Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Creative material for teaching English....!!!

Creative material for teaching English
Prof. Sunanda MAHENDRA

The state concept of learning and teaching of English as a second language is appreciated and commended by many teachers. This concept underlines the learning as a life skill which ought to be more creative and resourceful than it exists today in the classroom. Over the years teaching of not only English but also other languages, have been experimented and as a result quite a number of books known as readers and companion readers entered the scene. The publishers hand in hand with the educationists experimented on various methodical creative forms of books that could be utilised by the teacher and the student. There were 'guidebooks' and manuals, which underlined the various segments commencing basically from grammar to sentence structures.

Going through a general classroom text one would see, units and chapters, with topics and headings which goes as parts of speech, common and proper nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions, pronouns, etc. One cannot argue that learning these basic rules of grammar are unimportant or unwanted. But the times and trends of learning and teaching have over the years changed the same patterns into more creative forms, with the strict dissociation of studies in linguistics and the study of literature, as two disciplines. This resulted in a wide range of the emergence of a wide range of workbooks and 'activity' books and also supplementary readers, that could help the teacher and the student.

This segmentation was followed by another trend that included aspects such as vocabulary, sentence writing, paragraph writing, expressive writing, report writing etc. With the advent of audio visual media in the field of study, the teacher and the student had the chance to utilise tape recorders, slides and other technological methods. This proved the way for the teaching of English as a creative skill, which had a wider spectrum than it used to be.

The term creative teaching and creative learning emerged as a result of the use of better designed readers as well. In the first stage after the post second world war, scene, a number of supplementary readers appeared. One of the finest series was titled as A L Bright story readers designed to help build a better understanding of world known literary works such as Arabian Nights, which included Sinbad the sailor as well as Ali Baba and the forty thieves. Some of the major works such as Robinson Crusoe, came as abridged works limiting the vocabulary building skills of the student.

The series of books as I came to know later was the brainchild of an English publisher named Allen Lane who was also the father of the pocket edition Penguin books known by the English reader all over the world.

In India there appeared quite a number of English teaching books which were designed mainly for the Indian English student at college and university level of education. One of the pioneer work books which was widely used was known by 'Desk Work' written by an educationist named Ross. Side by side grew an English teaching tradition pioneered by English educationists who visited and stayed in India over a period. These books included titles such as 'First Aid in English', 'Radiant way to English', 'Good English', How to use it', 'Steps to learn English' etc.

Most of these guidebooks were designed to suit the ascending order of the school classroom. These books also came to be used as classroom texts which not only taught grammatical rules, but also helped enter into other subject areas. One other text designed in India, and imported to our country, was known as 'Prose selections' where the reading material was more oriental and possessed a creative flavour. I remember one stimulating essay titled as 'Gandhiji in London'

In this essay selected from Mahatma Gandhi's biography the reader may find the hardships and struggles encountered by Mahatma in order to build a vision of his own. Then there were several essays on subject areas that envelopes folklore, science, technology and explorations. Over the years the teaching and learning methods to study English as a second language had changed. With the use of Radio, there came a series of educational progress titled as English by Radio' (EbyR). This series was meant to teach English as second language addressed to various cultures.

The content of the program as I understood from the participation for the series designs, by the World Service of BBC, in London the necessity was to help build a tradition of 'Spoken English' though the term is now inadvertently used in many situations. Followed by the success of EbyR, the television series too came to be. This series was titled EbyTV (English by television). By and large, the teaching of English as a second language gained grounds later as a business deal devoid of its profoundity. English teachers were trained in our country especially by the training college in Maharagama, which over the years utilised various teaching trends. But I am not too sure as to what happened in the eighties and nineties with the advent of English units attached to the universities.

As teaching material for the promotion of English teaching, the parallel texts too had come to be designed. The main intention of such a series is to lay a text in English or any other language and to present the translations of the same on the opposite page. This trend is being experimented already with Italian, French, Spanish, Hindi, Urdu, Chinese, Japanese and several other languages. The reading material could be drawn from such sources as folklore, science, and other literary sources like supplementary reading material not only help build a teaching and learning culture but also help build better insights to the world in a wider sphere.

The writer of this column commenced his career as an English tutor attached to the then Vidyalankara University. He later obtained eligibility in English, the study of comparative literary studies from University of London, UK, while serving the BBC as a managerial program producer of the World Service.


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