Wednesday, May 31, 2006



As this blog gets bigger and bigger, as more and more pages are added, it becomes a resource for students, which was my intention when I first began it.

Since that time, my students have returned again and again to it, but now, instead of reading the first page, they have begun to delve deeper into it; open archived material, and discover pages they never knew existed.

As this blog is written mostly in the present tense, its themes are current themes, rather than narratives about what happened to me this morning, last night, or last month; they aren’t organized chronologically, except in as much as the times and dates they were added order them.

Supposing I started to re-organize the site, deleting and then resubmitting the deleted items so that what had previously been first appeared last and vice versa, that new order would be no more appropriate than the present one.

You can dip into the water where you like, but this stretch is no different than one twenty feet away.  You can take this piece of stone from this part of the quarry, but only its shape and its weight will be different.

What I am trying to say, albeit in a round about way, is that this blogsite contains stuff you probably haven’t even seen yet.  Nevertheless, it is there for you to find, read and enjoy, and to hopefully learn from.  
Good luck!
Happy hunting!
Robert L. Fielding  

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Communicating: food for thought

Effective Communication

Identifying with others is a very positive, sensitive thing to do. Communication is always more effective when interlocutors respect each other and give others their due.

Too often though, it seems to me, something gets in the way to inhibit effective communication. Sometimes it is a conflict of interests, perceived or real; sometimes what is called a clash of personalities, sometimes it is a lack of effort.

Of the three, lacking the effort seems the one where most ground can be made up, so to speak. Very often, perceived differences stem from an unwillingness to meet the other half way, to compromise, and work at doing so, for make no mistake, effective communication is hard work if it does not come naturally.

John Brown gave some very good advice on the pragmatics of effective communication. He said: “Be mild with the mild, shrewd with the crafty, confiding to the honest, rough to the ruffian, and a thunderbolt to the liar. But in all this, never be unmindful of your own dignity.”

Just being yourself, while perhaps being more open and honest policy, is not always the best one to adopt if you want to get the most out of your communications with others.

While being mild with the mild would undoubtedly have the effect of creating empathy, being shrewd with the crafty might not always work. Finding one’s equal is not the same thing as finding someone who empathizes with you.

Confiding to the honest seems to work; honesty should encourage honesty, though probably more often than not, being too open seems to sometimes be taken as a sign of weakness.

The ruffian surely expects rough treatment, but again, people who are rough probably got that way by being treated roughly, and so treating him roughly might be as good a way as any of ensuring he is rough back.

Everyone would agree that the liar needs a thunderbolt to bring him back to reality, goodness and honesty; providing that thunderbolt, while being honorable and courageous, might not be very pragmatic. I suppose it depends upon the kind of lies issuing from the mouth of the liar.

Brown’s final words, however, bring the various portions of advice together, in that the act of trying to be all things to all men, as we say, could be tantamount to losing your own identity, or at least subverting it to get on with people, and while we do this and have to do this every day of our lives, we should allow ourselves the luxury of not having to befriend every person we come in contact with, but neither should we be indifferent to them.
Robert L. Fielding

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Developing thinking skills and using multiple intelligences

Thoughts and points - tasks and activities

From a workshop given by Mario Rinvolucri on 26th March 2006 at UAE University

“True genius is a mind of large general powers,
accidentally determined to some particular direction”
Samuel Johnson

It was fortunate that Hans Lal - a representative on the University’s Professional Development Committee - managed to persuade Mario to come to UAE University today to give this useful workshop on using multiple intelligences in the learning environment.

Clarity of thought and the ability to draw upon different facets of one’s intelligence is vitally important when it comes to making decisions that affect the country, and as today’s undergraduates may well become tomorrow’s professionals, leaders, and captains of industry; their ability to think critically and realize their full potential is indeed vital.

The University General Requirements Unit (UGRU) is about to embark on courses designed to develop students critical thinking ability; vital in the world we live in, as well as in studies at university. Mario’s workshop gave thirty teachers plenty to think about this evening.

Going through the tasks set out below might go some way to helping you realize that there is something going on in your mind or the mind of your children besides what is traditionally thought or expected.

Drawing upon the work of Dr. Howard Gardner, and applying it to teaching situations, Mario Rinvolucri illustrates the eight different intelligences proposed by Dr. Gardner by animated and highly instructive and enjoyable activities which ensure the success of the workshop as a learning experience for participants.

The eight different intelligences proposed by Dr. Gardner are:
 Linguistic intelligence (“word smart”)
This ‘intelligence’ is the one traditionally tested at schools, colleges and universities. Typically, students write essays or complete grammar exercises to indicate their ability in English or their mother tongue.

Task: ‘Mexican wave’ sentences
This activity needs several people – each person has to be a word, a punctuation mark or a phoneme (like the ‘s’ on third person singular verbs –
‘She likes ice cream.’)
Take a paragraph about Dubai, for example, and ‘act’ out your own part as the sentence unfolds – stand in a row with the others in the order of the words in your sentence. When it comes to your bit, speak, act, or do both. Enjoy language like never before – learn from your enjoyment – tell me you didn’t enjoy the exercise, the limits of the task, the physical act of becoming a word, and now think how you can improve your language – start with questions – what happens to word order in questions – start to sound like a native speaker, instead of mumbling your way through life – stand up, speak and move – enjoy and learn!

 Logical-mathematical intelligence (“number/reasoning smart”)
Here, a student’s ability to solve mathematical problems is tested, and it is this ‘intelligence’ and linguistic intelligence that are used to determine whether, for instance, a student progresses from high school into higher education. University entrance examinations the world over test students in these two areas. Should the following types of intelligence count for anything?

Task 1. ‘Meet you in the middle’
With a partner, count in turns down from 100 and up from zero – in twos, then in threes, fours or whatever you can manage. Feeling your way around numbers is one way not to be intimidated by them. How many of us have faltered at even the appearance of numbers on a sheet of paper. This activity is fun to do as well as being helpful.

Now invent similar games with other lists – stations on the Bakerloo line (or the Dubai line when it’s up and running), words in well known nursery rhymes or poems – make something up – share it – memorise and play – increase your memory, and the space you feel comfortable in – linguistic, numerical, spatial, intrapersonal – be inventive and creative – find out what you have a flair for, what your child is brilliant at – you’ll be surprised what you uncover – it’s always been there, it’s just that you haven’t ever been encouraged to look for it.

 Spatial intelligence (“picture smart”)
If your child shows some ability to draw pictures, or manages to find his way round shopping malls without your help, for instance, he might be gifted in spatial intelligence. Parents should encourage any talent they see in their children, and teachers too would do well to look out for students who show aptitude in this area. It used to be said that if you were good at art, you were not so good at maths – is that really true, or just a sort of self-fulfilling prophesy used by teachers and parents who do not encourage artistic ability when they see it?

Task: ‘Let your eyes remember’
Listen to the following words – draw something to represent each word you hear. Do it quickly and alone. After you have finished, compare your drawings with those of other people. You will be amazed to find you have a lot in common, but some drawings will be yours and yours alone.

Task 2. After you have compared your sketches, put the piece of paper away for several days. After three days, try to recall the words – think of the pictures you drew to help you if you can’t remember every word. This list of 7 very different words will be hard to remember – remember the shapes you drew, and you will recall the words. Use your Spatial Intelligence in a conscious way.
Everybody uses theirs unconsciously every day – if we didn’t we wouldn’t last out the day.

 Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence (“body smart”)
Ballet dancers, gymnasts, footballers, horse riders – all sorts of people who have the ability to be graceful in their movements may possess this sort of intelligence. Remember Billy Eliot in the film of the same name – boys traditionally play masculine sports like football and rugby, and girls take up lessons in ballet dancing, but does it have to be that way – always – for every child? A talent is something divine and should be nurtured, despite our more earth- bound prejudices about who can or should be good at what.

We speak, for example, of being "touched," "taken," "gripped," "led," "held." We "grapple" with difficult subjects, and have "gut wrenching" experiences. Our stomachs turn. Our hearts leap. Our breathing quickens. We may tremble, sigh, and be "moved." These responses are rooted in kinesthetic experience.

Task: Answer by demonstrating
1. I learn a skill by doing it.
2. I can't sit still long.
3. I like to move around when I am learning something.
4. I like activities that involve movement.
5. I like the rides at amusement parks.
6. I like to do things that are physically active.
7. I like to touch things.
8. I mimic other people's gestures accurately.
9. I am well coordinated.
10. I am animated and expressive when I talk.
11. I like working with my hands.
12. I would rather drive than ride.
13. I enjoy creating things with my hands.
14. I write things down to remember.
15. I often touch others when talking to them.
These statements indicate kinesthetic intelligence –

Task 2: Rank the statements in order of importance to yourself – compare your rankings with others – who appears to be more kinesthetically intelligent – how can you tell – write down some of the ways this type of intelligence is demonstrated:
 By yourself
 By people you know well
Compare your findings – what do they tell you about yourselves?
Both scientists and educators are realizing that early, positive musical experience is uniquely effective in helping children achieve their full potential intellectually, artistically and emotionally.

Intelligence associated with musical understanding does not always relate to superior levels of achievement in other academic areas. Yet MI theory holds that the nurturing and development that takes place in musical learning is autonomous and on par with the processes that take place in studying languages, mathematics and the sciences (Potter, 1997)

Musical intelligence (“music smart”)
If Mozart had not been encouraged in his supreme musical ability, the world might have been deprived of a true genius and his work may never have been written, played and enjoyed. Who knows how many gifted people have been thwarted in their ambitions because either a teacher or a parent did not say the right thing at the right time. You may say that true genius will always come to the surface, that truly gifted people will always get there eventually, but is that always true, and why run the risk of missing talent or more in your children?

Task: ‘Take up your instruments, ladies and gentlemen!’
This activity will help cure your inhibitions – they could be preventing you from discovering who you really are – but don’t worry – do it with your eyes closed first.
Imagine you are about to perform a piece of music you know and love. Close your eyes and begin – beat those drums like Ringo Starr, play the violin like Menhuin, cdance like John Travolta, conduct an orchestra like Sir Simon Rattle, do anything – nobody’s looking – enjoy the feel of the music guiding your movements – come alive – feel free and dynamic – laugh – everyone in the group will laugh with you – feel your power to enjoy music, movement and expression.

 Interpersonal intelligence (“people smart”)
The ability to communicate with others is vital, especially in a world in which communication is everywhere and in everything. Again, the great communicators in our world have managed to reach the fore, but this ability is one which everyone can quickly and easily use, can still improve upon and excel in. In today’s world, success is driven by this ability perhaps more than any of the others. It makes sense to encourage everyone to talk to each other, to express themselves and to realize who they truly are or are capable of becoming, and communicating well is fun too.

Task: ‘You’re talking- I’m talking – Hey, we’re getting on so much better now!’
Send half the group out of the room – when they return, engage them in conversation and speak at their pace rather than your own – feel their speed and speak at the same rate – feel how near you have become – they will feel it too – this is largely an unconscious exercise for one of you, but even for the one who knows what is going on, it will have unexpected results – you will feel different about that person. Agree with the man who once said, “I never met a person I didn’t like.” Try it with people you are not quite as friendly as you would like to be.

