemployment. Though there is some job training and other job support program by government to reduce poverty have not been very effective because of government cutting public expense refusing to increase taxes. There are many voluntary organizations working in this sector. Since both main parties are capitalist in nature, the program for reducing poverty has not been effective there. Stave Randol, a media analyst highlighted the fact though altogether almost 50 per cent people are affected by poverty; poverty hardly gets any place in media.

Immigration has been a great issue in America from long ago. People have mixed attitude about the effect of migration. Public and private conversation about immigration is different. In public many people talk about it positive impact but in private the situation is mostly opposite. The immigrant museum in Ellis Island in New York shows terrible time people had during great migration. Only the ‘free white’ people were allowed to enter the country and whiteness was considered to be gold standard for citizenship. Unwhiteness was supposed to be the lack of freedom and associated with slavery. It was not only about skin color. In 1816 the immigration law made provision not to allow the people who were prostitutes, idiots, lunatics and Chinese to enter the country because they were not considered to be the right kind of people. The Chinese were the only people to be specified on the basis of the nation. By 1924 Asia Immigration was stopped because they not supposed to be the right kind of people. During the first recession only the white people were included in the welfare program given by the government. Though the immigration act in 1965 threw out the old rule, there is still segregation and the anxiety about unity in American Society because of immigration from all parts of the world.

The main important factor of democracy is that there is a fair and competitive election. There is a significant decline in the voting participant in America. There has been 40% decline in the last 2o years.  There are multiple political identities because people can belong to one coalition this year and the next coalition the next year. The biggest problem is to represent the minority. Though there is the idea that the minority should be prevented from the tyranny of majority, the chances for other parties to come to power are very low. People say that political polarization at this time in America has been the greatest in the history. Republicans want small government playing lesser roles whereas democratic want to increase government participation. Political discourse can manipulate the people in such a way that they even vote against their own interest and the same has happened with the welfare system in this country. There is a dysfunctional aspect in American political system where the money and media matter a lot than the real interest of the people.

Almost all people are using the modern technological devices that information communication technology (ICT). Newspapers are losing their readership since there is increase in the use of internet devices for getting information. The social networking has also been increasing with the use of the internet. The use of technology is narrowing down the differences as well as promoting digital divide. The right to privacy, a highly emphasized right in American constitution, has been threatened due to the use of new technology, for example wire tapping, wiki leaks, etc. There is invasion of privacy from the private sector as well because service providers tend to keep records of conversations for different reasons. There is over concern about the suspicious activities. The high emphasis placed on freedom of speech, in the opinion of American people, has somehow promoted lack of professionalism in media.

Because of automobile and well developed highway system, there has been great increase in suburbs. In 1920s many people used to live in cities while in 1970s the number of people living in suburbs surpassed the people living in cities. Middle class define themselves in terms of space and suburbs provide them with space. Suburbanization began right after the Second World War when the industrialization replaced the labor force in most of the areas. Suburbanization is also associated with race because there were mainly white people living in such suburbs. The earlier suburbs have all become cities now. Highway system and federally subsidized housing system contributed for the boom of the suburbanization.

High divorce rate, single parent family, pregnancy before marriage and women’s giving more priority to work rather than family and marriage have been major issues in family related discourse. The state does not have good welfare system and most children who have completed their graduate education cannot depend on themselves so they come to their parents. They describe this situation as boomerang family anxiety. As per the data of 2005 majority of children born in US are born to immigrants. The race has been a legacy from the very beginning. Socioeconomically the society is still segregated. “Race suicide” (white race), some people think, is taking place because native women have fewer children and immigrants have more children. There was anxiety that the women, if educated would not give birth to many children which would lead to race suicide which still an issue in family related discourse. Through fitter family contest, the idea of larger family was promote in 1970s. Women were expected to have children and live at home. Women at that time came with the idea that if we want to change the world we need to change the perception of people about it and which is possible through the creation of discourse.

