Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Addressing Low Proficient learners -2

We have just entered the month of December and in a few months the pandemic of board examination will start pervading schools with its conspicuous syndromes percolating down in all classes paralyzing genuine academics. Schools will be forced to take recourse to various strategies to procure 100% pass outs from class 10 and might even try to give special inputs to those students who are likely to get the prestigious 10/10 GPA. At the end of the show if the minimal benchmarks are not attained a considerable number of students will be labeled as ‘slow learners” (I may be forgiven for using this derogatory term). There wouldn’t be many to locate the issue in the gaps that may have occurred during various stages of classroom transaction. Well, I know even the word transaction becomes meaningless in such contexts because what may have taken place I classrooms would be nothing more than transmission of information, perhaps done more effectively in schools where digital classrooms have been introduced.

This issue of non-achievers in English (and in other subjects as well) has been there since Adam’s days and is likely to continue till the dooms-day unless teachers appreciate the philosophy of facilitating knowledge construction at all levels. Teachers could not digest the philosophy and side-lined modular transaction. Therefore, we tried to focus on specific areas such as theme-based interaction, production of oral discourses, creating subtexts prior to reading, discourse construction editing. It is doubtful whether these materialized in the classrooms in the true sense. In the beginning of the academic year as we had done in the previous year, we had directed teachers to carry out “bridging the gap” activities.

The purpose of introducing ‘Bridging the Gap’ activities was to take the  learners through a sequence of modules that focus on the production of oral and written forms of discourses such as descriptions, conversations and narratives based on theme pictures. The activities suggested were not mere ‘arm-chair-expert- solution’ to the ‘so-called’ perennial issue of low-level proficiency of learners but as specific strategies that had been evolved through field test in 41 primary schools of Narketpally in the year 2012 and later in the selected high schools under APREIS in 2013 and again in TREIS schools in the year 2014.Teachers had been directed to complete these activities and then go for transacting the units given in the textbook. Keeping away the textbook for about 20 days was something like sacrilege for teachers who adhered to their conventional practices; they ignored these activities and preferred to teach the contents of the textbook “seriously”. The system went for other measures such as entrusting agencies such as the British Council to improve the quality of language learning in the State. Where have we have reached now? The issue of low proficient learners remains the same.
What shall we do at this juncture to tackle the issues related to the so-called “slow learners”? There is no point in finding fault with teachers who knowingly or unknowingly have deviated from the suggested pat of classroom transaction. Nor can we go back to “bridging the gap” activities; that phase of pedagogical intervention is over; to do those activities we will have to wait till the beginning of the next school year. We know the issues and to some extent the causative factors too. What we need now is a systematic course of action that will ensure conceptual understanding related to various subjects and language proficiency. I consider it my privilege to introduce a set of modules designed to meet the challenge.

Module 1: Generating summary of the reading passage 

We can use a set of pictures (for example, the pictures of Nick given in the handbook), that can be sequenced to capture the gist of each segment in the reading passage. Interaction based on these pictures will help the learners to recreate the text. The details of classroom process are as given below:

 Whole class activity

·         Display the first picture that can capture the first segment of reading passage (use chart paper)
·         Elicit 4 to 6 sentences related to the picture. Allow the students to refer to the text with the help of their friends sitting on the same bench. If necessary, we can suggest where to look for the required information.
·         Write the answers below the picture (allowing the learner the mechanics of writing). Use blackboard to write the unrefined sentences which can be refined through negotiation.
·         Ask small groups to read the sentences aloud from the chart. This is a crucial step as we can give optimal support to the learners who are low proficient.
·         Let all learners copy down the work in their notebook.
Extreme care is to be taken to ensure that the sentences written down are well-framed and can exist as an independent short essay.

Group Activity

·         Distribute the next picture of the set in the whole class and a set of questions that can yield the write up related to it.
·         Let each group collaborate to write a short essay consisting of a few sentences related to the picture. Make sure that each learner is contributing one idea (if necessary using code switching)
·         Allow the groups to present their work. 
·         Let the whole class make suggestions for refinement – these are to be written down on the chart containing the picture.
·         If necessary present the teacher’s version.
·         Let all students write down the finished work in their notebooks.
Now we can lead the learners to write summary of the next segment of the reading passage. We have to give them questions that can generate this.

Individual activity

·         Display the picture related to the next segment of reading.
·         Let students write a few sentences on this picture individually.
·         Allow them to sit in groups and refine the work through collaboration.
·         Let the groups present their work.
·         Let the whole class suggest refinements.
·         Write the refined version on the chart containing the picture.

