Improving skills in writing English at secondary (school) level

06 December 2015
Improving skills in writing English at secondary (school) level


Md. Abdur Rahim :
The introduction of New Education Policy 2010 is a good initiative of the government. A great change has been brought about in different levels of education. A revolutionary change has been made in the contexts of English 1st and 2nd paper for the students studying in class IX and X. The SSC Exam of 2015 was held according to the new syllabus and curriculum. According to the new syllabus of English, getting the pass mark has become easy.  But it is difficult to get 80% or 90% marks. The existing English First paper, unlike the pervious one, does not contain any seen passage. But the topics, similar to the contents included in the book "English for Today", are to be taken as the test items as per the instructions of the curriculum. Alongside reading the topics of the text book, the students have to read other topics from English newspapers, magazines and books written in simple English on our history, tradition, liberation war, patriotism, moral, religious and social values, information and communication technology, climate change, education etc. The test items are normally based on the topics mentioned above.
The first paper contains, reading and writing, skills. There is a plan to include listening and speaking skills in the SSC exam later. Of course, these two skills are taught in classes six and seven. However, the first passage, in the Reading section, contains 27 marks having three different questions like MCQ, answering questions and a summary writing. Multiple-choice questions  (MCQ) are set in such a way that a student has to read the passage again and again to choose the best answer. By reading the passage again and again, the students get a message and at the same time they attain the ability to find out the best answer. Question No. 1 has been set very creatively. If the question setter sets the questions traditionally, the theme of the NCTB'S sample Question will be hampered. The 2nd question is answering five questions. Here, the students have to write answers in their own words based on the passage. They must write answers concisely and precisely following the instructions where they are asked to write the answers in 2/3 sentences. By answering accurately, a student can get full marks here.
In the case of question No. 3, the students are asked to write the summary of the passage. It is observed that many students erroneously write the summary of the 2nd passage for which they get no mark in it. The instruction for this question mentioned in the NCTB sample question is not clear. The instruction is "Write a summary of the passage in no more than 90 to 100 words". I think the instruction for the summary should be, "Write a summary of the above passage in no more than ...............words". By adding only one word "above" we can remove the confusion. If the passage is smaller, the question setter should not instruct the students to write the summary in 90 to 100 words. This mistake has been observed in different terminal and SSC exams of 2015. According to the guidelines for the question setters and examiners by NCTB, the summary will be one third of the passage. If the passage is of 90 words, the summary should be written in 30 words.
Some other students, in writing the summary, repeat of the whole passage without writing a single sentence from their own. The students should write the summary in their own words noticing the word limit mentioned in the question avoiding copying sentences from the passage. Here, the students should write the summary in simple and easy sentences to get good marks.
The 2nd passage contains two questions each having five marks. Here, the students can easily get full marks by reading the passage with concentration. Needless to say, anything about the question No.6 where the students have to make five sentences by matching the parts of sentences from column A and B. In the case of rearranging sentences, (question-7) it is mandatory to write the letters maintaining the sequence. Then the students can write the sentences according to the sequence. The success in the reading section depends on frequent practice not on memorizing anything.
The writing section of the first paper contains five questions each having 10 marks. A very creative item here is describing or analyzing a graph or a chart (question No. 10). There is nothing to memorize here. The students should notice the graph carefully and develop the description by stages following the figures. Question No. 11 is e-mail writing.
Though it is a new item, the students are accustomed to it. The structure of an e-mail is somewhat different from an informal letter. Other three items- question nos. 8, 9 and 12 are almost traditional.
In the 2nd paper, 60 marks are allotted for grammar in 11 items. In grammar portion many students can't cut a good figure in changing sentences (question No-6), in the use of right form of verbs (question No- 4) and in the use of prefixes and suffixes (question No. 8). To do well in the use of right form of verbs, the students should have a clear idea about the subject-verb agreement, tense, voice and narration.
They should also be given clear ideas about Transitive and Intransitive verbs, finite and non-finite verbs. Otherwise, it will be very difficult to do well in this item. In question No-6, simple, complex and compound seem to be difficult to the students. Thinking them difficult, most of the students don't try to learn them.
I think, if the students learn the rules of simple, complex and compound, they can write and speak English confidently and freely. So, the teachers should teach the students the rules of this item sincerely so that they can remove their fear about this item.
The most creative and interesting item in grammar part is the use of prefixes and suffixes. As it is a new item many students cut a sorry figure in it. In this item, the students can make new words from the known words. Thus they can improve their vocabulary.
This item can be taught in a very interesting way arranging games in the class. Suppose, "Beauty" is a noun. By adding suffixes we can make beautiful (adj), beautifully (adv), beautify (verb) and beautification (Noun). Similarly, the students can be asked to add suffixes with the word "Class" to make it classical, classically, Classify and classification. In the same way, from 'Glory'- glorious, gloriously, glorify and glorification. At the same time the students should be taught how to use the new words in sentences. If the teachers elicit answers from the students, they will be interested to take part. The other grammatical items are customary and easier.
The writing section of the 2nd paper contains 40 marks with a new item like - writing a CV with a cover letter (question No. 12) Many students and even many teachers are confused whether to write it in one page or two. In this question, the students are instructed, "Your CV should not exceed one page."
But where to write the cover letter? It is not distinct. Different teachers opine differently in this regard. Some say that if the students write the cover letter on the left page, they will write the CV on the right page. Again many students write both the cover letter and the CV in a single page. Some others accommodate it in three pages.
This confusion should be removed by making the instruction clearer. The advantage of this item is that the students do not need to memorize anything for it. But the problem arises when different examiners think differently about the length of the answer of this item. Question Nos. 13, 14, and 15 are traditional.
To conclude, I would like to say that if the question setters and subject teachers become more conscious and sincere about the aforesaid things, the aims and objectives of the new curriculum of English can be implemented successfully.
(Md. Abdur Rahim is an Assistant Teacher, Sabera Sobhan Govt. Girls' High School, Brahmanbaria.)

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