Category Archives: reflection

Ethnography of Writing: A Basic Framework to Introduce Academic Writing to ESL University Students

Dr. Padam Chauhan*

Abstract

English as a second language (ESL) first-year university students often face challenges with academic writing because of the linguistic, cultural, and instructional differences between the education system in the U.S. and their home countries (academic writing conventions in English and their first languages). This paper aims to present an ethnography of writing as a framework to familiarize the ESL first-year university students with the basics of academic writing, which directly speaks to the educational, social, and cultural contexts of U.S. higher education. The paper concludes that ESL students benefit immensely from using Grabe and Kaplan’s (1996) ethnography of writing as a framework to introduce academic writing in English to cope with their academic writing challenges.

Keywords: academic writing challenges; freshman ESL learners; ethnography of writing; U.S. higher education; linguistic, cultural, and instructional differences

My Tutoring and Teaching Academic Writing Experiences

I have gotten an opportunity to become an ESL educator for different aged students in different educational contexts. First, I have been an ESL teacher in Nepal. I have taught reading and writing to high school and undergraduate students. Second, I worked as a writing tutor at a regional level teaching university in the Midwestern region of the U.S. I tutored both domestic and ESL international undergraduate and graduate students. Third, I have been teaching reading, vocabulary, and writing courses in the Intensive English Language Program (IEP) at the Midwestern U.S. university for four years. Primarily, I follow a process-based approach (Zamel, 1983; White & Arndt, 1991) and the genre-based approach (Hyland, 2004; Swales, 1990; Tardy, 2008) to teach academic writing to my ESL students who come from diverse educational, linguistic, and cultural backgrounds. I guide my students by helping them explore resources, services, and contacts in and outside of the university. These learning resources are essential to alleviate their academic writing difficulties in the U.S. higher education context (Chauhan, 2021). Sharing experiences of ESL instructors’ academic journey, including coping strategies, is critical to improving their academic writing skills (Odena & Burgess, 2017). However, existing literature shows that academic writing in English is challenging for ESL students at both undergraduate and graduate levels (Chauhan, 2021) because they come from diverse social, linguistic, and cultural backgrounds (Duff & Anderson, 2015). The diversity of their backgrounds can also be an asset to acknowledge and utilize for enhancing their academic writing skills in English.

Nature and Scope of Academic Writing in Higher Education Context

Academic writing (AW) refers to the writing used in the college and university-level writing courses (Johnson, 2016). Additionally, AW has become the primary communication medium between scholars in academic subjects and disciplines in a higher education context (Greene & Lidinsky, 2015). AW is simple, clear, focused, and formal. It is also technical, objective, impersonal, concise, logical, and well-organized. An academic writer must meet genre-specific expectations and stylistic conventions (Ferris, 2018; Giltrow et al., 2014; Osmond, 2016; Starkey, 2015). AW is specific to context, task, purpose, and audience (Ferris, 2018; Grabe & Kaplan, 1996; Starkey, 2015). In parallel with these ideas, Gottlieb and Ernst-Slavit (2013) stated that“[t]he distinct purpose, audience, and context of communication result in clear differences in terms of language use in the selection of words, formality, sentence construction, and discourse patterns” (p. 2).  AW is seen differently by scholars based on the features mentioned above. Osmond (2016) argued that AW projects writers’ in-depth knowledge, critical thinking skills, and analytical skills while studying different academic subjects within their disciplines and majors. It is also seen as an inquiry because writers can discover their values, beliefs, strengths, and areas to improve when they engage in the writing process (Starkey, 2015). Grabe and Kaplan (1996) recommended that each writer understands AW from the lens of an ethnographic approach. Echoing similar ideas, Ferris (2018) has summarized the features of successful academic writers and standards of writing used in academia.

Writers must have at least an adequate grasp of the content they are writing. They must understand the rhetorical situation, including the purpose of the writing and the knowledge and expectations of their audience of readers. They need to appreciate the constraints and boundaries accompanying genres, tasks, and text types. Further, writers need advanced control of the linguistic features (vocabulary, spelling, grammar, cohesive ties) and extra-linguistic features (punctuation, capitalization, formatting) appropriate for their text’s content, genre, and target audience. (p. 75)

Ethnography of Writing as a Framework to Introduce Academic Writing

As I mainly tutor and teach academic writing to freshmen ESL first-year university students, I am well acquainted with their writing challenges based on my teaching experience and research study. Current research study has also found that ESL undergraduate students faced many challenges with academic writing in the U.S. university context.

To illustrate, Chauhan (2021) concluded that ESL “undergraduate students experienced academic writing challenges [including] content (gathering information/ideas), organization, academic vocabulary, genre awareness, grammar and mechanics, and citing and referencing sources” (p. 148) because the standards and genre-specific expectations of AW in English are different from those of in ESL students’ L1s (Ferris, 2018; Giltrow et al., 2014; Osmond, 2016; Starkey, 2015).

To address the AW challenges of my ESL first-year university students, I employ Grabe and Kaplan’s (1996) ethnography of writing, which provides a theoretical framework to understand AW regarding its social and cultural contexts in U.S. higher education. Before creating any written text, all writers must ask this fundamental question: “who writes what to whom, for what purpose, why, when, where, and how?” (Cooper, 1979, as cited in Grabe & Kaplan, 1996, p. 203). They further stated that this framework considers academic writing as a combination of writer, reader, subject matter, and text as a writing triangle in which the writer persuades the readers in terms of logos (reason/text), pathos (credibility/writer), and ethos (values, beliefs/audience). Overall, the ethnography of writing is one of the best frameworks to introduce AW to the freshmen ESL students because this framework examines the text’s audience, the writer’s purpose, the genre required by the task, and the situation in which the wiring is used (Grabe & Kaplan, 1996).

Taxonomies of Ethnography of Writing

Grabe and Kaplan (1996) introduced eight types of taxonomies of ethnography of writing to discuss further how this framework operates in a broader academic context. Their framework is further explained together with how I employed this framework to teach writing to my ESL first-year students in a Midwestern U.S. university.

Who

            Grabe and Kaplan (1996) state that the first parameter of ethnography of writing is a taxonomy of who, i.e., writers. Knowing the writer and their background is critical to understanding writing well. It is essential to understand whether the individual is a beginning writer or a mature writer and whether the writer is a student who will be evaluated by their teachers or an independent scholarly writer who writes for an academic journal. This background information of the writer influences the audience for whom the writing is produced.

Considering this parameter, I often emphasize the writer’s role in my writing class. As an L2 writing instructor, I know that my students come from different first language (L1) backgrounds. The writing system in their L1s works differently from the writing system in English. I am aware that they are beginner writers in L2 and need more explicit instruction, support, and encouragement from me. I do understand that they are at the initial phase of creating their identity in L2 writing. In the meantime, I am also aware that their authorial voice is critical. So, I orient my students to use academic language and concrete words that embody meaning in the academic context (Bailey, 2018; Brun-Mercer & Zimmerman, 2015; Johnson, 2016), which ultimately helps the writers to make their voices strong. Also, I ask my students to use active structures to strengthen their authorial voice.

Writes

The second taxonomy of ethnography of writing is writes, which focuses on the linguistic nature of writing. This taxonomy of ethnography considers the entire process of text construction, its different linguistic parts, and their organization (thesis statement, topic statements, coherence, cohesion, word choice, reference, transition words (Grabe & Kaplan, 1996), sequencing information (Atkinson, 1991), and overall rhetorical arrangement of information (Bruthiaux, 1993). Overall, in the process of text construction, the writer considers audience, purpose, context, and the genre requirement (Grabe & Kaplan, 1996), discipline-specificity, and disciplinarity (Christiene & Maton, 2011; Flowerdew & Costley, 2016). There are two approaches that I use to teach writing: a process-based approach and a genre-based approach.

First, I follow a process-based approach (White & Arndt, 1991; Zamel,1983) to teach writing in my class. For example, selecting topics (they select topics themselves which they are passionate about writing), gathering required information, creating an outline, preparing the first draft, seeking feedback from peers, writing center tutors, and teachers, addressing feedback, editing, and finally submitting the final draft to the instructor for evaluation (Johnson, 2016; White & Arndt, 1991). Each step in this writing process is equally important for them because my students need to undergo various stages of the writing process to write essays. Also, they will receive points for an outline, first draft, and final draft separately.

Another approach that I employ to teach writing to my students in my class is the genre-based approach (Hyland, 2004; Swales, 1990; Tardy, 2008) because genre-based instruction enhances L2 students’ knowledge in four main areas, which include “formal knowledge of target genres’ features and conventions, the process knowledge of the methods used to produce, distribute, and consume these genres, rhetorical knowledge of target genres’ functions, characteristics, strategies, and subject matter knowledge of disciplinary content and skills” (Tardy, 2009, p. 21). By recognising the usefulness of a genre-based approach to writing, past research studies emphasized the responsibility of L2 educators to develop L2 students’ genre knowledge (Ferris & Hedgcock, 2013; Hyland, 2004; Tardy, 2008, 2009). Highlighting the importance of genre, Hyland (2004) stated “to fail to provide learners with what we know about how language works… denies them the means of both communicating effectively in writing and analyzing text critically” (p. 42). As the L2 students are not much acquainted with different types of genres, it is imperative to teach them genre knowledge explicitly. Also, they need to know that written texts are specific to each academic discipline, program, and major (Christie & Maton, 2011; Hyland, 2017).

Therefore, I provide a sample essay to my students, and they are engaged to analyze and identify all parts of the essay. They include an introduction (hook, background information, and thesis statement), three body paragraphs beginning with topic sentences, supporting details (explanations, reasons, examples, data, experiences, observations, etc.), and a conclusion that summarizes the main points of the essay and restates the thesis statement. In doing so, my students internalize all parts of the essay, which will help them to create their essays later. Ferris and Hedgcock (2013) and Tardy (2008) also stress that it is crucial to train beginner writers with skills that enable them to participate in intertextual systems.

What

            The third taxonomy of ethnography of writing is what, i.e., the content or message. Grabe and Kaplan (1996) emphasize that this writing parameter should be described in terms of content, genre, and register. So, this taxonomy of writing seeks to answer these questions: to what extent does the writer need to have background knowledge (content) to create a particular text, what type of texts does the writer produce, and in which fields they are used? The what aspect of writing “must take into account the phenomenological world (a theory of world knowledge), a theory of genre, and some specification of register” (Grabe & Kaplan, 1996, p. 205). In other words, the writer’s background knowledge (schema theory) is crucial in this taxonomy of writing because it provides the writer with the knowledge of the genre and the techniques to organize academic discourse for a specific purpose (Grabe & Kaplan, 1996; Swales, 1990). So, it is critical for ESL writing instructors to allow their students to choose their topics to write.

In my writing class, I do not assign any essay topics to my students. Instead, I provide them with the freedom to choose their topics themselves because I want to promote social justice in my writing class. I also encourage them to choose a topic based on their background knowledge because it is difficult for them to write on a topic that is entirely new to them. For example, the student majoring in Finance ended up choosing a topic from their field, such as Three Ways to Make Money Legally in the U.S. However, the student who is specializing in Sports Management wrote Three Strategies to Improve Cricket. Unlike these two students, the next student who is majoring in Nursing decided to write on Three Benefits of Homemade Breakfast. Besides that, I also provide them with a sample essay to follow because I follow a genre-based approach to teaching writing. This approach allows them to be acquainted with the framework of a text used in the academic context. In doing so, they can write their essays on their topics by following sample essays given to them.

To Whom

            Another powerful taxonomy of writing is to whom, which refers to the audience. Grabe and Kaplan (1996) call it a theory of audience or readers because the audience is always at the center of creating a text. Also, the audience plays an essential role in the meaning-making of the text. The writer needs to ponder some of these questions regarding the audience. Are the readers known or unknown to the writer? If they are known, how close or distant are they? How much-shared knowledge exists between the readers and the writer in general? How much-shared knowledge exists between them on a particular topic. Grabe and Kaplan (1996) further state that the audience’s parameter influences the writer’s writing, including the number of persons who are expected to read the text, the extent to which the readers are known or unknown to the writer, the level of status (can be either higher, equal, or lower) between them, the extent of shared background knowledge between readers, and the extent of specific topical shared knowledge between readers and writers.

Building on Grabe and Kaplan’s (1996) framework, recent research studies also highlighted the role of the audience. Before the author writes any text, they need to consider their audience because the type of audience determines their writing (Swales & Feak, 2012). Similarly, Kirszner and Mandell (2015) argued that while writing any text, the audience should be kept in mind because they determine the purpose of the paper. While writing, academic writers envision a specific audience who share knowledge regarding a topic or issue they are writing about (Grabe & Kaplan, 1996; Singh & Lukkarila, 2017). Realizing the significance of to whom parameter, I often ask my students to decide their audience because it is critical for them to know who is going to read their essays. They know that two types of audience read their essays. They include their classmates and their instructor/s.

For What Purpose

As its name suggests, this taxonomy refers to the purpose of producing a text. Grabe and Kaplan (1996) state that every written text is created purposefully. They add that when the writer thinks of purpose, they need to ask these questions: to what extent is it possible to define purpose in a writing task? Are there single or multiple purposes in the task? How does purpose interact with genre and audience? As most writings are meant for audiences, they expect the purpose of the paper when they read them. Therefore, most writers mention their goal of writing to facilitate the readers to make better meaning of the text.

Before writing anything, the writer should be clear about the purpose of writing. Kirszner and Mandell (2015) argued that it is the purpose that limits the writer what to say and how to say it. According to Bailey (2015, 2018), there are three main reasons for writing: (i) to argue on a subject of common interest and give the writer’s view, (ii) to report on a piece of research study and create some type of new knowledge, and (iii) to synthesize research conducted by others on a topic. So, AW is unique because the writer shares inquiry-based knowledge to inform a particular academic community (Singh & Lukkarila, 2017). Considering this taxonomy, all writers need to know the purpose of the academic texts they are writing.

In keeping in mind this taxonomy, I mention to my students that each piece of writing has a certain purpose. My students mostly write five types of essays, and these are five-paragraph essays. For example, when they write a cause-and-effect essay, they show cause and effect relationship of a particular topic. However, when they write a descriptive essay, the purpose is to describe a place, person, object/thing, and process. Unlike these two essays, when my students write classification essays, the objective is to describe three main categories of a particular topic in an interesting way. For example, one of my students chose to write on Three Types of Roommates, whereas another student was interested to write on Three Types of Cell Phone Users.

Why

             According to Grabe and Kaplan (1996), the notion of why people write refers to underlying intentions or motives that may or may not be revealed by functional purpose. However, if the writer’s motive is apparent, it helps the readers comprehend the text better. Therefore, genre-based texts overtly express the writer’s motive to facilitate schema instantiation. So, the why component of writing depends on the paper’s audience, topic, and purpose.

In order to make sure my students maintain the why component in their writing, I encourage them to engage in peer review. When they participate in the peer review process in different phases of their writing, they are provided with opportunities to read their course mates essays. In doing so, they not only write on only their topics but also get an opportunity to read and offer feedback on their classmates’ essays. First, they are provided with a checklist (based on a rubric) and asked to give feedback focusing on higher-order concerns such as content/ideas, organization, and vocabulary because they play an important role to convey the writers’ message to their readers. Then, they also give their feedback concentrating on lower-order concerns such as grammar, mechanics, and formatting.