Though higher education is free and compulsory, college education is very expensive for many people. I could not believe that the percentage of people completing college education is less than 30 per cent. The percentage of Ph. D holder is not two percent yet. The quality of public schools in comparison to private school is perceived to be very low and the well-off peoples do not send their children to public schools. Performance of school children in average, as mentioned in lectures, is lower in comparison to other developed countries like Canada, the UK, Singapore, Taiwan.

Concluding the reflection, the country’s overall development is really amazing. I was really impressed by cleanliness, well developed highway system, rule abiding system, punctuality, planning and persistence of American people. The things preserved in American museum made me think about our politicians who sold weapons of historical importance in penny. The things that were contrary to my expectation were, lack of security of workers in work place, low quality of education in public schools, and high influence of money and the power of wealthy people to influence decisions that affect life of common people in politics. Besides gaining general knowledge about American society and culture it provided us with the opportunity to learn a lot from the participants who represented 18 different countries. I wish we had similar program to disseminate similar knowledge of our country to other people in the world.

So what then?: I am not saying that this is the best country in the world, but mentioning a number of things that we can learn from for our lives. At the same time we can also question dominant ideologies and practices tied to these issues. A number of themes appeared in my reflection — for example, religion, race, migration, technology, divorce, pregnancy, marriage, environment – and these are important concerns for a critical pedagogy. These are the themes we have been teaching in textbooks produced by the international publishing houses. Learners can compare their cultures against the US or other similar dominant culture. When we teach English following insights from critical pedagogy, we not only teach vocabulary or grammar, but also issues that matter to our lives. For example, I mentioned selling Nepali historical weapons to a US museum. This could be a topic for you critical reading lesson. You can extract a text from the Kathmandu Post “Lost history: Gehendra-made guns sold off to US companyand plan a lesson around this topic. You can also read Bal Krishna Sharma and Prem Phyak’s post regarding how to design lessons around critical social issues.

(Ms. Madhu Neupane is a lecturer at the central department of English education in the University Campus, Kirtipur.)

What experienced teachers tend to do with ‘silent’, ‘dominant’ and ‘off-task’ students


Bal Krishna Sharma

“I had one person who was always working and two people were just sitting there and watching.”

“At the beginning of the semester I had two very talkative students, and they were sitting in opposite sides of the classroom; and all the time it is them talking.”

“I have had several students who frequently bring topics that are unrelated to the teaching agenda.”

These are some of the quotes I took from my colleagues teaching academic writing at the University of Hawaii. My teaching experience, and perhaps yours as well, shows that students show different learning dynamics and engagement patterns in language classrooms. For example, you may encounter students who are quiet and shy and do not make verbal contributions to whole class or group tasks. You may also find some students who are overtly dominant; that is, they tend to take most of the talk time as well as task time in class as well as in collaborative projects. Still another dynamics: you may find your students engaging in talk and discussions but they may quite frequently drive your teaching agenda to different directions and lead you to off-task situations where you and your learners may not achieve the stated lesson goals. These are some of the learner dynamics I have recently been interested in.

Three years ago, I video recorded five lessons my own class where I was teaching academic writing to international graduate students. When I repeatedly watched the video for a reflection, I noticed that my class included all three types of students described above. As I had just moved from a relatively teacher-centered pedagogic context (Nepal) to a more learner-centered teaching context (the US), I was metacognitively more aware of the belief that ‘Now I have to do a more learner-centered teaching’. As a result, after watching the video, I noticed that I was unnecessarily giving more autonomy to my students. That is, I was not making as much interventions in student activities, particularly in group work, as I now realize I should have.

Then I was curious what other teachers were doing with similar students. I took this issue as a research topic for a Task-Based Language Teaching seminar that Dr. John Norris was teaching. As a next step for my own professional development, I prepared three video clips, each of which contained examples of ‘silence’, ‘dominance’ and ‘off-task’ behaviors of my students. Then I showed those videos to eight writing teachers who were from the same language institute I was part of. As you might know, success of a task depends on all its variables: the nature of the task itself, the learners and the teacher. Based on this principle, I interviewed those eight teachers regarding how they address ‘silence’, ‘dominance’ and ‘off-task’ behaviors of their students. Their responses showed that a teacher has to be well-trained in designing and implementing the tasks in all three stages: pre-task design, task design, and task implementation. Following table gives a summary of these teachers’ suggestions:

