This paper reports the results of an action research (RA) on the effectiveness of teaching stories in a new way “Teaching Stories without Telling Them”. The purpose of this research was to justify that how interactive ways of teaching stories enables students to perform better in the classroom, how the interactive teaching expands the knowledge of both teachers and learners, and how the teacher, at the same time, is teaching and drawing on and learning from the knowledge and experience of the students. That creates an ideal teaching cycle, a self-reinforcing teaching and never ending learning process.
The teacher can choose particular designs and techniques for teaching a foreign language in a particular context. No quick fix is guaranteed to provide success for all classroom situations. Every learner is unique; every teacher is unique; so is every learner-teacher relationship. The teacher’s key task is, therefore, to understand the properties of these relationships and set the classroom environment accordingly.
In other countries such as Nepal, students are taught to view their teachers as an authority and a knows-everything person in the classroom, and this value-based relationship hinders the learners from freely expressing themselves in the classroom. In this firmly established teacher-centered system, it is often offensive for the students to contradict the teacher’s point of view. This unequal classroom relationship is often seen as a cultural disposition. I believe that this is not a new issue. Many published writings have critically looked at it.
However, a teacher can always adopt various strategies to increase students’ participation in the classroom activities. In order to justify this possibility, I used a technique that I have termed as “teaching stories without telling them”. If the stories are carefully chosen, students feel what they do in the classroom is relevant and meaningful to their lives. Moreover, when asked to respond personally to the texts, students become increasingly confident about expressing their own ideas and emotions. The stories involve emotions as well as intellect, which adds to motivation and contribute to personal development. This is in particular very useful where the classroom is often only source of English.
I’m a new English Teacher at Kaunlaran High School but I have been teaching English for the last four year. The pre-requisite to join this programme is School Leaving Certificate (SLC). Practically, the students who join this course range from SLC graduates to University graduates. I also work at “English Speaking and Research Club” that runs classes for those who want to improve their speaking skills. Interestingly, the members coming to this Club include school students to professionals and businesspersons. Certainly, the classes in both settings are multilevel in nature. I would like to refer to Hess’s (2002) definition – multilevel class is the class in which students vary considerably in their language and literary skills. In my case, students not only differed in language level, but also in age, motivation, expectations, attitude and interest.
In both places, I began with a pre-test in order to diagnose the learners’ level of English. The candidates were tested all their skills – first day reading and writing and the second day speaking and listening. Later they were divided into three groups named as triple five (those scoring less than 50%), triple seven (those scoring between 50-60 %) and triple six (those scoring 60% above) according to their test results; but they were not informed about it. Action plan teaching process
Selecting a story: (I selected stories from books available in the market. I purposely chose books that had an appropriate level of difficulty and length.) Briefing the students about the different nature of class: (I told my students that they would have to read the text and be able to answer the questions I would ask them in the class. I did not read the story. My role as a teacher and facilitator was to ask questions very carefully so that I would be able understand the story and students’ role was to make me understand the story.) Giving students the story to read at home as reading assignment: (I gave each student a copy of the same story to read at home.) Grouping the students according to their language proficiency level and carrying out the class: (I asked simple factual questions to below average group i.e. 555; reflective questions to average group i.e. 777; and interpretive and judgmental questions to above average group i.e. 666.
This actually engaged every student in the classroom activity. Moreover, they were very attentive when someone was speaking. This various types of questions actually motivated all level students to participate in the classroom activity.) Carry out discussion: (I was very careful while carrying out the discussion. Sometimes the students gave contradictory answers to the same question I asked. In such situation I played a very careful role – I gave the students equal opportunity to justify their answers. My job was to facilitate them to come to an agreeing point.) Giving home assignment: (I gave different tasks to different group – I asked the below average group to write a summary of the story, I asked the average group to imagine one of the characters in the story and write the story from their own perspective. For example, imagine that you are the Brahmin in the story, write a paragraph how these three thieves cheated you. I asked the above average group to interpret the story using their own feelings and emotions. For example, do you think you would punish these thieves if you were a judge? Write a very logical paragraph of your argumentations.
