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.
Note. Printed with permission from National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, (Early Childhood/Generalist Standards, 1998), www.nbpts.org. All rights reserved.
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:http://www.nbpts.org/
In the Indian context
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 would include 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 grade eleven and grade twelve levels
At the tenth and eleventh grade 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 Miller’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.
The Picture so Far ( A comparison of the Common Core Standards, and the Objective of teaching the English Core syllabus)
What Benchmarks do the Common Core Standards Set for the development of Reading, writing and spoken skill in students of class eleventh and twelfth?
According to the Common Core Standards for writing, a Note on range and content of student writing on page 41 suggests:
For students, writing is a key means of asserting and defending claims, showing what they know about a subject, and conveying what they have experienced, imagined and thought, and felt. To be college and career ready writers, students must take task, purpose, and audience into careful consideration, choosing words, information, structures, and formats deliberately. They need to know how to combine elements of different kinds of writing-for example to use narrative strategies within argument and explanation within narrative-to produce complex and nuanced writing. They need to be able to use technology strategically when creating, refining, and collaborating on writing. They have to become adept at gathering information, evaluating sources, and citing material accurately, reporting findings from their research and analysis of sources in a clear and cogent manner. They must have the flexibility, concentration, and fluency to produce high-quality first draft text under a tight deadline as well as the capacity to revisit and make improvements to a piece of writing over multiple drafts when circumstances encourage or require it.
Note: It should be made clear from the start that the context of teaching the English language in India is different from that of the United States of America because for the Americans, English is a first language, while for many in India, English is a second language. Even where English is spoken predominantly at home, the overall exposure is to a mixture of languages including Hindi.
The C.B.S.E. sets very reasonable standards for students studying the English Core Syllabus (Although there is an Elective Syllabus too) which are listed in the form of a background note and a list of objectives on page 36 of the Senior School Curriculum Main subjects volume I Document published in the year 2011. The note on the Background reads:
For a large number or students, the higher secondary stage will be a preparation for the university, where a fairly high degree of proficiency in English may be required. But for another large group, the higher secondary stage may be a preparation for entry into the world of work. The Core Course should cater to both groups by promoting the language skills required for academic study as well as the language skills required for the workplace.
It is clear, therefore, that the standards set by the CBSE might vary from those set by the Common Core State Standards for the very fact that for many, grade twelve in India might be an exit point for those who want to take up a career directly and not go for higher studies.
What are some of the standards for writing listed by the Common Core State Standards for students of grade eleven and twelve?
The CCR anchor standards and high school grade specific standards for writing (page 45) are listed as under:
1.Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant evidence.
a) Introduce precise knowledgeable claim(s), establish the significance of claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organisation that logically sequences claim(s), counterclaims, reasons and evidence.
b) Develop claim(s) and counterclaim(s) fairly and thoroughly, supplying the most relevant evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both in a manner that anticipates the audience’s knowledge level, concerns, values, and possible biases.
c) Use words, phrases, and clauses as well as varied syntax to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships between claim(s) and reasons, between reasons and evidence, and between claim(s) and counterclaims.
d) Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.
e) Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the argument presented.
2.Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
a) Introduce a topic; organize complex ideas, concepts, and information so that each new element builds on that which preceded it to create a unified whole; include formatting, graphics and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.
b)Develop the topic thoroughly by selecting the most significant and relevant facts, extended definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples appropriate to the audience’s knowledge of the topic.
c)Use appropriate and varied transitions and syntax to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships among complex ideas and concepts.
d)Use precise language , domain specific vocabulary, and techniques such as metaphor, simile, and analogy to manage the complexity of the topic.
e)Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.
f)Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the information or explanation presented.
3.Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.
a) Engage and orient the reader by setting out a problem, situation, or observation and its significance, establishing one or multiple point(s) of view, and introducing a narrator and /or characters; create a smooth progression of experiences or events.
b)Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, description, reflection, and multiple plot lines, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters.
c)Use a variety of techniques to sequence events so that they build on one another to create a coherent whole and build toward a particular tone and outcome.
d)Use precise words and phrases, telling details, and sensory language to convey a vivid picture of the experiences, events, setting, and/or characters.
e)Provide a conclusion that follows from and reflects on what is experienced, observed, or resolved over the course of the narrative.
