Being Familiar with Academic Writing

Nani Babu Ghimire

Twenty-four years ago, on a fine morning, my maternal grandfather was having a conversation with one of his friends. He said, “My grandson wrote a letter in English and sent to his uncle in Okhaldhunga“. His friend replied, “It’s amazing. He has done a great job!” My grandfather felt proud of what his grandson (me) had achieved by writing a letter. This was my first piece of creative writing. The others I wrote were what I memorised. I also felt that I had achieved a great feat. I had gone through a book of local writer and followed the pattern of writing a personal letter. I have taught the English language in a community campus affiliated with Tribhuvan University for a decade. I am currently doing MPhil in English language education at Tribhuvan University. In this blog piece, I focus on how I got acquainted with academic writing during the first five months of the MPhil program.

I used to consider that the creative and academic writings are the same. Now I learned that academic writing is different from the creative ones. Academic writing is an activity of academics which requires a standard language. I got an opportunity to read what Greene and Lidinsky (2012) said: “Academic writing is what scholars do to communicate with other scholars in their fields of study, their disciplines (p.1)”. They further added that academic writers or scholars use specialised language to capture the complexity of an issue or to introduce specific ideas from their discipline. I learned that academic writing includes serious thoughts, complex sentences, specialised vocabulary, and variety in construction. Academic writing is thus authentic, objective, unambiguous, systematic and purposeful.

I have experiences of teaching, supervising masters theses and carrying out small-scale researches. I have also published a few journal articles in local journals. However, as a student of  MPhil, I felt I have not been much familiar with academic writing. One day our teachers in ‘Advanced Qualitative Research’ asked us a question: “Have you ever written a daily journal in your academic career?” We did not have the answer as many of us do not have the practice of writing even a page every day. They suggested us that novice academics should write a reflective summary of an article or any readings we have gone through on that day. Listening to them what I felt that I had not done what I am supposed to do to be an academic.

After two months, our teachers gave us some assignments to do. The teachers instructed us to write an introductory part of a research-based article on any topic. I was assigned to write a report on a selected topic choosing a research paradigm, an academic article and an experience on the influential professional issue. I found myself comfortable with the first two than writing an experience.

Regarding selecting the research issue and the problem, I had to strive a lot in the beginning. I was instructed to find an important issue, mostly in language education in Nepal in which I am interested in. I was able to choose an issue after going through several books, articles and interaction with teachers. I selected the issue and wrote a concept note on it and submitted to my professors. Then they advised us to link it with a theory, theoretical grounding of the issue. This was the most difficult part for me. I took support from my teachers and I went through many research articles and books. I wrote the theoretical framework of my issues as the second step for my assignment.

In the next step, they told us to collect data selecting appropriate research methodology. I have to mention the details of the methodology part. They made us practice developing themes from the transcription of our data. Finally, as the third assignment, they asked us to prepare a complete research-based article on the issue that we have selected as the first assignment. Doing a lot of practice, visiting different websites, studying research-based journal articles and taking help from teachers I completed my final assignment.

Reflection

The narrative that I mentioned above asserts to me that I am really satisfied with five months of my MPhil class. First of all, I took initiation to write a reflection on different issues that I am interested in and summary of the text that I studied. I learnt to choose the research issues and problems from the practical life for carrying out research. I learned to develop a theoretical framework on an issue of the research. Similarly, I got ideas to collect data using audiovisual devices, transcribe the recorded data in the paper following the rules and criteria of transcription, develop themes from the transcription, analyse and interpret the themes with the voices of my research participants and related literature. In a nutshell, I received a lot of ideas to write a research-based article in the first semester. I believe, it is an example of learning to create an academic writing.

At this point,

I started the journey of my creative writing by composing a personal letter when I was studying in Grade Ten. I have been a teacher in schools and colleges for several years. However, the MPhil program taught me to create an academic article. With this five-month experience, I felt that creating an academic article is different from writing in other forms as it has distinct features to be considered.

Reference

Green, S. & Lidinsky, A. (2012). From Inquiry to Academic Writing: A Text Book and Reader. New york: Bedford/ St. Martin’s.

Mr. Ghimire teaches at Siddhajyoti Education Campus in Sindhuli. He is currently pursuing MPhil in English language education from Graduate School of Education, Tribhuvan University.

Welcome to the April- June Issue of ELT Choutari: Special Coverage on Advancing Writing Education #Vol. 10, Issue 87

Editorial

We are delighted to present the second quarterly issue (April- June) of ELT Choutari of 2018. Standing at this point and looking back, we have been able to publish 87 issues in the past 10 years, and we believe that it has been a good source of learning and a place for expressing feelings, ideas and professional experiences. This has really encouraged us to keep the ball rolling.

Why skill for doing a job? Whatever we attempt to do, it requires particular skills to accomplish the task successfully. For example, the way of dressing up for a party, driving a car, decorating a room, painting a picture, performing a dance, designing a building, speaking in a conference, writing an essay or doing so and so activities are skills. In a generic sense, skill is an ability to perform an activity systematically. Whether preparing a cup of coffee or writing a thesis for a degree, skills specific to the jobs label the quality and taste of both of them. I believe that a customer enjoys the taste of coffee in a cup but not the cup in a cafeteria. Therefore, the owner of the cafeteria employs professional barista to attract maximum customers and increase the sales. However, customers always talk about the taste of coffee but not the barista who prepares a nice cup of coffee for the customers. Does it make a difference to the barista’s job and skill? Sometimes it does but mostly not.

An academic writer perhaps needs to understand this fact. Although it is not easy to develop academic writing skills, the skills play a vital role to offer a nice piece of writing to readers. It does not matter whoever you are like a barista in a cafeteria kitchen but the taste matters- the taste of your writing matters! I have heard several gossips among teachers and academics that they would like to be an academic writer but I have never heard how they would become a writer. How many postgraduate students internalise the role of a barista? I believe that a barista must have spent a long life preparing the coffee to become a professional barista. S/he might have learned the skills from several mistakes and losses.

This issue offers reading various experiences of several academics who share their struggles, challenges they faced, skills they learned and some degree of academic knowledge. These articles focus on skills of writing an academic paper and suggest that academics learn academic skills from their writing activities similar to a barista who learns skills of preparing coffee from the workplace. I believe that teachers, students and emergent researchers will be benefited reading these writings about “writings”.

In the first post, Thesis Writing: A Hard Nut to Crack, Muna Rai shares her anxiety, process and pain, and pleasure of writing her Master’s thesis.

In the similar second post, Sharing My Experiences of Master’s Thesis Writing, Mamata Bhattarai shares her reflective journey of thesis writing.

Likewise, in our third post, A Teacher’s Journal of Teaching Writing in Community School of Nepal, Bimal Khanal shares his experiences and feeling of teaching writing in the community school and perceptions of students.

Similarly, introducing our one of the popular genres “the interactive blog post”, Ashok Raj Khati weaves the policies, practices, processes and challenges in teaching writing in English Language Education (ELE) Program in Nepali Universities with the collaboration of the faculties of different universities in Nepal.

In the same way, in an exclusive interview with the expert from our thematic area of this issue, Dr Shyam Sharma focuses on the beliefs and assumptions about writing, need of writing today, issues and challenges in our writing education, and some ways forward.

In another post, Thinh Le shares tips for composing an essay and taking academic notes effectively based on his experience.

Finally, in the last post, our Choutari editor, Jeevan Karki presents you the seven special photos from different areas that can be used in teaching language skills especially writing.

Here are the seven posts for you in this issue:

  1. Thesis Writing: A Hard Nut to Crack (A Student’s Experience) by Muna Rai
  2. Sharing My Experiences of Masters Thesis Writing by Mamata Bhattarai
  3. A Teacher’s Journal of Teaching Writing in Community School in Nepal by Bimal Khanal
  4. Writing Practices in ELE Programs in Nepali Universities: An Interactive Blog Post by Ashok Khati
  5. Training Teachers to Integrate Writing Across the Disciplines: Dr Shyam Sharma
  6. Tips for Writing an Essay and Taking Academic Notes by Thinh Le
  7. Free Photos for Teaching Writing: Jeevan Karki

I would like to thank my dear friends: Jeevan Karki, Ashok Raj Khati and Praveen Kumar Yadav, the editors of http://eltchoutari.com/ for their support to bring this issue. To be honest, they have done much more than me on this issue and have ever put their greater effort to make this professional online magazine sustainable. The founders of this online magazine always deserve the core place of bigger thank you.