When and Where

According to Grabe and Kaplan (1996), this parameter refers to text creation’s time and place. This taxonomy of writing plays a more minor role than the rest of the taxonomies. However, its relevance depends on the type of text. For example, in official emails and letters, the date and place they are sent may be more critical for both the writer and receiver (reader).

In my writing class, when the parameter is crucial for my students because every writing assignment has a fixed deadline to complete and submit to me. The deadline is clearly mentioned in my writing course which every student is provided with both printed and digital copies of the course syllabus on the first day of the class each semester. Also, the deadline for each writing assignment is also mentioned on D2L (an online learning platform used in most U.S. universities and colleges). My students strictly follow the deadline to submit each writing assignment. If students are unable to submit their writing assignments due to any unexpected circumstances, they inform me via email and request an extension of the deadline. In that case, I extend the deadline depending on each student’s situation. In that case, I also provide additional time for individual conferencing with that student to support their writing development.

How

Although this is the final parameter of the writing’s ethnography, this is probably the most important because it examines how the text is created. Therefore, this parameter is also called “a theory of online writing production … or a theory of writing process” (Grabe & Kaplan, 1996, p. 213). Mainly, there are two things this parameter emphasizes. First, writing is a recursive process because the writing process stages, namely planning, drafting, revising, editing, and sharing, do not come in a neat linear sequence. Instead, the writers move backwards and forward several times to create a text (Hyland, 2003; Zamel, 1983). Next, the cognitive mechanism remains at the center of this parameter because it “provides [the writers with] the means for exploring notions such as audience, content, and writer intension from a composing perspective” (Grabe & Kaplan, 1996, p. 213).

This parameter is crucial for my students. For each writing assignment, they must go through all writing stages. They also know each stage has its significance in terms of learning and assessment. For example, they are aware that they cannot create a good outline without gathering sufficient information on a topic. Similarly, no good first draft can be written without a good outline. Without seeking and addressing feedback on the first draft, the final draft does not turn out to be perfect. My students understand this process; therefore, they love to follow all phases of the writing process because they receive separate points for outlines, first drafts, and final drafts.

Conclusion

To sum up, I have found that Grabe and Kaplan’s (1996) ethnography of writing is a useful framework to introduce AW to my ESL first-year university students. My students have developed an understanding of the basics of AW after I employed this approach. This framework has been very effective for me for two reasons. First, this framework promotes the teaching and learning of AW by asking the ESL students to analyze the writer’s process before composing any written text. As Paltridge (2017) stated, the students are asked: “to undertake any analysis of the context in which the text they are writing occurs and consider how the situation in which they are writing impacts upon what they write and how they write it” (p. 12). Second, this approach considers the intended audience, their background knowledge, values and understanding, conventions, genre awareness, and discipline-specificity and disciplinarity (Christie & Maton, 2011; Paltridge, 2017) because of people working in the academic community share “ideas, beliefs, values, goals, practices, conventions, and ways of creating and distributing knowledge” (Flowerdew & Costley, 2016, p. 11). Therefore, the ESL writing instructor’s responsibility is to train first-year university students to familiarize themselves with these elements when writing for academic purposes.

References

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Bailey, S. (2015). The essentials of academic writing for international students (4th ed.). Routledge.

Bailey, S. (2018). The essentials of academic writing for international students (5th ed.). Routledge.

Brun-Mercer, N., & Zimmerman, C.B. (2015). Fostering academic vocabulary. The CATESOL Journal, 27(1), 131-148. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1111751

Bruthiaux, P. (1993). Child’s talk: Learning to use language. Oxford University Press.

Chauhan, P. B. (2021). Academic writing challenges experienced by international students in a Midwest U.S. university: A phenomenological inquiry [Doctoral dissertation, Minnesota State University, Mankato]. Cornerstone: A Collection of Scholarly and Creative Works for Minnesota State University, Mankato. https://cornerstone.lib.mnsu.edu/etds/1129

Christie, F., & Maton, K. (2011). Disciplinarity functional linguistic and sociological perspectives. Continuum International.

Duff, P.A., & Anderson, T. (2015). Academic language and literacy socialization for second-language students. In N. Markee (Ed.), Handbook of classroom discourse and interaction (pp.337-352).  Wiley-Blackwell.

Ferris, D. (2018). Writing in second language. In J.M. Newton, D.R. Ferris, C. C. M. Goh, W. Grabe, F. L. Stoller, & L. Vandergriff (Eds.), Teaching English to second language learners in academic context: Reading, writing, listening, and speaking (pp.75-122). Routledge.

Ferris, D., & Hedgcock, J. (2013). Teaching L2 composition: purpose, process, and practice (3rd ed.). Routledge.

Flowerdew, J., & Costley, T. (2016). Introduction. In J. Flowerdew, J. & T. Costley (Eds.), Discipline-specific writing (pp. 9-40). Routledge.

Giltrow, J., Gooding, R., Burgoyne, D., & Sawatsky, M. (2014). Academic writing: An introduction (3rd ed.). Broadview Press.

Gottlieb, M., & Ernst-Slavit, G. (2013). Academic language: A centerpiece for academic success in English language arts. In M. Gottlieb & G. Ernst-Slavit, Eds.), Academic language in diverse classrooms (pp. 1-38). Corwin.

Grabe, W., & Kaplan, R.B. (1996). Theory and practice of writing. Longman.

Greene, S., & Lidinsky, A. (2015). From inquiry to academic writing. A practical guide. Bedford/St. Martin’s.

Hyland, K. (2003). Second language writing. Cambridge University Press.

Hyland, K. (2004). Genre and second language writing. University of Michigan Press.

Hyland, K. (2017). Learning to write for academic purposes: Specificity and second language writing. In J. Bitchener, N. Storch, & R. Wette (Eds.), Teaching writing for academic purposes to multilingual students: Instructional approaches (pp. 24-41). Routledge.

Johnson, A. (2016). Academic writing: Process and product. Rowman & Littlefield.

Kirszner, L.G. & Mandell, S. R. (2015). Patterns for college writing: A rhetorical reader and guide. Bedford St. Martins.

Odena, O., & Burgess, H. (2017). How doctoral students and graduates describe facilitating experiences and strategies for their thesis writing learning process: A qualitative approach. Studies in Higher Education (Dorchester-on-Thames), 42(3), 572–590. doi: 10.1080/03075079.2015.1063598

Osmond, A. (2016). Academic writing and grammar for students (2nd ed.). Sage.

Paltridge, B. (2017). Context and the teaching of academic writing. In J. Bitchener, N. Storch, & R. Wette (Eds.), Teaching writing for academic purposes to multilingual students: Instructional approaches (pp. 9-23). Routledge.

Singh, A.A., & Lukkarila, L. (2017). Successful academic writing: A complete guide for social and behavioral scientists. The Guilford Press.

Starkey, D. (2015). Academic writing now: A brief guide for busy students. Broadview Press.

Swales, J.M. (1990). Genre analysis: English in academic and research settings. Cambridge University Press.

Swales, J.M., & Feak, C.B. (2012). Academic writing for graduate students: Essential tasks and skills (3rd ed.). University of Michigan Press.

Tardy, C. M. (2008). Multimodality and the teaching of advanced academic writing: A genre systems perspective on speaking-writing connections. In D. Belcher & A. Hirvela (Eds.), The oral-literate connection: Perspectives on L2 speaking, writing, and other media interactions (pp. 191-208). University of Michigan Press.

Tardy, C. M. (2009). Building genre knowledge. Parlor Press.

White, R. & Arndt, V. (1991). Process writing (1st ed.). Longman.

Zamel, V. (1983). The composing processes of advanced ESL students: Six case studies. TESOL Quarterly, 17(2), 165-187. doi:10.2307/3586647

Author’s Bio: Dr Padam Chauhan works as a Retention Specialist for the International Center and an ESL Instructor for the IEP at Minnesota State University (MNSU), Mankato, Minnesota, USA. Prior to that, Padam worked as a Writing Consultant for MNSU’s Writing Center. He has earned MEd in English Education from T.U., Nepal, MA in TESOL, and EdD from MNSU, Mankato. Before joining MNSU, Mankato, he taught ESL at the high school level and served as a high school (10+2) principal in Nepal. Padam voluntarily served NELTA Central Committee as its member, treasurer, and general secretary. Padam has presented at the NELTA, IATEFL, TESOL, AAAL, and TESL conferences in Nepal, the UK, the USA, and Canada. His current research interests include academic reading and writing, Writing Center tutoring pedagogy, and equitable access to English language education.

 

Mother Tongue as a Resource in the EFL Classroom

Ganga Laxmi Bhandari*

Introduction

Whether mother tongue should be allowed or not in the EFL/ESL classrooms has been a debatable issue for many years, especially after the Grammar Translation (GT) method was considered ineffective in teaching English in non-native contexts (Paker & Karaağaç, 2015). Krashen (1981) claims that the use of the mother tongue (L1) deprives the learning of the English language (L2) in a natural setting, while the monolingual approach would maximize the effectiveness of learning the target language. Turnbul (2001) and (McDonald, 1993) are among other scholars who join Krashen in arguing that the use of the mother tongue hampers the learning of English and the best way to teach English is through English only.

However, the English-only approach – or the notion of teaching English through English (Richards, 2017) – is gradually being challenged as an impediment to teaching and learning English (Butzkamm & Caldwell, 2009; Pan & Pan 2010; Savage, 2019). The use of L1 not only creates the foundation for a better understanding of the L2 curriculum but also develops a positive attitude among children towards the schools that teach L2 (Savage, 2019). The use of L1 will be particularly relevant to the students from introductory to lower-intermediate levels (Pan & Pan 2010). According to Cook (2001), L1 creates a mental link between L1 and L2 and, thus, equips learners with the language competence they need to learn the second language.

Languages are linguistically interdependent, argues Cummins (2007), who, in the 1970s, developed the Linguistic Interdependence Hypothesis. Here,, the use of the mother tongue in the classroom reinforces the interdependence and enables the students to learn the second language through language transfer. Monolingual policies or prescriptions are actually contrary to and inconsistent with current understandings of how people learn (Cummins, 2007). In the same vein, Cook (2001) demonstrates that English-only policies and assumptions are wrong and urges instead to treat L1 as a classroom resource both for teachers and students to convey meaning, explain grammar and promote collaborative learning. Urging to use English where possible and mother tongue where necessary, Weschler, R. (1997) goes on to suggest developing a hybrid method drawing on the best of both schools of thought; English only approach and judicious use of mother tongue while teaching English.

At the beginning of my teaching career, 15 years ago, I was also influenced, like many beginner teachers, by the monolingual approach. I also used to think that English-only was the right approach, even aware that I was teaching on a public campus in which most of the students were from public schools with poor English competency. My preference for the conventional style of teaching English was to be an ideal teacher who could speak English fluently in the classrooms forbidding students from using their native languages.

Later, I realized that my approach was wrong particularly after my students started shifting to another class where the teacher used students’ mother tongue (Nepali in my context) as a medium (for instruction, teaching grammar, warming up, explaining homework and also the meaning of some technical words). Realizing the students’inclination towards their mother tongue went bilingual and saw the impact of it on the retention of students and their interactive participation in teaching-learning.

In the subsequent sections, I am sharing my own latest classroom practices in which I have used LI as a resource to teach writing skills and vocabulary. It was practised among 40 students of Bachelor of English Education at a Public Campus in Kathmandu.   almost all the students were from Govt schools, with limited English proficiency. Most of them were from the ethnic communities that would speak Nepali as a lingua franca.

Practice 1: Each student was assigned to write a paragraph (8 lines) describing their own culture in English within 20 minutes. Out of 40 students, only 2 students (5%) completed the assignment. Eight students (20%) wrote some four lines of a paragraph. Twelve students (30%) wrote hardly two lines and 18 students (45%) wrote nothing (sat passive biting a pen throughout the 20 minutes). The body language of almost all students would tell that the practice was dull and dispirited.

Practice 2: Students were divided along with their cultural/linguistic background and were asked to write a half-page about their culture in LI, Nepali in this case, within 20 minutes. Almost all the students completed the assignment in time. Unlike the first assignment, students were happy, engaged and motivated to complete the exercise to the best of their ability.

 Practice 3: Each group was, then, asked to translate the text into English and present it to peers. In case of difficulty finding an English term, they were allowed to retain Nepali term/s. Each group tried their best to translate what they had written, and presented among their peers highlighting the words/phrases they could not translate. I jotted down the highlighted words or phrases on the whiteboard. After the presentation, each group was asked to seek help from the other groups (using LI) to help find English words/expressions in their writing. After listening to the students, I stepped in to help them, explaining that certain cultural words might be difficult to translate, such as the name of community-specific food: Yomari (Newari food), Ghongi (Tharu Food), Sargemba (a food item of pig blood), Thekuwa (sweet cookie of terai people) and so on.

It worked well. Students were cheerful and fully engaged. No one seemed hesitant to share and express. On the contrary, everyone had something to offer and help a fellow student in need. It was truly collaborative. The mix of L1 and L2 would create a new environment of learning.

Impression

The use of LI is very helpful in EFL classrooms in a multicultural setting, like ours in Nepal. Foremost of all, it firms up the bond/connection between a teacher and students and helps create an inclusive environment in which students learn from each other (e.g., culture-specific vocabulary, writing skills, interpersonal communication) on an equal footing. It enhances inter-cultural respect among students and promotes collaborative learning.

The use of LI creates an environment in which everyone becomes an active learner. No one sees English as a burden. Instead, learning English becomes fun. As Pan and Pan (2010) rightly put it, “if L1 is utilized well and presented communicatively, it can be a facilitative tool that will improve the language proficiency of students” ( p.8 ) by motivating them to engage in learning exercises. L1 helps to develop students’ intercultural competence by providing learning content that is familiar to them (Chinh 2013). It is easy to build on familiar content, which also creates a level playing field for all to engage equally in learning without any sense of superiority or inferiority.

As argued by Weschler (1997), L1 opens the door to many possibilities for L2 while creating a natural learning environment. Learning cannot be imposed. It should not be a burden. Learning should instead be fun, which is possible through the use of the mother tongue.

The L1 versus L2 debate is not limited to educationists and teachers alone. Even our parents are drawn into it. Many of them want to see their children trained in the English-only fashion, unaware of perhaps the contribution of L1 to L2. Our teachers should also bridge the gap between the parental expectation (of L2) and the need of the students (of L1) by making the parents aware of the importance of L1 in getting their children where they want them to reach.

References

Butzkamm, W., & Caldwell, J. A. (2009). The bilingual reform: A paradigm shift in foreign language teaching. Narr Francke Attempto Verlag.

Chinh, N. D. (2013). Cultural Diversity in English Language Teaching: Learners’ Voices. English Language Teaching, 6 (4), 1-7.

Cook, V. (2001). Using the first language in the classroom. Canadian modern language review57(3), 402-423.

