I get these recurring queries from teachers: “How do I improve English vocabulary?” and “How do I improve written expression?” and also “How do I help my students become more proficient in English?” Well, to be very honest, there is no sure-fire way to achieve these ambitions. However, I find that exposure to literature can definitely make this journey for both the student and the teacher relatively easier. How do I know this? I strongly believe that literature has an enormous impact on students’ lives and on their learning. Exploring children’s literature provides exposure to the target language in a natural context, which broadens students’ vision as they dive into the depths of reading. So, I always have my students begin with reading children’s literature. It not only leaves a positive impact on students’ attitudes, but also improves the writing ability of the learners. Literature arouses imagination, is a source of enjoyment and facilitates understanding of one’s ‘self’ and others (Raphael, 2000). Furthermore, literature has a variety of expressions set in contexts, which facilitates vocabulary development as well as exposing the reader to written expression.
Depending on students’ interest, various genres can be selected, though you need to start with what your students are interested in. For example, you can start with ‘The Famous Five’ or ‘Secret Seven’. What about the Harry Potter series, Star Wars, The Chronicles of Narnia and Ink Heart? My reason for choosing these in particular is that all of these are series. Once introduced to the students, I have found that the they become eager to read more, to ‘read the next book’, which generates an interest in reading and, as a consequence, the continued exposure eventually enriches their vocabulary and supports the development of their written expression. Classics like ‘Animal Farm’, ‘Charlotte’s Web’, ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ and ‘Alice in Wonderland’ should also be added to my list of ‘must reads’.
Unfortunately, teaching science has become text-book based. Project Based Learning (PBL) and Inquiry based learning (IBL) are approaches to science teaching focusing on understanding the world by questioning, investigating, observing and explaining the order of the world around us. Some teachers may find it challenging to identify a project, but one cannot deny the learning that students experience through projects. Through engaging in projects, students can begin to understand the nature of science.
A few months back I gave a project to my students. I made a dengue monitoring team. The team monitored the pond waters of the Institute and observed if there was any evidence of Dengue mosquito larvae.
Students took water samples from the ponds. The samples were analysed, first with a magnifying glass (in the field) and then with a compound microscope in the science laboratory. The project concluded that the collected water samples did not have any evidence of Dengue Larvae. The students learnt different skills such as observation, data collection, prediction, and inferring etc. They also learnt to make microscopic slides. They also learnt to use different instrumentation such as microscope and pH meter. They extended the project by monitoring the pH value of the water and also collected data on different types of flora and fauna in and around the pond.
Let’s bring theory to practice and make science more meaningful for our students.
Are we ready to hear opposing ideas or thoughts from our students? Are we democratic in our teaching, thoughts, ideas, and actions or in our decisions? Are we ready to listen to student queries? I think these are some of the very important questions which we seriously need to ask ourselves as teachers.
Although it is sometimes very difficult for us to hear conflicting or opposing ideas or thoughts from our students, as a teacher I feel we must have good ears. In fact, I feel we should give our students a chance to think and challenge our ideas in order to facilitate their own thinking process.
I personally feel that the most important and beautiful thing is when students challenge our ideas, thoughts and philosophy on certain issues. It means that in fact we have engaged them successfully in active and effective learning, we are helping them in creativity and ultimately we are heading towards a student-centred classroom – it means we have actively engaged them in their learning.
My department and I at the Ali Institute were approached by HOPE TV, a private channel working in the field of education. Their main objective of these recordings was to record episodes for their educational programming. Initially it sounded strange as I was in the habit of interactive teaching, so I felt that I I will have to understand the idea behind getting my lectures recorded. After getting important information on different websites, I was able to widen my vision of how we misunderstand education. For most of us, education has taken place only in one sphere - in schools, colleges and universities. Learning, meant to stop our other activities, removes us to some distinct place and then for a certain period of time, we dedicate ourselves solely to learning.
We never considered that one day work and learning (especially) and play and learning (to some degree) would converge online. The same site we use to chat with people who share our interests will be the site where we also find our research materials, our examples of best practices, and our online courses and programmes.
After getting over the fear of facing the camera, I firmly believe that educational institutions need to do two things: First, they need to devise mechanisms that will enable their courses to be embedded in the offerings of a portal, and second, they need to equip both staff and students with the mechanics of portal education so that it is not considered as an alien tool for teaching and learning.
I think we need to place a few considerations in order to comply with these digital demands. With respect to the development of online learning materials and support systems, we should not just develop portals just for their own sake, but we need to make them fully functional for our students:
• learn how to develop and deliver learning materials 'on-demand'
• learn how to produce customised or tailored learning programmes/topics/modules for particular individual students(students with specific weaknesses and concerns)
• learn how to provide a completely online learning experience (this includes things such as books, online quizzes, classroom videos, testing and grading tools)
• learn how to promote the authority and trustworthiness of online course offerings
• learn how to partner with other educational institutions offering courses and programmes in the same field.
