Teachers embracing EASY English

Smt. Umme Attika, is an English teacher at the Government Urdu Lower Primary School (GULPS) Chatripalya, a part of Jadigenahalli cluster, Hoskote taluk.

She regularly participates in the EASY English workshops conducted by Akshara. Our EASY English programme was started in 2016-17, and the programme focused on grade 1 students.

At the start of the programme, it was observed that the teacher was not so versed with English speaking, and was very hesitant to speak in English. But with regular practice during the workshops, especially with respect to spoken English, they have become confident and can hold a conversation with ease.



Smt. Umme Attika participates with an eagerness to learn and is very enthusiastic. After the workshop, she refers to the teacher module and prepares herself for the class.

She takes English for her students six days a week. In Karnataka, grades 1 to 3 sit together and learn with the help of songs and dance. Their class is called Nali Kali. With such a varied class, one needs to have a solid strategy when it comes to teaching Akshara’s EASY English.

Here’s how Smt. Umme Attika goes about it.
  • She starts by giving her attention to grade 3 students. She interacts with them and gives them some work, usually a writing-based activity (On black board / book)
  • She then focuses her attention on the children in grades 1 & 2. While she teaches grade 2 students using the Tab, grade 1 students observe and listen.
  • She then gives the grade 2 children an assignment. While they are writing, she teaches grade 1 students.
 


This integrated approach has proved helpful for effective class management. She uses the Tab to teach and then assigns a writing activity using the Government textbook.

She has insisted on a copy-writing book for every student, and gives them 1 sentence as practice, every day. Students are required to write the sentence and practice it.

UmmeAttika says, ‘I am happy to attend the workshop. It is a joyful workshop. We meet all the teachers of both the clusters once in a month. We share our experience with teachers and RPs about our learnings. I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to the Akshara team. They handle the workshop in an interesting manner. All the RPs are too good. I have learnt a lot from the workshops. Now, my confidence level has increased, and I will converse in English with my colleague as well as with students. It’s an opportunity for us to recap what we had learnt in our school days, also we learn about new methodologies of teaching.”



HM, Shri. Zaheer Pasha regularly visits and observes the English class. He says that, “I have observed that the teacher handles the session beautifully. The way she engage students is excellent. Her approach of teaching is very good.

Students love to sit in her class. I have observed a lot of progress among the students after the implementation of EASY English programme. Students can now understand better, and speak in English. They participate in TPR activities.”

– Nalini Raj N. K.

An Objective Analysis of Swalpa English, Thumba Fun

Dr. Kalavathi B.K, who is the Executive Director of Anveshna Foundationhas been the Master Resource Person for Akshara’s English Program since it’s inception. Here, Dr. Kalavathi, does and objective analysis of the components of the programme – the Teaching Learning Materials and the Training Package. Shares her experiences of the lasting impact created by Akshara’s Swalpa English, Thumba Fun on teachers, which enables them to teach English with ease in the classes.
 
I have been associated with Akshara’s English programme for the past 4 years, right from its inception of designing the package to its implementation towards becoming “Swalpa English, Thumba Fun”. It is always nice to see Ms Kanchan Banerjee, the Managing Trustee, taking personal interest in the program and striving to improvise and upgrade it from year to year, based on the changing needs of the target group. Now, let’s do an objective analysis of the programme:

Training package: The package includes both Teacher’s manual and hands on training for the teachers as well as departmental Resource Person (RP)s . The Training manual is very simple with clear instructions to the teacher and the RPs; it has “Thematic Graded Content” which is teacher-friendly, based on inculcating Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing Skills. It also instructs the teacher regarding the day to day transaction of each lesson very clearly and also mentions which TLM to be used along with the content. The package contains lot of language games and strategies which will enrich the English language environment in the class.
The training is provided in two phases; Initial Orientation and refresher phase. Initial Orientation phase is for 5 days in the month of May and refresher phase for 2 days in the month of October. This is a teacher friendly training using various strategies and interventions in a workshop mode on a one to one basis. The training not only enhances the English Language skills of the teachers but also boosts their self confidence and motivates them to implement the package in the classrooms. It also provides them lot of extra tips regarding implementing the package in the classroom. The Statistics of the English Language Program of past 2 years clearly indicates the success rate of this program and can be validated as it is drawn through a pre-test and post-test design. The program has inbuilt evaluation as the teachers have to plot on”Pragathi Nota” at the end of each lesson.

