Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Confusing words + help

Common words that sound alike - but have different meanings
Many words sound alike but have very different meanings; students often use these words incorrectly.

Here is some help:
First of all, teach yourself with online information and exercises.
Go to these two web pages for help. Ask your teacher if you are not sure how to use them.

To learn which words are often confused because they sound alike, go to this page:-

For online exercises (with an answer check at the end of the exercise.
Go to this page:-

Robert L. Fielding

Common words that sound alike : exercises with words in context

Tick the words that are correct in the text below – there are 27 choices to be made.
After you have completed the exercise, using a dictionary, of course, turn the page to see if you were right/write.

English is a very difficult language to learn; I know/no of no/know other which/witch has so many exceptions to its rules.

In addition, so many words in the language sound, look, and are spelled similarly, and yet have totally different meanings.

Let’s begin with words that begin with the first letter of the alphabet; children can be adopted/adoptive, whereas parents who adopt children are adopted/adoptive.

Affect/effect means to make a difference to someone or something, while effect/affect means either a result, or ‘to bring about a result.

Even prefixes/suffixes – parts of words that appear before the word itself, and witch/which affect/effect the meaning of that word can be similarly confusing. The prefix/suffix/affix anti/ante means against, while the prefix/suffix, ante/anti means before.

Not only are some words spelled similarly, but relate to similar concepts or objects; the word aural/oral means relating to the ear, while the similar word aural/oral means related to the mouth or spoken rather than written.

It gets worse though – much worse; illicit/ elicit means to draw out a response or reaction, while elicit/ illicit means forbidden or unlawful.

Simple words like curb and kerb have entirely different meanings; the latter/ former means a check or restraint, while the former/latter refers to the edge of a pavement.

Here in Scotland, the Scottish/Scotch people are not excused from the difficulties of the English language; the original language of this country is known as Gallic/Gaelic, whereas the similarly spelled word Gaelic/Gallic means French.

Finally, as you may have already gathered from your studies, English is both tortuous/torturous, meaning characterized by pain and suffering, and torturous/tortuous, meaning excessively lengthy and complex.

Robert L. Fielding

Answer key

English is a very difficult language to learn; I know of no other which has so many exceptions to its rules.

In addition, so many words in the language sound, look, and are spelled similarly, and yet have totally different meanings.

Let’s begin with words that begin with the first letter of the alphabet; children can be adopted, whereas parents who adopt children are adoptive.

Affect means to make a difference to someone or something, while effect means either a result, or ‘to bring about a result.

Even prefixes – parts of words that appear before the word itself, and which affect the meaning of that word can be similarly confusing. The prefix anti means against, while the prefix, ante means before.

Not only are some words spelled similarly, but relate to similar concepts or objects; the word aural means relating to the ear, while the similar word oral means related to the mouth or spoken rather than written.

It gets worse though – much worse; elicit means to draw out a response or reaction, while illicit means forbidden or unlawful.

Simple words like curb and kerb have entirely different meanings; the former means a check or restraint, while the latter refers to the edge of a pavement.

Here in Scotland, the Scottish/Scotch people are not excused from the difficulties of the English language; the original language of this country is known as Gaelic, whereas the similarly spelled word Gallic means French.

Finally, as you may have already gathered from your studies, English is both torturous, meaning characterized by pain and suffering, and tortuous, meaning excessively lengthy and complex.

Robert L. Fielding

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Everyday terms in thinking about thinking

You may have realised by now that the language used to talk about thought processes and thinking in general is full of jargon – technical words that the ordinary ‘man in the street’ finds difficult to interpret. Words like metacognition – thinking about thinking; cognitive dissonance – the psychological effect of the incongruity of unexpected phenomenon - need I go on? It is even necessary, or so it seems, to use impossible language to define these technical words and phrases. However, it might be a nice place to start thinking about everyday expressions relating to the process of thinking to see if it helps our understanding of those processes.

Let’s take some ordinary sounding expressions to see what meaning they yield.

 Common sense
Common sense is what we sometimes lack, particularly when we overlook the more obvious – be it a cause of something, or a reason why something is one way rather than another.

 Presence of mind
This is what you need at the point of beginning an action – to remember what it is you are about to do – or say. You need presence of mind when answering pointed questions, or when a similar retort is called for. How many times have you given an ordinary answer and thought of something more appropriate seconds later? How many times have you said, “I wish I’d said that..” Or “I wish I’d thought of that!” With the presence of mind, you won’t have to say those things again; you will say the right thing at the right time.

 Thinking on your feet
This is something that politicians and teachers are usually good at; being able to react quickly and effectively to an unexpected statement, question or request. Prime Ministers always have notice of the questions they will be asked in the session known as Prime Minister’s Question Time in the House of Commons, but they will have no knowledge of supplementary questions asked in response to his answer to the first question.