In a very short time we can master these opportunities and support our teaching practices in a much wider and wiser way.
My Communication Skills Classes.
I’m so pleased with the students attending my communication skills classes at the Ali Institute. Why? Well, I work with a number of students in different institutions and schools, and my experience has been somewhat ‘shallow’ – it seems that ‘learning’ means ‘sitting in the classroom and listening to the teacher’.
I don’t believe it’s possible to develop communication skills simply by ‘sitting in the classroom and listening to the teacher’! I make my lessons for communication skills highly interactive, with plenty of scope for practice and practical application of skills. Perhaps more importantly, we had so much fun it didn’t feel like hard work and we were all having fun! It certainly made my teaching easier.
Here are just a few of the activities we did:
1. Active listening exercise
I ‘labelled’ students as ‘1’ and ‘2’. ‘1’s were listeners and ‘2’s were talkers. Listeners were taken out of the room and told to ‘actively not listen’ for 1 minute, ‘listen but show no non-verbal communication’ for 1 minute and then to ‘actively listen’ for 1 minute. Some of the strategies the students used for ‘actively not listening’ were SO funny, and irritating! Afterwards we discussed feelings about not being listened to and strategies for active listening.
2. Building a sculpture
I made a model out of children’s building bricks and placed it secretly outside the room. I put the students into small groups and had them select one student as ‘the viewer’. The viewers left the room and had 1 minute only to view the model (we called it ‘the sculpture’!) but they were not allowed to touch it. I placed a pile of building bricks on the ‘teacher’s table’. The viewer, with hands always behind their backs, had to direct their groups to collect bricks from the ‘teacher’s table’ in order to reconstruct ‘the sculpture’. We had some very strange results and had an informed discussion about the need for clarity in speaking, the need for checking understanding of the listener, and questioning skills.
3. Telephone game
We had a series of telephone conversation role plays. I provided the scenario for the ‘caller’ and the ‘called’. The students sat back-to-back on chairs and played out their roles. Not seeing each other’s faces simulated a telephone conversation. Afterwards we discussed the differences between communication where we can each other and communication over the telephone.
4. Question the film star
I was the film star! The students had microphones and had to devise questions to grab my attention as I made my way quickly from my limousine to the film theatre (the length of the corridor!) If they asked interesting questions I would stop and talk to them otherwise I simply kept walking! Their task was to keep me on ‘the red carpet’ as long as possible. It took a number of tries, but in the end they were asking really imaginative, engaging questions. It was also good exercise as we marched up and down the corridor!
Some people declare that academic writing is a skill. A skill is the ability to do something with a high level of expertise. Fair enough - we are all expected to ‘do’ academic writing with high levels of expertise.
However, a skill is often associated with technique... but achieving expertise is not simply a matter of technique – knowing how to write well by understanding grammar, how to write a paragraph, how to structure a sentence, how to stage an argument and so on. It’s not enough to master the techniques of writing. This is necessary - but not sufficient.
Academic writers also need to know when to use particular writing techniques, and when not to. We need to know our reader’s expectations. We need to know institutional norms, disciplinary conventions and why they exist, what they do, and what might happen if we don’t conform to them. This is more about knowing what - know what to do, why and when.
We do need know how and know what because we don't just write for ourselves. We write for others. Academic writing is always social. It is a social practice. Academic writing helps us to communicate with others and we are judged by them on our writing (and how we are judged!)
Let us see a comparison. An artist isn’t usually judged simply on the basis of his skill with the chosen materials. Judgment is related to the ways in which he or she engages in ongoing conversations - with audiences and with the artistic traditions in which they are working. So it is with academic writers. We academic writers do need to know about audiences, purposes, styles, organisational conventions and genres.
Academic writing is a practice which not only requires both know how and know of what - but also what might be called ‘know-who’. Let us go back to the artist’s example again. Judgments about what constitutes good or great art don’t exist in a vacuum. They are part and parcel of a complex ecology of art dealers, galleries, critics, university departments and so on. The artist may or may not be aware of these, or want to take account of them, or indeed might want to resist, but they are judged - funded, exhibited, purchased, ignored - in this context anyway.
Academic writers also operate in a complex ecology of disciplines, institutions, commercial and non-commercial publishers, reviewers and funders. How our writing is perceived – whether it is judged as being of ‘quality’ - is not simply about whether we have acquired both the necessary know how and know what – but also what is made of that by others, the know who. Understanding the invisible gaze(s) to which we are subject, allows us to make better-informed decisions about whether to conform, resist, trouble or exceed expectations.