Teaching Learning Materials (TLM):The TLM includes- Flash cards, Flip over Charts, workbooks, Reading Cards and High Frequency Sight Vocabulary Chart. Each Lesson from the teachers’ manual has been divided into two parts, namely-
  • Rhymes
  • Conversation and TPR Activities.
     
They are supplemented by Stories, Alphabet Phonic Songs, Reading and Writing Material. The rhymes are supported with mobile rhymes to make the teachers recollect the way the alphabet songs and rhymes were sung. The workbooks have been differently graded for classes I, II, III and IV. The material developed has been simple, graded, attractive realistic and suitable to the grass root level- both for the children and Teachers. The print material used is also long lasting and child friendly. Measures have been taken to introduce the vocabulary which is familiar to the rural children. It has been upgraded and improvised on the felt need and feedback received by the stakeholders annually.

My direct experience in the training classroom: The teachers as well as the RPs initially started with an attitude to mean- “Oh! another training!” Later, as they were made comfortable with icebreakers they settled into the comfort zone and got involved in the program. As the training was in a workshop mode with many strategies, they all willingly participated with interest. They found the rhyme sessions very interesting and asked for more new rhymes, they asked for the rhymes between the other activities as a warm up. They enjoyed the individual activities more than the group activities. In their session end feedback they said that they would look forward to more of Akshara English training program as it empowered them to use English in their classrooms. They also felt the workbooks and lessons were simple and realistic. It would help them to transact better as it was graded and attractively presented. They wanted more of Grammar support and to fulfill this requirement Akshara’s monthly worksheets helped them a lot. On the whole the teachers as well as the RPs actively participated in the training. Each one came forward to enact the stories as role plays and enjoyed it. They enjoyed the whole training program and said it was like going back to their school days. It was seen that by the end of the 5th day they were more empowered with spoken English and they also affirmed it by saying that it had built in the confidence and capacity to handle their English classes better, in unison all of them said that they would want this training again and again. They were also in touch with me during the break in between the initial orientation and refresher programs and it has continued to be.
During the refresher sessions most of the participants of the earlier training sessions were present and they said they were looking forward to the refresher training. They said they enjoyed teaching alphabet phonic songs and were equally liked by the children and it made their job of associating the sound –symbol association, easy. They said this training has helped their children more and the children also were motivated to learn more. In the refresher session I noticed all of them spoke in English with confidence though some with errors. I also noticed that the errors had come down.
At this point, I need to share a particular incident which touched me deeply, this happened during the first training program, where I had to train teachers of Bangalore North. The trainees were an assorted lot of all ages and backgrounds. There were elderly people who were about to retire too. The training program was rigorous and all of them had to be treated equally and I did it. The last day, a very senior teacher, who had all the while hesitated to participate freely, and who was not very fluent in English, came voluntarily and told me, “Beti, you are like my daughter and you have done the training very well and this has helped me. I will use it in the class for my children. I pray Allah to Bless you”, and that too in English. My day was made and I was overwhelmed with emotion and this action showed me how successful our training program was. I strongly believe “Action speaks louder than mere words”. Doesn’t this anecdote speak loads about the program?

Response of teachers/ RPs in both sessions:
As I have mentioned in my direct experience, though the teachers and the RPs started with an “attitude”, they quickly realized the simplicity and ease of use and implementation of the program.

They opined :
The way the training was being given (individualistic) had empowered them to speak English and had given them the confidence to take it forward and teach/ train their children/ trainees. The many strategies which were used during the training sessions had given them clear picture regarding how English could be taught in a play-way method in the class. The package was realistic and simple and the training funfiled and interesting which motivated them to actively participate. The rhymes and stories selected were simple and teachable to their students. They also appreciated the “mobile support”. The TPR activities with language games were interesting. The conversation was useful as it involved simple day to day vocabulary. The TLM was attractive and easy to use. The workbooks were well graded with simple but attractive pictures helped them to motivate the children to write.
Changes in teachers by 2nd session:
There was a visible change in their English speaking skills by the second session. They were also eager to learn more English and implement in the class. They asked for clarification regarding the grammar doubts they had collected. They interacted freely and confidently. They shared their happiness regarding how their classrooms were charged with a fun filled English environment and how their children loved the English period now. Their sentence structures had visibly improved.

