Avenues of Mobile Phones in ELT-Practices of Remote Schools in Nepal

Jeevan Karki- head shot

Jeevan Karki

Access to mobile phones are quite common in Nepal at the moment. It is even more common for teachers- both in the towns and remote areas. According to the Management Information system (MIS) report of Nepal Telecommunications Authority (mid-April, 2015), 90.4 percent of total population in the country have access to mobile service. Mobile phones are basically used for communication. Besides communication, it is used for taking photos and videos, listening to radio and music, watching videos even TVs, doing calculation, recording audios, flash light, playing games, surfing internet and even used as a mirror! This device has replaced some of other devices because of its multi-functional uses.

The use of mobile phone is widely discussed in classroom teaching learning in literature. Along with the advancement of technology, the features available in the mobile phones have assisted in teaching learning in classroom. The device seems to be an integral part of our lives. People can avoid their food but cannot avoid the mobile phone in the present context! The device is assisting both teachers and students in many ways in teaching learning. On the other hand, some people believe that mobile phones should not be allowed in the classroom both for teachers and students. They argue that it distracts them from teaching learning. As we cannot avoid it in our day to day lives now, we also need to look for creative ways of using it in schools. We can use it appropriately in schools and show students the proper use of the device and encourage them to use it appropriately and properly.

In the subsequent topic I discuss the use of mobile phones in ELT classroom with reference to the teachers’ practice of mobile phones in the remote schools of Solukhumbu.

Discussions

Solukhumbu is located in Northern part of Nepal, which is in the geographically challenging landscape. Roadways are difficult here. So is the case of communication. There is no proper access of telephone in some places of the district. However, teachers use mobile phones not only for communication but also in teaching learning in the classrooms. In a training for English teachers in Solukhumbu, I talked with teachers on how they have been using mobile phones in English classes. One of the teachers, D. L. Shah (pseudonym) said:

We use mobile phones for dictionary, songs, teaching chants through audio visuals and teaching listening.

It shows that the teachers can use the mobile phones both for themselves and students. They use the device for teaching language through songs and chants. The authentic audio and the language used in them is good exposure for children to learn language. Likewise, the video facility makes presentation of chants and songs even more special for children. On the other hand, teachers use it for teaching listening, which is one of the effective use of the device. Mobile phone is very easy device for teaching listening. Listening can be done in two different ways. First, we can store the authentic listening materials in the device, design some tasks and use the audio. Likewise, if such audios are not possible, we can also record the audio ourselves or by the help of our colleagues or even students and use in the class. This can bring variety in the classes. While interacting with primary level teachers, it is found that they generally skip or do the least, the listening activities in the textbook or while the curriculum gives more emphasis on listening in this level. Curriculum has allocated 40% of total activities of class one in listening, 35% in class two, 30% in class three, 25% in class four and five. Use of mobile phones can bridge this gap. Not only for students, the device is also serving as a resource bank for teachers’ professional development. Like, Shah uses the device for dictionary. Teachers can install dictionary in their smart phones (even in simple phones) and use it for searching the meaning of word, pronunciation, spelling, parts of speech, synonyms/antonyms and the use of the words. Talking about the use of it as a resource bank another teacher, Arjun Thapa said:

We use it to see teaching resources like curriculum and teachers guide in PDF form and also play games with children on the phones for entertainment.

It further explores another avenue of the use of mobile phones. The device can also help them to collect the resources, store and use whenever required. The resources like curriculum, teachers guide and books are available free of cost through curriculum development centre Nepal (there is even apps for smartphones). This saves both their money and time. It shows the device is proved to be equally useful for reading too. On the other hand, if there is access to internet, we can have the abundant knowledge in our fingertip and the mobile phone has made it even easier to access. Some of the useful site for teachers can be Wikipedia, teaching channel, British Council etc. Likewise, as Thapa mentioned, the device can also be used for entertainment with students. Not merely entertainment, there are apps that give both teachers and children education and entertainment. Badal Basnet, a young teacher added this very benefit as follows:

We can teach grammar using mobile phones e.g. grammar apps to practice on different topics, show the pictures for vocabulary.

Basnet focuses on use of the device in teaching grammar and vocabulary. There are several English grammar apps, which are useful for both teachers and students. For even junior students, we can use the grammar apps to design the language presentation and practice activities. If the number of student is less, we can even use the apps to practice the language items in groups. Another very important use of this device as stated by Basnet is the use of pictures to present vocabulary. Pictures are very useful to present vocabulary, which is especially useful for the beginners. We can use the camera of the device to click the pictures of animals, birds, persons, things, fruit, vegetables, plants and so on and use them to teach vocabulary. In the same way, there are pictorial apps to teach vocabulary. Adding another technique of teaching vocabulary using the device another teacher, Jitendra KC said:

We can record the sounds of animals and play for teaching vocabulary. Likewise, it can also be used to take photos of objects, animals and person, and generate talks.

Opening another avenue KC shared how we can record the sounds of animals available in his surrounding and use in teaching vocabulary. One of the most used features of the mobile phones these days is the camera and hence it is very common to have real life photos in our device. KC thought of using them to generate talks. Photos are very useful for teaching speaking. We can show a photo to students and generate simple to high level discourse. Photos can be used to practice wh and yes/no questions. Teachers can show a photo and encourage students to ask questions like, where did you take the photo? Who/what are/is in the photo? Did you take it in Tihar? Etc. In the same way, the same photo can be used to generate conversation of students. Students can talk about the photo with each other. On the other hand, the same photo can be used for teaching writing- a wide range of writing skills from words to paragraphs. After having the talks and conversation about the photo, we can now ask student to write few words or sentence or small paragraph about the same. In fact, the device can assist us to provide input for students to generate outputs. It also can help to minimize the use of other resources.

Conclusion

Mobile phone is a new digital resource and material. It contains variety of resources and yet handy to use. We can use this device to teach all four skills and the aspects like grammar and vocabulary in ELT. Not only in ELT, this device can be used in teaching other subjects too. It is useful both for teachers and students- especially senior students. Although there can be some threats of using mobiles, there are multiple advantages of using this device in classroom teaching learning. In fact, using mobile phone in classroom teaching learning is an opportunity for new generations to teach the proper and appropriate use of the device.

Jeevan Karki is an editor with ELT Choutari.

Writing about Writing

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Doreen Richmond

During my recent visit and involvement with teacher training programs throughout some rural parts of Nepal, I did a lesson on writing, both in schools and during training sessions. Writing about Writing illustrates the process I go through when I teach writing. In this article, I have tried to outline the steps I take while teaching writing for both younger developing writers and older more experienced emergent writers.

When I teach writing, I teach it as a process because that is the way that I view it. Writing involves planning, writing a draft, editing and revising and publishing. It takes practice to develop your skills as a writer; it just doesn’t happen overnight.

To begin with, when I work with students, I do several things that vary only with the age and skills that my students have. First, I activate prior knowledge by having students brainstorm the different ways that they use writing. Younger students generally talk about the notes they write their moms or the handwriting practice they do while older students talk about lists, taking notes, writing letters or now-a-days, texts, and writing stories. Activating prior knowledge is important because students need to become aware that we use writing in many ways and for many different purposes.

After brainstorming about how we use writing, I model my own writing so that my students see me as a writer. For example, if I am asking students to write about themselves then I share with them the process that I go through when I am writing about me. It is important that students watch the process of writing so that they know that this is a process that all writers go through. Again, this process is planning, draft writing, editing and revising, and then publishing.

Let’s say that it is the beginning of the school year, and I am asking my students to write about themselves. If I am working with younger students or developing writers, I will first model a picture plan by drawing a picture of myself, my family, my house and a few other interesting details. Then I would orally go through my picture and describe it while at the same time labeling key pictures, (myself, my husband, my dog, cat, house, ect.)

By orally describing my picture and labeling, I am showing my students the picture/word association and also giving them some ideas about how they can do their own picture plan. I would also include some discussion with my students about their own families, who is in it, where they live, what they like to do, ect. Before letting students go off and do their plans, again, giving some guidance for their plans. Then I would set them free to draw their picture plans about themselves, their families, where they live, the things they like, and any other details that they might like to add. Picture plans work well for kindergarteners, first graders, and other developing writers.

