Motivation Through Writing

Myrtis (Doucey) Mixon, Ed. D.

University of San Francisco

 

How can we motivate our students to be excited about their classes? One way is to tell them stories. Another way is to ask them to write stories.

 

Stories educate, enrich, and entertain everyone.  Find easy stories in English.  But for now, I will whet your appetite by sending you two of the stories that will be published in the forthcoming book of stories called “Untold Tales” written  by English ACCESS Microscholarship Students in Nepal, These are the stories that they wrote at the winter camp in 2013 in Pokhara.

 

These anecdotes and tales of exprience provide an enjoyable opportunity to increase vocabulary, reading comprehension, listening and speaking and, ultimately, writing. The stories and exercises together are a whole-language anthology designed to improve communication skills. These stories include exercises that employ the cooperative/collaborative learning philosophy and address multiple learning styles.

 

Using stories is a magical way to teach, effective at any age.  Here’s a summary of how stories aid language-learning:

  • provide motivation for reading
  • heighten listening skills
  • develop speaking skills
  • use cooperative learning strategies
  • foster creative language growth
  • provide content-based material
  • Serve as model for further writing

All learners, from babies to grandmothers, learn better with stories; they are energizers. Integrating stories as an adjunct to the teacher’s repertoire in the classroom setting is not only simple, but makes perfect sense.  We hope you use these stories to open new worlds of content and learning possibilities.  We also hope they serve as a springboard to motivating your own students to write stories.

 

Enjoy the stories. If you want some more, write to me at “myrtis101@mac.com” and I will send you more. These two are from Kathmandu and Gorkha, but I have many  others, some from Butwal and Birgunj.

 

My Story

 

One early morning, on my way to temple, I saw sparkling eyes in ragged clothes.  I saw their creative hands and bright smiles.  These children are strangers to me but no different from our own children whom we always love and support.

 

Two days later, I visited the prison of Sundhara, Kathmandu, for my class in social work.  I saw many such faces who reside in prisons alongside their incarcerated parents and I became sad.  These children have done nothing wrong.  They are simply caught up in something they don’t understand.

 

I couldn’t forget them so a few months later, along with some friends, we opened up a child daycare centre in a rented house.  My parents were not happy and they told me to leave it.  However, I was determined to take those children out of prison and look after them and educate them for the future.

 

When I started this, I was 21, and nobody believed in me.  People thought I was crazy.  They laughed at me.

 

After two years, in 2005, I established The Butterfly Home for the children.  Then, I travelled to many other places, speaking with jailers, parents and authorities, preparing to bring children out of prison.  My own parents now understood and helped me.  We were so touched by the children’s plight, that they are forced to live with their impoverished, incarcerated parents because there is no one to look after them on the outside.

 

It has been eight years since I began gathering the children from Nepali prisons and bringing them to live in a centre in the capital, Kathmandu, providing them not only with food and shelter, but also education and motherly love.  I am happy to be recognized as their mamu.  Now I have become the second Nepali woman to win the 2012 CNN Hero Award at the star-studded award ceremony held in Los Angeles.  But still 80 children are living in prison and I am going to take them out of the prison soon.

 

My name is Puspa Basnet and children are my hope.  I believe the world is their place where they can carve their future with their own hands.

Prashanna Mahat, 15

Kathmandu

 

Exercises

Understanding the Story

How did Puspa Basnet get involved with helping the children?

 

Vocabulary

sparkling    reside    incarcerated         determined   plight    impoverished  carved

1. The stars were ______________________________________________ in the sky.

2. The children’s parents  are __________________________________ in the prisons.

3. The children have nowhere to ____________________________ out of the prisons.

4. Puspa Basnet was _______________________ to get the children out of the prisons.

5. Many people were affected by the ______________________ of these poor children.

6. To make something out of something can be to ____________________________ it.

7. The parents in the prison have no money; they are __________________________ .

 

Now you Talk

1. What would it be like to be one of those children living in the prison?

2. Where do they go to school?

3. Is there a way you could help these children?

 

Now you Create

1. Write a letter to the mayor of your town asking for help.

2. Draw a cartoon strip about this problem.

 

Role Play

1. Mother in prison, her son: talking about his going to school.

2. That son, another student: talking about where he lives.

3. Two Girls who live with parents in prison: talking about their lives.

4. Two guards in prison: planning to help the children

5. Puspa Basnet, mayor of town: talking about helping more children.

 

 

 

The Kidnappers

 

This is a true story that happened in Dada Gaun village near Laxmi bazaar in 2012.

 

One Saturday, Rina and Rehan, a brother and sister asked their  parents if they could go to the park.  Their parents said, “Please, go safely.  There are so many bad people in the road.”

 

Rina said, “Don’t worry.  We will be careful.”  They crossed one town where many busses went here and there.  They went to the park.  While they were walking on the road, a micro bus stopped just beside them.  The door opened and a man jumped out, grabbed them both and put them in the micro bus.

 

They were taken to the jungle which is near the park.  They were so afraid and they cried a lot.  Many hours went by.  The kidnapper went near Rina and laughed. Rina asked, “Why are you laughing?”

 

The kidnapper said, “You are my one corore rupees.  That is the ransom we will get from your parents.  Give me your phone number.  But Rina didn’t give it to him.  He slapped her and said, “If you don’t give me your father’s phone number, I will kill you right now.”

 

Rina was afraid of him and gave the number.  Meanwhile, the children’s parents were worried when they didn’t come home by evening time.  Then their mobile phone rang.  The kidnapper demanded one corore rupees as a ransom.  The kidnapper said to him, “If you don’t give me the ransom money, you will see your children’s dead bodies.”

Hearing this, the father became more afraid.  Then the father thought of a trick.  “Where are you?”  asked Rina’s father.  The kidnapper said, “I am in the jungle near the park.”

 

While the father kept talking to the kidnapper, the mother called the police station and said,  “Please save my children.  They have been kidnapped.  They are in the jungle near the park.  The kidnapper demands one corore rupees as ransom.  I don’t have even thousands.”

 

The police hurried and drove very quickly.  They stopped the car in the park and walked into the jungle.  They surrounded the microbus and caught the kidnapper.  The children were saved.

 

Their parents gave many thanks to the police.  They told the police not to let the kidnapper free because if he is free he would kidnap other children.  After that he was put into the jail for his whole life.

 

Kasam Ale,  15

Gorkha

 

Exercises

Understanding the Story

What is a moral for this story?

 

Vocabulary

Fill in the blanks of the summary with the words below.

ransom     surrounded      kidnappers     tricked

microbus     worried      careful      grabbed

 

The children wanted to go to the park.  Their parents were __________________ They said, “Be very _________________ .  While the children were walking, a _________________ stopped and a man jumped out and _______________________ them.  The men were __________________________.  They demanded  a _____________________ .  The father ________________  the bad men.  The police ____________ the kidnappers.

 

Now You Talk

1. What would you do if a kidnapper grabbed you?

2. How can you solve a crime with a mobile phone?

 

Now You Create

1. Draw a picture of the kidnappers.

2. Write another ending to this story.

 

Role Play:

1. Mother, girl: warning about bad people.

2. Girl, kidnapper: he asks for her phone number.

3. Sister, brother: planning how to get away from kidnappers

4. Father, police: planning to catch kidnappers.

5. Mother, girl: talking about their capture.

Effective Practice for Vocabulary

William Wolf

Chittagong, Bangladesh

Students often ask me, “How can I learn English better and faster?” and I have trouble giving them an answer. I have taught English for more than 20 years and I have been a student of languages for more than 30, but I am still not sure how to answer their question. The problem, I think, is that they are looking for the one way to learn a language. But learning a language effectively requires that we use a number of different methods. In this blog, I want to address what I think is the single hardest part about learning a language to a high level—vocabulary—and to suggest a number of ways that learners can improve their knowledge and skills in this area.

Learning vocabulary is a real problem

In my experience as both a teacher and a student, the most time-consuming part of learning a language is usually vocabulary. People often worry about the problems of learning a new alphabet, script or other writing system, but although this is a problem in the beginning, it is really something in which we can make a lot of progress in just hours. There are some exceptions, Chinese being the most famous. But if someone wants to learn Arabic, Greek, Russian, Burmese, or some other script, ten or twenty hours of careful practice spread out over a few weeks will usually be enough. People also often worry about grammar, and it’s true that this will take longer. Here, it’s a matter of many months of practice.

But when it comes to learning vocabulary, it’s a matter of years, not of weeks or months. Many language learners discover that when they’ve reached a high intermediate level, they’re able to discuss, with some difficulty, many topics, but that even books written for ten-year-old native speakers are often too hard for them to understand. Why? When I ask students to take a page from a text and then to use two different colors to mark the grammar and the vocabulary problems they have with this text, they quickly see that they usually have only a small number of grammar problems per page, but they might have 20 or 50 or even more words whose meanings they cannot understand.