Finally, if you enjoy reading any post, please feel free to share in your circle and of course, drop your comments in the boxes below that will encourage us to keep moving. Similarly, you can send your reflective experiences, journals, best practices, book reviews, case studies, local and global perspectives on ELT, etc. You can email us your post at 2elt.choutari@gmail.com

Dr Karna Rana

Editor of the issue

Thesis Writing: A Hard Nut to Crack (A Student’s Experience)

Muna Rai

Background

No doubt writing a thesis is a hard work. But it becomes harder for students like me who have a limited idea about a subject that I am going to study. My study was always focused on ‘how to pass’ the exam. I rarely voyaged beyond the prescribed books and rarely generalised the things in life that I have studied. I always had a due respect to my teachers and their powerpoint slides and I became successful to note and rote them. I was like a ‘broiler kukhura’ (poultry chicken, not free range), who merely depends on others. Since I started writing my Master’s thesis, I realised the real sense of reading and writing. Before that, I might have just read and written the alphabets and words. Having little knowledge of Critical Discourse Analysis I became crazy. This was the time I suffered the most. Those were the days when I lost my hunger, sleep and even I forgot to smile. I used to see my seniors being scared of the word ‘thesis’ like a ghost. They used to say “oh god, how to write a thesis, the most terrible thing while pursuing a master degree”. I could see a thesis phobia in their eyes. And when the time came for me, I was not an exception to it.

Choosing the area of research

Before the notice came out for thesis writing, I started thinking about it. I became so much worried regarding my research topic that I could not sleep properly many nights. I planned to take some steps for selecting a topic, hoping it will help me to lessen my tension. I kept in mind the classes of Mr Ashok Sapkota, my research methodology teacher, and Prof. Dr Anjana Bhattarai, my academic writing teacher. I looked into the previous thesis titles provided by Mrs Madhu Neupane. I went to my friends’ circle and talked to them about the thesis title. They told me to “Take it easy”. Some of them said, “Thesis can be done within a month. You just go to Curriculum Resource Centre (CRC) and choose one best topic, collect two-three theses and copy and paste some portion of each”. How can I do that? I didn’t understand whether my friends were consoling me or consoling themselves.

One evening, I laid down on my bed and started to think about the research topic starring at the ceiling continuously. I recalled all those subjects which I had studied throughout four semesters. Among them, Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) struck to my attention. I quickly remembered CDA taught by my teachers in the past. And then I became determined that CDA would be my research area. The following day, I went to the department and met my teacher Mr Guru Prasad Poudel to know some possible topics on CDA. To be honest, I was seeking a topic with his help to carry out my research. I said, “Sir, I am planning to do my thesis on CDA, please suggest me one best topic on it?” My question was straightforward. He smiled with anger and said, “How can I provide you a topic, Muna?” and added “In CDA, there are two facets: one is spoken language and the other is written. You can do your thesis on anyone that interests you”. And I choose the second one.

Becoming ‘specific’ – narrowing down the area

I pulled put those bulky photocopy collections on CDA from my bookshelf and read them restlessly focusing on written texts. I became inquisitive and searched CDA in Google and Wikipedia but none of them worked out. Alas! I couldn’t find the topic. After some days the department published the lists of the students’ names and their supervisors. I was under the supervision of Dr Prem Phyak.  On the same day, he informed me that he was appointed as my thesis supervisor and he invited me and other friends in the department for the first meeting with him the following day. The following day was concluded with the general idea about the thesis. In the meeting, I expressed my interest in studying in the field of CDA.

I have the habit of reading newspapers and magazines. I used to see so many advertisements. So, at the time I thought of doing my thesis on advertisements. I became so much happy that I was able to find the thesis topic. I felt like I was flying in the sky. Another day, I rushed to the department and met my supervisor. I said, “Sir, my research topic is Critical Discourse Analysis of advertisements, how is it, sir?” Quickly he replied, “Yes you can but what kind of advertisements, Muna?” I said, “Sorry sir”. He replied, “There are different types of advertisements, which are you going to work on? Please be specific, Muna”. Honestly, I didn’t understand what my supervisor was saying. I returned back with the empty heart.

Every second the words ‘be specific, Muna’ sounded in my mind. I became so restless and I could not sleep well. I didn’t like to eat at all. Later on, a day when reading The Himalayan Times, an English newspaper, an advert about Pond’s beauty cream attracted my attention. More than that a beautiful lady’s face scratched my heart. Suddenly, I remembered the time when I was attracted by the beauty product advertisement ‘Fair & Lovely’. When I was in my early twenties, ‘Fair & Lovely’ beauty product was very popular. At that time, I could see the advertisement of ‘Fair & Lovely’ on T.V screen and in different newspapers. I was highly influenced by the language ‘Get moonlight fairness in your face just in seven days’. I even tried that product wishing to be like them but I could not get the result as said. Now I realized I was being manipulated by the language used. So, I decided to do a research on the title ‘Critical Discourse Analysis of beauty product advertisements’.

I went to the department and met my teacher Mrs Madhu Neupane. I asked her whether this topic would be appropriate for my research. The same day I also met Mr Guru Poudel and got some information about Fairclough’s CDA model. And then I met my supervisor and expressed my intended thesis topic. He said, “Great! Muna. It’s a wonderful idea”. But I had no idea about how to make that great, a really great in action. Everyone praised my topic. As I was confirmed to my research topic, stress topped over my head. It was the first time I understood research is done in a very specific area. After that, I talked to my guru Prof. Dr Jai Raj Awasthi and shared my interest and intention of doing research on that particular topic with him. Soon he sent me plenty of books, theses and articles on CDA and advertisements. I downloaded those sources and read them.  I just read the title and looked at page numbers. Rests of them were books and international theses above hundred pages. I didn’t dare to open them but kept them safely.

Writing proposal

After some days I along with other friends was called by my supervisor for the discussion for the second time. The night before I opened one short article ‘Beauty product advertisements: A Critical Discourse Analysis’ by Kaur et al. I read it twice because it was short in length as well as it was written in understandable language. The following day we had a discussion on everyone’s topics and objectives in short. The supervisor made us aware by saying “now it’s the time for work” and suggested us to start working on it. I don’t know what my friends did but I started to read. I started reading not because I loved it, but because I had no choice. While reading, I took note that struck my attention. I highlighted those lines which I didn’t understand. I went to CRC and overview the previous thesis. I searched theses related to my area but I didn’t find even one relevant to my interest.  Instead, I found almost all theses written from the definition of language and I did the same. I wrote my proposal from the definition ‘Language is a means of communication…’ thinking it might be the best way of writing a thesis.

One day my supervisor asked me “do you have Fairclough’s CDA book?’. I replied “Yes, sir. I do have”. “Which edition?”, he asked. I said, “1998, sir”. He said, “That one is very old; I will give you the latest edition, 2010”. The next day he handed me the book ‘Critical Discourse Analysis: The critical study of language’. My happiness was out of control. I thought I would grab the whole book and make the best out of it. I came back to my room and started to read it. I turned the first page and searched the definition of CDA. I turned the second page, third page, fourth page respectively. Alas! I couldn’t find the thing what I was looking for restlessly. Eventually, I found the book worthless for me. The things I didn’t understand is the book on CDA which consists of above 500 pages did not have the definition of CDA.

I finished writing the introductory part of my proposal in about a month. I sent it to my supervisor for his comments. After some days he called me at the department. The first question he asked me was “why did you start writing your proposal from the definition of language, Muna? Does it make any sense?” I remained silent, as I didn’t have the answer to his question. Then he handed over the corrected section of my writing and asked me to go through it. He also asked me to take out the definition of language. To my astonishment, about 80% of my writing was red marked. I again lost my confidence and thought that I could not cope with CDA. I nearly decided giving up my research on CDA and find another simple topic to carry on. It was only then I realised how weak I was in the English language itself although I was soon going to be an M. Ed graduate. I evaluated myself and felt disheartened.