Cummins, J. (2007). Rethinking monolingual instructional strategies in multilingual classrooms. Canadian Journal of applied linguistics, 10(2), 221-240.

Krashen, S. D. (1981). Second language acquisition and second language learning. The University of Southern California.

McDonald, C. (1993). Using the target language. Cheltenham, UK: Mary Glasgow.

Paker, T., & Karaağaç, Ö. (2015). The use and functions of mother tongue in EFL classes. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences199, 111-119.

Pan, Y. C., & Pan, Y. C. (2010). The Use of L1 in the Foreign Language Classroom. Colombian Applied Linguistics Journal, 12(2), 87-96.

Richards, J. C. (2017). Teaching English through English: Proficiency, pedagogy and performance. RELC Journal48(1), 7-30.

Savage, C. (2019). The importance of mother tongue in education. Independent Education Today. Available at: https://ie-today.co.uk/comment/the-importance-of-mother-tongue-in-education/ (downloaded on 30 March 2022)

Turnbull, M. (2001). There is a role for the L1 in second and foreign language teaching, but…. Canadian modern language review57(4), 531-540.

Weschler, R. (1997). Uses of Japanese in the English Classroom: Introducing the Functional-Translation Method. Kyoritsu Women’s University Department of International Studies Journal12, 87-110.

Author’s Bio: Ms Ganga Laxmi Bhandari is a lecturer of English education at Mahendra Ratna Campus Tahachal (T.U.), Kathmandu. She has over 15 years of teaching and training experience in ELT. She has also been working as a Central Committee Member of NELTA. Currently, she is pursuing a PhD degree from Tribhuvan University. Her area of research interest is teacher professional development. She can be reached at gbgangakattel@gmail.com

Reading Among Under-graduate Students: Problems and Ways Forward

Nanibabu Ghimire*

Prologue

One day, in the morning class, I was teaching in B.Ed. first-year students in a community campus. I asked a student to read a text given in the coursebook. She felt odd and did not get up to read the text. I encouraged her to just read the text the way she could, but was shy and showed no willingness to read. After a brief silence, she told me that she would read the text the following day. I did not force her more as I thought that she did not want to lose her face in front of her friends. I also asked other students to read. Some of them were reluctant to read. Those who tried reading lack clear pronunciation and fluency in reading. They could not even produce the simple words correctly.

Likewise, the same day, in the afternoon, I was teaching the students of the first semester of Diploma in Civil Engineering in a community technical institute. I asked some students to read a text from their English course. A boy read the text and pronounced the words as /kəmɪment/ for ‘commitment’, /mæzestɪfɪkesən/ to ‘mystification’, /skɪberd/ to ‘discovered’, /ɔ:skərd/ for ‘obscured’, /sərvɪs/ to ‘serves’, /pɪjrs/ to ‘preyers’ etc. Moreover, I also taught the students of Diploma in Agriculture (Animal Science) on that day and I asked the students to read a text of their course because it was interesting to me that the students who were studying at the Diploma level could not read the text fluently with the correct pronunciation. A girl stood up and pronounced the word ‘fidelity’ as /fɪlɪtɪ/, ‘reminiscence’ as /rɪmkens/, ‘anything’ as /enðɪs/, ‘eye’ as /ɔɪ/, ‘anthropology’ as /entolozi/, ‘spectacle’ as /spekʊlər/, ‘glorious’ as /glɪsɪrɪjs/ etc. while she was reading the text. I am shocked to see the reading proficiency of the students of B. Ed. and Diploma in a technical institute. It is found that they are too weak in reading. Thus, in this write-up, I try to explore some problems regarding this issue in my effort to improve students’ reading.

Introduction

Reading is the process of decoding a message from the given text. Going through a written text in order to understand and comprehend its message can be called reading. Eye movement and word recognition are the essential factors in the reading process. Reading is the main source of information and a means of consolidating and extending our knowledge. It is a kind of practice of using text to create meaning. If there is no meaning being created, there is no reading taking place. Teachers should engage students in reading activities to develop their reading skills.

Munby (1979, as cited in Khaniya, 2005) argues that reading skill incorporates different sub-skills such as recognition of the script of a language, deducing the meaning and use of unfamiliar lexical items, understanding explicitly stated information, understanding conceptual meaning, understanding relations within the sentences, understanding relations between parts of a text through lexical and grammatical cohesion devices, identifying the main points or important information in a piece of discourse, skimming, Scanning, and transcoding information to diagrammatic display that should be internalized and learned by the students for their proper development in reading. My experience in teaching shows that the students have not developed these sub-skills of reading even if they are studying at the Bachelor’s level.   It is essential that the students have to develop all these sub-skills while reading the text appropriately.

Causes of Students’ Poor Reading Proficiency

To explore this issue, I discussed it with students in the class and observed their reading practice and found the following main causes:

Effect of COVID-19 Lockdown

The COVID-19 pandemic affected all sectors of life. Education is one of the highly affected sectors. To safeguard the people from coronavirus, the government declared the lockdown. As a result, schools remained closed. The schools could not continue the teaching and learning activities smoothly. Students could not take their regular classes and reading activities halted for several months. Teachers could not engage their students in reading practice either in the face to face or online mode because most of the community schools also could conduct their classes neither physically nor on online mode.  The students missed the opportunity of the practice of reading in their class.  Students who I have been teaching said that they did not take part in reading activities because of the lockdown, and their teachers completed their courses in a rush without giving attention to developing their reading skills.

No exam: No Reading

Because of the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government could not run the School Education Examination (SEE) and the schools also did not take terminal and annual examinations. Students were promoted to the next class without attending any formal examinations. On the one hand, students did not attend regular classes; on the other hand, they passed without giving an examination. Our students do not study hard if they do not have to take part in the exam. One of the students asserted that ‘neither we give exams nor we study hard’ because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He further mentioned that pariksha dinu parne bhae po padhnu.  hamile padhne abhyas garenau ni!  (If we have to take an exam, we used to read. We have not practised reading). In this context, neither they read effectively in the class nor did they sit in the exam. As a result, they became weak in their reading.

Declining Reading Culture

The main cause of students being weak in reading is the poor reading culture. Students do not want to read themselves. They want to listen to their teachers reading out the text for them. They do not like to read since reading is difficult for them because it demands the enactment of several subskills at the same time. Reading is a time-consuming and challenging task. One of my students shared her experiences of reading as ‘reading takes much time because I have to search for pronunciation and meaning of the difficult words in the dictionary which is alchhilagdo (lazily) and jhanjhatilo (troublesome) task for me’. She further said that it is also boring to read alone at home. When they are poor at reading, they lack interest in it. We can also say that when they lack interest in reading, they become poor at it. If they read regularly at home, they can develop their reading skill.

Teacher-Centred Reading Practice

Generally, English teachers in community schools just read out the text and explain its meaning to students. They do not provide an opportunity for the students to read or to work out the exercises in the text on their own. Instead, the teachers encourage their students to recite the answer to the question which have been provided by them writing on the whiteboard. Consequently, many students fail to develop their reading skills. They adopt the teacher-centred method to teach reading. They themselves become active to read, interpret and convey the meaning through translation.

My Effort for Developing Reading Skill

As a reading teacher, I have used the following techniques to address the abovementioned reading problems faced by my students at the advanced level.:

Daily Reading Practice in the Class

Normally, advanced-level students are not asked to read in the class. They are expected to comprehend and take part in reasoning and thinking after self-reading practice. However, I ask them to read the text line by line in my class. In the beginning, they felt hesitant, shy and had the fear of losing face before their friends. When they realized that they can improve their reading if they involve in daily reading practice in the class from my counselling, they began taking part in reading activities actively. Although it is time-consuming and burdensome for me, I engage them in reading practice. Regular and continuous practice of daily reading even in B. Ed. class brought a noticeable change in the students that some of them can read the text with correct pronunciation at a slow pace. A few days ago, a new student came to my class. I asked her to read but she hesitated. Seeing her hesitation, another student encouraged her “Sir le hamrailagi padhna bhannubhaeko ho, padhana, yasari yaha ra gharama padhda mero peni padhaima sudhar bhayo [The teacher has told her to read for us. Read the text. I have also improved by reading here and at home]. It was quite satisfying for me to hear such positive feedback on my effort.

Reading at Home with Dictionary

I also motivate my students to read the text at home by using dictionaries. I tell them to underline difficult words and write their pronunciations and meanings with a pencil just above the words and read continuously to develop their reading. Some of them have followed this strategy and found it quite helpful. Those who read at home using dictionaries can read the text easily in the class, and those who come to class without reading at home find it difficult to understand.

Short Oral Question-based Reading

I ask students some short oral questions which are based on the reading text. I tell them that I will ask some short questions from the reading text so that they should read the text at home. The uses of short oral questions encourage students to read the text with a clear purpose. Such questions also give them direction, which ultimately contributes to their reading skill.

Reading in Pair

In my observation, there are two types of readers in the class. Some can read the text wholesome and can not even utter the words clearly. Keeping these two types in mind, I form reading pairs of   ‘able’ and ‘ weak’ students. In a pair, they read together, talk and discuss. They read the text collectively. The able student helps his/her pair to read the text. If pairs are formed carefully, they do not hesitate to share their ideas with each other. This reading practice has become beneficial for the students in my classroom

Conclusion

Reading is a pivotal skill to develop students’ vocabulary and content knowledge. Students cannot develop their reading skills if they do not involve in reading activities themselves actively. Continuous, and active involvement of the students in reading texts supports them to develop their reading skills. They should read the text themselves without any hesitation no matter which level they are in. Daily practice of reading in the class with the support of the teachers, reading at home using dictionaries, reading to respond to short oral questions, and reading in pairs are some of the techniques for developing the reading skill of our students. At present, even advanced students are found grappling with reading texts in Nepal as stakeholders of ELT, we need to be aware of this problem and take some concerted effort to address it. For it, I think a long-term action research-based study is needed to explore in-depth the problems of reading students and to find out practical ways of overcoming them.

References

Khaniya, T.R. (2005). Examination for enhanced learning. Kathmandu: Author.

Author’s Bio: Nani Babu Ghimire is a Lecturer at Siddha Jyoti Education Campus Sindhuli, Nepal. He is currently a Ph. D. scholar in English Education at Tribhuvan University.

 

 

Exploring Creative Response in ELT: A Vignette of an English Teacher

Bishnu Karki*

Context

English is taught and learnt as a foreign language in Nepal. I teach students from varying levels ranging from school to university. Teaching English at school and university is a tough and tedious job for every practitioner. It has been more challenging for all many of us. Normally, we believe that students in our context lack competency and proficiency in English language learning contexts. Motivating such learners to learn the English language is a very aspiring as well as a rigorous task for teachers like me. I often try to bring innovative ideas and activities to my classroom context. Unfortunately, my students do not pay proper attention to their studies and at some point, I feel as if they are studying English just to score passing grades. I realized that the students having ‘Nepali’ as the specialized subject focus only to score required grades or pass marks in comparison to students having ‘English’ as the specialized subject. . As an EFL teacher, I have to fully depend on prescribed course books’ task and activities to complete on time. This nature of the course has given no freedom for teachers to apply tasks and activities based on classroom explorations and context. The administration timely does an inquiry about the course progress whether the teacher has met the target of the course for terminal examination or not. Students also have developed their mindset to read any topic or lesson from an exam viewpoint. One of my students asked me during the teaching phase, “ sir, is this exercise important for the exam?” I replied yes to know the response of the student and how important he/she gives to that particular exercise. I found the students who asked me whether this exercise is important for exams or not prepared notes on that topic. From this classroom scenario, I realized to motivate my students to engage in the creative and critical tasks and activities beyond course books.

Fostering the creativity of learners plays a vital role in developing their analytical, critical, and problem-solving skills to enhance effective communication with peers and teachers naturally. In this regard, Tomlinson (2020) pointed out the significance of being creative for EFL teachers in-order to encourage their learners to be creative. Maley (2016) has  suggested the following principles for developing various forms of creativity:

Use heuristics at all levels- do the opposite, reverse the order, expand or (reduce ) something,

Use the constraints principle

Use the random principle

Use the association principle

Use the withholding-information principle

Use the divergent thinking principle

Use feeder fields

Regarding the notion of being creative teachers, we have to come out of the comfort zone to discover and explore newness for teaching creatively having a strong belief that creative teachers are not born and have to abandon the fear of being wrong.   The ongoing trends and shifts in teaching expect teachers’ willingness to be creative and demonstrate innovative concepts, beliefs, methods, and skills in teaching. How can a  teacher teaching with low resources and less professional opportunity familiarize him with creative and critical aspects of teaching?  To address the issue of the above question, I believe, there should be passion among teachers for self- continuous professional growth and learning. Teachers have to be motivated themselves and always devoted and committed to bringing significant changes in their classroom practices forming their own agency.

The rationale for my reflection

Rationalizing the status and ability of students in English, I happened to inquire how I could inspire my learners to be responsible for their own learning.  Many questions are stuck in my mind:- Are there any ways I could apply in my teaching to achieve transformative learning? Are there any explicit and creative activities that I could employ in my classroom context for better learning outcomes? Are there any specific ways I could apply to engaging students interactively and collaboratively?

These are some of the leading questions that made me reflect critically on transforming my teaching from content provider/ knowledge transmitter to knowledge explorer and reformer through dialogic interactions with interlocutors. In this write-up, I share my classroom practices on how creative response in ELT can foster students’ creativity, critical thinking, analyzing skills, and problem-solving skills, as well as develop communication skills to integrate various language aspects. The objective of this reflective writing is to rethink and critically reflect and analyze our classroom practices whether or not we are creating a favourable learning environment for our learners to develop their creativity. Moreover, this paper also encourages teachers teaching with less access to professional opportunities and fewer resources to be responsible for self-learning and grow professionally to connect with a wider ELT association of professional networking.

Vignette

I began my teaching career without job induction training and mentoring. I struggled for my survival in the teaching profession during my initial days. There was no staff development programme and professional development opportunity for teachers. Teachers were seniors/experienced based on their years of teaching rather than updated skills and knowledge. I realized proficiency and competency-based training, seminars, workshops, webinars, and short-term practical courses empower teachers to advance their teaching careers. I also became a member of ELT associations like NELTA and TESOL for my continuous professional development and networking with the wider community. The following anecdotes illustrated my professional development activities.

I attended a six-day intensive course on “Fundamentals of Teaching” organized by the British Council on March 25-30, 2018. It was my first experience participating in a 6 days long training for individual professional growth. The takeaways from the training helped me shape my teaching to keeping learners at the centre of the learning process by applying recent approaches to language teaching, group division techniques, designing tasks and activities for lesson planning, managing heterogeneous classes, fostering creative and critical aspects of learners, Think, pair share technique and ways of maximizing interaction and collaboration.

