Developing English writing skills through Community Service
Shamsi Ara Huda
TEACHERS at tertiary level are often found not to be satisfied with their students' writing competence. In Bangladesh, Bengali medium students can hardly write using English and English medium students lack many technical things like planning, organization etc. In such situations Service Learning can promise a way-out. I came across this idea from the 8th International Language and Development Conference organized by British Council, Bangladesh in June. It was a paper presented by Sanjoy Banerjee from BRAC (CFL) where he focused on the prospect of service learning in developing students' writing skills in English in Bangladesh.
According to Wikipedia, â€œService learning is a method of teaching, learning and reflecting that combines academic classroom curriculum with meaningful service, frequently youth service, throughout the community. As a teaching methodology, it falls under the philosophy of experiential education. More specifically, it integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, encourage lifelong civic engagement, and strengthen communities for the common good.â€
While English composition has often been criticized for working in unreal situation, Service Learning creates a very real situation with very real audience and very real needs. For this research Banerjee selected some of his shy and hesitant students who needed more exposure to the real world. These students were assigned to tutor the students of USEP, an underprivileged group, who cannot afford private tutors. They used to visit twice a week and after every week they reviewed the write-ups of the students of USEP.By analyzing the data of pre-test and post-test scores of the students before and after their service learning, the researcher concluded that after service-learning, the students became more fluent, organized and rich with ideas in their writing. Their contact with real people gave them this opportunity to write more eloquently. It satisfied the community who were benefitted. And in turn, the students also became concerned about their civic responsibility. In question-answer session, some audience suggested that this type of activity can be conducted in any school and the students have to be instructed properly before they go for it.
Teachers can extend this concept by assigning students activities like sharing health rule with slum people, creating awareness about litter, sharing women's rights with vulnerable women, staging dramas on drugs etc. according to respective context. There can be some limitations regarding curriculum and grading, expenses and scheduling. As a solution, students can be suggested to do term-papers which can be evaluated verbally as well; and well-off students and teachers can come up with sponsorship.
(Writer is a Lecturer, Department of English, Daffodil International University and Joint Secretary, BELTA (Bangladesh English Language Teachers' Association)