Research as Hegemony

Krishna Khatiwada

In this reflective article, I will be sharing my personal belief about why I think research as a subject and practice is hegemonic in nature. I will also talk about the issue of several students dropping out from universities because of the pressures of research work.

For a long time, I had planned to join M.Phil. in English Language Education program at Kathmandu University School of Education (KUSOED). Some of my fellow friends had already completed the program and were working as faculties in KU. Some of my friends were still struggling to complete their dissertations. They in a way inspired me to join KU for the program. However, the same friends, those who graduated and those who are still under the surveillance of dissertation committee, shared this bitter reality to me – “doing RESEARCH is pain in the neck”.

Due to unrelenting pressure to complete the research work on time, I have seen and heard many of my friends dropping out from the program. But I was determined to face this situation. I was committed to doing my best in all aspects of my M. Phil. course. Initially, things were quite manageable at KU, the classes and assignments went smoothly. I also learned about a few terminologies – the buzz words of research like dominance, emancipation, positivism, post-positivism, interpretive, critical, integralism and HEGEMONY.

In the class, we learnt that research means to search or re-search for new knowledge, to establish the new norms, values and meaning. From positivism (a rigid perspective) to post-positivism, from interpretivism to criticalism, we advocated multiple perspectives, realities, meanings, values and methodologies in the classroom. Meanwhile, the discussions I had with my friends (who graduated from KU’s M.Ed.) on ‘Research Methodologies in Social Sciences and Education’ were quite terrifying. Their experiences about the pressures of writing and defending the research proposal, working tirelessly for many months, reading literature, drafting the document, re-writing these and so on, were intimidating for me. These realities and terminologies got engraved in my mind and heart as a giant ghost, against which I found myself as a tiny dust, a novice learner, a crawler, a breast feeding child, a tyro.

On the first day of my research class, I was expecting the hope and aspirations of a new sun and a warm morning. A professor started his lecture and, to my surprise, wrapped it up within two sessions. To make the matter worse, his concept on research left my highly expectant mind with mixed feelings. We were trying to see the world through the lens of multiple realities, multiple perspectives, multiple meanings, multiple knowledge, multiple values and post-modern paradigm. We were triangulating the (data) realities, (methodologies) way to search the new knowledge and (theory) previously set up value to come to the real sense of qualitative strategies of inquiry. However, these two sessions of my professor turned back my expectations towards the 19th century’s positivist approach in real classroom praxis. The deep rooted concept of extreme positivism in the manner, delivery, discipline, and the way of commenting to novice learners like me, left a hideous mark on my mind, which I felt as the mark of HEGEMONY of research as a subject and praxis.

Hegemony, as stated by Fairclough (2010), is the power over society as a whole of one of the fundamental economically defined classes in alliance (as a bloc) with other social forces but it is never achieved more than partially and temporarily, as an ‘unstable equilibrium’ (p.61). Research in KU, with the references to above experiences of my friends and my own perception, positions itself defiantly and powerfully among other subjects creating an artificial identity. And hence I feel that research is hegemonic in nature. To put in other words, the group of research scholars, committee members, and as a whole, research as a subject in a real sense has more power, control or importance, which I think is overtly imposed over other subjects and to the students.

Due to this hegemonic nature of research as a subject to be studied and a praxis to be done in a controlled way, I hardly attempted to do my class presentation well, I hardly completed my proposal and other assignments and I hardly took part in classroom discussion as I did not want to make any mistakes in front the professors. I never made any comments and thus lost my confidence, and I accepted everything from my teachers and colleagues. The deep rooted terrifying picture of the giant known as research work scared me so much that I did not touch or turn the pages of Creswell, Cohen, Manion & Marrison and Denzin & Lincoln. That hegemonic stereotyping script made so worried till the day of examination.

We focus on qualitative strategies of inquiry (Creswell, 2011) to establish multiple realities and search for the multiple perspectives. But, why do we still go back to quantitative inquiry and positivists approach to deal in the classroom, establishing an overall dominance over all subjects? Are we still narrow-minded or do universities still prefer traditional approach? If it is not hegemony, why is research a problem for many students and why many students feel the brunt and drop out?

My reflection on the subject, I hope, will be an emollient to sooth and pacify my feelings.

REFERENCE
Fairclough, N. (2010). Critical discourse analysis: the critical study of language (2nd ed.). London: Longman.

krishna

Krishna Prasad Khatiwada
M. Phil. (ELE)
Kathmandu University
School of Education

Professor Stephen Stoynoff’s Keynote Speech: Classroom Assessment

Ganga Ram Gautam

stoynoff

Prof. Stoynoff in his keynote address during 19th NELTA International Conference held in Kathmandu on Feb 27, discussed his professional journey in the field of language assessment using a “trekking” metaphor as part of an anecdote from his Nepal visit long time ago.

The highlights of the message that he conveyed through the metaphor were:

a) a beginning is always exciting but not easy

b) we need to understand the challenges and put every effort to face them in order to get to the next level

c) we must understand the significance of our endeavor in the work that we do

d) we should not give up but try various alternatives so that we might find a better way for addressing the challenges and issues

Describing the various landscapes of language assessment in the last few decades, Prof. Stoynoff shared about two key orientations, namely, the psychometric perspectives and socio-cultural perspectives, which have influenced language assessment. Highlighting the key features of these perspectives, he also talked about the shifts that have taken place in the area of assessment along with the changes in the curriculum and materials in English language teaching and learning.

Drawing on the principles and practices of the socio-cultural perspective in language assessment, he elaborated alternative approaches to language assessment and how these approaches address the issue of ‘authenticity’ in language assessment. The key message that Prof. Stoynoff delivered during his presentation was that it is the teacher who is chiefly responsible for selecting the appropriate assessment and in many cases developing them, administering them properly, interpreting the results correctly and using results responsibly. He advised the teachers to be more attentive to the purposes and practices associated with assessment and their impact on students’ learning and their teaching. Thus, he highlighted the term “Assessment Literate” as the key that every teacher should be aware of.

As concluding remarks, Prof. Stoynoff said:

a) Set ambitious goals

b) Persist in important endeavors

c) Periodically gauge your progress and recognize changes in the professional landscape

d) Prepare for the challenges that are ahead

The presentation was both academic and practical and participants enjoyed it thoroughly. The uptake of the presentation was that the best way to keep abreast with the new trends and development in the professional field that one is engaged is through continuous professional development.

Ganga Ram Gautam
Reader in English Education,
Mahendra Ratna Campus, Tahachal, Tribhuvan University
Executive Member (Immediate Past President), Nepal English Language Teachers’ Association (NELTA)

What does ‘authentic’ assessment mean?

Mabindra Regmi

morrow

“What does ‘authentic’ assessment mean? How do we do it?” A Critique on 19th NELTA Conference Plenary by Professor Keith Morrow, UK

Authenticity in Context

Man: Mary, am I a man?
Woman: Yes, John. You are a man, and I am a woman.

Dr. Keith Morrow started the plenary session at Hetauda on 3rd March, 2014 with this excerpt from an English textbook used in England over four decades ago. It is interesting to note that the textbook writers and language policy makers bordered absurdity in the name of imparting the right content to the students. Dr. Morrow shared the same line of thought and discussed with the audience regarding how the text in English textbooks have steadily gravitated towards authenticity. And how all this has resulted in a testing system that is more authentic in nature.

