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Spelt conference ends

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KARACHI: “It isn’t surprising to hear a student say, ‘I send my work to my teacher and it comes back bleeding’. As soon as the children make a little mistake we quickly correct them. But instead of helping your students you are actually doing them a disservice by expecting them to know how to run when they are still struggling to walk properly,” said founder member and executive director of the Society of Pakistan English Language Teachers (Spelt) Prof Zakia Sarwar.

She was speaking during the closing plenary session titled ‘Empowering learners to enter the golden gates of English with confidence’ at the 30th Spelt International Conference-2014 on ‘Stringing ELT Pearls’ at the Bahria College here on Sunday.

Sharing her various classroom interventions during her vast teaching experience in an effort to provide her students with a meaningful exposure to English, Prof Sarwar brought up the ‘Project-based learning process’, or PBL, which is a voluntary collaboration or individual process initiated by the teacher to provide learners a meaningful use of the target language outside the classroom. “The contents of the project may or may not relate to the learners’ prescribed curriculum. The focal aims are to give them opportunities to become fluent and confident in using English by utilising and expanding their existing repertoire,” she explained.

The presentation was followed by a panel discussion, ‘Is learner autonomy an option’, moderated by Fatima Shahabuddin with Prof Sarwar, professor of TESOL at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, Prof Anne Burns, associate professor at the Abdullah Government College and visiting faculty for English Literature at Aga Khan University Medical College Prof Farida Faizullah, associates representative on the board of trustees IATEFL UK and executive council member TESOL Arabia Prof Les Kirkham.

“Children are expected to sit quietly in class and listen to their teacher, who knows best. But how can anyone learn the language without speaking it? We don’t encourage student participation as we want to control our class but the mindset needs to change,” said Ms Shahabuddin.

“Learner autonomy is all about learning in partnership with the teachers,” remarked Prof Anne Burns.

“As a teacher I won’t be with my students all the time so I must make them independent. Bu we have to do this responsibly. Young adult students who have become too teacher-dependent cannot be lectured into becoming more independent. We have to interact with them in class to bring them out of their shell,” said Prof Faizullah.

“It is good practice by teachers to hand over more responsibility to students as they become proficient,” said Prof Kirkham.

“There is a big misconception about how learning takes place. It is thought that if a teacher does not teach how else will the learner learn? Because of this teachers also have to deal with parents, who after going through their children’s classwork, demand explanations about why the teacher has not corrected the silly mistakes in it,” said Prof Sarwar.

“But if a teacher has made her class indulge in a bit of free writing where they can let their imagination flow freely without having to worry about making any mistakes, she is not to interfere and correct them. So as other won’t understand, the teachers can have a cupboard in their class in which they can store those notebooks in which her students do free writing. Don’t let the parents or your school heads read any of it in order to be able to make your learners autonomous.”

The third and final day of the annual conference concluded with a performance by the Thespianz Theatre.

Published in Dawn, September 8th, 2014