Friday, December 24, 2010
The profile of our English classrooms has started changing. Children have started loving the English teacher and the English classroom. They don’t bother about the errors they may make while speaking or writing. The teacher doesn’t criticize them for their mistakes and does not force them to write impositions. They have been liberated from the trauma of having to learn by heart the answers to the comprehension questions and vomit them on the answer sheets. Instead they are responding to certain social issues by way of writing a variety of discourses. In the classrooms they are indulged in creative writing. These are tangible changes. And these are positive signs of learning.
Nevertheless, there are some parents and teachers who cannot even imagine that changes are possible. They still believe that main stream schools cannot provide quality education to children and the solution is proposed in the form of English medium education. Who bothers about real concept attainment when you can score high grades by virtue of rote memorizing of facts and information? People who blindly believe that English Medium education is synonymous to quality education fail to look at what is happening in an English medium school critically. They may spit out volumes of vehement criticism against main stream English education but will be scared to utter even one syllable against English medium education. This is nothing but academic slavishness.
Let’s see how this point can be illustrated. Examine the following cases:
Ms. Asha is a primary teacher who teaches English in a Government school in Kerala. She has her own daughter studying in an English medium school.
‘Why don’t you get your child enrolled in your own school?’ One of her friends asked her.
‘She’s a bright child. I must give her quality education.’
‘Can’t it be done at your own school?’
‘I doubt. After all it’s an ordinary school. For choosing a good career children need English education.’
‘But you’re teaching English.’
One of the international publishers recently released a set of course books in English. These are meant for the learners ranging from LKG to Class VIII. There are two primers for English. One of them begin with lessons in writing and the tiny tots have to strain themselves by drawing strokes of different kinds and then slowly switching over to writing the letters, words and sentences in conformity with certain standard norms.
The other primer begins with units that introduce quite a large number of isolated words naming familiar objects. These include the names of body parts such as an eye, a head, a nose... (of course with thumbnail pictures of these parts).
Pause and Reflect
Let’s address ourselves to a few questions:
1. Why is there a mushrooming of English medium schools in our country?
2. Why do most parents and policy makers too believe that by changing the medium of instruction from the mother tongue to English is a pre-requisite for ensuring quality education?
3. Why do people believe that without English there cannot be prosperity in life?
4. Why do celebrity publishers follow a linear, highly de-contextualized and fragmentary approach to introducing language elements?
5. Everyone in our own times knows that a child does not pick up language by writing the letters of the alphabet. Moreover, a 3-year old child is yet to accomplish neuro-muscular coordination. Then why do the textbook writers make her practice strokes and other primary lessons of copy-writing?
6. The 3-year old child’s perception is holistic. She cannot perceive a cut-out human head, the hand, or the other parts of the body alone. Asking her to do this is in fact the negation of the fundamental principles of child psychology. Aren’t the makers of the course book aware of this?
I refrain myself from asking further questions on a similar line. The point I want to make is very clear. Cases 1 and 2 reflect certain belief claims related to teaching and learning English in our own context.
There may be certain claims that appear as true. It is also possible that these claims can be substantiated given certain specific contexts. We must not miss the point that these are mere belief claims and not propositions with truth content. Nevertheless they get propagated in the society. How does this happen needs to be explained. Viewed through the lens of critical pedagogy these claims are discernible as parts of belief systems and actions defined by the power structures operating in the society.
Let's try to see what is happening around us critically. This is the need of our own times. If we fail to appreciate the positive changes happening in the classroom and the pedagogy that is responsible for these changes we will be doing a big harm to futurity. remember, today's children are not tomorrow's citizens. They are citizens right now. Let us acknowledge this and do whatever we can do to ensure quality education to our children. For this the pre-requisite is to safeguard ourselves from the Ghost of Colonialism.
Monday, December 20, 2010
The first picure is one of the best products from the Malayalam medum division and the second one is the best product of the English medium division. What qualitative diffrence do you find between them?
We analyzed the written work done by the children both in the English and Malayalam medium divisions. Children following the State syllabus had no inhibition in writing their ideas in English. All of them had written something. Some of these writings were better than what the children in the English medium divisions wrote.
We found that children in IV B had performed better than those in IV C. The reason was obvious. The teacher in class IV B (a gentle man) had done some justice to the classroom processes whereas the teacher in Class IV C had ignored the classroom processes altogether and had taught in a manner that was convenient to him.
Interaction with the Staff
In the evening we got an opportunity to interact with the teachers of the school. The Head teacher told us that the teachers were willing to stay after the school hours. We consider this as an indicator for their concern for school matters.
We assembled in the conference hall. We were happy to share with them the good things we had observed. At the same time we expressed our anxiety about the children in the English medium division. We showed them what the learners had written about their morning assembly. It appeared that they were shocked.
‘We opened the English medium division a few years ago because of the insistence from the part of the PTA,’ said the Head teacher.
‘Don’t you think this is really unfortunate?’ I asked the teachers. ‘The children in class IV A have nearly four years of experience of learning English because they started it in the pre-primary classes.’
‘Do you discuss academic matters in the school SRG meetings?’ asked Kaladharan.
They explained the practical difficulty. Some amount of sharing takes place among the teachers handling the Malayalam medium divisions. But this does not take place with the teachers handling the English medium divisions.
‘What do you infer from the written work of the children? The children following the State syllabus and textbook were able to express their ideas in whatever English they were able to learn. This was possible because they were experiencing a process-bound learning programme. The NCERT textbook does not demand this.’
We felt the presence of an unpleasant silence spreading in the room.
‘We are sorry to tell you about this,’ said Kaladharan. We will not ask you to convene a PTA meeting and propose the immediate closure of the English medium divisions. It will not look nice. You may continue to retain the parallel divisions in English. But at the same time you will have to ensure that all children irrespective of their medium of learning should get quality education.’
‘All what you can do is strengthen the classroom process in the mother tongue medium divisions. If you can show the parents that children in classes 1 to 4 can read and write in English and above all, speak the language, the parents will be convinced. They will demand that their children should be taught in the mother tongue.
It was clear that the children in the English medium division were not able to write anything of their own. They themselves knew it. Some of them sat with their heads bent. The trauma they were undergoing was visible on their faces.
We asked them to write about the assembly in Malayalam. What they wrote again was not very promising.
This is an unfortunate state of affairs. Kaladharan and myself were terribly disppointed and disturbed too. Who will be held responsible for this? can we put the blame on the greedy parents who believed that their children would be getting 'quality education' by changing the medium of instruction to English? Or, can we put the blame on teachers? Either they themselves are not convinced that the new paradigm will take care of quality in English education. Or they were not able to convince the parents that main stream education focuses on quality education to all.
We assigned the same task to the children in Malayalam medium divisions of class IV. See the specimens of what they wrote:
We observed the classroom processes in class IV. There are 3 divisions in this class with one of the divisions as English medium. Children in this class are following NCERT English textbook and textbooks in other subjects prepared by some private publishers who claim that they are made as per NCERT syllabus.
We saw portfolios kept in files which were disappointing. They contained imperfect write ups in Malayalam some of which reminded us of how beginners in class 1 or 2 would write. There wasn’t much evidence of written work undertaken by children.
‘This is very queer,’ I thought. My face must have communicated what was there in mind to Kala. Through his silence he endorsed my view.
There was hardly any evidence of creative writing in English.
Show me your English textbook. I asked one of the girls. She gave me her copy of Marigold English textbook, a book loaded with lots and lots of information.
‘Children, can’t you write conversations, poems and stories in English?
‘Then please write what happened in the morning assembly today.’
‘We found clouds shading their smiling faces.’
‘Do we have to write in English?’
Children found to be thoroughly disturbed and insecure.
‘Can’t you write about what happened in the morning assembly?’
Quite reluctantly they stared writing. The starting trouble was visible. Some of them tore a sheet of paper from the notebook and started drawing margins.
‘Don’t worry about the margin. Just start writing,’ said Kala
We waited for more than 6 minutes. Moving round the class we noticed that most of them had written only one word, ‘assembly’ that too with different spellings.
For a moment we stood perplexed. This was something that we didn’t expect. The releasing of the magazines and news papers in the morning had created in our minds very high expectations on their creative and linguistic abilities.
‘All right. You have written in English about the morning assembly, haven’t you. Now you may write about the same in Malayalam. You can use the other side of the sheet.
Children started writing again.
We collected all the written work. The class strength was around 50. Most of them wrote just one word (the word ‘assembly’ with all imaginable spellings); three of them wrote one sentence. There were only readable scripts which easily may be perceived as the best ones in the class. See the pictures below:
The pictures I have given above are of the best specimens I got from the children. Most of them wrote only the title (that too with various spellings). These children were learning English as their medium of instruction for the last six years 9starting from the LKG classes. They may be good at scoring marks because the NCERT books they have been learning do not demand anything else other than answering the 'comprehension' questions. Learning by heart in an alien language for six years has not taken them anywhere!
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Releasing Learners’ Creative Work
‘Shall we go downstairs for the morning assembly? The teacher suggested.’
We all moved downstairs and reached the assembly ground. A few girls stood in the verandah of the staff room to make use of the amplified system.