But what is authenticity? Dr. Morrow was of the notion that a text that mirrored the context of a society as exactly as possible could be considered more authentic. This resulted in an inextricable correlation between the text and the context of the learner while defining authenticity. Probably that was the reason why the speaker delivered the whole session on authenticity along the thread of context of the learner. He exemplified his belief by giving an example of how an authentic piece of language text like his personal tax return paper, might prove to be far from authentic in a different context, say Nepal. This spatial, and most likely temporal, property of language discourse necessitated context of the learner to be addressed while designing both textbooks and assessments for language learners.

Dr. Morrow thus added the aspect of context while designing a test in addition to the two important traditional criteria: validity and reliability. He was of the opinion that there was a very direct and strong link between validity of a test and the context. However, the relationship between reliability of a test and the context could be rocky at the best. By making the test authentic in accordance to the context of the learner, the validity is confirmed as the test measures exactly what it intends to measure. But if you consider the reliability of the test, the same learner taking the same test at two different times might not result in the same performance level. Now this creates a dilemma – should we contextualise the testing material so it is more valid to the learner, or should we refrain from doing so, and confirm to the reliability criterion that is so essential in testing?

Although the session did not offer a viable solution for the ensuing dilemma, it did focus on the necessity of the testing material to be more authentic in nature. Authenticity in testing not only brings the learner closer to the language, but also creates a more meaningful learning. However, since it is the learner who is indulged in the language pedagogy, it is imperative to integrate the context of the learner to make the testing more authentic.

Mabindra Regmi
M.Phil. English Language Education
Kathmandu University
Email: mabindra@gmail.com

Before the Sun Rises: A Reflection on a Recent Choutari Meeting

Shyam Sharma and Uttam Gaulee

Outside, the pile of snow was thicker than vehicles parked on the street. From frozen New York joined Shyam Sharma.

Uttam Gaulee was in warm Florida (as far away from Shyam’s place as Colombo is from Kathmandu), at 10.30pm, still in my University of Florida office.

In Kathmandu’s King’s College in Babarmahal had gathered some of Nepal’s brightest ELT scholars– which we are not exaggerating. It was early morning there, seemingly cold, and some colleagues were slightly late from trying to juggle personal and professional responsibilities (as well as beat Kathmandu’s traffic).

Present in the virtual shade of the Choutari tree were Praveen Yadav, Umes Shrestha, UshakiranWagle, Santona Neupane, Suman Laudari, and Jeevan Karki from Nepal; Uttam and Shyam joined from the US.

choutari-meeting-1

Technological Demo

This was a meeting among Choutari editors, originally supposed to be a “training” where Shyam was going to walk us through the kinks of technology before discussing how to translate technological affordances into professional purposes. The plan was to ensure that editors are proficient in the use of WordPress blog platform and functionalities: how to add new posts, save drafts, schedule for certain dates, order by time stamps, create table of content, hyperlink using part of preview link, integrate images and other media, learn how to tag and categorize posts, and so on. Shyam did start by emphasizing that the technology is largely a tool that we need to learn how to use with command (meaning everyone must learn how to post/schedule, edit, link, organize, and manage posts and pages on the blog) but the focus must be on how to achieve the professional objectives that the tools are used for achieving. We used the metaphor of hasiya, kodalo, and bancharo and how we keep them sharp and ready but don’t look at them as the focus of our harvest seasons.

However, within a few minutes of trying to walk the rest of the group through the dashboard of the WordPress blog, using Google Hangout’s Screen Share functionality, he realized that the participants already knew the basic applications and functions–or at least they could teach each other basic features and more quickly and easily. In fact, more people than we knew prior to the meeting turned out to have their own blogs and have mastered fairly advanced functions. Going into details of advanced functions like managing widgets, plugins, theme and customization, exporting content, and managing pages could make the meeting more boring than productive; and more advanced functions should also come from gradual development of expertise. Some roles such as approving comments can be assigned to certain editors because they need some attention and understanding (such as spotting and excluding spams; Uttam and Praveen seem to be doing this now, and that looks like a good plan).

So, the conversation naturally and quickly moved on to the agenda of maintaining quality, promoting collaboration and efficiency, and modeling for as well as engaging the community.

Maintaining Quality: Making Review Process Effective and Efficient

We started this segment by summarizing the notes that were shared with the group prior to the meeting. It is worth highlighting that editors fully familiarize themselves with the rules provided to writers; these rules are outlined and even demonstrated under the section “Join the Conversation.” We also later discussed the overarching objectives of the forum spelled out at the top of the Team Charter. The specific best practices and general mission statements are worth viewing as giving us a sense of direction with regard to quality of the publication and engagement of the community. Below is a rundown of what we discussed in terms of making the objective of maintaining quality/standard efficient from a collaborative perspective. Please don’t read these as instructions; they were discussed as suggestions for effectiveness and efficiency. Everyone agreed that a more efficient process for collaboration is needed.

  1. Submission: All submissions must be made to the official email, neltachoutari@gmail.com in order to avoid various types of possible confusions and inefficiencies. First, promote the “Join the Conversation” section; when any authors submit their drafts to individual editors, they should request the writer to resubmit it to the official email address (create a template email if necessary); or just forward the email to the official email, copying the author. Even this much will make a huge difference in terms of streamlining the review process.
  1. Reception & Assignment: The lead editor of the next month should respond to all submissions made between, say, 16th of the previous month to the 15th of the current month. Lead editors can choose to respond from the official email if they prefer; otherwise, lead editors can respond to writers of each submission during the time window and copy one reviewer (and if necessary one mentor), asking everyone to complete the review process and submit the article by, say, the 24th of the month before publication. If a lead editor can distribute the burden of review among different editors/reviewers, starting with his/her subeditor(s), this will allow the lead editor to be more creative, to try to cover more base, to run the conversation, and to better maintain the overall quality. To avoid confusion, editor/reviewers not assigned to work on any draft should leave it to the assigned editors/reviewers. We also discussed the driving principle that “collaboration” and “taking turns” are two very different things, and what we need is the first!
  1. Collaborative Review: Using Google Doc as a general rule can make a positive difference, though it may be necessary to give individual writers the choice of opting out and using email with his/her reviewer (and mentor if any). Lead editor can create a new Google Doc each within the official account, giving edit access to the writer (as well as editor/reviewer and any mentor). Again, while some writers may not be able to use Google Doc (due to technological limitations of skill, tools, internet, anxiety, etc), even those who are able to do so will significantly eliminate the need for email- or phone- based updates among the writer, reviewer, and coordinating editor. Just the lead editor being able to see where the review process for some of the submissions can save a lot of time and hassle. Finally, some writers may not want the review process to be open to all editors, but the solution to this is to make the review process more professional (and respectful of authors) rather than relapsing into privacy–because the idea of privacy among editors doesn’t make sense anyway. A standardized folder and file naming convention should be developed through a Facebook Group conversation.
  1. Assessment of Quality: Lead editors should sort submissions into three or four groups, such as: 1) ready for publication with minor edits, 2) worth reviewing and publishing next month, 3) worth assigning a mentor as well as reviewer, and 4) impossible to improve. While the general principle of a community like this should be “reform not reject,” there may be some cases of #4, such as plagiarized or already published content, not at all related to ELT, etc. Drafts in category #1 can be managed by lead editors themselves (no need to assign a reviewer); drafts in category #2 would be the majority; drafts in category #3 should be directed to the coordinator of of the Choutari Mentoring Project, Uttam Gaulee, or at least copied/coordinated. The idea here is that even though a blog should not be about rejecting or accepting articles like conventional journals, shifting the focus from personal to collaborative/communitarian is in everyone’s benefit. We also briefly touched upon the following issues as a yardstick for assessing how to approach different types of drafts/submissions:
  1. Relevance and Significance: The draft is not relevant to ELT, doesn’t situate or even relate the main idea to ELT or to education at large in a significant way. Or, the draft doesn’t have a significant, interesting, or engaging point from the perspective of our readers–because the subject is outdated, the topic too broad/vague, the argument diluted, etc.
  2. Organization and Connection: The draft doesn’t start with an engaging and clear introduction that provides a sense of direction, a sense of scope, and a sense of organization to the readers–and there doesn’t seem to be an easy fix, such as moving the key idea to the beginning and adding transition sentences for better flow between sections that are in themselves focused on the main idea.
  3. Focus and Strength of Main Idea: The draft has long a long background and/or includes barely relevant paragraphs/sections that can’t just be deleted (because the rest of the draft would be insufficient or affected by the removal of parts), or the overall writing doesn’t develop a main idea with a focus and a perspective.
  4. Originality and Use of Sources: The author uses external sources without proper/effective citations, seems to use external sources without citation but it is hard to determine by simply Googling chunks of text, or cites correctly but the citations are not integrated and used effectively alongside his/her own ideas–for instance, there are large chunks of citations that are not yet framed within the writer’s own ideas.
  5. Language and Style: The writing is highly formal, academic, or abstract and therefore in need of “translation” to make it more accessible to the blog’s readers–or it is extreme on any other end, such as too informal, too gimmicky, etc.