Based on the skills and knowledge from this training, I presented a workshop on Designing Activities for Teaching Reading at the National Conference of NELTA held at Solidarity International Academy, Hetauda, Nepal on March 2-3,2019. TESOL-NELTA Regional Conference and Symposium held at DAV Sushil Kedia Vishwa Bharati Higher Secondary School, Jawalakhel, Lalitpur on November 20-23 was another professional development opportunity to participate and interact with scholars from home and abroad for professional networking. At this conference, I presented a workshop on Using Short Stories for Enhancing Reading Comprehension of EFL Learners. I got an opportunity to participate in a Creative Writing Workshop facilitated by an ELT expert Alan Maley on November 24, 2019. That creative writing workshop engaged me in various ways of writing creative poems and also inspired me to apply the technique in my classrooms to foster creative writing for my students. It is my belief that the best part of learning is sharing in a wider community. I presented a workshop entitled Enhancing Creative Writing in the EFL classroom at the Third Annual ELT and Applied Linguistics Conference on February 21-22, 2020 organized by the Department of English Education, Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu, Nepal.

Recently, I also successfully completed a nine months-long online course entitled “TESOL Certificate: Advance Practitioner (TCAP) getting a scholarship from Regional English  Language Office (RELO) US Embassy, Nepal. This course provided theoretical knowledge and practical skills needed for teaching the English language effectively and innovatively by applying modern approaches, methods, and skills.  I got an opportunity to participate TESOL convention and English language expo virtually in 2021 and 2022. Attending the TESOL convention virtually made me familiar with recent practices of teacher education, teacher research, innovative classroom practices, and more importantly ELT in the present world. Scholars across the globe shared their beliefs, knowledge, practical ideas based on their classroom exploration, and research findings to empower teachers like me to rethink English language teaching. I was the award recipient of ‘Rosa Aronson Professional Learning Scholarship’ of TESOL 2020.

My classroom practices

My classroom practices focus on the development of the creative and critical skills of the students. In order to enhance creativity and critical thinking, I create a conducive learning environment to foster engagement from the students. I use Icebreaker to initiate the discussions, sometimes during the while phase of teaching and at the end of the class. Using icebreakers in English language class incorporates different language skills. Icebreaker is one of the effective strategies for generating new ideas. I spend around 5-10 minutes on the icebreaker with a clear purpose. The selection of the icebreaker is based on the nature of the text. I use prompts, quotations, riddles, and questions for engaging students in productive learning.

Social media are also the best platform for learning new ideas and concepts for self-professional development through professional networking. I have added many ELT scholars from home and abroad as my Facebook friends. They post innovative concepts of ELT, call for proposals and abstracts for international conferences, seminars, and workshops, and share resources, practical teaching ideas, and links for joining webinars. I found the following activity in the Facebook post of Marjorie Rosenberg, past president of IATEFL. I found this activity engaging so I used it in my classroom.

 Activity 1: Icebreaker

I asked the students to complete the following information using the first letter of the last name.  They were a bit confused about how to be engaged in this activity. To make them understand how to explore information for completing it, I asked for the last name of any students in the class and wrote the last name on the board. For example, if the last name of the student was Gurung, he/she had to complete the given items using the first letter of their last name (G).

Wear……………..

Drink………………

Place……………….

Food………………..

Animal……………..

Girl’s name…………………..

Boy’s name…………………….

Profession…………………………

Describe someone………………………..

Something in your home…………………….

Body parts………………………………………

Your last names………………………………….

Students actively participated in this activity. I found that students were very curious to share their responses. After the sharing session, I ask the students to write the names of the animals (donkey, elephant), a place to visit (Dharan, Illam), Favourite food (momo, biryani), clothes (sweater, T-shirt) on a piece of paper. I provided them with the structure (If I were a (insert the word generated above), I would……) to write sentences based on the words they generated above. For example: If I were a donkey, I would carry your goods.

If I were a sweater, I would keep you warm from the cold.

Students constructed creative and surprising sentences and compared and evaluated their generated sentences with their peers. This activity energized them to create new sentences based on the structures.

Activity 2: Using Acrostic poems for introduction to new students

An acrostic poem is based on a word written vertically. I used acrostic poems to introduce newcomer students. This activity of writing poems encourages students to write poems about themselves. Acrostics poems can be used to write poems on objects, things, places, and so on. To make my students familiar with writing acrostics poems, I present some samples to make them clear on how to write them. During the sample presentation, I address the query raised by the students.

For Example: Dog

Docile

Obedient

Growling

After presenting the above example, I ask the students to write an acrostic poem based on their own name or about someone’s name they know well.

For example: Ganesh

G Goal-oriented

An Active achiever

N Nurturing naturally

E Excellent endeavour

S Sincere Sociable

H Honest humane

After students wrote poems about their names, I asked every student to share how they wrote them.

Activity 3: What Makes Me Happy?

I use this activity to promote positive thinking and also want to know the sources of my students’ happiness. I write “What Makes Me Happy?” on the board and asks the student to write their happiness based on the stem I wrote on the board. To make them clear, I write ‘Eating momo at a restaurant with my friends makes me happy.’ Based on this information, students explore their happiness and write creative and surprising sentences and chunks individually. I divide them into groups with five students in each. Now, students select one writer and the remaining students do the work of editing to shape their poems. Each group shares their final product of ‘What Makes Me Happy?’

 

Activity 4 : Bio poems

Bio poem enhances students’ creativity to write poems about a place, concept, event or individual they learnt through reading texts. Students write poems about the characters of the story or novel based on the sample. Students have read biography or autobiography of famous people, historically and naturally popular places or any events or concepts introduced in the text. In the form of poems, students organize and synthesize a large number of ideas creatively. The following template can be used to write a poem:

Line 1: First name

Line 2: Four traits that describe the character

Line 3: son/daughter relative of

Line 4: who feels/ verbs………….( 3 items)

Line 5: who needs/verbs……….( 3 items )

Line 6: who gives/verbs………..( 3 items)

Line 7: Who would like…………..

Line 8: Resident of………………….

Ending: Last name

Activity 5: Story Wheel

I attended a workshop on ‘Creative Response to ELT’ last year. In that workshop, the facilitator introduced the concept and practical ways of assessing the ‘story wheel’ in our classrooms. The story wheel required paper and pencil and can easily be used without overnight preparation and planning. Baker (2021) emphasizes that the story wheel can be used to expand learners’ retelling capacities, as well as to hone critical-thinking skills, and provide oral language practice. I use this activity in my class to retell the story students read or heard. Before I use this tool, I ask the students to read the story. I draw a circle on the board and divide the circle into segments. In the segment, I write the name of the story and its writer, the characters of the story, the setting, the plot, the picture that describe the best scene of the story, and key vocabulary. The segments in the story wheel depend on the nature of the story and the level of learners. I distribute pencils and A4 size paper to the students. I form a group with five students in each. They discuss in a group and make the story wheel based on my instructions. I offer my help to them if needed. The story wheel is easily transferable to a post-reading strategy with adaptations.

 Reading Activities

Enhancing the reading comprehension of my learners is another challenging part of teaching due to the complex nature of reading texts. Students develop their critical and interpretive skills through maximum exposure to readings texts. In our context, we have given very less amount of reading practice to our learners to improve their comprehension. Students seem bored and passive in reading lessons. This classroom scenario made me re-evaluate my teaching on how to design engaging, creative, and critical activities and tasks to assess reading interactively and collaboratively to motivate demotivated learners.  Reading texts enhances the interpretive abilities of the students. In my reading lesson, I begin my class by creating a learner-friendlier atmosphere motivating them to participate in the discussion to share their prior knowledge they have about the topic. I initiate the interaction and elicit information shared by the students by making a connection with their previous knowledge about the reading text.  I use the K-W-L chart (What I  know-K, What I want to know- W and What I learned-L) to engage students individually in organizing ideas of the text at pre, while, and post phases of the reading topic. Agreeing and disagreeing is another effective reading activity I prefer in my class to express the opinions of my students. For example, I write ‘ Arranged marriages are usually stronger than those based on love’ On the board. I ask the students: To what extent do you agree with the statement- strongly agree, agree, undecided, disagree, and strongly disagree. Students think individually and share their responses with their classmates.

Questioning the author helps students develop inquiry about the text to understand it. Students explore the meaning that the author wants to convey through the text. It also develops the students’ interactive, explorative and interpretive ability to construct meaning based on their reading of the text (Beck, McKeown, Sandora, & Worthy, 1996, 387).

Visualization, summarizing, predicting, making connections, and inferring are frequently used reading strategies in my classroom. While designing tasks and activities for reading texts, I follow the stages of reading illustrated by Lazar ( 2009) to achieve learning goals through interactive tasks and activities. I also use a plot diagram to map the events of the story. Students organize their ideas based on the elements of the plot diagram- exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.

Conclusion

Exploring the creativity of the learners in the EFL classroom is the cry of a day. To address the issue of creativity in the EFL classroom, I have applied learnt skills and knowledge to bring positive learning outcomes to my learners giving them maximum exposure through engaging tasks and activities. Creating a democratic classroom scenario will motivate the students to be responsible for their own learning believing they are an integral part of teaching which builds a good rapport between teachers and students.

References

Maley, A. (2016). Creativity: the what, the why and the how. ELT Council: Malta

Baker, A. ( 2021 ). Using story retelling wheels with young learners. English Teaching Forum, 59(3), 14-24.

Gabay, L. ( 2017). I raise my voice: Promoting self-Authoring through a curriculum-based project. English Teaching Forum, 55(4),14-21.

Beck, I.L., McKeown, M.G., Sandora, C., & Worthy, J. (1996). Questioning the author:

A yearlong classroom implementation to engage students with text. The Elementary

School Journal, 96, 385–414.

Lazar, G.( 2009). Literature and Language teaching. Cambridge University Press.

Tomlinson, B.(2015). Challenging teachers to use their coursebooks creatively. www.teachingenglish.org.uk

Author’s Bio: Bishnu Karki has an M.Ed. in English Education from Tribhuvan University. He is an Assistant Lecturer of English Education at Janta Multiple Campus, Itahari, Sunsari and Secondary level English teacher at Chandra Sanskrit Secondary School, Dharan. Mr Karki is joint secretary of the NELTA Sunsari branch and a global member of TESOL. His special interest lies in fostering creativity in ELT, teaching literature in the EFL classroom, and teacher education.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Teachers’ Collaboration for Professional Development

Shaty Kumar Mahato*      

Introduction

Collaborative teacher development is the process of sharing together for enhancing and cooperating the quality of teaching and learning practices. It occurs when the teachers and learners work together in the process of teaching and learning. This paper is based on my presentation at the 22nd international conference of NELTA 2017. The teachers and learners have the common goal to overcome the problems occurred in the practices of teaching and learning. The teachers’ association like NELTA in Nepal is helping in energizing language teachers and researchers to be professional as well as professional growth. Personally, by joining NELTA, I am benefitted from growing professionally and academically. The teachers can play a pertinent role to collaborate with the people involved in teaching and learning practices. Collaborating together, the teachers explore more opportunities for the learners so that the learners can envision several steps of learning.

Likewise, teachers can also enhance expertise and build good confidence with their learners. The teachers exchange their ideas and knowledge with other participants in teaching and learning and that led them to be professionally sound. Therefore, collaboration is one of the ways for teachers’ professional development. Regarding collaboration, Vygotsky (1978) as cited in Barfield, (2016, p. 222) states, “Collaborative learning can be seen to occur through dialogue, social interaction, and joint-decision making with others and these shared processes contribute greatly to individual and collective growth as well as to co-constructed understanding and knowledge”. As a language teacher and researcher, I have had a similar experience in my classroom and outside of the classroom.

Similarly, Hargreaves, (1994, p.186) says, “To a point where teachers can learn from each other, sharing and developing their expertise together”. The learning becomes effective while sharing because they can generate meaningful ideas and information. Furthermore, Medgyes and Malderez, (1996), as cited in Barfield (2016, p.222), state, “collaborative teacher development is founded on dialogue, questioning, and discussion in working together towards educational change and improvement” and it is supported by Datnow (2011, p.155) that “it is at its most effective when it emerges voluntarily and spontaneously from teachers’ own beliefs that working together is productive and enjoyable”. It means teachers can feel comfortable if they apply the collaborative work to practice. Similarly, my experience in teaching is teachers can professionally forward in sustained and meaningful ways if we are able to do so together. Here, I transformed myself into a professional teacher and researcher.

This article explores the needs and importance of collaboration for teachers’ professional development. It is my own experience of encountering collaborative and non-collaborative teaching and learning. The theoretical studies of the collaboration in the field of language teaching and learning enhanced my pedagogical skills and also helped to explore more innovative ideas and skills. Likewise, this paper sets to explore collaborative teaching and learning to envision how it is one of the sources for teachers’ professional development.

Collaborative Teaching and Learning for Teachers’ Professional Development 

As a teacher and a member of NELTA, I participated in seminars and conferences and understand that teacher is not only empowering her/his students but also growing professionally. I also understand that professional teachers always try and stand in search of learning knowledge. Maggioli (2004, p. 5) defines, “professional development as a career-long process in which educators fine-tune their teaching to meet student needs”. As Maggioli suggests it is clear to say that professional development is not a day or night development for one’s career, it is an ongoing process where one should professionally develop and grow through joining different minds together. It gives the vivid concept that if the teacher understands themselves as a learner and expert to fulfil the demands of the students.

Collaborative teaching and learning make a sense of learning by sharing and engaging together. It also builds harmony in our Nepalese context. The teachers’ collaboration and an active engagement with their students and different agencies could explore more innovative ways and skills of learning. The literature also focuses on collaboration which means working together especially in a joint intellectual effort so that one could stay sound and confident in language teaching-learning practices. According to Richards and Burns (2009, p. 239), “it is a social process that is contingent upon dialogue and interactions with others, processes through which teachers can come to better understand their own beliefs and knowledge as well as reshape these understandings through listening to the voice of others”. It is clearer in our Nepali context that our country is diverse which helps to understand the social phenomenon. Similarly, teaching and learning practices enhance when there is equal dialogue and interactions. Through collaborative teaching, teachers can come and interact with other people. Regarding their understanding, experience, and subject matter build confidence and broaden their skills. Likewise, it helps to exchange ideas, skills, and understanding with other fellow teachers, researchers and policymakers in the language field.

Similarly, Johnston (2003) considers collaboration as a wellspring of teacher professional development. Collaborative teaching and learning are fundamentally social processes. It creates collegiality and quality in the teaching profession. Edge (1992) states, “self-development needs other people…by cooperating with others, we can come to understand better our own experiences and opinions”. I also understand that self-determination in learning with other people enhances both confidentiality and collegiality. Likewise, we need collaborative teaching and learning for teachers’ professional development because Johnston views state collaborative teacher development as any sustained and systematic investigation into teaching and learning in which a teacher voluntarily collaborates with others involved in the teaching process, and in which professional development is a prime purpose.

Collaboration is crucial and influential in teaching and learning, which is concerned with the teacher’s professional development that gives the update and current affairs of knowledge. Cook (1981) states, “concern for the ultimate clients, the students, and for intermediaries, the teachers are apparent in all programmes, and this concern is directed toward sound educational and professional development rather than the gratification of immediate needs and desires.”  Collaboration in teaching is not only meant for programme development, it is meant for individual development too. It creates an ample opportunity for the teacher to integrate and come up with the vision, increased understanding among teachers at all grade levels and in varied subject areas.