Pre-task design Task design Implementation
• Know learners by collecting background information, e.g. use of literacy autobiography assignment, learner style survey, background survey questionnaire, etc.• Use awareness raising tasks, e.g. show videos to illustrate ‘good vs. bad’ group participation patterns; explicitly discuss issues with learners, with a reflection from their own classroom, if possible • Choose familiar topic for the task• Make task guidelines and task goal explicit• Give planning time

• Give worksheet/ handout for preparation

• Designate different roles (e.g. reporter, recorder, time keeper, etc.) in the task itself.

• Do the task first by yourself in order to experience its pros and cons

• Arrange the learners in groups in terms of their demonstrated task engagement patterns•Keep changing group composition unless there is a reason not to do so• Assign learner roles in group

• Keep eyes on what learners are doing

• Make an informed intervention and remind the learners of task goal and allocated time

•Motivate the students

Let us have a look what these teachers say:

“I used to have a video of Cambridge task; it was like about 2 minutes for the task. And one student was dominating the other student. I asked them like how they would rate them. Everyone said that they did not like the student talk too much. And I asked what advice would you give to the one who talks too much or the one who talked too little? So I recommend this to others.”

“Each time I give them a task, I want to engage myself like how much time it should take, its difficulty level like that. And also who is this task for, does it really work? When am I going to put it in class? Am I going to use it in the beginning or end? After I analyzed all of that then I think okay I am going to pair them up or put them in groups. I’m not going to give my students a blind task.”

“I don’t interrupt immediately. I feel it’s kinna rude. And then I indicate ‘okay that’s great, but how about this reading?’ I do expect them to talk about the reading but I am also glad if they are getting fluency practiced. I also feel that it is important to let them talk about social things and make friends.”

“When I see a student talking a lot, I would say something that would go against his or her opinion and then ask the other students which opinion they would agree or disagree with. So, that way quiet students get space between talkative students and they can state their opinions and get involved in discussions.”

“Some students finish tasks before others. Sometimes I go around groups and ask additional questions”.

“If I see that students move to some off-topic talk, I also try to see a reason why they did so. I go next to them and try to restate the task so that they understand what they are supposed to do.”

“Try to let the student do the task independently as much as possible but intervene when it is necessary.”

Concluding remarks: After these two stages of reflection (video watching and interview), I have had more insights on how to deal with diverse students. I have used many of the suggested ideas in my recent teaching. For example, in the beginning of the semester, I always collect student background information through short questionnaire. Frequently, I designate different roles to different students in a group so that each student has a visible contribution to make.

With the incorporation of such ideas, I have had more balanced contributions from my students. Please respond to this if you find the ideas useful to you.

Language and communication through the spoken word forms of slam poetry

Sarita Dewan

The dictionary meaning of “slam” is to shut something with a lot of noise. In journalese, it means to criticize something very strongly. Poetry slam is a live competition in which poets perform original poetry and are judged by preselected members from the audience. The focus of poetry slam is not the mere written words; rather, it is the oral interpretation and performance with emphasis on the interaction between the poet and the audience.

Poetry slam is a relatively new phenomenon that emerged out of inner city Chicago in the mid 1980s. The structure of the traditional slam was started by construction worker and poet Marc Kelly Smith in 1986 at a reading series in a Chicago jazz club. The competition quickly spread across the US. Now it is popular all over the world, including Nepal.

Each poet must perform his/her original piece within the time constraints of the competition, and must seize the audience’s attention and captivate them with words. Five judges are picked randomly by the MC from the audience. After each performance, judges hold up score cards using a 1- 10 scale, with 10 being the highest. Of the five scores for each poet, only the middle three scores are counted, and the judges’ decision is final.  Heat contestants are given a microphone, and perform in front of a live audience and get just two minutes to impress the judges (selected at random at each heat) with their original spoken word, poetry, hip-hop, monologues and stories.

Slam poetry can be considered a new generation poetry of spoken words. While formal poetry readings elicit the perception of literary value and lack confrontational criticism or judgment, slam poetry welcomes interaction and critique and it aims to provide immediate pleasure to its audiences.

