Theme of This Issue: Teaching English in Difficult Circumstances
Teaching is never easy in any part of the world but it is more challenging in developing countries like Nepal. Most of the classes in developing countries are overcrowded and under resourced. These difficult situations badly affect the delivery of quality education to the students.
But there is a change in the way large and under resourced classes were perceived in the past. Large classes are not taken as burden for teachers anymore; there are voices that they can also be the resources in many ways if utilized properly. If the teachers can be creative and trained properly, the situation can improve a lot. For this, the teachers have to work a bit extra hard and try to adopt the contextual and functional approaches of classroom teaching.
In this issue we have focused on the theme ‘Teaching English in Difficult Circumstances’ and have included an interview, three articles and a started a new regular column ‘Teacher’s Confession’.
The first entry is an interview with Dr. Richard Smith, an Associate Professor at University of Warwick, UK. In his interview related to Teaching in Difficult Circumstances, Dr. Smith has shared his ideas about the factors that make our classrooms difficult and ways to deal with issues in this type of classes. Dr. Smith argues that ideas developed in comfortable western language school type settings aren’t necessarily appropriate in classes of 45 or more senior high school pupils in developing countries where the classes are crowded. He further mentions that teachers are always the victims of other people’s ‘good ideas’ and policies. He has also shared some wonderful websites for reference for those interested in issues related to teaching in difficult circumstances.
Jagadish Paudel in his article ‘Is There Any Way to Handle Large Classes?’ explains his experience of meeting teachers teaching in large classes throughout the country. He further explains challenges faced by teachers in large classes and the ways to overcome those difficulties.
In his article entitled ‘Using Learner Autonomy Approach in Large and Low Resource ELT Classroom’, Bishnu Kumar Khadka shares various ideas that can be used by the teachers to deal with low resource classrooms. He argues that teachers can engage the learners in assisting the fellow classmates and in designing the materials.
In his entry ‘Reading: Is it Justifiably done?’, Sagun Shrestha explains how teaching and testing of reading is one-dimensional in Nepal. He further explores how other reading strategies that are supposed to be covered while testing reading are overlooked often. Mr Shrestha urges the teachers to evaluate their course and help learners gain higher order skills as well rather than just focusing on skimming and scanning.
We have initiated a regular column named- ‘Teacher’s Confession’ from this issue. Mr Umes Shrestha has taken the lead to coordinate this column and he will be collecting the stories and voices of teachers from various contexts as they can motivate other teachers to strive for better in their professional life. In her confession, Ushakiran Wagle has shared he struggle and success as an English language learner and later as teacher. She has explained the efforts she made to improve her English language proficiency while she was a graduate student. Her story can be motivating for many of us as learners of English as second/foreign language.
Here is a list of contents included in this issue with hyperlinks for our readers’ ease:
We hope this edition of NELTA ELT Forum is resourceful and insightful for our readers. Please write your observations and reflections on the issues raised by the articles as comments.
Also send us your articles on any area related to English language teaching for future issues.
Laxmi Prasad Ojha
Editor, July 2015 issue
Teaching English in Difficult Circumstances: A Conversation with *Dr. Richard Smith
Dr. Richard Smith is a Reader in ELT and Applied Linguistics at the University of Warwick, UK. He is also Deputy Chair of the A.S. Hornby Educational Trust and ‘Key Concepts’ editor of the ELT Journal. He co-founded the Teaching English in Large Classes (TELC) network (http://bit.ly/telcnet-home) with Dr Fauzia Shamim in 2008 – it now has around 2,000 members internationally. In recent years, he has given workshops and been involved in projects with teachers from Cameroon and Chile as well as Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan with a focus on issues connected with teaching in difficult circumstances, including at the NELTA conference in 2013 and two Hornby Regional Schools in Kathmandu, in 2013 and 2014. This is the interview our NELTA ELT Forum member, Laxmi Pd. Ojha took with Dr. Smith virtually.
Laxmi: Could you please tell us about your career as a teacher of English and teacher educator in brief?
Smith: My first real English teaching job was in Japan, where I taught in high schools and universities, and also taught some private classes of children, teenagers and adults. I first got involved in teacher education at a university in Tokyo, where I was helping prepare Japanese students for teaching in secondary schools and at that time (in the mid-1990s) I also got involved in giving workshops for practising teachers. Since moving to the UK in 2000 I’ve been teaching MA students from Asia and elsewhere, including a few from Nepal but mainly from East Asia (China, Japan, Korea). Some of my students have had no experience of teaching before, while others are more experienced. I’ve also been working with teachers in developing countries, including the Hornby scholars at Warwick and participants in workshops and projects in Chile, Cameroon, India and, quite recently, in Nepal, of course.