Reading even a book for a fifth grader requires a knowledge of thousands of head words. Ordinary conversation probably uses no more than one or two thousand head words. This means that simply relying on conversation will not give us a vocabulary large enough to read even texts that teenage native speakers can understand. If our goal is to be able to read university level materials, our work will be even harder.

Of course, if the language we are studying has a vocabulary that is closely related to a language we already know, then learning vocabulary won’t be so difficult. Spanish and French share a large percentage of their vocabulary. Both are descended from Latin and both have borrowed many technical words from Latin, so a person who knows one will find it quite easy to learn the vocabulary of the other. Similarly, most North Indian languages are closely related. Hindi, Bengali, Nepali, Gujarati, and many other languages are both descended from Sanskrit and have borrowed many of their specialized words from Sanskrit. A knowledge of one of these languages helps immensely in learning any of the others.

But when we are learning a language whose vocabulary has few connections with other languages that we know, we will have to spend hundreds, if not thousands, of hours reading, using dictionaries, memorizing, and practicing if we want to be able to function at a university level.

Learning vocabulary is a real problem. So what to do about it?

1 – Choose the right things to read

The simplest piece of advice for learning any skill is “practice…a lot.” But it’s not enough to simply practice, we must use effective practice, and this is where things start to become more difficult. In addition to the problem mentioned above—the very large number of vocabulary that must be learned—there’s another problem, namely, that to effectively learn vocabulary we need to concentrate on words that are appropriate for our level. The best way to do this is to find texts that are at the right level. If the texts are too easy, we won’t find enough new words to learn, but if the texts are too difficult, there will be too many new words and these words will often be too hard for us to use (that is, to practice) in our own speaking and writing.

The most important thing we can to do make learning vocabulary more effective is to choose texts that have about the right number of new words. Dr. Willy A Renandya is a senior lecturer at Singapore’s National Institute of Education, and he has done a great deal of research on extensive reading. He argues that the best texts to use are ones that are rather easy for the learner. What does “rather easy” mean? In percentage terms, this means that for extensive reading we should be using texts where only about 2% of the words are unknown to us. A paperback novel might have about 250 words per pages, so he suggests the Rule of Five. If the text is the size of a paperback novel, count the number of unknown words on page, and these should be fewer than five. If they are more than five, the learner will probably only be able to read a small number of pages before giving up in frustration.

There are several ways we can find such “rather easy” texts. One way is to use texts written for younger native speakers or language learners. Children’s books and school textbooks are two obvious choices. Poetry and songs will usually be harder than prose, and comic books are often not a good choice since they use so much slang.

Another source is graded readers. Graded readers are books that are written to match different levels (here called “grades”) in terms of both vocabulary and grammar. There are many publishers of graded readers: Oxford, Cambridge, National Geographic, as well as South Asian publishers. Most of them use some form of a 6-level scale to describe the difficulty of a text. They also publish a wide range of titles and genres; there’s fiction (both original and adapted), travel, science, geography, history, and many other topics. I urge my learners to start with a book at level 3 and read a few pages and apply Dr. Renandya’s Rule of Five. If the book is too hard, then they should choose a level 2 book and try it. If the book is too easy, then they should try a level 4 book.

But choosing the right level is only part of the solution. It’s also important that we chose the right kind of book. If we have a very specific purpose in learning a language, we should concentrate on texts connected with that purpose. For example, if our only interest in learning a language is to read biology texts, then we should focus on vocabulary connected with that field. Of course, we need to find levels at the right level of difficulty, so we could use graded readers about science and the environment or books for primary and secondary school students. However, if our goal is to function at the level of an educated person, we should not limit our reading. Instead, we should read texts from a variety of genres and about a variety of topics: science, fiction, travel, politics, religion, movies, food, sport, family, holidays, everything.

2 – Find the definitions

Finding the definitions sounds easy but actually can be the most boring part of learning vocabulary. There are a number of common mistakes people make but also several solutions.

The worst thing to do is to stop everyone time we find an unknown word and to then look it up in a dictionary. This completely breaks our attention. What should we do? I recommend using a highlighter (I happen to use an orange one for this purpose) to mark the unknown words as one reads. After I reach the end of the chapter, I’ll then go back and choose which of the highlighted words to actually look up in a dictionary. If I’ve chosen a book that’s not too difficult, there should be no more than five unknown words per page, which would mean perhaps 20 to 100 words per chapter.

I am a big believer in using flashcards. These are pieces of stiff paper on which we can write things that we want to memorize. I should emphasize three things. First, many language learners think that all they need to do is make flashcards and memorize the words in order to learn a language. That’s not true. We also need to practice how to use these words correctly, an issue I’ll address a bit later. A second problem is that many native speakers of English don’t like using flashcards and urge their students not to use them. In my experience, these native speakers tend to recommend that learners simply use context to guess the meanings or that they just absorb new vocabulary from books, TV, movies or other sources. In my experience, such people very often fail to learn any language to a university level. Although using context to guess meaning is very important, most learners are not able to learn thousands of words simply through methods like these. Third, many monolingual native English speakers insist that their students only use English-English dictionaries. I have little patience with this. Although once we reach an advanced or superior level, we might use such dictionaries, for lower levels the best choice is a bilingual dictionary.

Once I have finished a chapter or some other part of the text, I will choose which of the highlighted words to learn. Often I will try to learn all the words, especially if I’ve chosen a text with not too many unknown words. I use flashcards that are 3 centimeters by 6 centimeters and that are made of stiff paper like that used to make business cards. Some people prefer to use larger cards, but I find that this size, although small, is easy to hold in my hands. I write the unknown words on the cards and then I organize them alphabetically. Next, I use a dictionary to find definitions and I write these on the cards. I know that the next point will sound foolishly simple, but it’s important. When you write the definition on the card, make sure you write it on the back of the card (English on one side, and your own language on the other) and also be sure to turn the card upside down. Having the words on one side written upside down with respect to the other will make it much easier to flip the card for learning and reviewing.

3 – What kind of information to include on the flashcards?

For learners of English, it will often be necessary to write the pronunciation of the word on the flash card. If you are right handed, you will probably be holding the cards in your right hand, so I suggest writing the English word in the center of the card and then writing the pronunciation in the bottom right corner. This way, you can hide the pronunciation with your right thumb and use it to help to guess and study the pronunciation.

It also makes sense to write irregular forms (especially for verbs), and for this I recommend also using the lower right corner. And for the small number of irregular plural nouns (child – children, ox – oxen, woman – women, etc), you can do the same.

Another kind of information to include is derivatives. For example, for the card with the word reason on it, you might also want to write reasonable and rational on the English side and then to give the definition of each on the back.

It can also be useful to include together words that you often confuse. For example, beginners often have trouble with kitchen and chicken. Putting both on the same side of one card can help you practice them and can help you remember that they’re different.

4 – Collocations are important, too

Learners should certainly also include collocations. A collocation is a fancy word for a group of words that often come together. Some of these might be phrasal verbs: get over, get across, break up, break through, come off, drag into, see off. Others can be phrase: have a good time, be on top of the situation, find a solution to the problem. It’s not possible to learn all of these, but when we’re making flashcards, we should probably include some collocations.

5 – Moving beyond the dictionary: finding useful phrases

A dictionary won’t have every phrase that we want to say, but a could source to find this is our extensive reading. When we are reading, many times we’ll see a phrase or a sentence and think, “I didn’t know this before, but I can guess the meaning and I really need to learn how to say this!” When I read, I underline these useful phrases with a green ink pen (green = “go forward” in my mind, so I use green since I want to be able to go forward with these phrases). For example, when I was studying Bengali, I didn’t know how to ask “What does this word mean?” but one day I saw a sentence in a Bengali book and I was able to use context to understand that sentence. I immediately underlined it in green and also made a flashcard so I could practice it.

6 – Going from the discrete to the holistic

So far, most of the things I have emphasized have been discrete skills or discrete pieces of knowledge. “Discrete” means “in small pieces”. Although important, we also have to practice more holistic kinds of language. “Holistic” means “in wholes, not in pieces”.

One way to do this is to make short sentences from the words we see on our flashcards. We shouldn’t always just memorize these words as discrete (isolated) items but should also use them holistically (to make sentences, to have conversations). It’s especially easy to do this with collocations, but we should also try to use individual vocabulary items in sentences.

And what next?

Learners will find that after they get about a thousand or more flashcards, they will have trouble organizing them. It will no longer be possible to review all of these cards each day, nor will it be effective. Many words won’t require daily review to be remembered. In a future blog, I’ll consider the issue of how to organize one’s flashcards. I’ve been using flashcards regularly since the 1980s and for at least half a dozen languages I have more than 5,000 flashcards (for each of these languages). I agree that organizing them and also using them to maintain one’s knowledge of vocabulary is a real challenge, but I think I have some useful ideas. But that will have to wait.

