1. What do the Empowering English textbooks have that are different from other books?
The Empowering English textbook series is part of a pathbreaking genre and skills-based system. The books are layered for the progression of skills and are scaled to foster higher levels of complexity once the skills are introduced. This scaling is meticulously achieved for frequency and easy mastery. Along with ‘Language with Ease’ our all-in-one grammar, vocabulary, oral and writing book and the unique reference book ‘Writing with Ease’ they form a complete system. Schools are encouraged to do a book study for literature in the form of a novel. We supply you with all the questions required for this.
2. We follow xxx Board. There are certain books prescribed/recommended by the Board for classes 1-8. books. Do your books follow the Board syllabus?
Books are generally prescribed at the 10th and 12th level for examinations. Grades 9th and 11th are preparatory years for these examinations. From Grades 1 to 8, children are on a developmental trajectory and they should be on a skills acquisition journey. This is the USP of the Mindsprings system.
Our books aim at autonomy. They help the student to prepare for doing several skills on their own. Example of skills are: Independently, reading for comprehension, knowing how to answer a variety of questions, understanding the nuances of poetry for appreciating them, formal grammar or usage and transformation of sentences, contextually guessing meanings for MCQs, answering higher order thinking questions, and writing effectively in all genres. The key words are spontaneously and independently. Moreover, children need to study skills like note-making, use of graphic organisers, summarising, and learning how to answer questions completely and succinctly. Beyond these skills, there is hardly anything that any Board in the country is likely to question or test. Therefore, children are better prepared for their examination classes using our books.
Children are also given extensive vocabulary practice and they are trained for oral fluency at conversational speed even if the Boards do not test students for ideas, fluency, vocabulary, and clarity as they are very important for their future prospects.
3. Can we do both the prescribed and Mindsprings books together?
You must use the Mindsprings books as the main syllabus from grades 1 – 8, otherwise, it will mean double work for the teachers, as two books or two systems will mean a massive amount of teacher labour so it should be avoided at all costs.
Besides, the more we adhere to the system of dependence on the teacher, the harder it will become for students to become autonomous. The Board prescribed books, if at all they are mandatory, as in being inspected for use, or used for checkpoint exams, must be used as the additional practice material to test competencies in skills learnt with Empowering English. If you neither have an inspection nor a checkpoint, then the question of buying Board recommended books may not arise at all.
The extra work arises from teachers “teaching” the texts by explaining content, explaining the meaning, discussing questions on the story or text, getting students to write them out in their notebooks and locally questioning these texts for the exam. This is time-consuming. If teacher time and effort are eliminated by the skills being mastered by the child, the teacher is free for remedial and creative pursuits. The learning of any Board prescribed text becomes a cakewalk and can be done by the children as classroom work on their own or at home as homework or as flipped classrooms. This is what the Mindsprings system trains them for. We also encourage teamwork and oral sharing to help students revisit fundamentals several times with various texts and economize on time. Stories in the lessons do not matter, the skills in them do.
4. Can we not train children for the skills by using the Board prescribed text?
Yes, you certainly can. But it will mean a massive amount of work for the teachers. As most texts are text-based, the teacher will have to tease out the skills and find extra materials to support these skills as they need to be frequently practiced. As most texts are not layered for this frequency, many learnt skills are often lost due to lack of practice. Then, there is the matter of questioning for skills not given in the textbook which the teacher will have to make. So, it is a very hard call.
In all teacher generated systems, the acid test is the validation of the methods they are using as seen in the proficiency of students’ work and their criterion-based levels. So, standards must be met. A syllabus is only as good as what it does for our average and struggling children.
5. What about our teachers and students? Our teachers are not very proficient in English, and our children come from backgrounds that are underprivileged, or from non-English speaking families.