Poetry slam can be used as a kind of authentic material to teach in EFL classes to motivate students to express their feelings through their poems. High school students are often found highly emotional because of their transitional period with emotional and physical changes, and communication is a means of coping with anxiety, which inevitably accompanies stress (Durbar, cited by Hurlock). Self-expression through slam poetry will allow students to identify and convey their thoughts and feelings through spoken word rather than internal or external acts of violence. It is often found that young individuals are able to manipulate language through and incorporate personal experience into their poetry, to affirm their identities through unique, personal knowledge of their individual positions.

In Nepal, the first poetry slam was held by Quixote Cove in 2010 with the support of American Embassy,  almost twenty schools  participated the competition. Danny Solis, Matt Mason and  Karen Finneyfrock were the slam poets who  held workshops, and presented their slam poetry in different places of Kathmandu and for the first time in Nepal. They made students present their own creation as poetry slam among  the live audience. Since then poetry slam is not uncommon among  Nepali audience.

There were ten top finalists in the competition. The following poem is one of them. While you read the poem, please consider how you may be able to incorporate such poetry in your own classroom, and to what effect.

A letter to my revered father

Dear father,
Creator of all, master of the universe.
It’s been long since I’ve written to you
Last time I did, the Second World War was on
I wrote it with bullets shredding at my windowpanes
Explosives bombarding at my place
Amidst the smell of gunpowder choking me
And the heat of the atom bomb burning me.
I had appealed to you,
“Father, please stop this devastation
Why are you ruining what you have created?”
You had answered me,
“Do not worry my child, I’m not destroying anything
But these self-destructing fools are
They do not destroy an inch of me, but destroy themselves.”
But then, the war halted
I felt serenity; I felt the storm was over
I felt, what a relief!!!!!!

But ….
But this letter, my father, I’m writing again
Before the damage is done
Before the storm even starts
Before the sun of cataclysm rises.

Because I sense
Because I sense the tranquility before the storm
Because I smell the danger in the air
Because I taste the blood before it has spilt
I foresee that the storm is near
Oh, the storm is near.

This time father, I’m appealing to you
Please save “My Mother Earth”
Her temperature is ceaselessly rising
She’s got this fever called ‘Global Warming’
Her precious crown of the sparkling Himalayas
Are flowing down as tears, with the heat
Leaving the precious tiara, barren and black
Unsparkling.

And do you know, she bears this excruciating pain
With a smile on her face, while her heart weeps
And so does mine
With unconditional love to give, while her soul is being killed
And so is mine
Her life saving crops have withered, famine has struck
I can’t bear to see my mother’s womb infertile
I can’t bear to see her fetus being aborted
Before it even is born.

But she still keeps us united, while she is falling apart
Managing to fill our treasury, while she is being ripped off
By the filthy hands of her own children
In the name of materialism, extravagance and unlimited wants
What disgusting murderers, what shameless deeds
Pushing their mother six feet under the ground
How can they happily watch her suffer????
Hands folded, eyes blindfolded, ears stuffed with earphones
With high volume songs, deafening my mother’s screams.

How can’t they feel the burning heat??????
Isn’t Global Warming enough????
They have physically wounded my mother too
With a shower of atomic fission and fusion
That they call ‘Nuclear Weapons’
Left unhealable scars on my mother’s once beautiful face
Her unfathomable children have gone against nature’s law
Against your law
They’re trying to take over your place, dear father
Trying to create a the Mighty God’s replica
But in vain father, in vain.

But the biggest reason why my mother weeps
Is because her own children are fighting
Trading vandalism for humanity
Against each other, sibling killing sibling
Why????????
For the lust of power????
For the love of land, that no one owns????
For the sake of religious supremacy
When God is one????
That’s you my father!!!!!
That’s you……

Please do something
Oh revered one
Do something
I beg you on my knees
Please, save my mother
I beg you on my knees
Please save my mother.