In my experience, I understand collaboration while engaging and interacting through different agencies such as NELTA, LSN, and so on. In doing so, I developed my skills and confidence not only in classroom teaching but also beyond classroom teaching. Likewise, it helps me to explore my techniques, strategies and methods to apply in and outside of the classroom. Doing collaborative works and finding its relevance in academia is described by Darling Hammond and Richardson (2009).

To make it more explicit, Cook (1981) states, “collaboration is to provide a means for improving the professional education, it is important to consider not only the meaning and implication of “collaboration” but also the nature of “improvement”. Collaboration creates an environment where the teacher can work together and learn together to improve their professionalism. The dialogue and interaction which led through collaboration also build trust, confidence and collegiality. Teaching/learning in such a way could give sound satisfaction with satisfactory achievement, which would orient them to professionalism. This could become like cooperation but not exactly cooperation. Collaboration is somehow different from cooperation. Let’s see the differences.

Collaboration and Cooperation 

Killion (2012) states, as cited in the essential guide to professional learning Aitsl (Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership) “the more one educator’s learning is shared and supported by others, the more quickly the culture of continuous improvement, collective responsibility, and high expectations for students and educator’s grows.” Collaboration is a community where learners and teachers are involved together to share their knowledge, skills or ideas to recover the issues and challenges seen in teaching and learning. According to Aitsl, collaboration creates a community of working to achieve a common goal through the sharing of practice, knowledge and problems. And, effective collaboration encourages ongoing observation and feedback among colleagues where a culture of professional sharing, dialogue, experimentation and critique becomes commonplace. What I also observed through experiencing collaborative teaching, it makes sense of collegiality and mostly to get to know how things are going on worldwide.

Brook et al. (2007) state, “collaboration creates a base of pedagogical knowledge that is disturbed among teachers within a school as opposed to being held by individual teachers” as cited in Aitsl. It clears that if the teacher is suffering from the pedagogical problems they would get the chance to solve them through collaborative work that may not be solved by an individual. AITSL clearly defines both collaboration and cooperation where collaboration is concerned with working with another or others in a joint project.  Collaborative works, it has a common goal and a high level of trust. It is a job-embedded long term program and works with joint planning, decision making, and problem-solving methods.

Cooperation has individual ownership of goals with others providing assistance for mutual benefit. Generally, cooperation is spontaneous and passive engagement by others. Therefore, cooperation and collaboration have not much comparison. Collaboration is far better than cooperation in academia. We can say that doing collaborative work makes professional growth. Therefore, to grow professionally collaboration with the teachers’ association, colleagues, researchers and teachers enhance the skills needed for professional development.

Why do we need collaborative teacher development?

Collaboration is viewed as a process that facilitates teacher development, serves to generate knowledge and understanding, and helps to develop collegiality and one of which teachers should have or share control. It is an organizational and inter-organizational structure where resources, power, and authority are shared, and where people are brought together to share common goals that could not be accomplished by a single individual or an organization independently, Kagan (1991, p. 3) as cited in Rainforth and England (1997, p. 86). The work accomplished by the group may not be solved by an individual and mostly they become unfamiliar with the phenomenon or process used to accomplish the task. When they come together they would have common goals which can be shared together and can be easily accomplished. In other words, the most common things in collaboration are it facilitates every individual to share and learn the issues one is facing.

Similarly, teacher development is a social process that is contingent upon dialogue and interaction with others, processes through which teachers can come to better understand their own beliefs and knowledge as well as reshape these understanding through listening to the voices of others. It can be viewed as teachers learning, rather than as others getting teachers to change. In learning, the teachers were developing their beliefs and ideas, developing their classroom practices, and attending to their feelings associated with changing, Bell and Gilbert (1994), as cited in Evans (2002, p.126). It seems clearer that joining hands and working together means helping an association as well as helping an association means building a nation together.

Likewise, Goddard and Goddard (2007) states, “when teachers have opportunities to collaborate professionally, they build upon their distinctive experiences, pedagogies, and content” as cited in Burton, (2015, p.6). If we collaborate, our work and ideas together in a group could bring the lived experience in the field of professionalism. I’m not sure the satisfaction that I got during a teaching in a particular situation is equal to others in their own field. However, in my experience of teaching and learning in a group, I explore more ideas and opportunities to overcome problems with solutions. We need collaboration not only for individual improvement but also for our program development.

Yarger (1979) suggests, as cited in Cook (1981, p. 99) “collaboration in teacher education is not related to quality and improvement in program development”, it should provide a breadth of perception and vision, an enrichment in terms of resources and an opportunity for increased understanding among the teachers at all grade levels and in varied subject areas. It could then lead to effective programs of professional development.

Different Forms of Collaboration for Teacher Development

Collaborative Teacher Development (CTD) can take the initiation of effective teaching/learning along with professional growth. Nowadays it is one of the major concerns to be professional in one of the fields and teaching/learning is integrated into all the other development of the people. It helps learners and teachers to explore more innovative skills to find and accomplish the task according to their interests. To decide who, where and how the teacher gets collaborates for further development is necessary to know. We could say that five fingers are stronger than one finger, in the same way, working together by involving collaboratively could bring a concrete result which is most beneficial for all.

There are different forms of collaboration where teachers are the centre point to achieving the goal. According to Johnston, (2003), as cited in Richards and Burns (2009, p. 242), there are four different forms of collaboration that teachers can involve in their professional development.

Teachers can collaborate with their fellow teachers

In this group, the teacher and their fellow (peer) teachers worked and discuss together. This is the most balanced relationship in terms of power.  Collaboration among language teachers may well focus on instructional issues such as materials exploitation, classroom management, classroom language use, and other related issues. The language teachers are likely to point them toward certain common concerns and interests. Their professional understanding and depth of knowledge can help everyone involved in the group. It creates a lot of interaction related to the subject area and enhances the other further skills and knowledge. Here, we could say that meeting with different expertise minds certainly helps other minorities who have difficulties with resources and facilities in teaching/learning.

Collaboration between Teachers and University-based Researchers

As a teacher and researcher, I am much benefited from these forms of collaboration. I explore more innovative ideas and skills needed for the teachers and learners. For doing educational research such kind of collaborations are commonly initiated by the researcher to find out lived experiences of the teachers. Teachers and university-based researchers collaborate together and talk about the general and specific issues, and challenges that occur in the language field. Sometimes they do the classroom research to find the solutions; creating such an environment teacher could easily enhance their skills and knowledge whereas researcher also gets the credit for research and that could develop their professionalism as well as collegiality. Teacher and university-based collaboration may have a great inspiration for the teachers because the researcher could provide access and authentic resources to overcome the problems.

Teachers with their Students Collaboration

This type of collaboration makes an arrangement and offers fascinating possibilities for learning in-depth about one’s own classroom and who is in it. This kind of collaboration encourages the teacher and students to accomplish the goal together. Here, the learners are empowered by the teacher and the teacher also comes to know the current affairs of knowledge related understanding in teaching and learning. This form of collaboration is action and problem solving oriented which is livelier in the field of language teaching. It is problem and action-oriented therefore it could fix the problems raised by the students or teachers so that they could get the prompt feedback from their students to achieve the goal.

Collaboration with Others Involved in Teaching/ Learning

In this form of collaboration, teachers can collaborate with the administrators, supervisors, parents, materials developers and so on. Teachers and administrators collaborate together to find the issues and challenges that cause the improvement of the teachers, institutions, and programs, for the development. Similarly, the teacher and the supervisors collaborate together to recover the problems in the teaching and learning field. Supervisors can give constructive feedback to the teacher for their professional development. The teacher can also collaborate with the materials developers and share the implications of the material in the language classrooms. Teachers can also collaborate with the parents who play a vital role to achieve the students’ goals. They could share the students’ attitudes toward learning and the teachers’ teaching. In doing so, many of these collaborations, in turn, have had a significant component of the professional development of the teachers.

Conclusion

Sharing one’s learning is the everyday experience of human behaviour. The knowledge is hidden; it would enhance and grow when human beings take part in the discourse. Even unknown and unfamiliar things become known knowledge and familiar when people come together to share and present. Collaborative practices lead teachers to re-conceptualize the innovative process, boosting learners to continue varieties of challenges, generate cross forms, and participate in constructionist and supportive practices, including an-alternative dialogues. Collaborative teaching and learning practices help both teachers and learners to explore creativity and construct new frameworks for learning. Likewise, it creates innovative ideas and skills to know together and learn together.

References

Barfield, A. (2016). Collaboration. Key concepts in ELT, 17 (2). Retrieved from http://eltj.oxfordjournals.org/

Burton, T. (2015). Exploring the Impact of Teacher Collaboration on Teacher Learning and Development. University of South Carolina Scholar Commons (Doctoral Dissertations). Retrieved from http://scholarcommons.sc.edu/etd/3107

Cook, G. E. (1981, May). Collaboration, Change and Concern: Professional Development through teacher centers. English education, 13 (2), pp. 97-104.

Evans, L. (2002, Mar.). What Is Teacher Development? Oxford review of education, 28 (1), pp. 123-137.

Rainforth, B. & England, J. (1997, Feb.). Collaborations for Inclusion: Education and treatment for children, 20 (1). Pp. 85-104.

Richards, J.C. & Burns, A. (Eds.). (2009). Second Language Teacher Education: Collaborative Teacher Development. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Maggioli, G. D. (2004). Teacher- Centered Professional Development. Association for supervision and curriculum development (ASCD). Alexandria, Virginia, USA.

Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (aitsl). The Essential Guide to Professional Learning: Collaboration.

http://www.aitsl.edu.au/professional growth/australian teacher performance/and development framework.

Author’s Bio: Mr. Shaty Kumar Mahato is an MPhil graduate in English Language Education from Kathmandu University and working as an ELT teacher, researcher and trainer in the field of education. Since his Bachelor’s degree in 2005, he has been involved in teaching and research. He has presented his research paper in NELTA, LSN, TERSD and Asia TEFL. At present, he is working as a Project Coordinator-Education in Aasaman Nepal a national NGO. His area of interest is teaching methodologies, Collaborative Approach, Teacher Education, Language Policy, Discourse Analysis and Narrative Research Inquiry.

Strategic Reading to Overcome Reading Struggles in Higher Level: A Memoir

Jeevan Karki

During my university degree and job in Nepal, I needed to read long texts, reports, and books, but I was a slow reader and would be distracted too easily while reading. Or let’s put this way, my reading strategy made it slow. Now, I’m a graduate student in a US university and reading demand is even deadlier, so I use different reading strategies to overcome the distraction and slow reading. In this blog post, I’ll share my reading strategies then and now highlighting some ineffective and effective strategies, which can be useful for students, researchers, and professionals.

How was my reading like?

We used to have five courses a year in campus and each course came with a couple of books or chapters to read.

“Guys, check the course books and the references list. These are the readings for this course.” Our teacher would say referring to course syllabus.

The course book would be one or two, but the reference list would be longer consisting of four/five other books or chapters to read.

One of us would ask, “Do we need to read all these for our exams?”

The teacher would say, “Well, yes and I would say you to read these for your life.”

I wouldn’t care what he meant by ‘read for your life’ but I was concerned the exams were based on those reading because we had/have paper-pencil-based annual exams and a majority of it would depend on our memory and writing speed. If each course would assign at least four readings, that would sum up twenty readings, which was worrisome. Oh my gosh! How could a person like me with a full-time job manage time for them?

My problem was I wouldn’t turn the next page until I know the meaning of every single word and make sense of every single sentence. I used to consult the bulky Oxford English dictionary and write the meaning of new/difficult words either in Nepali or in English all over the pages and sometimes I would note on a separate notebook to keep books clean. The funny thing was occasionally the meanings in the dictionary would be complicated than the words, which would further push me to check their meanings too! Can you imagine? Moreover, I would also go back and re-read sentences to make more sense, but this multiple ‘regression’ (Ahuja &Ahuja, 2008) not only impeded my reading speed but also impaired my comprehension because I used to engage in microstructures of text rather than inferring meaning and making sense from it in a big picture. Despite all this hard work, I would still be unable to make complete sense of the texts, which would result in ‘reading fatigue’. Then, I would be tired of reading and wouldn’t have any interest and motivation to read further. Isn’t that frustrating?

To make the matter worse, I often used to read aloud as I was told somewhere that it would make my pronunciation better (for speaking). Perhaps, read aloud benefitted my pronunciation somehow but it would result in slower reading and affect my comprehension terribly because I remember, while reading aloud, I consciously used to assess my pronunciation and lose the contextual cues and infer meaning from the text. The vocalization (even sub-vocalization) is subject to contribute to slower reading, reading fatigue and decreased comprehension (Ahuja & Ahuja, 2008).I wonder now, what was the purpose of my reading? Why was I distracted from the major purpose (which I believe is critical reading and meaning construction)?

Besides, I used to easily get distracted while reading. Does that happen to you? Like, you read a couple of sentences or paragraphs, then your mind is out on streets, playgrounds, café, parks, theatre, or it would dwell on some memories, though your eyes were still on the texts. These days, distracts are even deadlier with your mobile phones, tabs, or computers! It doesn’t only hold back our reading but also backfire our comprehension because when we pause reading, allow other thoughts to rule our mind, and resume it, we tend to forget the previous section. Sometimes, we don’t get the full picture without reading the entire section of the chapter or the entire text.

These were some of the reasons for me to get scared of long reading list in campus and similar was the problem with reading texts and reports in my job. Now, when I reflect on my reading journey, I find that it’s not how hard you read but how strategically you read that pays off. However, when we run behind making sense of every single word, it’s going to make things harder. It’s only a myth that one needs to understand every single word to construct meaning from a text. The knowledge of 90% words is enough for readers to comprehend texts(Hirsch, 2003), while mastery of ‘5000- 8000’ most frequently used words including key technical terms are good enough to construct meaning from texts as the rest can be guessed and ignored(Martinez & Murphy, 2012).Sticking on every single word would result in missing contextual clues, disconnect meaning between sentences, lose ability to infer the texts. Likewise, it’s also essential to retain the memory of the previous section/sentences and predict what’s coming up in the text. Reading also has a lot to do with smooth eye-mind coordination (Ahuja & Ahuja, 2008) and thought processing to maximize comprehension and critical reflection. Unfortunately, nobody ever taught me reading strategies and meaning construction processes from the text but only suggested the reading lists.

So, how do I read now?

When I joined the graduate program in a US university last Fall, I still had the same reading hangover and suffered a week or two. Professors would assign three to four research papers/chapters every week including weekly writing assignments. As I had two courses to study and one to teach, I was again trapped in reading (and writing). I would be doomed with slow reading and distractions as I had seven to eight readings worth 20 to 30 pages each. So, I started exploring the reading strategies of my classmates and also sought some advice from the professors, which relieved me to some extent. Based on these interactions, I changed my reading strategies and feel comfortable reading texts, papers, and chapters every day now.