 Intrapersonal intelligence (“self smart”)
The ability to know yourself, to know who you are, what you are and what you want and are capable of is the key to unlocking the other intelligences within you. Health, both physical and psychological, is improved and maintained through self-knowledge – through the intelligence that allows us to instinctively know when things are going well and when things are otherwise with us.

Task: ‘Be where you want to be!’
Stand up – close your eyes – imagine you are looking out over a vista – where is it? – what is it? – you decide – smell the salty air of the Atlantic – the chill of the snowfields half way up Everest, the heat of the Kalahari Desert – the sounds of London’s Piccadilly – your own secret garden only you have the key to – imagine what you see- hear- feel – who you meet – what you become – what you achieve there!

 Naturalist intelligence (“nature smart”)
This type of intelligence is demonstrated by a child’s ability to use the world of nature. Showing an interest in animals, for instance, would indicate that a child has this form of intelligence.

Children possessing this type of intelligence may have a strong affinity to the outside world or to animals, and this interest often begins at an early age. They may enjoy subjects, shows and stories that deal with animals or natural phenomena.

Task: Hopping and naming
For this activity, you will need plenty of space – it’s best done outside where no one can get hurt. Place large circles on the ground (within hopping distance) – one person at a time hops and counts as they hop – then names an animal as they hop.
Others can cheer on the participant as they wait for their turn. Watch out for the child who completes the task easily and quickly, taking little time to think up the name of an animal before they hop to the next circle – adults watching could count and keep a check on the time it takes each child to get through the circles – this could easily be made into a team game – spontaneity is the thing to watch out for and encourage here.

A variety of activities in the classroom, on the sports-field, in the library, outdoors can invite anyone to ‘go into parts of the mind normally used to process things in other ways’ – to find out whether you or your children have hidden talents.
The benefits of music include:
~ Extending the neural networks in the brain
~ Sound discrimination which leads to spelling success
~ Increased vocabulary
~ Abstract and spatial reasoning which leads to math success
~ Improved coordination
~ Better concentration skills
~ Sharper memory
~ More focused listening skills

In Mario’s workshop, some teachers were initially somewhat perplexed by what was expected of them – why they were being asked to do certain things. However, once the activities got started, all became apparent and clear.

You don’t know what you can do until you have a go, and you might also imagine yourself in capable of other things prior to taking part – finding out is everything – in the classroom and elsewhere – try it.

Group members readily identified with certain points in the talk, recounting similar experiences that accorded with points made by the speaker.

In effect, Mario’s main point throughout the workshop was that there are other ways of teaching any subject - in conventional schooling, people who learn in ways other than linguistically and logically are not always catered for in recognized teaching methodologies and testing tools.

To illustrate points made, Mario demonstrated teaching techniques that utilize ability from the other six intelligences. Forms of irregular verbs, for example, were taught using body movements instead of words on the board, and it became clear that otherwise drab lessons on uninteresting subjects can be livened up to make them more

Finally, and urging teachers not to use symbols and learning devices and mnemonics, for example, that are culturally unacceptable or which fly in the face of conventional logic, Mario rounded off an enjoyable and informative evening with exercises designed to allow students to find out something about their own, preferred way of learning.

Everyone almost certainly came away knowing something more about themselves and how they best learn, and how to use this to teach in ways that exploit the multiple intelligences that may or may not be dormant in all of us, I know I did.
The Rogers Indicator of Multiple Intelligences at:-

Robert L. Fielding

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Keep a journal: help your memory

If, like me, you forget certain things you have to do, and then remember them the minute before you have to do them, then keeping a journal is for you.

You don’t have to write pages and pages. In fact, you can write as much as you want, or as little as you think is necessary. Keep a record of the times and dates of tasks, appointments, meetings, and deadlines – anything you need to do on time.

You can also keep records of things like your impressions, what you were thinking at the time, what you thought of others – anything you think you might benefit from rereading later.

If you are a student learning English, for example, you could keep a record of some important parts of your lesson to remind you when you come to do things like write essays and assignments.

Let’s say your teacher gives you some important vocabulary that you know you will need when you come to write up your essay. Make a note of it, and label it so you can find it easily later. Actually, you could keep a special section in the back of your journal for words you want to use later – organize the lists of words alphabetically to enable you to find them later.

The act of writing English in a journal will affect your own ability to write. Without the necessity of having anyone else read your journal, you are free to write anything you like – this may sound like allowing bad English, but there is no such thing as bad English – there is only English at a certain point in your learning experience – your English isn’t bad, it’s just not accurate yet. It’s as accurate as you can make it bat this particular point in your education.

I’ll say it again – keeping a journal and rereading it from time to time will help you to improve your grasp of the language, and you’ll be able to track your improvements and backtrack to correct your own written English – which amounts to you being your own writing teacher – that’s the real value of keeping a journal – though not the only one. Try it – keep a daily record of your time at university. If nothing else, it will be a sentimental journey you can take every time you go through it in future.
Robert L. Fielding

Friday, May 19, 2006

Tips from an independent learner

If you know in advance that you need to increase your independence upon entering university, you’re one of the lucky ones.  Most people don’t find that out until the first day of the new semester, and then it comes as a shock.  I know, that is what happened to me on my first day of study at university.

Prior to that first day, my experience of learning had been at High School, studying for my GCE A-Level examinations, which are like entrance exams for a place on an undergraduate course at university.  Studying for A-Levels is itself very different from normal, everyday life at school; it is geared to taking the final examination and passing it with a grade high enough to get you a place.

At High School, teachers help students; they talk to them, advise them, tell them exactly what they have to do – all the time.  At university, very few people tell you what to do, virtually nobody advises you.  You are given a timetable, an essay assignment schedule, and reading lists.  The rest is up to you.

