January 2010

Rachna Sethi in conversation with Rimli Bhattacharya and her M.Phil.

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Rachna Sethi in conversation with Rimli Bhattacharya and her M.Phil. students, Debolina Dey, Paromita Patranobish and Shelmi Sankhil.

Rachna: Apart from writing papers as part of M.Phil course on children’s literature with Dr. Rimli Bhattacharya, you have also undertaken project work. Can you briefly tell us about your project work? How was it moving beyond the text and classroom? How did you deal with crossing-over of forms and genres?

Debolina: We, a group of four, went to the government home for boys in South Delhi [names of children withheld to protect them].  Our main mode of interaction with them was through the two plays that we did with them. They were not really “scripted.” In our attempts to create something we worked through pedagogies and myths of families, childhood, and of course mythology. We went with a fluid concept, we asked for their responses to conceptualize the play. But we were genuinely confused with the selection of story. Is it going to be a film, a text, or their family stories? The children are not orphans, but homeless boys…

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Handling Mixed Ability Classes – Perspectives and Teaching Procedures

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A mixed ability class or a mixed ability teaching system is one in which pupils with differing abilities are taught together in the same class. However, students in any classroom can be said to be of mixed ability as they form a group of individuals, wherein each individual is, to some extent, different in terms of knowledge, language, culture, level of confidence and ability.

Teaching a mixed ability classroom is a challenging task, for the teachers need to cater to the needs of the individual students that are essentially different in more ways than one. This challenge is more pronounced in single teacher schools which essentially function in single rooms, where the children not only have different knowledge levels but also belong to different age groups and who need to learn different subjects. It is usual that a teacher has to teach in a class in which the pupils differ in their maturity, learning speed or learning ability.

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Bi-lingual Stories for the Young

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It was the year 2000. I was faced with the challenge of training 1800 teachers of the municipal primary schools in the major aspects of language teaching and learning. The teachers had never taught English since English had not been a subject in primary school before.

The challenges were many. To mention a few:

  • the teachers’ own English language use had become rusty out of sheer disuse;

  • the learners had no other exposure to the language apart from the precious 35 minutes at school;

  • facilities and support material were reduced to the barest essentials;

  • the only method the teachers felt comfortable with was the translation and drill method; and

  • the time at my disposal was only  30 hours of training hours for every batch of fifty teachers.

I wished to give them the concept of ‘introducing language in context’. And what better way than getting to know the language through the world of stories, songs and poems! I wished the teachers to build their own repertoire of stories and rhymes to use in classes I and II. By then no formal teaching –learning materials had been developed.

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Feedback in Second Language Classroom

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What is the shortest word in the English language that contains the letters: abcdef?

Answer: feedback. Don’t forget that feedback is one of the essential elements of good communication.

Feedback is crucial to teaching and learning to write in a second language (SL). There are different approaches to teaching writing—here when I talk about feedback, I refer to the process approach – where emphasis is on the process of writing itself. It is a multiple drafts approach where writers keep purpose and audience in mind while writing and emphasis is on communication rather than on form or correctness. Before I go on to discuss feedback, let us look at the steps involved in process writing; (these are not linear but recursive)

  1. Brainstorming (gathering/ discussing ideas)
  2. Jotting down points
  3. Organizing notes & drawing up a rough plan
  4. Making a first draft
  5. Revising draft after obtaining feedback from teachers/ peers
  6. Making a second draft
  7. Editing (paying attention to grammar, spelling, punctuation)
  8. Writing a final version

In India, where resources are limited, the teacher along with the textbook may be the only authentic source of the language. Research suggests that teacher written feedback is highly valued by SL students (Hyland, 2007), especially those from directive cultures who expect teachers to notice and comment on their errors. Hence, it becomes important for a SL teacher to know what factors influence the kind of feedback they give and what they need to know in order to make their feedback more effective. There are three kinds of feedback: teacher written feedback, teacher oral feedback and peer feedback. In this article, I will focus on the most common form of feedback in our Indian classrooms: teacher written feedback.

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Equal Education Opportunities for Children: The case of English and mother tongue for the marginalized children

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In this write up, I would like to examine the issue of language for the marginalized children, both mother tongue and English, which every child in school is expected to study as a subject and learn. There are two strands that are of interest: one is the issue of mother tongue (L1 hereafter) as the medium of instruction and the other is the adding of a second language (L2 hereafter) to the primary school curriculum.

Education in the mother tongue

In the case of children whose L1 is different from the regional language, for example, tribal or migrant workers whose L1 might be a dialect or another language, the medium of instruction is not their L1 but L2. Since their L1 is not a school language, they have to often begin their education on a clean slate as it were. Learning in one’s own L1 at least in the first three years of school education is desirable for many reasons: it helps i) children to see the sound-symbol relationship thus facilitating literacy skill-development, ii) in the development of concepts since they can relate what they learn in school with their life outside, iii) in the development of the capacity to think with the help of L1. Research all over the world shows that the longer the child has L1 as the main medium, the better s/he will be at learning different subjects including additional languages. With regard to language development, the child has to learn to read and write only once in life, and it is easiest to learn it in a language that one knows well. All languages share a common underlying proficiency and therefore the proficiency in the language s/he knows best is easily transferred to other languages.

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