Yours sincerely,
Kumari

P.S: I’ll wait for a quick reply from you father. Please write back soon

Anudeep Dewan, National College, Baluwatar, Kathmandu


Editorial: February 2012

Bal Krishna Sharma

In a brief solicited feedback survey last month (in January Anniversary issue), Choutari readers indicated that they would like to see more practical teacher stories and tips, and hands-on teaching materials rather than scholarly and abstract theoretical reviews. As always, we sent an announcement though our NELTA group mail and we editors wrote to potential authors  individually to solicit contributions. Except some, most of the teachers sent a green signal to contribute a blog entry by the 15th of January. Eventually, only few could make it, however.

This is understandable. We have more than 14 hours of loadshedding at home. Within the limited hours, there are other tasks that get more priority. However, we do have some veteran teachers who devoted their time to prepare blog entries for this issue. NeltaChoutari thanks them for their contributions.  Enjoy reading them and leave your comments.

Contents

1. An incident that changed my attitude by Madhu Neupane (This entry presents a story of why teachers should be more careful in assigning homework to the students.

2. Teacher training: for money or for professionalism? by Ram Abadhesh Ray (This anecdotal entry discusses a need for professionalism in teacher development programs/occasions)

3. Local needs and local resources in teaching English  by Asharam Shah (Asharam draws his experience from his involvement in materials preparation)

4. What I as a student expect from an English teacher by Manju Pokhrel (A story on a college student’s expectations from her English teacher)

5. Branch Highlights: Tanahun, Kaski and Makwanpur

An incident that changed my attitude: Remember to check homework

-Madhu Neupane

If we are asked to list some of the things that learners should do to improve their learning, I think we would not miss to say that they should do homework regularly. Though we teachers have our own assumptions and attitudes about different things, we have positive attitude about giving homework in one form or the other.

We are aware of the advantages of homework. We know that it promotes the practice of independent learning; helps students to reinforce basic skills learnt during school days; allows them for the use of resources and materials not available in the schools; provides parents with information about the progress of their children; provides appropriate opportunities for long term research; provides opportunities for teachers to differentiate work for children.

These benefits can be categorized into immediate benefits (better retention and understanding of information, development of critical thinking and concept formation, and improvement in processing information) and long term benefits (encouragement to learning, improved attitude towards schools, and better study habits and skills). Furthermore, homework is supposed to have long term non academic benefits such as greater self direction and self discipline which we want to inculcate in our learners.

Giving homework is not sufficient. Equally important is the checking of the homework. It is necessary to check homework to reassure learners that what they have understood is right; to provide repeated exposure to aid acquisition; to provide them with a record of correct language for future reference; to encourage thinking about why an answer is correct or how they have reached a particular answer; to provide support for different levels of learners; to provide them with a sense of satisfaction from discussing and sharing something they have spent doing; and to allow learners to play an active role throughout the learning process by encouraging learner independence.

What impact does it have if you give homework but do not check it? Even a single event or incident may bring a great change in our life. The same thing applies to teachers as well. I want to relate this to one of the incidents that changed my attitude towards homework checking. For this reason I want to call it a success story. This has been a great lesson for me who used to sometimes not check homework because of lack of time or other thing.

One day I was teaching in my bachelor first year class. The learners in that class came from very diverse backgrounds. Especially they were from the government schools in rural areas so we can mostly imagine their level of English. Some of them were really good. I encouraged them to take homework every day and do whatever they can at home. One day I gave them a homework that was solving exercises given in the book and said that if any one of them did not do homework I would proceed without doing the lesson for it was also their duty to do some reading themselves. Next day I checked the homework and found some of them not doing the homework. I told them to do the same task again by convincing them that it did not matter if their answers were wrong. What mattered was their attempt. They seemed to have been convinced.

The next day I had to attend a meeting with the head of the department about terminal exam so I went to the class a bit late and started the lesson. That was a reading lesson. I did not care about the work that I had given to the learners. While I was about to leave the class one of the learners stood up and said, “Madam I stayed up to 11 O, clock to do the homework. There was load shedding (power cut) so I did my homework with the help of candle. I had to prepare for the class test of other subject but I felt so strongly about the work that I did it even putting the task aside. But unfortunately you did not check the homework today. I would not do homework next time”. He said this with tears in his eyes. I felt so guilty that I put my things on the table again and put my hand on his head.  I said “Sorry Rabindra, I just thought that I would check your homework next time. Take out your homework. I would check it now”.  He took his homework out of his bag and I checked that. He had done it very well. However, he was not happy because he realized that I just did this because he had said so. I left the class with a feeling of guilty.

