22. Prof. Prabhu on task-based teaching

15 08 2012

[This is an article originally submitted to articlesbase but was rejected for being overtly promotional]

Velammal Engineering College, Chennai,  recently organized the 7th International and 43rd Annual ELTAI  Conference. The first Plenary session of the conference was engaged by      Prof. N.S.Prabhu, former Deputy Head, Department of Language and Literature, National University.  He  is the legendary  Indian teacher of English who placed  India on the world Communicative Language Teaching map through the highly acclaimed ‘Bangalore Project’.

The abstract of his talk entitled Plausibility in Language Teaching  was circulated in the book of Abstracts to all the delegates, prior to  the Conference:

The classroom is not just a place for learners to learn; it is equally a place for teachers to develop a feel for the phenomenon of learning and an ability to judge what is best done with a given class of learners at a given time. Such ability can result in a greater fit between learning tasks and learners’ readiness for them at different times and a consequent enhancement of learning overall. This means that the methodology and materials made available to teachers should aim not so much to promote learners’ learning  regardless of teachers’ shortcomings but rather to encourage teachers to adapt/alter them to suit the classes they teach and gradually to acquire a sense of plausibility about what task is best for what learners at what point of time.

[P 1. Abstracts: The English Classroom-Experiments  and Experiences, 7th International and 43rd Annual ELTAI Conference. 19th to 21st July 2012]

Prof. Prabhu delivered his talk in a slow pace, sometimes repeating what was  uttered. This     helped in note making:

* There  are two problems in teaching:

1.We can plan our teaching, can observe our teaching and control our teaching.

2. We cannot plan  learning, observe learning  or control learning.

* Learning is not even perceptible at any time we are teaching.

* We can’t see the process of learning but  can see the product.

* So, what is learning…? Say,  a child or adult is  able to do something now-  which  it/he/she was unable to do yesterday… then,  there is a suggestion…  that something has been learned.

* The essence of task-based teaching is that learners have to continuously put in  an effort to learn. Progress is dependent on the effort of the learner- a reasonable effort dependent on the capacity of the learner. This could also  mean that there is  a series of unsuccessful effort in which there is no learning. If there is no real effort,  there would  not be any learning.

Problem # 1

* With reference to the Zone of Proximal Development, (ZPD) it could be said that  the learning task should be such that  there is the possibility of the learner succeeding in the task. For this, the task  must look  achievable. For learning to  be in the area of Proximal Development the task should  not be too easy nor too difficult.

Problem # 2

* We teach big/small groups of  learners. It is an acknowledged fact that siblings of the same family… learners from the same family, do not learn at the same pace. Teaching  will be uniform,  but learning will not be uniform.

* Sometimes more than half the class may have got the task wrong, or more than half the class may have performed the task correctly. Accordingly, the teacher is expected to modify the task-make it simple or complex.

* It is imperative on the part of the teacher to check learner’s response regularly and to change the task regularly. Here the teacher cannot be dependent on the Curriculum- developer. This then leads to the moot issue- curriculum has to assume progress  of learning.  But can  the teacher in the classroom judge?…some can from learner performance. Sometimes a learner may have got something wrong… The more correct  the assessment of the teacher, the more the advantage for the learner.

* The teacher has to gradually  become a curriculum setter  who makes changes that are necessary. If a teacher stops growing as a teacher, learning suffers… teaching  suffers!

* Does it mean that  there is no need for the curriculum or the syllabus…? What we need is a curriculum of a different  kind… not ones that  frustrates  teachers’ work… but promotes it.

* For  a teacher to make up a task everyday is a problem. A teacher may require a large collection of tasks … so large, that cannot be exhausted in  a year. They need to acquire the skill of adapting tasks….


21. On a teacher becoming a professional

1 08 2012


A profession according to  the Oxford Dictionary,  is a type of job that needs special training or skill especially one that needs a high level of education. Professionalism assumes that we expect from a person who is  well trained in a particular job, a high standard.

The professional responsibilities of  a teacher usually involves the following:

* Thinking about ones own teaching and being on the look out for ways of improving it.

*Keeping a clear record of  the work of ones own student.

*Communicating with the parents and the institutional authorities the performance of the students, one is assigned to teach.

*Contributing positively both  to the institution one is working and the community.

