Sunday, 22 April 2012

Effective Reading

You can never benefit from whatever you do if you don't enjoy it. Before you even get hold of a book, you must first know what you sought for. A fresh mind absorbs information better than a restless one. So before you start, find yourself a comfortable, welcoming atmosphere to be in and you're ready to go!

Participate While You're Reading

Immerse yourself in the text you're reading. Well, you might want to believe that you need to pay attention even while reading fictions, because from it you gain new set of vocabulary and perhaps learn interesting styles of writing too. Noticing the tiny bits of a fiction such as language structures, length of sentences, mood, kinds of punctuations used and some other aspects helps you understand better than those plain readings without observing thus enhancing your reading experience. It's almost like watching a movie. You need to understand the storyline to enjoy it, no?

So we now know where I'm getting us to: noticing the important parts of a text while reading. How? Simple! It can be as traditional as highlighting points (careful not to highlight the entire page because you can't tell points from elaborations) to drawing eye-catching graphic organisers! The idea is to get yourself focused to the gist of the text and not get distracted halfway and start all over again. Oh that's the last thing we'd ever want to do.

Get into a Discussion

After some period of silent reading, engage in a group to discuss what you have read. You and your partners can remind each other of important points and even improve comprehension through a Q&A session. Get a moderator to keep your discussion on track, someone good at drawing mind maps to draw graphic organisers, and someone good at locating nearby photocopy machines and a dollar or two in his pocket to photocopy a summary of what your group members raised during discussion. There you have it, a product of your reading!

Allow Yourself the Freedom to Express

When reading a reference text for literature review or any similar sorts, it is wise to have near you a pen and paper. Read up your research articles, take some time to get the whole idea, list down important ideas on a piece of paper and add up whatever relevant points you thought of along the way. This gives you room for creativity and being expressive.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Assessments: Where Are We Taking The Kids?

What comes across your mind when asked about 'assessments'?

Well, a mighty number of students and surprisingly teachers too, would think of the less bright side upon hearing the word 'assessment'. No one to blame, no pointing fingers-this is well expected for we are accustomed to the tradition that obtaining good grades for tests or examinations is something not to overlook for whether you're a student or a teacher. Let alone parents.

Defining the key term 'assessment' might clear the path for us. There are two types of assessments which are
  • Formative and
  • Summative
Formative assessments are ways of assessing students' grasp of a content area done at any time, without specific intervals throughout the year. Summative on the contrary, only happens at the end of the academic calendar-may be annually, or at the very end. Nope, that does not clear our misconceptions, just yet.

Formative and summative assessments differs from one another in whether or not feedbacks are given. As for formative assessments, feedbacks are given to the students based on the teacher's assessment on them. This provides students with room for improvement as they will be able to identify their strengths, challenges and areas to improvise. Summative assessments, done at the end of-let's say-year, grades students and unlike formative assessments, these grades functions not as feedbacks but rather a final result that indicates a student's performance. Little is the chance to improve since this assessments are designed to grade, and to only grade will it be of use. To teachers, this means a lot since they will be able to know how much the students have acquired all the way. Students' grades in comparison to one another in a class may be a useful data for further analysis. However as for students, all they'll be doing is to bring home the result to mom and dad, true enough?

Now this is another issue. Have you ever scored so low in your monthly test that you get scolded? Well that brings arise the issue of how people outer than a school community think of assessments. Yes, and I'd like to bring your attention to the previous statement that 'we are accustomed of expecting good grades for examinations'. Why is it so important, have you ever wondered? We love facts. Those of which are concise and are easy to digest. That, I believe, is what these grades and marks do. They provide us with figures that we can easily understand and in return interpret as how good someone's performance is.

But really, what do these grades and numbers mean?

Well, to say, nothing. They don't really mean anything, those grades.

Not without explanations of what A, B, C, D, E and even F mean. We do know that A means that a student's scored the highest of marks but apparently 'the highest of marks' don't really help much in understanding a child's performance now, do they?

