Archive for the ‘TEFL’ Category

By Heart

Sunday, June 15th, 2014

‘By heart’ is a phrase we use in English. “I learnt the poem by heart.” It means to memorise something. It is used as a verb, here in India: “most lesson time is spent by-hearting the textbook”. And this is another beautiful use of language. If you don’t make ‘by-hearting’ a verb here then you are left with very few verbs that can be used to describe what happens in an Indian classroom. Verbs are doing words. And Indian classrooms don’t involve that much doing!

Most teaching here (I use the term ‘teaching’ as loosely as possible) involves the teacher writing on the board and the students copying. Or the students working from the textbook. Sometimes the teacher is in the room shouting or caning people occasionally. Sometimes the teacher isn’t there at all.

But even when teaching does happen in Indian classrooms it is all about the teacher transferring information to the student. The teacher tells the students what the answer to the question is. They by-heart it. She then asks the question. They tell her the correct answer or get shouted at.

Students are actively discouraged from thinking for themselves, from questioning, from developing an understanding of the material.

So asking students to summarise a text is difficult. Not just because I’m asking them to do it in English, but because the very nature of summarising involves thinking for oneself. You need to read the information in the source text, understand it, process it, extract the key features, express those key features. Not within the normal skillset of the average Indian school student.

I do a warm up activity called “What’s the Question?”. I give students an answer (e.g. water) and they have to ask questions that have that as the answer (e.g. what do we drink?). I have done this activity with primary, lower secondary, senior secondary and post-secondary students. And the quickness of the response, the creativity, the variety of responses all decline markedly with the age of the students. Some of the primary kids I’ve had have come up with some amazingly interesting questions! I put this down to the fact that they have had several fewer years of the Indian education system trying to beat creativity and autonomy out of them.

And there is a place in education for learning by rote. I was recently able to answer the burning question “Which element of the periodic table is Phosphorus?” because I memorised the first 20 elements for Year 11 Chemistry (way back in a dim and distant past decade). There is also a place in education for telling students that they don’t need to understand exactly why, they just need to be able to use it (one month before the GCSE exam, they don’t need to know how to derive the quadratic equation by completing the square, but they do need to be able to use the quadratic equation). However, both of these features of education should be limited. There is much more mileage in teaching students how to think, how to question, how to learn. Because then, they can expand their learning to fit their needs and their potential for growth and development is so much larger!

I hope the Indian education system wakes up soon. And I hope that ‘by-hearting’ will become, for Indians, as ridiculous a verb as it currently seems to us from the UK.

Why I Work With Volunteers

Sunday, May 25th, 2014

There’s a volunteer working in India at the moment. She has been here since January. I met her in the UK last year at her selection day and again at her training day. I’ve had some email contact with her while she has been here. And today I caught up with her for a lovely chat.

And she is exactly the reason why I work with volunteers.

She is loving being here. She has had a fantastic 5 months. The only serious problems she has faced are the heat and the mosquitoes and there’s nothing that anyone can do about either of those. And she hasn’t let them dampen her spirits or get in the way of having a magnificent time.

She wasn’t a teacher when she came out but she has had a lot of fun and a lot of success teaching here. She has faced some challenges of course. Behaviour management is tricky when you are a foreigner who won’t use the cane. But she persevered and tried different things and found some techniques that worked for her. And again, the challenges haven’t dampened her spirits.

She has loved living with the host family. She has loved working in the school and in the after-school programme for teenagers as well.

The materials we gave her to help her have indeed helped her. The support that Johnson has given her has been fabulous.

She is happy. She is thriving. She wouldn’t change a thing about her experience. She is already planning on when she can come back.

And this is why I love working with volunteers. Because a project like this changes you. It is a fantastic and memorable experience in its own right. But it changes the way you see yourself and the world around you. And being a part of this, being able to help volunteers to experience some of this magic is a wonderful privilege!!

We have 6 more volunteers arriving in a couple of weeks and I can’t wait to meet them, train them, watch them teach, support them and celebrate with them! 🙂

Grade Six at Central College

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

I was teaching primary in Eheliyagoda. The manager of the local RESC (Regional English Support Centre) asked if I (and the other volunteers) could help run a programme one afternoon for grade 6 students from a nearby secondary school. Sure. That would be great! I said I’d ask the others but that I’d certainly do it. Jean said she’d love to help out so that was nice, so I knew there would be two of us. I wasn’t sure if we’d have any other help or not. So I tried to plan a 2 hour session for 150 students that I could deliver on my own (with Jean helping) but that would also work if there were teachers from the school to help out. This turned out to be easier than I’d imagined.

We did have some teachers from the school plus a couple of the teachers from our primary school came along too to see what we were up to and to help out.

We had a hall and there was a white board. I had some small balls (Jean had brought several over from England). What more does one need! 🙂

We had about 100 students, I think.

I started off by introducing myself and Jean.

We split the kids into 4 groups. There was a teacher supervising each group. The teachers didn’t know what the plan was since I hadn’t met them until just before the session started.

Each group was given a ball. The first person in the group said their name and two things about themselves and then threw the ball to another student who had to repeat the information and then give their own information.

We did several activities during the session. We played 20 questions (where a pair of students were told the identity of a famous person and the rest of the group had to ask questions to work out who they were). We had a debate (each group divided into two smaller groups, the first group had the topic “TV is bad” the second “Technology is good”. Each person in the group had to say one thing either for or against the topic. Then the group did the other topic.

Between activities, I got everyone together again. We did tongue twisters and talked about the shape of the mouth for the different sounds. ‘I want a proper cup of coffee from a proper copper coffee pot.’ ‘If two witches were watching two watches, which witch would watch which watch.’ We did a song, Chester.

All in all, it was a great day. The students were eager and enthusiastic and their confidence grew throughout the afternoon. The teachers helping out were great (and I think some of them learnt something too). Jean was amazing! I had so much fun and I learnt a lot too.

This is what language teaching should be all about!

TEFL Course

Sunday, June 29th, 2008

I decided to sign up for an online TEFL course. I’ve had experience teaching Maths and some bits of computer stuff but I’ve not actually taught English before. Though I have tutored people one-to-one when English was their second language. So I figured that doing a TEFL course could be quite a useful thing: brush up on my grammar and learn some techniques for teaching English.

And I’ve now signed up for one ( It’s 20 units and I’ve done Unit 1. I’m now waiting to hear back from my tutor as to whether I’ve passed it and if she’ll let me loose on Unit 2. 🙂 I’ve got 6 months to finish it but could potentially do it in a few weeks. It will depend on how fast I can work through the units. Not that I’m in that much of a hurry. I have about 6 months before I go away so as long as I get it finished this year sometime I’ll be a happy bunny.