Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Language Games – fun for the young and the not so young

The cooler weather is getting close again, and families are getting ready to go on camping trips – into the desert or along the beaches of the UAE. Of course, getting there isn’t always as much fun for children –sitting still, tied into the back seats for hours, with no room to move or do anything except sleep.

Wrong, playing games with words can provide the whole family with fun and enjoyment through the long miles, and later round the camp fire.

Games are ‘creative expressions of the human spirit through the creation of an activity that has an entertaining, instructive and competing element’ – they help with problem solving skills, language development, logical skills, creativity, social knowledge and self-esteem – and that’s all going on while Dad’s driving!

It has been said that free time is the time we should use to explore our abilities through games and have fun in educating and exercising the body and the mind; games are most definitely not a waste of time.

Here are some games for young and older alike – they are all great fun, and I defy anyone not to laugh a lot while playing any of them – go on – give them a try next time you are sitting round a camp fire or driving to get round to one.

Here’s the first game: In turns –
1st person says, “I went camping and I took a torch.”
2nd person says, “I went camping and I took a torch, and comfortable camp bed.”
3rd, 4th, 5th person adds to the list, including everyone else’s items until people start to get it all wrong – others listen out for mistakes and shout out when they hear one – the person is then out and so it continues until a winner emerges.

Here’s the second game: Leader says to first person at one end of a line, “This is a tick!”
1st in line at one end says, “A what?”
Leader says, “It’s a tick!”
1st person says to 2nd person, “This is a tick.”
2nd person says, “A what?”
1st person says to Leader, “A what?”
Leader replies, “This is a tick.”
1st person says to 2nd person, “A tick.”
2nd person says to 3rd person, “A tick.”
3rd person says, “A what?” And so on until the end of the line is reached.
You could start at both ends of the line and meet in the middle, with the first team to get there winning, or substitute other words.

Try it, it’s hilarious!!!

Here’s the third game: In turns, introduce yourself as Harry, with simple hand gestures that have to be copied.
Like this:
1st person – Hello Harry, I’m Harry. (with a simple hand gesture)
2nd person – Hello Harry, I’m Harry, meet Harry. (said to next person, + hand gestures)

Mistakes are soon made with the person making them becoming Harry One Spot/Harry Two Spot/Harry Three Spot/Harry Three Spot/Harry Three Spot with a big nose – then that person is out.

Again, this game is absolutely hilarious.

Fourth game: Just a minute ‘ talk for one minute on a given topic (Camping/Camp Fires/Swimming in the sea etc) but without:-
 Deviation * (Adults explain these to younger players)
 Repetition *
 Hesitation *
This sounds like a grown-ups game, but children soon get right into it – watch out grown-ups or you’ll lose the subject and the game. Award points for correct challenges, remove ones for incorrect challenges, award a point to the person still talking when the minute is up.

Fifth game: Singing well known songs leaving words out and watching as others forget to omit them.
Eg. The Grand Old Duke of York/ He had ten thousand men/He marched them up to the top of the hill/And he marched them down again/And when they were UP they were UP/And when they were DOWN they were DOWN/And when they were only half way UP, they were neither UP nor DOWN.

Omitting the words UP and DOWN, singly and then together, and then singing the song including only those two words. Listen out as the Mums and Dads get it wrong, children – because they will!

Games like the ones outlined above promote turn taking skills, listening skills, aid retention of words and phrases, show children the importance of rules, promote bonding, acknowledging the other's right to be heard, enhance mental and verbal agility, let all relax and let their hair down, show the value of sharing and participating, introduce the idea of a structured activity while enhancing creativity, increase camaraderie and break down boundaries of gender, age, class, race or whatever, and above all they are all great fun.
Robert Leslie Fielding

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Accommodating visually impaired students in Higher Education

Defining ‘special needs’ including visual impairment, specific difficulties such as dyslexia, and autism, and such mental health issues such as schizophrenia and the psychiatrically vulnerable, is difficult; the term is a “fairly loose” one covering a panoply of conditions.

The assistance modern universities can offer should and usually does include access - in multiple formats, specific learning support: technological support and practical and physical support that is required but may be often overlooked. Basically, universities should be prepared and ready to receive students whose needs are different; the word ‘abnormal’ is not helpful here.

Adapting teaching strategies and the learning environment includes simple and effective measures such as not moving furniture, providing material in advance, giving thought to verbal and non verbal communication, and allowing visually impaired students more time to complete tasks, and allowing them to tape lectures.