Fast Tracking Review: Taking drastic but intellectually sensitive approach as editors: especially when there is little time and not enough material, blog coordinator and/or editors/reviewers may have to take a drastic approach. But the authors must always be given the opportunity to review and approve any and all changes/edits made to their work. Here are some time-tested strategies that may be handy.

  1. Do/Show: cut/paste the main idea if it comes late in the draft to the beginning, add a sentence or two in the beginning (esp. within the first two paragraphs) in order to provide context and/or overview of the post, foreground or add topic sentences within the body paragraphs;
  2. Tell Directly: highlight and directly tell the author to delete any sections that are irrelevant or go too far in one direction, ask the author to condense an elaborate section into a certain proportion such as two-third or one-fourth, etc, and
  3. Ask Bold Questions: ask the author if any section can be deleted, condensed, or elaborated as necessary.

choutari-meeting-2

Team Spirit: Team spirit is very important. Both facilitators highly emphasized that Choutari is a forum with tremendous value and impact in the world of ELT and that it also has huge potentials for the editors’ professional growth; but both the impact on the profession and the person heavily depends on maintaining a team spirit, keeping one another inspired and energized, cultivating a positive attitude, going for the positive, inspiring the community, giving the best back. And, for a community that depends on virtual communication, all the above heavily depend on regular communication among the team as well as strong, positive messaging from the team to the community.

Reflective Editorship: We also touched upon the idea of “reflective editorship,” which means that if lead editors start, carry out, and end their coordination by engaging the rest of the team in an ongoing conversation, assessment, and reflection, there will be continued learning and inspiration for all involved. No one comes to Choutari already knowing what exactly to do; if we do, we would still be quickly outdated! The community continues to develop new ideas, columns, strategies, etc; and this starts by building one set of guidelines and trying to achieve the shared objectives, then gradually updating and improving the strategies through ongoing conversation and reflection. The Team Charter is a starting point, not a stone tablet with rules.

As we were engrossed in the conversation, paratha arrived. Amid the rustle of unwrapping packages and as our colleagues back home served themselves the mouth-watering breakfast, and with our mouths watering from two ends of a country on the other side of the world, we wrapped up the conversation. Very deep intellectual discussions branching out from technological topics, laughter and giggles, multi-tasking, using alternative channels when the lights went out, bantering about the men in Kathmandu forgetting to turn the camera to the chelis . . . made the meeting both inspiring and memorable.

The Choutari brings people together, people who are on their way to their own professional destinations (or rather journeys), people who care enough to stop by, to share their ideas– in spite of the crazy busy lives they live, in spite of the seven seas separating them. The virtual Choutari has a lot in common with the physical. This too is on the way to somewhere, as the physical choutaris usually are. This too gets its meaning when people stop and talk, rest and energize themselves. The burdens we carry may have become abstract–for as teachers, scholars, we transport ideas on our backs–the journey we make may be to places around the world, and the travelers we meet may be citizens of the whole world. But we still share the same concern to keep our community informed, our bonds strengthened.

It was 2.30am by the time we finally left the Google Hangout. The snow was still piling up in New York, Uttam had to go home by the last university escort at 3 am, and colleagues in Kathmandu had half the day left and work to be done.

Photos (above): Jeevan Karki

shyam

Dr. Shyam Sharma is an assistant professor of Writing and Rhetoric at State University of New York, Stony Brook University. His professional interests include composition (writing and rhetoric) pedagogy and theory, writing in the academic disciplines and professions, multilingual and multimodal writing and scholarship, rhetorical traditions, and research and program development for professional development of university students.

 

Uttam Gaulee is a doctoral student in Higher Education Administration and Policy program at the Department of Human Development and Organizational Studies in Education at the University of Florida. After working as an English language teacher at Tribhuvan University colleges in Nepal, he joined the University of Pittsburgh as a Fulbright scholar, before joining UF. He is Associate Director of Community College Futures Assembly at the Institute of Higher Education and also serves as Graduate Affairs Chair of Graduate Students Council at UF. Uttam is leading the new Choutari Mentorship Program.

Using Corpora in English Language Teaching

Hima Rawal

English language teachers throughout the world are always in search of a theory or method of language teaching that helps them resolve all the language teaching problems they face. However, there has never been such a method which can do so because of the varied nature of language teaching situations, unavailability of resources, issues about the relevance and applicability of a method in all contexts. Experts in the ELT field try to come up with some tools that can enhance language teaching to some extent. Corpus based language teaching is one of those convenient ways language teachers have been using because this presents an opportunity to teach authentic and contextualized language usage as a readymade tool. In this post, I present a brief introduction to some of the most prevalent corpora in the field of ELT.

Corpus is a collection of natural data from several different fields from which we can draw the materials for teaching, conducting research and so on. It is “a large, principled collection of naturally occurring texts (written or spoken) stored electronically” Reppen (2010, p. 2). Naturally occurring text means language from “actual language situations, such as friends chatting, meeting, letters, classroom assignments, and books, rather than from surveys, questionnaires, or just made-up language’ (p. 2). It includes both qualitative and quantitative data to draw from.

The most widely used corpus is COCA (Corpus of Contemporary American English). It is an online and searchable corpus consisting of 450+ million American English words and is arranged by different fields and registers. We can search the words from different disciplines, compare words, and find out collocations. The words can be searched in terms of time frame, frequency, relevance, alphabetic order and so on. It can be accessed through this link click and also click here.

Let’s look at some of the examples of how we could use COCA. Once we enter the site, we can see four options of display>>list>>chart>> KWIC (Key Work in Context), and>> compare.