A complete scale that comes with the teacher's detailed remarks on how a student performed during an assessment is most helpful in understanding a child's need. Someone could score B in an oral test, and generally speaking B is not the best among all students in the class-but would you agree if I say that the child is not bright enough? I wouldn't! Instead, a clear note on how a student did for prescribed content areas that are assessed in an assessment in addition to marks or grades is what parents should and would gladly look out for. Knowing how their children did in 'communicating thoughts in a group discussion' or 'pronouncing vowels and consonants clearly', if I can take those as examples (I made them all up) in an oral assessment is even more valuable than seeing 'score for oral test: B' on your child's report card.

And even then, there's another issue of normed or standard grading-which is another pain in the neck to think about, when what we've always thought to be accurate-all those grades from final examinations-are actually bound to normalisation instead of standard grading so the cumulative data of the whole cohort's performance looks nice in the graph.

I wonder, to what extent can summative and formative assessments co-exist in one assessment? It sounds possible, but that requires our whole mindset to be shifted into new spectra.

Fair enough for a face-lift of tomorrow's education?

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Roles of a Writer

We call it the 'craft of writing'. Wait, what do writing and crafting have in common? Well, I say they both are hard works. Writing-no matter how simple it appeals to be to many-is a complicated discourse which creates its own writers' community of different strata according to their roles in writing. Only through a strong grasp of linguistic knowledge, can a writer use language effectively to deliver crystal-clear messages.

There are four simple roles of a writer, in a model presented by Freebody and Luke (1990) as in Campbell & Green (2006) which are:

  1. Code breaker
  2. Text user
  3. Text participant
  4. Text analyst

A language learner specially developing in the area of writing goes through the stages, one by one from code breaker to text analyst. Completing the succession, one can successfully move to a higher stage by mastering the former.

Code Breaker
The knowledge of word spelling according to its morphemes and phonemes, using appropriate word arrangement to form sentences and any knowledge of how to simply write to convey message is the first stage called 'code breaking'. The ability to master this stage makes a writer, a code breaker.

Text User
Once the basic knowledge of how language functions is acquired by a writer, what's next is using certain types of text to meet particular purposes. Whether you realize it or not, while you write a letter to a friend telling that you're coming for a visit or sending an e-mail for job application-and oh-even writing a blog entry about 'Roles of a Writer' to be read by English Language learners-you adjust the way you put your words so they suit the purpose of your writing thus can easily be understood by your target reader(s). That is what text users like you and me do!

Text Participant
Well normally, we do many involuntary actions every day without even realising that we are-for instance, breathing. In the same note, we make meaning of texts as we read without realising it. Meaning-making involves reading a text in own's voice, taking a stand on a discussed issue, considering other participants' points of view on the text, and making sense of every aspect of the text, from its notion to coherence and everything in between, you name it.

Text Analyst
One out of a million of brilliant things about language is that-as subjective as it can be, language can also be analysed to trace evidences of patterns that can point out the purposes of a particular text through the way words are put together to form sentences, the type of tense used, type of speech function, how many times does a certain pattern repeat, and any other observable attributes of a text. Pondering on how a text they write might affect their surrounding is a huge matter text analysts deal with, through revision of the text structure.

Well those are the four roles of a writer, and here, I'd like to share my personal experience of experiencing the transition while analysing a transcription of Julia Gillard's speech. As I move on from reading the transcription to really scrutinising its characteristics, there is joy in noticing how complex, manipulative, and wonderful a text can be. The transition from breaking the code of language to using it, participating in it and finally analysing it, allows us not only to use language to say "Get yours today" in a commercial advertisement and not get a single customer at all, but to be highly expressive in choice of word to exhibit emotions, be transparent to prove reliability, be provocative to persuade, and in short, anything you want your message to cause people to think and do!

