[An account of the course on large classes by a participant- Uzma Abdul Rashid]
The first module of the course on Teaching and Researching in Large Classes has come to an end. It was led by Dr. Fauzia Shamim and was aimed at enhancing participants’ skills and understanding of teaching in large classes.
And, it did. Participants were teachers of English at primary, secondary, and tertiary levels so this was one group with quite a lot of diversity. Everyone had a different experience to share. But, one thing was common to us all- we had ‘suffered’ large classes. We were the victims. Large classes were a menace for us all. It was, of course, the first day of the course. It didn’t end on the same note though. We came to an understanding of how the concept of large classes did not revolve around numbers. One participant felt that her class of fifteen students was large because she had the same problems in it that someone teaching a class of fifty students faced. Coming to the threats that large classes pose to teachers, we were facilitated into putting ourselves in place of the learners and picturing a large class. This change of perspective helped us understand large classes from the eyes of the most important stakeholders in the whole process of teaching and learning. How did we do this? We wrote ‘instant’ poems. One poetic way of imagining and expressing the feeling of being a learner in a large class. Turned out that it was quite opposite to that of a teacher’s. All participants thought that as students, often they found it easy and fun losing themselves in “the sea” of so many students. The anonymity provided by the large class allowed them to be the “unknown miscreants” in “the crowd” and get away with almost anything. As they were the “nameless faces” or “faceless names” in a large class, they never expected to be individually acknowledged or appreciated. Students’ picture of large classes brought out the real issues which teachers of large classes need to focus on in order to find ways of addressing them. This led us to start thinking of strategies which could be used to make teaching of English in large classes more effective. The best part was that we, the large class teachers, thought of strategies ourselves for different language-skills activities, the principles underlying those, and the factors that needed to be taken care of while conducting them in a large class. Since this was a course which focused on both teaching and researching in large classes, some research studies about the same were also shared. Understanding the gist of these, participants seemed to be even more convinced that other than the ‘largeness’ of a large class, there are many more variables at work which cannot be disregarded. The last day was dedicated to discussing action research. This meant ensuring that teachers went back to their institutions and used the insights gained through this course for undertaking systematic inquiry on their teaching practice to improve it.
At the end of this course, one thing was still common to us all- we were out of the fear of large classes!