If we choose the list option, type the word we are looking for (e.g. proficiency) and it will show us all the contexts in which the word has been found. The contexts will be exhibited from five different sections: spoken, magazine, fiction, newspaper, and academic language. Since the corpus will show thousands of examples of the word in all the contexts in which it appears, we can limit our search by selecting a specific time frame or a specific area, for example, how the word has been used in the academic field between 2005 and 2009. We can also find out the word with which it collocates the most by finding the words that mostly precede and/or follow it.

If we choose the option ‘compare’ and type two words that we want to compare (e.g. proficiency and achievement), the corpus will exhibit both the words appearing in different contexts from which we can draw a conclusion. Likewise, if we search a word (e. g. validity) through KWIC, we can see the contexts in which it appears (e.g. construct validity, discriminant validity, face validity, predictive validity, convergent validity, concurrent validity, diagnostic validity, consequential validity and so on). These combinations will appear in and/or across sentences.

Including corpus data in textbooks is relatively a new concept; however, we are familiar with the concept in the form of corpus-based ESL and EFL dictionaries like Cambridge Dictionary of American English, Longman’s Dictionary of Contemporary English, Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary, etc. Examples of corpus based textbooks are Basic Vocabulary in Use by McCarthy and O’Dell (2010) and Touchstone by McCarthy, McCarten and Sandiford (2004). Basically, corpora provide ready resources for teachers. They are natural and authentic. They can be used for language learning, teaching and testing purposes. They can also be used for research purposes. Language textbook writers can use the data from corpora to include the teaching materials in the textbooks.

The word lists from the corpora can serve different functions: finding words in terms of frequency; finding content vs function words; finding related word forms (abandoned, abandonment); examining the role of prefixes and suffixes, finding the collocation of words (Reppen, 2010, p. 8) and so on. Some words can have different grammatical roles. The corpora provide us with information about those grammatical roles, the parts of speech and grammatical categories of the words as well. We can also find KWIC (key word in context) through which we get the information about the context in which a particular word is used.

One of the widely used applications of a corpus is to teach academic vocabulary to learners of English as a second or a foreign language. The learners in a particular field need to be familiar with the highly frequent academic words in their field. Teachers can use corpus such as Coxhead’s (2000) Academic Word List (AWL). It is a compilation of academic words consisting of 3.3 million words representing 570 word families from different genres. Within this corpus, we can search through different subcorpora since the collection is from different academic disciplines. By doing so, one can find out the most frequent academic words used in a particular genre and teach them to the learners to equip them to raise their level of comprehension and production in the respective genre. For example, one of the most frequent academic words found in the list is ‘analyse’ and this word appears along with all the related words such as “analysed, analyser, analysers, analyses, analyzing, analysis, analyst, analysts, analytic, analytical, analytically, analyzed.”

However, the problem with AWL is that it just provides the list of frequent words in an academic field and not the context in which they appear. Similarly, it is self-evident that learning a language also includes formulaic expressions to a great extent. On the basis of corpus research, Martinez and Schmitt (2012) have produced a PHRASal Expressions List (PHRASE List), which consists of 505 most frequently used phrasal expressions functioning as formulaic language. If teachers could select from and teach the expressions in the list, it can help English language learners comprehend naturally occurring conversations and texts.

Another very useful corpus site is Michigan Corpus Linguistics which links the users to different corpora and can be accessed through www.elicorpora.info. Two of the valuable corpus sites it links the users to are MICASE (Michigan Corpus of Academic Spoken English) and MICUSP (Michigan Corpus of Upper Level Student Papers). MICASE is a free and searchable corpus site which is very helpful for teaching and carrying out research on academic spoken language. MICUSP is a site where we can find papers from different disciplines. We can search the papers focusing on different genres, different types of writing (e.g. argumentative, creative writing, critique/evaluation, proposal, reports, research paper, response paper) or even different parts of writing (e.g. abstract, introduction, literature review, methodology, conclusion, citation, etc). Along with these two sites, Michigan Corpus Linguistics also includes a corpus of conference presentations.

Similarly, Time Corpus (corpus.byu.edu/time/) is another useful site which is the online corpus of Time Magazine and helps us see how language changes over time. There are three other very useful and user-friendly corpus based concordancing programs: AntConc, MonoConc, and Wordsmith. These programs help us find word frequency lists, concordances, key words and so on. AntConc(www.antlab.sci.waseda.ac.jp/software.html) and Wordsmith (www.lexically.net/wordsmith/) are free programs while MonoConc (www.athelstan.com/mono.html) is an affordable one.

The use from the websites in most of the corpora is free. The teachers can use them for: selecting and teaching academic words frequently found in authentic use in both written and spoken modes; using the contexts to help learners induce the real application of the English language. Corpora like MICUSP also enhance teacher professional development by providing teachers with the collection of conference presentation samples and valuable guidelines to develop different forms of writing. The data in the corpus can be utilized in devising research tools as well. Therefore, I suggest that English language teachers, textbook writers and researchers use some of these corpus sites, play with them and invest some time to see what small changes can be brought.

References

Coxhead, A. (2000). A new academic word list. TESOL Quarterly, 34, 213-238.
Martinez, R. and Schmitt, N. (2012). A phrasal expressions list. Applied Linguistics, 33(3), 299-320.
Reppen, R. (2010). Using corpora in the language classroom. Cambridge: CUP.

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11Hima Rawal is currently a Fulbright Scholar doing her masters in TESOL at Michigan State University, Michigan, USA. She is a lecturer at the Department of English Education, Central Campus, T.U. She is a life member of NELTA and editor of the Journal of NELTA.

Storytelling for Learning Language with Fun

Santona Neupane

As teachers, we often ask ourselves, “How can we develop creative thinking of our students? How can we ensure that our lessons are fun making and useful for them?” We, the teachers today always seek to find new ways to help the learners unleash their creativity. In this post, I share with you some thoughts about how we can use storytelling to help our students learn language in effective and enjoyable ways.

When I was a young, my sister used to fascinate me and the rest of the family because she had a very captivating way of unfolding events that kept the audience glued to their seats. I remember getting so engrossed in the story that I fell off the stool. Stories, and creative and effective expression still fascinate me, because stories not only made my childhood fun but they also greatly enhanced my language development. As the old Nepali saying goes, those who can tell good stories are worth adorning with garlands of flowers and . Hearing a story is heartwarming and a storyteller can make the world come alive for the listener. The power of storytelling is attested by sayings like this in many cultures. And as language teachers, we all know that power. When telling stories, speakers develop language skills, as well as build confidence for communicating their ideas.

Storytelling in the Context of Teaching/Learning Language

In the context of learning language, storytelling allows learners to learn and express new ideas, use new vocabulary and grammatical structures, and put such language skills to use within the broader context of events and ideas in the story. Storytelling gives learners the opportunity to use language in a holistic way.

Highlighting how the use of story in language classroom is a powerful tool in the language learning process, Jones (2012) argues that “Once learners get into conversational storytelling, it is an enjoyable experience for both them and the teacher.” There’s no doubt that stories can be fun and also there is more to storytelling than it meets the eye. One has to ensure successful learning of language as well. According to Morgan & Rinvoulcri (2003), successful second language learning is “far more a matter of unconscious acquisition than of conscious, systematic study.” The stories could be such method of unconscious input that can ensure creative output. Stories unconsciously draw a learner towards them. “They capture and hold the imagination of learners; they create empathy as children identify with characters and situations in the stories; they present language in authentic contexts, thus promoting both grammatical and vocabulary development; they facilitate acquisition through multiple repetition (both of the language in the story, and as the story is told over and again)” (Maley, 2008, p. 4).