Older students generally have more language and can use a different type of plan.  Generally, for older students I use a circle map, which is a type of thinking map; thinkingmaps.org. A circle map has a frame around it that guides the writer’s ideas. The frame is usually divided into four sections which can vary dependent on the topic you are writing about. A beginning piece about themselves might be framed with things like:  Facts: name, age, family members, where I live; Things I like; My Favorites; and My Goals or things I’d like to get better at this year. Using a plan like this allows students to jot down their ideas before they begin writing.  Students then list the answers for these questions or topics in the different areas of the circle. I try to remind them not to write out complete sentences in their circles because this is just a plan and that draft writing is when they put their ideas into complete sentences. Just as I did with younger students, I model my own plan and go over it with them and then show the students how I moved from my plan to my piece of writing. For this assignment, I give the direction that they are to write at least one paragraph about themselves using information from their plans.

As students finish their plans, my job as a teacher would be to go around and have them describe their picture plan to me so that I could help them label it. I would encourage students to label what they could beforehand and share their plan with their neighbor, but I would try to get around to all the students to help them label and add any extra details. Planning might take a whole class for some students but for others, it might be quick and they might be able to continue on to the next step- draft writing. My directions for younger students might vary dependent on the age and development of their skills as a writer but usually I would give a direction for students to write 1-3 sentences about their picture. My goals for younger students are to get them to write so I accept invented spelling and look to see that they are generating some sentences that give me information about their picture.

Conferencing with students, I might point out spacing issues, handwriting difficulties, but primarily I am focusing on their ideas. “Wow, I see you wrote that you like to play with your dog. What is your dog’s name? Can we add that to your sentence? Good job.” I like to think of a “Star and a Wish” when I am giving feedback. Writing takes practice and it is important to praise what a student is doing well rather than focusing on the things they need to correct. If I see many students having the same errors or difficulties, then I use that as a teaching point and do a mini lesson the following day about whatever the issue was, or I say, “Today I am going to be looking for good spacing between your words as you write” to draw their attention to something I noticed was an issue previously. If my students need more support to generate their ideas then I will use some patterned sentence starters to help them. For example, I might put on the board the following pattern: My name is ____. I live with _____. I like to_____. I might also have a mind map that I’ve done previously with students to list things they like to do; again, the idea being that they have a list of words already generated that they can use for their own labeling or to add additional information to their sentences.

When I model my paragraph, I point out that I didn’t use all my details to make my paragraph, but if I wanted to use all the information then I share with them how I could write a multi-paragraph piece of writing that included all the information from the plan. I show students both models of writing, (one paragraph and multi-paragraph) and then provide them with models of patterned sentences/paragraphs that they can use for either writing one paragraph or multi-paragraphs. These are written out on charts and hung on the wall, or they are written on sentence strips and put in a pocket chart for students to see.  I also talk about topic sentences, (main idea sentences) that begin a paragraph and let the reader know what my writing is about.  Then I talk about closing sentences that end my paragraph by summing things up or by adding an emotion to it.  I add this in the form of a sentence starter and label it with either topic sentence or closing sentence.  We also spend some time brainstorming aloud some other ideas for topic sentences and closing sentences and if needed, this is organized as a mind map for students to see and choose from.

Now, my students are ready to begin the process of writing at least one paragraph about themselves.  First, they plan and I go around and comment on their details and ask a few open-ended questions where necessary to encourage them to add to their ideas.  I also might make my own connections to their ideas to reinforce to them that I’m interested in them.  For example, one student writes that purple is her favorite color, and I say, “Oh, purple is my favorite color too; how cool is that!”  As the purpose of this writing activity is to help me get to know my students, it’s important to connect with them about common or shared interests when and where I can.

After students finish their plans, they can begin their draft writing and can use either the patterned sentences model for one paragraph or the multi-paragraph model to help them write, if needed.  Again, I rove and comment here and there on something they’ve written, but I don’t use this time to correct, unless a student is asking me something specific.  When their drafts are done, then I set up a writing conference with them, and that is the time to point out some things that might need fixing up or to emphasis some details that might be needed to strengthen their writing.  I still use the idea of a star and a wish to guide my conferencing, and I don’t overcorrect. By pointing out something that they are doing well with their writing before adding a constructive point for them to think about, I help my students recognize their strengths in their own writing while also encouraging them to look more critically at how they can strengthen their writing. I also try to get  students to read back over their writing first before coming to me or to share their writing with a neighbor or a friend first.  I want to be able to help them self edit and do revisions on their own.  I also look for common errors and use them as a teaching point for a mini lesson the following day.

If I have students who are more proficient with their writing skills, then I use my conferencing time to extend their writing.  Some things I might do are to to ask them to select at least two sentences to revise by adding more details using adjectives, adverbs, or other figurative language such as metaphors or similes.  I might also ask students to select a few sentences and add more details by adding the word, “because” to let their readers know why they like something or like to do something.  Combining ideas and varying their sentence structures so that they start their sentences in different ways to improve the fluency of their writing might also be something to conference about.  How I use my conferencing time with students is dependent on their skills and needs.  As with writing, everyone is different; however, taking the time to conference with students isn’t.  It is an important part of the process.  It takes time, but it is important for students to get that one on one time with you to look more critically at their own writing.

When conferencing is done, students go back and revise their writing to produce a final draft, which is their published piece.  Whenever possible, I encourage them to word process this or to hand write it neatly and if time, to add an illustration to it.  We share our published pieces with the rest of the class, so students know that their work is valued and then it is posted in our Writer’s Corner for others to see.  Celebrating their work helps students see that writing is important and something to be proud of.  A saying I like is, “Writing is Power.”  If you can write well, you can do anything.

Teaching writing is something I’ve done for many younger and older students.  While the topics and content may vary, the process for teaching writing is generally the same.  Planning, developing their ideas, drafting, and then revising and editing before publishing are steps that all writers take with their own writing.  By modeling and providing structure and guidance, students of all ages learn how to develop their own skills as writers.  They also learn to appreciate that writing is a process and an important one.

The Author: Doreen Richmond has taught at all grade levels in the USA. She was a Special Education teacher for many years and currently teaches Reading and Writing in the Transitional Learning Department at Whatcom Community College in Bellingham, Washington.  Recently, she has been involved in a teacher training program in Solukhumbu, coordinated by REED Nepal.

Literary Texts: Authentic Resources for English Language Learning

Lecturer, Mid- Western University Surkhet

Resham Bahadur Bist Lecturer, Mid- Western University Surkhet, Nepal

In this post I discuss about the teaching and learning of English language and literature in higher education in Nepal, how it has been changed, and significance of English literature in English language teaching in my understanding.

Background

In the past, some ELT practitioners thought that there is no relation between English literature and English language teaching. They discovered no roles of literary texts for the comprehension of English language. They taught their students about language ignoring the literary texts in the language-teaching classrooms. On the other hand, facilitators of teaching literature thought that English education is only limited in how to teach English in classroom. They never looked for the syntactical and semantic significance of language used in the literary texts like poetry, essay, play, and story. There was a hot debate between them regarding the issues of language and literature in the canteen of colleges. They had had their own interpretation and understanding about the English literature and English education. Their main concern was to highlight their own subjects. There was a situation of rivalry between them.

I think the dichotomy between English education and English literature has created by the west that creates two hostile camps between its practitioners in our country. The tendency of western intellectual world regarding the issue of literature and linguistic made us to involve in the quarrel. The separate texts composed by the western intellectuals regarding the linguistic and literature that are prescribed in our syllabus are taught in our classroom as a different discipline. This kind of practices had been functioning in our universities regarding teaching literature and language. The department of language and linguistics never smelled the literary texts in their syllabus. Our curriculum designers were also influenced by the western tendency. So, they designed the curriculum of English language and literature separately. They never tried for meaning and harmonious combination in the curriculum for teaching language and literature hand in hand. Then, the practitioners of teaching language and literature moved ahead parallel like the two sides of a river learning the English language itself from the two extremes.

The ELT practitioners thought that the language of literature is not exactly appropriate for language teaching because it is idealized and figurative. They only focused on significance of linguistic norms which creates the proficiency in the language and important for language teaching. Their concern was in the linguistic norms and values.  Moreover, they never thought the value of literature for teaching language. Its significance to provide the real situation how people can communicate the idea was ignored. It was not realized that literary texts are also made with the certain structure of linguistic phenomena that is supportive for teaching language. This idea was introduced by scholars in designing syllabus of language teaching classroom. Linguistics became like a hard rock with its own certain structure and values. The curriculum of our subject made us rigid in our area.