Similarly, a teacher will have planned her lesson before she enters the classroom, but she can have no certain knowledge of the questions she will be asked by her students during the course of the lesson. She must think on her feet, as we say, she must be able to answer questions meaningfully and correctly.

 Working things out
This expression means a sort of bringing together in the mind the different aspects and features of a problem, for example, to come to a reasoned judgment. At least that is the idealized form of the meaning of the expression.

 Thinking things over
This is close to taking everything into account – considering all the variables (‘things’) that are consciously known, and then approaching a point where a decision can be made.

 Wondering
Wondering is something like being unsure and then thinking of the possibilities. The word, however, has several different meanings, as well as something like ‘asking’ or ‘trying to discover the truth’.

 Pondering
This is something akin to wondering, but with the advantage of more information to choose from and inform a decision. Pondering is near to thinking – slightly more pointed and directional than wondering – not aimless, but probably not concerted thinking in an organized way.

 Knowing
This common word is a sort of catch-all word – it gets its meaning from what it accompanies in an utterance.
Think of what is implied about the meaning of the word ‘know/s’ in the following sentences.
1. I know John Smith.
2. He knows Turkish.
3. He knows the way.
4. I know God loves me.
5. I know why carbon dioxide in the atmosphere leads to the ‘greenhouse effect’.
6. I know what time it is.
7. I know what that word means.

It is something like this:-
1. ‘I know John Smith.’ – implies some of the following, perhaps less, perhaps more.
I know:
where he lives
what his sister is called
where his father works
how old he is
OR I only know him by name.
OR I know a little bit about him, but by no means all there is to know.

2. ‘He knows Turkish.’ - implies the following.
He knows:
how to speak, comprehend, read and write the language
OR He can understand Turkish but can’t speak it.
OR He can read it but can’t write the language.

What do 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 above imply?

And what about these? What is implied by these utterances?
8. I don’t know what you mean.
9. I don’t know John Smith.
10. I don’t know where we are.
11. I don’t know what ‘ballistic’ means.
12. I don’t know why the world is getting warmer.

 Imagining
The French writer, Voltaire, defined imagination in this way; ‘It is the power every sentient being knows she possesses to represent concrete objects within her mind. Our memory retains the things we see, hear and feel and then our imagination puts them all together.’ The imagination has a reproductive function – it draws on previously remembered experiences, and it has a creative function – it can conjure up completely new objects that you have never experienced. In effect, this creative function can produce imagery similar to that produced in dreams. It seems that the imagination is able to synthesize from what is stored in the memory.

Edward de Bono coined the term ‘lateral thinking’ to refer to the type of thinking that uses the imagination in ways that are not linear, but more multi-directional, to come up with possibilities that are not readily apparent when thinking in more usual ways.

Stephen Pinkner writes about man’s first attempts to store the food from plants and animals. He said that the best place to store meat was in the stomach of a neighbour, which sounds a very strange thing to say until Pinkner elaborates. He goes on to explain that, of course, the meat eaten by the neighbour cannot be retrieved, but the memory of that meat can, and this can then be returned in kind later as the neighbour returns the favour.

It is in thinking like this that you use your imagination to synthesize, to create, and to find alternative understandings of a situation or a dilemma.

 Understanding
Like the meaning of the word ‘know’, the word ‘understand/ing’ has many different shades of meaning.

Look at these expressions, and try to think about what the word ‘understand/s’ means.

13. I understand you want to buy my car.
14. I understand Turkish, but can’t speak it very well.
15. I understand you.
16. I understand the first Law of Thermodynamics.
17. I understand why she feels that way.

It is clear that we use words like ‘know’ and understand’ in a lot of ways, so that to know something or to understand something else is to have some knowledge of it, even though the nature of that knowledge can, at times, be very different, both in quality and type.

When you come to think about something you are studying, ask yourself if you understand it, and when you do, bed sure you understand which of the ‘understands’ you are using.

To fully know and understand an English word, for example, is to know some or all of the following:

 How to spell the word
 What it means
 What different meanings it can have
 What different parts of speech it can be. (Rain = noun or verb)
 How it collocates with other words (a + torrential + downpour)
 How it is pronounced (in isolation as well as in the middle of an utterance of several words)
 The register it evokes when spoken or written
 Whether it is more commonly found written or spoken - and a lot more besides.

Now think how much more complicated implications are involved in sentences like these:
18. I know Dubai very well.
19. I know the law.
20. I know who I am.
21. I know my own mind.

Now think about what you think you know or what you say you know, and think what saying that or thinking it means – exactly and fully. When you have done that once or twice, repeat what you think you know – be honest – you are fooling nobody but yourself if you claim you fully understand something when you don’t.