Fig: The Morning Assembly
The assembly started with the rituals like Morning Prayer and taking the pledge. This was followed by the releasing of news papers and magazines written by children both in English and Malayalam. Kaladharan and I were privileged with the releasing of the creative work of children. However, some of the themes appeared odd to us. For example there was a write up on religious festivals. The first sentence of the write up was ’Onam is a Hindu religious festival. The sentence constructions and the vocabulary used were of high linguistic standards. The justification came from us. Those children who presented write ups in English belong to English medium divisions running in the school. it appeared that the teachers of the school were taking pride in the performance of children studying in English medium divisions.
The duration of the assembly got prolonged because of the releasing of a number of magazines. But it may be pardonable because what was happened in the assembly was the celebration of what children were able to accomplish in the form of creative writing.
We climbed the neatly built staircase that was built exterior to the building to reach the first floor. Keeping our footwear outside, we entered the hall. What we saw inside was really breath taking.
A tiled floor, not a speck of dust anywhere
Fig : The Interior of the Library-cum with Multimedia Conference Room
A row of shelves at the rear side, carrying library books
The central space occupied by newly ought red plastic chairs
Wooden tables with their polished planks on the three sides of the room
A platform at the front side with a beautiful table and three chairs on it, the table carrying a metallic name plate of the school
A well-polished wooden rostrum
Multimedia facilities with computer, LCD projector, silver screen and home theatre
Red curtains for all windows
We sat in the hall enjoying the dream-like experience that the sight was giving us.
‘How did you get this building? Is it from the MLA fund or something like that?’ We enquired.
‘In fact I don’t know anything about the MLA fund,’ said the head teacher. ‘We, the staff and PTA of the school conducted a ganamela and raised the funds – that is about 5 lakhs - required for the construction of the building.’
The Choice of the Local Community
PTA - Staff Collaboration
Fig : Another View of the Interior of the Conference Hall
‘Our school has been selected for the reality show,’ said the teacher once again her face in full bloom. We realized that our admiration for the school was steadily increasing.
‘We have a tough competition with the adjacent English medium school. The teacher pointed to the school that was there just on the other side of the compound wall. But we have succeeded in retaining our roll strength. We have about 500 children here; the English medium school has strength of about 200 children.’
‘That is really interesting. How did you manage it?’
‘One important thing is that the children of teachers of this school are studying in this school itself. Therefore the local community here trusts us and enrolls.’
‘That’s great! This is something that must be shared across the State.’
‘Are you in good terms with the neighbor school?’
‘Of course we are. We co-operate in many areas. They are very co-operative. When Kalamela comes they are willing to take our children also in their school bus. We share what we get in HMs conference and other meetings with the HM and staff of that school. We are in good terms.’
Meanwhile the school bell rang.
Saturday, December 18, 2010
Fig1: The school gate
We parked our vehicle before a gorgeous looking gate that was built in concrete and painted blue. The two pillars were arched by a concrete roof which gave the gate the appearance of a temple gate. The gate opened to a spacious ground which was free of dry leaves and paper bits. On the right side we saw an attractive two-storey building.
‘GLP School, …’ The sign board welcomed us.
Fig 2: The view of the school from outside the gate
‘This is really good looking,’ I said half to myself and half to Kaladharan.
‘Yes, it is,’ said Kala and started taking snapshots of the building, the school gate, and whatever else there were that would appear to an onlooker eye-capturing.
‘What do you have in this building?’ asked Kaladharan.
‘The first floor of the building is being used as a mini conference hall - cum library. The ground floor is shared by the Headmaster’s room and the staff room.’ The head teacher explained.
Fig 3: The building constructed by PTA and School Staff
My friend Mr. Kaladharan and myself had the pleasant experience of visiting a Government school which had been selected for the reality show by virtue of a number of activities of excellence that it was able to carry out. At the same time the experience was equally unpleasant to us for a different reason. The visit gave us an opportunity to witness how a primary school managed by the government can carry out activities that can bring down the academic standards of the learners who are destined to learn there. What was more unfortunate was that the school authorities were not able to realize this. It won’t be academically honest on my part if I don’t share my experience with the parents and teachers of our State.
It may be noted that going by the most popular notions of a ‘good school’ this school will be easily rated as a place of excellence. This is testified by the fact that this school has a roll strength of about 500 students where as the adjacent unaided English medium school (which is there just on the other side of the compound wall) has only 200 students in it. This is commendable and the teachers of the school take pride in saying that even the children of teachers of this school are studying in the government school which has contributed in getting goodwill from the parents.
In the coming blogs I would like to tell my readers what we experienced at the school. I would prefer to serialize it under the title ‘Colonial Ghost’. The title calls for a wide range of predictions from the part of my readers, doesn’t it?
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
I found the following advertisement (it is one, isn’t it?) painted on the compound wall of a Government Lower Primary school which has been serving the society for more than five decades.
Quality Education to All
English Medium divisions in Class 1 in June 2010
Classes taken by expert teachers
Obviously, it is meant for inviting attention of the passersby, and of course the parent community, too. At the same time it is an open declaration that whoever has displayed it has no trust in the main stream education. If some teachers were involved in displaying it, they have exposed their distrust in themselves as teachers. This of course is not an isolated case. It is one of the several ways of exhibiting how we can surrender ourselves before the power structures that operate in the society and let ourselves play in their hands, thus allowing hegemony to survive in all walks of life. The display is an insult to our main stream education and the several thousands who depend on it. This is especially so in the context of the recent curriculum revision and the paradigm shift it has envisaged in second language pedagogy. But how many of us really perceive the advertisement made by the school as a danger in disguise? I will try to make my point clear.
English Language Teaching (ELT) across the world has been facing a crisis for the last few decades, a crisis caused by a better understanding about what language is and how it is acquired. Gone are the days when people believed that the human mind is a ‘tabula rasa’ and everything related to knowledge of language comes from outside, through experience. The credit goes to the insights the world has derived from Chomsky’s theory of innateness, the contributions of cognitive psychologists who follow the Vygotskyan and Brunerian schools of thought and the claims of critical pedagogy envisaged by Paulo Frère, Joe Kincheloe and others. Today, we can see that ELT has virtually split into two namely, the critical ELT and the non-critical ELT. The two hold belief systems that are diametrically opposite to one another. The non-critical ELT adopts a fragmentary approach to language and proposes the skill-based and linear mode of teaching. It is essentially an apolitical treatment of Language. The critical ELT on the other hand problematizes the whole context of language teaching and proposes a pedagogy placing it in the socio-political context. Consequently, it demands a shift from the skill-based and fragmentary approach to knowledge-based holistic approach to language. The birth of critical ELT is not just a coincidence; it is the culmination of years of research that had gone into topics such as language and language acquisition.
The revised curriculum in Kerala has had its impact on the achievement of learners. There are several hundreds of schools where children produce class magazines, school magazines, news bulletins and so on. In Alappuzha district alone children in primary classes developed about 15, 00,000 journals in English which include those developed by individual students, classes, schools and even Panchayats. We can feel proud of this creative achievement. Recall those earlier years when students even after completing SSLC were not able to write their ideas in English. The percentage of those students who were able to score an average of 10 marks (which was the minimum requirement for a pass) was 15 or less. Now children in primary classes are writing their own short stories and poems in English. There are several schools where children perform theatre in the class as part of classroom process. We cannot (and should not) miss to notice the shift in language pedagogy which has brought about this change. And we cannot accept the stance of those ELT experts who still advocate a fragmentary and skill-based approach to language. More importantly, we cannot endorse those additional activities (such as asking the learners to write letters of the alphabet, words or sentences several times ) carried out by some teachers and schools at the cost of the classroom processes envisaged in the curriculum and materials.
If the advertisement on English medium divisions and ‘off the track’ activities are meant for satisfying the parent community (that is what probably teachers and school authorities would say) they are unknowingly promoting linguistic hegemony. They do not realize that the net result will be the marginalizing of those children who belong to the unprivileged sectors of the society. In most schools where English medium divisions have started teachers tend to give more attention to the English medium learners. They tend to skip the classroom processes in the parallel Malayalam medium division arguing that the children cannot understand English. Therefore, it is necessary, they say, to teach at least the letters of the alphabet, words and insist on copying down the teacher versions. Learners of the Malayalam medium are induced to believe that they are inferior to their peers in the English medium divisions. This is nothing but government-sponsored marginalization of a considerable chunk of the student population. It is paradoxical that our State which as boldly revised the curriculum based on social constructivism and critical pedagogy also nurtures neo-colonial enterprises. How long can we ignore the social divide that has been brought in by the parallel English medium divisions?
Why do some of our schools work out disastrous decisions like opening parallel English medium divisions? The only answer is that they want to satisfy the greedy parent community, a community which believes in the assumed superiority of English medium education over education in mother tongue. It is just an assumption or belief which has never been tested for its veracity. If parents are not convinced about the potential of the revised curriculum and materials it only means that our schools did not take any efforts to convince them. This in turn can mean that either teachers themselves are not convinced about constructivist pedagogy as envisioned in the curriculum or they do not have sufficient know how of how to transact the revised curriculum. Whatever might be the situation that has led to the unhealthy situation, it needs to be addressed. Schools should have the sensibility to realize that the only way to convince the parent community is to provide quality English education to children by strengthening classroom processes and not by opening English medium divisions. Parents should get opportunities to know, and even learn, how their children learn English. Meetings of Class PTA can be made meaningful and dynamic by taking tryout lessons before the parents and by providing learning experience to the parents. Schools can exhibit student’s magazines and journals and provide opportunities for the public performance of the learners so that the parents’ attitude to language learning will be changed. This in a way, is the need of the hour. Moreover, by undertaking such initiatives teachers will be executing their intellectual and social responsibilities which will ultimately help us translate the dictum ‘liberation through education’ into meaningful and worth pursuing enterprises.