Let’s Integrate Technology with Teaching

Maheshwor Rijal

Technology has affected all the aspects of our life and pedagogy is not an exception. The use of technology in teaching English as second or foreign language (ESL/EFL) has an immense value. Before I conclude this blog entry with the importance of technology in ESL or EFL classroom suggesting the integration of technology into pedagogy, I will share my reflections on the online teacher training course offered by an American University (I have recently attended) and experience of integrating technology into pedagogy. I believe such sharing based on both the reflection and the experience of learning and using technology in the classroom through this blog entry will be worthwhile motivating the readers especially the teachers to introduce and integrate technology in the classroom for effective teaching learning activities.

Reflection on Online Teacher Training Course

A couple of months ago, I attended an online teacher training course titled Building Teaching Skills through the Interactive Web’ offered by the University of Oregon, USA.

I spent altogether 10 weeks for this course, which gave me lots of inputs to use technology into the classroom. The course was designed so systematic and practical in the sense that I had to do lots of assignments. Creating professional blog, nicenet and wiki classroom were the most useful tasks assigned to me. As a result, this web skill course enhanced me searching for innovative ideas.

First, I have bookmarked useful websites in my delicious bookmarking page. Like the name of the host page, this which encompasses the bookmarks of useful websites, offers really delicious tips for teaching and learning. Then, I created my blog on blogger, where I have shared my ideas, experience, reflections and learning. I found that using blog is an effective means for sharing ideas and professional development. Nik Peachey, freelance learning technology consultant, trainer and writer has developed learning technology blog (click here) which combines video tutorial with pedagogical suggestions to help teachers exploit free web based technologies. Likewise, Peachey (2011) says, this blog and also this are useful blogs for the teachers’ professional development.  I have used them and found very much useful for enhancing my professional career as Yadav (2011) argues that blogging is a helpful technique supporting the professional development of English language teachers largely through collaborative learning. He further adds that the blogging helps in building networks among English language teachers and promoting professional dialogues. Using technology in learning was a great opportunity for me to share experiences, knowledge, thoughts or plans with teachers of the same interest around the globe.

The use of nicenet is equally useful for organizing online English project which helps to run parallel to face to face tutorials.  This is all about virtual English classroom. This web tool is useful for organizing interactions among the participants around the globe, link sharing, uploading information, sending the personal message to tutors and others. Learning technology for teaching and experience of integrating technology into teaching has realised me the fact that I am in novice stage and I need to update myself with the changing need of technologies as per the demand of the time.

My experience of integrating technology with teaching

It was difficult for me to introduce technology in the classroom because there was no internet connection and lack of computer in the school. However, I used my own laptop without internet connection in the class for teaching and learning. I had already figured out how I could incorporate it into my lessons and it was—listening activities. First I connected speakers with my laptop and then played the audio materials related with lesson, which I had already downloaded at home. I found the students really enjoyed my lesson which was different from previous times. When asked them what they had learned, majority of them replied the correct pronunciation. They further added that they felt difficult to listen to the sound but later they easily understood. After I got back from the class, I downloaded more different listening activities, authentic speeches, and sometimes captured radio programs using internet at home. For example, I have used this website, as it consists of different communicative exercises and these were helpful for making the classroom more interactive and recreational.  Moreover, I have downloaded and used different games, riddles with the help of internet to make my teaching more interesting.

After I have used technology into the classroom, I found that students’ motivation and interest has increased in a greater amount, making a difference when compared to the classroom without technology. Now I realised that it is useful for revealing the great potentiality of the students and bringing a variety of changes.

Importance of technology in the classroom

Using technology in the classroom does not only associate with the PowerPoint presentation but also the use of different web tools for teaching and learning four language skills; listening, speaking, reading and writing. The use of technology shows the teaching and learning is not only limited within the periphery of the classroom but the teacher can do many more beyond the classroom using blog, nicenet, and wiki class. As a result, students can have access to learn beyond the class with the use of different web tools and the same set of tools can make the language classroom more interesting and lively. Such activities will certainly make the classroom activities fun and interaction oriented. My experience and learning show that these stuffs in the EFL classroom are also helpful for developing professionalism on the part of teacher. To conclude, the use of technology in the classroom opens the windows to access the free and open treasure of vast and worldwide knowledge.

Bill Gates says, “Technology is just a tool, in terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important”. This is age of networking and this is possible by connecting with virtual world. The teacher development is an ongoing process through networking. For this, the use of nicenet, blogging and creating wiki class will certainly have enormous effect for making classroom interactive and bringing synergic effects. By using this, you can post the course information, different assignments and hyperlinks. Moreover, such kinds of web tools are helpful in establishing stimulating environment.  This also provides access to authentic learning materials and considerable amount of exposure to a wide variety of native sounds.

The following sites will be helpful for the teacher to make teaching and learning more interactive:

We need to start doing something different, new and extra through the use of new web tools before it is too delay. Now, it is the time to believe in technology, which is today’s reality.

However, using web technology in the EFL classroom particularly, in remote public school in Nepal is not feasible due to lack of availability of technologies and facilities like electricity, internet access, computer, and other resources and infrastructure required. And, the places where there is such access and availability have challenges like illiterate teachers in terms of knowledge and skills to use technology and reluctance to adopt and adapt modern teaching techniques. Fullan (1991, as cited in Maggioli, 2004) opines that schools are facing problems and challenges because of the “fragmentation, overload and incoherence resulting from the uncritical acceptance of too many different innovations”.

Conclusion

The above sections of this blog entry suggest that there are both opportunities and challenges ahead while integrating technology with pedagogy. Maggioli (2004) adds that language teaching profession is faced with accountability issues that call for improved teacher development as means of improving student learning.  While integrating technology in the classroom, teachers ask themselves key five questions for professional development and this will be useful for implementing any new ideas in the classroom.

1. What am I doing?

2. Why am I doing it in this way?

3. What impact is it having on learners?

4. How might I do things differently?

5. If I did things differently, what impact might it have on learners? (Nolan and Hoover as cited in Maggioli, 2004)

The journey of thousand miles starts from a single foot. There is a need to change the traditional methods of teaching with integrating with technology. The curriculum developer, subject expert and others concerned need to introduce and integrate technology into the course of study for B. Ed. and M.Ed. degree. And such integration should be included in pre-service, in-service and refresher training modules too.

We can bring avenue of progressive change in Nepalese ELT and this is only possible when we have passion to update ourselves adopting and adapting modern global trends. We are not only the teachers but also change makers in ELT. Let’s integrate technology with teaching!

Author:

Mr. Rijal is pursuing his M. Ed. in ELT at Kathmandu University, Nepal.

REFERENCE:

Maggioli, G.D. (2004) Teacher centered professional development. ASCD: USA

Peachey (2011) A checklist of digital skills for teachers and trainers. The Teacher Trainer, Vol. 25, No. 1: A Pilgrims Publication ISSN:0951-7626

Yadav, P.K. (2011) Blogging as a Means of Professional development for ELT professionals. Journal of NELTA: Nepal English Language Teachers’ Association (NELTA) ISSN: 2091-0487

Teachers’ Perception and Practices on Dealing with Homework to Young Learners

Dipendra Kumar Khatri

Homework! Oh, homework!

I hate you! You stink!

I wish I could wash you away in the sink,

If only bomb would explode you to bits

 

By Jack Prelutsky

In the above stanza, the poet Jack Prelutsky speaks of the feelings and attitudes of young learners towards homework. Many a time homework has become a cause of corporal punishment in many schools of Nepal. It has destroyed students’ fun, laughter, games, confidence, etc.  It embittered parents- children relationship, teacher- student relationship, etc. It has appeared as a villain for young learners and does not seem to disappear until a  foreseeable period of time. Teachers, on the other hand, like to assign homework with a hope that learners better learn the things they have taught.  In this connection, I like to share how teachers perceive and practice homework.

I, as the training co-coordinator NELTA Surkhet, facilitated a session on ‘Dealing with Homework in Primary Level’. The main objectives of the presentation was to find out the participants’ perceptions and practices on homework and share how teachers deal with different issues on homework.

In the sharing session, most of the teachers reported that they would always give homework to their students with a view to engaging them in learning at home so that they could consolidate what they had studied at school. They also shared that most of the teachers assign writing or reading or project work as homework. The teachers from the private schools said that they would give a lot of homework, and spend some twenty to thirty minutes to correct it.

The teachers from public schools shared that they were assigning homework ‘sometimes’; not every day; whereas the teachers from private schools shared that they were assigning homework ‘everyday’ and they would give a lot of homework if there is long vacation.

All the teachers shared their bitter experiences of  hearing that voice of students as the responses for not doing homework. Despite their expectations, often teachers have to listen to their students speak out the following utterances:

Sir, my brother tears my notebook.

Sir , yesterday I was absent’

Sir, I had gone to my mamaghar.

Sir, another teacher check it.

There was a lot of homework yesterday.

Sir, I asked father but father did not learn about it.

I only copy it, I do half only.

Sir, it was difficult.’ No idea.

I have lots of work in home.  ‘I have no time to do.’

‘I did not copy the homework.  You rubbed out the questions so fast.’