*Demonstrating professionalism includes:

a. Working  for the best interests of ones students;

b.Ensuring that all students are valued and helped in ones institution;

c. Making decisions that benefit the institution rather than oneself;

d. Maintaining  a positive and healthy relationship with the students and the staff.

During the  recently  concluded  International Conference  of ELTAI held at Chennai, one  session was devoted to  a Panel Discussion on ‘How I Became a Professional’

An erudite scholar Dr. Chellapan one of the panellists,  had this to say:

* A teacher rediscovers knowledge.

* Teaching can focus on the Universal and the Particular…on the Cognitive and the Affective…That is, it must  be sensitive to Knowledge and Art.  A teacher must be academically sound and artistically perfect  in communication.

*Beauty may be aesthetic…but Duty is ethical… The teacher ought to have a human obligation… a commitment  and  a passion for knowledge… the right kind of passion… and a commitment to inquiry and practice.

* Making others learn by teaching is actually impossible…Ideally teaching should be in the form of a dialogue… We are familiar with drilling in the Structural Approach:

This is a book

This is a book

This is a book

This is a book

This is a book

…Such drilling may help in memorising … but the moment the pattern changes:

Learner: This is a book…This is a book…This is a book..

Teacher: Why?

Now learning happens… Students begin to think…

* It is imperative for every teacher to evolve his/her own identity.

* Teachers need to draw on Literature, Language and Art. Teaching would involve:

1.Knowledge for Practice

2. Knowledge of Practice

3.Knowldege through Practice

It is worth recalling Gandhiji…Education for life…Education through life…Education throughout life…


I  particularly liked an anecdote which Dr. Chellapan  narrated: Some thirty years ago,     Dr. Faustus was  being  screened in  a  cinema theatre in Chennai. As  he was teaching the same play, he asked his  students to  see the film. A  couple of days later  when    Dr. Chellappan inquired  about the  acting in the film… his students had only one thing to say: “ Sir.. Dr. Faustus’  description of  Helen’s face “ …Is this the face that launched a thousand ships” lacked the passion  which you  showed when you enunciated the lines in the class!”  To this Dr. Chellapan had this to say to his students: “ Well… in the film, Richard Burton was addressing his wife… and in the class  I was  addressing  an imaginary Helen!”

From the note that I made  from Dr. Chellapan’s talk don’t you think he is a true professional?….Wouldn’t you like to be one too??


2011 in review

5 01 2012

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,200 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 37 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

20. Notes from ELT Conference on Teacher Development

20 06 2011

These are notes prepared during the VI International & 42nd Annual ELT@I Conference on Teacher Development held at VIT University, Vellore, South India -16th to 18th June 2011

On Teachers

• In sixth Century India, teachers were accepted in society. They were respected for their knowledge and voluntary poverty. In the Gurukula, they took care of the children like their own family members. An acharya was one who reads, who learns and teaches what one has learned. His job was 24X7

• Today’s teacher teaches a set of students for one hour a day, and serves as a kind of knowledge manager.

On Teacher Development

• Teacher development is not related just to individuals or institutions, but civilization.There are several ways of developing professionally: Learning from workshops and experts, reading journals, reflecting on own teaching, peer mentoring and constructive feedback after class observation, constantly relearning and even re-inventing how to learn.

ELT in India

• The problems ELT is facing in India today include among others : Huge numbers; Limited resources; Not enough trained teachers; Unmotivated/un-motivating teachers; Boring books; Little exposure to standard varieties.

• Three reasons which paves the way for the deterioration of standards of English are 1. A move towards focus on introducing curriculum in the mother tongue 2. The entry of Hindi 3. Reservation of jobs for those who learn in the regional language.

On becoming a professional

• Some ways of becoming a professional include the following : Enjoying what one does; Keeping open to opportunities outside; Networking with others; Evolving own methods; Acknowledging own ignorance; Reading more; Efforts put for personal growth; Concern for the community; Care for the spark in the eyes of the student; Commitment to the profession; Engaging in research.

• The defining character of effective teachers would include: A passion for teaching, a concern for the learner, an urge to enhance own pedagogic competence, one who triggers thinking in learners, is eminently adaptable, empathetic and teaches for life and beyond.

• Training in technology can go a long way in becoming a professional. The expected model of training in technology for most teachers can have three phases: 1. Hands-on-training in face-to-face mode 2. Follow-up online training 3. e-mentoring and online support .