If you want to do well, and most people do, you learn very quickly.  The kitchens, common rooms and cafeterias are the places where freshmen (new 1st year students) learn where to go, what to do, and when to do it.  Some people drop out – slowly – from this first encounter with learner autonomy, while the majority learn to cope.

What helped me most, was my ability to be organized.  I organized my time, and I organized my learning; my reading, and my writing.

One of the things I learned to do very quickly, was that I had to get work in on time.  At university, you are given deadlines, and left to hand work in on or before the time stipulated on the schedule.  If you are late, and many are always late, you do not get a mark for that particular assignment.  There are no arguments.  You don’t get informed.  You find out at the end of the course that you didn’t receive a mark for the work you didn’t turn in one time.

Similarly, students are expected to do the required reading from the list.  However, reading lists are always much too extensive.  Nobody could possibly get though everything, but then you are not really expected to read every page of every book on the list.

You have to be selective in your reading, and good tutor can and will help freshmen in tutorials or seminars.  In fact, students are generally expected to present seminar papers based upon specific issues or topics.  You learn quickly, you have to do.  But seminar papers form no part of assessment at university; they merely help students to focus on important subject areas.

As well as handing work in on time, it is best to make sure your work is of the highest quality, as marks for assignments generally count for the final grades that determine the class of degree you are awarded at the end of the final year.

Practical advice goes as follows:

  • Plan your time according to what you have to do and when you have to do it.
  1. lectures

  2. seminars

  3. tutorials

  4. written assignments

  5. seminar papers

  6. workshops

  7. what time to eat and sleep also need timetabling

  • Do the work you are required to do.

  • reading for your own information

  • reading for specific tasks like presenting seminar papers or writing essays

  • Writing

  • writing up notes from a lecture

  • writing up notes from your reading

  • writing formally assessed assignments and essays

  • Plan sport and recreation activities.

  • gym

  • swimming

  • playing regularly on a team

  • jogging

  • walking

  • socializing with others

  • Plan your free time

  • time that is not timetabled – free time for yourself

  • time to rest

  • time to think

  • time to do something else besides all of the above

You don’t really have to write all the items down on paper, although the first items on your list do need special note.  My advice is to have copies of your timetable in places you regularly look – next to the washbasin mirror in your study bedroom, on your writing table, on the inside flap of your bag, in your purse or your wallet – everywhere to help you to remember.

Peer groups are good, healthy things – everybody needs them – it’s good to know you are not going through this by yourself – everybody on your course has your headaches and problems – probably even your nightmares too.

It is also worth remembering too though, that people have different ways of managing.  Some coping mechanisms are fine and work, while others are just ways of setting yourself up to fail.  Take advice, but also monitor by observing others.  If the person who normally gives you most of your advice suddenly drops out or misses a deadline, you may want to think taking his advice again.

Universities are beginning to tailor their freshmen procedures to prevent students dropping out or failing courses, and so counseling services for students in difficulties are always on offer – take advantage of them – they are there to help you manage this most important time to date in your early adult life.  
Robert L. Fielding

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Becoming an independent learner: first things first

How to become an independent learner: starting off as you mean to carry on

Robert L. Fielding
The Learning Process

Knowing what a bicycle is and how it works is not the same thing as being able to get on it and ride it.   You need to be shown how to do it, and then you need practice doing it before you feel fully confident and able to ride it well.

Most activities are this way, aren’t they.  You watch a famous tennis player serving an ace – it looks easy, doesn’t it?  But when you try it, you find that it’s a lot more difficult than it looks.

You may have read what an independent learner is (see this site), and have understood what you have read, but that still doesn’t mean you know what to do to become one, does it?

Like learning how to ride a bike or swim or play tennis, you need to be shown a few techniques first, you need to think, and you need to try things out for yourself.  After all, to be independent is to act alone, to follow your own intuition and to work out what works for you as well as what doesn’t.  Enough said; let’s see what you can do first.

The Independent Learner
Take a self-evaluation test to find out if you are an independent learner or not.  
Click here:

Are you the kind of person who wants to be independent?
If you want to do something with your life, want to really achieve something, enjoy life to the full – if you realize that there will be disappointments in your life, that not everything will go as you expect or hope, then learner independence is for you.

If you have some belief in yourself, can take criticism, or would dearly like to be that way, then again, learner autonomy is for you.

First and foremost, the desire to become independent, think independently and act in the same way, according to the dictates of your own conscience, your own feelings, and your own ambitions, is a state of mind.  Once you think you want to become an independent learner, here are some of the characteristics you will need to develop and acquire.
Typical characteristics of the independent learner
You are unlikely to possess all these characteristics in equal measure or as outlined below.  However, learner autonomy is more of a process – perhaps one without an end, rather than a state.  Don’t mourn the fact that you do not possess these qualities in abundance, but rather work on each of them in order to increase your independence as a learner.  Here are the categories.
  1. diligence
This means working hard and working with care and attention.  It means caring about your work, which in turn means being honest and having pride in what you have achieved.
  1. ability to concentrate
Being able to concentrate on something isn’t always easy – in fact, more often than not, it is difficult; there are so many things to distract you.  You need space and time, and your own willingness to concentrate.  Concentrating on something that is interesting is not that difficult, providing you have time and space, but getting down to thinking about something that is not that interesting, but that has to be learned and understood is.
You need your friends and significant others to give you the space, the peace and quiet and the time to exercise your mental capacities, and you need to have the self-discipline, the tenacity and stamina to work things through until you know what they mean.
  1. motivation
Motivation; wanting to do the thing you are doing or have to do is everything.  Being motivated can and will make all the difference to how independent you become, and how successful you are for make no mistake, achieving learner autonomy will require a lot of work, but it will be worth it in the end.
  1. conscientiousness
This is something like honesty, being honest enough to avoid shortcuts or easy ways out of something.  Cutting corners, ignoring things that take a little longer to understand, are all things you should work at avoiding.  If you cheat, or you are dishonest, it will quickly become evident.  The first person to discover this will be yourself, but others will find out soon enough too.
  1. an ability to reflect critically on what you do
Looking back at what you have just done is very valuable, and goes hand in hand with honesty and motivation.  Stepping back from a task you are in the middle of and asking yourself certain questions is also of great value, particularly if you answer your own questions truthfully.
  • Where is what I am doing right now leading me?

