Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The English Divide

Dr.K.N. Anandan
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
GLP School,@@@@@@@@@@@@@@
English Medium divisions in Class 1 in June 2010
Admission started
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

Refining Descriptions

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

Role and Use of Teacher Versions

Dr.K.N. Anandan

I received the following mail a few days back:
Dear sir,
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:
1. Events
2. Dialogue / self talk related to the events
3. Images
4. Sensory perceptions
5. Ambience
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

Making Interaction Authentic

Dr. K.N. Anandan
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.

Specific Objectives:
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.
 Reporting
 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.