First, I figure out the purpose of the assigned readings and the purpose of the authors. My class readings are basically aligned with the themes of the week and professors want us to have a general idea of the texts and dwell on a couple of major issues raised in it. So, I use skimming and scanning strategies. I skim through the title, abstract, key words, headings and sub-headings, infographs/tables/illustrations and reach the end. It gives me a very general idea of what’s the text is all about like having a big picture of forest before figuring out its trees. Ahuja and Ahuja (2008) compare skimming with overviewing the forest and scanning with spotting the trees.

After skimming, I only read those sections which are useful based on my task and purposes, then skip the rest. While reading these sections, I read the thesis statement or argument of each paragraph (and not read the entire paragraph) because that’s the crux of it and identifying the thesis sentence/argument in paragraphs also gives me idea of composing effective paragraphs. So, understanding writing helps reading and vice-versa, because the reading text is eventually a piece of writing.

I also make sure to highlight (underline, color or circle) striking ideas, arguments and major issues in the paper and write quick notes (very short) usually stating my feelings and evaluation over the ideas. I pay more attention in the conclusion section and would read every sentence because that’s where the author/s summarize the ideas of the papers, state the limitations, and show the scope for further studies. In doing so, I go through the notes or highlighted sections once again to summarize my understanding. Then I would pause and reflection on the ideas/issues raised and agree/disagree or advance my perspectives.

What about vocabulary? I still check a couple of words if there are new terminology on titles, abstract and key words section but I have stopped worrying about every new word that I came across. I know there are still multiple new/difficult words but believe me they don’t bother me much to construct meaning of the texts.

Another most useful strategy I use to avoid distraction and speed up reading is the timed reading. Yes, once I’m ready for reading, I turn off notifications on mobile or computer, disconnect Wi-Fi (on mobile) and set the time for the text, which has paid me off with great results in terms of both reading speed and meaning construction. When I set my target to achieve a definite amount of reading in a limited time, I train my mind and orient it towards my goals, which has been amazingly useful for me.

The reading strategies I discussed above are basically applicable for technical texts for university students, researchers or professional and I’m mindful these reading strategies can vary depending on types of texts (ex. literary texts) and purpose of your reading. So, I shared my personal reading struggles and lately practiced reading strategies, which may not necessarily reflect yours. As the purpose of this blog to generate discourse on reading strategies people use, I would appreciate if you could share your reading strategies in the comments below.

The author: Jeevan Karki is a graduate student in the University of Washington, Seattle Campus.

References

Ahuja, P. & Ahuja G.C. (2008). How to increase your reading speed. Sterling Paperbacks.

Hirsch, E. D. (2003). Reading comprehension requires knowledge—Of words and the world. American Educator, 10–29.

Martinez, R., & Murphy, V. A. (2012). Effect of frequency and idiomaticity on second Language reading comprehension. TESOL Quarterly, 45(2), 267–290.

A reflection on my Masters’ thesis writing

 

             Deepak Bhatt

Writing on my personal experience of thesis writing, I experienced a way of learning during the selection of the topic for research, planning for data collection and overall writing process which taught me to strive for academic excellence. No two researchers are the same and no two research journeys are the same, even though academic aspirations could be similar among researchers. What you go through and what you experience on this academic journey is always unique. Any initial difficulty we have with academic writing will pay off when we discover new ways of looking at the world and of making sense of it.

The phrase ‘thesis writing’ had become a catchy phrase for me ever since I filled the form of the fourth semester of Masters Level at Far Western University. I had heard the inspirational stories of thesis writing from senior students and my professors about how they did and succeeded. I found their stories interesting, inspirational, and fearful too. As the time passed, our teachers suggested us to select the area for our research to be carried out and to get approval from the department as soon as possible. I had to accomplish the writing in time and to get awarded earlier.

I was the 34th researcher to carry out thesis in the department where many seniors were also struggling to complete thesis writing.  Being the newly founded University, I could see the lack of sufficient literature available in our library. This made me disappointed for the area to be selected for a while. I collected some research works from senior batch students and friends from Tribhuvan University. I dwelt among many research areas and disciplines for more than a month in course of finding the area that interests me. After the vehement effort, I made up  my mind to carry out research on teaching literature which interested me at the end. With the fear in mind, I went to campus to consult my supervisor and discuss the area that I had selected. The supervisor gave silent agreement to that but waited to see the particular genre to further go through. He also suggested me to read the literature so that I could have an idea to decide the genre and narrow down the area of investigation. This meeting encouraged me to go through the literature. I returned home and made a call to my brother in Kathmandu to visit the central library of TU and get some unpublished theses in pen drive. This was the time; the government had recently imposed lockdown in the nation. The librarian, despite the lockdown, provided seven or eight research works to my brother. The theses supported me with sound knowledge of literature for my research.

Then I visited the central library and Department of English Education and got some research works. All those documents assisted me to sort out a genre of literature for my research work. It had been the most suffering and stressful time for me to sort out the particular topic.  Finally, I narrowed down the area as teaching drama in secondary level and teachers’ perception towards it. Till the time I came to finalise the topic, English Department had divided the students into different groups under the supervision of professors from the department. I found my name in the list under the supervision of one of the assistant professors from the department.  Shortly I met my supervisor to finalize my topic  and with some suggestions he approved my topic. My supervisor advised me to make my research a comparative study. We discussed and pondered on the challenges and issues of comparative study. After having a meaningful discussion, he urged me to write the proposal for the research work. I got success in finalizing my topic as it seemed ‘teachers’ perception in teaching English drama’. It was the moment that brought extreme happiness and provided me with rays of hope.

Now I had to start writing the proposal for the research which was just as to crack the hard nut for me. I consulted my teachers and some of the senior batch students to write proposal. They provided me some valuable ideas about what to include in the proposal. After this, I started working on my proposal. I spent many sleepless nights on the completion of the research proposal. I worked on the first, second, third, and fourth draft getting it to the approved form. During this process of writing a proposal, I got incredible assistance from my supervisor, teachers, senior students and my classmates. I stepped back many times during proposal writing; it took me many weeks to go ahead.

Collecting the required data for the research work is another challenging task to be performed during the research work. When I found myself in trouble, I used to talk to myself. I often had long conversations all by myself, but I did not understand a single word of what I was saying. As I was thinking about preparing the data collection tools, I received a call from one of my classmates, and he shared his confusions regarding the preparation of tools for data collection. He suggested that we had to meet the supervisor and we together went to the college and met him. We shared our problems with him. He, very clearly, explained about the tools, their administration, and reliability and so on. The meeting made me clear on what data collection instruments are, their reliability, preparation, administration, and many more. I came to know that the tools we choose to collect data depend on the type of data (quantitative and qualitative). I was told that the data is the backbone of any research. This moment triggred me to move ahead in course of developing tool(s).I decided to collect data using a questionnaire. I prepared the questionnaire including open and close-ended questions that were divided into six different categories: -problems of teaching drama, way of using literature, the significance of drama, relevance of content presented in drama, techniques used in teaching drama, and language used in drama. After working on the first draft of the questionnaire, I met my supervisor to discuss the questionnaire. He advised me to limit the number of questions up to 25 and make some other necessary changes. It took a couple of days for me to finalize the questionnaire. I selected the private and government schools purposively under non-random sampling. Getting responses using non-random sampling is faster, more cost-effective because the sample is known to the researcher. The respondents responded quickly as compared to people randomly selected as they had a high level of motivation to participate. This method made data collection easier to some extent. It was the time when the nation was in lockdown due to the Covid 19 pandemic. It became difficult for me to visit the schools to meet the English teachers as my respondents. I explained to them about my research work, and provided them with the questionnaires. Using different ways, I collected the phone numbers of the selected schools and built rapport with them. Then, I visited the teachers at their convenient places and time.

My first day of data collection journey was very memorable that I want to share it. As I entered into the premises of one of the schools in Kanchanpur, I found it was made quarantine for COVID-19 suspected people. It was full of Covid infected people. I found myself to be reluctant for a while to move ahead that the school had turned into the quarantine. But I had to collect the data at any cost and I moved towards the office room. I met the secondary level English teachers, described my research work to them and provided them with the questionnaires. I found all the respondents very cooperative and supportive, and they returned the filled-up questionnaires physically in time.

After the collection of data, I was completely lost for two or three weeks in searching for ideas to analyze and interpret the data collected. I read some unpublished master’s theses submitted to Tribhuvan University on my area of investigation. I took a highlighter and circled each paragraph on analysis of the data. These researches helped me with some valuable ideas about how to analyze and interpret the data though it was not enough for me to go ahead. With some ideas in mind, I met my supervisor and discussed the analysis of the data. He told me that it was the most important part of research work where researcher analyzes the data and give meaning to the data in terms of existing literature and looking the meaning from a theoretical lens. And finally he or she came to the certain generalizations. After spending a couple of days, I came up with the ideas to analyze and interpret the data. Then I struggled to write the very first draft, a rough draft by entering important data and interpretation. It was  incomplete and rough. With the regular collaboration and guidance of my supervisor, I worked with the first, second, third and many drafts to bring it into the accepted format.

To sum up, it is really challenging work to research in a way to succeed and make it a model. I learned how to abide by the common principles of research and ask the right kind of questions, deal with seemingly insurmountable problems that had no obvious solutions. The experience gave me the confidence later on to propose and develop my knowledge base about research. The research experiences come in many forms in the lives of students.  At this point, the key is to focus on exploring what interests the researcher, and what he/she does not enjoy doing which sometimes can be even more important. We do not need to be disappointed while researching though it can not be accomplished overnight. It requires rigorous effort, certain processes to be followed, and dedication on the part of the researcher. There is a saying “some people dream of success, while OTHERS wake up and work hard at it.” I kept myself under the quoted OTHERS, as I woke up and worked hard to make my dream come true. The journey of writing master’s thesis as a beginner in research sometimes becomes a very inspirational story for me to explore further.  At the end, I am truly indebted to the pious souls whose contribution made my journey of wring thesis the most enjoyable and encouraging. Most importantly, I extend my sincere gratitude to my respected gurus and the supervisor for their incredible guidance, suggestions and love throughout the writing process.

Author’ bio: Deepak Bhatt is an M.Ed. in English (TESOL) from Far Western University. He has a decade experience of teaching English from primary to secondary level. Mr. Bhatt is currently working as an English Teacher at Sainik Awasiya Mahavidyalaya, Teghari Kailali.

 

My learning during pandemic

                Parista Rai

During this COVID – 19 pandemic, we all have been facing adverse in all the sectors including education. Our dynamic students with creative minds could not remain untouched from this awful situation. But as a teacher I always thought and tried my best to make them feel not panicked by initiating remote teaching class. As I was a novice teacher to teach my students virtually, it took me long time to gain self-confidence to use online teaching tools which are available and have been using by many teachers. When I began to teach my students virtually, I did not have to follow the course that we have been adopting. So, I was thinking of an idea to teach reading texts to my learners in different ways. The reason, I myself was not happy with my teaching method as I used to tell my students to read paragraphs turn by turn. Later, I started explaining what was already given there. In fact, I was applying the traditional teaching techniques but I was not feeling comfortable with them. So, I thought of a different idea to make my learners productive in my class. I always wanted their involvement and active participation. In fact, I was not satisfied with the teaching technique that I was adopting. I thought for many days as I was in dilemma having many ideas that whether to or not to initiate. Finally, I was determined to transform one of my regular classes to totally student centered class.

As per my plan, I circulated my opinion to them and they also were willing to accept the challenge. As we all agreed upon the plan, I started to assign them different reading materials. Each day, a student had to present on the topic that s/he got and rest of the students had to come up with at least three questions to ask after their friend’s presentation. To raise questions, everyone had to go through the reading material and prepare questions as per their wish. At the end of the class, they all had to share our personal experiences among all the class members. Students’ presentation in the class transformed my class into a productive class as I always dreamt about.

In my first class, one of my students was so brilliant that was beyond my expectation. He came with some slides putting some pictures which were related to the given story that enriched his work. It was good indeed! The performance of my ninth grader was wonderful. At that moment, I recalled Benjamin Franklin’s famous saying, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn”. In line with this saying, I attempted to enhance their learning experience by assigning them do presentations. They were involved in the given task and class was engaging indeed. The next classes also went well. In fact, the students who raised questions were really excited to ask the presenter and have discussion. Observing the class, I felt that I had to initiate the same step on the same day.

The initiation was one of my best decisions I had ever made. From this experience I came to know that offering opportunities and challenges to every individual helps to cope with the fear of not being able to present themselves among their friends and teachers. Similarly, it made me think that reading comprehension texts which are given in the course book can be taught differently in the active involvement of our learners. It made me realize that I as a teacher have to reflect, rethink, and renew my existing teaching ideas to add flavor in teaching and learning activities and to innovate  my own teaching techniques and students’ involvement.

The next thing is that we as teachers can collect authentic reading materials from authentic sources to use in our class that provides learners an opportunity to taste different genres. As I have experienced, when we go through the reading text for our regular courses, our learners tell us that they have already gone through them. It always struck in my mind and felt that students were not interested to go through the same text except to solve the exercises which are given based on the text. But, when I approached to my learners closely, it made them curious, responsible and creative. I always found my learners as curious readers. I thought why not to bring other different reading materials which make them inquisitive reader and help them to envision their creativity. For this, I tried to select some of the reading materials from the resourceful site https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/general-english/stories to offer my learners new experience and to motivate them to be involved in different reading activities.

Apart from aforementioned techniques, I was able to enhance my teaching skill grabbing a numbers of other opportunities during this situation. I was able to put my thought into practice which became fruitful for me and my learners. A year ago I would feel worried about conducting reading classes although I had new ideas to replace the commonly used technique. I did not have self-confidence to practice new technique, but this situation made me learn about myself and my learners. It was not just a hard time for me, instead it offered me various opportunities to reflect on my own work and relearn the several concepts about teaching and learning. I also got chance to explore that teaching reading can be taught in multiple ways to add the new flavor in teaching and learning process.

During this period, I myself became able to move a step ahead. It was entirely a learning period for me. My normal class was replaced by different related videos and pictures which were meaningful to teach my learners certain expressions and words in English. I could use the audio visual aids to my class virtually which were not possible for me in the physical class even though I was aware of the implication of those teaching aids. Using audio visual materials during regular intervals assists learners to provide clear understanding on the related topics. If I had to take physical classes, I would be unable to use all those resources to make my class more engaging, interesting and communicative.

Similarly, I invited my colleague to observe my virtual classes and provide feedback on them which made me reflect on my lessons from other’s point of view and improve further. At the same time, I got an opportunity to observe my fellow teacher’s lesson which broadened my perspectives on teaching and learning in the virtual classroom. Conducting peer observation was to some extent difficult to manage in physical class because of busy schedule of teachers. But when we started our class virtually, this idea came into my mind again and ultimately I was successful. It was really good experience of being observed by my colleagues and receiving feedback and having long discussion after the class. In fact, peer observation helps to address some issues in my class.

Through virtual mode, I took some free online courses which updated my professional skills. These course offered many innovative ideas from the teachers from home and abroad. Having discussion with the people from different countries is one of the best experiences that I have ever had during attending online courses and they offered me new insights in my area of interests. During the situation, I engaged myself attending webinars and workshops which helped me to develop professionally.

