English Vinglish

Madhuri Gokhale

Madhuri Gokhale grew up in a village in Ogalewadi, near Karad. She remembers that her first touch with English was when she was in 5th grade. She has been a teacher in a special school for 13 years. She works mostly with students with learning disorders. Most of these kids appear for NiOS exams. She also works with an orphanage called Eklavya, started by Renutai Gavaskar. She is also an assessor for Theory of Constraints training. She works with Fleetguard Filters as an advisor in that area. One piece of advice that she gave struck me as very relevant – special kids should only study in their mother tongue. Possibly we need to work on this advice, as far as Sahil and Veera are concerned.

Another piece of interesting advice she gave was about motivation. She felt that if you want students to start speaking in English, then you can encourage them by making a chart of students who use English in class. The chart will be displayed in class – and prizes will be handed out based on the students’ usage of English. Another advice she had was for hyperactive kids – she feels that we should give them work in chunks of 15 minutes. They can then take a break and play – and come back for the second chunk. She feels that we should not expect overnight changes in the attention span of such kids.

One thing we should check first for any learning disorder kid is the eyesight. Poor eyesight means they can’t make out what is happening on the board. Idea: why don’t we create an eye sight alphabet chart as part of our craft project? Another thing she recommends is to try to get the family background of such kids. Most of them come from troubled families. In case we feel that it is not the background which is an issue, then she feels that we can take the kid for a proper checkup to KEM Hospital, which is the certifying authority for learning disabilities.

Nisha: Is liking her experience with Jr KG. She feels that their English understanding has improved. She is getting them to read a book every day. When she reads, she makes students put their fingers on the word (she is doing that from their book). She feels that they would be able to correlate sounds and words this way. Pradeep felt that it was a mistake. His advice was that teachers should always keep the doors open in their conversations with students – to account for mistakes. He felt that Nisha needs to read the way her grandmother would tell stories to her. Help build imagination in the child.


English Hackathon Excerpts

The English hackathon is based on these fundamental principles:

  • Deconstructing the English language to break it down into a dozen odd discrete learning items which may cover about 60 % of the grammatical structure of the language but cover over 90% of the spoken form.
  • Arranging the learning elements so as to make training on their usage easily and quickly;
  • Learning the language from the stand point of usage in certain situations rather than from the grammar stand point.
  • Once a structure is shared with learner with some examples of usage, the students collectively bring out a variety of applications in different contexts that develops structural usage, language thinking skills, vocabulary and confidence.
  • Learning the language without referring to any other language thereby encouraging thinking and construction in the English language;
  • About 300 examples/ applications are required to create the necessary neural connections in the bring in ‘long term memory’ each with 2-3 repetitions to cement the understanding;
  • Speaking every few seconds aloud makes learning more engaging while also deepening understanding.
  • Leveraging motivational aspects like rewards, peer recognition, achievement motivation, collaboration, competition, collective learning, learning through teaching, learning under oath, fearless learning, learning with entertainment and humour, learning with a life changing goal/vision and with emotions;
  • Immersion into the spoken English learning through mental assignments, oaths, after class work etc..
  • Learning by speaking, hearing and thinking about it the same time.

The ‘hackathon’ in English hackathon refers to almost ‘Hacking the language from the inside’ referred to in the core principle 1 above and doing so in a marathon session of 40 hours over 5 days. (Hacking + marathon= Hackathon)

Most training courses try to teach English in a manner of which can be best described as a “fast forward” or “compressed” version over a few months of how English is taught in schools as a language over 10-14 years. This is bound to fail.

Schools should adopt one day of the week as English day. All school activities should be in English on that day . Increase the frequency till the time that all days become English days. Programs like debates, elocutions and presentations help hone spoken English skills.

The Teachers will set an example by themselves speaking in English on all days. Teachers will identify English content including appropriate English movies, stories, training content and show them to students. A weekly report should be generated class wise to capture initiatives undertaken and participation in those initiatives to create a systemic track of efforts and developments.

What is required is a not a grammar approach, but a fun-filled, story telling, interactive one.

Approximately 200 (7X3X10) sentence structures need to be established in the student’s mind

What matters is the intensity of training – the participants should practice scores of sentences every minute with everyone participating. The program needs a volunteer who can move around and video shoot lip movement of the learning volunteers on stage. This training should get reinforced in their personal contexts- interacting with their family and friends and through social media. Counselling sessions with students and parents before the start of the program helps. What helps more is a bond signed by parents that students shall complete the program.

The ideal program duration is 40 hours spread over 5 days. Students have full focus in this design. Better if we can make it residential. The starting hours are the most critical as the facilitator works on building a rapport with the participants and establishes  the methodology. It helps if there is no common language – or if the facilitator continues to speak only in English, even if the participants speak in their local tongues. Children like making presentations. Give them a mike – and they love to talk. Trainees can do morning yoga and evening games together. Other than these, we can also use a post lunch Yog-Nidra (guided afternoon siesta) and generous use of deep breathing & meditation for recharging and reflecting on learnings respectively. Participants, especially of younger ages, tend to get distracted easily. Getting them to close their eyes and do some chanting helps get their focus back. Songs and dances between sessions lifts the energy of the class. And also helps identify in-house talent. Use of prizes like éclairs, chocolates, pens, earrings and pendants can be additional motivators. If participants can read and write a participant manual could be useful.