Interaction with participants during activities:
They found the rhyme sessions and role plays very interested. They also opined that picture reading and story building were highly suitable for their classroom. They said individual activities like pick and speak, dialogue extensions, division of attention activities helped them a lot to enhance their attention and confidence. They found the language web an interesting way to teach grammar and sentences.
They also said that they liked the way hands on trainingwas being provided for each trainee which helped them in carrying over it to the class as well as the training sessions.

Myoverview of the scenario in Mundargi:
We entered the BRC center in Mundargi for the 2day refresher session, only to be welcomed by bright faced trainees who said were very happy to see us back. They spoke in fluent English but ofcourse, with minor errors! Their level of confidence surprised me, each one was eager to share their training experiences as I started asking informally. Infact, we did not need an icebreaker to start the session but as it was in the manual we started, only to get the use of their imaginary money spent in funny ways and some did even say they had spent it on buying books for their school children. They all had used the past tense correctly!

    Next, the class was divided into five groups to share their experiences and each group was asked to brain storm and discuss on- rhymes, flashcards, TPR activities, story telling and workbook, which they effectively did and raised lot of questions, keeping their training perspective in mind and gave their opinions on:
  • How they used the TLM in classroom?
  • Why is TLM important in language learning?
  • Has it helped children learn the English language?

And feedback was collected regarding their usage of TLM and its effectiveness with children. It was surprising to see all of them boldly giving out their views without any inhibition.

The main objective of the refresher course was to orient on reading skills for which the trainees had to use reading cards to blend associated phonic sounds. They clearly asked their doubts regarding blending and enquired why the blend has to be like this and why not like the way they wanted to use, which came as a pleasant surprise to me. It was a proud moment to see the “thinking and assertive teachers” who were showing their professionalism. The session also made the “self” engulfed to reflect and see why a particular activity should be done a particular way, there was also a query regarding the pronunciation of “the” with the vowel sounds and consonant sounds, which was dealt meaningfully and the trainee was contented and happy with the rationale. They also enquired whether we could have a teleconference with them every month to help them further better their English.

The most precious moment was when even the most silent and withdrawn trainee of the previous session had opened up and expressed that the English training program had instilled confidence in him and he had carried it forward to his students and was happy when he saw them speak English with confidence! Isn’t that a wonderful gift?

All good things have to end so did Mundargi’s refreshers session which would go a long way down the memory lane! 🙂

The ‘Stars’ of Kushtagi: My First Visit to North Karnataka

Last week, Monalisa Hota from our Research team visited our programmes in Kushtagi block, Koppal. Below, she shares her experiences of the school visits and English training.

My visit to Kushtagi on 15th and 16th January 2013 was divided into two parts: Observe the Second round of English training to the Master Resource Persons (MRPs) and school visits. I spent the whole of first day with the 13 who came to participate in the training. Almost all of them were familiar with Akshara Foundation and Kanchan Bannerjee as they were trained before, except one very enthusiastic teacher who was new but insisted on being trained in this round. She seemed qualified enough to grasp the new material even though she was new to the training itself. Their English was far from perfect but their eagerness to learn and teach this ‘foreign’ language was impressive, to say the least. While the group of participants had almost equal male and female participation, more males teachers were better in spoken English, confidence and energy. Since the training was being conducted within a school, availing children for teaching learning purposes was easy and that enriched the whole experience for the participants. Kanchan’s ability to break this complex language into simple digestible pieces and to make the training as hands-on as possible by involving the children of the school played a major role in sustaining the interest of the participants throughout the session.