Actually, that is a bit unfair of me – nobody can fully understand all there is to understand about anything. All the same, knowing your limits as well as your limitations is useful, as is the confidence you will gain by increasing your knowledge and your understanding of something you are studying or learning about.

Robert L. Fielding

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Types of thinking

In order to make reasoned judgments, you will have to think about the problems that are associated with any project or assignment you have to do. There are 16 of these, and you can adapt them to different problems in your studies. Don’t rule any out, but rather keep them in your mind when you come to begin thinking something through. Here ate the 16 types of thinking that you should carry out in any approach to a problem.

• Sequencing
The order in which items are placed in an argument can be for different reasons. Ordering can be according to the time; chronologically, or because of its relative importance, or because of other different reasons or characteristics. The order in which something is placed in a list can affect the way you think about it, the amount of attention you give it, or the detail with which it is studied or looked at.

• Sorting/classifying/grouping
The way something is viewed can determine how it is dealt with. A hurricane is a disaster if it affects people, but merely a natural phenomenon if it does not. A fox is a hunted animal in some circumstances and a protected one in others.

• Comparing/contrasting
Comparing – finding similarities, and contrasting – finding differences in objects under scrutiny or discussion is a way of finding out something about them. Statistics, facts or reason can be brought to bear to assist in the comparison, and used to justify the conclusions made from the comparing and contrasting.

• Hypothesizing
Hypothesizing is a way of saying “Suppose this was such and such a way – what then?” it is a way of exploring without anything being hard and fast, of altering one variable to determine what happens to others. Hypothesizing is a way of learning about something by postulating the question, “What if…?”

• Drawing conclusions
The conclusions we draw from our thinking are the acid test of the efficacy of our thought processes and our powers of reason. Nothing shows faulty reasoning up more clearly than drawing conclusions that are not logical or clearly substantiated by evidence and reasoning.

• Explaining/giving reasons for conclusions
The proof of the pudding is in the eating, as we say. It is the explanations offered for particular conclusions having been reached that we find out the soundness of that reasoning; it is like being examined.

• Distinguishing fact from opinion
Distinguishing fact from opinion is simple on one level, difficult on another. In the train of an argument, writers will claim rather than state categorically, and it is up to the alert reader to spot this hedging – the writers way of distancing herself from something, or identifying herself with it and asking her readers to do the same.

• Checking the reliability of evidence
The sources of evidence can help to determine their reliability, but it is well to remember that not everything that is printed is verifiable or true, or correct.

• Relating causes and effects
Connecting things in a causal relationship can and does occasionally go wrong. The fact that one thing coincides with another does not necessarily mean they are causally related.

• Generating new ideas
This is the essence of creativity and is a vital ingredient in any problem solving situation. The inability to look at problems in different ways usually prevents an optimum solution.

• Problem solving
To take a problem solving approach to one’s studies is to realize that questions need to be asked and answered, and that solutions do not just appear without thinking.
• Decision making
Decisiveness is needed once judgments have been formed – the resolution to follow your findings to their logical conclusion is vital. Any veering from rational decision making would render the whole unsound and a lasting solution improbable.
• Enquiry
An enquiring mind is a valuable attribute, but enquiry requires energy, tenacity, and wit. It is not enough to have one without the other two. Energy to enquire is vital, particularly if answers do not come easily, or more questions suggest themselves as others are answered. Tenacity is needed to continue with a line of enquiry until a logical conclusion can be drawn. Lastly, wit is needed in order to maintain the optimum direction in that line of enquiry.
• Planning
With books to read, notes to take, thinking to be done, and assignments to write, it is important to plan. If time runs out, as it inevitably will, if it is allowed to run on unchecked, there will be no point in continuing. Studying at university demands that you plan your time, for if you don’t, others will.

• Systems
It is useful to learn that when phenomena are related, they are connected in ways that are systematic. In ways that are analogous to how the human body functions, even inorganic things connect to function as a whole rather than a sum of the parts. Looking at an assembly line in a car plant, for example, one quickly realizes that the continuity of supply to the production line would be disastrously interrupted by the non-appearance of even the smallest, most insignificant part to be fitted to the growing automobile. So it is with many processes, concepts and the way the individual components fit together.

Last word
Being able to quickly and efficiently resort to these different types of thinking to solve problems and achieve a deeper understanding of a subject being studied is the very essence of being a student – using the whole of your brain, both right and left hemispheres, to discover how the world is connected, and to use that knowledge to build your own theories of how the world is arranged; that is learning.

Source: www.salt.cheshire.gov.uk
Robert L. Fielding

Monday, July 03, 2006

Tactics you can use to make you into an active learner

Learning is an active, not a passive activity. Learners take part in their lessons, even when they are listening to the teacher – especially then. Merely letting the teacher’s words wash over you, hoping you will ‘take on board’ something from what you hear is not being an active learner.