The more the HW, the better it is, subject to HW compliance of, course. HW should be interesting stuff like recipes, Introductions, My last Sunday, My plan for the next Sunday, etc. Mobiles are a good HW tool. Students can be asked to watch youtube videos and complete homework based on them. Even facebook, audio and video recording (students have to interview people and video record the same, submit their video CVs and do several other similar assignments and submit), projects submission and communication to be done through emails. On the first day, participants hesitate to even tell their names. By the last, they would be cheering every word their now-confident classmates speak. Get students to correct their own colleagues’ mistakes. Peer learning is the most effective form of learning, and as a side-effect It also reduces teacher load!

We have observed that students face challenges in:

  • Replacing “he/ she/ it” with nouns;
  • Using “What are you doing” and “what are you playing?” interchangeably
  • Going beyond the 8-10 activities when responding to questions like “What did you do yesterday? What do you do every day? What will you do tomorrow? Or “What good things should we do?”

Advanced concepts that can be covered in the next 40 hour module:

  • 5W+ 1 H structures and responses
  • Questions/ answers conversions by movement of supporting verbs.
  • “Did-do/does-will” and “was/were- is/am/are- will be”  structures not covered independently
  • Possessives
  • “Let …” structure
  • “There/ This/ that …is…” and “There/ These/ Those …are…” structures

We ended with a short session related to questions. I told teachers to write down what kind of questions usually get asked at home. We then classified them into closed and open questions. Most questions were closed ones. Examples are

What’s for dinner?

What gift should we choose?

What movie should we see tonight?

Why did this happen?

There were examples of open questions, too.

How was your day?

How is the interface looking?

The thoughts for the week for our teachers: How many open questions did you ask or answer this week? At home and in class.


Learning from mistakes.

Tagore had failed 10 times in his 10th standard. Are our kids learning from mistakes? The answer: mostly no. We then discussed reasons. There were three that came up. One is that they don’t have any idea of their goals. Two, teachers are a bit too fast in correcting their mistakes. Three, students don’t seem to have too much of interest in what they are doing. My own observation was that most of the time students consider that the mistakes are teachers’ and not their own.

For reading, the idea was to make them read together. We should definitely try this and see if it improve reading skills of students. I ended by asking them what we should be doing tomorrow, as there is a vaccination holiday. Most of them wanted an easy way out, by just rearranging teaching aids. I told them that we will work on detailed lesson plans for the week. The template has been given by me earlier.


Teaching Experiments, Oct 2018

Found a very interesting book from the library. Decided that I will read out the story to  our students. The book is called Two Friends by Neela Hakeem Elahi.Started the day with reading this out to grades 1 and 2. Took them outdoors for the story reading. Mistake. There were too many distractions. In hindsight, story reading session teaching needs to happen in a more conventional classroom seating manner. We took too many diversions in the story. One of them was an interesting one. Cappy  tries to get his eyes hurt by looking at the sun. I told students that it is harmful to look at the sun. They stilll wanted to try – especially since we were already out of the class. Anil kept on looking at the sun for more than 2 minutes and his eyes ached the whole day! For him the story had only one lesson!

15 minutes into the story, students already needed a break. Excuses started happening, left right and centre. At the end, I was left with only one student. Gauri. Sensibly, took her back to the classroom to complete the story. There, I asked everybody else to put their heads down and listen to her answers as I asked her questions. She managed to answer more than 50% of the questions. Could not get them to discuss identity, as I thought I would. Maybe the first-second grade is not the right one for the philosophy sessions. What Nabha said is right, we need to concentrate more on the Integrated Reading Program for them.

Next day tried a p4c session for 3rd 4th 5th. I had in mind The Emperor’s new clothes. But decided that will take something this is troubling me a lot – conflicts. We had a brainstorming session on why conflicts happen. And what can we do about it. Asked the class the reasons we fight.

Someone beats us.

Someone teases.

Someone makes a mistake.

Someone is laughed at.

Someone gets less marks.

Someone is jealous.

Someone is humiliated by teachers.

Someone steals from us.

Someone does not give what we ask for.


I then asked for solutions. The three consensus solutions:

1 Help someone who you end up fighting with, even if that person is not helping you.

2. When someone teases you, don’t tease back

3. When you see two people fighting, try to step in and make them understand that fighting doesn’t help.

I asked each participant to memorize these three methods and say it in front of the class. Only then would they get the break. It took 20 minutes for this to happen. Not sure of its effectiveness, but definitely seem to be an interesting game. We should see if it has reduced conflict in the Grade 3-4-5 on Friday.


Shalini Sharma, DPS Bokaro

Shalini Sharma exhorted teachers to be more creative. Gave an example of one of her students, who coloured the entire paper black leaving a small white circle in between.  The student, who was known to be a mischievous kid, was asked what is this. He replied that it’s the view from his window at night. And sometimes he sees a bird sitting outside on a tree. Very impressed with his creativity, Shalini asked her students to write a story on this picture.

On the subject of stories, one of the things that Shalini does in her class is to stop the story close to the end point and ask students to tell her how they think it has ended. Such stories also serve the purpose of reinforcing values. She suggested Vedic chanting for improving the concentration skills of students.