I have been a teacher of English for the past eleven years. Recently I attended a workshop as part of my in-service training. This workshop discussed a different approach to facilitate the acquisition of English language in learners. It completely changed my mind set about teaching English. I realized that teaching a language should not be merely for reproducing the content from the book. Instead, it should be the outcome of the students’ views and ideas as well. The teacher’s crucial role is to facilitate the generation of thoughts and ideas in students. It is here that interaction plays a vital role. After the initial five-day phase of the workshop, I entered my classroom like a new teacher. I started using interaction as a tool in my classroom and it created wonders.
What is interaction?
Language is primarily speech. This implies that if the learners have to acquire English they should get input in the form of language that is spoken. In the second language classroom, the major source of language input is from the teacher. Therefore, whatever the teacher speaks in the classroom should be capable of providing rich language input for the learners. Since communication is a two-way process, it is necessary that learners also respond to the teacher. The two-way dialoguing that takes place in this manner between the teacher and the learners is interaction. An ideal classroom should follow a process where at several points the teacher has to interact with the learners.
Interacting with students using a picture
The first day after the training, I began with ‘description writing’ in my class. I still clearly remember how the class went on. I told my students that they were going to write a description about a picture that I would be showing them. They had to write it in English. They looked at me doubtfully. I convinced them and made up their mind. Then, I showed them the picture (given below) and asked a few questions to elicit their ideas.
Questions I asked:
What do you see in the picture?How many people are there?
What are the two girls doing?
What are the boys doing?
What is in the background of the picture?
Can you name some of the flowers in the picture?
Do you think the children are enjoying their work?
I felt amazed when my students responded to my questions. I received a variety of ideas from them. I did not expect that from my students. Until then, I had tried many ways to involve them in the classroom activities; but this time it worked to some extent.
Engaging the quieter students
Still, I couldn’t make a few of my students to get involved in the process. I realized that they were hesitant to speak up. They were not confident to frame sentences in English. So I initiated dialoguing with them. “Look Madhivathani, Monisha says this, what is your idea?” I asked her.” “Sir, the girl is watering the plants.” She replied in Tamil. I said the idea in English and wrote the sentence on the board. She looked at me and smiled. After that, she became one of the active participants in my class.
Thus, interaction brought about a change in my classroom environment. Earlier, children never participated actively. It used to be a very calm classroom, but now it has become very active and noisy too. I can get many ideas from every student. They feel free in contributing their views and ideas.
Earlier I used to correct the errors made by students explicitly. After the workshop, I have shifted from error correction to editing. In editing, the language generated by students is refined by negotiating with them and asking the opinions of other students too. Thus, interaction helps in editing. When I was editing my students’ descriptions, I asked questions like:
Do you think a word is missing here?
Do you want to use this word instead of that?
Do you think the description is well organized? Do you want to make any changes in the sequence of the sentences?
Does it contain all the essential details?
Are there any ideas in my writing (sample description written by me) which you have not included in yours?
Has any group (when children sat in groups and wrote descriptions) written any idea that others have not written?
These interaction questions helped me to correct the errors that appeared in their descriptions. Interaction also enabled the students to edit their descriptions themselves. These days, my students have started writing their own descriptions, with minimal mistakes.
Impact on students
My students’ vocabulary strength has also improved much because of our interaction in the classroom. I witnessed that they are using many new words these days, which help them to write answers on their own. During the English examination conducted recently, I noticed that my students were able to write the answers in their own words.
My students have become independent learners. I have witnessed this ability in them, when I was teaching a lesson in EVS, I asked them to observe the pictures given in the lesson. Then, I asked them some questions about the pictures to elicit their ideas. I was amazed when my students were able to say the entire concept of the lesson. Then I told them that the lesson was over. My children couldn’t believe this. They felt very happy and satisfied.
A few weeks after I started practicing the new approach, my students told me that I wasn’t reading the text and explaining the text as I was doing earlier, but now they understood better and enjoyed more.
Later, I conducted an exhibition of the students’ works (description, conversations, narratives etc. that they had written). Teachers and students from other classes and parents came and saw how my students presented their works. They, especially the parents, felt very happy. Some of the parents said that children had started to read at home as well. They were spending a lot of time looking at pictures and the parents had wondered why they were doing so. Now, at the exhibition, they understood the reason for it. Parents of a few students from other classes even asked me to teach their children in the new method.
Throughout this article, I have been trying to communicate to my readers how the new approach, particularly the tool of interaction, has enhanced my classroom experience. I should also say that, initially I was hesitant to experiment with this approach in my classroom. However, after I tried it out, it has worked wonders with my students – the same students whom I thought wouldn’t do any better. The change has been dramatic! They are sparking with their own thoughts and ideas. I have always wanted to see this kind of a classroom – a classroom in which children can learn independently and experiment themselves. The new approach has sowed a seed, but it is in the hands of us, teachers, to take this forward.
Teacher: Nathan A, GPS, Sinnakarayambuthur
Term: Term 1