Laxmi: We know that you have been researching and giving workshops on teaching in difficult circumstances – what inspired you to have an interest in this area?
Smith: Yes, this has been an interest of mine since I became aware that far too little research has been carried out into some of the important challenges that most teachers in the world have to deal with. I’m referring to what could be called ‘difficult circumstances’, including large classes, few material resources, and extremes of heat and cold. I think it was my own experience in Japan, initially, which made me realize that ideas developed in comfortable western language school type settings aren’t necessarily appropriate in classes of 45 or more senior high school pupils (and of course in some countries and contexts class sizes are much bigger – even over 200 in some primary schools in Cameroon, for example). But ‘difficult circumstances’ became even more strongly present in my mind as an important issue when I started teaching students from developing countries at Warwick, including Hornby scholars like Harry Kuchah from Cameroon (now a lecturer at the University of Bath), who I’ve been sharing ideas with quite a lot since then. I see my role as being that of a kind of mediator or facilitator of collaborative work, not as an expert, though – obviously I’m not teaching in difficult circumstances myself any more, and I see teachers as the main experts about their own situations, anyway. Continue reading →
Is There Any Way to Handle Large Classes?
In my visit to different campuses and schools for different academic purposes in Nepal, I frequently hear from the teachers of English that large class is the most serious problem for making their teaching successful. I myself, too, have been facing this problem for a long time.
If we see classroom situation of the world, we find crowded classroom in most of countries. We will find 40 to 100 students, sometimes even more, in a class! In such a situation, it is difficult for the teacher to make contact with the students at the back, and it is difficult for the students to ask for and receive individual attention. In large class, we cannot communicate with the students at personal level. It may seem impossible to organize dynamic and creative teaching and learning sessions. In big class, it is not easy to have students walking around or changing pairs. It can be quite intimidating for inexperienced teachers. Large class fosters indiscipline; group work becomes noisy; assessment becomes difficult; there will be low participation and interaction; difficulty in classroom organization; difficulty in determining the individual needs of each students; difficult to address learning styles of all students; excessive use of mother tongue; problem for finding suitable materials; difficulty in checking students’ class work and homework, etc. (Harmer, 2007). In fact, the large class is truly problematic for the teachers since there would be diverse body of students in terms of level of competency, preferences, age, attitude, motivational orientation, learning experiences and family background.
It is said that every problem has a solution. In order to solve the problems in large classes, we need to look for potential solution and positive sides of it. Teaching in large class is not only a challenge but also an opportunity for the teacher. In this connection, Khati (2010) argues that large class does not only pose problem, it also provides more chances to enhance mutual learning (forming cross-ability groups). The large multilevel classroom itself is an opportunity for interaction. Moreover, it increases the knowledge of others, and their values and personalities. In the same way, Timilsina (n. d.) says:
Large size class is not only a problem or burden of teachers but also an opportunity to explore new techniques and tools. Multicultural issues in education, world-class education, and sustainable education are other factors to link to the issue of large size class. Action researches, socio-cultural orientation, discussions with experts and workshops on this issue can help a teacher to face the challenges. Let us think globally and act locally (see Phyak, 2010 for details).
In large classes, teachers generally feel greater burdens and challenges than in small classes. It is certainly true that large classes have some specific challenges that the smaller ones do not have. However, there are also some benefits to teaching in large classes. Basically, there is rich variety of human resource. The large class is advantageous if it is properly handled. Through diverse body of students, teacher can get information on a number of things, if proper attention is given to them. Saraswathi (2004) has mentioned the following advantages of large class. Continue reading →
Using Learner Autonomy Approach in Large and Low Resource ELT Classroom
*Bishnu Kumar Khadka
Teaching is not simply an activity that someone becomes the teacher, stands in front of the students in the classroom, reads out the text and explains it in this or that way. It is neither the processes of drilling the contents nor the activity of preaching them. Teaching, in its modern and real sense, is facilitating the learners in learning it (Khadka, 2007, p. 48). Teaching is guiding and facilitating learning, enabling the learners to learn, setting the condition for learning (Brown, 1994). According to Sthapit (2000), the objective of teaching a thing is to help the learners in learning it. Teaching, therefore, should be geared to facilitating learning on the part of the learners”. Scrivener (2005, p.17) critically views that “teaching doesn’t equal learning, i.e. teaching does not necessarily lead to learning….Learning, of anything anywhere demands energy and attention from the learner”. In recent years, under the influence of humanistic and communicative theories, great emphasis has been placed on ‘learner-centered’ teaching, i.e. teaching which makes the learners’ need and experience central to the educational process.