In spite of giving me a sense of guilty, this incident had really positive impact on my attitude towards homework. So, I want to recall it as one of the success stories in my teaching experience. It taught me the lesson that checking homework is very important.  From that day onward I have felt so strongly about the work that give that I never miss to ask whether the learners have done the work that I gave them and give some positive comments on that. It does not take me much time. Sometimes, I just have a look on their work going from front to back. If I think some learners have done it really well I read it for the whole class and if most of them have got it wrong I provide possible answers on the board.

I have found that going through learners work very quickly if we do not have time to go thoroughly can have surprisingly good impact on learners. It gives them a sense of achievement. That is, I think, greater learning experience than anything else. Since the success is the accumulation of small steps we should not forget that “small things matter”. Checking homework may just be a small thing in leading learners towards a greater success.

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Ms. Madhu Neupane (Bastola), Lecturer, has been teaching at the Central Department of English Education, Tribhuvan University, for 6 years. She completed Master’s Degree in English Education in 2003 and Master’s Degree in English Literature in 2008. She has published some articles and books and presented papers in different conferences. She has experience of teaching English from Primary Level to Master’s Degree. She has conducted some research in the area of ELT. At present she is an executive member as well as life member of NELTA. Her interests include teaching and conducting research in ELT.

For contact:

Phone Number:           01-4332867 (Res) 9841738920 (Mobile)

Email:                           madhukneupane@gmail.com

Skype:                          madhu.neupane2

Local needs and local resources in teaching English

 Asharam Shah

Janjyoti Higher Secondary School,

Chandranigahpur, Rautahat 

Indeed, teaching is a noble profession. It has been carried out variously since the earliest times. It was conducted, facilitated, administrated and accomplished by ancient Hindu Gurus like Vishwamitra, Bashistha, Dornacharya, Kripacharya. The continuation of teaching and learning activities has been spreading widely all over the world. Considering the above circumstances, I involved myself in the field of teaching at the age of 17.

I was a typical young and shameful teenager when I started teaching. I started my teaching career since I joined a private English boarding school. My hearts and emotions were filled with a great enthusiasm. There’s one thing I detest; it’s the people who make comment on getting myself transferred from one school to another. I didn’t stand still at a single school or institution for all times. It is because I wanted to improve my academic career as well as economic status smoothly. During my teaching career, I have taught in more than seven schools and gained various teaching experiences. After completing my graduation degree, I became competent and eligible to be a secondary level English Language Teacher as per the legal provision in Nepal. I filled up my forms, faced the competition through both written and spoken modes. What I found is raw fruits in my palm that I could not taste. I was depressed by the policies and controversial arguments made among school management committee and the concerned authorities of selection committee. However, I didn’t lose my patience.

Later a new inspiration blended my performance in teaching at newly established Mid Regional Police Boarding School Jingadiya, Rautahat. I wished I could teach in that new institution. I competed for the teacher and fortunately, I succeeded among other teacher colleagues. The success really made me so delightful that I could not sleep that night. I conveyed the message of my academic victory to all my friends and relatives. My happiness knew no bounds.

The most memorable teaching event that I have experienced during my teaching career is my involvement in “listening tape script designing.” We all English teachers worked together under the department of ELT. We conducted several workshops regarding ELT issues, and picked out some new trends in listening skills. This led us to design “Tape script” ourselves. For this, we followed the following procedures and conducted task.

I.        Organizing workshop

II.        Interaction/ Discussion among EL teacher

III.        Identification of ELT issues

IV.        Making hypothesis

V.        Finding out the solution.

While designing the tape script, all English language teachers had participated. They prepared the tape scripts for each class ranging from lower to higher levels. They were prepared on the basis of their curriculum, textbooks and their needs. After the rehearsal was conducted, it was recorded on tape. When this original (self prepared) cassette was played in the concerned class, the students were fully motivated and they could understand most of the utterances naturally. Later, they were examined on the paper.