To conclude, this global pandemic situation has been a boon for many teachers like me to update professional knowledge and skill. It has really been a new experience of learning new ways, new strategies and ideas in my profession as an English teacher.

Author’s bio:

Mrs. Parista Rai graduated from Kathmandu University in 2016.  Her first attempt to write a reflection was published in this magazine in 2014. She currently works as a full time secondary level English teacher at Holy Garden English Secondary School in Bhaktapur. She is a life member of Nepal English Language Teachers’ Association (NELTA). She likes attending teacher workshops, training, reading and writing.

What makes English language teaching effective?

Prakash Bhattarai

Abstract

Due to the widespread use of English language throughout the globe, teaching and learning English language has got really surprising importance. This has raised a number of questions related to effective English language teaching. In this scenario, with the help of the author’s own experience in teaching English language for more than a decade, this article elaborates different factors that are responsible for effective English language teaching. Teachers, methods and techniques, teaching materials, and learners themselves are such factors that are responsible for effective English language teaching.

Introduction

English has been developed as a global language due to globalization in recent decades. It is the language of international trade, tourism, education, and diplomacy. Similarly, it has been developed as an international lingua franca. It is being a must to learn and speak English language to be one of the members of this globalized world.  Due to the growing spread and need for the English language throughout the world, there is an amazing trend in learning English language. This amazing trend in learning English language for different purposes has resulted in the teaching of English language widely. Many institutions and language schools are active to teach the English language throughout the world.

In order to make learners achieve the goal of learning English language, the learners should be taught English language effectively. No doubt, effective English language teaching makes effective learning but there arise genuine questions i.e., what is effective English language teaching and what makes it effective? Defining effective teaching is difficult since it is a complex and multidimensional process that means different things to different people (Bell, 2005). Though it’s difficult to define, we can simply define ‘effective’ as being successful in producing a desired or intended outcome. Effective teaching involves the ability to provide instruction that helps the students to develop different knowledge, skills, and understandings intended by curriculum objectives and students learn irrespective of their characteristics (Acheson & Gall 2003, as cited in Uygun, 2013).

Effective English language teaching makes learners learn English language with ease. It means to say that learners become able to communicate in English language effectively within a short period of time. Students demonstrate an understanding of meanings rather than just simply memorizing facts in an effective English language teaching classroom (Ghimire, 2019).

Factors making English language teaching effective

After defining effective teaching in general and effective English language teaching in particular, there is still an unanswered question i.e., what makes teaching effective? There are a number of factors that make English language teaching effectively. In order to make it effective, there is a direct and/or indirect hand of all the stakeholders involved in English language teaching. Teachers, students, parents, institutions, and administrators are the stakeholders to name a few.

My experience of being an English language learner for ages and English language teacher for a decade reveals that different factors play a pivotal role in effective English language teaching. As per my experience, a teacher’s personality, knowledge (content and pedagogical), and learners’ activation, motivation, and readiness are prerequisites for effective teaching. Moreover, teacher’s knowledge of technology and being updated with the recent trends in English language teaching are must for effective teaching in this era. In this section, I have explained four factors i.e. teacher, methods and techniques, teaching materials, and learners.

Teacher

There is a pivotal role of teachers for effective English language teaching. For effective English language teaching, English language teacher/instructor needs to be effective. An effective teacher is the one who possesses different components like content knowledge, general pedagogical knowledge, curriculum knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge, knowledge of learners and their characteristics, knowledge of educational ends, purposes, and values, and knowledge of educational contexts (Clark & Walsh, 2002 as cited in Uygun, 2013). This shows teachers should have content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, and socio-affective skills. To put it another way, an effective teacher is the one who has good command over the subject matter, good knowledge of the methods and techniques for the effective delivery, and good rapport with the students. Similarly, an effective and dynamic teacher should be enthusiastic, creative, tolerant, patient, kind, sensible, open-minded, optimistic, and flexible, and have a good sense of humour, positive attitudes toward new ideas, and some other personal characteristics (Ghimire, 2019).

Having content and pedagogical knowledge and some other personal characteristics as mentioned above is not sufficient for effective teaching in this era. Since this is the era of science and technology, it has a great deal of impact on teaching as in other sectors. Information and communication technology (ICT) has impacted each and every aspect of human life from which education sector in general and teaching-learning activities, in particular, cannot be an exception. Defining ICT Hafifah (2019, p. 21) states, “…ICT is defined as the activities of using technologies, such as; computer, internet, and other telecommunications media… to communicate, create and disseminate, store and manage information” and ICT in education means teaching and learning by the use of different ICT devices. Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are being used in education to support students to learn more effectively by providing teachers with access to a wide range of new pedagogy (Dhital, 2018). Due to the use of ICTs in education, it has changed a number of factors like pedagogy, student-teacher relationship, the concept of literacy, and students’ learning achievement. Students and teachers who were only exposed to the traditional way of teaching-learning activities have shifted their way of teaching and learning. It helps students compete in this global market. ICT in education enhances learning, provides students with a new set of skills, facilitates and improves the training of teachers, and minimizes costs associated with the delivery of traditional instruction (UNESCO, 2014). Therefore, teachers should have the technological knowledge for effective language teaching. He/ She should be ICT literate along with the ability to use and incorporate ICT in language teaching. The teacher needs to be updated with the technological knowledge since it is always in a state of flux more so than content and pedagogical knowledge (Harris, Mishra & Koehler, 2009). In a nutshell, the teacher of this era should be ICT literate first and updated with the changing trends in ICT so that effective language teaching can take place.

Similarly, English language teachers should have a good command of English language. It does not mean that teachers should be native speakers of English. Even a non-native speaker who is good at English can be an effective English language teacher. The teacher should know the students (level, background, interest, need) and have a good rapport with them. The knowledge and command of the target language, ability to organize and clarify the contents, arouse and sustain interest and motivation among students, and fairness and availability to students are the desirable features of an effective second language teacher (Uygun, 2013). Moreover, an effective English language teacher should be clear and enthusiastic in teaching, provide learners with phonological, grammatical, lexical, pragmatic, and sociocultural knowledge.

Methods and techniques

Teaching methods and techniques used in language classrooms play a vital role in effective English language teaching. A method is often regarded as the heart of teaching-learning activities. It is the overall plan for the orderly presentation of language material. Different methods can be used for effective teaching. Since the methods which work best in one context may not be effective in the next context, a teacher should use methods that are context and culture-sensitive. It means the teacher should use the methods and techniques being based on the context where he/she is teaching. In this line, Kumaravadivelu (2001) writes; “Language pedagogy to be relevant must be sensitive to a particular group of teachers teaching a particular group of learners pursuing a particular set of goals within a particular institutional context embedded in a particular sociocultural milieu (p. 538)”. For this, teachers should use self-generated methods which best fit their context. Action research and reflective practice help teachers generate such methods. Teachers need to be autonomous, dynamic, reflective, and intuitive. In a nutshell, teachers should practise what they theorize and theorize what they practice (Kumaravadivelu, 2001).

Teaching materials

For effective English language teaching, the teaching materials teachers use in language classrooms also play a vital role. Since the materials used in English language classroom make teaching lively and effective, teachers rely on different materials to support their teaching and their students’ learning. The teaching material, let it be commercially produced or self-made should address the needs, levels, and interests of the students. The materials used in language classrooms should be content and context-sensitive. They should stimulate interaction and be generative in terms of language, encourage learners to develop learning skills and strategies, allow for a focus on form as well as function, offer opportunities for integrated language use, be authentic, link to each other to develop a progression of skills, understandings, and language items, be attractive and have appropriate instructions and be flexible (Howard & Major, 2004).

Learners

Like other factors, a learner is also one of the factors that make teaching effective. Learners should be active and creative to carry out the activities conducted both in and outside the classroom. An active and creative learner is related to a successful learner who sets and accomplishes his  or her own goals (Karen, 2001). According to Zamani and Ahangari (2016), “Good teaching is clearly important to raising student achievement, if teacher is not aware of the learner’s expectation and needs related to the course, it will have negative outcomes regarding the students’ performance” (p. 70). So, for effective teaching, a teacher should make the students active and creative. Making learners active and creative means engaging them with materials to work collaboratively with their friends making themselves responsible in the classroom activities. A teacher should provide such tasks which promote learner autonomy on one hand and collaborative learning on the other.

Conclusion

Being based on the above ideas, it can be concluded that there is not a single factor that makes English language teaching effective. The first and foremost requirement for effective English language teaching is an effective teacher. Teachers should possess content, pedagogical and technological knowledge, and socio-affective skills to make teaching effective. Secondly, the materials and methods the teacher uses in the language classroom should be context and culture-sensitive because the prescribed methods and materials developed by other experts may not work properly in all the contexts. For this, the teacher should develop their methods and materials that best fit their contexts with the help of action research and reflective practice. Finally, the learners should be active and creative for effective teaching and learning. For this, a teacher should use the tasks which foster learner autonomy and collaborative learning.

About the author

Prakash Bhattarai is pursuing his M.Phil. in English Education at the Graduate School of Education, Tribhuvan University. He has a decade-plus experience in teaching English language from primary to university level. Currently, he has been teaching at Kirtipur Secondary School, Kathmandu. To his credit, he has published a few academic articles in national and international journals. His professional interest includes ELT, Language planning and policy and English and multilingualism.

References

Bell, T. R. (2005). Behaviors and attitudes of effective foreign language teachers: Results of a questionnaire study. Foreign Language Annals, 38 (2), 259-270.

Dhital, H. (2018). Opportunities and challenges to use ICT in government school education of Nepal. International Journal of Innovative Research in Computer and Communication Engineering, 6(4), 3215-3220. doi:10.15680/IJIRCCE.2018.0604004

Ghimire, N. B. (2019). Five facets for effective English language teaching. Journal of NELTA Gandaki (JoNG), II, 65-73.

Hafifah, G.N. (2019). Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in English Language Teaching. Proceedings of MELTC (Muhammadiyah English Language Teaching Conference). 21-38. Muhammadiyah Surabaya:  Department of English Education, The University of Muhammadiyah Surabaya.

Harris, J. B., Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. (2009). Teachers’ technological pedagogical content knowledge and learning activity types: Curriculum-based technology integration reframed.  Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 41(3), 393-416.

Haword, J. & Major, J. (2004). Guidelines for Designing Effective English Language Teaching Materials. Retrieved from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/237476568

Karen, S. (2001). First-year experiences series: Being a more effective learner. University of Sidney Learning Centre Publishing, Australia. Retrieved from: http://sydney.edu.au/stuserv/ documents/learning centre/EffectiveLearner.pdf

Kumaravadivelu, B. (2001). Toward a Post method Pedagogy. TESOL Quarterly, 35(4), 537-560.

UNESCO. (2014). Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in Education in Asia. Canada: UNESCO Institute of Statistics.

Uygun, S. (2013).How to become an effective English language teacher. Journal of Educational and Social Research, 3 (7) 306-311. doi:10.5901/jesr.2013.v3n7p306

Zamani, R. & Ahangari, S. (2016). Characteristics of an effective English language teacher (EELT) as perceived by learners of English. International Journal of Foreign Language Teaching & Research, 4 (14), 69-88.

Can be cited as:

Bhattarai, P. [2021, May]. What makes English language teaching effective? ELT CHOUTARI. Available at: http://eltchoutari.com/2021/04/what-makes-english-language-teaching-effective/

Understanding thesis writing as a socio-cultural practice in the university than a ‘ritual’

          Ashok Raj Khati

Introduction

Developing academic writing is an essential skill for the students in higher education to achieve academic success and to demonstrate that achievement. My experience as a university student shows that learning in higher education involves adapting to entirely the new ways of knowing –new ways of understanding, interpreting, and organising knowledge –which mainly requires an ability to write well in a purely academic style. Furthermore, students’ academic abilities in higher education are usually evaluated through several writing-related course assignments, research, review papers, and publications. Therefore, academic writing needs the greatest attention in higher education in all contexts.

The purpose of this blog piece is to discuss the thesis writing practices in Nepali universities in light of two theoretical orientations: the traditional autonomous model and the socio-cultural model. As theoretically guided by social perspectives of academic writing, I relate some thesis writing anecdotes from Nepali universities along with my own writing experience to discuss the thesis writing practices and support the main argument of the write-up. My central argument is that thesis writing as a requirement to receive a degree at any cost is based on the traditional autonomous model which considers the process of writing as a highly mental and cognitive activity. As this model seems to be incapable of capturing the context in which the writing takes place, the socio-cultural theoretical orientation offering a more culturally sensitive view of academic writing practices has been increasingly gaining recognizable space in Nepali academia.

Thesis writing practice

Let me begin the discussion with a story. A year ago, one of the ‘back paper’ students (a student who attempted the board examination more than one time) of master’s level came to my residence and requested me to provide a topic for his thesis writing. He told his stories that he was not able to pass the papers in time that would qualify him for writing a thesis. Finally, in two attempts (after two years), he was able to meet the requirements to start the thesis writing process. As he was a high school teacher of English in the western part of Nepal, he further shared that he did not have enough time to go through the overall processes of thesis writing. I could guess that he wanted to complete his thesis writing in any case as early as possible. I offered him some of my ideas on different topics of interest related to ELT (English language teaching). To my surprise, he proposed me to write a proposal for him and he would pay for it. I did not respond to his unethical proposal for a moment. After some time, I persuaded him that I could assist him to review his proposal if he, at least, could prepare a draft. Since then, he went out of my contact. Later, I learned that he hired somebody to work for him.

This is a story of a thesis writer who perceives that a thesis should be submitted at any case and cost as it has been four years to accomplish the master’s degree. The student was entirely unfamiliar with the preliminary research activities such as sources of research topics and proposal writing. Karn (2009) states that one of his students (a student from a Nepali university) seemed to have assumed that thesis can be submitted in any manner, and he did not seem to pay any heed that there is a proper style of writing and the theses should adhere and abide by the standards set by the Department. In a similar line, Neupane Bastola (2020) explores that students’ focus was on the completion of a thesis rather than learning. Her research participants in the study –ten supervisors, complained that their students were interested only in the completion of their thesis to such an extent that thesis writing was just ‘a ritual for the majority’ (p. 10). The above anecdote also signifies the reasons behind some unethical conduct such as having a thesis written and plagiarism. Most importantly, the context clearly indicates that writing a thesis has merely been a requirement to receive the degree for many students, rather than learning research and academic writing skills.

In my experience, as another side of analysis, thesis writing issue is also deeply rooted in our teaching of writing skill from the school level. Students were never taught writing as a process-based activity. The teachers in schools and universities teach about writing not writing itself. For instance, students are made to memorise what a paragraph means rather than making them write a paragraph on different topics. In schools, teachers generally write paragraphs, letters, and essays on the board and students just copy them. They even memorise those notes including essays for the examination. Furthermore, there are ‘ready-made’ paragraphs, letters, job applications, and essays in the markets; the “Bazaar notes”. In a way, these notes make the teachers’ lives go easy. In the university, many students strive to create original pieces of writing. To meet the date for assignment submission, students ‘copy and paste’ in rush. They do not receive enough opportunity to practice writing in the classrooms. Interestingly, it has also been observed that the teachers and university faculties who have never produced a single piece of original writing in their career grade the students’ papers for their creativity and originality in writing (Khati, 2018).