Facing the viva – proposal

I remained silent for a month as I was looking for another simple topic. During the period, I received a mail from my supervisor who wanted to know about the status of my proposal. I informed him that I could not go further as I found CDA quite tough. I also told him the difficulties on doing a research from the level of knowledge I had on the area I was trying to pursue. He tried to encourage me to do better in my work. He also suggested me to believe in self. His words energised me again. I stood up again. And then I vowed not to let down myself. I started to read the related sources again. I tried to play with the words and thought differently. I went through the corrected part of my introductory portion. I again opened the publications by Fairclough, Foucault, Van Dijk, Wodak and many more and read them line by line. The most painful situation for me was when I went through the bulky books and understood nothing. I felt hard to understand Fairclough’s idea. When I went through his book, I completely understood the first paragraph, but hardly understood the second. When I reached the last part of the book, I even forgot the little idea I had framed. But I had no choice except to read it repeatedly. I kept on reading it even though I didn’t understand.  Ultimately, I continued writing my proposal and prepared the first draft in about four months. Then I mailed it to my supervisor and got his suggestions. This process continued thrice.  Finally, I survived the viva and got confirmation of my thesis proposal.

And facing the thesis viva

Then I set out for my fieldwork. I visited different publications and stationery shops to know about the local magazines and newspapers. As the objectives of my study were to find out those magazines that contained beauty product advertisements meant for women. I collected magazines and newspaper such as WOW, WAVE, Family, Nari, Nawanari, Himalayan Times and The Kathmandu Post published from 2016 to 2017. From these newspapers and magazines, I collected one hundred beauty product advertisements.

Though I was asked to submit the first draft of my thesis before Dashain (two-months after facing my proposal viva), I couldn’t do it. The whole country was enjoying Dashain and Tihar but I was busy in the collection of data for my study. Finally, I was able to collect data but I did not have any idea of interpreting the data.  Again I read Kaur’s article repeatedly and got the basic idea. I followed that article and moved ahead. I made observation guidelines and analysed the language used in beauty product advertisements in terms of their lexical and syntactic features. I also investigated the discursive techniques that represent the identity of women.  I completed the fourth chapter of the thesis by the end of Tihar vacation. I sent it to my supervisor and started to work on concluding the chapter.

I went to the department to meet my supervisor to get his feedback on chapter four. I became happy as he said “Good Muna, this time you worked hard”. He also suggested me to put some pictures in the language analysis part and give sub-topics in the discursive techniques part. I made the corrections suggested by him. I also completed the fifth chapter and sent both chapters to my supervisor for the feedback. After some days, I received his feedback and worked on it. After the fourth round of feedback from supervisor, my thesis was finalised. I successfully defended my thesis on 20th March 2018.

My reflection on this one-year journey

Through my research journey, I learnt to be patient. It made me creative. Now I knew that research is a systematic and stepwise procedure. As a researcher, I learnt to think critically, paraphrase idea and construct it by playing with words. I experienced writing a thesis is the most important part of my journey to achieve the Master’s degree. It led me from tension to creation. It ultimately helped me enter the academic world.

We do not have a habit of discussing academic matters with our friends nor do we have time to exchange our idea with them. I understand that a piece of research is a collaborative work. With my experience, I now feel that although thesis writing is a hard nut to crack, as the time passes by with our own efforts we can not only crack it but also chew and digest it with utmost satisfaction. Therefore, I suggest my juniors to make critical comments on their friends’ ideas. For this, the creation of a friendly environment is required in the academic circle to promote collaboration that may yield constructive outcomes. Exchanging of ideas plays a pivotal role in research writing, so we need to go beyond books.

Finally, in this academic journey, I am highly indebted to my supervisor, Dr Phyak, for his constructive suggestions and guidance. I now sincerely believe that the thesis supervisor’s role is to hold our hands so firmly that he/she would never let us tumble down until we are done with our work. Most importantly, I have due respect for all the authors and researchers who indirectly enlightened me to successfully complete my journey. Moreover, I cannot forget to acknowledge the advertisement companies that remained the heart of my entire work.

Muna Rai is the Master’s student at the central department of education, Tribhuvan University, Nepal. She is also a life member of NELTA since 2015.

A relevant post from our past issue by Dr Bal Krishna Sharma: Writing thesis or academic papers? Read this…

Sharing My Experiences of Masters Thesis Writing

Mamata Bhattarai

Talking to my personal experience in thesis writing, I experienced a way of learning when selecting a research topic, planning for data collection and writing process and I learned to struggle and enjoy pleasant moments.

Selection of the topic

Firstly, I had a level of motivation when selecting the topic: “Linguistic Features in English Usage on Commercial Billboards in Kathmandu Valley” and a curiosity to study in an area ‘Linguistic Landscape’ in the context of Nepal. The term relates to language study of signs, texts, symbols and logos, multimodality (the mixture of texts and signs, symbols, scripts, codes, styles, translation and transliteration).

Most importantly, I would like to thank Dr Prem Phyak, my thesis supervisor who supervised my thesis despite his many other academic and professional commitments. I acknowledge his invaluable suggestions and constructive feedback from the very beginning to the end.

Secondly, the selection of the topic came up in my mind as I was attending my ‘ELT Seminar and Report Writing’ class, and there I got to know about ‘Linguistic Landscape’, its introduction to language use on public areas. After that, I started gathering some information about linguistic landscape from various websites. Gradually, the topic was finalised. I intended to study about the way of the language used at public places, the advertisers’ policy of language adaptation and management with multimodality usage on their billboards, the way the shop owners’ display by designing texts, codes, scripts, logos and symbols with the fusion between them.

Planning to Write

I selected the topic of my interest. After that, I followed a framework mentioned by Shohamy and Gorter (2009) to support my study in the specified area of the linguistic landscape. The linguistic landscape framework was applied to structure my study design. Moreover, the plan as a framework was maintained to study on social and cultural aspects, language policy, power and ideology, linguistic features and multilingual meanings of the contents and contexts of languages used on billboards.

The Process of writing the thesis

Firstly, I introduced the topic as termed to linguistic features and linguistic landscape. Then the reason as mentioned for the selection of the topic was introduced. I stated the main objectives of the study. To meet the objectives, I included some research questions. I reviewed the term linguistic landscape, globalisation of English language, areas and features of the linguistic landscape, functions and taxonomy of linguistic landscape, and linguistic features such as code-mixing/ switching, transliteration, stylistics, scripts, and translation. The study also presented empirical review, its implication for the study and conceptual framework of the study.

For the research data, I collected billboards’ photographs about 100 photographs as the sample.

Struggling as well as pleasuring moments in thesis writing

I faced several challenges when collecting research data (100 photographs of various adverts). I visited various shops around Kathmandu valley, selected various adverts and took pictures of them. I had to select different display board which contained various linguistic features. Some of the advertisers let me take their billboards’ photos with curiosity and interest of my study but some others did not allow me to take photos of their display boards. In some places, shop owners permitted me to capture their adverts after my explanation of the purpose of taking photos.

After the data collection, I gradually stepped onto the process of writing the thesis. To be honest, I did not have any idea from where to start my thesis writing. I needed to study more and prepare myself. After that, I had put a lot of efforts on it, I got the way and order of writing. I consulted my supervisor frequently and he directed me to a certain way of structuring and managing the data. In the beginning, I was worried about how to find the way and managing the writing but I read foreign books and journals related to linguistic landscape and started writing. The ideas I learned from publications helped me shape my thesis at the end. After getting motivated each time by the supervisor for my effort to writing, I got the energy to learn more about how to follow the way of writing the thesis.

Personal experience and reflection

When I selected the new topic of my interest in writing the thesis, I got a load of priceless joys at first. Eventually, I thought as a dreamer to be good at my own writing but it did not happen in the process of research what I had thought. I had to tackle lots of challenges during thesis writing. However, thesis writing brought both pleasure and pain throughout the study. The pleasure led me to become more curious towards the interests of study and generated energy to face the pain during the research process. I now feel that I learned a basic process research writing.

