Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Fresh Approach To Teaching


LIM* frowned when she looked at the unexciting syllabus for the English Literature subject.

The senior English teacher knew she had to come up with a clever teaching plan or risk losing her Form Four students’ interest in learning the language which could affect their future career prospects, if they failed to master the international language.

She decided to change her approach and let her students play and learn English at the same time.

She then asked her students to act out Gulp and Gasp by John Townsend which required them to prepare their own scripts and costumes.
Young artists: Instructing pupils informally in English during Art lessons, may be a good way for children to pick up the language. – File photo

To her surprise, the 16-year-olds jumped at the opportunity which saw them work feverishly to perfect their pronunciation and intonation for the drama.

A boy, who had not been confident in speaking English, suddenly seemed inspired and even brought a wig to school and played the heroine in front of the class, she says.

“Not only did the drama help to improve their English, they also became more confident, creative and cooperative among themselves.

“The students had so much fun that they had forgotten that it was actually an English subject. They managed to step out of their comfort zone and showed less inhibition in using the English language,” says Lim, who has 25 years of teaching experience.

Forget about prescriptive textbooks and exams. The current exam-oriented system has not yielded promising results in increasing students’ ability to master the language.

With a touch of fun and creativity, the English language can be taught effectively too.

A check by StarEducate has found that, many senior teachers have in fact, taken their own initiative to help students maximise learning English in schools.

However, a lack of support from school authorities have dampened their spirits to sustain the work that they had carried out to achieve the goal.

But there may be light at the end of the tunnel, if the Government is serious about finding effective solutions to improve the standard of English.

Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin had recently said that the Goverment still placed emphasis on English as a second language, even though it had abolished the teaching of Mathematics and Science in English (PPSMI) in 2009.

He also said that many students were still unable to master English despite learning the language in school for 13 years.

This presents a perfect opportunity for the teachers to revive and incorporate some of the fun activities into the teaching of the language, if given adequate support and commitment from the school administrators.

Mary* said she initiated a link with a school in the United States (US) six years ago to provide her students with an opportunity to write e-mails and letters in English to their peers there.

Apart from learning about their respective cultures, the students also had a chance to practise using English in a more informal way.However, after a few exchanges, the interest died down.

While her students do not see economic value in the language, Mary is still determined to come up with activities to help her students master the language.

“Teachers should not be expected to work with a rigid syllabus, and must be given leeway in their approach to the language subject,” she says.

Lim agrees, saying that it is never too late for those who are poor in the language to buck up.

“I don’t like giving students written exercises because they tend to copy their answers from each other, so I prefer that they stand up and converse with their classmates in English.

“What teachers and students should do is to approach the English language as an everyday language rather than a subject,” she shares.

English teacher Jenny Tan from Kuala Lumpur says she takes the initiative to speak to her students in English during Physical Education (PE) lessons.

“The notes are in Bahasa Melayu, but I use English to explain them because I want students to have the opportunity to converse with me in English,” says the teacher, who has been in the profession for 17 years .

Even outside the classroom and school, she says she would speak to her students in English.

Another English teacher in Terengganu says she likes to get her students take part in competitions such as The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education contest Mag Inc.

“I also hope the Education Ministry will organise English camps for students and teachers to practise and learn how English is being taught in other places,” she says.

Lily*, who has been teaching English for 27 years, says non-exam subjects such as Civics , PE and Art can be taught in English to expose students to the language.

“For example, when students watch Art Attack (a British children’s television series) they can learn about Art and also English at the same time. That will be a fun way to learn the language,” she says.

The quality of teachers also matters.

There are some English teachers who are not qualified to teach the subject.

“There are English teachers who are not proficient in the language but are selected and asked to teach the subject although many of them are reluctant to do so. Sadly, such teachers don’t do a ‘good job’ of teaching the subject,” she laments.

Tan says the selection process of English teachers needs to be more stringent.

“It’s not the teachers’ fault if they are not proficient but selected to teach the subjects. Those responsible for the selection process should make sure that only qualified ones are chosen. It’s the quality that matters, not quantity,” says Tan, who has 17 years of teaching experience.

Authorities should stop criticising teachers. Instead, they should assist and support the teachers to achieve the goals.

Teachers have been burdened with loads of “irrelevant work”. From filing paperwork, organising co-curricular activities to dealing with district education officers, these non-teaching chores have left teachers with little time to plan their lessons effectively and pay individual attention to those who are weak in the English language.

“When the education district officers come to my school, all they care about is the National Key Results Area (NKRA). They want to see exam data such as the passing rates, marks and number of A’s students have scored.

“They are not interested in our teaching and learning approaches,” says Mary.

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