Specific advice to teachers includes explaining visuals, speaking loudly and clearly, getting to know students – remembering every student’s needs vary – and promoting independent learning, which students actively seek.

Simple, effective, practical measures when making information accessible include using fonts that are clear and large enough (14 minimum), regular spacing of words, contrasting dark against light, but avoiding word wrapping or word art or anything that will impede students’ ability to interact with materials.

Ensuring that every student has an email address, while providing text equivalents in more visual ways, is also important, as well as taking care with file names and subject lines of email messages.

Technical support such as programmes that read on-screen text verbally (JAWS, HAL) are useful for visually impaired students and there are organizations that can provide such help: NATTIQ based in Sharjah. There are other means of support: talking mobile phones, Braille notepads, and low-tech solutions such as magnifying glasses, and well lit and brightly decorated classrooms, even students designated as blind benefit from this last measure.

Lastly, and dealing with examinations for visually impaired students in particular, although international examining boards do not allow the use of screen readers, provision of enlarged print in exam texts, tapes and Braille readers can be accommodated, and additional time allowed to complete tests and exams.

All educationalists should appreciate, however, that a student given 100% extra time must find such lengthy exams extremely tiring; empathy and understanding, rather than pity should be our watchword when teaching students have needs that differ from other students in our classrooms.

Useful sources
Powell, S ed (2003) Special Teaching in Higher Education Kogan Page London
Hutchinson, J et al (1998) Breaking Down Barriers: Access to Further and Higher Education for Visually Impaired Learners Stanley Thomas/RNIB Cheltenham

www.tamkeen.ae UAE based training centre
www.RNIB.co.uk Association in UK
www.mib.org.uk/xpedio/groups/public/documents/publicwebsite/publicstudent.hcsp help for students

Robert L. Fielding

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Differentiating instructions for diverse learners

It is vital, when teaching diverse learners – students with special needs – to adapt, adjust, accommodate, modify and take into consideration the different learning styles of students, as well as thinking about strategies for teaching them.

For example, dealing with teaching vocabulary, it is best to providing multiple exposure to words, practice, focus on idioms and developing a word bank, as well as using visual organizers.

The learning environment in the classroom is important; for students with hearing impairment, they should sit where they can best hear what is being said, without any other noises to distract them. For hearing impaired students, seating is also important, as well as lighting and quality of visual aids general.

Here it must be stressed that, “One size does not fit all!” teachers should accommodate students by providing access to curriculum and instruction, although content should remain the same.

However, teachers can vary the amount of material covered, vary the format to
take into account students’ varying needs, supplement materials in more visual modes, for example, and use alternative materials where necessary and appropriate.

Differentiated between low and high impact accommodation: the former includes things like adjusting teaching methods, and implementing cooperative learning into classrooms, with the latter includes changes in curriculum design, and adjustments in the structure of educational programmes.

Dealing with individual students, it is necessary to determine whether a student’s problems come under “I can’t” or “I won’t”; changes in methods and materials should only be made when absolutely necessary.

Since there are cultural norms regarding people with special needs in any country, teachers should be alert to students who appear to have special difficulties, and be aware of students who may not have such needs.

Literature is available as well as websites to help teachers in what can be a difficult area of their profession: differentiating their instruction and their materials, goals and objectives while maintaining academic standards for all students enrolled on courses.

Robert Leslie Fielding

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The value of paraphrasing PhDs

If you are in the enviable position of having finished your PhD dissertation, but have not yet submitted it, or have submitted it but not had it published, you could do worse that write a précis of your main points and findings; paraphrasing and/or summarizing your work is a good way of checking that it makes sense (before you submit it and yourself to a defence), and also a good way of putting your ideas into print without having to forego the process later in a more serious, refereed journal or in a book.

Of course, if you think your ideas are revolutionary and will make you into a millionaire, then don’t publish anything without an agent to protect your interests.

Short of that though, you could do a lot worse that rewriting your dissertation and trying it on readers you know and who know you and with whom you regularly communicate.

In that way, you get free criticism, gain confidence from seeing it in print, and get it out there, along with your name.

Not having done a PhD, I am not really in a position to know how it feels finishing one. I can imagine, however, and I should think seeing some light again after months/years of gathering, deciphering, explaining and illustrating and whatever else PhDs call their candidates to do, is refreshing. Writing in a slightly less rigourous way should come as a sort of recreation after the strenuous work of getting to the end of several years of study.
Robert Leslie Fielding

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

What do ESL teachers need to know about dyslexia?