Present scenario

The tendency of teaching the English language in Nepal has been changed now. Literature is no more untouchable in a language classroom. The curriculum of language teaching has selected some of the literary texts in English language classroom. Some of the texts of linguistics and literature have mismatched with each other; the curriculum of both subjects has been merged somewhere a little bit. The time has changed; new generation has known this reality better than the past. The curriculum of ELT has used literature and literary texts in its syllabuses. The usefulness of the style of language used in literary texts has been focused on the English language teaching classrooms. Likewise, the classroom of literature teaching has also acknowledged the value of linguistics and language teaching to teach the literary texts. The teachers and students are familiar with language and literature in their classrooms either it be literature or language teaching classroom.

Now, the curriculums of English language and literature have created friendly environment between ELT practitioners and English literature facilitators. People think that linguistics and literature are not two separate subjects, and there is inseparable relationship between them in term of learning language. The distance, which was created by them, has been reduced. The practitioners of language and literature are not rivals at all now. There is the situation of drinking water at each other’s cup between teachers of English literature and ELT practitioners unlike in the past. Literature has also entered into the language classrooms. The literary texts have also been placed in the syllabus of linguistics classroom, and the study of language is also included in the syllabus of literature. The current practices of universities of Nepal have changed the old scenario of English teaching programs. What is the relationship between language and literature? What is the role of literary texts to learn the English language in EFL classroom? Regarding these questions, I try to write up of my experiences about the effective relationship between literature and linguistics to learn the language.

My English teaching experience to students of different colleges also reveals that literary texts are fruitful for teaching English language. Works of literature are studied worldwide, mostly for pleasure. However, for last couple of decades, it has been realized that literary texts are playing significant role in language teaching and are considered great source of authentic materials.  Literary texts have become the most important source of materials in English language teaching classroom. Now the literary texts are also incorporated in their syllabus of language teaching program as they offer valuable authentic sources. In this regard, Collie and Slater (2009, pp. 3-4) mention that literature is used in language class because it is valuable authentic material; it enhances cultural and language enrichment, and it fosters personal involvement. So, it can be said that literature is an important source in language teaching because it offers varieties of texts along with culture aligned to it, that are useful in language teaching.

Different genres of literature can be useful in language teaching classroom. A poet composes a poem with the use of cohesion and coherence, which can be used in the texture of the linguistic analysis. The devices of language such as simile, metaphor, metonymy, pun, etc. are used in the poem, which can be useful tools to study of language teaching classroom. The demonstration and recitation of extract of beautiful verse of poem can create interest and develop comprehension about the language of poetry among the learners. It can help them develop their pronunciation. Therefore, the poem can be a good source for learning language. Short stories are also very useful to the English language learners as they are interesting, motivating, and amazing. In this regard, Wright (2000) mentions that making and responding to stories is only way of being creative. Stories offer new language, making it meaningful and memorable, which is a distinctive manifestation of cultural values and perceptions. It requires reflection on values and culture. He further argues that making and telling stories require the students to organize information into cohesive and coherent whole in order to communicate to other people. He also mentions that listening to the stories can develop listening skills whereas studying and learning stories contextualize language diversity in dialect and register of language, and narrative and description of speech.

Therefore, short stories are useful to learn four basic skills of language; listening, speaking, reading, and writing. They are also equally helpful to learn grammar, vocabulary, and language functions. They promote the imaginative skills and creativity as well through fun and creative activities of classroom. Teaching stories in the language-learning classroom engages and motivates learners creatively. The elements of short stories can be guidelines for creative writing. The learners can write their own stories using those elements.

Similarly, the play can be useful to promote the language skills of learners. Play is composed with use of contextual dialogue in a certain setting of it. The learner knows the contextual meaning of language after reading the play. Therefore, it is beneficial to learn the pragmatic and semantic meaning of the sentences used in the play because the dialogues are used in the conversation among the characters in the certain settings. The play is a representational art of literature, and it has a theatrical performance. The students can involve in the theatrical performance of the play. They can perform the actions and events of the play by using the dialogues. They can promote their speaking skill through the theatrical performance of play and achieve self-confidence in speaking English in front of the audience. They can develop their presentation skills and develop an understanding of cultural practices of other people through the play. They can be aware about the body language and contextual use of language. They develop their language skills watching and listening plays in the classroom.

Likewise, the essays are also beneficial for the language learners. Essays are written in different forms like persuasive, narrative, descriptive, etc. The language learner learns different forms of language and structure of sentence pattern through the essays. They get pleasure reading such essays and develop their reading habit that promotes their reading language skill.

Long fictional texts like novels also can be useful to promote the reading habit of learner with pleasure of reading. The rhetorical style of such long text can be beneficial to know the way of expression, style of writing and structure of sentences.

Conclusion

The role of literature in the ELT classroom has been reassessed. Now, English teachers and ELT practitioners view that literary texts provide rich linguistic input and effective stimuli for students to express themselves and a potential source of learner motivation. Those literary texts also provide an opportunity for multi-sensorial classroom experiences and can appeal to learners with different learning style. The students can develop their creativity in writing poetry, dialogues and descriptive writing after reading the masterpieces of literary texts. Likewise, literary texts engage the learners arouse interest to observe how to use figurative language, such as metaphor, metonymy, simile, pun, alliteration, assonance, hyperbole, etc. The literary texts make the learners to be aware of the pattern of sounds in language such as rhyme, rhythm, and repetition. Therefore, English language teachers and facilitators can use the literary texts for developing learners’ English language proficiency as authentic sources.

References

Collie, J., & Slater, S. (2009). Literature in the language Classroom. Combridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wright, P. (2011). Stories and their importance in language teaching. In Humanizing Language Teaching, Year 2; Issue 5.

How to teach Language Functions

Raju Shrestha

Raju Shrestha

As a teacher of English, I have often noticed my students having problem in learning functions of language. Theoretically, they learn even much better than we expect but practically they are found struggling with basic functions of language. Almost three or four months ago, when I joined a new school to teach, I was shocked the first time when I heard students having difficulties in choosing and using appropriate language functions. Here basically students were found to have lack of knowledge of language functions. When I came to realize this, I started to talk to my colleagues and principal of school. They also agreed with it and asked me how to make the students learn language functions creating such environment so that students would be able to use them fluently and accurately in practical life. Since then I started to think of and look for the proper ways and techniques of teaching language functions in order to make them capable to use in appropriate time.

Therefore, I as a teacher read different articles and books regarding how to teach language functions to make it easier for my students to use language functions and came up with some ideas. So here in this article, I would like to talk about what language functions are,  how language are presented, ways of practicing them, what are the stages of teaching language functions and some activities to teach language functions. Continue reading »

Issues and Challenges of Teaching Creative Writing

Sudip Neupane

Sudip Neupane

Writing simply refers to the graphic representation of language. It is taken as an act of transmitting thoughts, feelings and ideas from mind to paper. As a student of ELT, I cannot write a paragraph, compose a poem or even narrate a short story. I have been practicing to write for more than fifteen years but I cannot write what I want, and how I want. The problem I was facing with regard to creative writing encouraged me to look out for the issues and challenges in teaching creative writing. Had my teacher taught me about creative writing while I was in school, I would have been able to write creative writing such as poetry, drama, story and so on. Creative writing is personal writing where the purpose is to express thoughts, feeling and emotions. Creative writing is expressed in an imaginative, unique, and sometimes poetic way. According to Harmer, “The term creative writing suggests imaginative tasks, such as writing poetry, stories and plays.” So it represents teaching writing of all genre of literature such as drama, fiction, poetry, personal narration, story and so on. According to Gaffield-Vile (1998), “Creative writing is a journey of self-discovery, and self-discovery prompts effective learning” (p. 31).

Morley (2007) states, “Some people believe there is something new or untested about the discipline of creative writing” (p. 7). Teaching creative writing is a very challenging job to the teachers even though they have lots of knowledge about subject matter. It is because of developed form or genre of language which expresses ideas, information and thoughts by graphic representation.  I believe that the aim of teaching creative writing is to make the students able to express themselves in different literary forms. If a teacher gives imaginative writing tasks to the students, they will be engaged and self motivated to write frequently, so it is effective way to improve their skill and ability of language. There are so many issues and challenges of teaching creative writing like critical analysis, formation and structure, wider area, individual variation, untrained English teachers, insufficient time for instruction, lack of resources and materials which are discussed below in details.

Issues and Challenges of teaching creative writing

Harmer (2008) states, “The kind of writing we ask students to do (and the way they we ask them to do it) will depend, as most other things do, on their age, level, learning styles, and interests” ( p. 112).