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Putting Your Thoughts On A Piece Of Paper

When it comes to creative writing, there is one principle that you need to understand and live with all the time. That principle is... you are free! Even though creative writing has some standard 'rules' you need to follow especially in a sense of grammatical aspects such as subject-verb agreement, tenses and articles just to name a few, you are allowed to 'bend' them and let your ideas flow however they want. Because in the end, it's all about creativity. And not to forget, presentation.

Well, I am more than happy to share a few tips on how to be free while writing creatively. Please be reminded, though, that these suggestions are only a type of personal point of view. You don't have to necessarily agree with them.

1. Start your sentence with freedom

Some people say you can never start a sentence with an 'and'. Guess what? 'Never' is a strong word. Way too strong. That is nonsense and there is no absolute indication that putting an 'and' at the beginning of a sentence is grammatically wrong. That notion is just a personal opinion or preference, hence you are free to use it whenever you want, especially in creative writing.

2. Split your infinitives

An infinive is normally formed by two words, the word 'to' and the base form of a verb like 'go', 'walk' and 'feel'. In order to make it sound more descriptive, we add an adverb like 'naturally', 'sadly' or 'deeply'. It will then form 'to go naturally', 'to walk sadly' or 'to feel deeply'. And sometimes, we disrupt the positions and make, 'to naturally go', 'to sadly walk' or 'to deeply feel'. This is called a split infinitive. And to certain linguists who follow a certain Latin grammar rule, a split infinitive is a grammar mistake. You know what, just ignore this and let us all sound like Captian Kirk in 'Star Trek'. It's not wrong, it's acceptable and it sounds cooler.

3. Ignore the format and play with your title

If you realize, every first letter in every word in every single title that I have in this blog (and other blogs) is written with a capital letter (you won't see this because this blog uses 'ALL CAPITAL LETTERS' for titles, se let me write it back for you - 'Putting Your Thoughts On A Piece Of Paper'). See? Capital letter for every word's first letter. In English, supposedly but not compulsory, the only words in a title that should be written in capital letters are the significant ones. Not the preposition or verb to be (unless it is the first word in the sentence). For instance, I should have written 'Putting Your Thoughts on a Piece of Paper'. But will it change anything? I don't want to waste my time thinking, "Eh, is this a preposition or what?". In fact, the one thing you should focus on is how to make your title sound catchy and interesting. My advice, don't make a statement, but make a description instead. How? You know yourself better, don't you?

4. Mess with the SVO (Subject, verb and object)

Yes, this is one rule you should master before writing a sentence. The order of these three should always comply with the type of sentences you are producing. Is it active? Is it passive? Is it this? Is it that? Oh please, it doesn't kill you if sometimes the sequence becomes less organized. For me, it is more entertaining if the structure is somehow 'messy'. It's like playing with your mind, a riddle, a question, or a poem to ponder. It can be a personal style of writing too! But of course, the readers know if you're just messing with it, or you simply don't know. Be smart and careful.

5. Ignore the ending preposition

Some people say it is not a good sentence if it ends with a preposition. Doesn't matter if it is a statement or a question. "Can you tell me where the library is at?" and "I have no idea where the library is at" don't sound so right, some say. My question, do you understand what the sentence is saying, or asking? If you do, then it's not a problem.

6. Be observant

There are lots of people who have problems with this part of writing. When they want to say, "He is badly injured", they'll write, "He is badly injured". Well what about, "He cries in agony", or "His white shirt turns red", or even, "I could feel every sense of pain by just looking at his condition"? What I am trying to say is, instead of telling people what your idea is, why don't you describe it and let those readers define your intended meaning themselves? Observe your ideas carefully and you will see that there's more than one way to skin a cat. At this junction, skin an idea.

Do not let rules stop you from writing what you have in mind. You can follow them if you want, but always know that you can sometimes break the pattern as well. Writing is like eating where you can use a spoon, you can use your hand, or you can even ask your mom to feed you. But still, it's eating. Comprende?

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Language and Association of Knowledge Concepts in Early Childhood

In the early stage of knowledge development, children do not only acquire inputs from adults but actively develop their own interpretations of their surroundings.

