English Teaching-learning Experience at HSV

Studying English Literature gives you an opportunity to understand other cultures in different time periods. It makes you more aware of yourself in relation to your learning. Critical analysis and appreciation, which are integral to the study of literature, helps you understand humanity, the world as a structure and composite place of many cultures.

Learning in Cambridge IGCSE curriculum:

Literature and language learning cannot be done in isolation. One must aid in learning the other. Having said that, when can learning a language be optimum? Learning a language is most successful when the motivation is intrinsic, that is from within. Basically, a student must want to learn the language because he or she wants to and does not have to. According to international standards, this is best achieved through innovative teaching-learning practices. Imagine digital natives learning texts in Elizabethan or Victorian English and quickly jumping to modern English! It is no easy task to stay focused. However, English lessons at Hari Shree are fun and engaging. Rote learning is a thing of the past. Students learn by doing, true to the adage – Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn. This also happens to be the core of a Cambridge program.

What do they learn?

The choice of texts the students are exposed to is of high standard. The quality of analysis and critical thinking that is expected from the students prepares them at an international standard. From the word get-go, the emphasis is on learning the language the right way. By the time the students finish grade 12, they get an opportunity to study at least two original works of Shakespeare and many renowned poets and authors like Wordsworth, Tennyson, Hardy, Dahl, Mansfield, Chopin and more. What better way to be proficient in the language than critically appreciating the stalwarts! As a matter of fact, our alumni come back and tell us about a lot of déjà vu moments during their English course in college.

Promoting experiential learning in Chennai

Getting used to the Shakespearean language is serious business. Within the first couple of months of being introduced to an original text, students begin to decipher his style of poetry and drama. How do they go about this process? Firstly, it is important to understand Shakespeare in the context of his life and living as a playwright. Students do in-depth research on various facets of Shakespeare – theater, language, audience, patronage, tragedies and comedies, time-period influences, to mention a few. Students work in groups, each group taking up one facet mentioned. Students show a lot of interest by finding new, intriguing information every year about the Bard, his works and his language. They then make innovative presentations to the class about their learning. Voila – they have learnt team work, filtering information in a research, presentation skills, communication, public speaking! This is a sample of an integrated classroom of literature and language learning that is similar to an IGCSE class.

Our learning methodology

Let us get deeper into a Shakespearean play. What better way to learn human emotions while at the same time mastering Shakespeare’s tongue twisters, than role plays? Students are given the opportunity to study beforehand, and come to class with an overview of what to expect. With this methodology, it becomes easier to progress in class. Students take on characters and perform the dialogue in the form of a simple role play. Shakespeare is known for his exceptional understanding of the human psyche. During such role plays, students emote the dialogue as the circumstances in the play demand. An angry outburst between Antonio and Shylock is fun to watch live. The magic of Prospero is intriguing when manifested in his dialogues. Students enjoy these role plays and are eager to take turns and become the characters in the play for the duration of the class. When we see them recollect these fondly as blooper moments, it is evidence for enjoyable learning right there.

We take this learning one step further. Many social issues and family dynamics are also explored. Taking learning beyond the classroom is the hallmark of our lessons. A lot of debate goes on about why Shylock was treated so for simply being a Jew. Is he a villain or a victim? What did the time period dictate for Shakespeare to shape his characters so intricately? Some of these questions are debated upon as part of the extended learning. Was Prospero being betrayed his own fault? What are the family dynamics between him and his deceiving brother, Antonio?  These questions help students align the text with the present day and infer that people were not so different after all back then. On a lighter note, students also make a comparison of Shakespeare and his influence on present day cinema. The class engages in a casual banter on Shakespearean romance versus its Bollywood counterpart. Students call this a stress buster and feel this segment gives a break from the regular class.

Impact of modern day literature

Let us fast forward a few centuries. Students are exposed to modern day literature including authors who were forerunners of the feminist movement, like Chopin and Mansfield. They engage in a Socratic Seminar about women’s role in marriage and society in the early 19th century. As a requirement of English classes, they pre-read the lesson which prepares them to handle discussion at any level. A Task sheet is usually shared with them which gives them guidance with sample videos and instructions on a new activity like the Socratic Seminar. Student response to this activity is that they learn to listen to their peers respectfully and respond in an organized manner. They also feel empowered leading the session.

Students make detailed observations about how society imposes its will on women and how marriage could be stifling in the absence of communication. In fact, they understand the gravity of the situation of women when Mrs. Mallard dies from the ‘joy that kills’ when she sees her husband return, in the Story of an Hour. Progressive education is one that allows students to talk openly about societal taboos, sexual orientation etc. Katherine Mansfield’s singing lesson offers this platform to discuss some taboos like pressure on women to get married early, men being scorned upon for coming out of the closet, which are more open concepts in today’s world. In that sense, Literature connects past and present and gives students a perspective on the living conditions today. It allows them to appreciate the struggles of people in the past and solutions to similar problems in today’s world. Rightly so, the class naturally engages in debates along some of these lines and draws parallels to conditions in society in the present day.  They look forward to sharing contentious opinions without being judged. It comes as no surprise that this kind of independent learning is also followed by the Cambridge curriculum.

Literature & its connection with History

Are you skeptical of changes? Do you accept them without any questions? Do you just go with the flow? The answers to all these questions can be found in the annals of History. People say that Literature and History are two sides to the same coin. It is widely agreed that the Industrial revolution has greatly shaped world history. It is important to understand the apprehensions of people back then, of development of science and society. It is Literature that allows us to critically explore human reactions to developments through time. Once again, students research on the basic ideas that drove the industrial revolution. Students say they enjoy this déjà vu in History lessons. Loss of faith and Darwinism were important tenets of the revolution. It was a ‘revealing moment’, quote the digital natives, to find that people were unaccepting of progress and reluctant to use machines and technology. They critically decipher and analyze through informed, teacher-led discussions, two contrasting ideas of hope and lack of it through the verses of Thomas Hardy and Mathew Arnold.

Literature is also about motivating and uplifting works that can be related to personal experiences to be remembered for life. Who does not like movies? As a part of introduction to a lesson, students also watch movie clippings that connect to the learnings in a lesson. Students like to linger here a few minutes discussing their favourite movies and characters. When you put your thoughts in writing, it stays with you for life. Journal writing is a regular activity in the English classes. Students draw parallels by noting down a personal experience for every idea or thought mentioned in a literary work, in the form of a journal entry. The association is perhaps not just a lesson in the classroom but also something to carry with them for life. Works of Ehrmann or Frost stay with them to be recollected on a later date. They muse that hands-on learning through various active learning strategies is etched in their minds.

Summing up:

In this fashion both teacher and student look forward to the interactive English lessons at Hari Shree. Ours is a holistic education school in Chennai where the basic skills of listening, reading, speaking and writing are intrinsically woven into the agenda of the teaching-learning transaction. Students learn by both the inductive and deductive methods. Besides making them comfortable in the subject, it also builds student confidence. The non-threatening atmosphere is a great plus when teaching the next generation to go into the real world and apply their learning. The reflective practices make students learners for life. Happy learning is the mantra! These practices are akin to a Cambridge IGCSE curriculum.

So, are you ready to take this exciting roller-coaster ride?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *