January 2012

The Classroom Reception of Spenser’s Epithalamion

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* Article first published in FORTELL September 2011 issue.

Teaching texts as remote in time and place as Spenser’s Epithalamion is a challenge indeed. The ears of city-bred adolescents, so accustomed to the unabashed big bang of our pronouncements in Backstreet Boys, Venga Boys and Savage Garden etc. just do not respond to the snow-soft mercy-petitions in Platonic love poems addressed to “impossible she’s”. And the small towners: the rural and the semi-urban first generation migrants, sitting quietly as “backbenchers” in the class, find it funnier still because fresh in their mind are the reverberations of a more vibrant, terse and dialogic Desi or Margi (popular and classical) tradition of native love poetry embedded in Mangalacharsi, Barahamasasii, Bhramar Geethasiii and other Radha-Krishna duos like these.

Any Indian child who has had the chance to spend even a few hours with grandparents, distant aunts and other folk-narrators readily available at community meets is at least vaguely exposed to Parkeeya Nayikaiv or Nakh-Shikh Varnan Paramparav of Indian classics. And my humble submission is that one of the ways of arousing interest in Spenser and his kind of apparently artificial and urbane utterances of love is to place them against the more sophisticated and vibrantly passionate utterances of love in the popular songs or couplets of Jaidev, Vidyapati, Soordasvi, and the Reetikal poetsvii. Thus, studying Epithalamion, as the mangalachar of a typical marriage song of the Nachariviii tradition could be both interesting and rewarding from the post-colonial perspective of highlighting the subtext of differences.

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Assessment: An Opportunity to Learn

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* Article first published in FORTELL September 2011 issue.

Purpose and relevance of assessment

As we all know, tests have become an accepted component of formal instructional programmes throughout the world. They are considered valid, reliable indicators of students’ performance and potential and are being used increasingly to make decisions about the quality of a particular programme/course, admission to various courses and selection for jobs. Sometimes tests are justified on the basis of accountability: are students learning what they are supposed to be learning? This kind of evidence is required to make judgments about how to spend resources, whether to continue with a particular course/ textbook etc. Tests also provide an opportunity to give feedback to language students for future improvement.

Hence it is important to deliberate upon whether our language tests help us to draw inferences about the language abilities of our students that are reliable and a true indicator of their proficiency and consequently help us to make correct decisions based on those inferences? What does a particular score tell us about that student’s language ability or about classroom teaching? Do scores and grades shed light on the kind of errors our students make, provide reasons for those errors along with solutions? Do they help curriculum developers to revise textbooks or help teachers to modify their teaching practices?

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Keeping ‘Reading Habit Alive’

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* Article first published in Fortell, May 2011 issue.

For those who are avid readers, reading perhaps is the most interesting and pleasurable activity but the present day youth would perhaps defer. They have a plethora of interesting things to keep them engaged, where do they have the time to waste on the printed word found on paper! For these young people there is the electronic media- the TV with such a wide variety of programmes being aired 24*7, the computer abounding with websites. And so we all agree, all but the community of teachers, specially the language teachers.

Everyone who is connected to the teaching fraternity would agree whole-heartedly that reading is an important aspect of the process of acquiring knowledge. And thus the job of language teacher gets even more challenging. It is not to make the learner comfortable in using the language; it is to give the learner the ability to read with interest, to read with speed, to read with comprehension. This, according to me, is because of two major issues: first, one needs to read to gain knowledge of any subject and second; leisure reading is the most beautiful way to relax.

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