Hence, storytelling can be a powerful tool for teaching language. Stories also help students to be expressive, imaginative and capable of using language naturally in real context. Telling stories is a natural way of engaging students to communicate complex ideas. Stories when used in classroom help students practice communication and expression. If we as a teacher can help students love stories, we will pave way for them to be extensive readers in the future.

It is worth noting at this point that storytelling is more than just reading aloud. Actually it is NOT reading out loud. When a story is told live, the teller can engage listeners and can create an intimate bond through his/her voice and eye contact. Another obvious benefit of storytelling over reading aloud is improvisation through the use of mimes, gestures and body language.

What Type of Stories?

It  is not enough for us as a language teacher to go to a class with any story. If you plan to tell a story to a class full of eager minds, there are two questions to consider first.

Is this the story I enjoy telling?

Is this the story my students would find entertaining or thought provoking?

The stories that you choose to present in the class should touch you and your students should be able to relate to it the way you relate to it. Your reaction to the story and your enthusiasm can really ignite a desire in your students to be better recipient and eager participants. Choosing a good story is a crucial part of storytelling. Don’t tell a story just for the sake of storytelling. Let the story be a part of you. Know your students well and choose a story that might easily be their story.

For my English lesson, one day, I chose a fairly easy story about a tortoise, having a bad day, decides to run away from home. I planned my lesson around it and decided to use this story in two different levels: one primary and another secondary. I chose grade 5 in the primary level and grade 10 in the secondary level. I told the same story to the classes, improvising and detailing the story as per their level. After an initial round of storytelling, I got the students talking about their feelings. I asked them if they could relate to the  character and if they have ever in their life felt like running away. All the students responded with “Yes”. When I asked them to write down a similar story, I saw them eagerly opening their notebooks and writing energetically. In the story, the main character returns home after learning the value of his family and friends. The story not only helped them in their language learning process, it also helped them to meditate on their lives by relating themselves to.

Stories are everywhere; in fact stories are our way of life. “Stories are central to what it means to be human. The human mind seems to be hardwired for the creation and reception of narratives. It is even true to say that we are the stories that make us up: stories we have heard, we have told, we enact daily” (Maley, 2008, p.4). There are lots of sources of story. We can choose our stories from fairy tales, traditional folklores, culture, proverbs, pictures, newspaper clippings, films, personal anecdotes, rumors, imagination etc.

Who can Benefit?

As a teacher of language, I have found storytelling very helpful. However we should not just limit its use in language classroom. Stories can be used in a math, science and social studies classes as well. Stories are not limited to kindergarten only but can be useful for secondary classes as well. Stories can be told to any level of learner. Beginners can benefit through it and it will aid their literacy and language learning. Even advanced learners are benefited through storytelling; they can refine their already learnt language skills and polish their ideas. Stories give them opportunity to be creative with what they have already learnt.

Classroom Activities

Storytelling is an effective alternative to traditional language teaching activities. There are a lot of ways through which we can use storytelling in our classroom. As stated by Morgan & Rinvoulcri (2003), storytelling activities range from introspective to interactive, beginner to advance, written to oral, individual to group. Stories can be planned and delivered in such a way that it achieves its objectives. If our objective is to help students with grammar, then we can choose a story with recursive pattern of words and phrases. Our telling can give them exposure to the target language. Apart from grammar, we can focus on vocabulary, intonations and phonetics to help them acquire English language easily and successfully.

Choosing a good story is a crucial part of storytelling. The main part is storytelling itself. Your relation and attitude towards the story matters a lot. Once the story has been delivered you need to plan various activities to help the students contemplate the impact. Group discussion based on various probing question can help the students relate to the story. You can prepare the questions beforehand and have the students talk about it with each other. The questions can range from their reaction to various elements or aspect of the story. If your students are advanced learner you can have them discuss the literary aspect of the story. Have the students paraphrase the story individually and they can even write a reflection on it. Another activity would be to write a similar story on a totally new context.

Dramatizing the story is another method of exploiting stories. Either you dramatize the storytelling itself or have your students retell it in a form of drama. Role playing and role taking helps the students with revision and in doing so they get familiarized with the grammatical, semantic, structural aspect thus unconsciously learning language. Retelling a story is fun and enjoyable. Getting the students to narrate their story in the class often creates a receptive environment in the classroom where more than one student will be willing to share similar experience. Tannen (1984) has stated that one person’s narrative may often be taken up by one or more of the listeners who will add similar narratives of their own to create what she refers to as  a “story chain”.

Apart from storytelling, creating similar stories through parallel writing helps them a lot. Get the students create a story with the help of theme words either individually or in a group. Instead of the teacher telling the story, students can also do the telling. This will help in a successful two way communication in a language classroom while giving an opportunity to the teacher to evaluate the learner.

Using pictures and shapes, together the teachers and students can create a new story to tell. Sometimes we can tell an incomplete story and have the students complete it and tell it. Taking an event from a newspaper clipping and telling it in a form of story can also help the students.

Conclusion

Storytelling, which is an integral part of human life, can be vital in language teaching. Basing the language lessons on stories have creative impact on the students. If we cultivate a love of stories in our students through storytelling, we can help them learn without giving them the monotonous drill and bland role play. Stories add a humanistic element in teaching making it quite effective. Various classroom activities based on stories not just make your lesson comprehensible and useful, it also adds fun to your teaching.

References

Jones, R. (2012). Creating a storytelling classroom for a storytelling world. English Teaching Forum, 2-9.

Maley, A. (n.d.). From story literacy to reading literacy. Literacy in the language classroom, 4-7.

Morgan, J. & Rinvoulcri, M. (2004). Once upon a time: Using stories in language classroom. Cambridge: CUP.

Tannen, D. (1984). Conversational Style: Analyzing talk among friends. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Wright, A. (n.d.). Creating stories. Literacy in the language classroom, 23-34.

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Santona Neupane is a scholar pursuing her M. Ed. in ELT at Kathmandu University, School of Education. She is an English teacher in a private school in Kathmandu. She has recently joined the editorial team of Choutari.

Need of Evolution: Continuing the Discourse-to-Practice for Local ELT Practices in Nepal

Pramod Kumar Sah

In countries where English is used as a second or a foreign language, teachers have already started grounding their ELT practices on their locally available resources as well as locally viable methods and approaches of teaching English as a lingua franca language. In Nepal, where English is used as a foreign language, it is evidently urgent that we develop our own ELT practices. In a post written last month’s issue In their highly thought-provoking essay, “Shifting Focus: Building ELT Practices and Scholarship from the Ground Up”  Prem Phyak, Bal Krishna Sharma and Shyam Sharma have presented a broad and powerful proposal for a reinvention of Nepalese ELT from the ground up. This blog entry takes Phyak, Sharma, and Sharma’s ideas one step further by situating them in the context of classroom, textbooks, and such other specifics of ELT practice in Nepal today.

Methodology: Prescription or Formation?

Allow me to first briefly describe my stance on ELT/EFL/ TESOL methodology in Nepalese context today. As Phyak, Sharma and Sharma have indicated in their recent article, I strongly believe that there is an urgent need of realizing own potential in language teaching, rather than seeking for solutions to the different classroom problems from in the ideas and experiences from contexts unlike our own. In this post, I intend to add that the “formation” of ELT methods and resources from the ground up may never happen unless our teachers, as the ultimate practitioners, do not see how they can practically do so. I would like to add some more specifics ways to achieve the goal to the many concrete examples and practical suggestions that the authors have provided in their post.