Different Genre/forms of literature

There are various branches or forms of literature which is called genre. Harmer (2008) states, “A genre is a type of writing which members of a discourse community would instantly recognize for what it was. Thus we recognize a small ad in a newspaper the moment we see it because, being members of a particular group, or community, we have seen many such texts before and are familiar with the way they are constructed” (p. 113).  These genres have their own rules, regulations, norms, values, principles, theories, structural patterns, features, types, formations and so on. The teachers have to build creative writing. For this they have to engage the students with creative writing activities which are easy and interesting to take part in, so it helps students to achieve the success in their writing. When students have gained sufficient knowledge of creative writing they can develop writing habit. Therefore the teacher should have the knowledge to teach different genres to make his/her students able to write creative writing.

Individual difference

Different individual may produce equally good results through widely different process. This means that there is probably no one ‘right’ system of writing that we should recommend; rather, we should suggest available various possible strategies, encouraging individuals to experiment and search for one that is personally effective (Ur, 1996).

Lack of Motivation

Motivation is commonly thought of as an inner drive, impulse, emotion or desire that moves one to a particular action. It is the main determinants of teaching creative writing. “It is easier and more useful to think in terms of the ‘motivated’ learner: one who is willing or even eager to invest effort in learning activities and progress” (Ur, 1996 p. 274). The more you motivate the students the more students are motivated and get ready for creative writing so it helps the teachers to teach creative writing effectively. Motivation promotes students’ active participation, so it helps the students to give uniqueness in learning, background for creative writing, and process of creative writing. Motivation helps teachers to provide ability to the students and make learners  write creative writing. So we can say that motivation aids the students to achieve success in their creative writing attempts.

Untrained English teachers

The untrained teacher cannot teach the process of different genre of literature as equal as trained teacher. S/he lacks proper knowledge and will not be able to provide good ideas to write creatively and use different strategies and techniques to involve the students in creative writing. For example there are various ways of teaching poem like, acrostic poem (a poem where certain letters in each letters spells out a word or phrase), opposites poem (a poem where two opposite things can exist side by side in a person or situation), group poem (a poem written in a group where at least a line will be contributed by one person of a group) and so on.

Insufficient time for instruction

Teachers and students have limited time for their teaching and learning process in given time framework of institutions. Both students and teachers are inhibited by time, so creative writing is compelled to be taught only for the completion of the lessons. As a result, all the composition lessons are given to the students as homework and another aspect to the students’ difficulties is the perception that taking much time to write a composition is a sign of failure on their part. Unfortunately, students and teachers apparently fail to utilize the opportunity to process writing to fulfill their tasks satisfactorily. “The lack of the use of time to develop students’ creative writing skills led problems in teaching creative writing”(Adeyemi, 2012).

Focus on Surface Errors

Teachers are habituated to assess the students’ writing on surface errors by their profession. They give feedback to the students regarding spelling, punctuation instead of students’ creativity which doesn’t help to improve students’ creative writing ability. As the main focus is on structure as opposed to content or meaning, the students’ compositions will be meaningless and valueless. So intentionally or not, unsatisfactory message goes to the students, which indicates their lack of grammar, structure, punctuation rather than main issues or students’ intention of creative writing. Their intention, their creativity, their ideas and their effort goes unnoticed as teachers mostly focus on the surface errors and fail to acknowledge the hard work the students have attempted. It makes students hesitate and frustrated in themselves in their writing because of spelling, surface error, and punctuation marker. Certainly, there is more to composition writing than the mere issues of spelling and punctuation. Thus it indicates that it is not easy to teach creative writing to the students.

Writing Process

Writing process is also an issue in teaching creative writing. Some of the learner differences are because of their age, practice, motivation, cultural background, particular group etc. These create challenge to teach writing process to the students. Harmer (2008) states that, when students are writing for writing, we will want to involve them in the process of writing. In the real world; this typically involves planning what we are going to write, drafting it, reviewing and editing what we have written and then producing a final version. We will need to encourage students to plan, draft and edit for teaching creative writing so it is very challenging task for the teachers.

Prevention of issues and challenges of teaching creative writing

In order to prevent these issues and challenges, I have discussed some prevention and solutions in detail.

Assessing creative writing

Assessing creative writing helps students know their position and about their creativity through writing. So the teacher should evaluate creative writing by using the same criteria as for different genre. Morley (2007) states that, essays and examination materials tend to be assessed using the same criteria as for an expository essay. Creative writing is judged mostly by literary criteria, and these criteria may fit the critical mind but are not always sympathetic to emotional and personal matters (Hunt, 2001). They should give more emphasis on the importance of original creative writing and evaluate to give appropriate grade by feeling, imagining and involving as like as a real writer of creative writing.

Effective Instruments

Students must have access to high quality instruction designed to help them meet high expectations regarding creative writing. So the teachers should employ different strategies such as motivating; providing opportunities to write creative writing, providing concepts and teaching them to write creatively and employ those concepts; providing imaginative thinking and writing that connects their writing across different genre of literature and providing individual guidance, assistance, and support to fill gaps in background knowledge of creative writing.

Clinical Teaching

Clinical teaching takes place in the context of patient care. It is an intensely personal relationship between students and teacher so it is carefully sequenced. First teachers teach skills, subjects, concepts and process of creative writing; then they re-teach different strategies or approaches to the students to involve them in creative writing such as poetry, story, and drama to those who fail to meet expected performance level of creative writing after initial instruction; finally, they evaluate and provide feedback of creative writing to the students. Teachers conduct creative writing assessment to monitor the students’ progress and instruct them to modify their writing if necessary. Teacher should deal with anxiety, challenges to authority, and lead stimulating discussions and labs. To teach effectively, the teacher should respond appropriately to shy, withdrawn, or disruptive students and use technology more and more for clinical teaching effectively.

Collaborative Writing

Collaborative writing makes the students active in writing that helps teacher to teach creative writing to his/her students in effective way. Harmer (2008) states that, students gain a lot from constructing texts together. For example, if teacher sets up a story circle and provide the hints or starting line and asks the students, the students easily form or construct whole story by discussion and prediction. Strip story activity also helps to teach story to the students in a collaborative way and helps students to engage in creative writing with their full interest.

Creative writing exercise

Teachers should offer some well-tried classroom activities that may motivate students to want to write in English. It proves, ‘practice makes a man perfect’. Likewise doing some creative writing exercises during the class and in leisure can help the students’ to write creatively. If the teacher asks the students’ to write lots of creative writing exercises, it can give support their creative writing and generate in them creative ideas. So the very best method to teach creative writing is by providing creative exercises to the students.

There are different types of teaching writing; guided writing, parallel writing and free writing that will help students to produce appropriate texts even with fairly limited English. However, as their language level improves, we need to make sure that their creative writing begins to express their own creativity through different genre of literature.

Conclusion

Teaching creative writing is very challenging task to the language teachers because of lack of time, motivation, lack of training and building the writing habit as well as creative writing involves various genre of literature such as drama, fiction, poetry, personal narration, story and so on. So it is very difficult to teach creative writing to the students. The main problems in teaching creative writing are different genre/forms of literature, individual difference, lack of motivation, untrained English teacher, insufficient time for instruction, focus on surface errors, writing process and to prevent these issues and challenges of teaching creative writing we can employ assessing creative writing, effective instruments, clinical teaching, creative writing exercise, instant writing, collaborative writing, writing in other genre, using music and pictures and so on.

The author is perusing his Master’s degree in ELT at Kathmandu University School of Education (KUSOED). Currently, he is teaching in a private school in Kathmandu as a secondary level English teacher.

REFERENCE

Harmer, J. (2008). How to teach English. Longman, England: Pearson Education Limited

Hunt, C. (2001). Assessing Personal writing, Autobiography

Mills, P. (2006). The Routledge Creative Creative writing Coursebook . Routledge .

Morley, D. (2007). Introduction to Creative Writing . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Spiro, J. (2004). Creative Poetry Writing . Great Clarendon Street, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ur, P. (1996). A Course in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

 

Issues and Challenges in Teaching Reading in EFL Classrooms

Gyanendra Yadav

Gyanendra Prasad Yadav

Throughout my school life in a government school of Nepal, I never felt the need of reading English language in classroom. Those days are still fresh in my mind when my English teachers used to paraphrase and translate reading texts into Nepali and students had to remember words meaning, answers to the questions asked and other tasks. It was teachers who would read the text and make us understand the content, especially by translating them in Nepali and Maithili. Generally, we did not have anything to do with reading the text. It would be teachers’ job to read the text, answer the questions and finally write those answers so that we could copy those in our notebooks and remember them for test. English used to be the toughest subject for almost all students because we had to remember so many things like vocabulary, question answers, structures, rules, examples etc. In spite of such hard effort, we could hardly pass in English test. The students would be considered very bright and talented if they could get pass marks.