4.Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose and audience.
5.Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience.
6.Use technology, including the internet to produce publish, and update individual or shared writing products in response to ongoing feedback, including new arguments or information.
7.Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesise multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
8.Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the strengths and limitations of each source in terms of the task, purpose, and audience, integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and overreliance on any one source and following a standard format for citation.
9.Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
(Note: I have omitted sub sections a. and b. as I feel they are not relevant to the Indian context)
10.write routinely over extended time frames and shorter time frames for a range of tasks, purposes and audiences.
Standards Set by the C.B.S.E. for Writing for students of eleventh and twelfth (English core):
Some of the objectives and standards and expectations of reading standards for students of grade eleven and twelve set by the C.B.S.E. are given on page 36 of the Senior School Curriculum document suggest that the grade eleventh and twelfth students should be able to do the following:
1. Text-based writing (Writing in response to questions or tasks based on prescribed or unseen texts)
2. Write expository/argumentative essays of 250-500 words, explaining or developing a topic, arguing a case, etc.
3. Write formal/informal letters and applications for different purposes.
4. Write items related to the workplace (minutes, memoranda, notices, summaries, reports, filling up of forms, preparing CVs, e-mail messages etc.)
The fact of the matter is that due to constraints of having to complete the syllabus on time, not much out of the syllabus work can be given to students of grade twelve, and this is especially because they are focussed on their board exams. However, a lot of projects can be given in grade eleven which include doing a research paper on some interesting topics which go beyond the syllabus. Last year, students of grade eleventh did a research paper and they were marked on the basis of the standards set by the Common Core document. Some of the areas they were marked on included, coherence in writing, ability to write arguments to support claims, ability to introduce topics, use of appropriate syntax ability to provide a thesis statement and a concluding statement, ability to effectively use technology to do research, and ability to stick to deadlines! All of which are enshrined in the Common Core Standards document.
The Syllabus So Far
1. The writing of a short composition of not more than fifty words out of a choice of Advertisements, Notices, Posters, Invitations and so on. In this section weightage is given to using the correct format, creativity, content (use of correct value-points) and so on. The marks given to this section is 05.
2. A Report or a Factual Description in about 100-125 words. This, is to some extent more complex than the first unit. Report writing requires almost all of the skills mentioned in the common core writing standards. Both report writing and factual descriptions require use of narrative techniques, a variety of techniques to sequence events, use of words, phrases, and clauses as well as appropriate syntax to link major sections of the text. In case of report writing, students use the inverted pyramid format, three sections format and they use the past tense while reporting events that have taken place in the past. As far as the writing of factual descriptions is concerned, students are expected to perfect the skill of conveying complex ideas and information clearly and accurately in many ways, and some could include introduction of the topic, organising complex ideas, developing the topic further and providing a suitable conclusion. The marks given to this unit is 10.
3.Letter Writing, both formal and informal. This is a complex writing exercise and requires a strong knowledge of the format and accepted conventions. A formal letter could be argumentative and might require the writing of arguments to support claims or to put a force a point of view. The student would have to be skilled in the art of making claims and counterclaims…etc. The formal letter on the other hand might require a student to simply write nothing but a factual description! Job applications, Bio-Data writing and the writing of cover notes are also part of this unit on letter writing. Some important letters in this section include letters to the Editor, letters of complaint, letters to order goods, letters to cancel orders…etc. Opinion writing can find its place in one of the letters. The total marks given to this unit is 10.
4.Article Writing-125 to 150 words. This is a complex exercise which requires specific writing skills. Falling back on the standards given in the Common Core Document, it would be pertinent to underpin the fact that a good student should be able to transition through an proper introduction, explanation and a suitable conclusion. He or she should produce clear and coherent writing and draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis. Article writing may include opinion writing, discursive writing descriptive writing or even factual descriptions, and speech writing.
What can we do to help students hone their writing skills?