What are the relationships between play and learning development?
  • reflect development with prior learning
  • reinforce development with current learning
  • result in development with future learning
The three branches; namely prior, current and future learning somehow have strong connections with children's cognition on stages that they develop throughout childhood. 'Circular effect' is a term that explains how children learn and associate knowledge in a more advanced stage of learning once they established a grasp of concepts in an earlier stage.

Concepts are any one of the knowledge disciplines children learn about through formal and non-formal inputs. Jean Piaget proposed three branches of concepts learned during childhood that are:
  • physical knowledge
  • logico-mathematical knowledge
  • social knowledge
But wait, what have these concepts to do with language? Well language is one essential matter that makes learning possible.

How is language utilised in embedding concepts?

Physical knowledge:
Describing objects in the surrounding with its attributes.

Logico-mathematical knowledge:
Counting and using numerical figures to measure dimensions of objects.

Social knowledge:
The notion of self-identity and others', interacting with encounters, addressing people of different hierarchy (for example parents from siblings, teachers from friends).

In childhood learning, language is not restricted to verbal or written texts. Language can be extended to a limitless of means, namely body language and voice expressions that are meaningful. In this sense, teaching must be as dynamic as possible to meet pupils' diverse needs of literacy acquisition through language use. While body language is another matter of which I am not an expert to discuss, here I place great focus on how language learning is important and that teaching language is not only in school but at home. It is the first ever learned concept in a person's life.

Teaching language in early childhood must be endorsed with visual, aural, verbal and sensory aids, for language is used in expressive sense of a child's cognition. Without aids, teaching language is just another raw input that would take a long while to be recognised by a developing mind.

Language evolves with mankind, and as such, is unbound to any limit of use. It provides man with multitudes of ways to communicate, serves multitudes of purposes, and therefore needs multitudes of effort and support in teaching and learning.

If you're a parent or a teacher teaching young children language, all you need to do is let them out to do whatever they love to do-let them tell stories, draw on sand, play pretend, just anything-while you support with some aids or props and watch the magic as they learn to communicate in many adorable ways! :)

Thursday, 5 May 2011

How To Write An Introduction For Academic Writing

Academic writing sounds so serious doesn't it? Well, it is not. While there are some certain techniques for you to know in writing a good introduction for academic writing, there is no rule saying that we must write a dull essay for it to be academic. Here I will explain some ways in writing a good introduction for academic writing. I will start with introduction and will continue with other parts of academic writing some other time.

Introduction can be separated into two parts: General statement/Hook and Thesis Statement.

General statement/Hook.

You don't have to write much for this but don't be mistaken in thinking that it is not important.This is the technique in getting the reader's attention so it is very vital in getting the reader to continue reading your essay rather than just stopping after the first few lines. There are different types of hooks such as Anecdotes, Quotes, Statistics and Questions. While there are other types of hooks, I will just concentrate on these.

Anecdotes: You describe a character or a person which is related to your essay.
For example - ' He used to work at big companies, getting paid so much that he can afford to have the finer things in life. But that changes when he was involved with drugs. Abuse of drugs are certainly dangerous as it can damage you and people around you.'

Quotes: You quote some words from other people, usually famous people or significant people who are related to your essay.
For example - ' Nelson Mandela used to say, " After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb." Being satisfied with what we have is not an option as we must strive to be successful in life.'

Statistics: Include some data that can be easily be found either from the internet or books.
For example - ' As of 2010, more than 80% of the tablet computer market is dominated by Apple's iPad. This shows that the significance of tablet computer cannot be ignored as the market is still huge and largely untapped. '

Questions: Ask a question but make sure you give an answer for that question.
For example - ' How would you feel if a murderer was let off with a light sentence? Of course, you will not be satisfied with the verdict as it seems unfair to the dead. Nevertheless, respecting the decision of the court is very important.'