So to recap - writing a paper or thesis is never simply about know-how. It requires the know-what and know-who as well. This means, I think, becoming a “student” of your field, as well as in your field. Understanding the academic field you work in leads to an academic writer not only in control of their text, but also more in control of what they write, when, how and for whom.
What have you found out lately about your know-what and know-who?
Teaching Your Child the Most Common First
It is said by educationists and teachers that vocabulary building is the first and most important step in learning any language. Since English is used as a second language in our country, so we usually need to start our young students with the alphabet and some basic vocabulary words which begin with those letters. Apart from only focusing on the alphabet and the common nouns/names beginning with those letters, it would also be good for a child in second language learning to learn how to use the most common nouns in speech or in writing. This exercise of being able to use the most common nouns in speech and then writing enables students to start using English for the most common purposes first. Children, apart from knowing about the alphabet and learning some common and proper nouns, will be able to have a good use of basic English if they start using the most common nouns in various oral and written sentences. According to Hagit (2005), the most common nouns used in English language are: time, person, year, way, day, thing, man, world, life, hand, part, child, eye, woman, place, work, week, case, point, government, company, number, group, problem and fact.
At grade levels one, two and three, a Montessori teacher of English can practice using these words meaningfully with the students by making short sentences first and then longer ones orally. She/he can use these common nouns in the classroom in sentences talking about school or classroom matters such as, ‘We must come to the class on time.’ ‘There is a strange person standing there and I must tell my teacher.’ ‘Students who work hard all year get good marks in the exams.’ ‘It is a beautiful world.’ ‘Life is a great blessing of God.’ ‘You must wash your hands before eating anything’, and so on. When the students are able enough to write anything, then the teacher can use these common nouns to give exercises to students to write down sentences on their own. These exercises will enable young kids to start having the basic use of English as a second language.
Students, in grade levels four or five can start using more common nouns in making everyday sentences. The teacher can also involve the students in display activities, such as writing classroom rules using these words, writing about themselves using these common words or writing about any of their favourite buildings or historical places using these words.
According to World English (2003), there is another complete and longer list of the most common nouns in the various forms of English used around the world, which are as follows: (English, 2003)
Students can be enabled to use this long list of common nouns in speech and writing tasks at grade levels three, four or five. They can be asked to use these words orally in describing various things in class and later write descriptive paragraphs and then short essays on any simple topic using a small and relevant list of these common words. When introducing our young learners to English as a second language, it is always more meaningful to have a knowledge of the most commonly used nouns or words, but also an opportunity to use them step by step to develop their communicative competence.
Borer, Hagit. 2005. In Name Only. Structuring Sense, Volume I. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
English, W. (2003, August Tuesday ). World English. Retrieved from World English Organization : http://www.world-english.org/esl.htm
Role-playing is an unrehearsed dramatisation in which students improvise behaviours to illustrate how they think their assigned character would speak and act in a realistic or hypothetical situation. I have been using role play in my classroom management sessions. Students are found deeply involved in thinking about how they would react in real-world situations. However I have experienced that one of the pitfalls of using role-plays is that they can become ‘entertaining ends in themselves’, rather than vehicles for learning. So I would suggest that you keep the learning outcomes in mind before using them.
A Teacher and Material Developer Should Think How A Child Thinks
A few days ago my youngest daughter, Pipi who is completing her pre-schooling, was solving a worksheet. I was observing her from a distance. Initially, I was seeing excitement and confidence from her facial expressions, but after a while these vanished. Instead I saw anxiety in her face. I realised that she was struggling with something. I silently approached her and looked at the work she had produced; I got a shock. I was sure her teacher would cross-out her work if she presented it, because the counting she had done was not in sequence. It showed a child who was not having a command of numbers and who was unable to write numbers. I realize, however, that the situation was not as easy as that. We, math teachers, try to guide toddlers to write numbers horizontally or vertically. Usually we provide them grid-notebooks having squares neatly aligned. Looking at the worksheet my daughter had, I could see that the layout was confusing her.
Take a look at the picture of my daughter’s work in this blog. From the number 20, Pipi had difficulty connecting the next figure (21) because she was distracted by the layout, and this pushed her to write the number 21 in the square below. She continued to write numbers up to 24 following the line she had started, and then write 25 on the previous line which suggested she didn’t know how to count.
The purpose of sharing the picture and this experience is that maths teachers who develop resources for kids should think how a child thinks. Developers can make some layouts which look very stylish, colourful and attractive, but jeopardise the process of learning. So, if you are teacher always think how a user, a toddler, child or young-one, could think and interpret the resource or instructions you are using.