June 2010

Ms. Tara Chadha interviews Prof. Penny Ur

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Penny Ur, a well known author and teacher trainer from Israel held a week-long workshop on materials development at the Institute of Life Long Learning (ILLL), University of Delhi from February 15 to 20, 2010. Tara Chadha had the opportunity to have a tête-à-tête with her over a cup of coffee.
Tara Chadha (TC): I understand that you decided to migrate from your native country some three decades ago.  What inspired you to make Israel your perpermanent home?
Penny Ur (PU) : I was going to study Hebrew and Arabic at Oxford, so in my ‘gap year’ decided to go out to Israel and learn modern Hebrew.  I stayed on a kibbutz on an ‘Ulpan’ scheme which allows you to study half the day and work half the day for five months, and acquired a basic knowledge of modern Hebrew that way. But I also fell in love with the kibbutz idea and the country, and decided I would make it my home. I returned to the UK to finish my degree and teaching diploma, and then emigrated to Israel.
TC: You have been a practising teacher and a teacher trainer.  How far has your experience as a school teacher helped you to carve out the agenda of your training programmes and teaching materials?
PU: I have been for most of my working life a practising teacher of English; my writing and teacher training grew out of this.  To this day, I see myself primarily as a teacher (it’s what I automatically write on things like visa applications where you have to write ‘occupation’).  I have since studied research literature and have published and lectured as part of my work as an academic; but my thinking is shaped primarily by my own professional classroom experience.

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The efficacy of an oral communication task analyzed at an ESL classroom from the perspective of Task based learning

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Task Defined:

A Task is ‘any structured language learning endeavour which has a particular objective, appropriate content, a specified working procedure, and a range of outcomes for those who undertake the task. Task is therefore assumed to refer to a range of work plans which have the overall purpose of facilitating language learning.’ (Breen 1987)

Dave Willis and Jane Willis emphasize the fact that ‘there has been an increasing interest in class-room based research, examining for example, the quality and quantity of the interaction produced by learners doing tasks in different circumstances. Small-scale research projects, carried out by teachers also shed light on aspects of TBL and learning through the use of tasks. Hence designing and implementing tasks for a wide variety of learner types and teaching situations is indispensable.

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In-service English School Teachers’ Education Programmes: Need for a Permanent Agency

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The aim of this brief paper is to argue that for curriculum renewal projects for teaching English in schools there ought to be a specialized indigenous permanent agency with adequate resources so as to undertake research and development in curriculum design on a continuous basis to address the needs for reforms based on society’s requirements as these change with the passage of time. This argument is based on two observations: one, the nature of such projects; and two, the traits exhibited by the participants attending such programmes shortly after the training is over and also in the long run.

If we look at some prominent projects aiming at curriculum renewal in English in India, we find that these are cyclical in nature because the needs of society for English and English teaching keep changing with the passage of time and also because these projects follow a set pattern. They run through a certain life cycle: from initial enthusiasm and energy, particularly among those involved in the project, to a slowing down, weakening and eventual death and replacement with another one – much as a violent cyclone passes through with the passage of time.

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Discourse of a Divided Nation: A Study of Train to Pakistan and its Cinematic Adaptation

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The multiple meanings and images of a novel get transformed when it is adapted into cinema. While reading a novel the reader has to create a space in his mind through imagination, on the other hand cinema is a ‘virtual space’ where the characters, actions and dialogues become visible. The novel Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh and its cinematic adaptation by Pamela Rooks address a national conflict in two different spaces.

Mette Hjort and Scott MacKenzie, in their introduction to the book Cinema and Nation observe:

… national cinema is more fruitfully understood in terms of notions of conflict. Films, it is claimed, do not simply represent or express the stable features of a national culture, but are themselves one of the loci of debates about a nation’s governing principles, goals, heritage and history. (4)

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A legacy we have (almost) made our own!: English Language… in India

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Going through an interesting article on ‘Emotion and Language Politics’ by Dr. Kanavillil Rajagopalan, recently posted at,‘englishteachers_du@yahoogroups.com’, an age-old tale from the 15th century famous Mughal Akbar-Birbal collection ricocheted in my mind. Dr Rajagopalan’s paper provides rare insight into the language politics currently playing out in Brazil. Dig deeper and one finds traversing on a familiar turf in India too. He makes a forthright claim that select focus on the ‘rational’ has only helped isolate linguists and prevented them from having a say on important issues relating to language. One such feature of the ordinary person’s view of language is that emotions play a vital role. Language loyalty, bilingualism, code switching etc can only be fully addressed alongside their emotional connotations. Well-entrenched in theory, his paper discusses (1) how linguistics has from its inception sought to downplay or ignore the importance of emotions also referred to as ‘folk linguistics’ and (2) how, largely in consequence of that inaugural decision, science is threatened with becoming a body of knowledge with very little impact on what happens in the real world. For the purposes of this short paper I will only consider Rajagopalan’s first claim and make a few points about mother tongue and English in India.

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