Disengagement of students in the study process can be attributed to various factors. As children grow up, the combination of physical changes, an urge to establish a position in school and family, as well as, questioning the set norms by students are some of the major issues, but linguistic incompetence is a bigger trigger for developing an aversion to the learning process.
Lack of proficiency in the teaching language creates hurdles in a child’s eagerness to independently read a book and assimilate knowledge. Even when a learner understands a concept taught by a teacher in classroom, still he/she has to devote extra hours mugging up chapters to produce acceptable answers during school examinations. Added to this, schools are trying to teach skills that children require in the future, but the content is not related to real life. Therefore, children can’t relate to it. The natural urge to question the authority of a teacher and the benefits of studying can create havoc in a child’s mind.
Can change in syllabus and teaching methodology hold the attention of learners in such a way that they keep themselves engaged in the acquisition of knowledge and self-exploration through carefully planned language classes, instead of deviating from the path of education?
Scrapping the language of instruction as a subject with a period dedicated to it every day, wherein a language teacher helps students to read and understand 15 or more stories and a novel in one academic year, can help resolve many issues. The language of instruction should be taught while teaching science, history, and even mathematics. Small grammar lessons can be formatted in all subject books, either as notes in a corner of a page or as footnotes on a page. This will help students understand the significance of language to convey ideas and opinions, and more importantly, they will understand that language is not a subject, but language is everything.
What amazes me is the way a language is taught. Were short stories and novels written to be studied as chapters in schools and young learners rote- learning these beautiful stories? Clearly, they are to be enjoyed at leisure, but a child remembers them as a burden because he/she has to take tests based on these stories.
Shakespeare will be shocked to see how students are made to mug up his dramas instead of performing them on stage or enjoy reading them in groups or alone.
Therefore, what are the ways in which a language should be taught?
1. Instead of prescribing academic books, a fairly long list of fiction and non-fiction books should be recommended, out of which a student has to read a minimum number of books in an academic year. These suggested books should be freely available in the school library, and authorities should create a routine which makes it compulsory for students to go to the library and get a book issued that they want to read at leisure. Weekly there is a library period where students go to the library but they are never encouraged to get a book issued out of fear that they will spoil the books. Issuing books to students should be a routine that is the same as attending science classes or mathematics lessons. Even if a student doesn’t read the books he gets issued, he will still hold one new book and take responsibility for keeping that book safe for at least one week. The problem of one size fits all can be resolved by giving students the independence of making a choice and helping them slowly gravitate towards their interests, thereby developing a lifelong love for reading.
2. In the classroom, teachers should give a new comprehension passage each day on an engrossing topic that can be done in 10-15 minutes. After that, the language teacher will get time to discuss answers, vocabulary, grammar, and phrases used in that passage. Students should be motivated to maintain their personal vocabulary register where they can write new words, phrases, and expressions used in that passage instead of maintaining notebooks to write questions & answers based on set stories and novels.
Benefits of this system
• If these passages are taught with the help of smartboards or LED screens, wastage of paper can be avoided.
• In order to enhance students’ reading speed, teachers can copy-paste the same passage on Powerpoint to control the speed at which the words disappear from the screen. This will be a fun activity for students where they will be able to increase the number of words they can read in a minute.
• Why is it that a child who attends grammar classes for 12 years in school is still not able to grasp basic tenses, let alone advanced grammar? This happens because, firstly, grammar books are different from course books. On top of this, we as teachers fail to help students see the usage of correct grammar in passages and stories to convey the exact meaning. Teachers can use the same passage to deliver grammar lessons and help students connect the concepts of grammar to real passages instead of practicing isolated sentences.
• This methodology will also help eliminate traditional standardized tests based on course books. Students will not ask a teacher “is this going to be in the test?’
These passages should be based on a wide variety of subject areas:
a. Passages about facts and myths: Children will become aware of amazing facts around them which will make them more curious about the world they live in. Even reading about past myths specifically science myths and how these myths were debunked can help students think critically and become innovative.
b. Passages related to successful people in varied professions: Subtly, different subject areas and the professions associated with them can be presented to a class which will motivate them to take up a particular profession in the future. Especially in areas where being a doctor, engineer or teacher are the only options presented by teachers and parents to budding minds. This methodology will help children seek different career options they have in front of them. Reading about people who gained higher degrees and made fruitful use of formal education can help students study with renewed enthusiasm.
c. Reading about global personalities who contributed to the upliftment of society, made sacrifices to see others happy, and broke the shackles of discrimination at all levels, can inculcate requisite human values such as respect, acceptance, consideration, and empathy in children.
d. Passages based on discoveries made in the past and innovations and improvisations thereafter, make an interesting read for young minds. This will help them see the connection between different subjects taught at school and how a field of study was used to discover or invent something.
e. Passages about success after repeated failures can help young minds handle disappointments and obstacles in life and be persistent until they succeed.
f. Dropouts are glorified by showcasing a part of the whole story. Children wrongly assume that all dropouts are successful because they parted ways with formal education. The real picture that all dropouts don’t achieve success is not made clear. Many young minds fall prey to anti-social elements.