  • Am I on the right path doing this?

  • Why did I do it this way and not the other way?

  • Can I improve my methods?

  • What have I learned?

  • How will I know if and when I have been successful?
Questions like these should be uppermost in your mind as you work on solving a problem.  
  1. an ability to correct oneself
If you are honest, motivated and can reflect on what you are doing, you should have no trouble correcting yourself.  The act of stopping what you are doing, realizing it is wrong, starting again and this time doing it better is one of the most rewarding things you can do.  It doesn’t feel rewarding to begin with, but once you work out the best way for you, the rewards will soon appear.  Conversely, if you go blindly on even though a little voice in your head tells you that what you are doing is not the best way, you will also be rewarded, but this time with the disappointment of failure.
  1. an ability to choose tasks based on one’s language ability
Knowing your own level can be to your advantage, but not trying to raise your abilities because of your fear of failing can never benefit you.
  1. an awareness that different tasks demand a different type of knowledge  
Ask yourself what it means to know a word.  It means knowing a lot of things about it – some are obvious, but some are not.
  • Spelling

  • Meaning

  • Part of speech

  • Pronunciation

  • Which words it normally accompanies

  • How often it is used

  • The register in which it is most commonly used
Can you think of any more?  Now apply this feature of knowledge to other areas of your studies.  Be aware – know the questions to ask, even if you don’t know the answers – yet!  
  1. an awareness of how you learn and how to progress: the learning process
The learning process isn’t merely finding the answers to questions, although it includes that.  It is about discovering how to arrive at the answer, the solution to your problem by different means and in ways that stimulate your curiosity to go on discovering – once you start, you won’t want to stop – what you are really discovering is how your mind works.

Manage your time
  • Actively identify or decide what is most important and most urgent
Prioritizing accurately will help you achieve deadlines – it doesn’t matter how much work you have put in or how brilliant your work is, if you hand it in late you will suffer – your work might not be accepted
  • Balance your studies and your own time
Don’t work yourself to a standstill – eat when you are hungry and rest when you are tired, getting too hungry or too tired will adversely affect everything you do.

Make sure you do not neglect friends and family members – though they will have to get used to seeing a little less of you when you are busy – explain this to them and they will support you – that’s what friends and family members do.

  • Use your time effectively – know where you need to be to get what you need
Don’t run around in a blind panic – start the day knowing where you have to go and the optimum order to reach each destination and complete the task.

Here are some links for more information on how to manage your time.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Learner autonomy

Learner autonomy: what it is

Robert L. Fielding

Learner autonomy, sometimes called learner independence is ‘the ability to take charge of your own learning.’ (Holec 1981) It means that you, the student, can discover the best way for you to learn and develop skills you have acquired to improve your ability as a learner. Becoming an independent learner is a good thing to do – it will help your understanding of your subject areas, and it will help you to find out something about how you learn best, and ultimately it will lead to success – better grades – more enjoyable lessons – more interesting lessons, and hopefully, to a better career and a more enjoyable, fulfilling life.

 It also means that your teacher becomes more like a facilitator – a helper, rather than just the person you go to ask if you are right or wrong.
 It means being responsible for your own learning.
 It means adopting a more mature attitude to learning, and it means getting the most out of your time as a student.
 It does not mean being left to do whatever you feel like doing, but nor does it mean being left alone to sink or swim.

Here are a few ways in which your performance as a learner might change if you begin to change your orientation to your own learning.

You will most probably do these things.

 Have new insights into your own learning strategies and learning styles

Learning strategies are ‘special thoughts or behaviour that students use to help them understand, learn and retain (remember) new information. ( O’Malley & Chamot 1990) Learning strategies are ‘mental steps or operations that learners use to learn a new language and regulate their efforts to do so’. (Wenden 1998)

There are two types of learning strategy.

1. Cognitive Strategies

a) Repetition
Repeating words you find difficult to pronounce is one way to improve – try repeating words alone at first, then repeat them to a friend when you feel more confident.
The first sound in the word ‘the’ and the first sound in the word ‘think’ are difficult for most learners of English.
o Stand in front of a mirror, put your fingers in front of your mouth.
o Touch them lightly with the tip of your tongue.
o Say, ‘think’, drawing your tongue back into your mouth as you make the first sound.
Well done. You have just pronounced this sound correctly. Repeat these steps until it becomes easy.
b) Resourcing
Use resources to help you learn. Here are some of the obvious ones.
 Dictionaries
 A good dictionary contains a lot of useful information about the word you are looking up.
 Of course, the first thing you find out is how to spell the word correctly, then you might want to know what kind of word it is – a noun, verb, adjective etc. (These words are usually abbreviated, but are fairly obvious too – n = noun, vb = verb etc.)
 Some dictionaries like Collins Cobuild Dictionary and most dictionaries for learners will contain the word as it is normally used in phrases and sentences.

The meaning of the word is provided. Many English words have more than one meaning, or have different forms, so look out for headwords (the word you are looking for – usually in bold letters, with the numbers 1, 2, 3.. next to each for the different forms and meanings of the word.

 Encyclopedias
Although encyclopedias are usually big books, they are very easy to use, contain a lot of information, and usually have illustrations – pictures and diagrams to explain.