Since the advent of language learning as an academic discipline, there have been gradual shifts in language teaching methodology from Grammar Translation, to Audiolingualism, and those applied in more recent and well known Communicative Language Teaching. However, ELT practitioners have put forward an array of opinions, arguments and concerns over the issue that which of the suggested methodologies works best in language teaching. But, a variety of factors, such as official language policies, the role of L2 in a distinct speech community, learners’ need and their linguistic background, cultural and economical state of the institutions, teachers’ background, students’ previous linguistic competence, etc. affect the selection of methodology – this is why a single methodology was not effective enough to quench the thirst of language learning of all the time and circumstances.

For me, the most relevant experience is that a method should no longer be a prescription made from a linguist; rather it should be a pattern of activities made by a distinct language teacher accounting for his/her classroom scenario. Moreover, all the methods are best for their corresponding situations, as Prabhu (1990, p.161) states ‘…..different methods are best for different teaching contexts; that all methods are partially true or valid; and that the notion of good and bad methods is itself misguided’. In the meantime, it is very significant for a language teacher to remain aware  of scientific principles of language learning or acquisition, they are more importantly free to make their own personal methodology based on their distinct context, which Prabhu (1990) calls as teachers’ ‘sense of plausibility’. It is also worth suggesting that a language teacher needs to choose various activities or techniques from a certain method, not because of the faith in the underlying method but because that is suitable in their own unique contexts.

Thus, I assume, it’s high time we should start framing our own method that can best fit in our unique classroom rather than following sets of prescriptions.

Need of Teachers’ Authority for Syllabus Design

The reason I focus on teacher-driven syllabus is again based on so-called ‘teacher sense of plausibility’. I have been motivated to develop my own personal teaching methodology for my unique class, that requires me to set my own syllabus rather than following syllabus set somewhere else. Put it other way, considering learners’ need, cultural background, age group, etc., teaches should be authorized to frame his syllabus against marketed textbooks. Furthermore, prescription of a methodology, syllabus, course, materials, activities, techniques, and an assessment procedure does not support the views, such as every class is unique. The teachers should be authorized to make decision on aforementioned aspects of teaching.

A Dark Practice and Ways out

There are a few dark practices in Nepalese ELT that seem to be in high need of evolution, out of which  Teaching a subject vs. language skills is one.

Teaching English is merely a subject to pass in the examination in our concern, rather than developing our students’ language skills. It might be my overgeneralization but this as a consequence of my teaching experience and observation in some leading educational establishments in Nepal. We rely on ‘a’ textbook and we teach them page-by-page and finally, test them if they have comprehended what mentioned in the textbook. But, in fact it works for no good. Using textbooks is necessary, but what seems irrelevant is just to interpret what are printed on textbook pages. The situation not only exists in school teaching but has been the same in university level; for example, the General English for B. Ed. under Tribhuvan University has recommended three textbooks; (a) New Generation in English, that is a collection of exciting and helpful reading texts including some literary pieces written in Nepali contexts- but, what we do is to render the meaning of the texts in Nepali with near comprehension (that helps for nothing) rather than getting out students to read them extensively to develop reading skills and intensively to do the tasks set; (b) Exploring Grammar in context, indeed a good textbook that is based on Hallidayan approach and contains grammar for written and spoken discourse – in this concern as well, we just try to teach them rules of grammar, practice only the exercises and prepare them for examination instead of having them explore meaning of the grammatical items for natural communication; and (c) Academic vocabulary, at this point, we just teach them the meaning of words in isolation and the students hardly keep those in their head – the best thing we can do is to teach them ‘lexical chunks’ in contexts with the help of ‘corpus’ grounding our teaching on Michel Lewis ‘Lexical Approach’, so the students will be able to make use of those vocabulary in their real academic writing. Additionally, this gap is the consequence of our examination system, especially question pattern that contains questions from the textbook exercises itself without a word alteration, normally.  The textbooks are to be used as reference, rather than a subject to have students’ mastery over. Teaching English means teaching language skills that help students expose themselves in English speech community. Moreover, as Phyak, Sharma and Sharma show, there is an urgent need to realize our own potential and bring our local resources to support our students develop their language skills rather than grounding our teaching on mere textbooks.

Making Our Own Ground

Firstly, as Phyak, Sharma and Sharma emphasize, our focus has to be on practice instead of discussing the problems; teaches should build confidence in themselves and use approaches and resources that are readily available to them.

Secondly, where there are potential teachers equipped with the knowledge of different paradigms in our society, we should no longer be reading literature and theory developed in different contexts somewhere else in the world with an aim of implementing those theories and methods in our classrooms—even though ideas from anywhere are good for expanding our knowledge. Instead, we must frame a plot of our own stories, to shape our own educational future.

Thirdly, to develop and implement any approaches, methods, and syllabus, we need to figure out what we can do even within the material and technological limitations in our classroom. Thus, instead of being demotivated, we can attempt to let the things go with what available to us in a best way. In Phyak, Sharma and Sharma’s words, we have to shift our belief from what we do not have to what we can do well and with what we do have.

Conclusion

To say in a nutshell, since English is no longer the only language of English, we have freedom to teach and learn it in ways that fit our needs and interests, and it is high time we stopped searching for methods originated in some other situations. It is time that we explore and understand our own teaching scenarios in order to form whatever methods and whatever blends of methods we find good for us. For this to happen, it is necessary to authorize our teachers and allow them to develop their own syllabi and their own materials, however impossible or difficult it may seem at first. Without more independence for our teachers, it may never be easier for teachers to teach language skills, instead of textbooks. And if we are to move beyond complaining about what we do not have and what we cannot do, we must start using readily available resources as well as use available opportunities for teaching language as it is used in life and work, instead of just whatever the textbooks includes. 

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Pramod Kumar Sah is an M. Ed. in English from Tribhuvan University, Nepal. He is currently pursuing his MA in TESOL with Applied Linguistics at University of Central Lancashire, UK. 

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

Prem Phyak, Bal Krishna Sharma and Shyam Sharma

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

From Focusing on Problem to Focusing on Practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Reading Theory to Telling Stories and Sharing Our Experiences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion: Building Critical Mass

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

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

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

As always, please join the conversation!

References

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

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

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

A Journey from Information to Transformation in ELT Professionalism

Bal Ram Adhikari

When we think about the beginning of a new year, we’re referring to the cycle of seasons changing for that many times on a particular calendar (in this case, the Gregorian calendar). In that sense, the marker of 2014 is a mere social construct. However, we do make milestones with passing years in our collective consciousness. At this blog magazine, as we bid farewell to the year 2013 and welcome the year 2014, we hope to invite many more of our professional colleagues under the shade of a tree that is growing taller and bigger and its platform widening farther. We invite you to a platform where we will strive to connect the global and local realities in ELT, to bring about positive changes in ourselves and in our field! As we make this leap, I would like to relate Choutari’s vision with relevant scholarship in our field. 