Furthermore, while teaching reading text, teachers used to ask us to read aloud in the class and we would do it. However, we would rarely understand the text given to us. I am not sure whether we were not up to the level or the difficulty level of the texts provided to us were beyond our comprehension. But in both cases, we had problem in making sense out of those texts, hence we did not like reading. Sometimes, when we were asked to underline the difficult words, we would have many underlined words in the text and teacher used to write meaning of those words, make us learn them by heart and then he would deliver very long and fine lecture on the content of the text.  I passed my school days without even knowing the necessity of reading English texts. I had neither any reason nor any interest to read those difficult and boring texts.

Most of the students, especially those studying in government school of Nepal, have faced similar situation in school level.  Now equipped as a language teacher, when I reflect back on how I had been taught reading passage, I can easily notice so many problems in teaching reading in our context. Therefore, in this article, I am going to analyze issues and challenges in teaching reading in EFL classroom of Nepal especially focusing on the issue of selecting right kind of reading text and designing appropriate tasks for it. Continue reading »

If Only, It Were True: The Problems with Grammar Teaching

Pramod Kumar Sah

Can teachers do a good job by prescribing grammar rules to their students? I imagine “No!” would be the most common answer to this question if asked to a gathering of contemporary English language teachers. We now seem to have that realization by now. However, same ineffective and purposeless grammar teaching continues to dominate in majority of Nepali classrooms. What can we as English language teachers do? I discuss the pros and cons of grammar teaching, highlight some problems of grammar teaching in Nepal, and suggest some aspects that can be incorporated to make grammar teaching more effective.

Grammar teaching is still a controversial issue in the field of second and foreign language instruction. It has been of great interest to researchers and teachers to find out whether it is worth teaching. Apparently, despite Krashen and Terrel’s (1983, p. 114) and some others’ negative view, linguists like Cowan (2009, p. 3) and Thornbury (1999, p. 16) believe grammar instruction has a lasting effect in learners. As ‘grammar’ is an inevitable aspect of language teaching, what counts is the meaning of ‘grammar’ taken as in the classroom. Is it a set of rules thatsubsequently drives us to interpret the rules stated in the marketed textbooks? Thus, questions arise as:

Is teaching of grammar textbooks advisable?

I am much concerned about the practice of using textbook in our grammar lessons provided it helps with set guidelines to reach objectives. Be of my opinion that, this is merely a mythological grammar teaching if we are explaining the textbook page by page, getting the students to complete the exercises and eventually setting a test of those exercises and quantifying their level of learning.More miserably, we have chances to observe the classes where students are seen reciting grammar rules and definitions of terminologies by rote. The majority of empirical researchers have found these practices of no worth as Bright (1947) finds “….a knowledge of the technical terms gives no guarantee that the pupils can use the language.” Thus, I would prefer to use textbook merely as a resource book.

Instead of following a mere textbook, at first, I would choose a grammatical item to expose to my students. Choosing an item again depends on Second Language Acquisition paradigms, such as the hierarchy of acquisition. In particular, SLA research shows that the ‘Present Continuous Tense’ is acquired  prior to the ‘Present Simple’; thus, despite textbooks introducing the ‘Present Simple’ first I would opt for the ‘Present Continues’ alternatively. Then, I would plan my own lessons with comprehensible input and tasks. Nevertheless, ways to make input comprehensible, what we teach of a particular grammatical item and what are the issues undertaken in a grammar lesson will occur later in the article.

Should we teach grammar rules?

I would say, ‘no’. Jespersen discovered this fallacy in the early 1900’s and was re-emphasized by Bright in late 1040’s, but it still governs language classrooms and textbooks not only in Nepal but in some other contexts as well.  Introducing grammar rules deductively to our students brings nearly no development in the students’ production. It helps them know the rules; they can tell, for instance, the simple present tense is composed of Subject+ verb + object/complement, but unfortunately will not be able to express their present habits accurately and fluently.The exhibited below  demonstrates this dilemma:

Teacher: The difference is the present simple expresses habitual actions, but the present continuous actions that are going on now while you speak.

Tiresome child: Please sir, why are you sayingwhile you speak?”

Teacher: I’m sorry. It would have been better to say “while you are speaking”.

Tiresome child: Was what you said wrong, sir?

Teacher: No.

Tiresome child: I’m sorry. I am not understanding.

Teacher: Look. There are some verbs that are exceptions. We never use the present continuous of the verbs “to understand”, “to see”, “to hear” and so on. Now you really must go away. I ‘m seeing the headmaster in five minutes and it’s time I started.

Tiresome child: You are seeing the headmaster, sir!

Teacher: Go away!

[source 1=”Bright” 2=”(1947)” language=”:”][/source]

Thus, prescribing grammar rules hardly boosts up the learners’ production in the target language. Consequently, what I would rather teach themis ‘patterns’ of language, explicitly and inductively. I would give them implicit exposure; this doesn’t hold the ideas that I oppose explicit instruction. Then, the learners are asked to work on the language (i.e. examples) to explore ‘patterns’ of that particular language. Once the patterns are noticed, the information processes to their short-term memory that needs to be practiced to drive to long-term memory. The explored patterns are practiced communicatively with appropriate tasks. The more they are given chance for production, higher is the possibility for the information to reach to automatic processing or to say long-term memory.

Furthermore, in our context, we lack the authentic data to use as an exposure to our students. Here, I doubt at making use of the marketed textbooks since the language used in them are barely authentic or based on any study. In this regard, corpus study has been a great means to us. It is advised to check Using Corpora in English Language Teaching by HimaRawal in February issue of this blog for detailed information.

Should we teach to speak according to the rules of grammar? 

I’ll agree with you if you said ‘yes’. The significance of speaking according to the rules of grammar cannot be ignored butconsciously using rules while speaking not only obstructs fluency but also increases likelihood of using language out of context. In normal speech, the mind of the speaker certainly does not think of a rule and then work out a sentence to fit it. While speaking, a fluent speaker does not think of grammar at all, s/he thinks of the meaning of what s/he wants to say. Thus, as a language teacher, we need to teach studentsto speak comprising meaning in the context rather than the rules of grammar. However, there might be an argument that a conscious knowledge of grammar rules is obligatory for new learners of a foreign language. Thus, what can be the best idea is that we provide them rules of grammar and then give them ample opportunities to practice those language points by creating natural settings so that the patterns of languages are discovered  by the students in such a way that rules become a subconscious part of language learning endeavour eventually leading to a condition where the learner can use language even without worrying about remembering the rules.

Moreover, it is not always necessary to stick to formal grammar while speaking. The utterances, like ‘How are you doing?’, ‘I am going to go home now’, ‘Do you want to have coffee?’, ‘Are you all right?’ and so on will seem quite odd in spoken discourse. Thus, I would teach my students to speak like, ‘How you doing?’, ‘Gonna go home now’, ‘Wanna have coffee?’, ‘You all right?’, but they should be made aware that they cannot use these forms in written discourse. If we attempt to teach our students as we were taught, we will not do any justice to them. We need to understand the need and interest of this iphone generation. They do not even bother grammar rules while speaking, face-booking, twittering, or texting electronically. What counts for them is communication and they areright. If native speakers are doing so, why cannot they? On contrary, formal grammar must not be ignored in written texts.

In a nutshell, we should start teaching ‘spoken grammar’ as well. Out of my personal interest, we must be thankful to course designer of Tribhuvan University for prescribing the textbook ‘Exploring Grammar in Context’ which is primarily grounded on corpus data and indeed a descriptive grammar textbook. The most significant aspect of the book is that it incorporates spoken grammar, but unfortunately we witness the section being ignored in classroom practice and has been taken as of less importance. This attitude is born from the question patterns of the annual examination that hardly composes any question from the section, and this has assisted me to assume the avoidance of spoken grammar. It is advised to give equal importance to the section and be honest to students. The knowledge of discourse marker, back-channelling, ellipsis, headers and tails, filled and unfilled gaps, etc. is equally notable to tense, mood, passive sentence, reported speech and so on.

If we teach grammar anyway, let’s consider these 4 aspects

The most crucial aspects of grammar teaching that must be taken into account are ‘noticing’, ‘consciousness- raising’, ‘grammar in context’, ‘information processing system’ and ‘focus on production’. This short article will not discuss these aspects in details, but attempts to deal them briefly.