In Nepal, the teaching and learning of English varies from teaching it in a highly sophisticated and well-equipped private school setting to a very poor, crowded and under resourced government-aided school situation (Ghimire, 2014). Large and under resource classes are common issues in most of the Nepalese classrooms. Even today most of the classes are overcrowded and the teachers solely depended on the prescribed textbooks. In some of the remote parts of Nepal, even the textbooks are not readily in time. In such situations, teachers are forced to wait for the textbooks for teaching and they don’t try to use other resources which are available among and around them. Teachers take textbook as the only resource and having textbook is a luxury sometimes.
Learner Autonomy Approach in Large and Low Resource ELT Classroom
An autonomous learner is the one who has undertaken the responsibility for his/her own learning. The concept of learner autonomy emphasizes the involvement of the learner in accepting a greater share of responsibility for his own learning. Language teaching professionals sometimes worry that autonomy for students threatens the job and role of the teacher. However, this is not the reality. The teacher remains the authoritative expert in the language and in language teaching, certainly until the student becomes autonomous; and even beyond that point, the teacher remains an authority in the language, and a consultant to the autonomous learner in language learning. Following Little (1991) some accounts of learner autonomy start by defining what it is not; Esch (1998, p. 37), for example, states that “it is not self-instruction/learning without a teacher;…it does not mean that intervention or initiative on the part of a teacher is banned; … it is not something teachers do to learners; i.e. a new methodology; … it is not a single easily identifiable behaviour; …it is not a steady state achieved by learners once and for all”. Continue reading →
Reading: Is it Justifiably done?
Reading, in general, is to infer some kind of idea from the given text or situation. It is a receptive skill. Harmer (1998) referring to the teaching learning context, says ‘To get maximum benefit from their reading, students need to be involved in both extensive and intensive reading.’ Extensive reading generally encourages students to choose the content for themselves. It is done basically for pleasure and general language whereas intensive reading is teacher directed and it is designed to enable the students to develop specific receptive skills. Reading is important to widen the horizon of one’s’ knowledge, and of course, leads other skills making familiar with the text.
Reading Culture in Nepal
At a moment, since there is availability of literature of the world in libraries and book shops, they have attracted many youths in extensive reading, as a result, the culture of reading found to be little more improving in this region. Some academic institutions and publication houses are working further to develop this culture by establishing readers’ circle and introducing new books to them. However, it still needs to scale higher in a graph. As far as the focus of reading skill in schools is concerned, students are found to have given comprehension text which is for intensive reading, and they are merely asked to scan and skim the text. Therefore, scanning and skimming seem to have overridden other strategies found mostly in reading for comprehension.
Scanning and Skimming are two specific speed reading strategies. We look for the specific information like date or particular words while scanning the text whereas in skimming, our purpose is to get detailed information. This is to get the general idea of the text. For instance, while reading newspaper, we skim to find the gist of the news. There are other strategies adopted in reading which are equally significant. Mostly, the purpose of reading determines the reading strategy the reader is adopting while he/she is in the text. Besides scanning and skimming, reading for detailed understanding, reading for understanding the underlying themes and ideas of texts, reading for understanding an argument, reading for identifying the structure and organization of paragraphs and longer texts, reading for anticipating the likely continuation of the interrupted text, reading for interpreting the information presented in diagrammatic forms, reading for deducing the meaning of unfamiliar lexical items, reading for appreciating literary texts and reading for creative expression are some other strategies. These strategies have to focused while teaching reading or they have to be taken into account while designing any reading exercises so that the students will be motivated to use these strategies besides scanning and skimming. Now the question is, do the reading comprehension tests that we have designed help build these important reading strategies in students?
Experiencing Bitter Truth
As a participant of the research work on ‘Reading Strategies’ carried out by Saraswoti Dawadi, the Open University PhD graduate, I was given three sets of SLC questions and was asked further to point out which reading strategies I used while solving each question given below. Continue reading →