Teachers should be able to identify students who may have dyslexia, outlining writing difficulties, including problems spelling words correctly; and classroom behaviour, including such difficulties as paying attention, following directions, time management and low self confidence’

Affecting between 5% - 20% of the population, dyslexia is defined as “a specific learning disability, that is neurological in origin, and a result of a person’s phonological component of language processing.” Shaywitz 2003.

Contrary to certain opinions, dyslexic students are not lazy or resistant to learning, but on the contrary, are often highly intelligent and creative individuals, particularly if a list of the famous who suffer from dyslexia is anything to go by: Leonardo da Vinci and John F Kennedy to name but two eminent men in their respective fields.

Dyslexia is a genetic disorder that is incurable, it is vital that students suffering from it are quickly and accurately identified, particularly in view of the fact that no screening process exists at the moment to provide concrete evidence that a person entering the university’s programs suffers from dyslexia.

Teachers should look for clusters of behavioural symptoms rather than, for example, difficulty spelling English words. Many of our students have such difficulties without them being rightly diagnosed as dyslexic.

However, if a student displays constant trouble reading and writing at the simplest level; has difficulty spelling, displays confusion over recognizing syllable boundaries, sequencing of sound, especially consonants, then that student may well be dyslexic.

Paradoxically, dyslexic students learning languages that are non-alphabetic, such as Japanese, for example, usually do not have the difficulties outlined above. Unfortunately for our own students learning English and coming from a first language background of Arabic, another alphabetic language, their difficulties remain.

What teachers can best do to help such students comes under five areas we can all work on in our classrooms., and such practices would benefit all learners of English.

Understandably, teacher talk came under scrutiny, with teachers asked to slow down their delivery rate, providing ‘verbal space’ around key points, with the use of hand gestures and written instructions to ensure students understand key points in a lesson, as well as cutting down on digressions that do not move a student’s understanding forward.

Moving on to whiteboard skills to help dyslexic students, keeping the whiteboard clear of confusing marks, writing clearly and legibly, and using graphics such as diagrams, images and charts, are all essential to assisting comprehension of words written up on the board. She finally urged teachers to allow such students a little more time copying from the board, and reading from the board generally.

Teachers should explicitly teach dictionary skills and alphabetizing in general to assist students to recognize letters to improve both their receptive and productive skills, in addition to showing students the roots of words and how meaning is changed by the addition of affixes.

A list of best practices in the language classroom should include such multi-sensory methods as backing up oral instructions with written ones, removing the need for such students to rely on their aural abilities. Teachers need to keep students up to date with daily lesson agendas – on the board and in handouts, to summarize points, paraphrasing them and repeating them until it is certain students have understood points being made.

Providing students with opportunities to engage in higher reasoning activities enables students to become actively engaged in learning, to supplement their deficiencies in the areas of learning that give them trouble.

Finally, teachers should encourage students to have ‘study buddies’ – friends to assist, support and generally help students suffering from dyslexia; to find the most congenial environment for studying – preferably a quiet one, where they can study at set times each day and in which they can go over class notes until they are fully comprehended.
Some useful links include:-
Shaywitz, S. (2003) Overcoming Dyslexia. New York Vintage Books

And - The International Dyslexia Association: http://www.interdys.org
- The Dyslexia Institute, UK: www.dyslexia-inst.org.uk

Robert Leslie Fielding

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Entertainment Value of English

The English language is one of the richest languages on the planet; it is spoken by millions in hundreds of different countries, by scores of people as a second language, and by many as their first.

English is the language of William Shakespeare, James Joyce, Dylan Thomas, Ernest Hemingway and Neville Shute. It is the language of air traffic controllers, soil engineers, civil engineers and scientists.

But English is so much more than a language; it is a resource, a tool, a mine of information, and an endless source of humour. For English, unlike many languages like Chinese and Japanese, to name but two, admits punning – plays on words – conundrums – cryptic crossword puzzle clues and the like.

The English language is so malleable – not usually an adjective used to describe a language. And, to use some of that words synonyms, English is pliable, and adaptable; it is plastic – it can be moulded and kneaded into different shapes and sounds without fracture – without any rules being broken – except those framed in the confines of reason.