Sunday, November 7, 2010
Dr. K.N. Anandan
Quite often people get involved in certain situations where they may have to talk about others. Sometimes they may have to talk about other things such as places, things, events, processes and so on. This is why we have included description as one of the discourses to be addressed in classroom transaction. As in the case of other discourses this discourse also has its own hierarchies:
• The description of a place graduates itself as travelogue
• Describing events ends up with writing narratives or news reports
• Describing a person can lead to writing biographical sketches and profiles
• Describing a process becomes writing recipes
The classroom process of constructing this discourse depends upon what type of description is targeted and the stage at which the learners are undertaking the task. Let us see what will make the theme of the description.
• Describing a person
details such as who and what the person is, the physical attributes, societal status, achievements, contributions, personal impressions …)
• Describing an object
(details such as what it is, where it is found, physical properties such as shape and colour, what it is used for, etc.)
• Describing a place
(scenic details of the location, images, sensory perceptions, etc.)
• Describing events
(details such as what the event is, where it is taking place, the persons or things involved, the order of events, scenic details, images, sensory perceptions, etc.)
• Describing a process
(details such as what it is for, things involved, sequence, etc.)
The language used for dealing with these details at various stages also will be different. Let me illustrate the point.
At stage 1 (i.e. classes 1 and 2) state verbs such as ‘be’ and ‘have’ will be used. At stage 2 (i.e. classes 3, 4 and 5) learners may also use action verbs to talk about social status, achievements, contributions, etc.
At stage 3 we expect the learners to use figurative expressions (similes and metaphors), images and so on.
So what will be the process of refining a description in groups? We know that the instructions for constructing a discourse through collaboration are directly related to the structure and features of the target discourse. Let us work out a few instructions for refining the description in groups:
Describing person - Classes 3 to 5
1. In the first round share with others whether you have written who the person is and what he is.
2. If you have not written anything tell others who and what the person is
3. Come to an agreement on how to write ideas such as who the person is and what he is
4. In the second round of sharing each one of you can tell others about one of the physical attributes of the person. Avoid repeating ideas.
5. Come to an agreement on how to write about these attributes
6. In the next turn share with others what else you want to include in the description
7. Come to an agreement on how to write the other points
8. Read the whole description and see whether any changes are necessary
Classes 6 and 7
9. Take turn and share with others one of the major achievements of the person
10. In the next step share with others the contributions the person has made to the society
11. Discuss in groups what images you want to include in the description and how to write them
12. Discuss in groups whether you want to compare with something to highlight his qualities
From what has been given above it can be seen that the sharing process is decided by the details we want to include in the description. What I have suggested here is the process of refining the description of a person. Hope my readers will work out similar instructions in the case of the other descriptions.
Friday, November 5, 2010
I received the following mail a few days back:
Hope you remember me, I am Amul Roy , Teacher, Govt.U.P.S. Chalai, Thiruvananthapuram. I am very glad to inform you that your visit to our school gave us an opportunity to introspect the teaching -learning process of English in our classrooms. Of course we had made humble efforts to learn from your advice and made our SRG meetings a platform to share such ideas. We shared and discussed ideas expressed in the blog ‘English corridor’.
Now I would like to hear from you on these topics
1. The role and effective use of Teacher Versions.
2. The micro processes involved in the development of the discourse ‘Description’.
Amul Roy. R.P -98475 65193
Thank you, Amul Roy. I am glad to hear that teachers of GUPS Chalai are making use of ‘English Corridor’. Let me first take up the topic namely, role and use of teacher versions.
In one of my recent visit to schools I noticed that the learners were copying down the teacher version from the blackboard. Her intention was to give a good model of written discourse to the learners. Of course, the teacher version of the targeted discourse serves as a source of language input for the learners both thematically and linguistically. But the potential of this input cannot be tapped fully if the learners are asked to copy down the teacher version. Let us see how it can be made use of in a meaningful way.
After receiving sufficient input in terms of the teacher’s interaction, the narrative presented by the teacher or/and the discussion that is carried out the learners are streamlined to take up the task of constructing the targeted discourse. Recall the micro process of doing this:
• Individual writing
• Random presentation by a few individuals
• Refining in groups
• Presentation by groups
• The presentation of teacher’s version
• Editing of one of the group products
• Editing of the remaining group products by the learners
. publishing big book
What pedagogic mileage do we get from the processes suggested here?
1. Teacher version serves as authentic listening input
Remember, the teacher is not just reading out what she has written but making a presentation considering all articulatory features (stress, tone, etc.). After the presentation the script is displayed before the whole class alongside the group products.
2. Teacher version for thematic enrichment
The next stage is editing which has its own micro processes. To begin with there is thematic editing. In fact, this is meant for thematic enrichment of the products. How do we do that? The teacher negotiates with the learners with the help of questions such as the following:
a. Are there any ideas in what I have written which you have not included in your writing?
(Obviously, the learners will be going through the teacher version and their versions to find out this).
b. Are there any ideas that you have written but missing in my writing?
(This will make the learners read the versions once again. They will feel elevated when they find that there are some ideas that the teacher has not written.)
c. Did group1 write any idea that other groups have not written? Did any group write any idea that others have not written?
(Further reading takes place. Facilitating reading does not mean helping the learners read the textbook material alone. It necessarily includes reading of other materials as well. In the process that has been suggested here, each instance of reading is done for a specific purpose. Reading here is an intrinsically motivated activity.
3. Teacher version for sensitizing the learners on discourse features
The teacher version can also be made use of for negotiating with the learners on certain aspects of refinement of the written discourse. Each discourse has a set of specific features. For example, we expect the narrative in class 7 to have the following features:
2. Dialogue / self talk related to the events
4. Sensory perceptions
Based on these features discourse level of the narrative written by the learners can be taken up. The narrative at stage 2 needs only the first two features. We have to identify the features of each discourse meant for a certain stage. This is to be addressed while editing the written work.
4. Teacher version for sensitizing the learners on errors
The teacher version serves as an indirect evidence for the learners in their process of language acquisition. They get sensitized on syntactic and morphological features of the target language. Moreover, the learners get input for using punctuations correctly. When the learners edit their own products the techer version will give them feedback on discourse level features as well as syntactic and morphologic features.
5. Teacher version serves as a model for legible writing
The teacher version is to be written legibly on a chart maintaining proper spacing between lines, words and the letters. If paragraphs are there they should be properly indented.
6. Teacher version as part of Supplementary Reading material
The teacher version along with the group products will be combiled together to make the big book. This will be a supplementary reading material for the learners for their future use.
Remember, for each of these uses of teacher versions the teacher has to negotiate with the learners. Otherwise the learners may not get sensitized on these aspects.
From the discussion presented here it is obvious that the pedagogic advantage of the teacher version will be missing if the learners are asked to copy down from the teacher version.
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Authentic and comprehensible listening input is a pre-requisite for the learner for acquiring language. This is why I have suggested the narrative as an effective pedagogic tool for providing quality listening input to the learners. The interaction of the teacher with the learners at various points of classroom transaction is another rich input source for the learners. Let us address ourselves to a few questions in this context.
1. Which are the slots where the teacher interacts with the learners?
2. What are the common objectives of Interaction at these slots?
3. Are there any specific objectives for each instance of interaction? If so, what are they?
4. How can we improve the quality of interaction?
We expect the teacher to interact with the learners in contexts such as the following:
• Interaction related to trigger.
• Interactions at narrative gaps
• Interaction leading to individual reading
• Interaction during collaborative reading
• Interactions related to scaffolded reading(posing analytical questions)
• Interaction related to the construction of discourses
• Interaction related to editing
• Interaction related to forming big books.
Obviously, the teacher cannot use the same kind of questions for each of these interactions. They depend crucially upon the purpose for which the interaction is carried out. It is fairly easy to see that each of these instances of interaction has some specific objectives. At the same time, all of them have some common objectives. Let us see what these are:
Common Objectives of Interaction
• Sharing of ideas.
• Giving rich, authentic listening input
• Embedding functional aspects of language in authentic context
• Maintaining rapport with the learners
• For Dialoguing with the learners.
Interaction related to trigger.
• Taking out the learners’ assumptions on the theme at hand.
• Taking out learner’s perceptions on what has been watched
• Leading the learners to the theme /issue
Interactions at narrative gaps
• Triggering divergent thinking
• Eliciting learners perceptions on the theme
• Making predictions on what might follow.
• Taking out learners’ reflections on what he/she has listened to.
• Checking whether the characters have been emotionally registered (empathy/antipathy/sympathy with the characters)
• Analyzing the situation critically.
Interaction leading to individual reading
• Instilling in learners an urge to read.
• Helping learners make prediction on what they are going to read.
Interaction during collaborative reading
• To ensure whether sharing of ideas is taking place as per the instructions given to the learners.
• Assessing the progress of group work.
• Extending optimal support to those who need it.
• Ensuring cooperation in team work.
• Addressing learning issues of children progressing at a slower pace.