Here are some of the things you can do to help you start becoming more active in your learning.

1. Summarize – put into your own words what the teacher or another student has said
Being able to summarize (shorten and put into your own words) what has been said in the lesson is a useful skill to learn. It will help you when you come to take notes in a lecture.

2. Elaborate on what they have said
When you have heard something – use it to go further – think about the implications of what has been said.

3. Relate the content of what has been said to your own knowledge or experience
Always try to connect what you have been told to your own world- to your knowledge or your experience of the world.

4. Give examples to clarify or support what has been said
If you can provide concrete examples of what you are learning, everything will become clearer in your mind.

5. Make connections between concepts
Nothing happens in isolation, and you should be able to connect one set of ideas with others – don’t wait to be told what to think.

6. Put the instructions or assignments into your own words
Understanding what you are meant to do is made easier if you put the instructions you are given into your own words – simplify the language that has been used in your assignment – check later to make sure you are on the right track.

7. State the question
Say the question over and over – can you formulate it in different ways to get more insight into what is needed to more fully understand what you are being asked to provide an answer to.

8. Say how your own point of view differs from that of your teacher or other learners
It is not uncommon amongst learners to want to give the teacher back what they think she wants to hear – develop your own point of view and try it out on others in the classroom – even if you sometimes differ or seem to have got it wrong, you will learn more about the way you think – it is worth doing.

9. Write down notes about any of the above
Being an active learner is always made easier by being physically and mentally active – take notes and read them later, adding to them from what you remember and from what you now think.

10. Write down any important, relevant questions you can think of
Questions will readily spring to mind the more you participate actively in your lessons – an active learner has more questions to ask than a learner who is not as actively engaged in the lesson.

11. Discuss any related issues or questions with a partner and then discuss them in groups
Lastly, discussing the lesson with other learners is in itself a valuable addition to the lesson – it will stimulate further thoughts and give you the confidence to openly say what you think – learning isn’t just about passing examinations – its becoming a changed person, and talking will change you.

The last word
Too many students seem content to sit passively and hope that what they catch will come up in the examination. Taking part in lessons in this way is boring, unproductive and ultimately not enjoyable. Being a student at university should be the most exciting time in your life to date. Being active and using your energy is the best way of making it very enjoyable and helping g you to take advantage of this wonderful opportunity to change your life for the better.

Source: www.criticalthinking.org
Robert L. Fielding

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Nine strategies to help you develop as a thinker

To become a thinker – to think critically and rationally in a systematic way, you need to do things to help you. You will not just become a critical thinker one morning when you wake up, and nor will you become one merely because you want to, although having the desire to think critically is a start. You need to begin to change your life- your behaviour – your way of seeing things – your way of seeing yourself. Here are some things you can do starting now.

1. Use ‘wasted’ time
Ask yourself these questions:
If I had to repeat the things I did today, would I have done anything differently?
Did I do anything to further my long-term goals?
Of course, you can’t relive life, but you can learn from your mistakes – you can use your time more profitably. Start tomorrow!

2. A problem a day
Choose a problem to work on each day – think of the different parts of the problem – the elements and work through them logically until you have solved the whole problem. Monitor your thoughts – recall what you did to succeed or how and why you failed.

3. Internalize intellectual standards
Become more aware of intellectual standards (clarity, precision, accuracy, relevance, depth, breadth, logic, significance) and keep them in the front of your mind from now on.

4. Keep an intellectual journal
Write down things that you did in response to situations, how you analyzed that situation, and how you assessed your success or failure. Write regularly – knowing that you are going to record situations and your response to them will have beneficial effects on how you act.

5. Reshape your character
Choose one intellectual trait to adopt each month – focus on ways you can develop that trait. Here they are:
intellectual perseverance

6. Deal with your ego
Remember not to come to conclusions just because they suit your preferences – reality doesn’t consult you!

7. Redefine the way you see things
Just as there are two sides to every argument, there is more than one way of defining what you react to – stand in a different person’s shoes for a change.

8. Get in touch with your emotions
When you feel negative, ask yourself why – what is making you feel that way, and then deal with it.

9. Analyze group influences on your life.
Look at what sort of behaviour or attitude is encouraged by your peers – think about resisting if you feel the qualities encouraged are not healthy ones or negate what you are trying to be or do.

Remember, becoming a critical thinker doesn’t just happen – you have to alter – you have to change your way of doing things, looking at things (including yourself) and ultimately, of thinking about things – only then can you become more critical in your thinking. Don’t despair. You can do it. It will be worth it.
Source: www.criticalthinking.org
Robert L. Fielding