As the linguistic landscape is an essential resource to be implemented in the classroom for teaching and learning, due care should be given to make it as a good teaching and learning instrument. The aim of teaching and learning should not be merely limited to the classroom teaching. It should rather equip students with learning beyond the classroom, learning through the language codes, vocabulary, and structures of multilingual language scripts. Similarly, my personal experience targets to teaching through textual signage in the classroom as it comforts the students to learn better, learning through pictures and symbols along with multiple language codes. An English teacher can take the formal features of signage texts like metaphor and transitivity as what ideological value they carry in consideration while teaching. A teacher, as well as students, can make an appropriate choice of textual signage material while teaching and learning. Finally, the study can be equipped with the selection of appropriate features and functions to learn specific aspects and skills of English use as well as greater understanding of how they are reflected in the language use of others.

Mamata Bhattarai is the M. Ed student at the Central Department of Education, Tribhuvan University, Nepal

Training Teachers to Integrate Writing Across the Disciplines: Dr Shyam Sharma

Dr Shyam Sharma

Dr Sharma is a scholar of Writing and Rhetoric who teaches at the State University of New York in Stony Brook. Recipient of the Nepal Vidya Bhusan (Nepal) and the Cross Award for Future Leaders of Higher Education (USA), Dr. Sharma in his research/publications and teaching focuses on academic writing (especially writing in the disciplines and graduate-level writing education), international education and students, and cross-cultural rhetoric and multilingual/translingual issues in writing. He writes a regular op-ed column in The Republica and writes about “language, literacy, and life” in his personal blog.

Our Choutari editor Jeevan Karki talked to Dr Shyam Sharma about writing education in Nepal, focusing on areas like beliefs and assumptions about writing, need of writing today, issues and challenges in our writing education, and some ways forward. This exclusive interview sheds light on writing in general and teaching writing in particular. We hope you will enjoy it! [Choutari Editors]

1. Whether children or the grown-ups, people are usually not ready to pick a pen/keyboard and start writing. Why are people scared of writing? Is writing a really painful and difficult task?

I am actually not sure I would frame the challenge as people being scared or hating to write, because research done in some countries has shown that people are writing a lot more today than they used to in the past. And that’s likely true in any country, including ours. We should instead ask who writes and who doesn’t, what kinds of writing people do, why they write and why they don’t (whether that is a question of liking or something else). That is, I wouldn’t worry about maybe just a few people not wanting/liking to write at all, or, perhaps, I would try to understand why not; that might have educational implications. In fact, I would go one step further and ask: Why should they? Maybe that’s where we can start a different kind of conversation, especially educational and pedagogical conversations.

That being said, there is such a thing as anxiety (and even fear) of writing, or writer’s block (though systematic teaching of writing seems to have made this largely a non-issue in recent decades), especially when it comes to doing certain types of writing. So, for example, I don’t think we can find a lot of people who are afraid or hate to write text messages to their friends and family. Most people like to do a variety of writing, or just do it (and not have fear or dislike of it). Maybe they struggle because of the screen size of mobile devices, the lack of input application for their language on any device, or the lack of spelling or other writing skills (especially if they’re afraid of being judged). Maybe they dislike having to write because they know that their writing is primarily meant to be judged, and judged negatively–such as when students who haven’t been taught social studies well wouldn’t want to write social studies exams. However, what I just mentioned are “factors” undermining writing, not a matter of dislike of “writing the message” itself, which, in that case, is the objective. And if the purpose and motivation is there, then the negative factors may disappear or diminish. This means that maybe we should as teachers focus on the factors that facilitate writing (trying to mitigate others that undermine writing).  Also, finally, if “writing” means the process rather than getting something done (with or through writing), then, yes, there may be resistance or anxiety having to do with challenges related to the amount and types of skills needed for the process of writing, or for producing the desired text.

The educational question, then, is how can we as teachers teach and facilitate writing in ways that our students can develop the skills and confidence about the process of writing, can focus on the purpose of writing, and, indeed, on its joy sometimes? This will require us to break down the meaning of “writing” in ways that our students can focus on not just the act of writing, certain skills and tools they need to master, or the vague ideas and myths about writing. Instead, we should give them purposeful writing tasks (not just any writing tasks) and help them along the way. We should design tasks so that students either have or can discover what to say/write in the first place. We should stop teaching skills through drills and rules, unless we can do so within purposeful and inspiring contexts.

Writing–as in writing in exams, in timed situations, or when it seems to have no purpose other than to do it because you have to–can be painful. Our job as teachers is to make it more pleasant, or at least more purposeful and therefore more motivating, whenever it may not be so pleasant otherwise.

People (including students) are not just going to start “liking” writing — even if there is just one thing we can call writing. Most people already do and like and know how to write, and when we teach new kinds of writing, we can help them overcome any (possibly natural) anxiety by developing our own professional skills and knowledge about writing and writing pedagogy.

We can help students overcome any (possibly natural) anxiety by developing our own professional skills and knowledge about writing and writing pedagogy.

2. Writing is not a cup of tea for everyone and it is also believed that good writers are geniuses. To what extent do you believe this?

This extremely common assumption, honestly, is total nonsense–and I don’t say that to criticize the question, for, in fact, I am glad you asked it. The idea of writers as geniuses comes from literature and creative writing, and there too, it is a rather outdated idea. Modern writing education in many parts of the world is light years ahead of that kind of mythology, so I think it is time for us to do a lot more to ramp up and teach and write and research and publicize more up-to-date ideas about writing as in academic writing, day to day writing, professional communication, writing in social media, and so on. In the North American academic context where I now work, for instance, academic writing is taught by helping students analyze the context, audience, medium, and purpose (CAMP, as I tell my students) or by further using samples or peers’ work to critique and discuss how to write, so students can emulate how more experienced writers write (often learning how they too don’t always write perfectly). It is taught by taking students through the “process” (one of the god terms of modern writing studies), starting with reading or discussion, research or brainstorming, then pre-writing by outlining or mind mapping in a variety of ways, then drafting, then revising and peer reviewing, often rewriting parts of or the entire draft, then editing, and then proofreading. Teachers can teach component skills during the process, including how to read with writing as a purpose in mind, how to use necessary tools effectively, how to do research purposefully and reading strategically, how to turn off the internal editor while reviewing the overall draft, and so on and so forth. The ways in which we design the writing assignment or task makes a big difference, so this is another area where teachers must be educated or trained. I could go on, but here’s the point I’m trying to make: Some people have better aptitude for doing some things than others, and that is certainly true about writing, but the idea that good writers are geniuses is a dangerous mythology that educators need to give up and also teach their students by showing how it is not so.

I think it is time for us to do a lot more to ramp up and teach and write and research and publicize more up-to-date ideas about writing as in academic writing, day to day writing, professional communication, writing in social media, and so on.

3. You pointed out that the writing tasks are not appropriately designed and the teachers are yet to be trained to better facilitate their students in the writing process. In this context, what can we do locally to strengthen the teachers’ skills for teaching writing in the under-resourced context?  

First, I think that administrators and leaders of colleges and schools must be trained/educated. This will help to create an environment and culture where the learning of writing is not seen as something that just “happens” when students know what to say/write. Of course, that’s a major component of writing, which is why just teaching writing skills outside of the context of subject/content doesn’t work well. But conventional beliefs and myths about writing like this–or the idea that you mentioned earlier, that good writing requires genius–must be countered at the institutional level. When training teachers, we can focus on particular purposes for which they would be interested in (or already need to) to teach students how to write better. One good place to start is exams; if teachers are provided training and resources for teaching their students how to score higher marks in the exam, then both students would have the incentive to spend time teaching and learning writing skills. Another purpose that might inspire teachers and students (and also institutions) to promote writing education would be professional communication, such as writing effective emails, crafting effective resumes, drafting and revising application letters and personal statements (or any high stakes writing), and using new media for communication (including social media). Teachers could also be provided a database of activities, assignments, assessment methods, and testing tools from which they can adopt and adapt the material for their classes; this may need to be presented with some illustration, such as through in-person or video training material, by experienced teachers/trainers. It takes a lot of time to change assumptions and habits about teaching and learning, and writing is one of the hardest things to integrate as an element of change.