Lewis Carroll knew that, so did James Joyce and so do compilers of word games. Every day of our lives, we solve cryptic crosswords joyfully, enigmatically and completely, or scratch our heads at a hundred word games in magazines and newspapers.

The reasons why English is such a thing to be played with are many – some have academic names – but all can be explained in simple terms or by short and succinct demonstrations.

English words can be used in different parts of sentences – ‘walk’ is both a verb and a noun, so is ‘rain’, so is ‘play’, ‘run’, ‘jump’, and ‘push’. English words can have bits tacked on to them, front and/or back to change their meaning entirely.

Think about that common word ‘walk’. We have just said it can be a verb or a noun. It can also turn into ‘walkman’, catwalk, and ‘cakewalk’. It can be rhymed to confound – referred to as a’ ball of chalk’ in Cockney rhyming slang.

English words can sound the same but be spelled differently and have different meanings. A homograph is the name given to a word that is written in the same way but with different pronunciation and also meaning something completely different. We have ‘lead’ as in the expression ‘ you can lead a horse to water..’ or we can have that substance so common on church rooves and in some forms of petrol: ‘lead’; ‘plumbum’ to the Romans, hence its symbol in the Periodic Table of Elements – Pb – Lead.

Homonyms are words are written in the same way and sound alike, but which have different meanings. ‘Lie down’ ; don’t stand up – ‘don’t lie; tell the truth.

Homophones are words which sound alike, are written differently, but have different meanings: ‘no’ and ‘know’ are the most obvious examples here.

Leaving individual words, we have ambiguity caused by syllable boundaries being changed. Messrs Barker and Corbett, ‘The Two Ronnies’ were well known for this kind of verbal trickery. Their most famous comedy sketch involved a country bumpkin in a hardware store asking for ‘fork handles’/’four candles’ - the trick doesn’t work when it’s written down. Try saying the two and see how similar they are – the source of confusion and of mirth.

Strangely, words can derive from the same root but be used in different fields: rainfall is often torrential, but a torrent is as often of abuse as it is of water.

English is an idiomatic language – another source of confusion for the learner, and entertainment for the rest of us. Apart from the obvious ‘raining cats and dogs’ sort of stuff, English is choc full of pitfalls for the unwary.

Ridiculous approximations to words can leave us baffled or in stitches (which has nothing to do with deep cuts that need surgery).
Man in shop: What can I get you?
Customer: Pepper
Man: Red or green?
Customer: Writing!

Lastly, we have the irritation of having so many speaking different versions of our tongue. George Bernard Shaw or was it Alan Jay Learner gave us:

“The Scots and the Irish leave you close to tears.
There even are places where English completely disappears.
Well in America they haven’t used it for years.” Professor Higgins in ‘My Fair Lady’

All this makes it such a nightmare for learners, but such rich pastures for those of us who enjoy playing with words.

Robert Leslie Fielding

Friday, October 06, 2006

What Bert found out - the work of DH Lawrence

'The greatest writer cannot see through a brick wall but unlike the rest of us he does not build one.' W.H. Auden

8a, Victoria Street lies in the heart of a working class colliery area, it was here Lawrence lived with his parents. His mother is believed to have always felt superior to her miner husband, it was his father who fostered the budding writers vivid imagination and it was from him that he inherited his love of the countryside. www.PicturesofEngland.com

After reading 'Sons and lovers' and then coming across a quote like this about Lawrence, it is easy to feel the truth of this: 'Most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen.' Willa Cather

Writing about Walter and his wife, Gertrude in that novel, Lawrence must have borrowed heavily from his childhood. Like all writers though, he would not have merely related incidents from his youth, but would have synthesised them into something of his making, to say the things only he could say in the only way he could; a novellist is not a diarist.

And I think that by writing about people he had known and events he had witnessed and probably taken part in, Lawrence came to understand more about them by the very act of writing; writing is one of the best ways of finding out about life - even of finding out about things that have happened in your own life - especially those things.
Robert Leslie Fielding

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Become an active learner

http://archive.gulfnews.com/notes/Education/10071293.html09/30/2006 07:04 PM | Robert L. Fielding describes tactics with which a student can make the most of a class lecture.
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. Summarise - put into your own words what the teacher or another student has said
Being able to summarise what has been said in the lesson is a useful skill. 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 among 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. Take down notes
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 – it is 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 and unproductive. 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 you to take advantage of this wonderful opportunity to change your life for the better.
Source: www.criticalthinking.org
- The writer is an English lecturer at UAE University.