A letter to English teachers: 67Writing for the empowerment of students [Archives:2004/792/Education]

November 22 2004

Dr..M.N.K.Bose ([email protected])
Associate Professor of English,
Faculty of Arts, Ibb.

Dear Fellow teachers,
In the last few letters (too many, I suppose!), I have been discussing the development of writing skills in your learners. The reason why I am spending so much time and space on writing is simply this: in my confirmed opinion, this is the most important skill for the Yemeni learners of English, next only to reading. This, I have stated in many of my letters.
Writing, unlike speaking or reading, reduces the nervousness and anxiety of the students while attempting to use English, as they are free to use or misuse English as they like. It is more a personal activity and their errors come to light only when their writings are read or corrected by the teacher. They are, therefore, at ease when they write in English. If we pay attention to the development of this skill in a systematic way, I am sure, they will be benefited much and this will create motivation in them to learn more English.
In this letter, I am going to argue that good writing skills not only enable our learners but also empower them to express their views boldly. Most of our classes are known for making our learners silent and passive listeners, the teachers dominating in the classes because of their superiority in terms of knowledge and scholarship. In the oriental societies like ours, the learners are supposed to listen to the master and learn obediently and any questions from them, even the ones asked for clarification, will be treated as an act of disobedience.
In this tradition, English classes are worse than other classes, as they create a fear in the learners because of the newness of the language. Most of us cash in on this and make our English classes occasions for our monologues, behaving like 'unquestioned monarchs' in our classrooms. There is hardly any room for our learners' voices to be heard and respected. They only voice what the teacher asks them to repeat in the classes. This is not a healthy climate for an English class (not for any class); because we teach human beings (not benches and desks) and each human being has a mind of his/her own and he/she is bound to have his/ her individual opinion. Why don't we give them an opportunity to voice their opinion, positive or negative? The immediate response from some of you will be 'Can they? Can they voice their opinion in English?' My rejoinder will be 'Yes, they can, provided you encourage them to do so.' Writing enables them in this regard; what they cannot do orally, they can in writing, of course with mistakes.
In writing classes, think of topics that interest them and those which provoke them. Discuss the topics with them and ask them to write about them. The discussion should only be a prompt or lead and they should be allowed to write whatever they want. This should be made clear to them before they write. Do encourage them to write on their own without worrying much about errors. The result will be encouraging. Topics like 'why do students try to cheat in the examinations?' can create a lot of discussion. This may not be possible in lower classes but can be attempted in secondary and university classes. Try to invent some such topics for your students. Good luck.

Yours fraternally,