Let me share another story. A professor had a nasty dispute with a student during his second semester in a university class for some reasons. Their professional relationship collapsed thereafter. Coincidentally, the same professor was assigned as the thesis supervisor to the student at the end. Then the student brought a student union leader and threatened the professor and pressurized him to award marks for the thesis as per his (student’s) wish. When the professor tried to persuade him about the thesis writing process, he attempted a physical attack on him with the help of his friends. The student blamed that the professor was not his nomination as a supervisor instead the professor was blamed to take revenge of the past and managed the formal process of appointing himself as a supervisor in the department. Finally, the case grew bigger and bigger among students and professors, and the issue, of course, an academic one was eventually politicalized.

The story is an extreme example of unethical conduct in the university, and it can be analysed from different angles. On the one hand, many students come to the phase of thesis writing with no prior experience of writing anything except in the examination. They do not make themselves well prepared and creative enough to begin the thesis writing process. In this connection, Bhattarai (2009) also observes that students neither examine the research problem critically nor do they defend it satisfactorily. She further mentions that if the thesis supervisor tries to convince them about the right track of the thesis writing process, they feel that they are unnecessarily harassed.

On the other hand, the story also demands the supervisors’ awareness of their expected supervisory roles. Tiwari (2019) seems to be very critical of the roles of the thesis supervisor and raised some ethical concerns on the role of thesis guide in the way they were not professionally supportive to students to enhance the collaborative process of writing of the thesis. He further articulated that all his participants in the research voice came in a way that their supervisors were not cooperative and professional in supporting students’ thesis writing. For instance, delayed response to students’ writing is a major complaint among students. In a similar vein, Sharma, (2017) also points out that thesis supervisors need to consider and be familiar with the expectations of thesis candidates. The scenario evidently depicts that thesis writing is taken as the locus of all master’s level programs. It further stresses that university departments need to take the necessary steps to change this scenario in terms of the theoretical orientation of the thesis writing process, reconsidering the rationale of making students write theses at any cost and practicalities of thesis writing.

Writing as an autonomous cognitive activity

In my observation, the problem mainly lies in the theoretical model of implementing the courses of thesis writing. Traditionally, thesis writing has been taken as a highly mental and cognitive activity, an isolated writing activity of the student which is context-independent. Universities conduct mass orientation of students in a single venue regarding the thesis writing guidelines or procedures irrespective of their socio-cultural backgrounds, level of experiences, diverse disciplines, and areas of interest. Students are oriented as a homogeneous group of people in which student’s writing is based on relatively homogeneous norms, values, and cultural practices. Homogeneous here refers to the uniform and universal writing norms and practices.  Furthermore, they are given ‘good’ or ‘bad’ types of feedback in terms of the language they use in their writing. Students do not have many empowering experiences as a one-way socialization process of writing takes place. It is because the traditional model focuses on a set of learnable universal skills for writing a thesis that is separate from the discipline and institutional contexts that considers academic or thesis writing as a predefined set of rules that student writers need to adapt to. Lea and Street (1998) criticise this deficit model which represents student writing as somewhat reductionist meaning, it is dependent on a set of transferable skills, and language proficiency rather than critical thinking.

This ‘one size fits all’ model, therefore, is incapable of taking account of culturally sensitive views of academic writing practices as they vary from one context to another. It further ignores that students’ writing in higher education is ideological in nature. In our context, universities’ departments execute the ‘processes’ of academic writing and thesis writing entirely from a traditional perspective in the way over-reliance on the ‘product’ based model has made it more difficult for students to attain and accomplish the work.

Writing as a socio-cultural practice

Thesis writing, however, is not considered an easy task in all academic contexts even outside Nepal. The experiences –pains and pleasure –of students vary in different contexts. Let me share you two excerpts from two success stories (reflections) of thesis writing in a Nepali university T. Rai (2018) shares her experiences this way:

“During this journey of writing a thesis I experienced most suffering and stressful time, I feel like that a woman suffered during in labour pain. It was in the sense that I had no option escaping from it because I spent about a year preparing this thesis and face several problems, challenges, dilemmas, and fear from the early days of preparing proposal to facing thesis viva. These several painful moments during the process however made me strong and led towards its successful completion”.

She compares the thesis writing pain with the labour pain that a woman suffers. It shows the real struggle of a thesis writer from the early days of writing thesis to defending thesis viva at the end. She gets satisfied after going through several stages of thesis writing during that whole year. Likewise, M. Rai (2018) told her story in this way:

“No doubt writing a thesis is a hard work. But it becomes harder for students like me who have a limited idea about a subject that I am going to study. My study was always focused on ‘how to pass’ the exam. I rarely voyaged beyond the prescribed books and rarely generalised the things in life that I have studied. I always had due respect to my teachers and their PowerPoint slides and I became successful to note and rote them. I was like a ‘broiler kukhura’ (poultry chicken, not free range), who merely depends on others. Since I started writing my Master’s thesis, I realised the real sense of reading and writing.”

She brings a powerful message in her reflection as an indication to shift the traditional approach of lecturing, rote learning and receiving the degree. She made an important point that she was just fascinated by the teachers’ presentations, obeyed them all the time, and made some notes for the examination during two years of her regular study. However, she realized the real sense of reading and writing that begins only after she started the thesis writing process. It indicates that writing a thesis brings varieties of activities and writing practices on the part of students.

These two thesis writers describe the stories on how a thesis writer in the university experiences writing in an early stage, how they struggle or become a part of different reading, writing activities and other academic practices to accomplish the work. While going through the whole stories of two thesis writers, it provides a sense of academic writing as the process of socialization in an academic community. Here, socialization refers to a locally situated process by which a university student from various linguistic and cultural backgrounds becomes socialized into a new academic community, such as a university department. The process involves the thesis writers’ engagement in various academic activities in their communities of practice. Therefore, academic writing in higher education needs to be taken as a social practice, not simply a technical and learnable language skill rather it is always embedded in socially constructed epistemological principles (Street, 2015). Street earlier in 1984, viewing literacy as a plural concept, coined the term ideological and the other is autonomous which is seen as a unitary concept without reference to contexts.

Under the socio-cultural framework, master’s level students as novice researchers and writers gradually learn to access university culture, understand disciplinary discourses, and engage themselves in different academic writing activities in their academic communities. They learn to write from others as an outcome of academic socialization such as discussing their writing drafts with their supervisors, sharing research and writing ideas with peers and upper-grade students, seeking language help from doctoral students and preparing papers for conference presentations. During their engagement in several writing activities, they negotiate with their own life experiences and worldviews or diverse ideologies. Here, the writing is not viewed as a text production activity; but a range of practices centering around the writing act, including reading sources, teachers’ guidelines and comments, advice and guidance from peers as well as teachers, and their own reflections on and observations of their learning experiences (Fujioka, 2007). The final output –the thesis –is the product of negotiation and renegotiation of different disciplinary and institutional ideologies. In the end, the learning from the thesis writing journey changes the thesis writer’s identity and he or she possibly becomes an entirely different person.

Conclusion

To sum up, many thesis writers in Nepal, if not all, view thesis writing as a ‘ritual’ activity. Against this backdrop, the universities’ departments should come up with an appropriate and effective package of thesis writing with theoretical and practical clarity and make the students understand the value of thesis writing –a learning experience, an opportunity to enhance their academic writing skills and a process-based academic practice –in the university. Thus, changing the view of a one-way assimilation into a relatively stable academic community with fixed rules and conventions (Morita, 2004) to the collaborative writing practice which takes account of socio-cultural aspects of the writing is really important at present. This viewpoint considers academic writing as a social-cultural practice and involves several collaborative activities of writing among teachers, supervisors, department heads, peers, upper-grade students, conference organizers, and even publishers. It promotes participatory and engaging academic practices of students in writing in an academic community which, to a greater extent, helps to eliminate unethical conduct during the thesis writing stage in higher education in Nepal.

The author: Ashok Raj Khati is a PhD student at Graduate School of Education, Tribhuvan University Nepal. Mr. Khati is currently working as the principal at the Sainik Awasiya Mahavidyalaya Kailali, located in far western Terai of Nepal. His areas of interest include developing writing skill in general and academic writing in particular.

References

Bhattarai, A. (2009). The first activity in research. Journal of NELTA, 14(1), 21-25.

Fujioka, M. (2007). Academic writing development as a socialization process: Implications for EAP education in Japan. PASAA, 40, 11-27.

Karn, S.K. (2009). Give me an easy topic, please: My experience of supervising theses. Journal of NELTA, 14(1), 63-70.

Khati, A. R. (2018, July). The third quarterly issue of ELT Choutari: Special coverage on writing education. [Editorial]. ELT CHOUTARI, 10(80).  Available at:  http://eltchoutari. com/2018/07/welcome-to-the-third-quarterly-issue-of-elt-choutari-special-coverage-on-writing-education-vol-10-issue-88/

Lea, M., & Street, B. (1998). Student writing and faculty feedback in higher education: An academic literacies approach. Studies in Higher Education, 23(2),157-172.

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Can be cited as:

Khati, A. R. (2021, January). Understanding thesis writing as a socio-cultural practice in the university than a ‘ritual’ [Blog article]. ELT CHOUTARI. Available at: http://eltchoutari.com /2021/01/understanding-thesis-writing-as-a-socio-cultural-practice-in-the-university-than-a-ritual/

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Exploring the readers’ response and reflections

          Karuna Nepal

Introduction

ELT Choutari, initiated in January 2009, is Nepal’s first collaborative and most-read digital ELT magazine which contributes to the ELT discourse in particular and education in general. Initiated by ELT pioneers and enthusiasts, it has been serving as a virtual forum to connect ELT professionals and engage them in critical discussion on the diversified issues of ELT. Most importantly, it has been a great platform for the young, emerging and passionate scholars to share their voices, stories, and native perspectives. In addition, it has also generated theoretical discussions, multiple perspectives on different ELT issues, and scholarly debates from the established experts from home and abroad. Likewise, it brings academics, policy-makers, teachers, and students together to supplement scholarly discourse on ELT and more. This forum has also been a huge resource bank for researchers and ELT practitioners for the last 12 years.  

In this context, with the purpose of understanding the views, preferences, and expectations of our readers, authors, and well-wishers, we conducted a digital survey. For this, a google form was used with both close-ended and open-ended questions, and data were elicited through it. 79 responses were obtained altogether. The options given for close-ended questions were mutually inclusive where a participant could choose more than one option. Among the respondents, 77.2% were teachers, 25.3% were trainers, 24.1% were research students, 21.5% were researchers and 15.2 % were graduate students. 

Analysis and discussion 

In this section, the elicited data are presented and discussed under four subsequent themes: preferred contents of the respondents, the motivation behind reading our contents, expectations of our readers, and feedback and suggestions.

Preferred contents of the respondents 

In order to explore the preferences of our readers, we asked them to choose the types of articles they prefer reading on ELT Choutari. Here, they could choose more than one option. The following pictorial representation illustrates the data in an explicit way.

Through the responses, it was revealed that three-fourth of our readers (i.e. 75.9%) preferred reading articles related to teaching tips. Since the majority of the navigators (i.e. 77.2%) were teachers, it was obvious that teaching tips are mostly sought for. Following this were the readers who liked reading research papers i.e. 59.5%. The third preference was given to scholarly ideas with a personal touch i.e. 44.3%. Similarly, 41.8% readers read ELT Choutari for reflective blogs, 31.6% read for theoretical discussion. And finally, 1.3% of the readers read interviews. So, it shows that ELT Choutari should offer articles and blogs related to teaching tips, research papers, and scholarly writing with a personal touch and reflective narrative. Moreover, interviews were also preferred by a few respondents, which was chosen under the ‘others’ options. Had there been a separate option for ‘interview’, it would have been the preference of more.  

Motivation behind reading our contents

Our second intention was to explore the motivation of the readers behind reading our contents. Thus, we inquired the respondents about the reasons for reading the articles and resources on ELT Choutari. The following diagram represents the data elicited under this heading.

The given figure reveals that most of the readers (i.e. 70.9%) have a general purpose of enriching their knowledge and updating themselves. The second reason for reading the resources on ELT Choutari is for preparing classroom lessons/topics and 53. 2% of our readers are guided by this motivation. Similarly, 32.9% of our readers are the researchers who navigate our resources for reviewing the related literature for their research. Following them are the students comprising 16.5% of the respondents who take support from this forum while preparing their assignment. Additionally, a few readers (i.e. 1.3%) read our articles to be familiar with recent perspectives.

The expectation of our readers

To explore the expectations of our readers regarding the types of content they would like to read in the future, an open-ended question was asked. In this line, it was found that the expectations of the majority of readers range from theoretical discussion to practical tips, for instance, classroom management, classroom interaction, teaching literature, reflections on classroom practices, and ELT tips. This indicates that the articles on ELT Choutari have been meeting the expectations of the majority of the readers. Besides this, there are some expectations regarding the innovative topics in the field of teaching-learning such as critical pedagogy, teaching English in a multilingual society, post-method pedagogy, eco-pedagogy, ICT in education, etc. The respondents further expected the articles to cover more research-based contents which would supplement them with the proven facts and generalizable ideas. Moreover, personal anecdotes and reflections should also be given due emphasis.

Feedback and suggestions

For obtaining feedback and suggestions for improvement, an open-ended question was asked with our readers. After analyzing their suggestions it was revealed that most of the respondents were satisfied with the contents of our magazine since they have suggested the continuation of the same. However, some of them wished for more updated content capturing the latest trends in the field and more articles based on the research. Similarly, some of the readers have suggested widening the readership so that more people would be benefitted. There are some respondents who have also suggested us to follow the standard procedures of review so as to maintain the standard of peer-reviewed journals.

Conclusion

Although the readers seem to be satisfied with the contents on ELT Choutari, there is a need to accommodate itself with the flow of the time. Valuing the suggestions from the readers, attention should be given to readers’ expectations for research-based articles, practical teaching tips, and more scholarly discussion and discourse on critical issues like multilingualism, critical pedagogy, justice in ELT, authenticity, and creativity in ELT. Similarly, it is recommended to train and orient young and emerging authors time-to-time to develop original and relevant content with excellent presentation. Moreover, it is often criticized ELT Choutari for enjoying only a limited readership despite having excellent contents and resources. Therefore, effort and attention should be oriented towards maximising our readership and impact. Finally, to generate more generalizable ideas, it is recommended to launch more surveys in the future to reach more readers.

The author: Karuna Nepal is an English faculty at Innovative Sunshine College. She also teaches at Shree Krishna Secondary School. She has completed her M.Phil. in English from Pokhara University. Her areas of interest include translation, philosophy, and literature.

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Can be cited as:

Nepal, K. (2021, January).  Exploring the readers’ response and reflections [Blog article]. ELT CHOUTARI. Available at: http://eltchoutari.com/2021/01/exploring-the-readers-response-and-reflections/