 Internet
The Internet is a great source of information. The main problem for learners is that there is too much information – millions of sites for one search on Google. Get help.

c) Translation

Many learners carry a dictionary that gives the meaning of an English word in another language. This is fine, helpful and comforting, but you will find that a word in one language does not always translate easily into another language.

Take care – get help if you are unsure about the word you have chosen.

d) Note-taking
This is more difficult than it might seem. Note-taking from a lecture is particularly difficult; lecturers speak quickly and use difficult words.

Note-taking from books can also be difficult – knowing what to write down and what to leave out is also difficult.

The key to both is understanding what you are listening to, or what you are reading.
Here are links to sites that will give you some useful tips.

e) Deduction

If you don’t understand what a word means, you can often get close to its meaning by using your knowledge of English.

 What kind of word is it – noun, verb etc
 If it is a verb, what tense is it, what word does it apply to – what is the subject of the verb – if it is an adjective, what noun is it describing
 Word endings and some beginnings of words can often help you.
Endings of words:-
..ment, …ness, …tion, …ity, - nouns ie. enjoyment, happiness, information, necessity
…ous, …al, …ive, …ful – adjectives ie. callous, local, active, joyful
…ify, …ate, …ize – verbs ie. qualify, activate, energize
Beginnings of words:-
Mono = one, duo = two, tri = three or triple ie. monopoly, duodenum, tricycle
un = denotes the opposite ie. happy/unhappy
im = ditto ie. polite/impolite
a = ditto ie. political/apolitical
Go to this site for help with prefixes and suffixes.

f) Contextualisation

Finding the meaning of words and phrases from the context – the sentence in which they appear.

This can involve meaning or some other information about the words or phrases you are interested in.
Ie. I read before I go to bed. (read = simple present tense verb)
I read a good book last week. (read = simple past tense verb)

Ie. I can’t see the distinction between the words autonomy and independence. (difference)
He got a distinction in Geography. (mark of excellence)

g) Transfer

Defined here as the ability to use knowledge gained in your own language to remember and understand facts and sequences in another.

h) Inferencing
Drawing conclusions and obtaining meaning from the available information in the sentence.
Ie. The Police Officer fought off the attackers by punching them.
(Inferred that the Police Officer was most probably male.)

i) Questioning for clarification

This is simply the act of asking the teacher questions to clarify what she has said. This may seem simple – not worth mentioning – but in some cultures, asking the teacher questions may be unusual, or be unpopular with other students.

2. Metacognitive Strategies
Here are some links to sites that will give you more information about metacognitive strategies.

a) Directed attention
Deciding in advance to concentrate on the more general aspects of a task. For example, in a role play exercise, you may focus your attention on solving the problem as a whole rather than working on certain parts of the problem.
b) Selective attention
Deciding in advance to concentrate on particular aspects of a task. You may feel that you need practice in forming questions and asking them, so you decide to take on a particular persona in a role play exercise.

c) Self-monitoring
This is checking your spoken language as you speak. Note that this particular form of self-monitoring might mean that fluency is impeded for the sake of accuracy.

Deciding whether to do that would depend upon the task. If you are in a situation which calls upon the speed with which information is provided, it would not be the best tactic to adopt. However, if you are undergoing an interview to assess your language level, this type of strategy might be more beneficial and more appropriate.
d) Self-evaluation
This is something like being self-critical; it is evaluating your own performance according to your own standards. The difficulty here is that if your own standards are impossibly high, and do not accord with reality, you may be over critical, which could lead to a loss of self-confidence.

e) Self-reinforcement
This is perhaps the nicest strategy; that of rewarding yourself for a job well done. It is important that you keep sight of your achievements as well as your failings. If you concentrate on the latter rather than the former, you might find yourself inhibiting your own performance.

 Take an active approach to learning

If you only do what the teacher tells you to do, you might be acting too passively. Good learners are active learners – this might mean working harder in the classroom and outside it, but it will also mean gaining a greater understanding of the subject and therefore being more likely to pass examinations. It will also be more rewarding in a general sense. Active students enjoy their lessons more than students who do the bare minimum. Scraping through is not really an option these days – the competition for places at university as well as for jobs is too fierce.

 Be willing to take risks

A willingness to take risks is the opposite of a reluctance to be ever seen to be wrong. Being wrong sometimes is what learning is all about. Students often learn more from their mistakes than they do from the things they do correctly. Being incorrect and knowing you have been so is an event that will probably stick in your memory, if only for the memory of how uncomfortable you felt when you were told you were wrong. Any discomfort you might feel at such times soon disappears when it is clear that you acted with courage and enterprise in taking the risks you took, and in any case, risk takers stand more chance of becoming winners.

Be a better guesse
Guessing, if done selectively and purposefully, can be a useful strategy; sometimes the only strategy left to you. If you find that you don’t know one key word in an examination question, and dictionaries aren’t allowed, a careful guess could be your only way forward. Try to limit the number of times you guess, though. If you have more time, look the word up.

 Place importance of form as well as on content

Expressing yourself well is of paramount importance, particularly when you are being judged by the sophistication of the language you are using to communicate. Likewise, in a written essay, points are lost when they are poorly expressed. It is not just what you say or write, but the words you use that are important – sometimes more important.

 Have a tolerant and outgoing approach to the language you are learning

Remember that the English language is notorious for having very few consistent rules that apply in all cases. This is particularly true with spelling. Similarly, when speaking, don’t be put off by different accents – you have one – no accents are superior to others in the language classroom – clarity is the best yardstick, but be patient with others who do not have your command of the English language.