It is very important for teachers to help students develop their writing skills. This can be done by giving students challenging topics on which to write articles and essays. This exercise can start from grade eleven itself, and students should be given projects in which they would have to write longer articles. Last year, students of class eleven in this school were told to do a research paper and marks were awarded for sticking to the deadlines, citing of sources, avoidance of plagiarism, unity of structure, the presence of a thesis statement and the presence of a sound conclusion. Students were told to prepare multiple drafts of the same. Some writing topics can be taken along with exercises on spoken English like Debates, Speeches and so on. Report Writing can be made more contextually relevant when the topics are linked to real life incidents or events witnessed by the students themselves. Telling the students to read good literature might help them develop an effective style of writing. Perhaps they could also be exposed to discursive literature which will help them write better discursive articles! Arguing a point in opinion writing will help them a lot. The writing of a research paper in class eleventh would help students go through the steps required to do a proper research. Following up the same with a rubric which included values associated with sticking to timelines, citing of sources, avoiding of plagiarism, introduction of a proper theses statement, and a good conclusion would make the research paper a better exercise in writing than the traditional projects which are in essence nothing but an exercise in copy and pasting from material published on the internet!
A note of the range and content of student reading skills on page 35 of the Common Core State Standards reads:
To become college and career ready, students must grapple with works of exceptional craft and thought whose range extends across genres, cultures, and centuries. Such works offer profound insights into the human condition and serve as models for students’ own thinking and writing. Along with high-quality contemporary works, these texts should be chosen from among seminal…documents, the classics of American literature and the timeless dramas of Shakespeare. Through wide and deep reading of literature and literary nonfiction of steadily increasing sophistication, students gain a reservoir of literary and cultural knowledge, references, and images; the ability to evaluate intricate arguments; and the capacity to surmount the challenges posed by complex texts.
Note: I have omitted some portions from the note in order to make it more contextually relevant to the Indian sub-continent.
What are some of the standards for reading listed by the Common Core State Standards for students of grade eleven and twelve?
Further detailed standards for reading have been given on page 38 of the Common Core Standards as follows:
1. Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.
2. Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text.
3. Analyse the impact of the author’s choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed).
4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyse the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful. (Include Shakespeare as well as other authors.)
5. Analyse how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.
6. Analyse a case in which grasping point of view requires distinguishing what is directly stated in a text from what is really meant (e.g., satire, sarcasm, irony, or understatement).
7. Analyse multiple interpretations of a story, drama, or poem (e.g., recorded or live production of a play or recorded novel or poetry), evaluating how each version interprets the source text. (Include at least one play by Shakespeare and one play by an American dramatist.)
10. By the end of grade 11, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, in the grades 11–CCR text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range. By the end of grade 12, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, at the high end of the grades 11–CCR text complexity band independently and proficiently.
Note: The 8th. and 9th. standards have not been quoted here because of contextual relevance. Instead of just American literature, Indian students should also be encouraged to read works by Indian, Asian and even African writers.
Standards Set by the C.B.S.E. for Reading skills for students of eleventh and twelfth (English core):
The C.B.S.E. has mentioned some objectives for reading which are listed below:
1. To perceive the overall meaning and organisation of the text (i.e., the relationships of the different “chunks” in the text to each other).
2. To promote advanced language skills with an aim to develop the skills of reasoning, drawing inferences, etc.
3. To develop the capacity to appreciate literary use of English and also use English creatively and imaginatively.
4. Read and comprehend extended texts (prescribed and non-prescribed) in the following genres: fiction, science fiction, drama, poetry, biography, autobiography, travel and sports literature, etc.
The Syllabus so far:
For class twelve the reading portion is covered under Section A of the unit/areas of Learning and Section C.
1.Section-I primarily is divided into two unseen passages with a variety of questions including 03 marks for vocabulary in the first, and 05 marks for note-making. The total length of the two passages should be between 950-1200 words. The passages, according to the Senior School Curriculum document of the C.B.S.E. should include two of the following: a) factual passage, b) discursive passage, and c) Literary passage. The total marks covered by this section are 20 Marks.
2.Section C-primary deals with the students’ reading of prescribed literary texts in the form of short stories and poems. The C.B.S.E. has including a novel as an addition to the range and extent of reading material for students of class twelve. The distribution of marks as per the given text books to test reading comprehension is giving as follows:
1)One out of two extracts based on poetry to test comprehension and appreciation of poetry
2) Three out of four short answer type questions from the poetry section to test local and global comprehension of the text.
3)Five short answer questions based on the prescribed prose lessons.
4) One out of two long answer type questions based on the text to test global comprehension and extrapolation of theme, character and incidents.