Questions for teachers of English

• Teachers of English need to ponder on the following questions : Is ELT a profession?; Does belonging to one makes one a professional?; Can one ever say one has become a professional and can stay so?

On creativity

• To Einstein the mysterious was the source of creativity. In the Upanishads it is stated that where there is creativity, there is progress. But the tragedy of India is that a major portion of the curriculum (aping the west) does not help in nurturing creativity possible through nurturing the left and right sides of the brain.

• To instil creativity in learners, teachers ought to understand what creativity is. Creativity doesn’t begin with the mind but with the heart. To nurture creativity in children enable them to develop the ability to see common everyday things in a fresh light.

The hallmark of good writing

• Communicates, uses only essential words, and the writer has the passions which comes out in the writing, follows logically from sentence to sentence and from paragraph to paragraph.

The future of learning

The future of learning is likely to result in the following ten Paradigm Shift :

1. Pedagogy : Didactic models to constructivist

2. Networking : Connectivism

3. Literacy : From Print to working in mutiliteracies

4. Heuristics : From client server to Peer to Peer

5. Formality: From hierarchical power centricity to informal learning

6. Transfer: Applying social networking skills and concepts from personal life to professional.

7. Directionality: From push to pull in dissemination of knowledge (Eg. RSS feed

8. Ownership : Proprietary vs Open Sources

9. Sharing: From guarded copyright to Creative Commons and fair use

10. Classification: Taxonomic to folksonomic

19. Some ELT Tasks

9 08 2010

These are notes prepared by the author during the 5th International and 41st Annual ELTAI Conference organized by Anna Adarsh College for Women, Anna Nagar, Chennai from 5th to 7th August 2010

*Asking Creative Comprehension Questions  to primary level learners is important. It helps them to relate to the characters in the story and think and use language.

* Using Total Physical Response to teach primary level learners is an effective approach. For example all pupils can hold a balloon each and  on instruction from the teacher show; The balloon is now on my right, the balloon is now behind me, the balloon is now above me etc.

* Technology creates  a suitable  learning environment for students to master the English language. A few tasks using technology would include the following

Tasks using audio based materials:

* Retell the story you listened to using your own language

* Associate sound with the text

* Imitate the way you heard it

Tasks using video material

* Writing discourses

* Compare and contrast the video and the text

* Narrate the story

Tasks using advertisement

* Identify the homophones

18. Learner Training

9 08 2010

Ms. Amy Lightfoot, Teacher Trainer, UK delivered a lecture entitled Teaching the horse to drink : say goodbye to empty vessels- Learner Training during the Fifth International and Forty-first Annual ELT@I  Conference, organized by the Department of English, Anna Adarsh College for Women, Anna Nagar, Chennai from 5th to 7th August 2010.

The following are excepts from her lecture:

Learner training is particularly important for those who are learning English in a large class. Learner training involves :

* Considering student ‘motivation’

* Shifting ‘responsibility’

* Encouraging ‘reflection’

* Developing study skills

* Building confidence

* Encouraging experimentation

For some teachers helping students learn  how to learn may require a shift in style of teaching. It is important to remember that our attitude to the language we are learning can shape our motivation for learning it. Teachers should consciously try to encourage students to take responsibility for their own learning.

17. Some Howlers in English

9 08 2010

Prof. Krishnaswamy Natesan, Consultant and Author, Former Professor, CIEFL, Hyderabad delivered a lecture entitled English, Yes, but… during the Fifth International and Forty-first Annual ELT@I  Conference, organized by the Department of English, Anna Adarsh College for Women, Anna Nagar, Chennai from 5th to 7th August 2010.

According to Prof. Krishnaswamy, howlers are quite common in India. He recalled an instance of his correcting a paper for the Civil Services Examination, for  the prestigious job in the country: A candidate had written : “ Indian women eat their husbands before they eat themselves. The candidate had obviously meant that the women take food only after serving food to their husbands.

Given below are a few howlers which he came across while visiting different countries:

 China :

 At a swimming pool :  “ Fall into water carefully”

 A low roof  bus :  “ Bump your head carefully”

At toilet entrance : “ Free toilet paper, treasure the use”

Norway : At a bar : “ Ladies are not allowed to have  a child in the bar”

Rome: At the entrance of a clinic “ Specialist in women and other diseases”

Japan : At a bar : “ Special cocktail for ladies with nuts”

Poland : At a restaurant : “ Hall preparation in our restaurant personally passed by our chef”