Interactions related to scaffolded reading(posing analytical questions)
• Registering multiple perspectives on the theme.
• Identifying a point of view of the writer as well as the learners.
• Instilling value systems.
• Building up tolerance.
Interaction related to Editing
• Sensitizing the learners on various kinds of errors.
• Checking the learner’s intuitions on grammaticality.
• Building up confidence in using language.
Interaction related to forming big books.
• Addressing heterogeneity of the class.
• Providing slot for creativity of children
• Checking the learner’s affinity to the target language
What the teacher has to do is to build up a dialogue with the learners. This can be done with the help of strategies such as the following:
Using tags (positive, negative, same way) for seeking confirmation, making assertions etc.
Using discourse markers (for expressing attitude, politeness etc).
Agreeing or disagreeing with the speaker
Seeking agreement or disagreement
Stating one’s own opinion
Using short responses
Building up on a certain response.
Most importantly, the classroom language the teacher may have to use for interacting with the learners will have to be suitable for the level of learners.
Friday, October 8, 2010
I propose that the narrative as a discourse can be used to give the richest kind of linguistic input to the learners. A narrative is not just the parading of certain sequence of events. Nor is it equivalent to a conventional story (say, the story of the woodcutter and the goddess, or of the goose that lays golden eggs) which begins at some point, runs through certain sequence of events and comes to a natural culmination.
Here follows a story.
A dove and an ant
A dove and an ant lived in a tree near a pond. One day the ant fell into the pond. It could not swim. The dove saw it. She dropped a leaf near the ant. The ant stepped on the leaf and reached the bank. The ant thanked the dove.
Q 1: How will we present the story in the class?
Q2: How can we help our learners make sense of the story that they are listening to?
Conventionally, a few steps will be followed.
1. Telling the story with the support of pictures
2. Showing appropriate gestures
3. Giving mother tongue equivalent for unfamiliar words
4. Explaining some part of the story in mother tongue
5. Repeating the story without showing pictures
6. Asking questions to check comprehension
Children may catch the idea of the story. They receive it as an assemblage of information as passive listeners without employing their thinking skills. While the teacher is telling the story there is no guarantee that corresponding thoughts are generated in their minds. The formation of inner speech does not take place by merely listening to the story if it is presented in the way mentioned above. In order to make it happen narrative has to be used to trigger inner speech in the minds of children. The text of the story has to be modified into that of a narrative.
Building up a narrative
The narrative aims at creating images in the minds of the listeners. It deals with human drama involving certain characters who the listeners can identify with, and get emotionally attached to. They start empathizing with these characters and share their thoughts and feelings.
Let us see how this can be materialized.
Consider the set of questions in A and B.
1. How can we convert the story “a dove and an ant” to a narrative?
2. What are the mental images to be created?
3. How can we instil empathy in the listeners?
1. What are the events?
2. Where do these events take place?
3. Who are the characters?
4. What are they saying?
5. What do they feel?
The questions in A are related to the overall effect that we are targeting through the text of the narrative. Those in B point to the craft of developing the narrative.
In the light of the questions given above we can revise the text given in Task 2.
We will blow up the information contained in the first two sentences (i.e., A dove and an ant lived in a tree near a pond. One day the ant fell into the pond).
Narrative: A dove and an ant
On the wayside there is a pond. What a big pond! And how many water lilies! White lilies, red lilies! Big green leaves! How beautiful!
The pond is full with water. Of course it is clear water. Like on a mirror, you can see your face on it.
There is a tree growing near the pond; a mango tree. Not a big one and not a small one, too. It has several branches. Most of the branches are bending over the pond. Now there are no mangoes on it but only flowers. Bunch of flowers ... Not one but many... A fresh smell flow out from them. Ah, what a nice smell!
On the topmost branch there is a nest. A dove lives in this nest. A small, white dove, with beautiful, red eyes ... What a nice bird! How beautiful it is!
Somewhere on the tree there is a family of ants.
A father ant, a mother ant and their many, many children!
How many ants!
The father ant was sitting on one of the branches.
He felt the smell of the flowers.
“Nice smell,’ said the children.
“Yes, it is,’ said the mother ant.
‘Where is it coming from, mom?’
‘Of course, it’s from the mango flowers.’
‘I ‘m sure there is honey in the flowers,’ said the father ant. ‘But we can’t reach there now.’
‘Can’t you feel it? A heavy wind is blowing.’
‘Please, dad. Take us to the honey,’ said the little ants.
‘Little ones, how can I take you there now? The wind will blow us away.’
‘Please, dad. We want honey,’ said the little ones again.
‘Get it for them, will you?’ said the mother ant.
‘Okay. Let me try.’
With his tiny legs he started moving on the branch.
‘I must reach that bunch of flowers,’ thought the ant.
The branch was bending over the pond. While walking, the ant looked down. He saw the water in the pond.
‘What’ll happen if the wind blows now?’
‘If the wind blows I’ll fall into the water, Yes, I will,’ thought the ant.
The thought frightened him.
‘I can’t swim.’
He closed his eyes. And then…
The wind started blowing.
And the ant fell down into the pond.
We have got a sample of the craft of developing a narrative from the story. What are the things that we have incorporated into the text?
1. Shall we blow up the remaining part of the story, too?
2. What are the details to be added?
3. What kinds of sentences are to be used?
4. What strategy is to be used to load the text with emotions?
Building up on the emotive aspect of language
Why do we focus on the emotive aspect of language? Recall our own experience of getting involved in interpersonal communicative situations. We may have met people at several places and may have talked to them about several things at several points of time. We are not likely to store these several pieces of conversation in our minds precisely because we don’t feel the need for doing so. For instance, we tend to forget the conversation that has taken place between the shopkeeper and ourselves the moment our business is over unless there is some special reason to retain it in our mind. The same is the case with the exchanges that have taken place on several other occasions.
Here is a typical piece of conversation used for teaching English.
With the vegetable vender
Customer: What is the price of tomato per kilo?
Vender: Eight rupees, Sir.
Customer: And for bhindi?
Vender: Seven rupees.
Customer: Okay. Give me half a kilo tomato and half a kilo bhindi.
Vender: Here’s is your tomato and bhindi, Sir.
Customer: Thank you. Here’s the money.
Vender: Thank you.
1. Can you identify the vegetable vender and the customer?
2. Which part of the world do they live in?
3. What comments can we make on the text of this discourse?
4. How long these expressions will remain in the memory of our learners?
The point that we are trying to make here is only this: We cannot be complacent with the kind of mechanical encounters given in Task 5 in the pretext of teaching English. Here follows another task that can illustrate the point we are trying to drive home in this section:
Examine the following activity:
The teacher displays a page of railway timetable and asks children to examine it thoroughly to see the details it contains.
She asks a number of questions such as the following:
• Which are the trains that leave from Chennai?
• Which train reaches Bangalore from Trivandrum
• What time does Chennai Trivandrum mail reach Coimbatore?
• How long does the train stop at Coimbatore?
• What is the departure time of the Chennai mail from Trivandrum?
• How far is Coimbatore from Chennai?
1. Will the learners be motivated to respond to these questions?
2. Do they have real need to answer these questions?
3. Is there any scope for generating divergent ideas?
In fact a large number of information can be pooled from the timetable by asking similar questions. A variety of structures can be invoked to pose the questions? (Suppose the train does not stop at Coimbatore how much running time can be saved? Which train takes the shortest running time from Chennai to Trivandrum?)
Theoretically speaking a lot of language can be generated using the railway time table. But it is a mechanical activity; the language that is generated will be emotionally void, and will not be emotionally registered in the minds of the learners.
Let us perceive this topic from a different perspective. There are certain encounters that will remain fresh in our minds so long as we live. This is because of the emotional vibrancy those encounters have created in us. Even then we may not recall syllable by syllable what we may have talked to or others may have told us on such occasions. Nevertheless we will have in our minds a “feel” of those encounters.
Why does this happen so? Note that experience, including linguistic experience gets sustained in our minds as emotional gestalts. It seems we do not have the parts but only the whole, though this may not be so. If we strive a little, parts can be recovered from the whole.
The point is that if linguistic experience is registered as emotional gestalts, then the role of a facilitator is to help learners develop such gestalts in their minds. This is possible only when learners can experience them. The role of a teacher in the constructivist paradigm is to transact experience, not to transmit information whether this is information about language or any other topic.
Since the narrative is meant to operate at the emotional plane of the listeners it makes use of an emotive language; it breathes life. The theme of a particular piece of narrative is decided by the plot that has to be specially selected taking into consideration the nature of learners belonging to a particular age group. For example, the narrative designed for small children will essentially make use of elements of fantasy which is not required for learners of higher age groups. Note that as a pedagogic tool the narrative is to be fine-tuned in such a way that it does not create any linguistic, cultural, or psychological barriers for the learner. Obviously it cannot deal with themes that do not belong to the experiential orbit of the learners. The overall aim of presenting a narrative is to create certain images in the minds of learners and to make them emotionally charged. It does not aim at creating situations for teaching vocabulary or certain structures and functions though learners might register certain vocabulary items and structures non-consciously.
We have a few pedagogic claims on the narrative:
1. It allows a holistic treatment of second language.
2. It accommodates different discourses; we can incorporate descriptions, conversations and rhymes into the text of a narrative.