The students at the beginning were little puzzled but did not express openly. However, they participated very actively in the classroom activities. My primary aim was to promote learner autonomy, by encouraging them to take charge of their own learning (Nguyen, 2005). This became even more interesting as I purposely did not read the story to create a real information gap. If I had read the story, I would already have known everything and then the questions I asked in the classroom would have been merely mechanical ones. For this reason, I claim that the classroom language was authentic.
In the classroom, I asked four different types of questions: factual, reflective, interpretive, and judgmental. It is vital that we understand the nature of the different types of question. I have briefly described what they mean and quoted some sample questions I used in my classroom and their respective answers that students gave. They are as follows. a) Factual questions: the questions are very simple and they can pick up the answer from the text very easily such as: T: what is the title of the story?
555: Brahmin and thieves (they can pick from the text)
T: How many characters are there?
555: There are four; one Brahmin and three thieves.
b) Reflective questions: the types of questions are related with peoples’ emotions, feelings and associations for which the students have to use their won feelings to characters, event and plot of the story such as: T: What could be another suitable title?
777: Brahmin and the goat (they have to associate with the text.) T: why did they try to fool the Brahmin?
777: because they want the goat.
c) Interpretive questions: the types of questions are related with meaning, purpose and values such as: T: Why do you think the title should be Brahmin and goat?
666: Because the goat also has main role in the story.
d) Judgmental question: these sorts of questions allow the students to decide their feelings, emotions and response to the topic and discussion they have had together such as: T: Write a very logical description, why do you want to punish one? 666: I should judge very carefully. We all know that if we miss judge then there is no one to help poor people. In this case, any way the Brahmin is (sis) victim ……………….
In this way, every learner participated in the class. Though the class was multilevel, the task designed for different levels was really challenging. The classroom rule was that only the group was supposed to answer the question, in case they did not answer then other group would answer.
As far as the error correction concerned, I did not correct all the errors they made in the discussion. It does not mean that I ignored all the errors. I corrected only global error not the local error. I agree with Brown’s (2000) definition that the local error is clearly and humorously recognized and recommended that they may not be corrected as long as the message is understood and correction may interrupt a learner in the flow of communication. The global error needs to be corrected in some way since the message may otherwise remain unclear and rather ambiguous. I have corrected the errors watching the situation without disturbing in their attempt to produce the language.
I found a dramatic change in the classroom atmosphere: all trying to say something, listening to others what they say. In fact, I had never had such satisfaction in my class before even though I used pair work, group work and role-play. In this sense, I agree with Nunan’s (as cited in Hiep 2005) suggestion that the teacher should use such activities that involve oral communication, carrying out meaningful tasks and using language which is meaningful to the learners and as well as the use of materials that promote communicative language use. Such activities helped the learners to find the ways of helping them to connect what is in the text to what is in their minds. One of the major advantages of this approach is that texts can be selected based on the richness and diversity of the language and on the relevance to the English learners who should find them both meaningful and motivating. I refer Nguyen (2005:5) “Exposing students to varieties of stories let them experience not only the beautiful language but also something beyond, such as sympathy with characters and engagement with emotional situations that relate to their actual lives.”
As a result, I found the activities vital for progress in language learning process. Such discussion certainly enhances students’ ability to pay attention, remember new grammar and vocabulary, process ideas and response appropriately. Moreover, students get enough chances to express their own ideas and opinions and discuss the opinions and ideas of other students. I agree with Byrd and Cabetas (1991:9) ‘by discussing these differences students learn to use English more clearly and to understand it better.”
Moreover, they learn to clarify their own ideas, values, perspectives, and learn from others. A major innovation that I have noticed about this technique is to systematically build students’ ability to present their own ideas, opinions and feelings – both accurately and confidently. I have particularly focused on maximizing student-talking time and minimizing teacher-talking time in the classroom setting. This action research proved the idea of Breen and Candlin (as cited in Byrd and Cabetas 1991) that the teacher has two roles: the first role is to facilitate the communicative process and to act as an independent participant within the teaching-learning process; second role is that of researcher and learner.