Student Centeredness: Reflection on my Teaching English at Secondary Level
Ashok Raj Khati,
Life member NELTA
I have been teaching English as compulsory course at secondary level for eight years in outlying part of Nepal. Each year both classes hold around 80 to 90 students. In this brief write-up, I am sharing my own reflection on some key strategies I adopt in my classroom to boost interactions and learner centeredness at this level.
When I reflect back to the first year I commenced teaching at this level, I was excited to facilitate the course, though I failed to do it one or the other ways. Now I could recall those days. To me, my lessons were ‘marvelous’ presentations for the first two or three months. I basically did not apprehend the students’ interests and their level of English. Neither was I able to collect feedback from them at earlier. Later, I came to know that students had not enjoyed my classes, nor had many of them got any points in grammar and reading lessons. Then I thought there was an urgent need to make some changes in my classroom practices, strategies and activities. Some of the following strategies really assisted me to make the class interactive and lively, and to sustain learners’ motivation of the heterogeneous class I was teaching.
I often share interesting events and moments with the students, I have experienced so far. Sometimes, sharing of training or conference related events, visits to different places and meeting with various people including singers, political leaders, writers; popular comedians and so on really excite them. If I were a good narrator, they would float with the series of events along with me. I do not mix the lesson randomly with these stuffs rather I share when certain learning situations come and find them beneficial for the students, particularly when I (not the students) myself find excited to share. I normally start with once, last year, few years back, when I was in … and share it entirely in a narrative style. It is very interesting to see a kind of complete silence in the classroom. Later, I commonly tell them to share different incidents they have experienced on their own. Many of them gradually seem to have developed the sharing skills of such in the classroom. This has been proved a very useful activity while writing short stories. At the same time, while recalling the earlier instances, they learn to visualize the contexts; and make the verbal expressions of the events in narrative forms.
I try my best to call the students by their names. I approach them at personal level to cope with their problems. My voice is audible, I give clear instructions and I directly tell them the value of learning English as foreign language. I sincerely respond to their queries, as I am very much interested in them. I participate in group works and sometimes play with them. I value their ideas and different opinions. Each student is important. I make positive comments even if they commit some errors. For instance, I appreciate their voice, the way they speak in English and the body language they use. I know they talk about the lesson and me on the way home with their friends. I believe that it is essential to participate with them, treat them individually and respect their ‘self’ because these groups of students particularly expect a kind of self-recognition and respect among other students. On the other hand, whatever the plans and activities we employ in teaching English, what it seems to be that unless the students have full faith on their teacher, who will guide and lead on the right way, they won’t invest much effort in learning activities. Hence, bringing out some of the essential potentials in them is also necessary on the part of teachers to make them positive and keep their motivation sustained.
These two classes are large ones because they consist of more than 80 students. It is natural that the level of noise is high in large classes. When I start the lesson with oral presentation, students do not listen to me. But when I start writing on the board at the beginning, the whole class starts copying whatever I write and stop making talk by their sides. Then only I start speaking something. Secondly, I use handouts for teaching different reading texts, particularly when there are many exercises that the students have to practice. I can see all the students engaged working with worksheet on their own. In a few minutes, they will be busy in working in pairs. I don’t need to cry, neither I need to clarify nor I have to explain. They read the text, they interact with the text, they reread it, they discuss in pairs and finally they come to me. In this light, it is very comfortable to deal with the large numbers of students using worksheets. The lesson is effective in terms of effort, time, activities and student centeredness.
Moderate use of Nepali
By nature large classes are heterogeneous ones. In other words, there are many students with the varieties of levels in the English language. To make them feel ease, I occasionally use the Nepali language. They do not enjoy any lesson without funs. To make funs, and the classroom lively or bring laughter in the classroom, switching to the Nepali language is crucial in my classroom. I do share some humorous events in Nepali. I do not use Nepali language for the purpose of simple classroom instructions including managing classroom, group and pair works. Furthermore, using English in different stages of lesson gives ample exposure to them. Later on, they copy the teachers’ language and use on their own in appropriate contexts. However, while explaining grammar rules and some vocabularies, I often use Nepali. Besides, students most often find themselves hard to express some concepts in English, which they may do in Nepali without more effort. Many studies carried out in Nepal and abroad also support the thesis that moderate use of mother tongue facilitates in learning the foreign language. However, it might be problematic to define the term moderate, occasional and judicious in this light.
Introducing short ‘chatting’
I often start the lesson with a new topic of interests among students. Then, I allow them to comment or opine over the topics. Topics might be from the national dailies, interesting TV programs or radio programs and popular piece of local news. Ongoing political developments in the country, sports events, natural disasters, festivals, feast days, holidays and so on might also be some topics. For instance,
T: What did you do yesterday?
S: I went to a party.
T: A party? That’s nice. A birthday party?
S: Yes, my friend’s birthday party.
T: OK, tell us…. what happened? What did you do at the party?
(and so on)
These topics create an opportunity for real language practice and create an English language atmosphere in the class. Even more importantly, it establishes contact with the class, and helps students to feel relaxed and ready to learn (Doff, 1995). The common procedure is to introduce topic and let the students opine individually. One important achievement of this strategy is that even the low achievers in the course comment and put their views over the topics. On the other side, these types of topics are introduced at the start of a lesson. The students can express their real experiences. Gradually, it helps them know how other friends and the teacher perceive the same thing differently and to put the ideas rather systematically. As an output of interaction and their own reflection, introducing these themes promote to build new perspectives and knowledge on several issues, topics and themes of day-to-day lives.
There are definitely many strategies, best practices and activities to make the learning productive and enjoyable. A certain strategy may not be applicable and justified to be the best among others in all contexts. However, sharing experiences, enhancing interactions on real issues, letting the students opine, valuing their ideas and using their mother tongue can lead the teaching learning process to be more students centered.
Doff, A. (1995). Teach English: A training course for teachers. Cambridge: CUP