This process mentioned above was the most memorable for me. It gave a good opportunity to develop cassettes and we distributed some of the cassettes to other school teachers who also used the cassettes. Not only this, we provided some roles to our students whose voices were clear and tuned with correct pronunciation. This had encouraged them as well to design the tape scripts. Small children were also encouraged to records rhymes in chorus. When the recorded tape was played and provided them feedback as well. All these activities added enthusiasm among all English language teachers. We were highly benefited to develop listening competency among students.

Pedagogical Implications

 Several government-aided-schools, private boarding schools and even institutional schools are lacking such activities, which can be followed by English teachers and personnel.

Recently I have collected the needs from teachers working in government schools regarding teaching English in Rautahat district of Nepal. The arguments of the teachers show the changing trends in ELT regarding the use of listening clips. What I found is that they do not like to hire the cassettes produced by the native speakers but they like to get the cassettes produced by Nepalese English teachers or they would like to produce the hire cassettes in collaboration with competent speakers. It is because the teachers could not understand the utterance spoken in the script. For the beginners, self prepared cassettes are very essential. Some hired cassettes can only be played until they have mastered over the listening competence. This is why, designing and preparing cassettes by the teachers themselves for teaching listening is a must.

 Recommendations

There are some recommendations to be taken into mind before producing listening cassettes for your school and children.

  • Teachers should be trained enough to handle such tasks.
  • The school administration should support the teachers financially.
  • The teachers should be creative, innovative and co-operative while carrying out the task.
  • There should be proper use of some supra-segmental features like tempo, stress and tone intonation while recording sounds.
  • Some recorded clips of sweet music, pause, rings and other catchy sounds, should be recorded along with original tape-script as background sound.
  • Correct pronunciation of the words and the sentences with specific stylistic features should be maintained.
  • For participants, male and female teachers, children and other concerned fellows can collaborate to complete the task effectively.

This can help English language teachers addressing present pedagogical issues regarding the listening competency in ELT and it can be scaled up and replicated in different school in Nepal.

What I as a student expect from an English teacher

Manju Pokhrel

BBA, Pokhara College of technology (LaGrandee College)

Simalchaur, Pokhara

In this entry, as a business student learning English for global communication, I am writing about what I expect from a ‘good’ English teacher. A good teacher is the one who actually aims to make students understand his/her teaching. I expect good English teacher should be built with different characteristics- i)Proficiency in English ii)Good organization iii)Effective body language iv)Patience v) Knowledge vi) A good sense of humour vii) Good attitude ix) Adaptable to the environment x)Vocabulary knowledge

It’s a genuine fact that an English teacher should have knowledge of English so s/he can teach students with fluency and in right manner. The teacher should also have a good preparation and organization of the materials s/he is presenting in the very time. The detail knowledge on subject matter is very crucial. The vocabulary power assists the teacher to be strong in their lecture or class. The continuous speed up or steady teaching cannot be effective, hence sense of humour play a role for this purpose of holding the class within the control of teacher. Perception of an individual differs according to the attitude of a person. Good attitude can be also an important factor for determining the perfection of teachers. Good attitude leads to positive response from the listeners. The environment is a dynamic factor; therefore teacher should be able to cope within given educational environment whether it suits his/her personality or not. They must  pave a way to develop congenial environment where they are teaching.

In fact, the expectations I put on were fulfilled when I was at graduation level. On remembering my English teacher, today also I felt so warm about her and her teaching. Writing about her teaching is like describing the natural beauty that adds value to the environment. Really I am privileged by this chance on putting words about the personality whom I admire. The smiling face, so poised and elegant nature adds her personality. Her speaking was pellucid; her soft and sweet voice, attracting the attention of whole class; the class which used to be noisy in other’s lecture. Her presence makes the class dear and lovely. Her vocabulary was fabulous and power to make whole class understood is admirable. She had full knowledge on subject matter she was talking on. She was conscious about her words and used to alert timely so students’ attention can be gained. Her encouragement on better writing and good speaking made us careful on our doing. She used to delineate on how to impress the reader by the simple and meaningful writing. I still remember the fact she said – use of difficult or unfamiliar words do not add to clarity and impressiveness of writing; rather writing should be clear, precise and trustworthy to draw the attention of the reader. Her role was remarkable in my life time. She encouraged me in learning English to the extent I need. She used to dictate each and every ideas and information on the topic. She never felt bored and irritated by my questions. In return, her answers used to be reasonable to the questions asked. Today whatever I am able to write freely is the result of her teaching and her inspiration.