Sir, I forgot my copy.

‘Sir, I have new copy today.’

I forgot to keep in my bag.

I lost homework copy, sir

Sir, you no give me happy. So I have don’t write.’

Yesterday, I didn’t come to school.

Sir, my mother did not buy copy today.

‘I lost my English book.’

I have not a pen.

Sir, I am sick.

Sir, you check yesterday, I no do today.

‘Sir, you don’t find me very good.’

Some students just stand up still and remain silent; they do not speak but seem to have been terrified. Their face looks gloomy. They do not respond verbally. Those were the common verbal and non-verbal responses to the teachers who check homework. I believe that such responses certainly make both students and teachers feel bad and degrade their zeal for learning and teaching respectively.

Strategies to deal with homework

The teachers shared that they are using many types of strategies to deal with homework effectively.  Some of them are: asking the students for not doing homework, asking parents to come to school, asking learners to do the tasks while the teacher is checking other students’ homework, etc. Some of the teachers even reported that they would get angry when they do not find suitable reasons for not doing homework.

Harmer (2008) advises teachers to ask the students’ interest and try to set homework which are relevant to them; not only in terms of their interests but also in terms of what they are studying. The teachers tend to assign homework related to what the students are studying. They never consider their interests. Similarly, they are willing to contact guardians to conform the reason for not doing homework by their children.

The teachers do not visit the guardians to encourage their children who keep doing homework regularly. They do not telephone the guardians whose children do not have the problem of homework, but they telephone those guardians whose children have the problem of doing homework. Most of such parents also cannot support their children in doing homework. Therefore, not only students but also parents feel embarrassed for being called in the school just to listen to the same thing: Your child does not do homework.

All the teachers shared that they were giving the exercise or lesson of the book as the homework.  To write, read and memorize. They generally do not make it fun i.e. give varied types of work; not only the questions from the book but also some funny tasks. Students want to be involved not only in the routined tasks, but also some serious things or some slightly crazy tasks. The homework can be given in envelops or sent them in e-mails jut to make them feel like doing homework.

The private school teachers said that they would use homework diary to keep record of homework. But it was not used by public school teachers. The teachers in Surkhet valley did not give extra-activities as the homework. They gave homework from books only. They gave tasks orally or in written form face to face; not in envelops and e-mails. The teachers do not give the individual (solo) work, but only one type of task to the whole class.

The teachers form private schools shared that their first duty entering into the class is to check the homework. So they check the students’ homework very often. They do not use pair or student checking strategy. A teacher checked all the students’ homework. They spend as many as thirty minutes for correcting homework. How long do they actually teach!  They did not have sufficient time to check properly with constructive feedbacks. As a result sometimes guardians complain their strategies, sometimes the students themselves question to their teachers. The teachers from the public schools often face the problem while checking the homework because of the large no of students in a class.

Teachers do not forget assigning homework, because they believe that if students do homework, they have learned well. They are overwhelmed by the right responses of their students and keep correcting assignments, no matter how long they are.

The teachers only respect the right answers in the students’ homework, which is also not so good practice, because from the students’ mistakes or errors they can notice how much they have learned and how much they need to help them learn. They can make their further plans in such a way that they can significantly decrease the number of errors to be committed by their students.

Generally, the teachers do not think how they can make post-homework productive. They rarely manage the class where the students correct their mistakes and learn from one another. The teachers  have not  been successful to provide their learners with opportunities to get students to correct each other’s homework in supportive and cooperative way.

It was also shared that the teachers form public as well as private schools took many trainings that helped them to create home wok friendly environment i. e. if the students are not doing homework, the teachers will help them do at school during the class time. They were not using the punishment as the strategy to deal with homework. They also mention  that  they were in favor of finding out reasons why their students do not do homework and act accordingly.

Conclusion

In conclusion,  homework seems to be an integral part of teaching and learning activity from teachers’ perspective. The teachers who teach to young learners should particularly think of some ideas of making homework a fun activity and should not make learners feel any kind of burden, which can have a lot of repercussions on intellectual, emotional, social, etc. aspects of youngsters.

Author:

Mr. Khatri is a life member of NELTA and a Teaching Assistant at Surkhet Campus (Education) and he has been teaching English at the campus over the last four years.

REFERENCE

Harmer, J. (2008). How to teach English. London: Pearson Longman.

Interaction in English language classrooms to enhance students’ language learning

Chura Bahadur Thapa & Angel M. Y. Lin *

Introduction

EFL contexts like Nepal seldom provide students with opportunities for authentic communication in English. Therefore, deliberate ‘interaction in the classrooms’ is emerging as one of the leading conventions to enhance the students’ linguistic resources as well as equipping them with appropriate skills for communication. The major intent of this entry is to share a teacher’s insider experiences of developing interactions in an ESL classroom in Hong Kong while fully recognizing that the contextual differences between Hong Kong and Nepal will necessitate teachers’ own creative adaptation or re-invention of whatever tips shared from elsewhere. We shall, first of all, present the concept of interaction from sociocultural perspectives and discuss various challenges for the front-line EFL teachers to plan and implement lessons that incorporate interactions in ESL or EFL classrooms. Then, insider experiences of the first author of this entry in overcoming those challenges are shared. Assuming that the textbooks and teaching materials play a vital role to promote and facilitate the interactions in classrooms, a sample activity designed for the Secondary Two (Class 8) ESL students in Hong Kong is also included and discussed.

Interaction in language classrooms

Classroom interaction has been considered one of the most important pedagogical research topics in language classrooms in recent decades, mostly due to the influence of the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky. Vygotskian sociocultural theory (Hall & Walsh, 2002) views the act of language learning as a social activity in which children build their knowledge through the help and scaffolding of more knowledgeable peers or teachers. Interactions in language classrooms are important social activities for students through which they not only construct knowledge, but also build confidence and identity as competent language users (Luk & Lin, 2007). In an in-depth ethnographic study of teacher-student interactions in Hong Kong, Luk and Lin (2007) found out that students develop multiple identities through their classroom interactions with their language teachers. Although the study took place in an ESL classroom where native English language teachers are available, Luk and Lin (2007:188) present a telling story about how students negotiate identity and cultural resources, which are “translated into non-institutionally sanctioned language practices and identities”. Perhaps, the social knowledge students bring into the classrooms might be those “non-institutional language practices”, which schools and teachers are supposed to build on in order to enhance their learning.

Interaction in the classroom refers to the conversation between teachers and students, as well as among the students, in which active participation and learning of the students becomes vital. Conversations are part of the sociocultural activities through which students construct knowledge collaboratively. Conversations between and among various parties in the classroom have been referred to as educational talk (Mercer and Dawes, 2008) or “exploratory talk” and “presentational talk” (Barnes, 2008:5). Presentational talk is the one-way lecture conducted by the teachers in the classroom, mostly featured in Nepalese EFL contexts, which contributes little to encouraging and engaging students in a communicative dialogue. Exploratory talk is a purposeful conversation, often deliberately designed by teachers, which provide opportunities to students to engage in “hesitant, broken, and full of deadend” conversations enabling them to “try out new ideas, to hear how they sound, to see what others make of them, to arrange information and ideas into different patterns” (Barnes, 2008:5). Given the limited linguistic resources the EFL students possess in their school years in EFL contexts like Nepal, these hesitant, broken and deadend conversations could be developed into spontaneous conversational skills. When students engage in interactions, they produce “symmetric dialogic context” (Mercer & Dawes, 2008:66) where everyone can participate, get respected and get the decisions made jointly. Students’ participation in interactions, therefore, can help them enrich their linguistic resources and build their confidence to communicate with others in English.

Designing interaction: challenges and ways ahead

When I started teaching English in a Hong Kong school, I noticed that students in Hong Kong like to talk a lot. These talks are often characterized as responses to the multiple stimuli such as various gadgets and social media. To realize the importance of students’ talks in their knowledge building was a paradigm shift in me, as my high school days in Nepal still remind me of the very quiet classrooms where often only the teachers talked. The process of designing lessons with meaningful interactions in my ESL classroom in Hong Kong posed several challenges such as incorporating various forms of interactions, achieving the lesson goals through such interactions, participation of students in meaningful interactions, and making sure that all the students engage in conversations and learn from the teachers as well as from themselves.

Secondly, of course students’ varying language abilities, topics that generated the conversations among them and matched their abilities presented a micro level challenges in managing interactions. Students in my class came from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds, and I believed that they brought with them their own unique knowledge base. Their varying English language ability might sound simple to some or unnoticeable to others, but addressing them in the classroom would very much influence how they view themselves and others (Luk & Lin, 2007) and make them feel how their cultural and linguistic knowledge base could be important in furthering their academic journey.

To overcome the underlined challenges, I took a closer look at other teachers’ practices and suggestions by researchers (Jong & Hawley, 1995). I found Jong and Hawley’s (1995) suggestions particularly setting up group roles, teacher monitoring and evaluation, peer evaluation, appropriate group size and configuration quite useful. Assigning group roles and group configurations could be thought during the planning stage. Teacher monitoring should be conducted at the while-teaching stage, and teacher and peer evaluations are elements to be incorporated at the post-teaching stage. I often incorporated three stages of interactions in my lessons.