The ways in which we design the writing assignment or task makes a big difference, so this is another area where teachers must be educated or trained.

4. Generally, our university graduates are not confident to compose a simple essay, application or reflection. What’s missing in our writing education? What’s going wrong in our teaching writing process?

Frankly, I don’t think we have a writing education that meets a fair standard yet. Yes, there are really talented instructors within English Education and English Studies departments who teach writing courses and writing skills. But the curriculum and especially the mode of assessment, faculty autonomy, institutional support, professional development opportunities for faculty, and a community of discourse and practice-sharing is limited–not to mention a robust scholarship that is produced by local scholars. Two years ago, in a brief talk that NELTA Central Office invited me to give, I shared a review of Writing Studies in Europe and North America, and highlighting our unique social and academic contexts, suggested that the discipline of ELT could embrace and advance the profession of teaching and researching writing. Other disciplines (English, Nepali, linguistics, journalism, rhetoric, or communication–in whatever form these exist) may also start more systematically and substantially advancing Writing Studies (with whatever name we give it locally). In fact, I strongly believe that it is important to dissociate writing skills and the study and teaching of writing with one language or another–meaning there should be an independent field of Writing Studies so it won’t be overshadowed by English or Nepali for that matter, although a balance of some kind would make sense–but we must also look at it pragmatically. ELT seems best positioned to advance teaching and scholarship of writing in Nepal, and it could help to advance multilingual/translingual writing and communication skills, as well as making writing pedagogy and scholarship adapted to our local realities. Without a strong disciplinary foundation, there won’t be sufficient production of new ideas through research, sharing of practice through professional events, promotion and advocacy of teaching and teachers of writing, and so on. It is time to advance this conversation on a broader, national scale.

Writing should be an independent field of Writing Studies.

5. Comparatively, the spoken skills are more dominant in our day to day life than these academic and professional writing. Why do we need to worry if everyone is not a good writer?

Well, writing serves distinct purposes–or, rather, a variety of purposes that are usually distinct from those that speaking serves. Fortunately or unfortunately, writing has become more and more important and necessary for more and more communicative functions in our lives, society, and professions–not to mention education. That is, everyone has to be a “good writer”–not in the sense of being a genius you mentioned earlier but in the sense being effective in communication using writing–in order to be successful academically and professionally. Information has exploded due to rapidly emerging technologies, not only in terms of its production but also sharing, retrieving, adapting, repurposing, and so on. And while a lot of information is being conveyed in images, sound, animation, and so on, writing continues to dominate and take more complex, often multidimensional forms. Its genres and functions are also rapidly increasing, making generic writing skills insufficient for all but the most basic purposes. This means that we need a lot of “writing education” in Nepal, an education that integrates full-fledged writing courses that are required of all students in schools and colleges, writing major for those who want to specialize at the undergraduate level, and writing degrees for those who want to develop more advanced professional skills or study it to advance the discipline and teach increasingly advanced courses in writing.

Without a strong disciplinary foundation, there won’t be sufficient production of new ideas through research, sharing of practice through professional events, promotion and advocacy of teaching and teachers of writing, and so on.

6. What are your suggestions for teachers to teach writing with ease in schools and colleges?

I would urge all colleagues, in any discipline (including in business and humanities and social and natural sciences) to learn how to integrate writing skills into their courses. That can enhance their students’ academic success and professional growth. To colleagues who are able to teach writing more explicitly and directly, such as within English Studies and English Language Education, I would urge them to study any scholarship (including essays on blogs like this) about writing pedagogy and research, find more to read from other countries, and continue to help advance writing education in any way they can. It seems to me that there is enough interest in the idea of systematically teaching writing that this could start taking the shape of a new discipline, or at least a rich new community of practice and scholarship. There is the tremendous opportunity for those who are paying attention, whether they be individual scholars and teachers or academic institutions.

A Teacher’s Practice and Perception on English Language Textbook of Secondary Level

Prem Prasai

As I take the trip down memory lane, I vividly behold vistas of years I spent on the teaching career. It’s been more than a decade and a half since I embarked on a journey of teaching in a private school in Jhapa. I was in my late teens when I entered a class as a novice teacher. I have been currently teaching English at the secondary level in a renowned school in Lalitpur for more than a decade.

In this course of teaching, I have used many textbooks of different publications as ELT materials. In this context, this write-up draws on my personal experiences of teaching English to secondary level students in an institutional school and shed some light on the textbook(s) I am using as ELT materials. However, I will focus more on different facets of the government prescribed textbooks while making passing reference to additional books prescribed by the school.

Textbooks and additional materials I’ve been using

In my school, there is a combination of government prescribed textbook, i.e. English and additional books prescribed by the school. The additional books include Tales from Shakespeare (Shakespeare’s plays in story form), Intermediate English Grammar and Friday Afternoon and Composition for class nine. Pride and Prejudice replaces Tales from Shakespeare for class ten.

The additional books have been prescribed to expose students with more engaging reading materials to cater to the needs of reading longer pieces of literature. In the additional section, Murphy’s grammar book is a good resource for students to learn grammar independent of or some guidance from the teacher. Friday Afternoon and Composition offers reading texts for comprehension and composition writing skills.

The government prescribed textbooks for secondary level have recently been updated and revised not only in line with the change in the broader socio-political spectrum in the country and in its implications but also with changing principles of English language teaching and learning in the recent years. The content coverage is more comprehensive and contains more variety of topics and activities compared to the past textbooks.

Books selection in schools and necessity of additional materials

As far as the selection of textbooks in my school is concerned, there is no option in case of government prescribed textbooks as they are mandatory throughout the country. However, there is hardly any binding framework followed for selecting additional textbooks. The selection of books primarily depends on the intent of the school authority than the informed choice and recommendation of concerned subject teachers.

Talking about the necessity of additional materials, I think they are not so necessary because the government textbook itself demands more time if we do the set activities and extended activities properly. Furthermore, I think some room should be given to the teachers to explore and bring the resources as per the objectives and the needs of students rather than prescribing. For example, in place of using the prescribed storybook, the teachers can collect or download the relevant story to their students and work on that. But when the books are prescribed, they are under pressure to finish that and hence there is no room for them to use their creativity. Nevertheless, the prescribed additional textbooks are useful for the novice and lazy teachers as they don’t have to spend time searching and collecting something appropriate for their learners.

Students’ perception of English Textbooks and materials

Perception of students towards a particular subject and its teaching material plays a significant role in the effective implementation of the curriculum. Students of institutional schools tend to pay less heed to English subject as they think they are the students of “boarding schools”. Besides, they are influenced by the grades of their seniors in English in the board examinations such as SEE which tend to be far higher than the scores of community schools. This mentality results in a lax attitude in students. Further, it piles pressure on the language teachers to make their lessons interesting and engaging.

The government textbooks match the level of students in institutional schools as they have a comparatively good base of the English language. The recently revised textbook of grade nine and ten are more enjoyed by students because the content is relevant and appropriate for them. Like, there are texts and activities on, one of the favourite foods of students “mo: mo:” Likewise, in the writing section, sample resources are given to students, which helps them to draw the frame of writing. Thus making the activity inductive. Similarly, there are also project works as the extended activities for students, which helps them to explore their learning themselves.  However, some students do not fare well as they concentrate less on English as they think it is easier to get through English compared with other subjects.

Analysis of Government English textbook

As regards the organization of the exercises in the government prescribed textbook English for class ten, each unit is organized under one dominant functional aspect in English language learning. For example, unit one is entitled Giving, Withholding and Reporting Permission. Each unit blends all four language skills. Reading Section is introduced after warm-up exercises on the pertinent issue or theme to be raised in the text. These pre-reading activities are called Engage Yourself and Study Time. The reading is followed by various exercises such as Vocabulary in Use, Question/ Answer, True or False Statements, etc. Each unit contains a section entitled Grammar which employs a three-step approach to a grammar topic. The first step introduces the grammar topic and gets students interested in the topic. The second step focuses on the core area with example and problems, and the last step integrates the grammar item with either speaking or writing exercise. Listening and Speaking Sections follow the same steps. Writing Section begins with a sample writing text, presents the major writing task to the students before relating the writing task to their possible real-life situations. Every unit provides an opportunity for students to do creative work under Project Work Section. Finally, the unit concludes with a relevant fun activity or exercise under Fun Corner.