3. Note that any language makes use of different varieties of sentences such as declaratives, interrogatives, imperatives, exclamatory sentences, short responses, negatives, tags. Unlike the other discourse forms (for example, essay, poem, letter, etc.) a narrative as a discourse can accommodate all these types of sentences quite naturally.
4. While performing the narrative the teacher will have to make use of all possible prosodic features such as stress, intonation, modulation. In this sense also, the narrative offers a holistic treatment to language.
5. While presenting the narrative the teacher can pause at certain points thus creating certain “narrative gaps” which can be filled in by the learners by constructing target discourses.
6. Narrative can fruitfully capitalize on the emotive aspect of the language. This is of vital importance in the language class because experience is sustained in human minds as emotional gestalts.
7. It can channel the thoughts of the listeners so that they can perform the tasks assigned to them in a better way.
As we have already mentioned the new approach proposes a discourse-oriented pedagogy in the sense that the input that is given to the learners (irrespective of their levels) will be in terms of discourses and what we expect from the learners is the construction of discourses. We are familiar with the design of a conventional text book. It contains several reading passages covering a wide range of discourses such as essays, stories, poems, letters, and descriptions. Each unit of the course book will be focusing on certain vocabulary items, structures and functions. Since the material is designed within a skill-based approach the course book will be focusing on the development of receptive and productive language skills, and study skills for which a number of tasks will be suggested for practicing Why should we teach vocabulary, structures and other linguistic facts of the second language? We do this with the expectation that the learner will be using them in meaningful contexts. After teaching these items the traditional “brick-laying” methodologist will test whether learners have learnt them with help of some exercises where they will be asked to fill in the blanks choosing the right word from a set of words given to them. Perhaps he will also test whether the learners can ‘use the words in their own sentences.’ We have already seen that words or sentences in isolation have no independent existence; they are parts of some discourses. If the child is not able to construct discourses as and when they are needed what is the point of going for the drudgery of learning word meanings and their uses?
Providing slots for the listeners
How can we involve the listeners in the process of narration?
Consider the narrative piece ‘The dove and the ant.’
1. Can we present this narrative at a single stretch?
2. Where can we provide slots for interaction with the listeners?
3. What kind of questions are to be asked?
Discourse-oriented pedagogy helps us materialise the shift from fragmentary and skill-based treatment of language in terms of structures and vocabulary items to a holistic and knowledge-based treatment in terms of discourses. It captures the emotive aspects of language and can be adapted to suit to the needs of all levels of learners.
1. How do we help learners refine their written work through sharing?
2. What is the process of constructing discourses through collaboration?
3. Should we ask the learners to copy down the teacher’s version of targeted discourse?
Traditional classrooms give a lot of importance to the writing skills of learners. The underlying assumption is that skills can be developed through practice which in due course will lead to the mastery of language. However, a major chunk of the writing task assigned to children comprises of
• Writing answers to comprehension questions,
• Writing related to doing de-contextualized exercises involving vocabulary and structural items
• Writing guided compositions (letter writing, developing story from the given outline, etc.)
• Writing copies
It is in a way ‘risk-free’ writing because in most cases there will be only one correct answer. Since the thrust is on practising skills most of what children are expected to write have a direct bearing upon the information given in the textbook. This is supposed to be necessary for avoiding or at least minimizing the possibilities of learners making errors. This being the general situation of writing tasks undertaken by the learners there is no point in sharing ideas with others. Therefore, there is not much scope for refining one’s written work through collaboration.
Since the constructivist classroom envisions a drastic shift from reproducing textual information to constructing free discourses sharing of ideas gains a pivotal role in helping the learners acquire the target language. Since the curriculum expects the learners to construct discourses at all levels of learning we have to have a clear idea about how discourses constructed individually can be refined through group work. In order to facilitate proper sharing in groups the facilitator must know what instruction ns are to be given to the learners. This in turn depends crucially upon three things:
1. the level of the learners
2. the structure of the discourse to be constructed
3. features of the discourse to be targeted
Let us work out a few samples:
1. Conversations: Classes 3 to 5
Any conversation consists of exchanges between the speaker and the hearer. What we mean by an exchange is the pairing of an initiation and a response to this initiation. The minimal structure of a conversation is an exchange. Depending on the mutual relationship of the speaker-hearers and their involvement in the theme of conversation there may be more number of exchanges. The oral narrative presented, the interaction that takes place at the narrative gaps and the complementary reading passage together create the context of the conversation. With these inputs the learners will be emotionally charged to guess or predict the conversation that takes place between the central characters in that particular context; there won’t be any ambiguity regarding the theme of the conversation. Whatever be the exchanges that the learners work out will be relevant to the context and will be probable ones; there is no question of any exchange getting thematically deviant. The predictability of the theme creates a common platform for sharing.
The facilitator gives a set of instructions something like the following:
1. In the first round each member should read out what she has written down as the beginning of the conversation
2. If you have not written down anything you can tell others how the speaker would begin the conversation. This can be even in mother tongue.
3. After all members of the team have read out the beginning of conversation the best idea can be selected as the beginning
4. The members of the team should together decide and how this idea can be presented in a better way; all of you should write it down on a new page in your notebook
5. In the second round all of you should take turn and say what the other speaker says as a response to what the speaker has said.
6. Develop more exchanges in this manner
7. Write the conversation which the group has produced on a chart for presentation
8. You can decide who are to role-play the conversation before the whole class
2.Instructions for refining a Narrative in Group – Stage 3
1. Take turn and read out the event
2. If anyone has not written the event fully, or hasn’t written anything, say what the first event is. This can be even in mother tongue
3. Select the best way of stating the event
4. All of you write the first event in a separate page of your notebook
5. One member can write the event on a chart
6. In the second turn say what the characters are saying
7. Select the best dialogue related to the event and write it
8. Continue in this way till you complete all the events
9. Someone in the group can read aloud the whole narrative for the whole grou
10. Make changes if necessary
11. present the narrative you have written before the whole class
• In class III sometimes the teacher may have to give the instructions in mother tongue whenever necessary
• Display the instructions on a chart so that the whole class can see them
• Make sure that all the learners have understood the instructions
• While monitoring group work ensure that groups are following these instructions
3. Narrative for classes 6 and 7
(Instructions 1 to 9 will be the same as given above.)
4. Discuss what images you can include in the narrative.
5. Come to an agreement on how to write it
6. Discuss what the characters see, hear, smell, feel, etc.
7. Come to an agreement on how to write about these
8. discuss how you can connect the mood (happiness, sorrows, anxiety, fear, etc.) of the character to the nature outside
4. Instructions for refining a letter in group – classes 5, 6 and 7
1. In the first round read out how you began the letter
2. Come to an agreement on how to begin the lehtter
3. What did you write in the first part of the letter? read it out to others
4. Select the best idea
5. What did you write next?
6. Once again select the best idea
7. What are the other ideas you want to write? tell others about them
8. Come to a common agreement on the ideas and write them
9. How did you finish the letter? read it out to others
10. Select the best finishing
11. One of you can read the whole letter for others
12. Does the letter appeal to you? If not make necessary changes
13. Check whether you have included the place and date of the letter
4. Instructions for Refining Diary in Groups (classes 5,6 and 7)
1. Read out how you began the diary
2. Did you begin with an event or the character’s self talk on his /her feelings?
3. Come to an agreement in the groups on which beginning will be better
4. what are the events you included in the diary? Discuss in groups whether all these events are necessary
5. Come to an agreement on the events to be included
6. Come to an agreement on the thoughts to be included
7. How would you end the diary? Discuss and come to an agreement
6. Instructions for Refining Poems in groups ( Classes 3, 4 and 5)
1. Take turn and present the best two lines / four lines you have written
2. Make others give suggestions for refining the lines. If there are no suggestions write these lines in the group product
3. If you have any difficulties in presenting these two lines tell your friends about the idea you want to write
4. Collectively decide how this idea can be written in the poem
5. Read out the whole poem and see if line is fitting into the rhythm and tune
6. Come to an agreement on the changes to be made
7. (For poems in classes 6 and 7)
Instructions 1 to 5 will be the same as given above
1. Come to an agreement on what images are to be included (what you see, what you hear, etc.) and how to include them in the poem
2. Come to an agreement on how include some scenic details and emotions in the poem
3. Ensure that the mood of the poet (happiness, anxiety, sorrows, etc. ) has been reflected in the poem
4. Someone can read the whole poem for the whole group
5. Make changes if necessary
1. Sit in groups and discuss what personal details are to be included.
2. Decide on how these details are to be given.
3. What are the contributions to be included and how they are to be incorporated?
4. Those who haven’t written, incorporate it.What are the touching events of his life?
5. What and how these touching events (anecdotes) are to be incorporated?
6. Write your reflections on the person?
7. How will you sequence these ideas?
1. Sit in groups and come to an agreement on which plot related to the theme is to be selected.
2. Discuss in groups and fix the events related to the plot.
3. Come to an agreement in the opening group on where, when and how the events take place and the location of the characters with movements, feeling, mood and costumes. Write them in your note books. One can write them on a chart.
4. Come to an agreement on the dialogue /response be and write it down in your note book .The movements, feeling and the mood of the characters concerned should be written in brackets.
5. Develop sufficient exchanges up to the end of the skit in this manner.
6. Name the skit in negotiation within the group.
7. One member read aloud the whole skit in the group.
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
1.Group work in the class becomes sheer wasting of time. All what takes place in groups is mere copying. How can we make group activities more effective?