  1. Interaction of the students with the teacher (Teacher Student Whole-Class Interaction): I often asked students to respond to a certain question related to a emerging topic or a topic that was already taught as part of the whole-class interactions. For the responses, students were randomly selected based on their ability, seating arrangements, gender and cultural groups to make sure that they all get represented in the interaction process.
  2. Pair Interaction (Interaction with their peers sitting together or next to them): This interaction often took place during the pre-teaching stage, for example to activate their schema on a topic. As part of assigning group roles, students were usually asked to interact with their partners on a topic given by the teacher and present it to the whole class.
  3. Group Interaction (Groups of 4-5 students): This form of interaction often took place during the while-teaching stage. After students read a text, for example in a reading lesson, they could pick up a concept for discussion. Their discussion could dwell on expanding the practical meaning of the concept, finding solution to a problem or bring up a creative issue out of the topic. Based on Jong and Hawley’s (1995) suggestions, students’ roles were often divided based on the nature of the topic such as a note taker, a facilitator, a presenter, and so on. Assigning these roles was crucial to prevent the students to digress from discussion their topics or and contribute meaningfully in the whole learning process.

The idea of teacher monitoring took place during the process of pair or group interactions. Teachers could evaluate the extent and forms of interactions students conducted during the process, and at the same time, provide feedback and support to the weaker students. I often walked around the class and monitored the students’ interactions to make sure that they are up to the tasks and are supported when in need.

Timing the interactions was another important aspect handling the students’ conversations purposefully and meaningfully. I often gave the students 5-10 minutes to interact among themselves and prepare a presentation poster or speech. The timing depended on the topic’s extent of difficulty and students’ ability as well.

Students were often asked to present the outcome of their interaction to the whole class in poster or speech forms. In order to ensure every students’ participation, they were trained and assigned with roles to make contributions individually even during group presentations. This was at this stage that the teacher and peer evaluation took place. I often adopted a range of techniques to evaluate students’ performances such as asking students to fill in an evaluation rubric or asking students about their peers’ performances and grade them on the board. Sometimes this process generated heated debates and quarreling, friendly though; among the students because they thought that some of their peers were not evaluating them fairly.

Last, but not the least, I also created teaching materials and worksheets conducive to the diversity of the students particularly in order to scaffold on their linguistic and cultural resources. Textbooks nowadays are found incorporating activities for some forms of interactions, but they often become irrelevant in the classrooms because these textbooks cannot address the range of students’ ability levels, skill levels and their cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Most textbooks in Hong Kong, for example, incorporate elements of Chinese and Christian festivals and ask the students to interact on that. However, students from Nepal, Pakistan, India, or Sri-Lanka in Hong Kong would not be able to use their cultural resources and construct knowledge from the interactions. Although English language textbooks in Hong Kong are considered to be the most advanced resources for ESL students, modifications often needed to suit to my students’ needs. These changes sometimes also needed to address the students’ willingness and skills to spontaneously engage in interactions. For example, some students in my class were very poor in English and found it hard to even properly construct questions to ask their friends, while others were at a native English speaker’ level.

Taking these questions into consideration, we present an activity (Activity 1) that can potentially be used to promote pair interactions in an EFL classroom. This activity is a modified activity from a secondary two (Class 8) English language textbook in Hong Kong, which is believed to suit students with moderate English ability. The moderate language ability in this context is the students’ ability to use connectives and quantifiers in authentic situations. This activity incorporates multicultural elements in the context of Nepal as it contains pictures of various Nepali festivals as well as Western festivals such as Christmas. Students can ask their peers about their likes or dislikes and jot down their answers to present to the class. Phrases given in the boxes are meant to cater for learner diversity. For higher proficiency students, this activity can be presented in a different way to suit their levels.

___________________________________________________________________________

Activity 1:

Worksheet A

1. Study the pictures in the boxes in pairs. Ask questions to your friend about items that he/she prefers or doesn’t prefer more (or less) and why. Write your friend’s responses in the checklist at the bottom.

You may begin like this: Which festivals do you like more/less/most/least? Why?

 Publication1………………………………………………………………………..

Check List

2. Write your friend’s answers below. You may need to present it to the class.

* My friend likes ___________________________ more, because ______________

* My friend likes __________________________less, because _________________

______________________________________________________________________

* He/She likes ___________________________ the most, because _____________

______________________________________________________________________

* My friend likes ___________ the least, because __________________________

Conclusion

This entry presented the concept of interaction from a sociocultural perspective sharing the first author’s teaching experiences in a Hong Kong school. The sharing included the challenges as well as possible strategies a teacher might adopt to devise, implement and evaluate interactions in an EFL classroom. The sharing could present a model for EFL teachers to choose from many other pedagogical options in order to enhance the students’ English language learning. The activity presented in this entry is only one example of hundreds of such possible activities. The original activity might not be suitable to adopt exactly in Nepalese EFL classes, as there are diversities in terms of language, culture, students’ abilities as well as available resources based on geography, developmental level and proximity to urban life. Teachers need to bear in mind that they understand their students the best and they need to know how students can best interact and learn the language in the classroom.

*About the Authors:

1- Mr. Chura Bahadur Thapa is a PhD Student in the Faculty of Education at The University of Hong Kong. He was an English language teacher in a local college in Hong Kong for almost 7 years before joining HKU as a postgraduate student. He is currently researching the language learning and motivation of ethnic minority students in Hong Kong. His other research interests include- education of ethnic minorities, linguistic and cultural identity, intercultural communication and citizenship education. He can be reached at chura@hku.hk

2- Dr. Angel Lin received her Ph.D. from the University of Toronto, Canada. She is an Associate Professor of English Language Education at the University of Hong Kong.  Well-respected for her versatile interdisciplinary scholarship in language and identity studies, bilingual education and youth cultural studies. she has published six research books and over eighty research articles. She can be reached at angellin@hku.hk.

REFERENCES

Barnes, D. (2008). Exploratory talk for learning. Exploring talk in schools. Los Angeles, London, New Delhi: SAGE, 1-15.

Hall, J.K. & Walsh, M. (2002). Teacher-student interaction and language learning. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 22, 186-203.

Jong, C.D. & Hawley, J. (1995). Making cooperative learning groups work. Middle School Journal, 26 (4), 45-48.

Luk, J.C.M. & Lin, A.M.Y. (2007). Classroom interactions as cross-cultural encounters. Native speakers in EFL classrooms. Mahwah, New Jersey, London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.

Mercer, N. & Dawes, L. (2008). The value of exploratory talk. In Mercer, N. & Hodgkinson, S. (Eds.). Exploring talk in schools. Los Angeles, London, New Delhi: SAGE, 55-72.

An Unforgettable Teaching Technique

Dipendra Kanu

There are so many memorable moments of teaching English language, be it at English language institute or higher secondary school or college. I’d like to share with you what I find to be one of my most effective moments of teaching, which is teaching a story in grade twelve. 

As I was planning to teach students the story ‘The Tell Tale Heart’ by Edgar Allan Poe for grade XII, I was thinking of presenting a quite new idea in a different way from previous times. But I was quite confused and worried about how to teach the story effectively since I was unable to teach the same last time as effectively as I had expected.  I had not spent a great deal of time and I had prepared the lesson in a complete rush. As a result, I could not teach satisfactorily at the first attempt. However, there was a feeling of dissatisfaction in me as the students were not able to comprehend the texts properly as per my expectation.  

In the evening while I was sitting on computer with internet thinking of the next day’s lesson, an idea of searching some teaching materials struck my mind. When I tried it on Google, I found thousands of useful links there but they were of no help for me. Then I did it on YouTube where I came across a very satisfactory video clip uploaded by The Film and TV Channel on Sept. 21, 2009 and its duration was only 10 minutes. No sooner had I downloaded the clip than I watched it for three to four times to satisfy myself and then made a plan to show it to students on my laptop.

Then I took to Googling again till I found another useful file containing the story in pdf version. I printed the story on some pages albeit the course book already contained the story. The only difference was—the pictures in the story which the book does not have. Similarly, I also found some useful links for its audio clips this and also this in mp3 format. First I downloaded them on my computer and then on my mobile phone set.

The next day, I went to the class fully prepared with the audio clips on my mobile phone and video clip on my laptop and the printed papers of the story with attractive pictures. I had given the class a short notice about some video clips on my laptop the day before. The desire to watch the video motivated all the students present in the class that day with much enthusiasm and curiosity.

First I asked them to be attentive in the class and listen to what I was going to play on my mobile set. I played it for 13 minutes and 28 seconds but some of them hardly understood the sound properly since it was the native tongue. Next, it was the time to show the video on the laptop. The students were quiet to watch the short clip. They tried their level best to understand what was going on. After they listened to and watched the clips, I explained the story to them. It was much easier for them to understand it in a quite interesting way. Finally, I presented its summary with the help of printed sheets of papers containing the pictures accompanying to the story. And I asked them to get them photocopied if they wanted.