The how and the what of learning

Finally, what matters is not just what you learn, but how you learn it. Our ability to use organized sounds, language, to communicate with others is what separates us from other living creatures. The language we use every day says something about us, and learning a new language can threaten our sense of worth and well-being. We bring much more than our pens and our notebooks to the language classroom, we bring the totality of our feelings and our emotions as well. ‘Meeting and interiorizing the grammar of a foreign language is not merely an intelligent, cognitive act. It is a highly affective on too.’ (Rinvolucri 1984)

Be gentle with yourself and with your fellow students, as well as with that person standing at the front of the class – she is involved in a highly affective act too.


Holec, H. 1981. Autonomy in Foreign Language Learning. Oxford: OUP.
O’Malley, J.M. and Chamot, A.V. 1990. Learning Strategies in Second Language Acquisition. London: Macmillan.
Rinvolucri, M. 1984. Grammar Games. Cambridge: CUP
Wenden, A. 1998. Learner Strategies for Learner Autonomy. Great Britain: Prentice Hall.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Studying abroad

Studying abroad: what to expect and what to do when you get it


Robert L. Fielding

Studying abroad is one of the most exciting things you can do as a young person embarking on life.  The skills you will acquire whilst living and working overseas will undoubtedly last you a lifetime.  These skills can be divided into several categories;

  • Life skills
Of course, traveling is supposed to broaden the mind – if you let it.  There is a great temptation – more than a temptation – almost a need, for young people living in a foreign country to search out, find, and associate with other young people from their own country.  The advantages of finding a friend who speaks your own tongue are numerous.  First of all, you don’t have to try very hard to make yourself understood.  The stress as well as the energy needed to speak a foreign language all the time is underestimated.  Constantly struggling to make oneself understood requires huge amounts of energy and resilience.  It follows that situations in which this struggle is not necessary are eagerly sought out by students having difficulty communicating even their most basic needs and feelings to sometimes unsympathetic ears.

Finding people who speak your own language is universally pleasing, even if it turns out that you have little in common with such people.  Finding such people and making friends with them is a bonding experience; people learn to appreciate company and to become more sociable as a result of making acquaintances overseas.

There is a down-side to all this though, and it is this; if you never mix with the local population, it is improbable that you will ever have your mind broadened, or learn about other people and the cultures they are a part of.  It’s a good point and one that should be thought of before excluding non-native speakers of your own language from the group.
  • Interpersonal skills
The advantages of being alone are few, but one of them is the greater need to form social skills that enable you to meet people, interact with them, and possibly end up becoming firm friends with them.  Of course, you can’t possibly be personal friends with everyone you meet, but you can be friendly.  

The ability to be genial, amicable, friendly, and sympathetic is a great one and one that is learnt in environments in which there is a felt need to communicate and reach out.  It is probably true to say that most people will speak if they are spoken to, but it is probably equally true that most people have plenty to do besides speaking to someone who may not always fully understand them.

However, this is not to suggest that people are usually unfriendly and uncommunicative; they are not.  Nevertheless, a smiling face is more welcome than an outwardly serious one.  Most people react favourably to someone with a friendly disposition than to someone who doesn’t seem very friendly at first.

Getting through life overseas can be made so much easier if words are accompanied by smiles, and students living in foreign countries should try to communicate in this way, while also using a certain amount of common sense where other people are concerned.

As Max Ehrman, the author of the wonderful poem, Desiderata, says, ‘The world is full of trickery but…’

Living in a foreign country has often been likened to living anonymously – to being a perpetual stranger in a strange land.  This aspect of living abroad must sound quite daunting to someone used to being recognized by everyone he or she meets in the course of a normal day’s coming and going. However, if viewed as an opportunity to find out who you really are and what you have the potential to become, this aspect of life overseas can become the most rewarding.

  • Intrapersonal skills
The ability to know ourselves, what we feel, what we need to survive, and who we really is a greatly underestimated one.  Few attain that knowledge, completely, at any rate, but perhaps there are some things in human nature that are either best left unknown or are virtually impossible to discern.  Still, self-knowledge is a valuable possession and one that each of us could usefully improve on.

  • Academic skills
Last but not least, are those academic skills you went over to England to acquire and become expert in.  After all, most people studying abroad are doing so because of the expertise they can avail themselves of, that and the superior facilities in the learning environment of their chosen destination.

First and foremost among these skills is the ability to use the language used as the medium of instruction.  This is generally English, and for a very good reason.  The English language has become the ‘lingua franca’ of the world, whether it be English for Business or English for Sport – English is arguably the most important, most widely spoken language in the world today.  It is why you have traveled to Manchester, Vancouver, Sydney or Singapore; it is the international language.

Of course, you will not have flown half way across the world just to become fluent in English.  You will probably have your eye on a course of study that will further your intended career in some way.  You may, for example, have arrived in England to begin courses in Biology, Electric Engineering or Anthropology.  You may have come to England to learn enough about the tourist industry to enable you to run a hotel back in your own country.

Whatever reasons you may have for going abroad, it is important to remember your goals and your reasons for wanting to study English, or study in English.  There is a saying in England, ‘All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.’  In order to get the most out of your visit to another country, it is best to balance your time and how you spend it; work hard and play hard, but don’t play too hard.  

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Next junction coming up: Preparation

There are points in everybody’s life when choices can be made which affect the rest of a person’s life. You might immediately think of births, deaths and marriages, but there are many, many others.

Think of the times in your life when you had the chance to change tack; to go in a completely different direction to the one you thought you were going to follow, were expected to follow, and which most of your peers had trod.

My decision to give up work and go to college was one such crossroads for me; I had worked in the engineering industry for about fifteen years, man and boy, as they say, when I was confronted with two diverse paths: one the more conventional route, and the other a wholly different, totally unconventional road to take. I chose the latter and have been well pleased that I did ever since.