2.How can we monitor group activities?
The constructivist classroom envisages collaboration among learners for which group work is suggested after children have undertaken an individual task. The role of the teacher is that of a facilitator who gives optimum support to the learners who are engaged in knowledge-making process. Teachers in our own times are familiar with notions such as activity-based learning, learner- centred classroom and experiential pedagogy. Also, they have identified group work as an inevitable classroom process for promoting active learning. Every practising teacher has noticed that what emerges as a product from the group is invariably better than the individual product. But are group activities really productive?
A critical analysis of the practice that is actually prevailing in our classrooms raises a few pedagogic issues:
Are all children benefited by group work?
Teachers ask children to share their ideas in groups. Isn’t this suggestion very vague? Sharing is intended, of course. But what are the ideas to be shared?
How do we ensure that collaboration takes place in groups? Or in other words, how do we monitor group work?
There are different occasions in the course of classroom transaction where group work is possible. What are they? Can there be a straight jacketed mode for administering the group activity and also for monitoring it for all levels of learners and for all modules of transaction?
How will we make the groups own up the product that has emerged from the group?
If the answer to question (1) is ‘no’ then we have to ask ‘why?’ and identify the causative factors that lead to this situation. It seems that most teachers have not realized the pedagogy of generating synergy in the group. Or perhaps they have misconceived the cognitive dimension of group work. There is also a chance that they take recourse to leading children to group work as if they are doing a mere ritual. What so ever the reason is there is a problem: most teachers create slots for children to work in groups without proper understanding about what constructs are formed in groups and how group work is to be made beneficial to all members of the group.
Let us take a specific case. In the language class children have to construct specific discourses. They do this individually, and then in groups. The usual practice is asking children to select the best individual product (sometimes based on certain indicators). All members will be asked to copy down this. Thus a ‘group product’ emerges without any kind of collaboration among the members. If the selection is not based on clearly spelt out indicators then the ‘weak performers’ alone will be benefited by this. If there are certain criteria for the selection perhaps the student who wrote the discourse may also be benefited. But in either case all members of the group will not have ownership of the ‘group product’ emerging in this manner. How do we tide over this problem? Group ownership can be ensured only if every member of the group contributes his or her idea to the production of the discourse. For this they should get specific instructions regarding what is to be shared in the group. Unless the facilitator has a clear idea about what is to be shared by the members of the group it is not likely that she will be giving proper instructions to the learners for carrying out the group work.
Giving specific instructions
From the discussion given above it follows that the facilitator has to give specific instructions to the learners before they are asked to undertake a group activity. It is obvious that the facilitator cannot go for a single instruction such as: ‘Now sit in groups and share your ideas”. Instead, a cluster of instructions may be necessary. What kind of instructions are to be given depends upon a number of things:
The specific task that is to be carried out transaction module (reading, discourses construction, presentations, editing, production of big books, etc.) in which group activity is to be carried out.
If a specific discourse is expected from the group (whether in the oral form or in the written form) the discourse features that are to be targeted
3. The level of learners (stage I, stage II, stage III, etc.)
Let us work out a few models:
Reading: Classes 3 to 7
The facilitator gives instructions for reading
Read the passage individually
While reading you may do the following:
Put a ‘tick’ mark against sentences that you were able to understand
Put an ‘into’ mark against sentences / words that you were not able to understand
Put a ‘star’ against expressions you liked most
Sit in groups for sharing
Take turn and tell others what you were able to understand
In the second round of sharing tell others what you were not able to understand
In the third round share with others the ideas you liked most and why you liked them
Monitoring collaborative reading: classes 3 to 7
It is not enough that the facilitator gives instructions to the groups. He has to see that learners are following these instructions. He can interact with the groups and find out what point of sharing the group has completed. Also he may have to extend optimum help to those who need it so that hurdles if any are removed. Some amount of authentic interaction will be needed at this point. See the transcript of how the facilitator monitors group work for facilitating collaborative reading:
Facilitator interacts with group 1 to ensure that sharing within the group is taking place
You have you shared with others what you understood, haven’t you? Santhosh, how about you? Jameela, are there any sentences that you were not able to understand? Can anyone help Jameela? Mohan, which sentence do you like most? Why? Mohan says he likes the last sentence. Rajesh, which sentence do you like?
Facilitator moves to another group and interacts with the members in a similar way.
Facilitator elicits parts of the reading passage that the team was not able to understand
It seems all of you have completed sharing. Group I, are there any words or sentences in the passage that you were not able to understand?
Facilitator interacts with the groups to ensure sharing among different groups
Group 1 has a problem with the third sentence. Who can help them?
Facilitator exhibits a chart containing the glossary of the words that children were not able to understand
Provides necessary tips regarding meaning of the words / phrases
Facilitator reads out the passage aloud with proper articulatory features
Extrapolating the Text
Through collaborative Reading learners are enabled to make sense of what they are reading. However, reading activity does not end with this. Once they have comprehended the passage we take them to the next step of reading with the help of a few analytical questions of different types such reflective questions, inferential questions, cause-consequence questions and the like. These are meant for facilitating higher order thinking skills. With the help of these questions the learners will be able to extrapolate the text and go beyond it. Moreover, they will be able to personalize and localize the text. This is essential for helping them internalize or assimilate the text. At this stage of sharing of ideas will be necessary. Let us see how this can be done:
Facilitator exhibits the chariot containing analytical questions
Facilitator gives instructions to groups on what they are expected to do
Now, look at the chart. There are a few questions in it. Sit in groups and discuss each question by taking turn. All of you must speak in the group
Note down the points that emerge through discussion
If possible build up consensus on what you have to write. If you have a point different from that of other members of the team state your point of view
When groups start working the facilitator moves round and ensure that they are following the instructions
Facilitator gives necessary help for consolidating the points
Reading is a cognitive process and is not a mere exercise of pooling information contained in a given text. Learners should get opportunities to reflect on their own reading and share the thought processes they have undergone while reading. This makes reading a process for construction of knowledge and hence a meaningful and productive activity.
1. Group work takes away a major chunk of classroom time. Is it necessary that we have to ask children work in groups always?
2. Will the individual learner learn anything through group activities?
The questions posed here sprout from lack of proper understanding of what knowledge is and how it is constructed by individuals in a natural way. If we believe that information is equivalent to knowledge we can conveniently transmit the information that is loaded in the textbook to the learners. Probably, we can use a variety of strategies and techniques for doing this. In this mode of teaching and learning the teacher is on the one side (to deliver lessons) and the learners on the other (to receive the lessons). Depending on the efficacy of the techniques used the learners can store the information that is given to them for a considerable period of time. In this state of affairs the role of the teacher can be (and in most cases, is) replicated by the tuition teacher or guide books. Thus ‘feeding in’ of information survives.
Learner as an independent researcher
In the early stages of cognitive psychology Piaget proposed a different conceptualization of knowledge. Till his times the focus was on theorizing about topics such as memory, problem-solving, visual imagery and categorizing in adults, without regard to the manner in which these abilities developed. Piaget rejected this practice. The core insight he gives us is that we cannot understand what knowledge is unless we understand how it is acquired. This is not enough. We can understand how knowledge is acquired only through psychological and historical investigations. For this we have to test our hypotheses by collecting data, not only about the thinking of human infants and children, but also about the historical development of scientific ideas. He believed that the development of knowledge was a biological process, a matter of adaptation by an organism to an environment. This is why he calls his theory of knowledge as genetic epistemology. Following Piaget we do not conceive learning as mere storing in of information. It is a complex cognitive process where each individual constructs knowledge. This is an experiential process by which the learner transforms the available data or information to his or her own knowledge. In the early stages of the evolution of Cognitive psychology, Piaget conceived this as a process of forming schema. This is essentially a discovery procedure, an individual enterprise analogous to the one undertaken by researchers which involves various processes like realizing the problem, collecting and analyzing the data, forming testing and hypotheses, etc.
Jerome Bruner conceives learning is an active process in which learners construct new ideas or concepts based upon their current/past knowledge. The learner selects and transforms information, constructs hypotheses, and makes decisions, relying on a cognitive structure to do so. Cognitive structure (i.e., schema, mental models) provides meaning and organization to experiences and allows the individual to "go beyond the information given".
Fig 1: Piaget
As far as instruction is concerned, the instructor should try and encourage students to discover principles by themselves. The instructor and student should engage in an active dialogue (i.e., socratic learning). The task of the instructor is to translate information to be learned into a format appropriate to the learner's current state of understanding. For this the Curriculum should be organized in a spiral manner so that the student continually builds upon what they have already learned.
According to Bruner, ‘to instruct someone … is not a matter of getting him to commit results to mind. Rather it is to teach him to participate in the process that makes possible the establishment of knowledge. We teach a subject not to produce little living libraries in that subject, but rather to get a student think mathematically for himself, to consider matters as a historian does, to take part in the process of knowledge-getting – knowing is a process not a product.
From the individual to the social
Much water has flown under the bridge since Piaget’s conceptualization of knowledge and knowledge learning. Significantly, taking cue from Vygotsky, we realize that knowledge cannot stand independent of the social ambience in which the learner is placed. Vygotsky maintains that the development of an individual cannot be looked at detaching him from his social and material environment. It is with this environment that human beings constantly interact. Furthermore, the environment is not a constant one; it keeps changing. Implicitly, we will have to take into consideration the history of the group or groups of which an individual is becoming a member. We will also have to look into the particular social events the individual has successfully participated in over a certain period of time.