As luck would have it, it was the last period and I took advantage of this and engaged them for more time than usual. This time my students were able to comprehend the story as expected. It took me around an hour to finish it. This was the most successful, effective and satisfying lesson that I have ever taught in my teaching career. 

Let me conclude this short blog entry with the message—if we really try to explore the resources around us, they can be useful and powerful tool for our classroom activities and teaching something with audio-visual aids will have large effect on the learners. If you are going to teach the story ‘The Tell Tale Heart’ in grade XII in your class, you can use the hyperlinked resources I have mentioned above to make your teaching effective and feel the success.

About the Author:

Mr. Kanu has been teaching English for more than a decade. Currently he is involved in Popular English Language Institute, Thakur Ram Multiple Campus, Birguj Commerce Campus and Kadambari Academy in Birgunj. Besides, he is a journalist associated with Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ) Parsa Chapter and the publisher/editor of The Young Guys, English Weekly Publishing from Birgunj.

An effective teaching through a student’s eyes

*Jyoti Tiwari

Teaching and learning processes involve a lot of ingredients to make imparting knowledge and skills from one person to another effective. Teacher, teaching aids, methodology, planning and strategies are some of those ingredients. In their absence, teaching and learning processes are negatively affected.  Basically, teachers’ knowledge and skills are the main things for a successful teaching learning. No doubt, availability of resources and sufficient teaching aids and materials play a significant role for effective and successful learning. Lack of such resources inevitably creates a lot of problems derailing the learning process.

In Nepal, there are many schools which lack physical infrastructure, trained teachers, and other resources required,  But this does not mean that teaching learning activities do not take place effectively. Many schools have teachers who have taken teaching profession for their passion. They have been carrying out teaching learning activities more effectively and successfully even in the absence of such resources. They have proved the fact that it is the teachers who can be the world in the classroom to their learners.

I am writing to share a story about one of my teachers who taught very effectively in spite of lack of resources. After being in the teaching profession for more than four decades, essentially his entire professional life, he is now retired. But he remains a major source of inspiration for me.

I was unaware of how important the teacher’s knowledge and skills can be while I was  in school. BUT now when I myself am teaching after completing under-graduate studies, I realize and I could not help myself thinking of Ridhhi Kant Singh Thapa, my English teacher from Trijudhha secondary school in Birgunj.  I can still remember his teaching style as quiet different from others.

Mr. Thapa was really passionate about teaching and that was perhaps the most important reason for why he was such a successful teacher. Inspired by his teaching style and classroom procedures, I would like to share with the audience some of his key teaching tips and techniques that had overwhelming impact on the learners through this short blog post.

I can still recall when he entered into the classroom, the environment changed automatically and there was active participation of students. Every student was enthusiastic about reading the text again and again.  At the end of each lesson, we all were busy in making the questions ourselves and writing their answers accordingly on our own. My teacher usually wrote some examples of making questions to help the students who were weak and his individual attention to such students increased confidence and habitué of reading and writing.

While teaching passages and stories, the way the teacher adopted was very impressive and interesting to improve reading and writing skills. Here is a series of activities he used in the classroom and they have been presented in a process flow.

First, the teacher [T] selected some reading text ‘passage’ or ‘story’ or ‘dialogue’ from the textbook. He further informed the students [Ss] which text they were going through.

 Secondly, T made Ss read the text themselves and asked to make questions as many as possible while reading the same text.

After that, T asked Ss to note down the answer of the questions they had made while reading the text. 

In the meantime, T wrote some structure and examples on the board so that Ss would feel easy to do their task. He helped Ss with difficult word meanings in order to comprehend the text clearly and write the correct answer of the questions.

Then, T asked Ss to exchange their notebooks with their partner in a pair. After they had reviewed the answers written by their friends, they had a discussion and checked the answers of their friend’s notebook in pairs correcting their mistakes.

T asked Ss the number of the questions they had made and asked them to find the student who made more questions.

T was more interested in finding out which question Ss found hard to formulate and answer. Through this activity, he came to know where they were facing problems and where they required his support. It helped him come up with proper solutions helping Ss understand the text better.  

Then, T wrote all the questions on the board asking Ss one by one from the same list which they had prepared while reading. Similarly, he approved the answers they had prepared asking them in turns.

At the end, T knew how well Ss have understood and comprehended the text and if they are found missing something or clarity required, he was always forward looking to take possible steps to fulfill the gaps. This is how he was successful in making the lesson interesting and effective.

Benefits of using the above strategy

Following are the benefits I have experienced of using the above strategy;

  • It is a learner centered method.
  • It is easy to carry out without much planning and it requires no teaching aids and materials
  • It can be very useful where schools lack resources or cannot afford teaching materials
  • It increases confidence level of learners and enhances both of reading and writing skills.
  • It is suitable for large classroom especially to make all the students engaged and check their assignments
  • It helps enabling learners to comprehend the text themselves
  • The role of teacher in the activity is facilitators
  • Increased vocabulary power of the learners
  • No use of teaching materials and other resources but teacher can use flash cards, pocket chart and pictures in order to make classroom more live and motivated
  • Even untrained teachers can easily carry out this procedure and can get control over the large class-room.

As inspired by my English language teacher whom I have lots of respect for because of his uniqueness and successful teaching career, I have shared the above mentioned teaching procedure hoping it  could be beneficial and useful to those teachers who are compelled to teach due to lack of teaching materials and resources required. 

About the Author:

Miss Tiwari is an undergraduate in ELT from Tribhuvan University and preparing for her masters’ degree. Currently, she is working as Radio Jockey for Radio Bindas in Birgunj.

What should one do in a language classroom?

Rama Kant Agnihotri*

What students and teachers should do in a language classroom is best left to them. Language teaching is so complex and so contextually rooted that except for very general guidelines, nothing may really help in the actual task. What language professionals can at best do is to make available in as accessible a manner as possible content, form and format (oral, printed, digital etc.) material about the potential of the learner, aspects of nature, structure, acquisition and change of language, features of language variation, nature of learning processes, materials, methods and evaluation procedures. In this short article, I focus only on one issue that may be of some use to language teachers: How languages of learners in a given classroom is not an obstacle in the trajectory of language learning; it is in fact a resource not only in language teaching but also in enhancing cognitive growth and social tolerance.

Most teachers and several language professionals believe that languages of students are an obstacle in the process of learning another language. Many actually believe that they cause major interference and therefore students should not even be allowed to use their languages in the class and the school. The typical paradigm in which they work could be defined as ‘a class, a teacher, a text and a language’. Nothing if you reflect for a moment could be further from the truth. All classes are by default multilingual. Examine your own and examine your own language profile and that of your friends. Secondly, languages student bring with them are and can be used as a resource rather than dismissed as an obstacle. Languages always flourish in each other’s company; they suffocate in prisons of isolation and purity. English today is rich because it keeps its doors open; so were Sanskrit and Hindi till they started closing their doors. Thirdly, it is not at all difficult for all teachers and students to appreciate that all languages are equally rule governed and rich. This is something which is so effortlessly achieved if the strengths of a multilingual class are recognized. For example, all languages will have some technique to indicate the relationship between the subject and the verbal elements. That some languages may look more powerful than others is NOT a linguistic matter but one of history, sociology and politics and these aspects can also be easily demonstrated if the teachers are open to such a discourse. Languages like Latin, Greek, Sanskrit, Persian etc. were once very powerful; the power of English is only a few decades old and there is no reason to believe that it would stay like that. If you leave out china, Russia, Africa, India etc., the English speaking world is actually very small.

In any case, we do need to think why theories of interference hold such power and what’s wrong with them. These theories hold power because they are the most convenient answers to what is going on and they stop any deeper inquiry into the issues involved. It is a cosy corner that looks very attractive to a teacher who breathes some relief in saying: They will never learn; their languages always come in the way. What teachers don’t realize is that errors are necessary stages in the process of learning and what is being dismissed as interference may actually be a part of the UG driven way of acquiring a language or a milestone in the process of learning. Let’s consider some typical examples.

Let’s start with syntax. The fact of the matter is that there is actually no major difference between the basic syntactic structure of say Indian English and British or American English. All children, including those from the so-called native English communities, will make such errors as ‘he go to school’; the structural pressure of English syntax dictates that it should be so. Imagine everybody including ‘I, we, you, you plural, they’ ‘go’, why should poor ‘he, she, it’ ‘goes’!!! But if we stop comparing the behaviour of school or undergraduate learners with fluent speakers of ‘standard’ English, we will realize that all speakers of English, whether they acquire it as L 1 or L 2, learn to say ‘goes’ in due course. Take another oft quoted example of the invariant tag-question. When many speakers of the Asian subcontinent use ‘isn’t it’ with all kinds of statements, it is often pointed out as a major interference from say Hindi ‘hai na’ etc. Nobody takes the trouble of finding out how many ‘native’ varieties of English do the same. Some varieties of Canadian English certainly do it with a different invariant tag. Two points may be noted here. It may be a part of the standard commonly used Indian English and there is nothing wrong with this fairly understandable overgeneralization. In fact, in the speech of the teachers and the community, there may be no exposure to the variable tag question. Secondly, in the case of fluent users of Indian English, there may be many who actually use the variable tag question. What you eventually accept as a standard ‘correct’ usage is a matter that is located in a spatial, temporal, historical and sociological space.