The process of training itself was very effective. However, the fact that only 50% of the invitees could make it to the training was an issue worth discussing and resolving for future. Despite an agreement with the Government to set some days aside for Akshara Training, only half could attend. One of the teachers called Kanchan to express his discontent with the Principal’s decision to call him back to school while he was on his way to training; he desperately wanted to participate. When such promising, enthusiastic and energetic teachers face unnecessary and avoidable hurdles, it’s a loss to all of us, especially the children. These are the kind of teachers we need in this time of crisis in the teaching fraternity. Is it possible to retain their energies before they are lost to the ‘system’? New as it was to me, I was constantly attempting to process these new pieces of information, reflect, discuss and think of possible solutions.


 Next day was the day of school visit. Based on one article I had read on KLP on the usefulness of School Development and Monitoring Committee (SDMC) in creating an environment for learning, I was curious as to what was the situation in the schools that I visited. Out of the four schools I visited, I found the SDMC active in just one school and that was the school in a 200-households small village named Bailihard. This school was simply mind-blowing. Every single foot of the premise was prim to the last detail; the periphery was lined with trees, shrubs and plants, the playground itself had a volley ball net (wow!), the floors of the corridor and the classes were spotless (not marble floor spotless…but clean), the staff room was no less than a small conference room with green table cover and cushioned chairs, and the toilet too was spotless and shining. I was told that the SDMC was very actively involved in the maintenance of the school; I saw the SDMC President dedicated to beautifying the surroundings, unaffected by the visitors.  Most teachers including the Principal were out for Samalochana Sabha, a monthly meeting on exchange information. However, those who were left behind were quietly and diligently going about teaching; they appeared content and engrossed in their work and kept the children constructively occupied too. While the two primary classes were being taught by teachers, the 5th class sat quietly by itself. All of them could fluently read the text from standard two book. Just as I was about to leave the school premise, I noticed a girl of this class reading from her book with the other students repeating after her. I witnessed a self-managed class in the middle of other schools that were barely able to function even with the teachers. This serendipity felt so perfect that it reminded me of Meluha (an imaginary place in Amish’s Shiva Trilogy where everything goes by the rules and everyone follows them diligently and efficiently). I agree, quite an exaggeration but relatively speaking, it felt a lot like that.

 
However, this moment of utopia ended as soon as I entered the next school, which was as small in terms of student and teacher strength but was quite the opposite of the ‘perfect’ school: the girls’ toilet was locked and perhaps unused as there was no drop of water anywhere around the source of water, the staff room was tiny with just one very small desk and one chair, and the children just sat listlessly. When the 5th standard was tested on reading, half were unable to read, some of these were not even able to recognise letters. Similar to this was another school in Koredkera which had a much larger student and teacher strength. But this school had infrastructural issue as its three Nali-Kali sections were squeezed into two rooms of which one room was packed with 64 students gazing blankly at the wall. There was barely enough space for any movement, let alone conduct the classes as per the methods. They are short of rooms, the teacher said. They were also short of two teachers and had a Pupil Teacher ration (PTR) of 1:48 instead of 1:35. The school lacked SDMC support. With a defunct SDMC, the School Development fund was returned to the source. Classes 4 and 5 were merged for the day due to the Samalochana Sabha held in that school. Out of the seven students, four could not read when tested on reading from second standard Kannada text books. In general, I also observed these children to have hygiene issues. Moving on, I had a chat with the Principal of the school where training was on. This school was short on rooms and had no boundary wall, as far as I could see. The toilets were open but seemed unused. The Principal who was into 33rd year of service was very happy to know that I knew Hindi as she was unable to express herself in English. So, we managed to exchange out thoughts. In the first minute of our meeting, she complained about the lack of cooperation from the parents in creating a learning atmosphere at their homes. She said that “children spend 7 hours or so in school and we make so much effort to teach but the moment they go home, all our efforts go waste”. Then she complained about the SDMC’s lack of support towards school development. As she compared the present day attitude of parents with that of 50 years ago, I could see that she was unable to incorporate the change over the year that has led to high enrollments thereby making teachers’ role even more challenging. I cautiously shared my observations of the school in Bailihard to get to know her better, careful not to offend her in any way. She expressed mixed emotions of surprise, defense  and helplessness. Even though she had not seen the school herself, she knew it was a small village and the school gets a lot of support in planning and development through SDMC and others. “Our children are also good Madam”, she said when I told her about that 5th standard that was functioning by itself. One of the teachers of this school had a stick in her hand, as she sat and chatted with her colleague, and occasionally did “hey” to shut any noise that disturbed her. None of the teachers taught, instead they sat chatting in pairs while  monitoring the classes.