5. One out of two long answer questions based on the Supplementary Reader to test comprehension and extrapolation of theme, character and incident.
6.four short answer questions from the textbook.
Novel-The Hound of the Baskervilles
7.Novels have been a recent inclusion by the C.B.S.E. across classes. For Class Twelve the prescribed novel is Hound of The Baskervilles. Students who have read the novel will be assessed in the Twelfth Grade Board exams in areas associated with the plot of the novel and characterisation. Two long answer type questions will have to be answered by the grade twelve students, including one question on the plot which will be of about 150 words and of 8 Marks, while another question on Character will be of 7 Marks.
What can we do to help students hone their reading skills?
Looking at the fact that English in India is taught as a second language for most of the students, it is important for students to come across different genres of writing. The type of comprehension passages given to students for practice should be varied. It is not just the length of the passage that matters; rather it is the complexity of the language and the use of a wider range of words that makes attempting questions on the comprehension passage more challenging. Students should also be made to read non-fictional material like treatises, essays, and even research papers, and even seminal Indian documents. The range of reading materials in terms of genre and complexity should be increased. Also, the absence of a good play in class twelve and eleven reduces the exposure of the student to some good plays, especially those written by Shakespeare! Perhaps exposing students to a variety of reading materials and then giving them questions which require a high degree of analysis and interpretation could help improve the reading standards in students. Students should be exposed to good literature, classics, and good journals. A reader with good reading skills would able to evaluate intricate arguments and descriptions irrespective of his subject area; he would be able to read a scientific journal with as much confidence as a treatise on the freedom of speech in the twenty-first century!
A Few more Suggestions for Improvement
1. It is clear that there is a lot of scope for improvement as far as developing the reading and writing skills of students of grades eleventh and twelfth are concerned! First and foremost I would like to suggest the incorporation of general and specific learning objectives from the Common Core State Standards by teachers of English in the daily lesson plans. The inclusion of these objectives will help teachers as well as students focus on core areas and skills in writing and reading. A lot needs to be done to improve the reading and writing standards of students studying English in Indian school. In many cases throughout various schools, it has been observed the objectives and standards for each task are given lip service with the result that neither the students nor their teachers are aware of what the learning outcomes should be, what the student will achieve at the end of the lesson.
2. Encouraging students to read a wider range of literary texts, including non-fictional texts, like travelogues, brochure, discursive essays, scientific journals ( I would suggest National Geographic, American Scientific among others) would go a long way in not only increasing the vocabulary of the students, but also exposing them to different styles and genres of writing. Students will learn how to develop ideas, argue points, and make accurate descriptions only after they have sampled some of these in the form of a wide sample of reading texts. Libraries should be equipped to offer students a wide choice of literature.
3. Fiction including all the genres, novels, poems, and drama play a very important role in developing the language skills of the learner! Classical literature holds an important place in the study of languages because of its long standing appeal and the fact that classical literature deals with some of the timeless themes and core issues dealing with the human predicament and existence. An exposure to a variety of genres, styles of writing, and literature from all over the world will definitely enrich the students portfolio of experiences! Students should also be encouraged to read some of the works of good Indian writers which are contextually relevant and to which students can easily relate to!
4. Students should be encouraged to write, write, and write. The adage, “practice makes a man perfect” stands true as far as developing the skill of writing is concerned. The writing of multiple drafts tedious though it might seem is a step in the right direction! Students need to be given an exposure to the writing of different forms of composition including official as well as informal forms. Students should be exposed to writing exercises which include letters both formal and informal and informal forms, report writing using the inverted pyramid format, writing of brochures, travelogues, essays and articles and which are descriptive, discursive, and opinions, speeches and debates.
It goes without saying that some these writing exercises should be based on templates and rubrics from the earliest grades. The six in one traits in writing should be given due importance. Stress on developing reading and writing skills should be given from the earliest grades.
5. Research writing is the culmination of the discursive and descriptive skills of students studying English in schools of India. Following specific steps which include the synopsis, intent of study, framing of hypotheses, writing of the bibliography and indices will help the student develop his/her writing skills.
6. Creative writing is an open ended exercise in which the student is allowed the freedom to express himself/herself in any way he or she would like. Creative writing skills should be inculcated at lower grade levels including grades fourth to eighth.