Overall, some strengths of the exercises include the following of inductive teaching and learning approach, presenting simple to complex ideas, beginning with pre-reading and writing steps, and going beyond the text to explore and relate in real life situations. However, each unit is heavily loaded with exercises, slowing the progression of the course if conducted as per the spirit of the exercises.  An endeavor has been made to make the book a complete whole in itself by integrating different aspects of learning English. For example, major reading texts including some good pieces of poetry, short stories, real and context-specific interviews. The interviews with Nepalese doctors Imran Ansari and Rajan Poudel on Bird Flu and Typhoid Fever respectively help students to relate learning to their life. Besides, the textbooks include many practical writing topics such as making posters, drafting an invitation, writing the notice of condolence and congratulation, composing emails, preparing a CV, writing a job application and a letter to the editor, designing an advertisement, preparing leaflets and pamphlets etc. Moreover, it also exposes students to the idea that intelligible pronunciation is a must in spoken English and to achieve this end, class nine English book introduces the basic sounds and their phonemic symbols to the students. An extended glossary at the back of the book is also of a help for students. Major readings and writing part are received well by the students in institutional schools.

One of the challenges using the English textbook is to be able to do the justice to all the activities as per the spirit and demand as there are plenty of activities and exercises to do. Similarly the timely availability of the audio material poses another challenge. Moreover, there are some grammatical lapses which may confuse students. For example, while reporting a question the reporting verb “told” has been used in question no. 2.(f): Navaraj told Saraswati……. . Another blunder creeps in the following short question (2. i. g) where the preposition “to” is not required before the object Tom:  What did the angel tell to Tom (p. 147)?

There is no denying the fact that the content of the book is culturally appropriate as it encompasses the texts drawing on culturally relevant and context specific texts. This is expected to foster a sense of mutual respect and tolerance in students and the appreciation of the good in everything. Though the content coverage ranges from local to global issues and texts, more interesting and stimulating texts could have been incorporated.

Available teachers’ resources and capacity building to implement curriculum

For the effective implementation of the textbook, Teacher’s Guide Book plays an important role. However, it is not available yet though I checked on the official website of the Curriculum Development Center and its mobile application. A couple of months ago, I got the opportunity to be familiar with the revised curriculum in a session organized by PABSON, Lalitpur in coordination with the subject expert from CDC, Bhaktapur. More workshops are yet to receive.

However, I am aware of the curriculum set by CDC. This awareness helps me to choose from many options available to achieve the learning competencies in my students. However, candidly speaking, always designing learning activities keeping in mind the set curriculum is a herculean task.

Conclusion

As the textbook is an essential resource to carry out the effective implementation of the curriculum set for a particular level, due care should be taken to make it a good teaching-learning material. The aim of the textbook should not merely be the transmission of knowledge. It should rather equip students with a repertoire of skills for acquiring and building knowledge and instill in them a positive attitude as well as the love for lifelong learning. A textbook should enable students to learn how to make use of different ways of learning. It should also provide an appropriate amount of culturally appropriate and interesting texts. An authentic textbook provides students with opportunities for developing diverse skills of learning according to their interests, needs, and abilities.

On the other hand, teachers also should not merely depend on the textbooks but should adapt them as per the level, interests, and needs of students.

Mr. Prasai is an MA in English Literature from TU. Currently an M Phil scholar in English at KU. He is an English Faculty at Public Youth Campus and GEMS School, Lalitpur.  

My Journey to Become a Textbook Writer

Bishow Raj Joshi*

On the very first day of my teaching career at Shree Bhairab Secondary School, Lamjung where I was appointed as a teacher of English in 1999, I found a book written by Vishnu Singh Rai in the school’s bookshelf. When reading his profile on the cover page, I wished I had had my name as Mr. Rai on the cover page of a textbook. But I had another important responsibility of pursuing Masters Degree and achieving it before starting any other works.

So far I remember the day I found a notice: “call for sample lessons to select grade eight textbook writers” in Gorkhapatra, a national daily newspaper from where my life of writer began. After reading the notice, I contacted my several friends, prepared required documents together and submitted them to Curriculum Development Centre, Sanothimi, Bhaktapur within the notice period. Fortunately, our team was selected to work for Curriculum Development Centre. I still feel how much I was excited to be a part of writers’ team.

We were given a time period of fifteen days to gather necessary materials to develop a textbook. In such a short timeframe, we had to work out of limited sources in rush. As a beginning to develop the textbook framework, the team scheduled a meeting to review national education policy, curriculum and previous textbooks, and in the meeting, the team decided to organize contents into each language skill: reading, writing, listening and speaking. Technically we planned to present contents into three sections based on the framework: Engage yourself-Study-Activate yourself. In the meeting, we distributed tasks of collecting materials to each of us in the team and agreed to meet with assigned works the following week.

Immediately after three weeks of our book development journey, our team briefed our ongoing activities and preparation of the textbook to Curriculum Development Centre. We provided our preliminary drafts of some lessons to CDC. It led us to a meeting with subject committee members in CDC. The committee’s feedback helped us develop a draft of the book. Ultimately we were able to submit our book draft on the 45th day of our book writing journey. Then, we developed a task force including school teachers, collected their feedback and made some changes in the draft of the textbook. The further meeting with subject committee members provided valuable feedback to improve the draft and we included some images and diagrams with their suggestion.

When the final draft was produced as a textbook, it was sent to one hundred government schools for piloting the project. The pilot project provided significant feedbacks and then the comments collected from the school teachers were reviewed subsequently. The feedbacks helped rectify errors in the textbook. Then the textbook was published as a final version and distributed throughout the country.

Main structure of the book

We structured the materials under ESA (Engage -study-activate) lesson sequence in the textbook. Engage activities are presented as motivational activities, study activities as main texts, and activate activities as real-life activities. Reading texts in the textbook provide with opportunities for developing various reading skills such as skimming and scanning, and vocabulary development.  Practical activities set in the book provide the students with basic writing skills. Likewise, listening and speaking activities are entirely based on the communicative skills. We also expect that the students enhance grammatical competence through grammatical items presented in each unit. Some project works in the textbook drive teachers and students to field activities such as social events, environmental and community studies which may develop socialisation skills in the learners. Finally, to address the multiple intelligences of the students, fun activities are included in the textbook.

Personal experience in writing textbook

When I was selected and involved in the team of textbook writers, I got a load of priceless joys. Eventually, I started to dream to be a popular writer after being a part of a national level textbook. My dream to publish about my social, cultural and contexts were gradually happening to be actually concrete in real life. This opportunity reminded my teacher, Mr. Kalika Koirala, who encouraged me to study English and start teaching career. Since I became a member of writers’ team of the textbook, I have been popular among many people and my village has been recognised by many.

How I had thought in the beginning of starting to write the textbook did not go easily while gathering materials and working in the textbook. I thought 45 days would be enough for developing a draft of a textbook but actually, it was not. However, it was the allocated time for our team which was a pressure for everyone in the team. I have explained the major difficulties we faced when developing the book draft below:

Word choice: The guidelines for textbook writers had explicitly explained the maximum number of syllables in a word and the number of words in a sentence. We had to follow it strictly. This created problem while selecting the authentic reading texts. We had skipped many interesting texts due to the frequency of sentences consisting of more than twenty-two words and words consisting of many syllables. Therefore, there might not be more interesting reading texts in the book.

Framing the materials within the prescribed number of pages: As per the guidelines, we had to present all the materials within 176 pages. The areas to be addressed were really difficult to squeeze within the prescribed number of pages. To maintain it, we left many interesting texts. Therefore, we had to supply the book with short texts without the careful consideration of the interest of the students.

Searching for texts with prescribed language functions: There were particular language functions to be addressed in the textbook. While selecting the texts for different language functions and aspects, the texts had had at least some language exponents addressing the language functions prescribed in the curriculum. Finding such texts within a limited time was almost impossible. So we wrote some reading texts to address such problems.