Expressing his discontent with the conventional trend of Applied Linguistics and thus appealing for transformation in the field, Pennycook (2004) proposed four types of responsibility on the part of the Applied Linguistic practitioners. They are ethical, political, intellectual, and social and cultural. In the paper entitled Restructuring Applied Linguistics for the Welfare of the Society (2012), we (Sajan Kumar and I) proposed the addition of the creative responsibility to Pennycook’s list. To escape these responsibilities is to fall into the trap of academic hypocrisies is the crux of Pennycook’s argument. The appealing element in Pennycook’s argument is his call for the transformation in the field without which one cannot fulfill the above mentioned professional responsibilities. We, teachers are supposed to bear all of these responsibilities and also many more. This calls for transformation, probably the most sought for and cherished concept in all fields, variously known as energy and transformation (Krishnamurti, 1972), quantum leap (Osho, 2001) in the field of philosophy, paradigm shift (Kuhn, 1962), New Physics (Capra, 1975) in the field of science.  Likewise, the field of language pedagogy is replete with such terms as the postmethod condition (Kumaravadivelu, 1994), innovation (Markeee, 1997), culture specific-pedagogy and so on to mean transformation. Whatever the terms employed, the essence underlying them is the call for revisiting the field in question and showing a live response to everyday practice in order to bring out the positive change. I’d like to relate the thread of transformation to Nepalese ELT and to extend the thread to the long-term goal of our Choutari.

Our goal is transformation. The appeal for transformation lies at the heart of all post-realities (i.e. poststructuralism, postmodernism, postcolonialism, postcommunism,  postmethod pedagogy and so on).  I believe that the craving for transformation in various academic disciplines has its origin in the notion of the paradigm shift as hypothesized by American philosopher and historian of science Thomas S. Kuhn in his seminal work The Structures of Scientific Revolutions (1962), and the Derridan notion of deconstruction (1967). The post-realities   bubbled to the surface most vigorously in the 1990s. We can speculate on a multitude of causes.  I leave them untouched here for the constraint of the space and the nature of this writing.  However, I cannot help mentioning the dismantling of Berlin Wall on 9th of November, 1989, and the collapse of the USSR in 1991. These two vital political events opened the window to the free world, “one where every human being would be free to realize his or her potential” (Friedman, 2006, p. 607).  These events were coincided with the end of the Panchayat era resulting in the re-establishment of democracy in Nepal in 1990. English language teaching as a globally booming profession could not remain untouched from these changes and new realities in academic and political fields at home and abroad.  The 1990s is also remarkable for the booming of ‘the dot.com market’,  to use Friedman’s term, that revolutionized the field of ELT in many respects. The field of ELT was in a desperate search for alternatives in its theories, principles, methodologies, resources and assessment.  Such a search is evident in Pennycook’s (1990) Towards a critical applied linguistics for the 1990s, Phillipson’s (1992) Linguistic imperialism, Kumaravadivelu’s (1994) Postmethod condition, to mention only a few. These post-thoughts entered the English teachers’ courses. The hope was to bring about transformation in the existing theory and practice. The existing ELT courses in Nepal too were restructured to introduce these critical and alternative perspectives to Nepalese English teaching.  Transformation in the profession echoed in the academic air blowing within and across the Tribhuvan University premises. The courses and coursebooks appeared bearing such transformation-loaded titles as New Generation English, Expanding Horizons in English, Advanced ELT, New Directions in Applied Linguistics, New Paradigm, Reading Beyond the Borders, Across Languages and Cultures and many others. Some changes in the perspective on the profession are hazily perceptible in the distance. However, to believe that transformation would be on the way on its own after introducing recent information available in the field is but our naivety.  There can be no quantum leap from information to transformation. The journey is long and on the way lie knowledge, wisdom and discretion, and application.

Though related, information and knowledge are not identical. Information is just an object that can be collected from multiple sources.  In our case, we are working with borrowed information from ELT books and articles produced in different contexts and for different purposes. No harm is there in the accumulation of information. Access to information is prerequisite for knowledge. However, such borrowed information has to be balanced against the information that has emerged from the regional/national and local experiences.  All courses prescribed to prospective teachers in Nepal are flooded with the imported information devoid of local contexts.  Courses like English Grammar for Teachers, i.e. a course on pedagogical grammar for English teachers, contain no trace of anything from the Nepalese context. It gives the impression that Tribhuvan University in its many decades of teaching English has not yet produced any expertise in the field of pedagogical grammar.  Or, it can also suggest that whatever the teacher educators have produced out of their decades of teaching experience and years of research in the field is either ignored or does not deserve to be transferred to the next generation. Several embarrassing examples can be put forward in the case of other courses too.

Most teacher educators have hardly produced any knowledge to communicate their experience and expertise. They seem to be contented with the accumulation of information from the ‘authentic sources’ and many professors have earned their professorships and wasted their students lives, a  sad fact I’d call it, by confining themselves to the information stage. Information is only a raw material for knowledge and the process of knowing.  It’s the means not the goal. Its function is to inform the seeker of something. Information is not experiential nor is it truly existential. It is only a map for the journey, not the journey itself. Unless the seeker embarks on the journey, s/he is in no way to ‘know’ the actual path and in no way to feel the pain and pleasure of journey. Information becomes knowledge only when it enters the conscious realm of the subject (knower/seeker and doer).  My being in the university as a student for one decade and as a teacher educator for seven years as well, and my formal/ information discourse with the scholars give me the impression that many of the university teachers are swayed by the false notion that the accumulation of a wealth of information will necessarily lead them to transformation i.e. the goal desired or the destination aimed at.    The Choutari team is and should be aware of this misconception. However, we are not denying the value of information collection and generation. For this, the two types of information are made available at this platform:  information generated by the practitioners, and information that we signpost the readers via the resources of the month. Our prime focus is on the generation of information rooted in our existential and experiential zones. The Choutari has served as an ever-flattening platform for the signposting and accumulation of information on teaching and learning English at home and around the globe. A word of warning, never should we be contented with the information available in the Tree that stands high at the centre of the Choutari.  The visitors to this platform have to climb the Tree itself  to  taste and test the information according to their desires and needs. The information that we have produced at and via this platform is likely to turn into knowledge only when it is humanized, only when it enters the experiential and existential zones of the seeker.

Knowledge functions in the realm of logic. Logic is syntax and the most preferred property in grammatical  and mathematical analysis. Each language classroom has its own rhetoric and silence too. The rhetoric of the classroom often struggles to move away from the syntax imposed from the ready-made methods, techniques, and conventional expectations of experts or supervisors. Thus I think it would be naïve of us to expect the teachers to stick to certain methods, techniques, and the steps mentioned in their lesson plans and follow them mechanically. It is because of this, many well-documented lesson plans or well-articulated methods fail in the ELT classrooms. The undue inclination to logic might mar creativity and liberty in the teaching learning process. Logic can be cunning. It can prove something  theoretically sound and appealing which might be pragmatically harmful. The taboo of the mother tongue use in English classes as promoted by private schools in Nepal can be a case in point. Practically, the strategic use of the mother tongue or the use of translation as one of the several techniques in the English class has more benefits than harms. Communicative competence is another myth that has been ‘Holy Writ’ for we information-collecting ‘intellectuals’. We are hardly aware of the fact that all the models of communicative competence proposed so far suffer the poverty of knowledge component (Adhikari, 2013). Hence, the Choutari aims at awakening the ELT practitioners to such theoretical taboos and myths that have stood as barriers to successful teaching in their specific contexts. We want them to experiment with their own strategies and share their experience with their fellow beings. Failure of certain methods or techniques borrowed from outside does not mean that we have failed. This means now we need to turn inward for our own sight which we call insight and intuition. It means it is also the time to “move from intellect to intuition, from the head to the heart” (Osho, 2001, p. 98) in our teaching.

