Thursday, 3 January 2013

The Challenge of teaching English as a second language in India

Nature of the Subject
English being a medium of communication should be viewed not just as a language but as an important skill which has an impact across a wide range of subjects and real life situations. It goes without saying that a good command over the language would have a positive impact on not only inter-personal social skills but also determines one’s ability to comprehend and solve complex problems. It is with this in mind that we, as facilitators need to ensure that the learners have a good grasp of the semantic and syntactical components as also the ability to communicate effectively, express ideas effectively, comprehend all forms of the language, spoken, written, and heard. To speak effectively and be able to place ideas in a logical manner, to write argumentatively and conclusively, to listen to what is spoken, picking out crucial information, and to read effectively, understanding important ideas and information are all important aspects of English as a subject. To say that English only belongs to the domain of the language teacher is a fallacy because it is a medium of instruction for different subjects and so has a definite impact on all subjects taught through it.
Content pedagogy refers to the pedagogical (teaching) skills teachers use to impart the specialized knowledge/content of their subject area(s). Effective teachers display a wide range of skills and abilities that lead to creating a learning environment where all students feel comfortable and are sure that they can succeed both academically and personally. This complex combination of skills and abilities is integrated in the professional teaching standards that also include essential knowledge, dispositions, and commitments that allow educators to practice at a high level.
Delineating effective practice and recognizing those who achieve it are important first steps in shaping the kind of teaching profession America needs. This is the core challenge embraced by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). Committed to basic reform in American education, NBPTS recognizes that teaching is at the heart of education. In this light, the single most important action the nation can take to improve schools is to strengthen teaching. 
           National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.  (1998).  Washington, DC: Author.  Available:
The contest in the Sub-Continent
In India, the pedagogy of English is based on mostly conventional methods and skills. However, with the introduction of CCA or CCE, the method of teaching English has had to undergo certain changes. The traditional methods included the conventional model reading in the class, question and answer session, lecture method, drills, rote memorisation, dictation of notes, brief explanation of grammar rules, and drills in grammar topics. Now, pedagogy is about exploring different and more effective ways of making teaching more student oriented, more interactive and effective. As such more importance is given to interactive methods like discussions, debates, learning by doing, experiential methods, and other activities like excursions. Grammar is today taught not in isolation, but is integrated into the written and read forms. Thus the C.B.S.E. has introduced the integrated and communicative approach towards the teaching of Grammar. Thus instead of teaching formal grammar and the learning of rules, we have exercises based on editing, close-gaps, and omissions. Today the teaching of the subject includes out of the box thinking, introduction of reading topics, novels, speeches, and biographies which go beyond the prescribed syllabus. Suggested readings in class tenth included biographies of famous writers like J.K. Rowlings, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, a speech by President Obama, a suggested reading of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment as a preparation for a debate on the Relevance of Capital Punishment as a means to curb crime. At the class eleventh level, students have been given a list of a wide range of written novels like Old Man and the Sea, and A Train to Pakistan, besides being given a Research Based project for honing Higher order thinking and writing skills.
Our Approach/Position on the subject at the SP level (class tenth to twelve)
At the tenth and eleventh class levels, there has been a change in the approach towards the teaching of the subject. While the lecture method is definitely out at both levels, student participation is on the increase. However increased student participation has to be modulated and controlled lest it should distract the session from the set goals and objectives of the lesson. Similarly, linking of prescribed texts in the prescribed syllabus is important as students query the relevance of reading lessons out of context. For example, the relevance of reading the lesson Silk Route in class eleven was questioned by students, so the teacher had to explain the importance of travel literature including the importance of travelogues. On being asked about the knowledge of students about historically important travel accounts, students came up with the names of important Chinese Monks of the Buddhist era like Fa-hien and Hiuen Tsiang. It has become important to link the lessons to other subject areas like History and Commerce, Chemistry, Physics and Biology! When the students join after the winter break, we plan to read Arthur Millar’s The Crucible so that students are able to identify the theme of McCarthyism, the challenge would be to link the play to some of the themes relevant to us today.
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