Fig 2: Vygotsky
What does this mean? The formation of individual persons, their identities, values and knowledgeable skills, occurs through their participation in some subset of these activity systems. For example, there are traceable activities such as
activities in which people are involved with family members
activities involving peers and others in school
activities related to work, leisure and so on (see Wells 1999)
Therefore, who a person becomes depends critically on things like the following:
activity systems he or she participates in the support and assistance he or she receives from other members of the relevant communities in appropriating the specific values, knowledge and skills that are enacted in participation (see Lave & Wenger, 1991)
Zone of Proximal Development
What has been discussed above leads us to an important Vygotskyan notion namely, ‘The Zone of Proximal Development - ZPD’. This is the difference between the person’s ability to solve problems on her own, and her ability to solve them with assistance. Schütz (2004) explains that the “actual developmental level refers to all the functions and activities that a child can perform on his own, independently without the help of anyone else. On the other hand, the zone of proximal development includes all the functions and activities that a child or a learner can perform only with the assistance of someone else. Prerequisites to assisting someone to work in their ZPD are empathy and judgment about their needs and capabilities when acting alone. The ZPD comes into being when one person acts as the mediator for another person who is not able to execute a particular action alone. The notion of ZPD can be clarified with the help of a diagram (see Figure 1):
Fig 3: ZPD
The inner circle represents the zone of child’s current achievement. She cannot reach the outer region by herself; it is a zone beyond her reach at present. However, she can reach this region with the help of collaboration with peers or a more knowledgeable person. The difference between the child’s current achievement and what she can achieve by virtue of collaboration with others is termed as ZPD.
Let us try to explain the notion of ZPD with the help of a different diagram.
Level that can be reached through further collaboration (X + 1+ 1)
Level that can be reached through collaboration (X + 1)
Current level ( X )
Fig 4: Learning interpreted in terms of ZPD
As represented in Figure 4 a child (say for instance, John) is at present at level X. However, this is not his ultimate level. He has the potential to reach level X+ 1. The area in between X and X+1 is the zone of proximal development. This is the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers (Vygotsky, 1987). According to Vygotsky, social interaction plays a vital role in the learning process. He emphasizes the role of “shared language” in the development of thought and language, which stands for social interaction.
Pedagogic implication of ZPD
Vygotsky (1962) theorized that two levels determine the learning process; ego-centricity and social interaction. The child’s actual development level is determined by independent problem solving. The next level is determined through problem solving under adult guidance in collaboration with more peers that are capable. It is the teacher’s duty to try to take each child to the level X+1. The teacher does this by giving optimal help (scaffolding) to the children. Perhaps she can give a learner just the cue he needs. This cue provides for the learner a breakthrough he needs. Sometimes the teacher can take the whole class through a series of steps, which help them to solve the problem. Children may differ in their areas of their zones of proximal development. A child with a large zone will have a much greater capacity to be helped by teachers than a child with a narrow zone. However, the teacher still has a duty to help the latter child as well as the former one. Children are to be exposed to social interaction first and it will eventually enable them build their inner resources.
From the discussion presented here it is obvious that children have to undertake a certain task individually as well as in groups. This is why group work becomes an important component of classroom transaction. Each sharing helps the learner to reflect on his own thinking process. For example, what will be the thoughts of a learner when he listens to someone else in the group:
Ah! This is something I didn’t think
That’s a new idea to me,
I thought the same thing but I couldn’t express it well
Each sharing results in the expansion of his ZPD. But the pre-requisite for this is the facilitator’s instructions on what is to be shared and how it is to be done. After the sharing is over, the members of the group can reach at certain consensus. Given this perspective, learning can be redefined as the expansion of ZPD.
Saturday, September 25, 2010
Thursday, September 16, 2010
Thursday, September 2, 2010
please blog your field experience. it will be of great help to those teachers who want to see tangible changes in the classroom. You may either send it to me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or to sidhique. remember to include portfolio evidences. even photos taken with a mobile phone will serve the purpose. If short videos are sent they can be uploaded.
think a while about these children.
Friday, August 20, 2010
Consultant, SSA, Kerala
In our own times the term “paradigm shift” has gained much currency. What exactly we mean by this?
The word “paradigm” is another word for pattern. The human brain is specially designed to generate, discern and recognize patterns in the world around us. We live in the midst of several kinds of phenomena such as biological, physical, political, social, economic, and linguistic and so on. At various points of time man has tried to account for these phenomena in different ways. For example, for several thousands of years people believed that the earth was flat, a belief that was created and sustained by Ptolemy and his followers. Later, Copernican astronomy shattered this belief. In the same way, Einstein’s quantum physics replaced Newtonian physics. These are classic examples of paradigm shift in physical sciences. Each paradigm generates a set of patterns or, a set of beliefs. That is how patterns keep changing. When changes take place there will be resistance to changes. Nevertheless, in the long run the new pattern survives. When a paradigm shift takes place, we see things from a different perspective.
The Change in the Perspective on Language
When language as a phenomenon becomes the object of inquiry we have to choose between one of the two belief systems:
i. Human mind is like an empty slate and everything related to language comes from outside.
ii. Man has innate language system which gets unfolded in a natural linguistic environment.
The first belief system was created by Behavioural Psychology and Structural Linguistics. Cognitive theories are the proponents of the second belief system. By now it is clear that we cannot go forward with the first belief system. Thus in English language teaching the principal paradigm shift involves a move away from the postulates of behaviourist psychology and structural linguistics toward cognitive and later socio-cognitive psychology. Today insights from theoretical linguistics, cognitive psychology, neurobiology and experiential pedagogy force us to pursue more contextualized and meaning-based views of language.
The Socio-Political Perspective on Teaching English
The Kerala Curriculum Framework has been erected on the pillars of social constructivism, critical pedagogy and issue-based approach. The new textbooks and handbooks have reached the hands of our learners and teachers. Gone are the days when the teaching of English began with A-B-C-D and ended with reading books written in a formal literary style. Today, almost a sea-change has swept over our English classrooms. The changes that have taken place call for taking up new pedagogic challenges. Our students and teachers, by and large, seem prepared to meet this challenge; this is a welcome sign. However, in the fast shrinking world of today where English language reigns supreme, we have go to revise our attitudes to be able to keep pace with the rest of the world. In this context let me present a few cases:
Ms. Asha is a primary teacher who teaches English in a Government school in Kerala. She has her own daughter studying in an English medium school.
‘Why don’t you get your child enrolled in your own school?’ One of her friends asked her.
‘She’s a bright child. I must give her quality education.’
‘Can’t it be done at your own school?’
‘I doubt. After all it’s an ordinary school. For choosing a good career children need English education.’
‘But you’re teaching English.’
One of the international publishers recently released a set of course books in English. These are meant for the learners ranging from LKG to Class VIII. There are two primers for English. One of them begins with lessons in writing. The tiny tots have to strain themselves by drawing strokes of different kinds and then slowly switching over to writing the letters, words and sentences in conformity with certain standard norms.
The other primer begins with units that introduce quite a large number of isolated words naming familiar objects. These include the names of body parts such as an eye, a head, a nose... (of course with thumbnail pictures of these parts).
Let’s address ourselves to a few questions:
1. Why is there a mushrooming of English medium schools in our country?
2. Why do most parents believe that by changing the medium of instruction from the mother tongue to English is a pre-requisite for ensuring quality education?
3. Why do people believe that without English there cannot be prosperity in life?
4. Why do the international publishers follow a linear, highly de-contextualized and fragmentary approach to introducing language elements?
5. Everyone in our own times know that a child does not pick up language by writing the letters of the alphabet? More over, a 3-year old child is yet to accomplish neuro-muscular coordination. Then why do the textbook writers make her practice strokes and other primary lessons of copy-writing?
6. The 3-year old child’ perception is holistic. She cannot perceive a cut-out human head, the hand, or the other parts of the body alone. Asking her to do this is in fact the negation of the fundamental principles of child psychology. Don’t the makers of the course book know it?
We refrain ourselves from asking further questions on a similar line. The point we want to make is very clear. Cases 1 and 2 reflect certain belief claims related to teaching and learning English in our own context.
There may be certain claims that appear as true. It is also possible that these claims can be substantiated given certain specific contexts. We must not miss the point that these are mere belief claims and not propositions with truth content. Nevertheless they get propagated in the society. How does this happen needs to be explained. Viewed through the lens of critical pedagogy these claims are discernible as parts of belief systems and actions defined by the power structures operating in the society. A major challenge that we have to face today while planning teacher empowerment programmes is how to break these belief systems.
Critical pedagogy addresses itself to a few questions:
• Who is benefited by these systems of beliefs and actions?
• Who is making these assertions?
• Why are they being made at this point in time?
• Are these assertions supported by research? If so, who funds such research?
• Who propagates these “findings”?
These questions and several more will emerge when we problematize the whole context of knowledge making. Each of these questions will have to be addressed against the background of the evidences available in support of the claims that have been put forward. Critical pedagogy is a tool for constructing knowledge which helps students question and challenge domination, and the beliefs and practices that dominate.