The Choutari platform welcomes informal writing, spontaneous and ‘non-academic writing’ from ELT practitioners, for we value intuition and insight of those who are directly facing challenges in the actual field of ELT.  When out-tuition (teaching from outside) fails, we need to turn to intuition. The mystic teacher Osho, once university professor of philosophy, has brilliantly put it as ” You know the word tuition– tuition comes from outside, somebody teaches you, the tutor. Intuition means  something that arises within your being; it is your potential, that’s why it is called intuition (2001, p.13).   Learning by intuition is a lifelong process. It’s integral to our professional development too. Intuition ruptures the body of knowledge that we have accumulated in the formal setting and paves a way to the process of knowing. The Choutari as always welcomes the insights from the practitioners and share their insights with each other. However, someone’s intuition is mere information when it is communicated with others. We can inform others of our intuition but cannot transfer and infuse into them. Intuition is all experiential and existential at the individual level. It calls for self-reflection, inward journey in our professional life and also the ability to distance our mind from the pile of information gathered from multiple sources.  The fusion of knowledge with intuition and insight bears the flower of wisdom and discretion.  Then only we can go for application.

I believe that such a theoretically informed and intuitively aware application of theories, methods, techniques and activities might bring about  transformation in our professional life. This journey from information to transformation, though looks a seemingly longer one, might usher us in the landscape of post-method pedagogy as envisioned by Kumaravadivelu.

In passing,

Let the branches of the bodhi tree

Planted at heart of NELTA Choutari

Spread farther and wider, and rise higher and higher

Let all the wayfarers of ELT come and rest

Under its cool canopy with novel zeal and vigor.

May they move from the mere accumulation of information

To the higher goal of transformation.

Happy New Year, 2014

References

Adhikari, B. R. (2013). Restructuring communicative competence from the perspective of translation competence. A paper presented at 34th annual conference of LSN, Nepal Academy.

Capra, F. (1976). The Tao of physics. London: Flamingo.

Friedman, T. L (2006). The world is flat. England: Penguin.

Krishnamurti, J. (1972). Tradition and revolution. India: KFI.

Kumar, S. & Adhikari, B. R. (2013). Where does applied linguistics truly lie in the architecture of Nepalese Academy: Restructuring the discipline for the welfare of the society. A paper presented at the opening seminar of Nepalese Association for Applied Linguistics, Kirtipur.

Kumaravadivelu, B. (1994). The postmethod condition:(E) merging strategies for second/foreign language teaching. Tesol Quarterly28(1), 27-48.

Markee, N. (1997). Managing curricular innovation. Cambridge: CUP.

Osho (2001).  Intuition: Knowing beyond logic. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin.

Pennycook, A. (2004). Critical applied linguistics. In Davies, A. &  C. Elder(2004) The handbook of applied linguistics. Blackwell: Australia.

Easier said than done …

… but if worse comes to worst, just hang in there!

Umes Shrestha, Lecturer, blogger and a podcaster

Right on the outset, let me state that I am taking a very controversial stance here. Because many supporters of World Englishes believe that for second language learners of English, gaining native like competence of English is a myth. It’s not possible, and, in essence, it’s not necessary. Let’s face it, they also tell you that the‘coded-down’ version of English (or the English as Lingua Franca) is the only way forward because English will eventually lose its standard-ness.

Fine by me but here’s my stance. If a learner wants to speak (or write) English better, he/she has to try and learn how the native speakers of English use the language in real life context. In addition to acquiring the sense of vocabulary, structure, forms and semantics, the learner also has to develop the pragmatic fluency in English. (I am not talking about American accent or British accent or any such accent, though.) Therefore, I strongly believe that only by learning and acquiring unique characteristics and nuances of English language will the learners become more competent and proficient in it.

Some of the areas of such nuances in a language are the use of figurative expressions (idiomatic expressions, phrases, proverbs, etc). Similar to our own Nepali language, English language is also very rich in such figurative expressions. Using these expressions (let’s say: idioms) add color and imagination in speech and in writing. This obviously holds true for all the language. Nepali language would most certainly be pretty bland if it didn’t have any figurative expressions. So, by mastering the use of English idioms, one’s English can become more natural and less awkward, more articulated and less dull. Learners and users of English will be able to produce and interact in English at a different creative level.

Normally, we don’t find any trace of this concept in standard textbooks because the curriculum and syllabus are usually ‘water-downed’ for general learners of English. Just flip through Our English books for Class 9 and 10. Why there’s no focus on this aspect of English is quite beyond me. English magazines, newspapers, stories, TV shows, movies are however full of figurative expressions. Imagine the shock and dismay when learners discover the real English used in real contexts, when they find that the English in real life can be quite different than the English in textbooks. Hence there are always chances that students and learners know English language but do not know how to use and understand English language competently and fluently.

And even when students use or try to understand the meaning of idioms, they try to translate them word-for-word at a very literal level. But translating the idioms into one’s mother tongue will only compound the problem. Figurative expressions are unique properties of a language and when translated into another language, they usually lose their true essence and purpose.

For instance, let’s consider the sentence with a very common idiom:

Sentence 1: He insulted me and I lost my temper.

In Nepali the literal meaning of ‘to lose’ is ‘haraaunu’.

Sentence 2: I lost my money. (maile paisa haraaye)
Sentence 3: I lost my book yesterday. (maile hijo kitab haraaye)

These two sentences 2 and 3 make sense even when translated into Nepali. But. If a Nepali learner of English translates the Sentence 1 in the similar vein, he/she will only come up with confused and even nonsensical meaning. This is the reason why the figurative expressions are difficult to learn, acquire and eventually master.

Similarly, the following sentences can be difficult for Nepali learners to understand and to use in their real contexts because, again, translation doesn’t help.

Sentence 4:      I can’t stand Science class because it is way over my head.
Sentence 5:      You don’t stand a chance of getting good score in Science because it is
way over your head.

And, here are some real instances from my classroom.
Me:                 Alright students, let’s wrap up today’s lesson.
Student:           (with a confused face) Sir, wrap ta gift lai garne hoina?
Sir, we only wrap gifts, don’t we?

Me:                 Guys and girls, keep it down.
Student:           What to keep down?

Thus, unless a learner ‘develops a knack’ for figurative expressions through practice and enough exposure, it will be difficult for him/her to develop English language competency.

Moreover, using figurative expressions adds ‘fun’ to the English language. It’s thrilling and it’s entertaining. Many a times, it’s defamiliarizing. (Here’s the buzzword!). And it goes without saying that ‘enjoying the language’ is one of the most essential requirements to learning and acquiring a second language. We can also call this fun element an ‘intrinsic motivation’ or ‘internal drive’ to get better and to prosper in the language one is learning.

So, I request my fellow English language teachers to incorporate figurative expressions in their teaching as per their discretion. We all know… we will have to put in a little extra effort because it may not be in the textbooks. But don’t give it a second thought. Implement it. You’ll enjoy it. The students will enjoy it.

I hope you will just give it a shot!
Great!

Some links:

Devil’s Advocate vs Vicki Hollett on ELF
http://chiasuanchong.com/2012/03/04/devils-advocate-vs-vicki-hollett-on-elf/

Chia Suan Chong speaks about English as a Lingua Franca
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oB6traNccQQ

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