The module and the protocols suggested above have an advantage over the bridging gap activities and the process for generating sub texts. Learners will have some idea about the lesson, though their understanding may range between repertoires of memorized fragmentary information to fairly good level of comprehension. What is crucial for getting the output is a set of well-articulated questions covering textual information and extrapolation of the text. These are to be written down in the teacher’s diary as framing questions spontaneously can end up with deviations and time waste. Caution must be taken so that that the written work is refined as a coherent discourse.

When the transaction of the first module is completed we can comfortably move on to the transaction of the next module.

Module 2: Summary of passages generated by students

·         Assign copies of pictures related to another lesson to groups to prepare subtexts
·         Display all the questions on chart.
·         Let students mount the pictures on charts and write the summary through collaboration.
·         Let them present these before the whole class.
·         Invite suggestions for refinement.
·         Let the refined version be written on a chart.
·         Let all students write down these in their notebooks.

Module 3: Summary of passages generated in pairs

·         Assign segments of lessons to pairs for writing the summary.
·         Display the questions before the whole class.
·         Let them draw illustrations related to these segments and write the summary through collaboration.
·         Let them present these before the whole class.
·         Invite suggestions for refinement.
·         Let the refined version be written on a chart.
·         Let all students write down these in their notebooks.

Addressing Low Proficient Learners in English -1

Teachers at all levels of teaching English frequently complain about the poor reading and writing skills of learners. They seem to be less worried about their poor skills in listening and speaking. During my recent visits to some of the residential schools in Telangana I have met several students in classes 5 to 10 who are poor in all the language skills. This is an issue that cuts across schools in several states irrespective of the medium of instruction prevailing there.

In order to overcome the issues related to the poor standards in productive skills  some of the teachers pull students through crude remedial measures such as teaching letters of the alphabet, making them copy words and sentences from the textbook, forcing them to memorize spelling and even giving them punishments of varying degrees of intensity. Ushered by their conventional belief systems teachers may not confess the futility of such exercises. This is especially so as there is always an option of putting the entire blame on students. And going one step ahead, they may also ventilate vehement criticism on Discourse Oriented Pedagogy arguing that students are to be taught the basics of language as early as possible. What they define as basics is debatable as it is in most cases, nothing more than a baggage of discrete linguistic elements such as grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation. Perhaps they do not realize that productive language skills cannot be addressed by putting the receptive skills of listening and speaking at stake. Nor do they seem to understand that the poor performance standards in English have basically to do with their failure in giving comprehensible and holistic input to the learner. It may be more than a cultural shock and utter bewilderment to most of them to realize that their attempts to teach English in bits and fragments are not likely to be fruitful. At the end of their school life most students are destined to be pushed out of the educational system without having made any significant achievement, an unpleasant reality which remains as pristine as it always has been.
The dismaying situation stated above is not without solutions. Discourse Oriented Pedagogy (DOP), which I had introduced in classes 1 to 8 in Kerala in the year 2007 and four years later in classes 1 to 10 in Telangana proposes a sequenced set of well-defined and tried out classroom process that can arrest the issue of poor language skills from growing into monstrous dimensions. The actual problem lies in the aberrations teachers make inadvertently, or sometimes deliberately, in the modular mode of transaction suggested in DOP. Let us have a glance at the transaction modules and the protocols meant for addressing low proficient learners in each of these modules. 
Modular Transaction Proposed in DOP
What do we mean by a transaction module?  Avoiding ambiguities we can pedagogically define it as an activity package comprising protocols that generate specific language constructs. The modules are mutually independent but each can be linked to the other. The modules in language class are the following:
Theme-based interaction and developing concept maps
Producing a specific oral discourse
Writing a specific discourse
Each of these modules are transacted in such a way that even those learners who are conventionally labeled as ‘slow learners’ get space for self expression and are engaged. If these processes are carried out systematically the issues related to low proficient learners do not grow into monstrous dimensions. However, my experience with the two states where DOP has been introduced tells me that the expectations are not always met in classes mainly because most teachers have not been able to resolve the tension between their traditional belief systems and the pedagogical practices they have to carry forward.

The issue of non-achievers was there earlier too; but it seems to me that people never suspected the pedagogy that was in use but accepted the reality in a taken for granted manner. They were very much complacent about the systematic teaching of the “basics” and if the learners were not able to produce the expected outcome the problem could easily be located in the low IQ of the learners, if not, the incompetence of the teachers. But the moment the shift in pedagogy was brought in the poor performance standards of learners was unreasonably attributed to pedagogy disregarding whether teachers were following the classroom process or not.  
Let us refrain ourselves from parading the possible reasons for the present state of classrooms where a number of students are relegated into a pathetic realm of low-level proficiency. Instead, let us try to work out a few more alternatives.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016