Grammar teaching without giving students chance to notice a language is meaningless. Noticing can occur when the learners are paying conscious attention to a form within input. Schmidt (2010: 725), the propounder of Noticing Hypothesis, defines the term as ‘conscious registration of attended specific instances of language’ and emphasizes the idea that no noticing means no learning. Thus, a teacher has to help learners develop noticing. And, this is only possible when we expose plenty of comprehensible input and get the students to work on the input to explore their own grammar rather than explaining prescriptive grammar rules to them.

In addition, by consciousness-raising we mean to device activities that help them ‘to construct their own explicit grammar’ (Ellis, 1993: 10). Put it other way, we develop activities that will get the students to understand a particular grammatical feature, how it works, what it consists of and so on. The students attempt to raise their consciousness towards a form of language through noticing. This does not necessarily mean students are able to produce sentences but it helps to understand a form that is eventually brought to their production through practice.

The next concept is the need of teaching grammar in context. The real acquisition is not completed until the learners are able to use them in communicative context asNunan (1998)views “…effective communication involves achieving harmony between functional interpretation and formal appropriacy… by giving them tasks that dramatize the relationship between grammatical items and the discoursal contexts in which they occur” (p. 102).Thus, instead of just giving them a set of rules, we are supposed to give them optimum opportunity to explore grammar in context.

Finally, our grammar teaching activities might as well be based on the theory of information processing. When a learner is provided with input, it is not necessary that all input turns into intake. Some type of filtration takes place where the noticed input processes to short-term memory that needs to undergo practice to eventually reach to long-term memory. The language reached to the long term memory finally becomes automatic whenthe learners are able to produce a language.

Incorporating these factors(noticing, consciousness-raising, providing context for language use, and authenticity can give purpose for the teachers and may significantly increase the effectiveness of learning. Johns and King (1991, p. 3) find DDL, a new style of grammar teaching incorporating learners own discovery of grammar based on evidence from authentic language use. This approach initially makes use of corpus data that is exposed to learners where they are asked to notice patterns of a language. While working on the data, students consciously notice patterns and raise their consciousness on the given patterns. Later, the   discovered patterns are practiced in set tasks where the learners get chance to produce the language.

It is always heard from teachers saying grammar teaching is a problematic area, but in my opinion, the problem is we do not take on new experiments to see if new approaches work. We are much preoccupied and grounded by the age-old “grammar” books that shamelessly prescribe “correct” rules. It’s high time we consider minimizing the use of prescriptive grammar rules with aids to textbooks and allow learners to explore their own grammar through comprehensible input, especially making use of authentic data.

References

Bright, J. A. (1947). Grammar in the English syllabus. ELT Journal. 1 (7), p.173-177. 

Cowan, R. (2009). The teacher’s grammar of English. Cambridge: CUP.

Ellis, R. (1993). Second language acquisition research: how does it help teachers?. ELT Journal. 47 (1), pp3-11.

Johns, T & King, P. (eds.). (1991). Classroom Concordancing. (Birmingham University: English Language Research Journal 4, pp 1-12).

Krashen, S. & Terrell, T. (1983). The natural approach. Oxford : OUP

Nunan, D. (1998). Teaching grammar in context: ELT Journal. 52(2), pp101-109.

Schmidt, R. W. (2010). Attention, Awareness and individual Differences in Language Learning. In W. M. Chan, S. Chi, K. N. Cin, J. Istanto, M. Nagami, J. W. Sew, T. Suthiwan., & I. Walker ( Eds.), Proceedings of CLaSIC 2010, Singapore, December 2-4 (pp. 721-737).Singapore: University of Singapore Centre for Language Studies.

Thornbury, S. (1999). How to teach grammar. London: Longman.

pramod

Pramod Kumar Sah
M. Ed. in English, Tribhuvan University

Currently Pursuing MA in TESOL with Applied Linguistics at University of Central Lancashire, UK.

Games for Retaining Vocabulary

Pema Kala Bhusal

 

I would like to begin this article by stating what Wilkins said to show the importance of vocabulary – “Without grammar, very little can be conveyed and without vocabulary, nothing can be conveyed” (Wilkins, 1972). Vocabulary acquisition is crucial for second language learning. However, many second language learners feel that learning new vocabulary is a tedious and laborious process. On this paper, I first discuss about the problems faced by my students while dealing with vocabulary. And then I will offer some guidelines and suggestions on ways to retain new vocabulary.

I remember my tutors at KU teaching ‘Teaching Vocabulary’ by using different games and by using flashcards, ball, realia etc. The games helped me learn collocations, synonyms, and different words very easily. I was not completely aware of those words, but now they are still in my mind. I came to realize that games are very effective tools for retaining new words.

During my school days, I never saw my teachers using games in the classroom. We learnt the meaning of difficult words through rote learning. When I started teaching, naturally, I didn’t have any knowledge that vocabulary could be taught through games. When I saw my teachers using different games at my university level, I seemed to be unfamiliar with them and I felt having very less knowledge about vocabulary. I imagined what if I had a chance to enjoy these kinds of games in school! My vocabulary knowledge would have been stronger than now.

When I taught lower secondary level students in the public school, I found that the students had many problems regarding vocabulary. For instance, when I asked them to describe a picture, they were unable to do so. They could not make logical connections among words. To make it worse, they couldn’t find the right words to describe the picture.

After gaining knowledge about using games in the classroom, I used different games such as ‘Kim’s game’, ‘Relia’, ‘What’s missing?’, ‘Erase’ and ‘TPR verb game’ to teach vocabulary. When I employed the different games through different physical activities, the students had lots of fun and they were learning the words quickly and effectively. Since that day, they kept telling me to use such kinds of games in my classroom as they had never done such activities before.

I realized that it is important to understand this issue from their perspective because they have been practicing and learning English in their native language from the very beginning. They always carry an unknown fear of using English, especially while speaking. This might be the result of the teaching trend as well, which is – the teacher comes in the classroom, asks the student to look at the book and he/she translates the passage into Nepali. The students are still taught English using a conventional approach like a grammar translation method. (I don’t mean that grammar translation method is not a good method to use in the classroom. We can use it depending upon the context and situations. Sometimes the students can understand more easily when teachers use this method.)

Similarly, if we teach vocabulary through drills, it might become boring for the students, especially those who have limited expertise in language study. Forgetting the word is also another problem. Most of the students complain that they forget words soon after learning them and they don’t exist for a long time. I recently observed an English language classroom of grade 8 at a public school. During my observation, I found the English teacher using Nepali language all the time. I felt very sad about the situation and thought how the students would never develop their English language that way.

Now let me share a few strategies I have used in my classroom for the enhancement of my student’s vocabulary. The first strategy was I asked them to read the passage before coming to the class, assuming that the more they read the more they can see new words to learn. Then, I asked them some words related to the passage. When I did so, some of the students responded from the context and some got confused. Therefore, I made them familiar by showing some pictures, realia and engaged them into conversation. This strategy helped them learn the words easily because I think interaction is the key to succeed in language learning.

Likewise, I asked the students to come in front of the class and touch some objects without looking at them, recognize the objects and describe them to the class. They were very curious and enjoyed the sensual learning activity. Another game I used frequently in my class was the game called ‘Erase’. I used this game to teach the name of the animals, classroom objects, etc. For this, I asked my students to tell me the name of the animals they knew. After that, I made a circle on the board and wrote them down around the circle. In this way, I elicited the names of the animals. After that, I randomly wrote them down on the board. First of all, I asked them to repeat the words in chorus so that they could remember the words for the game. Then, I arranged the students into two groups and lined them up into two teams. After that, I provided the first student in each team an eraser and they raced to the board to erase the word I have yelled out. The game was played in the same way to the end. The first student who correctly erased the word won a point for the team. Finally, I scored the group that won. This is one of the examples of a game I have used in my classroom.

In this way, I used several games to teach vocabulary. From their active participation and involvement, I came to know that integrating games, both physical and mental, helps the students to keep their mind alert. Not only this, they were able to reduce their boredom and retain the words easily.