From what I understand, while blaming and complaining comes naturally to all of us, the solution lies in believing in change and becoming the agent of change. So, even if an active SDMC is instrumental in learning of children, must the school remain dependent on just that or they could be empowered to create an SDMC that works for their children’s betterment? If the school believed in themselves and said ‘we can’ instead of ‘we cannot’, I feel a lot would begin to work out; because only then would they begin to think of ‘how to’.

Educative, informative and thought provoking as it was, my first trip to Kushtagi put me in touch with some really beautiful and positive components or ‘shining stars’ of our system/society: an amazing trainer who simplified learning English and made it fun, a bunch of enthusiastic teachers who wanted to learn this language, one promising teacher who was so upset about not making it to the training, one extraordinary government school where all 5th standard children could read standard two text, and a beautiful start-studded sparkly sky which we city-bred people are so deprived of. All the ‘stars’ were so beautiful and so real. I would love to see more and more of such stars all around us. The challenge is big and there is a long way to go…together. Reminds me of the famous saying “united we stand, divided we fall”.

Teachers Training : An important tool of Akshara’s In-school programme

This year Akshara Foundation’s Inschool programme, focusing on basic numeracy and literacy skills in lower primary grades between 1 to 5, is going on in full swing in over 600 Government schools in Hoskote, Devanahalli, Kushtagi and Mundargi blocks in Karnakata. The programme is impacting over 43,000 children.

Training gets Delivered

 

While the Akshara team has designed child-friendly Teaching Learning Aids, supporting the programme through constant interaction with the Teachers and measuring the programme through various assessment strategies, the programme is delivered in classrooms by Teachers themselves. A comprehensive training component is developed at Akshara focusing on basic English and Math knowledge that can aid teachers in the classrooms. The training is delivered in a cascading fashion through the education department Master’s Resource Persons (MRPs). A 5-day training in the beginning of the academic year is followed by a refresher training later in the year. This year, over 1500 teachers have been trained in the Akshara methodology and are currently delivering the programme in the classrooms.

“Akshara Foundation’s Training has Given me a new Approach”


We have received overwhelming responses to the trainings. The teachers are very happy with our training and feel the programme will surely benefit the children.

Sridhar, a primary school teacher who teaches English in Std I-VII and has a command over the language, said, “I have undergone so many English training programmes in my six years of service, but Akshara Foundation’s training has given me a new approach and I can teach my students in a simple way.”
Shailaja Patil from the Government Higher Primary School, Nidasheshi, said, “I have never tried speaking in English before, but once I started attending Akshara’s training I got the confidence to speak in English. I assure you that I will do my best in class.”
Mehaboob Sahib, a Master Resource Person, said that he has imparted English training for many teachers, 13 batches of them. “But I enjoyed imparting Akshara Foundation’s training package the most. This package has been designed keeping teachers in mind. Simple and the best.”



A few teachers who underwent our training in the Devanahalli block went a step ahead to compare our training with the British Council training and had the following points to say:

1. British council training was in lecture mode where as the Akshara Foundation training was activity based.

2. The Charts, Flash cards, Teacher’s guide etc provided by British Council were not up to the mark. The Akshara teacher’s guide, cards, charts flash cards etc provided by Akshara Foundation were very good. These are very useful for children’s learning.

3. Importance was not given to the communication skills of the teachers in the training program of British Council. In Akshara Foundation training program importance was given to improve English spoken language abilities of the teachers and English grammar.

4. The techniques of developing basic language skills among children were incorporated in Akshara Foundation training. Akshara Foundation training caters to the needs of improving teacher’s skills in using English language.
  • The methods of reciting rhymes and storytelling models were discussed.
  • The Akshara Foundation gives good guidance.
  • The basic grammar points have been covered. But some more grammar activities could have been included.
  • I feel that this type of teacher’s guide, kit and training for teachers may be given to all the teachers in the state.
We are thankful to all these teachers for finding value in our training and we believe that they will create a positive impact on the learning levels of children.