Teachers’ narratives:Building theory from the bottom up
(with Shyam Sharma)
We generally assume that only so-called ‘scholars’, especially those who are from the national or global centers of knowledge production, can produce new knowledge; ordinary teachers don’t do so–they just teach! We are used to simply turning to the ‘real’ scholars for ideas about how to teach. Isn’t this a problematic view of our profession? Without grounding scholarship, research, and pedagogy in the local realities of the classroom and students, and without teachers participating in the creation of new knowledge, how can our profession genuinely develop from within? It is time that we start being a part of pedagogical innovations that we know will work for our students. We need to start developing new approaches, theories, and methods based on local socio-cultural contexts and dynamics. The practical challenges of the classroom can be better tackled if we as teachers try to theoretically, methodologically and pragmatically address those challenges than if we continue to look for solutions in the big ideas of big scholars out there. We need to develop ELT scholarship that is based on our teaching practices, experiences, stories*.
August-2011 Issue of NELTAChoutari brings teachers’ narratives related to various issues of language teaching and learning within classroom and beyond. Janak Raj Pant’s narrative is related to teaching English in large multilevel classrooms. Janak discusses a number of unusual benefits of large classrooms. While recognizing many downsides of teaching/learning in large classrooms, he also shares his experiences and strategies of how to tackle those challenges. His article is a good example of how methods, approaches, and theories of ELT must and can emerge from local teaching/learning situations.
Alban Holyoke, a Fulbright scholar from the US, who shares his experience of teaching English in Nepal, reflects on the challenges faced by novice teachers. In his narrative, he articulates uncertainties and pains teachers, particularly those who have never had any experience of teaching English, have to bear in their first year of teaching. Three important themes emerge from Alban’s narrative (a) building rapport with students is as important as having teaching skills, (b) utilizing students’ existing knowledge is an important strategy to promote dialogue in the classroom, and (c) teachers must learn to teach from mistakes and uncertainties.
Simon Taranto, another Fulbright Teaching Assistant, shares his experience of teaching English in a government-aided public school in Nepal. His narrative depicts that understanding local context is an indispensable component of teaching English. A brief account of his experience indicates that teaching English is always a situated practice i.e. without understanding local exigencies it may not be possible to expect effective teaching of English. In order to understand contextual realities, as he describes, we have to engage ourselves in outside-classroom-interactions (with teachers, community members and students) which help to understand dynamics of teaching and learning in school. He also suggests that it is important to be a part of teachers association like NELTA for professional development. At the end, he presents how students can be helped to produce a variety of language by using a simple communicative activity.
In another narrative, Luke Lindemann, also a Fulbright scholar, shares his thoughts about a crucial issue in ELT: creative production of English. He points out that Nepalese students lack the ability to produce English creatively i.e. they can only produce limited chunks, usually on one-to-one question-answer basis, but they cannot express their own thoughts and feelings very fluently in English. He suggests that by engaging students in collaborative activities and games in groups or pairs, students’ creativity can be fostered. As an example, Luke uses collaborative storytelling, which seems to be very effective towards meeting the goal of creative production.
Uttam Gaulee in his review article discusses the issue of gender in education and urges us to think about it in the context of Nepal. Reflecting on his own narrative which depicts how students are segregated in the classroom in terms of their gender, Gaulee raises some crucial questions for discussion. Here is a list of Choutari’s ELT khurak for the month:
- A Reflection on Teaching English in Large Multi-level Classroom (Janak Pant)
- Brief Experience of Teaching English in Nepal (Alban Holyoke)
- Within and beyond classroom for teaching English ( Simon Taranto)
- Encouraging Creative Production (Luke Lindemann)
- Review article: Shall We Separate Boys from Girls? (Uttam Gaulee)
We hope that you will enjoy this issue. Please remember to leave at least one comment: let us build knowledge as a community, one idea at a time. Please also remember to like, share, and subscribe to entries. Thank you.
* If you’d like to read more Choutari scholarship on the subject of teacher narratives, please look them up by “teacher experience” tag in the selection menu on right.