Consider morphology. It is well attested that all children irrespective of whether they learn English as L 1 or L 2, go through a stage of using first ‘go, went, gone’ (as unrelated items) and then ‘go, goed, goed’ (as morphologically demanded items) and finally acquiring the exception ‘go, went, gone’. Imagine that all learners go through this stage and the set of irregular English verbs is rather large including such commonly used verbs as ‘come, cut, dig, do, eat, get, give, make…’ etc. Word formation strategies have nothing to do with interference. Yes, languages frequently borrow from each other, particularly cultural items. There is nothing you can do about it. English simply adds an additional appendix to its dictionary every year; speakers of course always move ahead of the dictionary.

Take phonology. Do all the so-called native speakers of English speak the same way? Will any one of you, unless she belongs to north of England, claim to understand a word of Yorkshire English? Or do you all understand rural Texan English? I don’t. I don’t even understand my grand-daughter studying in Malone in New York State. She finds it equally difficult to understand my Indian accent. Phonology is a marker of group identity and if you are really interested it will not come into your way after a while. But if you are already beyond 15-16 years of age, you will notice that your jaw is set and you may not get the ‘English English’ inter-dental fricatives, or the aspirated alveolar stops or the distinction between /v/ and /w/, which is really nothing to write home about unless you want a job at the BBC etc. Every variety has a right to its distinct identity.

So if languages of learners are not in our way, why do we make such a miserable mess of language teaching? At most places I know of, most learners don’t even manage to master the basic skills of reading comprehension and writing coherently. We do need to examine the language profile of our class. Every child brings a different linguistic and cultural resource to the class and these can indeed be sensitively assimilated into the teaching-learning process. The first requirement is of course that the teacher needs to walk out of the position of being the fountainhead of all knowledge and have faith in the ability of children to use their resources creatively. In actual classroom transactions it implies that the time taken by individual learners and their interactions in peer group would be much more than normally consumed by the teacher.

We today know that multilinguality is a default human situation and is constitutive of being human. Every classroom by default is inherently multilingual. Further, in a variety of ways, recent research has established how this multilinguality can be used not only as a resource but also as a teaching strategy and a goal. It correlates positively with language proficiency, cognitive growth, scholastic achievement, divergent thinking and social tolerance. It is also now well-established that levels of language proficiency enhance significantly with metalinguistic awareness which would tend to grow if we allow children to reflect on their languages.

What kind of strategies would be most useful in such situations? In fact, there is no limit and also no defining ‘models’. Freedom from the bondage of script is the first step. With very small effort on the part of learners and teachers, it becomes evident that all languages can be written in the same script, with some modifications. What we do need to understand is that all children and all their languages need to  be involved and the teachers need to create situations in which children can work in groups collecting data from their languages, classifying it into different categories, examine the relationships among different parts and arrive at conclusions and hypotheses that would account for their data. Consider for example, the making of nouns from adjectives in English. Adjectives like ‘dark, lazy, rough, kind, small, rich, soft etc’ can be turned into nouns by adding ‘-ness’. However, this is not where teachers would start; they would instead start by talking informally about adjectives and nouns for a few minutes. Then leave it to groups of children who share some languages to make list of adjectives and related nouns in different languages available in the class. Hindi may not have any such strategy; but it may have some others. Or take the case of making plurals. With very limited guidance children will themselves work out the problems of saying that the plural in English is made not by adding ‘-s, -es or –ies’; once it is explained to them that they should focus on the sounds with which a plural ends, they work out that significance of ‘-s, -z and –iz’ in making plural, themselves pointing that the plural of say ‘dog and baby’ is made by adding the same sound. Another group will come up with a strategy for making plurals in Hindi which has not one but 3 plurals for each noun e.g. in the case of laRkaa ‘boy’, we have ‘laRke, laRkoN and laRko’, being the nominative, oblique and vocative plurals respectively. Consider the case of making ‘negatives’ in different languages. It is possible that children would themselves (and so would the teacher) discover that negatives in all languages are made by putting the negative element close to the verb of the main clause and if a rule is discovered in this way, it is rather unlikely that children would make mistakes in speaking or writing negative sentences. Take the case of translation. Nothing enhances language proficiency more than peer-group attempts at translation, not the traditional type of ‘literally and accurately translating from language X to language Y’. A small poem for example could be taken from any language. Notice that the power structures in the classroom at once start getting democratised; teacher is at the back of the classroom listening like others to a poem in an unknown language which is then written and explained by children in the script they are already using. The poem is then translated into several languages in small groups. Stories, plays, cultural events, social issues etc. could also be treated in a similar way. The kind of phonological, syntactic, semantic and semiotic issues such an exercise raises is overwhelming. The idea is to go through the process, not to arrive at a final, perfect translation.

*Rama Kant Agnihotri, D.Phil. (York), retired as Professor and Head, Department of Linguistics, University of Delhi. He is interested in and has taught and written extensively about Applied Linguistics, Morphology, Sociolinguistics and Research Methods for several years. He has lectured in Germany, UK, USA, Canada, Yemen, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan, among other countries. He has also been working with several NGOs across India in the area of elementary school education. He co-edits, with A. L. Khanna, the Sage series on Applied Linguistics. He was Chair of the NCERT Focus Group on The Teaching of Indian Languages during NCF 2005.

The English Teacher: Where Is The Shoe Pinching?

                                                                                                                         Dinesh Thapa, Lecturer of English

Kitini College, Godawary 

 (Taukhel) Lalitpur Nepal

Email: dtdthapa@gmail.com

NELTA Life Member

Asst. Secretary, NELTA Lalitpur 

 

 

The English Class

(Good Morning Sir). Morning. Sit down. Hello, why are you talking? Listen to the attendance. Roll number One. (Yes sir). Two. (Yes sir)……..Sixteen. (Absent sir). Don’t talk. I said…..Don’t talk. Seventeen. (Yes sir)…fifty six. (Yes sir). Give me your book, please. (one student gives the English textbook to the teacher). Ok. Students, take your book on. Today we are going to read on page no. 47. (Students turn the page there.)  Turned- Found? (Pointing to another student) Hello, don’t you have the book? (No Sir, I’ve forgotten). That’s it! You always have to say the same. Share it from your friend, then. Now look there. Listen. Then the teacher reads aloud some lines from the textbook and translates the meaning into Nepali. S/he writes some unfamiliar words on the board and gives the meaning, possibly in Nepali. Students copy them onto the exercise book. There is a short comprehension- check- in through oral questioning. Often, it is the teacher who supplies the responses as it takes longer to get one from the students. By then the time gets over. The teacher leaves the class asking the students to write answers to the questions from page no. 48. The following day the teacher writes an essay on the board and the students copy it and recite for examination.

Where Is the Shoe Pinching?

The Nepalese classroom, especially in the secondary level, displays some unique features which are quite challenging from the viewpoint of teaching English. There are a considerable number of students in one class, possibly over fifty seated in the immovable iron-made furniture. The classroom is highly heterogeneous- in terms of age, ability and culture of the students.  Mostly, the class is a teacher dominated one. S/he exhausts almost ninety percent of the hour, but there is talk in English hardly the half of the period. Presentation of the lesson is generally unaided with visuals and student practise by making written exercises. Although, the students respond to the teacher sparingly, they do not talk in English among themselves. Again, they do not reply in English; they simply understand the prompts…… like facts of biology…..understand them, but they cannot produce English. The response happens in Nepali itself. Also the motivational topics, like jokes, anecdotes, news sharing, and so on are told in Nepali, for the students cannot grasp of what is said to them. There is hardly a speaking class, except the teacher’s questions answered by the students. Teaching for speaking and listening skills does not have a scheduled class; most of the students experience listening to the cassette at exams only.

The teacher- talk during deliberation is directed to make the things clear to the students; so students do understand the matter but rarely can produce it in speech or writing. Similarly, the teacher gives answers to almost all questions, and students copy and rewrite them. Some few students recite the answers, only a few try on their own, whereas many simply do nothing. Although the teacher asks students to complete an assignment (generally in writing) at home, s/he can hardly compel them to do so. Only a small number of students have the habit of self-study at home, but the majority of them do not have even a dictionary and other support materials with them. The texts put in the book are simply unintelligible for them as they have never attempted so yet. For many of them, the grades scored earlier than in grade ten are simply promoted ones. If looked through, English and Mathematics happen to be the- never- passed subjects in all the previous grades. That’s why home study for English is almost impossible for the students. Even if some students do their home tasks, the teacher rarely provides feedback after correction. Correction is generally done teacher-privately, sitting in the teacher- room, in the absence of the concerned students, and the students rarely go over it back. The notes and exercises completed earlier in the session start getting lost over time. Once the course becomes over and revision starts, again the texts and exercises become anew, and are started afresh. All the previous teaching seems to have become a great waste.

