Kerala’s Newly Introduced CB for English-A Critique

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Kerala’s Newly Introduced CB for English-A Critique

Postby C.Praveen » Mon, 15 Jun 2009 11:17:10 -0500


Attempts to revise Course Books based on felt need is always welcome. The Kerala Curriculum Framework 2007, had identified the need for the introduction of an issue-based curriculum using Critical Pedagogy as the base. So the English teaching community in Kerala and elsewhere were avidly looking forward to the launch of the new Course Book in English for Standard VIII.

The Course book being supplied free to the students have made it rather difficult for teacher trainees to buy it. There are many teacher educators in English who are yet to see the Course Book. The author, the newly elected Secretary of the Kerala University English Teacher Educator’s Forum (KUETEF) in this article turns the ‘critical search lights’ on the new Course Book and Source Book with the intention of awakening teacher educators to the kind of problems they are likely to experience.

On the launch
The write up in The Hindu newspaper dated 24 May 2009, under the title ‘New Tools in the SCERT English Textbook’ was read by the public with great ado and it had all the color and fervour associated with the launch of a potential Blockbuster movie! But given the policy of publication of text books at a subsidized rate, it has not been possible for the publishers to include colour or glossy pages which can attract students.

As mentioned in the write-up which appeared in The Hindu, the presentation of the content and layout is novel. The Course Book however gives the impression that for smooth and effective transaction, the steps suggested in the Source Book, ought to be followed.

On writing Lesson Plans
One obvious area of clash, likely to be experienced by teacher trainees is the current trend of writing Lesson Plans [in Kerala University] in the three-column format, while the experts who train teachers during Cluster Meetings have advocated the two-column format.

Teacher educators accustomed to guiding teacher trainees to mention the philosophical, psychological, sociological, technological and linguistic principles, during the preparation of Lesson Plans, are likely to make their trainees clash swords with the Cluster-Meeting-trained-supervisors in schools. In fact, the teacher educators and the trainees are probably going to find the instructions given in the Source Book, a potential stumbling block as it denies them the opportunity to introduce creative and novel ways of teaching the Second Language, such as the introduction of ‘Models of Teaching’ and other time-tested practices based on Behaviourist principles.

On entry point
The inclusion of quotations on ‘dreams’ [P7] as an ‘entry point’ for the theme dealt with, is similar to the use of Advanced Organizers prior to the introduction of new learning materials.

On Extended Reading
The SCERT has decided not to launch a Supplementary Reader or Pupil’s Work Book for Standard VIII, unlike in previous years. So, on P8 we find the inclusion of ‘Extended Reading’ of the poem Coromandal Fishers by Sarojini Naidu.

Now, we are given to understand that, Intensive Reading implies close reading, reading between lines and attempting to comprehend both connotative and denotative meanings. And by Extensive Reading, we expect learners to read quickly and silently. It is assumed that the vocabulary and structures of the text prescribed for Intensive Reading appears at regular intervals in the text prescribed for Extensive Reading. But looking at the nature of the text of Coromandal Fishers, this is not necessarily the case.

It may be recalled that the poem, Coromandal Fishers was prescribed for Intensive Reading in the Kerala English Reader in the 1990’s. Does it then mean that in one decade, the standard of pupils at the Secondary level in Kerala have dramatically improved so as to include the poem for ‘light’ or Extended Reading ? As an answer to this question is rather elusive, it would be better if the trainees closely followed the suggestions given in the Source Book for teaching Coromandal Fishers. This can help avoid a confrontation with the ‘supervisors’ in the schools during Practice Teaching.

On providing space for writing notes
Unlike in previous years, the student is expected to write answers in the space provided in the new Course Book. Does it mean that the teachers are expected to collect the Course Book after each class and correct the answers written by the students ? Or are the students only expected to write answers in telegraphic language after they engage in critical thinking based on the content ? If this be so, teachers need not necessarily correct the pupil’s responses written in the Course Book…. But, can we assume students with average level ability to write answers in the space provided for writing notes? Further, if the same is not corrected by the teacher, won’t this activity become a meaningless exercise ?