To sum up, games play a very important role to motivate the students in learning activities. From these experiences, I have realized that acquiring and retaining vocabulary in a foreign language is a challenging job, but learning vocabulary through games is one of the effective ways that can be applied in any classroom. They can be used not only for mere fun, but more importantly, for the useful practice and learning purpose. There is a good Chinese proverb “tell me, I will forget; teach me, I will remember; involve me and I will learn”. This saying also proves that if we ask the students directly to write or tell the unfamiliar words, they would probably be unable to do so and feel discouraged, but they can write or tell if they are involved in different fun activities.


prema

Pema Kala Bhusal
M.Ed. ELT, 2012
Kathmandu University School of Education

Learner-Centered Teaching: Some Considerations

Guru Prasad Poudel

There has been an enormous push to introduce learner-centered teaching strategies to pupils in both elementary and higher level institutions worldwide. The underlying assumption held by many is that learners will be more successful if they have an opportunity to enjoy while learning. However, the challenge is how to create learner centered teaching environment inside the classroom. This article aims to present few considerations on how to implement learner centered teaching in our daily pedagogic endeavors. In addition, the article includes tips, principles and challenges of learner centered teaching.

Over the past fifty years the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of what we teach has been the focus of much thought, research and deliberation. From Grammar-Translation to the Communicative Approach and beyond, the best methodology for English language teaching (ELT) has supposedly been discovered many times. While many changes have occurred in ELT over the past five decades, good teaching is learner-centered one. In learner centered class, an effective teacher helps each student connect to the material and the subject and pay more attention to their activities rather than his own.

As the years pass, the daily routine of teaching the same material through same method day in and day out starts to diminish the passion that was once so prominent years earlier. So what do we do? We do what so many of us have done when times get dull. The need is we have to recharge the batteries and break the routine of daily instruction. It is the time to employ new strategies to increase the intrinsic motivation of our learners so as to strengthen their language acquisition. Thus, learner centered teaching is assumed to be new recharge in our instructional practices. Equally, it is urgent to gear up teaching learning responsibilities to the learners, instead of having them only in the shoulders of teachers.

Tips for learner-centered classroom

The following ideas can be used in the classroom to create learner centered atmosphere in the classroom.

i. Cultivate a relaxed atmosphere before the beginning of instruction.

A relaxed atmosphere is conducive to free expression. A skillful teacher can create an atmosphere in which the student feels enough ease to struggle through a situation, and to find the words to express oneself.

ii. Praise the students when it is deserved

The teacher should compliment students when they do well. He/She should make it a practice to reinforce a good performance with encouraging comments. He/She should be careful, however, to be discreet along this line, setting high standards for the class.

iii. Be enthusiastic and engender enthusiasm

Enthusiasm is one of the most important factors to involve learners in a conversation class. The teacher should feel joy at the prospect of engaging them in learning, and put things into practice learned in the classroom.

iv. Listen to the students

The teacher should not dominate the learner’s responses. He should try to get the students to speak as much as possible.

v. Be patient

Patience, necessary in any encounter with students, is especially important in a learner centered class. The teacher should put himself in the place of the student. He should think of how he himself had to struggle to express his ideas when he was first learning a new topic.

vi. Be alert and foster alertness

Since the learner-centered class provides practice in both speaking and understanding what is said, the teacher should stay alert and see to it that the attention of the students does not wander. For example, when a student is not paying attention, the teacher can call him; ask him back to the practice by directing a question to him; or he can ask him to repeat something that has been said. The teacher can also ask him to repeat a question he has just asked him another student.

vii. Making corrections

What should the teachers do about mistakes in pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar and meaning? This is a delicate area in a learner-centered class. Students tend to insist that they want to be corrected. The teacher should let them find the good answers from the alternatives that he provides. He should always correct flagrant violations the moment they are made. As Halt (1980) says, “We must not fool ourselves…into thinking that guiding children to answers by carefully chosen leading questions is in any important respect different from just telling them the answers in the first place…the only answer that really sticks in a child’s mind is the answer to a question that he asked or might ask of himself”. The teacher should not overlook the value of an attention-getting-comment that might prevent a repetition of the mistake. He should not be necessarily rigid in their mistakes in such classroom.

viii. Avoid oversimplification

The principle behind the learner-centered class is that ‘learning is something only the learner can do’. The teacher cannot learn for the pupil, he can only provide good conditions within which learning may take place. If things are made too easy for the learners, they will not be inclined to use their own learning resources. As Halt (1980) says “If we taught children to speak, they would never learn”. What he means is that as teachers, we would want to break up the learning process into a series of gradable steps and prevent movement form one step to another until the first step had been mastered.

ix. Treat the individual student as a person, on an equal basis with all the members of the class.

A learner-centered class becomes successful if the teacher treats every students on an equal basis. He must look carefully at his classes to be certain that all the students are included equally. He shouldn’t be biased toward the brighter and more energetic students. A teacher’s effectiveness depends on his equal treatment toallhis students.

x. Leave emotional baggage outside the classroom

Another consideration for a teacher in learner centered classroom is that the teacher must manage his emotional activities. The classroom is a stage; and to be effective, the teacher must in some cases be an actor. For this, he must speak naturally with smile and concentrate on the student.

xi. Lead learners to understand language outside the classroom too

Krashen and Terrell (1983) argue that the purpose of child-centered language instruction is to lead learners to ‘understand language outside the classroom’ so that they can ultimately utilize the real world, as well as the classroom, for progress’. They indicate that the purpose of the child-friendly classroom instruction is to facilitate and encourage the students to interact with speakers in the target language outside the classroom.

General Principles for Language Lesson in Learner-centered Class

A good language class is much more than a series of activities and exercises that the teacher has strung together to occupy the available amount of time. As language teaching is a career in a field of educational specialization, it requires a specialized knowledge base obtained through both academic study and practical experience. A good language lesson, therefore, reflects the specialized thinking and knowledge of an educated language teaching professionals and in planning for their teaching, they should think carefully about how they understand the nature of the teaching and learning they will be participating in (Nunan & Lamb, 1996).

Some programs may seek to induct students into a particular method or approach (such as communicative language teaching, genre based teaching or task-based instruction) where, as other may operate on the basis of principled eclecticism, where teacher are introduced to a variety of teaching approaches and encouraged to blend or adopt them based on the contexts in which they will teach in learner-centered class (Richards and Rodgers, 2001). In most of the cases: teachers think of methods in terms of techniques which realize a set of principles or goals and they are open to any method that offers practical solutions to the problems in their particular teaching context heading to learner centeredness.

Kumaravadivelu (1994) purposes ten general principles that can be used as guidelines to be adopted or applied based on the need of learners as well as of specific situation. The principles are:

  • Maximize learning opportunities.
  • Facilitate negotiated interaction.
  • Minimize perceptual mismatches between teacher’s intention and learner’s interpretation.
  • Activate intuitive heuristics (for example, by providing enough textual data for learners to infer underlying grammatical rules).
  • Faster language awareness.
  • Contextualize linguistic input.
  • Integrate language skills.
  • Promote learner autonomy.
  • Raise cultural consciousness.
  • Ensure social relevance.

In developing learner-centered class, teaching should be much more than a performance by the teacher. Above all, a successful lesson makes the learners, rather than the teacher, the focus of the lesson. So an English language teacher must conceptualize the questions like – was the lesson content something students could relate to and that was relevant to their needs? Were the activities students took part in during the lesson sufficiently challenging to engage them but not so challenging that they became frustrated and lost interest? Were the students motivated during the lesson? Did the lesson provide opportunities for active participation by all the students in the class or was it dominated by one or two students who monopolized questions and discussion? These ideas will explore how one can move from a teacher centered approach to teaching to a learner-centered one, that is, on in which student’s needs, interest and preferences take priority in teaching (Richards and Farrell, 2011).

Features Focused on Learner-centeredness

An important skill in teaching is the ability to make learners the focus of teaching. This involves understanding learners’ needs and goals, communicating trust and respect to them, acknowledging diversity of needs and learning styles, giving feedback on their learning in ways that help develop their confidence and self-esteem and minimize loss of face, and using strategies that help develop an atmosphere of collaboration and mutual support among learners. Dornyei and Lamb (2003) mention that in some lessons, the focus is more on teacher performance than learner engagement, however, in learner-centered lessons, teachers achieve a more learner-focused approach to teaching, as is reflected in features mentioned below. These features show the focus of teaching on learner centered class.

  • the degree of engagement learners have with the lesson
  • the quantity of student participation and interaction that occurs.
  • the learning outcomes the lesson produces.
  • the ability to present subject matter from a learner’s perspective.
  • how well the lesson addresses learner’s needs.
  • how the teacher reshapes the lesson based on learner feedback.
  • how the teacher responds to learners’ difficulties.