We can enumerate a few principles that can lead to critical understanding. These are:
• The potential of education as a tool to transform learners into political subjects
• Knowledge as a cognitive process undertaken by teachers and learners
• The possible emergence of new forms of culture and knowledge
Triangulating on these key principles critical pedagogy thrives to create a better world, a world where the learners seek and realize their identity and voice. Teachers in their turn are ‘transformative intellectuals who strive for realizing social transformation. Schools are transformed into sites for struggle whether for power, knowledge or identity.
ELT in the context of Critical Pedagogy:
What we have discussed so far calls for putting current practices in ELT under the critical lens. In a country like ours where there is so much of colonial pull is in force, teaching of English has been a major topic of concern for a wide spectrum of people ranging from educational planners, policy makers, curriculum designers, textbook writers, parents, teachers and of course students. The National Curriculum Framework (2005) as well as KCF (2007) have given a lot of importance to language learning as it is crucial to not only meaningful learning in all the subject areas but also to the learner’s emotional, cognitive and social development. Educationists have noticed that new entrants with poor language background remain poorer performers in all areas unless specially helped in language skills. Language education has been acknowledged to have the greater potential as a means to develop, progressively through various stages, attitudes and values related to all the core components by incorporating appropriate themes and adopting suitable teaching strategies.
Critiquing Linguistic imperialism
The majority of critical writers argue that the global expansion of ELT is nothing other than linguistic imperialism. This argument is based on three major themes. These are:
1. There have always been efforts to equate English language and ELT with prosperity. Quite often English is brought under the limelight as a solution for economic and social problems by Nation-States and individuals. Thus learners at the receiving end are persuaded to look at the benefits of English with false expectations. Consequently, ELT professionals gain control over educational practices. To cite an example from our own times, there any who would mind spending money for taking a course of ‘spoken English” or “communicative English?” so that he or she can meet the pressures created by the commercialised job market?
2. The historical perspective on ELT reveals that it evolved putting local autonomy at stake. Being driven by developments in Britain and the USA, ELT has always been centralised at all levels. Global solutions are put forward which fail to solve local problems. For example, the much acclaimed communicative approach is virtually global. However, it may be inappropriate for various non-western localities and cultures. Language teaching difficulties may thus be multiplied by the flaws of a centrally-driven, global approach.
3. Critical pedagogues are sceptical about the genuineness of global demands for ELT; they believe that the demand has been purposefully generated. On the other hand most ELT proponents believe that the demand is genuine. Thus as Bowers (1991) has stated, there exists a tension between the satisfaction of, and simulation of, demand for English.
Critiquing ELT perspective on Knowledge
How we conceive education clearly depends upon what our perception of knowledge is. If knowledge is perceived as a set of facts, then the whole educational system will be focusing on transmitting these facts. Obviously, this will end up in the transfer of information from the teacher to the learners. Information camouflaged as knowledge can be taught and learnt un-problematically. On the other hand, if knowledge is perceived as something more than information mere transmission of facts will not suffice. Other considerations will have to be called for such as a thorough understanding about what the nature of the learner is, what learning is, how learning takes place what will constitute the most conducive environment for learning and the like. There is scope for inductive learning in current ELT practices. Nevertheless, has pointed out, what is learnt and taught is a set of facts and rules as is evident from the comprehension questions and the exercises included in the course books.
Critiquing ELT conceptualisation of Language
ELT conceptualisation of language also is problematic. The practitioners of ELT have a great fascination for loading the course material with lots and lots of exercises meant for practising Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing (LSRW). One should not miss the point that the LSRW approach is insensitive to language as a political and historical phenomenon. Notions such as ‘accuracy’ and ‘fluency’ have gained much currency in our own times. These are notions that reflect the evolution of communicative language teaching from the fabrics of earlier approaches and methods pertaining to language teaching. Similarly, there are notions like ‘pattern’ and ‘accuracy’ which have emerged from the conceptualisation of language by structural and functional approaches respectively. All these approaches and methods have conceptualised language solely in terms of LSRW, as a-political and a-historical phenomenon. This trend has been continued by the communicative approaches which literally reduces discussion of language itself to a minimum. This, in turn, prevents the development of ‘critical language awareness’.
It is easy to discern the tension that builds up between two classes of ELT namely, the non-critical ELT and the critical ELT. The former is what is widely in practice across the world whereas the latter is the one that has started emerging, probably with a change in nomenclature. Most non-critical ELT practices conceptualise knowledge, education and language solely as a body of information that the teacher can transfer to the learners; this can be taught and learnt within the classroom or outside the classroom. There are mechanisms for transmitting a certain chunk of information that has been pre-decided for a certain level of learners. There are national as well as international agencies to propagate these mechanisms. This does not fulfil a critical and transformative agenda as there is no conception that ideology is transmitted through language.
Critiquing Classroom Practices
The conceptual imbalances within ELT are too conspicuous for any critical pedagogue to miss them. Nevertheless, it is doubtful whether these have received due attention in deliberations on improving the quality of English learning of our children. Of course there has been much discussion on the deplorable state of ELT prevailing in our country. A variety of learning materials and teaching techniques have been suggested and tried out in order to resolve the problems faced in this domain of the curriculum. A number of researches programme and teacher-training programmes have been going on in our state level, regional level and national level institutions with a view to improving the ELT situation. A large number of institutions have come out preparing short term as well as long-term English courses. Book publishers have been vying with one another in the production of English guides for all levels of learners. Moreover, a number of English tuition centres have mushroomed across the country. Above all, commercial ELT packages such as “Communicative English, Functional English” are developed and promoted by the State as well as private agencies. These labels are accepted unquestioningly and nobody asks the question: “Is there any English that does not communicate?” Similarly, nobody worries whether there are two varieties of mother tongue namely, the “functional” and the “non-functional”!
What is more, a special variety of English (say, the Received Pronunciation) has gained prominence on grounds of standardization. Whether non-native users of English can really master the standardized sound system of the language even after learning phonetics and practicing minimal pairs is never put to acid tests. Nevertheless experts advocate the teaching of phonetics as if it is the panacea for all problems related to ELT knowing pretty well that they themselves find it difficult to consistently maintain all the nuance of articulation. Nobody bothers whether teachers are really benefited from practising English sounds in isolation. This process of self-deception seems to have gained much commercial significance in the context of neo-colonialism that has successfully spread its roots everywhere. In a way insisting on Standard English amounts to imposing linguistic hegemony which often is camouflaged as “international intelligibility”.
We have any number of cases to show the conceptual imbalances within ELT. All of them have classroom implications.
To summarize, there is a dichotomy of practices of ELT on the one hand and the parameters of critical pedagogy on the other. ELT conceptualisation of language does not seem to equip the learners with the language apparatus they necessarily should have; it does not seem to help them think critically either. It is high time we examined what exactly is at stake and chose the right kind of pedagogy that would put things in order. With the absence of concepts such as empowerment, emancipation, and transformation, there seems to be hardly any consideration of why we are teaching, and what society we are teaching for. ‘ELT practitioners stand accused of complicity in the maintenance of an unequal society, teaching for themselves and hidden power interests within society, rather than for the learners’ real needs,’ observes G. Hall, and we fully endorse his views.
The discussion in the preceding s sections will certainly persuade us opt for critical pedagogy as a tool for constructing knowledge of English. Nevertheless, this tool has to face a few challenges. We will examine what the challenges are how they can be met.
One of the arguments raised against critical pedagogy is that critical pedagogy is too ready to criticize, but is unable to offer any solutions. Though critical approaches can offer solutions they are not willing to do it. Why this is so is to be clearly understood. Critical pedagogy cannot prescribe any solutions; it can only put forward certain theoretical positions which individuals can make use of fruitfully in their pursuit for knowledge.
This point is to be well-appreciated. If the critical pedagogue imposes his ideas and perceptions on the learners it can be done only by putting learner autonomy at stake which will be counterproductive.
How to release the tension between the teacher’s authority on the one hand and the learner’s autonomy on the other is a major problem that arises while making classroom transaction critically oriented. Ellsworth doubts whether teachers can really refrain themselves from being authoritative. The hegemony that prevails in a teacher-centred classroom is not entirely the teacher’s creation. There are a number of factors – the curriculum, the syllabus, the textbook, the very design of classrooms, and the seating arrangement – that conspire for making the classroom environment detrimental to learner autonomy.
We have to empathise with the teachers who take pains to teach the content of an English textbook loaded with lots and lots of information. They are pressurised from all corners, the educational system, the authorities, the society, and of course her own belief systems. The teacher is ‘autocratic’ because the system wants her to be one. She is authoritative because hegemony percolates down to her from the authorities higher above in the hierarchic design of the system. How can she facilitate learner autonomy when she cannot claim it for herself?
This does not mean that there is no scope for breaking the vicious circle in which learners, teachers, the authorities, why the system itself is caught up. The only way out is to help our policy makers, educational planners, curriculum designers, textbook writers and teachers develop a thorough understanding about the rights and responsibilities of the learners. Above all, if at all we believe in the dictum, education is for liberation, then we must chose the right kind of pedagogy that is built upon a thorough understanding about what language is and how it is acquired. Such pedagogy would be in operation in an environment where there is genuine partnership between teachers and learners. It would necessarily recognize the learner’s voice and identity and the participants would be able to operate within a ‘safe space’.