These are some of the hooks that can be used in the introduction. If these seem to difficult for you, just write a general statement. I would recommend this for students of lower level as you just need to write a general statement that is related to the topic. As long it is related to the topic, it is good enough.

CAUTION: Please do not start with 'Nowadays' or 'As we all know' as they are cliches that are being used over and over again that they will not help your essay to stand out as they are as common as the greens besides the road.

After you are done with hooks/general statement, we should state our stand and give some indication on what we are about to discuss in the essay. This is the use of Thesis Statement. Thesis Statement is used to explain the points that will be discussed in the body paragraph of an essay.

For example - He used to work at big companies, getting paid so much that he can afford to have the finer things in life. But that changes when he was involved with drugs. Abuse of drugs are certainly dangerous as it can damage you and people around you. So it is agreed that abuse of drugs is dangerous because it can lead to a dysfunctional family institution and declining moral values of the society.

Have a look at the bold part. That is the thesis statement. By reading the thesis statement we can know that the first body paragraph will discuss the dysfunctional family institution while the second body paragraph will discuss the declining moral values of the society.

Having to agree or disagree shows your stand which you have to choose. It depends on the question actually. If the question asks you either to agree or disagree, you have to choose one. If the question only asks you to discuss or give your opinion, you can have both sides, positive and negative. The question for above introduction might be ' Abuse of drugs is dangerous, do you agree or disagree?' which leads to the thesis statement above.

There is another way to write thesis statement. While the example that I give here is an explicit thesis statement which lays out the point that will be discussed, an implicit thesis statement is the opposite of that. I will not explain much about implicit thesis statement as usually explicit thesis statement is the one which is preferred.

In a way, for you to have a good and clear introduction, you must know how to combine hooks and thesis statement. Hope this helps, please comment if you have any questions or suggestions.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Overcome Your Fear Of Public Speaking

Standing in front of an audience is already a daunting task, let alone to stand and talk in front of them simultaneously, in English. Giving a structured speech to a group of people who are well aware of the fact that you are going to talk requires a lot more than guts and will. It needs preparation and flexibility, too.

Based on several publications I have managed to read, here I compile and list down 10 famous steps (out of so many) that I believe can and will help you overcome the fear of speaking in public.

1. Prepare your points!

No matter how good you are in terms of talking, you will need to prepare your speech. Get your points right, have some facts to support them and make sure you know everything there is to know about the topic, backwards and forwards.

2. Practice!

Practice the speech and visualize the style of it. Imagine the response you will get from the audience and determine how you are going to handle it. Train yourself to be flexible. Don't forget to check and re-check your grammar!

3. Be there early!

Come early and get the mood right. Check the room and its size so you can tell how loud you should or shouldn't be. Get on the stage and move around it. Make sure you feel comfortable there.

4. Look confident and be confident!

Bring forth your self-confidence. If you think you are not confident enough, then take your time to have it. Do not rush as your confidence will slowly grow by time.

5. Make eye contact!

It is never a good oral presentation if there is no eye contact involved. Look at your audience!

6. Choose a target!

If eye contact makes you feel threatened in some ways, choose a target. Find someone among the crowd who presents you with warmth and positiveness, look at him or her and gradually put your eyes on everyone else. Repeat the steps.

7. Don't forget to smile!

As smiles bring you happiness, give them back! Make sure the audience know that you are happy to be there. It is never wrong to smile at times even when the topic you are presenting is serious. Choose and take your time to smile.

8. Take a pause and breathe!

Do not rush your speech! Take some pauses in-between long sentences and breathe slowly. The more you rush yourself, the more you will panic and lose confidence. So don't.

9. Play with intonations!

Adjust you intonations and make sure they vary from slow and steady to fast and firm. Change them accordingly so that your speech won't be monotonous.

10. It's okay to be nervous!

Whenever you feel nervous, just know that you're being normal. Everybody will experience stage fright, and that includes the experts and those with more experience. The difference is how you handle it. Take it and play along with it. It's okay!

So, what are you waiting for? You know the steps, now speak!