Learning to Read and Write


Learning to Read and Write: Though we strongly advocate an integrated approach to the teaching of different skills of language, the schoo...

Learning to Read and Write:

Though we strongly advocate an integrated approach to the teaching of different skills of language, the school does need to pay special attention to reading and writing in many cases, particularly in the case of home languages. In the case of second and third, or classical or foreign languages, all the skills, including communicative competence, become important. Children appear to learn much better in holistic situations that make sense to them rather than in a linear and additive way that often has no meaning. Rich and comprehensible input should constitute the site for acquisition of all the different skills of language. In several communicative situations, such as taking notes while listening to somebody on the phone, several skills may need to be used together. We really wish children to read and write with understanding. Language – as a constellation of skills, thought encoders and markers of identity–cuts across school subjects and disciplines. Speech and listening, reading and writing, are all generalised skills, and children's mastery over them becomes the key factor affecting success at school. In many situations, all of these skills need to be used together. This is why it is important to view language education as everybody's concern at school, and not as a responsibility of the language teacher alone. Also, the foundational role of the skills associated with language does not stop with the primary or elementary classes, but extends all the way up to secondary and senior secondary classes as new needs arise in the subject areas. Development of life skills such as critical thinking skills, interpersonal communication skills, negotiation/ refusal skills, decision making/ problem-solving skills, and coping and self-management skills is also very critical for dealing with the demands and challenges of everyday life.
The conventionally trained language teacher associates the training of speech with correctness rather than with the expressive and participatory functions of language. This is why talking in class has a negative value in our system, and a great deal of the teacher's energy goes into keeping children quiet, or getting them to pronounce correctly. If teachers see the child's talk as a resource rather than as a nuisance, the vicious cycle of resistance and control would have a chance to be turned into a cycle of expression and response. There is a vast body of knowledge available on how talk can be used as a resource, and pre- and in-service teacher education programmes must introduce teachers to this. Designers of textbooks and teacher manuals could also plan and provide precise guidance to teachers regarding ways in which the subject matter can be explored further with the help of small group talk among children, and undertaking activities that nurture the abilities to compare and contrast, to wonder and remember, to guess and challenge, to judge and evaluate. In the orbit of listening, similar detailed planning of activities for incorporation in textbooks and teacher manuals would go a long way in resurrecting the significant skill and value area. It covers the ability to pay attention, to value the other person's point of view, to stay in touch with the unfolding utterance, and to make flexible hypotheses about the meaning of what is being said. Listening, thus, forms as complex a web of skills and values as talking does. Locally available resources include folklore and storytelling, community singing and theatre. Storytelling is appropriate not only for pre-school education, but continues to be significant even later. As a narrative discourse, orally told the stories lay the foundations of logical understanding even as they expand the imagination and enhance the capacity to participate vicariously in situations distant from one's life. Fantasy and mystery play an important role in child development. As a sector of language learning, listening also needs to be enriched with the help of music, which includes folk, classical and popular compositions. Folklore and music also deserve a place in the language textbook as discourses capable of being developed with the help of exercises and activities unique to them.

While reading is readily accepted as a focus area for language education, school syllabi are burdened with information-absorbing and memorising tasks, so much so that the pleasure of reading for its own sake is missed out. Opportunities for individualised reading need to be built at all stages in order to promote a culture of reading, and teachers must set the example of being members of such a culture. This requires the nurturing of school and community libraries. The perception that the reading of fiction is a waste of time acts as a major means of discouraging reading. The development and supply of a range of supplementary reading material relevant to all school subjects and across the grades require urgent attention. A great deal of such material, though of varying quality, is available in the market, and could be utilised in a methodical manner to expand the scope of classroom teaching of a subject. Teacher training programmes need to familiarise teachers with such material, and to give them yardsticks by which to select and use it effectively.

The importance of writing is well recognised, but the curriculum needs to attend to its innovative treatments. Teachers insist that children write in a correct way. Whether they express their own thoughts and feelings through writing is not considered too important. Just as the prematurely imposed discipline of pronunciation stifles the child's motivation to talk freely, in his or her own dialect, for instance, the demand for writing in mechanically correct ways blocks the urge to use writing to express or to convey one's ideas. Teachers need to be persuaded and trained to place writing in the same domain as artistic expression, and to cease perceiving it as an office skill. During the primary years, writing abilities should be developed holistically in conjunction with the sensibilities associated with talking, listening, and reading. At middle and senior levels of schooling, note making should receive attention as a skill-development training exercise. This will go a long way in discouraging mechanical copying from the blackboard, textbooks and guides. It is also necessary to break the routinisation of tasks like letter and essay writing, so that imagination and originality are allowed to play a more prominent role in education.

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CLEAR CTET: Learning to Read and Write
Learning to Read and Write
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