There is a view that teachers should first be taught before they can teach students. This is a very long route. Considering teacher time, pay scales, domestic responsibilities and motivation to pursue language with single-minded purpose, this is going to be an uphill task while several batches of children wait, or miss the bus forever. Then, there is the universal problem of teacher attrition because a lot of training may never be used on the targeted students in your school as the teacher leaves the school for a variety of reasons. Hence, a system where both the teacher and the student learn simultaneously becomes a more efficient way of solving this problem. Our system will ensure this happens as we provide the teachers with full manual support in pre-made lesson plans, digital or personal orientations, WhatsApp group hand holding, and periodic reviews. Over the years, along with the children, the teacher’s own proficiency improves rapidly and exponentially.
6. How do we set questions for the skills in these books?
All language papers are made up of writing, comprehension and grammar questions. All literature papers expect the student to understand and appreciate seen and unseen prose and poetry. The Board examinations, which occur in the 10th and 12th need no bigger preparation than gaining proficiency in the four fundamental skills of language up until grade 8. Setting questions, therefore, will have more rigour and will include questions on skills, but will not be any different from current patterns being followed. You will get help on this. We do not need to follow a Board pattern of questioning in the acquisition years. In fact, this is seen as limiting and even harmful in some cases.
7. What does the orientation do?
It gives confidence to teachers that there is always help at hand. It helps rewire the teachers’ inherent systems. Certain age-old practices that clearly do not work need to be abandoned. Teacher-centered classes will diminish when they are made participatory. and oral. Writing of answers will be restricted to HOTs and the generation of ideas. It moves the teacher from the classic errors of teaching where the text is paramount and skills to foster autonomy are ignored. It makes the teacher recognise the linear syllabus flaw that makes him/her obsessive about doing the items deeply and thoroughly without revisits. The orientation shifts the focus to the hows of teaching and learning. It shows the teacher the fault lines in present practices and forgetting cycles that cause confusion. As the manuals are exhaustive, the teacher’s planning is done. Furthermore, pedagogical tips on teaching efficiently will enable the teacher to free herself up for the betterment of self and students. We also train teachers in time management and efficient classroom practices as a part of our system.
8. Why is this a superior system?
It is a superior system because it has succeeded brilliantly. It is based on sound philosophies and pedagogies related to how the mind absorbs, stores and applies learning. In the long term, everything becomes easy as pie. After the teething problems, both student and teacher are better informed on skills acquisition and training. The building of skills sets or their enhancement practice on previous learning becomes easy. As the books are gently scaled all skills are revisited till the end, either independently or in application, the onus on the teacher and the stress to do an item thoroughly for all time is absent. Over the years the children are autonomously skilled as skills are sufficiently practiced and therefore, they are confident with any unseen material placed before them. The results are superlative, quick to see and children are delighted with the classes. The key is to do the skills often and briefly.
9. What do we, as supervisors and management, have to do to make sure this succeeds? Isn’t it going to be a lot of unfamiliar work supporting the teachers?
As Principals, supervisors, HODs you only need to monitor that the teacher is using the system as it is meant to be. This requires very brief routine visits to ensure that the manuals are regularly consulted and used, the classroom is participatory and student-driven, children in higher grades are making notes during routine notebook inspection, and the teacher is paying heed to the special pedagogical practices shown for time management during the orientation. You will also need to check if the teachers are actively asking doubts and posting success stories on the WhatsApp group for everyday problems. With so much support they should not be giving a year-end report on being helpless and on failure.
10. How do we convince our parents about this new system, as they will want to know how to use this book to teach their children?
Parents need to be oriented to the system because it is moving away from comfort zones of rote, question-answer meaning and tuition practices. You can use the PPT we supply to orient parents. They are generally delighted once they see the results of the book on their children’s English for knowledge and writing in a few months. It is necessary to use praise to keep the morale of the children and parents high in the first few months of transition. Be gentle with the marking initially till children get familiar with the change. The book simply succeeds based on the astonishing performance of children in skills despite all adult worries over change.
Even if you achieve 50% success with the books in the first year, you have moved away from a rather inefficient wasteful system to one that will only get better in the successive years. Children across schools are excited with the mix of stories, enjoy the thinking and participation in the class, and love taking ownership of their learning.