As an English teacher it is false to view that a teacher should memorize the whole dictionary or the whole concepts on English but he/she should be an expert in the subject matter, in classroom management and in teaching techniques.

Branch Highlights: Tanahun, Kaski and Makwanpur

Dear Choutari Readers,

In an attempt to provide you glimpse of the great things ELT that take place across the country, we invited brief reflective reports from our colleagues in NELTA branches. This time we have quick snapshots. Ideally, we want reports in the form of “blog” entries so that readers find them quick and interesting to read. We ask that our contributors take some time to learn and write blog entries as reflective pieces, whatever the content and subject may be. So, if you would like to share about professional development activities in your branch with the community via Choutari, please look at the guidelines for writing more substantive and reflective pieces on this page. And please see this example.

Editors

 TANAHUN, KASKI AND MAKWANPUR

Training: ‘Teaching Poems and Creative Writing’ organized by NELTA

Facilitated by Motikala Subba Dewan, Sarita Dewan, and Mr. Batuk Lal Tamang, this training involved the participants in writing their own brief creative work on the spot and then discussing how to teach creative work in the ELT classroom. More than 50 teachers participated in the event.

 

KASKI BRANCH

Training: Basic Level Teacher Training

Organized by PABSON Lamjung and Athrai Publication, this training was facilitated by Khim Lal Adhikari. The theme of the training was Child-friendly Pedagogy, Child-centred method and How to teach English. Fifty five English teachers from different schools participated in the training.

 Teachers Training on Teaching English Website

With the assistance of the British Council, Kaski branch organized a two day Teachers’ training focused on the Teaching English Website 8th & 9th Sep., 2011. Altogether 60 life members of NELTA, Pokhara from different campus, school and academic institution took part in the training. The training mainly focuses how to get the teaching materials from website on line so that the teaching learning activities will be more effective. Smreety Dewan and Asim Kharel from British Council facilitated the training.

Support in PABSON Spelling Contest

PABSON Kaski organized an English Spelling contest for Lower secondary Level from 10 to 12 August, 2011 in Pokhara. The programme was coordinated by Karna Gurung and assisted by other members. 198 students from 66 different PABSON schools participated in the contest.

Need-based Teacher Training by D.E.O.

NELTA, Pokhara worked together with the District Education Office, Kaski to prepare the Teacher Professional Development (TPD)  training manual as well as the training packages for all the levels beginning, intermediate and secondary levels. Min B. Gurung, NELTA chair and Khim Lal Adhikari including other ELT teachers and school supervisors prepared the training manual at the end of the academic session 2067.

MAKWANPUR BRANCH

Training: English Language Teaching: Breaking its Boundaries

This one-day conference was attended by about 200 members. It was facilitated by scholars like Kamal Poudel, Sajan Karn, and Ekadeve Adhihari.

NELTA Makwanpur Committee 2011-2013: (From left: Mr. Surya Pd. Ghimire, Mr. Ganesh Pd. Humagain, Mr. Kishor Parajuli, Mr. Shyam Pd. Dahal, Ms. Srijana Paudel, Mr. Dadhiram Chapagain, Mr. Thakur Ram Bhandari, Mr. Sangam Chaulagain, Mr. Rajeshwar Thakur, Mr. Mohan Waiwa and Ms. Reena Acharya)

Three Day Training on ELT

A three-day training on ELT for primary level English teachers was conducted by Makwanpur and was attended by 35 teachers from PABSON affiliated schools. This training was facilitated by scholars like Kashiraj Pandey from NELTA Center.