A LETTER TO THE TEACHERS OF ENGLISH: 27Create learning opportunities for the learners in the class [Archives:2003/670/Education]

September 22 2003

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

Dear Fellow teachers,
Some of you may be surprised about my request in the title of this letter, because you may wonder what else is happening in the classrooms. All that happens in the classroom cannot be considered as learning opportunities. A real learning opportunity is when your learners have something to learn from on their own, of course with your help. This is possible only when you allow them to participate in the teaching/learning activity. Participation is not merely repeating whatever you speak or read, but making efforts to say something on their own, for example, 'Say it again, teacher' or 'Can I answer the question?' or 'Please spell the word'; or ask you a question, for example, 'What is the meaning of word x?' or 'Which page is it? and so on. Such efforts enable them to learn English in the real sense of the term.
Such efforts do not happen on their own; you have to create opportunities for them to make such efforts. You should first of all instill confidence in your learners; they should get rid of the fear and feel free to express themselves in the classroom. This is what I mentioned in an earlier letter: you should become a student-friendly teacher in you English classes. Confidence before competence should be your dictum. This means that only confident students will try to participate in the classroom activities whatever their competence be; the more they participate, the more they competent they become.
Teaching the lessons in the Pupil's Book and the Workbook will no doubt create learning opportunities, but they are often less realistic, because most often the learners are expected to reproduce the sentences you speak or read or write; they are useful to the learners, especially to begin with. But gradually and steadily, you should encourage them to use English on their own, in simple activities such as the ones mentioned above in the beginning classes, in complex activities such as asking for permission to go out or asking for information about the examinations and tests etc. in higher classes. Such opportunities should be created in the classes and when such activities happen in the classes, they should be made use of. This can happen only when you are alert. I have seen many teachers lose such valuable opportunities in the classroom when they happen because they were not alert.
I think you are aware of the saying 'you can take a horse to the pond but you cannot make it drink', this applies to the teaching /learning situation also. We can never make our students learn anything, what we can do is to create learning opportunities for them to make use of and learn, as learning is personal activity and it has to happen at the learner's initiative. This is true of the mother tongue too; no child is forced to acquire its mother tongue. The acquisition happens as a sapling comes out of a seed or a flower comes out of a bud; a natural process. As the child's atmosphere is filled up with the mother tongue for it to acquire from, our learner's atmosphere should be filled up with English for him/her to learn from. But remember what I have said in my earlier letter: it is not the quantity of English that matters but the quality of it which matters and useful for the learning purpose. Good luck.
Yours fraternally,
Dr.M.N.K.Bose ([email protected])