Practical Benefits of Learner-centered Teaching

Undoubtedly, an English language class consists of many different kinds of learners – some with similar needs and goals and some with a great diversity of need. The nature of such class may be fairly homogeneous with students of a similar age, educational background, interests, goals and needs. In order to bring them in the mainstream of learning, learner-centered teaching becomes a tool of success. Benson (2001) argues that learner-centered teaching is practically more effective than other modes of teaching for several reasons:

  • It is sensitive to individual needs and preferences.
  • It encourages construction of knowledge and meaning.
  • It draws on and integrates language learning with students’ life experiences.
  • It generates more student participation and target language output.
  • It encourages authentic communication.
  • It breaks down barriers between in-class and out of class learning.
  • It opens up spaces for discussion of motivations, learning preferences, and styles.
  • It encourages students to take more personal responsibility for their learning.
  • It challenges the views that learning is equivalent to being taught.
  • It offers a wide range of preferences for particular kinds of classroom activities, styles of teaching, classroom arrangements, aspects of language and mode of learning.
  • It creates a community of learners by encouraging interaction within the class, helping them find learning partners and groups they are comfortable with, encouraging a sense of friendship among the students and to share interesting experiences to each other.

Challenges in Learner-centered Class

Keeping our students’ needs and interests at the forefront of our teaching is not always easy. Managing the processes and routines of teaching can sometimes distract us from the real point of teaching, which is to facilitate learning on the part or our students. Whenever possible, we should think through our lessons and the teaching activities we make use of from the point of view of our learners and use the focus points discussed above to help make our teaching more learners centered. According to Wright & Bailey (1999), some of the challenges faced by teachers in such classes can occur in:

  • the way in which teachers support and manage the processes of language learning.
  • the way in which teachers create opportunities to participate in the communicative and interactive uses of language.
  • the way in which teachers involve their learners in individual and group activities.
  • the way in which teacher use materials by all means to all the students of the class.
  • the way in which teachers address individual differences in needs and interests, background and cultural perspectives of the learners.
  • the way in which teachers focus individual learners in tests and assessments.
  • the way in which  teachers manage time, routine, course and institutional conditions.
  • the way in which learners participate in classroom discussion, learning and evaluation

Conclusion

An important goal in language teaching is to create opportunities for students to participate in authentic uses of language in order to facilitate their language learning. Learner-centeredness is an approach which emphasizes on creating opportunities and giving optimum time and space to the students to participate in authentic classroom activities. Similarly, learner-entered teaching refers to teaching that reflects learners’ individual differences in cognitive styles, motivation needs and interests. Teachers have sole authority in teacher-centered teaching however such authority is deliberatively handed over to the students in learner-centered teaching. Developing a learner-centered focus to our teaching involves drawing on students’ life experiences, creating opportunities for students to interact and co-operate, and to develop a sense of shared interests and concerns.  If we can engage our students in our classroom activities in real sense, we can ensure effective teaching and learning.

References

All Wright, D. & Bailey, K. M. (1991).Focus on the language classroom: An introduction to classroom research for language teacher, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Benson, P. (2001). Teaching and researching autonomy in language learning, London: Longman.

Durnyei, Z. & Lamb, T.E. (2003).Individualizing learning: organizing a flexible learning environment, Oxford: Cambridge University Press.

Jackson, A.L. (2012). The conversation class.English Teaching Forum, 50 (1), 29-31.

Kumaravadivelu, B. (1994). The post method condition: Emerging strategies for second/foreign language teaching. TESOL Quarterly, 28 (1), 27-48.

Richards, S.C. & Farrell, T.S. (2011).Practice teaching: A reflective approach,Cambridge:Cambridge University Press.

Guru-Prasad-Poudel

Guru Prasad Poudel
Department of English Education,
TribhuvanUniversity, Kirtipur.

Using a Portfolio for ELL/ELT

Aadesh Bhetwal

Portfolios are collections of learners’ work that demonstrates the learner’s progress and achievement in a program or course of study. A portfolio used for assessment purposes can include examples of learner’s work, assignments, projects, improvements, self-evaluations, reflections, journals and case studies, among others. Paulson, Paulson, and Meyer (1991) say that portfolio is ‘a purposeful collection of student’s work that exhibits the student’s effort, progress in one or more areas.’ They also stress that a portfolio provides a complex and comprehensive view of students’ participation in selecting contents, the criteria for selection, the criteria for judging merit, and evidence of students’ self-reflection.

There are different types of portfolios, such as assessment portfolios, showcase portfolios, and collections portfolios. And these portfolios are very useful teaching and learning tool in language learning classrooms. For instance, ‘assessment portfolios’ consist of items students choose to include according to certain assessment criteria. ‘Showcase portfolios’ contain students’ best pieces of work – their assignments, articles, journals, etc. Collections portfolios, often called working folders, are collections of all the pieces of work during a certain period of time.

Benefits of Using Portfolio

I have been managing portfolios of some subjects at my university for some years and my experience shows that having the portfolios has helped me understand the use of various language learning strategies. It has kept me motivated for further independent learning and has also encouraged me for collaborative learning. It has been very useful for me as it not only shows my learning process and progress, but also shows me the results of learning.

Here are some more benefits of using portfolios according to Shimo and Apple (2005):

  • Learners can reflect over their learning processes.
  • Portfolios make it possible to make a continuous assessment over a long time period.
  • Learners can make their original products and they can feel a sense of achievement more compared to traditional tests.
  • Learners can take control over their learning and feel more responsibility for it.
  • Learners can assess weaknesses and strengths, and progress in their ability, and (re-) set goals more effectively by looking over their work.

One of the main features of a portfolio is self-reflection, to which Schulman (1985) echoes that portfolio serves it the most significant purpose as scaffolding for reflective teacher learning. Similarly, Winzer (2002) asserts that portfolios create a context that contains multiple and diverse sources of information and perspectives in which students can examine, explore and construct meaning. He adds:
“One student chose the assignment in order to learn about the social and cultural biases that society may have toward people with disabilities. It was an opportunity to broaden my perspectives, and a chance to explore and gain a better understanding of disability. Finally, I believe that I will not be able to sincerely help any special needs children in my classroom without taking the time to study, research, and interview and open my awareness to the disabilities in society today.” (p. 4)

These findings show that portfolio is beneficial for the learning of students. It can cover all the aspects of languages such as the four language skills. For instance, one can collect and arrange written assignments in a chronological way, then self-evaluate and reflect on his/her improvement on writing skill. Similarly, a student can maintain a portfolio about different strategies he/she used over the time to develop speaking skills, and feel motivated seeing the progress made or understand the obstacles faced.
Few Challenges
When my teachers asked me to maintain portfolios for each subjects, initially I was very confused about what to keep in them and faced a lot of difficulties because I didn’t arrange and update my portfolios regularly. Hence, I want to share a few important questions which come with the use of portfolios – such as: What should be placed in the portfolio? How often should items be added to the portfolio? Who decides what goes into the portfolio? Who should be given responsibility for its safekeeping? What should be done with the portfolio at the end of the school year? In addition, a teacher has to decide if the assessment of portfolio will be graded as a part of the final examination and evaluation.

These are just a few of the “nuts and bolts” issues which surface while deciding to implement portfolio assessment in the classroom.

Students might take portfolios as an extra burden, and teachers might also feel the same way. Teachers have to teach and complete the course on time, check assignments, prepare and administer examinations, check and mark exam answer sheets – and portfolio might look like adding more to the work, demanding more time and effort. However, by implementing portfolio as a tool for continuous assessment and also a part of the final assessment, teachers practically reduce their work pressure and save time.

Portfolios do not have to be bulky, heavy and they certainly don’t have to be costly. For instance, a teacher can ask the students to write a short classroom reflection everyday and maintain a portfolio on a simple file. This can be done in pairs or groups as well which will lessen the ‘burden’ for both. The teacher can then check the portfolio every week or every month, and evaluate the students’ improvement in writing and give appropriate feedback.

For Further Reading

California Foreign Language Project http://www.stanford.edu/group/CFLP/research/portfolio/portfolio1.html
Kenji Nakamaya, www.paaljapan.org/resources/proceedings/PAAL9/pdf/Nakayam.pdf
Etsuko Shimo, Matthew Apple www.tht-japan.org/proceedings/2006/shimo77-80.pdf
Winzer, M. (2002). Portfolio Use in Undergraduate Special Education Introductory Offerings. International Journal of Special Education .
HYPERLINK “http://www.internationalsped.com/documents/171winzer.doc” t “_blank” http://www.internationalsped.com/documents/171winzer.doc


Aadesh Bhetwal
M.Ed. English Language Teaching
Kathmandu University, School of Education.

 

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