There is the structural factor as well in play for the lower proficiency of the students. There are eight subjects for the students to learn in a day; among them seven are delivered fully in Nepali medium, even to such an extent that the terms like ‘ecology’ in environment, ‘evolution’ in biology, ‘rectangle’ in mathematics, etc. are also translated into Nepali. Teaching of English thus becomes the absolute business of the English teacher only. Also the single teacher teaches in classes at over four grades vertically. As the same teacher is taking charge of English, students are devoid of variety in the exposure of English. On the other hand, as there are only a few teachers with the ability to speak English in the whole, the English teacher barely gets a chance to use his/ her English with people other than the students. His/ her English thus erodes gradually. The problem is compounded by the reality that there are not any English medium newspapers, journals, magazines, videos and other reference materials available in school. The library contains books never- used and unsuitable- to be- used by the students. For the students, library seems to be available to see occasionally from the outside only.

 

The other residue of the problem lies with our culture. Absenteeism on the part of the students is still high. Only when the term-exams approach, attendances become more regular. Both girl and boy students have strong cliques to share about private matters; group dynamism is simply directed towards non-academic matters. Similarly, the role of the parents seems very nominal for making learning environment of their wards. They appear in the school only to get their wards admitted and to get the results. Other times, there is hardly only communication with the parents.

Reflections

I raised some pinching issues that might be our practical realities going on in the English classrooms. I want to share with you our present reality and our possible corrective measures for the improvement of our overall teaching scenario, so that the practicing teachers also have a say in the discourse of teacher professionals; so that they could restore the dignity schools possessed in the past. Whether we realize it or not, we are heading towards a challenging future. Our valued bases of faith and dignity are eroding day by day, leaving none of us untouched. Only our sincere efforts and visionary deeds can help us rescue from this ongoing quicksand of the eroding quality of our education. In such a situation, improvement in English teaching practices can work as a rescue rod.

Now I’d like to share with you a simple strategy that works for the improvement of learning English in our school, i.e., student motivation and teacher’s continued reflection over what went well or not. Student motivation is the drive that clears itself from all the barriers impending in the learning environment. We have the history that our former generations, and probably ourselves, learnt sitting under the direct sun. The buildings, sofas, chairs, videos, computers and lifts are not the causative factors for learning to happen. Rather it is the strong willpower on the part of the learner that works to crumble all the barriers. The English teacher should create such an environment that boosts up a feeling of ‘English Thrust’ in our learners. We need to make our classes pleasant, using simple English- in- English method, supplementing the class with tasks that arrest the interest of the learners (like jokes, tales, poems, puzzles, magazines, debates and presentations). The important factor here is that the students themselves should build up the feeling that ENGLISH IS IMPORTANT, NOT FOR OTHERS, BUT FOR THEMSELVES. Unless such a feeling germinates in the learners, all our efforts go in vain. We may get thinner day- by- day, but at the end of grade ten examinations, our students still remain unable to compose even a small paragraph, unable to speak general ideas, unable to comprehend moderate reading texts and to decipher normal spoken English. In order to check this, we need to make sure:

–           that we teaching English as a means of communication, or as a subject like Sciences or Social Education;

–          that our students are genuinely motivated to learn being involved in the learning environment

–          that our students feel (not only think) that ability in speaking and writing English is really important in this modern time;

–          that we exposing our learners to English as a language, not  to the tit-bits of English;

–          that we do create situations in which our students feel a necessary requirement to communicate in English in the lively communicational settings;

–          that we have arranged the class in a scheduled form for the exposure of all skills and aspects of language;

–          that we have sufficient language generating materials other than textbooks to assist to our duties, and

–          that we are dedicated, reflective and change oriented all the time.

Once we consider changing the way we teach bit- by- bit, the challenges will turn into opportunities. The students will be proficient and communicative. The teacher will find his/her own face smiling in the beaming lights of the students’ achievement. Then the responsibility of the boatman will be successfully discharged when the passengers go across the river undisturbed and safely.

Writers Teach, Teachers Write

Kirk Branch

U.S.A.

Over 15 days, I traveled throughout the southern part of Nepal (“I went down,” I tell my friends in the United States, who expect to hear stories of the Himalayas), working with teachers and students – writers – who were looking for ways to incorporate creative writing into their English language classrooms. At the invitation of the U.S. Embassy, and hosted throughout by NELTA representatives in Kathmandu, Birgunj, and Kawasoti, my short trip will stay with me well after my return.

Before every workshop I ran, before the talk I gave in Birgunj, I asked participants a simple question: “How many of you are writers?” Sometimes, nobody raised a hand; occasionally, some raised a tentative hand, nervous about claiming the title of writer but unwilling to say that they weren’t. That question introduced the simple idea at the heart of all the workshops and conversations I had in Nepal: If you are not a writer, you are not qualified to teach writing. How can you teach guitar, if you can’t play guitar? How can you teach volleyball, if you don’t play volleyball? Of course you cannot, or at least you cannot do it very well.

And so, in all the places I traveled, we wrote. We wrote stories, and memoirs, and poems, haikus and slam poetry and fables. I heard stories about family members who sacrificed for their children, poems full of frustration at the current politics of Nepal, diatribes against the bandh. The writings were by turns funny, beautiful, sweet, angry. And we shared the writing, reading aloud, sometimes laughing, sometimes tearing up, sometimes feeling the anger and frustration, always supportive and always curious about what each participant had to say and wanted to explore.

In the process, I hope that the participants began to understand how to think like a writer. Writers know a few things about writing that non-writers don’t usually understand. Perhaps most importantly, writers understand that the rules provided in textbooks and in official curricula are usually too simple and often are just wrong. Some writers use an outline when they write, but most don’t. Some writers create texts with only five paragraphs, but most don’t. Some writers have a topic sentence at the front of every paragraph, but most don’t. Teachers who write as well as teach writing are better able to help other writers find things to write about and support them as they create a text, not by giving them strict rules, but by offering knowledgeable support.

All writers know that writing is hard, that becoming a more proficient writer requires regular practice, that even people who write for a living struggle with openings and agonize through several drafts to reach a level of satisfaction with their work. All writers know that at some point, they have to share their work with an audience, that their main job is to connect with that audience, and that all the questions they have about style and structure matter not because they are “rules for writing” but because style and structure are the ways the ideas of a writer become accessible for that audience.  All writers know that the work of learning to write never stops, that a piece of writing can always improve, that writers need support and encouragement as much as they need criticism and commentary.

By the end of the workshops I ran, by the end of my trip, more people raised their hands when I asked “Who here is a writer?” I hope that even more would raise their hands now. Being a writer, identifying as a writer, requires only that a person write, commit on a regular basis to the work of sitting with a piece of paper or in front of a computer screen and filling it with words, with language. I hope that these newly identified writers in Nepal experience the joy of discovery, of writing something they didn’t know they thought, of surprising themselves with a beautiful image or important idea or funny description. And I hope they share their writing with other writers and inspire them as well with their ideas.

Mostly, I hope these new writers – these writers who teach writing – use their experiences as writers to help their students engage with the task of writing and reading. I hope all the writers who are also teachers of the English language in Nepal will harness the creative power of their students to inspire each other and embrace the joy of creation, to write texts they care deeply about and want to share with other students.

Like teachers all over the world, teachers in Nepal must follow official curricula, must prepare students for tests required by the government. Like teachers everywhere, teachers in Nepal sometimes become frustrated by these requirements because they do not allow enough freedom for teachers. I hope that by joining with other teachers, by learning the power of creative writing, of helping students learn language – any language – by helping them become excited about what they have to say, teachers in Nepal can start to have more voice in shaping a curriculum they are excited to teach!

I end this piece with a poem I wrote during a workshop at the NELTA headquarters in Kathmandu, with a group of teachers and students who walked as much as 12 kilometers over the course of a 2-day bandh, to participate. I dedicate this poem to them, and to all the other participants I met in Birgunj and Kawasoti, who inspired and excited me to do my best teaching, who took my challenge to become writers, who I hope I will see again. It’s dedicated to all the people at NELTA who made my trip so wonderful and engaging. I hope I have a chance to meet some of you again. I promise I will never forget you!

Whose language is this, English?

Can I call it mine,

this language of my childhood stories,

my mother’s soothing,

my father’s rebukes,

my brothers’ tauntings,

my teacher’s lessons,

my lover’s caresses?

Yes, it is my language!

Does that mean I own it?

Do you own the water you hold in your hands?

Do you own the air you breathe into your lungs?

Do you own the spirit that animates your soul?

1 2 3 4 5