Selecting the pictures and drawing in the textbook: When we submitted the draft copy within a given time frame, the textbook designer was handed over the document. The designer was assigned to supply the book with the pictures as per our description. We had no role in drawing pictures. Sometimes we changed the texts due to the lack of some pictures. In some cases, we changed the descriptions too. So we could not present the materials as we wished before.

However, being a textbook writer brought me both pleasure and pain. The pleasure relived the pain and generated more energy to be in the team of Grade 9 and 10 textbook writers.  The first writing experience not only strengthened my writing skills but also taught me what the writer should consider while writing a textbook.

* The author is a Lecturer at Sanothimi Campus, Tribuwan University, Nepal and a textbook writer of English textbooks for grade VIII, IX and X (CDC).

My Experience Using Digital Technology in Primary School

ambadatta-joshi

Ambadatta Joshi

Along with the new rising sun, there are new developments in science and technology. More than that in the sector of education, digital technology is being the focus for all the schools. All the students and guardians are attracted toward the school where there is the use of digital technology.

While telling my experience of learning basic letters of English and Nepali, I learned to read and write on ‘Dhulauto’ (a small wooden board with spread dust on it used to write with a little stick, erase and rewrite). My teacher used to catch my hand and get me to write the basic letters on the board. Gradually, I used ‘Kamero’ (made of white mud and water) and then ‘Khari’ (soft white stone) to write on pati (a wooden board). Gradually, I came to use ink that was developed by fermenting locally available particular tree leaves in boiling water and filtering with a piece of cotton cloth. The pen was made of Nigalo (a particular type of bamboo found in the hills and mountains). For writing, I used to use Nepali paper locally made because my father used to develop it at home out of a kind of bush plant to write horoscope of people. Nowadays, these pens and paper are not utilised in the schools.

Those days, students were quite afraid of English teacher with no reason. They used to be rather happy when the English teacher was absent. In English lessons, we used to write the pronunciation of all the words under the line in Nepali so that we could ready easily and correctly. This was the situation and feeling toward English language and English teacher when I was a student in a primary school.

Nowadays, where there is the use of digital technology in English period, it is entirely different than those days. In my own school, OLE Nepal has provided 42 XO-laptops (E-pati) for the students that we use to teach English as well as other subjects. The lessons and activities those are available in E-pati are designed to obtain class-wise and subject-wise goals of education. There are audio-visual materials that help teachers and students in teaching and learning activities.

We have e-library (local server) that contains over six thousand digital books in Nepali and English. Those reference books help the children as well as teachers gain extra knowledge about various local and global activities. Even the high school and campus near the school take advantage of this school e-library. This has developed good habits of reading in the children.

Nowadays, the teachers feel abnormal without digital technology in their teaching and learning in our school. I can say that the schools which have got this technology are lucky. In my case, this has brought a huge difference in teaching English. The technology has cultivated energy in my profession. This has provided more opportunities for the children to practise their lessons and given relief for me in the classroom. When the children have some problems, I facilitate them in their activities. Since we got this technology, this has decreased the burden of gathering several teaching materials and saved teachers’ time as it contains several audio-visual materials for teaching and learning. The animated pictures in e-paath (an application that includes course books) have decreased my unnecessary lecture in the classroom. Various videos about wild animals, the universe, internal body parts, baby growth, development of plan out of the seed, etc. have made classroom teaching and learning very effective. Use of the technology has developed a mind of both the children and the teachers. This has become very supportive in engaging the students in the absence of a teacher in the school.

The technology in the school has gradually made the guardians feel ownership of the school’s property. Their positive response toward the change in teaching and learning with the new technology has made the teachers more responsible. They feel pride that their children are learning with new technology which they had never seen before three years. The digital technology has encouraged them to further develop the school.

The use of new technology has increased the number of students and decreased the drop-outs from the school. The children learn singing, dancing, playing games and other activities by watching videos on the devices. They freely select various digital books like poetry, stories, etc. for reading or drawing pictures. The most important aspect the technology has developed in the children is learning interest.

I wish all other schools will get this technology to bring change in their teaching and learning activities. Otherwise, this will increase digital divide between the schools and children. In the end, the teachers should be well-trained to use such digital technology in their instructional activities to improve teaching and learning and to achieve educational goals.

The author: Ambadatta Joshi teaches at Shree Kalika Primary School, Sunkuda, Bajhang

The Seven Years Journey of ELT Choutari: Reflections

As ELT Choutari enters into eighth year, Choutari editor Ashok Raj Khati has talked to Dr. Balkrishna Sharma, Narendra Singh Dhami, Praveen Kumar Yadav and Dr. Shyam Sharma, to reflect back its seven years journey. They have  put their voices in light with the contribution of ELT Choutari to local and global ELT discourses too.

Dr. Bal Krishna Sharma, a founding member of Choutari

13173997_10209640185584950_7635820056705789107_nI would like to comment mainly on two points when reflecting back the Choutari’s seven years. First, Choutari has been able to groom a new generation of scholars capable of writing on topics they have read about in others contexts or learned in their university classrooms. We did not have a stronger tradition of academic writing in TESOL and applied linguistics in the context of Nepal in the past. The Journal of NELTA was there, but young Nepali scholars did not consider themselves qualified enough to write for the journal. I had a similar view when I completed my M. Ed. In 2003. There still is a popular assumption that only experienced ‘scholars’ write for the journal, and the younger scholars are positioned in the receiving end of the journal readership. Since the starting of this webzine, this assumption has been questioned, renegotiated and redefined. I can see a whole lot of new scholars turning themselves into academic writers with greater confidence, refined skills, and thoughtful pedagogical tips. Second, the traditional mode of printing and publication in Nepal reached only to a small group of readers, usually with a long time gap. Consider, for example, the NELTA journal we have. It includes a collection of homegrown scholarship, but we have to wait for one year to read about ten or so articles. Webzine like the ELT Choutari has again challenged the tradition, expanding its reach to a wider audience, with a large number of readable articles. This again has promoted a new generation of writers and readers, who necessarily are not the university professors.

Regarding the contribution of Choutari, I was reading the latest issue of Choutari before I wrote this paragraph. This issue largely reflects how Choutari has been able to address both local and global concerns in the field of ELT. Lal Bahadur Bohara, for example, brings voices of English teachers from the far-western region. I was intrigued by Lal Bahadur’s observation that teachers in the region do not only question the Western decontextualized cultural content in English lessons, they also question the so called ‘localized’ content in textbooks and contents written and produced by Nepali writers. This article reminds me of an onion metaphor used in language policy research, highlighting that language policy is like an onion reconciled in several layers, processes and levels. So is the issue of culture: it operates in multiple levels, and national dominant cultures may not serve as a local culture in all the contexts. Lal Bahadur’s blog post is one representative examples from Choutari with regard to how Nepali young scholars have tried to raise and redefine the ‘local’ in language teaching, questioning and challenging some dominant traditions in our field.

Another article from the same issue that connects the local with the global is by Sujit Wasti. Sujit aptly uses the metaphor of McDonaldization by sociologist George Ritzer to take account of the impact of globalization on the local, including language and the environment. This was fascinating for me because ELT has not paid much attention to the discourses and concerns of the environment in pedagogical contexts. It makes sense to address the concerns of climate change and environmental degradation, which are equally local and global, in our policies and practices.

When the local voices and issues are narrated and circulated to a global audience through the internet on ELT topics that matter to people around the world (e.g. critical pedagogy, teaching tips, ELT humor, literacy, and many more), this is as an evidence that Choutari is both local and global.

Narendra Singh Dhami, teacher at Khimti Project school, Kirne, Dolkha

I have been reading the Choutari Khurak since its first issue published in 2009. I found that the blog posts are very useful resources for me and my fellow teachers. As its name suggests, it offers different tastes and colours on teaching strategies and activities as well as theoretical insights for professional development.

We have formed a group of five teachers in our school to discuss on the posts of each new issue of ELT Choutari. We often save the published articles from the website and discuss on each post among us. We also apply the best strategies and current trends of ELT approaches mentioned in our real classroom teaching situation. Some articles are truly inspirational, some are insightful to new teaching strategies and some are really research based too. The Choutari teaches us on how to grow  professionally in the remote parts of the country. And, of course, Choutari has broadened the horizon of ELT discourses in such remote area where it is quite difficult to get textbooks in time. The varieties of posts in each issue of Choutari always reenergize me to improve my teaching practices. I shall be much glad to read some posts on child psychology and motivational stories in the days to come. I am so grateful to the editorial board for providing me an opportunity to reflect on ELT Choutari.