Those who made it big had a plan and they were committed to it. Most importantly, they worked hard to reach their present position. They dedicated their time and energy to useful pursuits. Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg were or are avid readers. They read more than the average person, and it is this habit that shaped their personality. Our children need to know the whole story.
g. Passages based on situations where a person overcomes stress, anxiety, or depression can help students to become aware of these mental issues and how to handle them appropriately.
h. Teaching basic life skills where the child is required to read and understand real-world factual texts can prepare the child for the world he has to step in after finishing school. Students will learn to interpret written information rather than spending time memorizing things that need not be learned by heart.
Children should seek to explicate and contextualize notices, advertisements, broachers, instructions and details of educational courses, pay schemes, work conditions, machinery instructions, and read bus and train schedules which they will encounter in their daily life.
i. Passages related to vital knowledge home economics, consumer science, how to build credit, how to apply for loans, how not to avoid getting caught in the quagmire of debt, steps on how to pay taxes, the importance of a budget will help students prepare to survive in the real world. These should not be in the form of chapters in a book, but as stories and short passages.
j. The qualities that we want children to imbibe such as leadership, team spirit, patience, punctuality, time-management, dedication, the importance of discipline, respecting others can also be taught via reading passages. When such passages are followed by discussions in class, children will not only foster skills that they need in the future but also learn to voice their opinion and thereby, improve their speaking skills
Undoubtedly, this will enhance students’ language skills. This teaching technique will also train people for the future by helping students to continue with formal education while developing a well-rounded personality.
Admittedly, schools pay less attention to the listening component of a language which is an integral part of any language. There are students who have studied a language for 12 years at school, but they are unable to converse fluently as they aren’t trained to understand the spoken language.
With the advancement in technology, listening exercises should now become an indispensable part of the classroom with multiple Bluetooth ear pods/headphones connected to one audio source.
Time spent at school to develop the listening skills of a child can be multifunctional.
• Focusing to achieve is a skill that can be taught via listening exercises. Giving listening exercises to students where they have to attempt multiple choice questions, fill in the blanks, or take notes can help them concentrate on the given task.
• We give cues with regard to our emotions, likes, and dislikes or to convey our agreement or disagreement while speaking. These hints are often misunderstood or ignored by listeners which can lead to conflicts and even crossing the line of law. To listen is to understand other people. Children can be trained to understand these signals and become more empathetic.
• Life skills can be taught via listening to audio dramas to help children navigate through life seamlessly.
Things like Money management, relationships, manners, health care, mental health, time management, laws and rights as a citizen, survival without technology, basic home management, gender equality, and digital rules can be taught through a captivating series of audio dramas.
• Children can be sensitized about bullying in schools, on campus, or outside through powerful audiovisual media. The major cause behind children bullying others is that they are unaware of what they are doing. Young minds need to know what is bullying, why some children get involved in it, as well as, how hurtful it can be for a victim. Showcasing a bully as a weak and insecure person in the video can make children avoid such behavior.
SPEAKING AND WRITING
Many schools have started focusing on speaking activities, but are these successful? Generally, when children are given a topic for debate, they go back home, search the topic online and then speak in front of others. This is ineffective. Children aren’t able to make use of the vast range of vocabulary they are familiar with. When they have to speak in everyday contexts they fall short of words. The same is the case with writing.
What should be done?
• Teachers should give impromptu what-if scenarios so that children develop the ability to think through scenarios and situations that arise in their life.
• While children present arguments and discussions, teachers can gently guide students to avoid faulty reasoning to construct arguments and learn about the logical consequence.
• Children should be given the freedom to express their thoughts and views about books instead of a teacher interpreting the book and making them write answers. This will also help them understand that others can have a different point of view regarding the same subject and this doesn’t mean that there needs to be a conflict and a fight.
• Role plays are also effective and schools do use them, but there needs to be a set syllabus for this. Schools can designate an area in the school premises where role play setup can be made like a hall which can be turned into a bank for one week where children can simulate banking transactions. Next week the same area can be converted into a hospital. Thereafter, an office where children will enjoy attending mock board meetings, interview sessions, and so on. These activities will be engaging and make students come to school with enthusiasm while still polishing their verbal communication skills.
• Striking a conversation in everyday situations is also an art that our students must polish before they enter the real world. Listening to others and responding appropriately sounds easy but our children lack this skill. Children should be trained to maneuver through a difference of opinions, look for cues by noticing a change in the tone of voice or body language.
More than anything else teachers need to promote speaking skills in all the students equally. In most schools, children who already have good speaking skills are given opportunities to speak in front of an audience, participate in debates and discussions, and become the face of the school, but what about other students?
Speaking effectively is a skill that cannot be ignored but the methodology used should be changed so that a greater number of students can be trained to be good conversationalists, as well as, powerful speakers in situations they will come across when they will leave school.
• Children should never be made to rote learn selected essays, notices, letters, and so on. Children should be made to write original pieces of writings by using their creativity. There should be a set syllabus for vocabulary, phrases, and a style of writing for each task.
1. While making the syllabus, topics that need to be covered through language classes should be meticulously divided according to the age group that will do these activities.
2. Thereafter, the topics which can be done via reading and then revised or studied in detail with listening practices should be clearly demarcated.
3. Teachers are the soul of the class therefore they need to be tested, trained, and encouraged to follow such a pattern effectively.
In this way, students will learn a language in depth and cover topics that are not presently part of the school curriculum. These steps will make learning at school effective, interesting and useful. It is time we answer the questions raised by thinking minds regarding the flaws in our education system.