I chose to go back to school; to study for my GCE A-Levels, which I never took when I was a schoolboy at Saddleworth Uppermill Secondary Modern School, in form 5 Alpha – the top stream and one in which the pupils were groomed to take GCE O-Levels and then go on to Sixth Form College and take A-Levels before going up to university.

That path was open to me, but I chose to ignore it, was more intent on getting an apprenticeship or going into the Police Force as a cadet. Actually, when I come to think about those two paths, they were both chosen for me by my father. He had my best interests at heart, I am sure, but wasn’t used to thinking I might be able to go on to university – people like us didn’t, and so it wasn’t even considered.

It was only later that I thought it out and decided that the time was right for me to have another go at getting the results that would allow me to get a place at a university of my choice.

In the event, I took my A-Levels, passed them and entered Lancaster University as an undergraduate student, at the grand old age of 34. That was one of the most important crossroads in my life, in terms of how much it affected my life afterwards.

When I come to think of it again, it wasn’t a crossroads so much as a fork in the road, and I took one of them. Wondering whether you’ve made the right choice probably comes with making the wrong one; I have never considered what my life would have been like had I taken the other direction, not until now, that is. I think that’s the secret; you know when you’ve taken the wrong one when you continue to either ask yourself a lot of questions that begin with the words, ‘What if..?’ or always regret the choice you made.

I have never once regretted my chosen direction; on the contrary, I have always rejoiced that I had the good sense to take it, even when some thought, tacitly, perhaps, that I was wrong.

Looking in on the person deciding which road to take, is probably something of an agony, if they care anything about you. I chose my direction quickly and without consultation or advice from anyone. I had that luxury; that I could please myself. I don’t think parents can make that choice for you – well, not when you’re a grown man, and so mine didn’t broach the subject, they just watched me and the direction I was heading, nodded their tacit approval, which I accepted and appreciated, though being tacit, I didn’t actually say or do anything. They could see that I was adamant and left me to myself.

That is a nice thing to do; to trust you, to leave you to make your own decision, make your bed and lie in it, if you want, but leave you to take responsibility for your own life. How many people are prepared to do that?

I took that particular fork in the road and I’m still on it; it’s been a long one, and I haven’t come to an other fork in it yet, but I think there’s probably one not far off, and I am approaching it faster than I might wish.

I am getting on, as they say, not too old yet, but coming up to an age when those in positions to do such things can block my way because of my age.

Actually, they can’t block anything except the road they happen to be the gatekeeper on. My road will have to be a different one, only this time I can see it approaching, whereas last time, I came upon it without much warning.

I also have the feeling that it will be a lot more arduous than the one I have been on for the last 18 years. Perhaps my thinking that way is a product of my age, of the more considered opinion I am forming regarding this next road. Perhaps it will be more arduous, regardless of how much I consider it, or how much I ponder over the vexed question of how to earn my living once my present means is denied me.

At 56, I don’t have the energy I had at 34, that’s obvious, so I will have to use what God gave me to compensate; I will have to draw upon my mental reserves of strength, which I believe are undiminished or even a little stronger than they were twenty or so years ago. I think I had more resilience then than I do now, but that too probably stems from being less vigorous now than I was in my early thirties.

I have my wife, Nazan, at my side now. She is there to encourage or warn as the case demands, to help me get a little perspective when I am going off the deep end, and to buoy me up when I refuse to go out of the shallow end into deeper, more hazardous water.

This road will need more preparation. I have already started preparing – making contacts, collecting information about where to obtain information. I think that is the key, being able to quickly and precisely get any information you need, and then use it, react to it, write about it and get it published.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Noticing everything

The beaks of Galapagos finches: the significance of the seemingly insignificant


Robert Leslie Fielding

When Charles Darwin sailed the Beagle to the farther corners of the world, he gathered large amounts of information, from which he came to construct his theory of evolution and ultimately to write ‘The Origin of Species’.

It was by noticing minor details in plants, animals and birds that he came to develop his theories about how our own species: homo sapiens, came to evolve into our present day form.

Since those early discoveries and the formulation of such theories scientists have moved on; from the early science of Geology that attempted to reconstruct how the rocks of our planet came to be formed, to the discovery of plate tectonics, which made geologists look at Earth rather as a whole, an almost living thing, rather than just as a series of disconnected parts. Geologists came to realize that the Earth’s crust is still a moving entity, and this has explained how earthquakes and other forms of seismic activity occur and the effect they have upon those living in areas subject to them.

In the development of all the physical sciences, scientists and discoverers have been aware of the importance of what might have seemed trivial, insignificant changes, and the part these ostensibly minor features play in illustrating changes that are perhaps more global.

It is this attention to detail that best illustrates a commitment to academic rigour; not for its own sake, particularly, but because not including the minutiae of phenomenon under scrutiny would be to ignore useful data, sometimes the most useful data, and sometimes the only data in evidence.

Even at undergraduate levels of scientific investigation, this attention to detail, however insignificant it may at first appear, is vital if real gains are to be made in understanding complicated physical processes. A student in a laboratory, undertaking an experiment for the first time, and working without direct supervision, is almost akin to a pioneer working in the partial blindness of ignorance, striving to be enlightened by each and every step of her experiment and the findings and results she gains from it.

Unlike her predecessors, however, the student working in the laboratory, has the advantage of access to the orthodoxies and conventional wisdom of the present, as opposed to a latter day counterpart; technology has allowed us to scrutinize more than could possibly be examined much earlier in the history of scientific discovery; we can look into living organisms without harming or changing the source of our enquiry. We can see further, and in more detail, we can probe deeper to discover processes that evaded our forbears, and yet we should stand in awe of those who used the tools available at the time and who took note of the seemingly insignificant to postulate, later to prove what they had theorised.