Praveen Kumar Yadav, an editor of Choutari

As ELT Choutari enters into 8th year, we would like to thank our valued contributors and readers for their continued support. The ELT journey without their support was never possible to accomplish seven years. The ELT Choutari today has won acclaim for its commitment to contributing to discourses focused on various issues related to English Language Teaching and Education.

Generally speaking, the past causes the present, and so the future. Looking into the origin of Choutari, the web magazine was started as a wiki collaborative project in January 2009 to supplement the ELT conversations that have been going on for many years within the mailing list of NELTA. In order to make accessible to such ELT conversation by the rest of the ELT community outside NELTA (here’s what one member wrote in the original “about” page), ELT Choutari was initiated.

First initiated by Ghanashyam Sharma (Shyam), who was accompanied by Bal Krishna Sharma and Prem Bahadur Phyak, this networking initiative had six core moderators (Sajan Kumar Karn, Kamal Poudel, and Hem Raj Kafle joined later) from 2009-2012. Then, this initiative is being continued by a team of young ELT practitioners and scholars. They believe that we can develop very useful and probably most relevant intellectual/professional resources for the Nepalese ELT community and those interested through a discussion forum like this.

So far, more than 500 posts has been published by ELT Choutari, followed by more than 1000 comments over the past seven years. Our journey over the past seven years did not remain smooth. Our journey began with challenges, continued with the same and they exist even today. For instance, in the beginning of our journey we embraced challenges when internet and blogging was much exposed in Nepal and ELT community. Even today, challenges are ahead as we look for ELT enthusiasts to come and joins us for the mission.

Amid challenges, we chose to remain optimist to see them as the opportunity for us, just like Winston S. Churchill’s saying, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” We are driven by our courage and willingness to change. We never pretend that nothing has happened or we are not ready to move ahead.

Dr. Shyam Sharma, a founding member of Choutari

I think Choutari has made unique contributions to Nepali ELT discourse. The community had a great journal, and we also had an active listserv; but we wanted to provide colleagues a place to share ideas that was more public/open and interactive, where especially younger colleagues could contribute their ideas and experiences and run conversations. Many scholars who chose to run this blogzine also had the opportunity to practice publication and leadership skills while serving the profession. This publication has slowed down a little bit, but I am confident that new scholars will take the baton forward. In fact, I also hope that more venues like this will emerge and make new kinds of contributions to the field of ELT in Nepal.

The few colleagues who started this journey would have never imagined that hundreds of scholars, including scholars from around the world, would contribute to this venue–nor that new local voices would join and develop like they did. Thinking about how we started the initial conversation (by putting some of our email conversations in the more open platform of a wiki) is just humbling. The first set of editors (Prem Phyak, Bal Krishna Sharma, and me) took a few important steps in the journey, but we never imagined the many new areas that new colleagues would go on to cover, new ideas they would implement. Just the number of posts and comments and the generation of ELT scholars at home who have participated in the conversation through Choutari is truly inspiring.

As a reader, I urge other readers to read and share the good work here, to contribute as writers, and to consider leading the venue. And I thank the colleagues who are running it today and tomorrow.  ​

Children Taught Me English language

Karna Rana

When I was a cowboy going to high school in the late 1980s, there was no educational mission in my life. Born in a poor economic background, even thinking of high school after primary school (Year Five) was just like imagery. Almost all the primary school graduates used to travel to India for work after primary school education in our locality. This came to me too in the long run of schooling but my illiterate (cannot read and write) mother and two elder brothers (who could not complete even their primary school due to loss of father) insisted me to join high school which was/is at the distance of three and half hour walk from home. After learning English alphabets at grade four and five, my journey to learning English in high school started in the mid-80s. That used to take whole morning to reach the high school after crossing dense forest, river, and walks up and down the hills via three villages. Over three hour walk in the morning and the same distance back home after school every day was more than enough to make me very tired. The dreams might be away from the sleeps but the real dream of life i.e learning English and speaking like professional was alive even in the sleeps, every walk and work throughout the high school.

Although there was no English learning environment in my school, the thought of learning English emerged listening to the rhymes of the kindergarten children of private school and looking at a couple (both teachers) of the school. I wished I could speak English like those couple teachers who were running that kindergarten school. There was no any English language learning centre around the school. Otherwise, I would have possibly joint the class. Gradually, I completed my high school with almost ‘no learning of English language’. I could just read words without understanding what the text meant. However, I passed SLC by memorising the texts, especially teacher’s notes. I must thank those high school teachers for their intensive teaching of English grammar that supported me to learn English in university later. Apparently I could not speak English even if I had every day English class from primary to high school.

This is a common sense – Nepal was/is not a ground of English though the neighbour had been colonial land of English for hundreds of years. I must thank the earlier generation of Nepali who saved Nepal and the diversity of over 125 languages that exist in Nepal even today. Though I could not learn proper English in high school, I learned formal English during my university education. How I learned English is quite interesting to share here. In fact, I learned almost no English from university classes but I learned English speaking and writing from my teaching profession at private schools in Kathmandu. Thank God, I got a job at private primary school where I used to teach kindergarten children. Actually I was learning more than teaching those kids in the school. The English language began with ‘May I come in, sir? May I go to toilet, sir? Come in. Go…’ Wow! How lovely the children were, who taught me English speaking and writing which was really helpful to study English on campus. I could speak general English in the very first year of my teaching profession. That teaching was reflected in the result of my I. Ed. English papers when I got very good marks. Therefore, I always thank those kids who taught me English language.

Let me continue the issue of professionalism in English language. Since 1995, the beginning of my university education and teaching profession excluding high school, I have been learning English. When I was almost at the scratch level even after SLC, I thought of developing English in me. I could develop English to some extent from my teaching profession as well as university education. I was always keen to develop my academic English proficiency throughout I.Ed, B.Ed and M.Ed. That was the main reason I selected English as major subject in the university. Sometimes I used to feel wretched when I could not understand native speakers’ English on TV or movies. Of course I had been teaching English at different English medium schools and community campus in Kathmandu for about eighteen years before travelling to the United Kingdom for my second Masters in September 2009. However, language is observed in communication and academic arts. One of the reasons behind going to study MA in Education in the UK was the same to develop English language in me.

Let me tell my real story in the UK. I could mostly understand the people in the university but it was quite different when I had to communicate with customers at my work. I used to work in service oriented company where I had to speak over the phones and face-to-face with local English people. I don’t know how many mistakes I might have done in the very first month due to misunderstanding of people’s language. There I realised what the real English is. This reminded my linguistic theory that I learned in B.Ed and M.Ed classes in Nepal ‘Language is human specific.’

I believe this reflective story is worth sharing with teachers, policy makers and English language learners. Only running after English language may be killing our innovative and productive life. At the same time, it should be understood that language is/not universal phenomenon and it should be realised in the education policies of the nation. As an emerging researcher, I have been reading education policy of Nepal and other countries, there is a gap between socio-cultural values and English language education in Nepal. As I said earlier Nepal was/is not the land of English where over 125 languages still exist with their socio-cultural diversities. Quite significant, most of the developed countries are gradually adopting migrant languages to reflect their diversity, inclusion and preserve their socio-cultural values. When we lose our languages, our socio-cultural values also die with the language. One reality that we have to understand is that language is not solely education. This is just the vehicle of education.

Lastly, I am writing this from the land of English (i.e. New Zealand). Just a reminder, I have realised very lately that English is just a language for communication that anyone can learn from the environment. This is similar to one of the 125 languages in Nepal. Now I speak and write English but I wasted my valuable time of life just running after English language and ignoring life skills. Now I think, I should have learned how to cultivate a beautiful flower in a pot that would give me handsome earning in any part of the world.

Mr. Rana is a PhD Candidate in the School of Teacher Education, College of Education, Health and Human Development, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand

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