In earlier ways of teaching language, we would have a pre- decided idea or word in our mind and we would be asking questions targeting this fixed response. Kids are expected to come out with the exact idea/ correct answer and we would start the lesson from there. While doing this process we were actually cutting down the students’ ideas which get generated in their minds while posing the question.
I would like to present two illustrative practices:
Practice 1: Teacher poses a question: ‘What game do you play in your free time?’ Teacher expects ‘swing‘ as the correct answer. Students’ may come out with multiple responses: ‘rolling and chasing the tyre’, ‘spinning top’, ‘playing snake and ladder’, ‘hide and seek’, chasing, pallangkuzhi…’
Keeping the word ‘swing’ in mind, the teacher goes for the second question: ‘What do you see in the park?’
Once again multiple responses come: ‘Ice cream, children, trees, flowers,’
Practice 2 – Teacher shows a rose and says, ‘This is a rose.’ Students start thinking about several things associated with the rose. Many ideas (mental texts) related to the rose get generated in their minds. For example, ‘I have seen a rose in a temple.’ Some of them may be thinking about the three roses ads, or may be thinking about other things like, rose milk, rose powder or other flowers and materials in rose colour. The students will reply as per their understanding. The target sentence, ‘This is a rose’ is not registered through this activity in their minds.
We were following practices like the above and couldn’t locate where the problem was. After I attended the Acquiring Competence in English (ACE) programme conducted by Dr. Anandan organized by Azim Premji Foundation I was able to sense the problems involved in the teaching of English and those related to the children’s ways of understanding.
In both the practices mentioned above, students’ ideas are not taken into account for discussion. There will be only one correct answer and once it comes out there is no need for others to think further. There is a gap between what children think and what the teacher thinks about how children think. This will not help us to proceed further for facilitating language acquisition. We will get stuck at some point if we continue practices of this kind.
Here the fundamental understanding of learning is questioned. As humans our minds try to understand new things with our prior experience; new things get accommodated in the minds in addition to the previous experience.
Every student is unique in their thinking capabilities, so when we pose a question, there will be divergent ideas generated in our classroom environment. When these ideas are taken up, they will have the ownership of those ideas, words/sentences. These ideas can be fruitfully capitalized on for facilitating language acquisition. We can generate ideas with the help of pictures taken from the text book or from other sources. The interaction that takes place in the class can be streamlined to create descriptions, conversations, narratives and poems.
I would like to reflect on what I experienced in the classes 1 and 3 when I was trying out discourse oriented pedagogy.
I drew a part of the car and asked the students, ‘What is this?’ (to identify the figure), one said ‘frog’, another one said, ‘mickey mouse,’ and a third one said, ‘car’. I completed the diagram step by step and asked the question again. All said, ‘car’.
I wrote (under the picture) ‘This is a car’. And I coloured it in red. Then I asked, ‘What is this?’ Students said, ‘red car’.
Now I wrote ‘This is a red car’.
Similarly, I asked the students to draw things around them which they liked and I helped them to write the names of those objects in English.
But we can’t draw the picture of every object and generate sentences in a similar pattern. Instead, we can go with a picture that depicts a few objects and ask questions to elicit ideas related to each object. I was able to work out a few sentences with the picture in the lesson, “A Happy Child”.
This is a tree. The tree is green.
This is a house. The house is red.
This is a girl. The girl is happy.
This discourse method helped the students to understand the concept very clearly and now they are able to speak, read and write about the objects on their own.
When I started the whole class description for class 3 with a picture, all the students tried to tell something about the picture. So there was a lot of noise in the class. Then I fixed some ground rules: ‘Those who want to say something, please raise your hands.’’ No shouting.’ ‘All of you will get a get chance to say things.’
Initially, the students were able to tell only the things/objects which they could see in the picture. I wrote whatever they said on the blackboard. Pointing at each word written on the board I said that word was from X or Y. Then whenever I mentioned the word they were able to read it correctly. They also knew the owner of the word.
Eg. green tree, beautiful butterfly, happy students, three boys, two girls, hot sun
Once all the students said the words, I framed few questions on a particular thing (for example, butterfly)
‘Where is the butterfly?
‘Senchudar, can you show me the butterfly?’
Senchudar pointed at the butterfly in the picture.
‘What is the butterfly doing?’
‘Is it ‘’flower sitting’’ or ‘’sitting on the flower’’?
My interaction with the learners went on in this manner and I was able to elicit a few answers from the students. I wrote them on the blackboard. After that we tried to figure out some actions going in the picture. Some were able to tell the actions in English and some said the ideas in mother tongue. I had to negotiate with the students for the English equivalent for the Tamil word. I asked the students to tell a sentence about an action that was depicted in the picture, either in English or Tamil. I wrote the fragment of the sentence which the students said, on the black board. They were able to read the sentences because those were generated by them.
Here follows the transcript of the questions and the responses:
What is the older girl doing? - watering the plant
What is the boy in red doing? - bird ku theene vaikaran (feeding bird)
What is the boy in blue doing? - Kuzhi thondaran (digging the ground)
I asked the students to frame a sentence with ‘’three boys’’ and ‘’two girls’’
They were trying to frame the sentence; I gave them some time for this. Then I gave them an example, ‘There are two pencils and three pens.’’
Now students said, ‘There are three boys and two girls in the garden.’
There was a small issue I faced in the classroom. The students are able to generate the ideas in mother tongue, sometimes the ideas which they tell are long sentences. I found it difficult to translate them into English. We have to expect these kind of unexpected situations in our classroom.
Changes in the performance
Now my class III students are able to write a description/conversation about a picture on their own.
In my classroom, there is a picture that shows Raju drawing something and Bheem looking at it.
The students generated a conversation between Raju and Bheem (The cartoon characters).
Bheem : Raju, what are you doing?
Raju : I am drawing a forest.
Bheem : Your drawing is beautiful.
Raju : Thank you.
They can also identify the errors in the sentences.
Eg. 1. The boy catching the butterfly.
While editing the description, I asked about the word that was missing in the sentence. They were able to identify the word ‘is’.
Example 2. There is two boys in the garden.
The students identified the error and replaced the word ’is’ with ‘are.’
The low proficient learners too can read the sentences which they generated. Unknowingly they could read the word graphically, a process that helped them to read the sentences.
I now clearly understand that the role of the teacher is merely that of a facilitator. We need to create an environment for learning and facilitate the process. We should also elicit the answers from the learners which will reduce the work of the teacher. Generating ideas through interaction is the most important process in language learning. I can see a lot of changes in their way of reading and understanding the concept.
We organized an expo to showcase the learning outcomes of the students. We offered an open invitation to all the teachers in the school. The teachers in my school witnessed the work of the learners in the ‘Literary expo’ hosted by the Class III students. The other teachers understood that the ACE programme was working for our class students. I also suggested them to try the same in their classrooms.
As the discourse method is working well with my students, I would like to continue the same in my forthcoming classes. Now, we are preparing the transaction modules for each class, for the prose lessons, poems and exercises in the textbook.
Teacher: C Sasi Kumar, GMS Manapet
Term: Term 1