I visited the office room on a purpose to have a word with Hitesh Ji, co incidentally, the conversation at SCN meeting was on English language teaching in the school. The parents said, “Bacche thoda English pade toh, accha rahtha hai.”
I cannot recollect the exact words but the parents wanted their kids could read English text. I sat for the conversation and we discussed how we’ll take it forward and concentrate on English language reading. I couldn’t say anything but, “Give us 4 months’ time. We’ll show you improvement with data.”
“Kids are fluent with Marwari. We teach them Hindi and then English,” was also another statement shared in the meeting. True that, with English becoming a third language there’s been a difficulty in bringing the focus among the students.
There was also another thought on children learning English, “our kids are studying here from their first class but looks like they haven’t read much in English.”
I walked out of the room promising the parents that they’d be an improvement given a chance of 4-month time.
We know the factors of this issue in the school. It’s been years since we’re unable to find an English teacher. We know the hardship of slogging at the worst conditions. Let’s reflect on our processes and brainstorm the best possible solution for improving the basics of English.
English language in a society became a skill rather than a mere language for the communication. We use language for communication and expression but when the majority of the world communicates in English language, the demand made it to be a skill rather than just a language. Every person in the society wish to be skilful in regard of opportunities. Parents are rightful in expecting their kids to read or learn English in regard of better opportunities.
How are parents measuring the kids learning?
They may simply hand out a bank pass book, certificate, or an invitation card and ask the kids to read it out when needed. Even they are aware of the medium of the school, they would not expect the kids to speak in English fluently but read out few words when there’s chance or need.
Any kid with basic reading skills would at least attempt to read it. But in the case of our students, very few can decode the words in foreign context and read the text. There are children like Suguna(8th class), Kanchan, Ravinder (7th class) & group of kids in 5th class who display their confidence in trying out to read a foreign text given a chance. Others are not inclined to read English.
How do children learn the English language in general?
Teaching a language can be seen in two ways. Formal learning and informal learning. Kid who is frequented with foreign tourists also speaks English. Thanks to his environment. The more exposure he/she gets, the more he learns. This can be one way of informal learning.
In formal learning, as the kids walks into school, we teach the kids, a script. We give them the symbols or shapes giving out a sound and meaning of the symbol. Besides the script, we give them the exposure eventually.
We’re doing a good job in primary classes teaching the kids English through phonics. Kaveri, Satvir are working exceptionally giving their best efforts. Anuradha is teaching well, focussing on the basics realising the importance of the script and the sound. Anurag is building up the confidence of the kids to teach language beyond the textbook. In upper primary, Ramakantji & I are settling up, understanding the need of the basics of the language. I’m quite optimistic about the learning of the basics of the language in our school as our teachers are ready to learn new methods, processes which can help children learn in a better way.
What needs to be done?
Let’s focus on the upper primary classes for they lack basics. 8th class kids do not have time to brush up their basics as they can’t afford to miss out the board exams in the dream of achieving the basics.
7th and 6th class kids can make it up to learn the basics.
In context of an English Language as a second language. Basic reading of a text and writing down the sentences can be regarded as basics.
Kids are inferior to learn English. Whole language approach has been tried out till now but, we lack the nuances of whole language approach. We do not understand what “Writing” means. We did not give importance on sounds and spellings with the stereotypical thought of English- second language. The basics can’t be taken as a high level learning.
What are basics?
Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing is all about language. These are the basics of the language and also the elusive parts of the language. Let’s focus of Reading and Writing. Listening and Speaking will develop on a parallel note.
Reading a text comprising of alphabets is the basic outcome of language learning. Irrespective of context, reading the particular writing is the basic of language learning. Once children read out, they can comprehend when they know the meaning of the words.
Writing is about expressing, communicating, describing their thoughts, questions through the script.
Let’s focus on reading for it’s the foundation for the writing. The more you read, the more you can write.
Focusing on pronunciation is an extreme as everyone has an accent but focusing on the sound letter relationship is the basic.
Basics of English can be seen as understanding the script and usage of the script. In simple terms, reading and writing.
What is reading?
Reading is decoding of the symbols and comprehending the meaning through words. In upper primary, kids are expected to read and comprehend.
Our kids in the school cannot read and comprehend. Spare me for being extreme but it’s true. On a honest conversation with the 7th class students, we came out with their language learning process.
I wrote “Calculation” and asked them to read it out.
Few tried reading, few never bothered to pay attention to what I was saying.
I wrote “CAT” and didn’t even asked them to read.
Everyone said in uni voice, “CAT”
“How did you read it?”
Everyone put a face thinking I’m being silly. ‘What do you mean by “कैसे” ’ was the response.
Of all, a student understood the question and shared their process. Everyone agreed to her.
“First, someone tells us this word. We memorise it. We repeat it till we get it. We write it down. And we keep learning it. “
Kids are being exposed to the words. They’re learning the new words and speaking when they’re demanded. Looks fair and good from the outsider perspective.
In kid’s mind, CAT is a word with sound CAT but not the mix of letters C A T
Any word that’s introduced to the children are given as sounds for the words but, not decoded to letters and sounds. It’s the processes that needs to be done at basic level.
Now a day, Kids are given a lot of reading from a text book. Daily repetition of reading exercise made them realise that they need to read somehow. They do not have basics. They do not know how to pronounce consonants, “Cl” “Fr” “Th” “oo” “Wh”
Kids being kids writes down the Hindi pronunciation and read whenever asked. 90% of the kids don’t even do that and lose out interest when we call out for reading in the class. Blank faces, fearful expressions are the replies we get when we ask them to read in the class.
We fall into trap when we see them recognising the common words. When the word, “Close” is given. They can read. Because of mere repetition of the word countless times. Give a word, ”Clamp” Kids are unable to say it out.
What’s the need of the hour?
All of us, adults in our schooling never studied the language through letters, sounds. Phonics was never a practice in our learning.
The reason how we learnt our language, basics despite these sound- letter practice is just because we were compensated by the environment.
We generally decode words through sounds without our conscious effort. Given so much of our environment, we know how to read without a need of rules or phonics.
We should not think that mere 40 lines in the school premises and 40 minutes in the class is enough for the environment.
Repetition causes them to get into rote learning of the words and blurt it out when demanded in the reading sessions of the class. Functional usage needs to be created in the form of giving environment.
With our own elusive theories and without a reality check, we are thinking language is being exposed to them, kids would inevitably learn the language.
But, in real Kids are saving their skin to entertain us but not really learn English.
Teach the kids the formative structure of the language for a period of time. The basic reading and writing. The argument that it’s need to be taught in the primary classes have to put out because, the possibility of the kids being in the English environment and learning the language in their later life is, beyond skipping our responsibilities.
If we do not teach basics, we leave them out by implanting a false notion that they learnt English in which way every other school in India is educating our children.
Since the kids already have a reasonable word power. We need to focus on the
The formative structure of the language that should be taught through defined, well planned processes of
Bilingual story telling
(All the English language teachers would huddle up for sharing of ideas, suggestions, resources and come up with lists of practices)
Mere focus on all these will not give out the results but thoughtful implementation and execution will definitely bring out a huge learning among the children. I request all of you to reflect upon the reality check and come up with your thoughts.