On vocabulary related tasks
On Page 19 and 20, six activities are included for enriching the vocabulary of students. It is worth remembering that the direct teaching of vocabulary was completely dropped while teaching English till Standard VII in Kerala. Does it then mean that vocabulary, which is supposed to aid in communication need be compulsorily taught only from Standard VIII ?

The tale of Macbeth with quotations from Shakespeare is included in Page 21 to 29:

‘It is too ful o’ th’ milk of human kindness’ (P 23)
‘Sleep no more; Macbeth does murder sleep!’ (P 25)
‘Here’s the smell of blood still; all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand’ (P 28)
‘Life is a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing.’ (P 28)

One might be prompted to ask whether ‘Extended Reading’ for which the tale of Macbeth is intended would help the students grasp the meaning or capture the beauty of the lines quoted above.

On editing
The most striking inclusion in the new Course Book is the inclusion of ‘editing’! But, common sense tells us, that editing requires a fairly good knowledge and command of Morphology , Syntax and Semantics. Now, can students with average linguistic ability be expected to fully engage themselves in editing ?

But I think the activities based on editing in Pages 33 to 35 ought to be welcomed, though it appears to be out of place. This is because, I see this as a back door entry of the teaching of grammar. The pooh-poohing of the very idea of teaching grammar by ‘experts’ who believed that as per Chomskian Linguistics and Constructivist principles grammar teaching has no place in the New English curriculum is still very fresh in our minds! ...So, better late than never…Let us hope that, this will finally help in improving the linguistic competence of the learners of English at the secondary level in Kerala, whose clumsy use of language, devoid of grammar have in the last few years shocked lovers of the English language.

On Self-assessment
The introduction of a section on Self- assessment P 40 to 41 is definitely good… but will an incompetent learner ever benefit by attempting to answer the Self-assessment questions without the proper guidance of a teacher ?

Syllabus Grid
The drastic reduction in the number of columns in the ‘Syllabus Grid’ given in the new Source Book to seven from the fourteen of the ‘Analysis of Contents’ in the old text book gives us a feel of the change in strategy. Conspicuously enough the four language skills LSRW do not find any mention at all. A comparison of the new ‘Syllabus Grid’ and old ‘Analysis of Content’ is given below:

‘Syllabus Grid’ (New)
Col 1 : Theme
Col 2 and 3: Concept and Ideas: Related to the Issue/ Linguistic
Col 4 Resources / Information
Col 5: Values / Attitude
Col 6 : Process / Activities
Col 7 : Evaluation

‘Analysis of Contents’ (Old)
Col 1 and 2 : Listening : Functions/ Passage
Col 3 and 4 : Speaking : Functions/ Passage
Col 5 : Reading : Passage
Col 6 and 7 : Writing : Textual / Communicative
Col 8 and 9 : Grammar : Functions / Structures
Col 10 : Word Study
Col 11 : Pronunciation
Col 12 : Study Skills
Col 13 : Reference Skills
Col 14 : Activities

One might be tempted to think that the ‘Syllabus Grid’ appears to provide guidelines for teaching ‘Humanities’ and not ‘Languages’ !

Exit remarks
Criticizing is comparatively an easy job in comparison to the pains and strains text book developers undergo to complete preparation of text books in set time limits. So it would be rather mean on my part to criticize a Course Book even before it has been taught by teachers. I am given to understand that no Pilot Study of the new Course Book was conducted before launching it in June 2009. So a Survey to gather information regarding the problems teachers experience in attempting to teach the new Course Book is absolutely essential.

I sincerely hope that the critical observations made in the preceding paragraphs will help teacher educators, practicing teachers and teacher trainees to approach the newly introduced Course Book in the right spirit of teaching English as a Second language.

For more articles by the author please visit:
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