What if most students of 9th and 10th standards sitting for the assessment of speaking just sit and don’t speak? What do you make of it? What do you do about it?
My assumption is that at this stage, students have learned enough English to be able to express themselves, but what stops them from speaking up is their mental hurdle which stands tall because of their lack of practice in speaking English as they don’t have an adequate English speaking environment in school. Moreover, our students don’t get enough opportunities to speak in English even during the English period.
I have tried everything in my toolbox: Students speaking in front of the class on a topic of their choice with preparation, Students speaking extempore in front of the class, students making presentations in English and so on. But these strategies suffer from lack of continual opportunities for students because, in a class of 30 to 35 students, students get to speak only once or twice a month, which is not enough to improve their fluency. Moreover, these strategies are not conducive to shy students.
What are the pedagogical objectives?
If a topic for speaking activity is suitable for the level of the student, he/she doesn’t lack ideas rather he/she don’t know how to organize his/her ideas in a systematic manner. In other words, similar to students’ writing, their communicative competency suffers from incoherence which affects their fluency.
Generally, helping students to enhance their speaking skill involves improving:
Fluency: Coherence & Language Style
I, specifically, focused to help students’ improve their content and fluency.
The Integrated Approach
The approach consists of integrating speaking into pre-reading and post-reading activities.
Integrating Speaking to Pre-Reading:
Before reading a text: articles, stories, poems or plays from the prescribed textbooks, all the activities are designed to speak using ASL (Speaking) Format:
Introduction: Students’ introduce themselves
Topic Presentation: Students have to pre-plan before they speak on a given topic related to the thematic context of the text they are going to read by following the process of writing what they have learned. This includes brainstorming their ideas on the given topic, choosing the best three ideas, making a thesis statement, outlining the thesis and adding ideas to the outline, elaborating on of the main ideas and expressing their views by introducing the topic with thesis statement, elaborating on the main ideas and concluding by restating the thesis.
Discussion Topic: Usually a debatable topic or a problem-solving topic relevant to the themes of the text students are going to read is given for extempore speaking, which means they don’t get time to prepare for the activity.
Summing Up: According to their weekly rotational roles, spokespersons of the groups have to sum up the main ideas of the group discussion.
Panel Discussion: The respective spokespersons of the groups participate in the panel discussion. They share their view on the topic and argue for or against the opinions with other members of the panel.
Integrating Speaking to Post-Reading:
After reading a text from their prescribed book, students are engaged in the following speaking activities:
Group Discussion: Students discuss their doubts and questions from and beyond the text they have read and the textual questions from the chapters they have read.
Class Discussion: The group discussion is followed by a class discussion of what they have discussed in groups lead by the spokespersons of the groups with minimal assistance from the teacher.
Challenges I have faced
Conducting ASL (Assessment of Speaking) for a large number of students before the end of term, twice a year, consumes a lot of time and energy. The whole exercise seems to be ineffective as it is done in haste because it is made mandatory by the CBSE. So, I came up with the idea of incorporating it to the routine of the class. I used this activity not only to assess students’ speaking skill but also as the framework to structure their speaking activity. Therefore, instead of twice a year, students practice their spoken English using this format every week.
One of the challenges I faced was that initially students were expected to practice speaking on their own in their groups while I assessed the speaking skill of one of the groups outside the class because as per the requirement of the C.B.S.E, the test has to be recorded. As a consequence, students can’t be assessed in class. But I observed that while the test was going on outside, I could hear unproductive noise in the class. To address this issue, I conducted the assessment when students were engaged in their weekly independent reading of the text during which they are expected to maintain pin-drop silence. The strategy seemed to work because when other groups took part in the speaking activity during the weekly structured speaking activity I could monitor them in the class.
What does the Data Reveal?
The following graph table is the quantitative representation of the data collected based on the performance of my students in their speaking skill, viz., content and fluency, from 2018 to 2019.
Even though data hide more than what it reveals, given the realistic limitation I had set in the area, viz. content and fluency, I envisioned to help my students’ improve their speaking. The graph points out that there has been a steady enhancement in the content of students’ spoken English as it increased from 43.75% in 2018 to 58.75% in 2019. Regarding the improvement in fluency, it progressed from 41.25% in 2018 to 56.25% in 2019.
Improving a skill is a slow and long process. Therefore, the improvement in fluency has not caught up with the content, but the improvement in content must have pushed the score of fluency up with regard to their proficiency in English. At the secondary level of schooling, students have learned enough English to express themselves. What impedes them is their mental blockage caused by the lack of skill in coming up with ideas and putting them in a coherent manner and their lack of confidence to speak in English is due to the dearth of English speaking environment in our schools.
In conclusion, I am sharing an individual success story without naming the protagonist: a student who was very shy to speak in the first assessment in 2018 when she was in class IX showed a remarkable improvement in the content and fluency of her spoken English. Her score of 50% in content in 2018 got hiked to 87.5% in 2019 and 37.5% in fluency in 2018 got scaled to 81.25% in 2019 speaks volume.