Archive for May, 2010

A Guide to Classroom Observation and Instruction.

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

THE PURPOSE OF ASSIGNED CLASSROOM OBSERVATION is to SEE the various interpersonal interactions between the instructor, instructional aides if any, classroom volunteers and themselves; and those interactions occurring AMONG students in the classroom; and BETWEEN these students and the above named adults. Over time patterns of interaction that are complex in nature will emerge. These in turn will assist the student observer in his/her later work as a student teacher and a career teacher to understand accurately what classroom dynamics exist and how to impact them in the interest of high quality instruction.

Steps in observation:

  1. Keep a log of your observations. Use a mental “brainstorming technique” when doing so: at first, write down everything, without screening what you see, hear, intuit: it is all food for learning.
  2. Become aware that your prior experiences, the novelty of your being in the observer role, your personal style, and your personal world view and biases will be reflected in your perceptions and log record. Get assistance with increased awareness of how you impose your own personal agenda on what you perceive. Try to step back and observe again, with an almost “empty” mind, i.e., “empty of your prejudgments.” This may be difficult for you. It is for most of us. Group support by your peers is likely to help.
  3. Develop a system for your observations. You might do the following:
    • focus one day’s observation on the class as a whole. You might want to record every interaction (or every-other if it moves too fast) between the teacher and the class, e.g., what is being asked, what general reaction occurs and what sub-patterns seem to take place.
      Do this a number of times later on other days, too, to capture how the tone is set at the beginning of class. This will help you assess what the class climate is, and for whom. [Noting the tone at the opening of class will be helpful in recalling the experience when discussing classroom management in a class.]
    • focus on specific teacher activities: giving assignments, asking quizzes;
    • focus also on the nonverbal behavior of the teacher: does he/she move around, make contact by proximity [nearness], with individual students and groups of students? How does the teacher enact his/her relationships with students? Is there time for personal contact/ interaction? Is all instruction oriented to the “whole class,” do some pupils obtain more attention than others, etc?
    • focus on specific student activities while holding back any tendency to problem-solve how YOU would deal with such behaviors. You are observing to PERCEIVE what is going on. Such perceiving precedes BEHAVING in a certain (hopefully appropriate) way; and behaving over time precedes becoming the kind of teacher who is effective in his/her teaching in a way which engages students in their own learning.
    • only after obtaining an awareness of the whole class, begin to focus on individual students. Track how they deal with BEING in class; and with defining themselves as a student in THIS class; remember that students are in school as INVOLUNTARY CLIENTS by state law: they have to attend school. The trick is to help them become voluntary clients, WHO WANT TO BE THERE AND WANT TO LEARN. This process is heavily influenced by the group process between students, and the external context which labels this class as “college prep,” and that class as “basic/remedial” etc. These labels tend to influence expectations and behaviors of students and faculty alike. [It makes little difference how the grouping is labeled, the kids soon discover the code.]
    • we tend to be shaped by “critical incidents” which engage our emotions as well as our minds. Pay particular attention to such incidents that touch you deeply. Write them down. Find a buddy, a trusted colleague with whom to discuss them. Don’t repress them; you will be setting yourself on the path of denial which will impair your later functioning and living as a teacher. [But keep the information CONFIDENTIAL; professionals do not "gossip" about students or colleagues.]
  4. Even though one classroom contains an enormous range of possible interactions and therefore opportunities for making decisions and interventions, some essential data can only be gathered outside the classroom: You have noted that student J. is frequently absent. J. avoids a conversation with you, and, as an observer, your role is limited. The classroom teacher indicates that the student will soon land in continuation school due to the absences. You want to find out more about the way the school deals with absences. You set out to discover some answers. You inquire who is in charge of attendance. You visit the attendance clerk and ask that the system be explained to you. You ask about your particular student as an example of how things work.You find out that the counselor has some attendance responsibilities, too. You find J.’s counselor and ask your questions–the general ones about attendance and the specific ones about J. You then ask about your responsibilities as a teacher: record keeping, informing (whom, and how?), getting help for the student, if possible, to encourage class attendance, conferences with parents, or whatever steps might be useful. Then find out what is being done, can be done, at the school to deal with absenteeism, as a discipline issue, as your own issue as a teacher wishing to reach all students. Go slow on all this, but use the cases of students as you become aware of them to discover how such situations are being managed, reflecting on how you would like to see them managed should you be assigned to teach the class.
  5. Get to know the school’s special help personnel, beyond the counselors and the dean/vice principal in charge of discipline. Most schools have access to a school psychologist, perhaps a school social worker, a mental health worker, a drug/alcohol counselor, a school nurse, special education staff who can help you understand a student’s special learning style, strengths and weaknesses.
    In some schools, there are student study team meetings, where persons concerned about a specific student come together to brainstorm what can be done and by whom. As a teacher, you can request such a meeting. Also in some schools, teachers can assist students through a process called IMPACT. Inquire about the existence on campus of a group of teachers/staff providing coordinated Intervention. Other teachers may help with peer counseling, lead Friendship Clubs, and reach out to students informally.Although not all schools have one, State law provides for School Attendance Review Boards. SARBs are composed of non-school personnel who are empowered to force parental cooperation, if necessary, to carry out a plan to improve a student’s attendance and performance. The SARB conducts hearings, works out a plan and monitors progress. The SARB is under the general supervision of the Superior Court.

You decide, with your master teacher, how much or how little of such extra activities you wish to take on. During your observation phase, it is simply useful to learn the basics of school-wide policies and practices, formal and informal. They will affect you as well as the students.

GOOD LUCK! This is an unusual opportunity to observe the world in which you will be spending a great deal of your life. In the process of observing, you can learn much about yourself. That is a gift which will help you keep growing, if you nurture it.

Professional Behaviour:

As with all work within the education profession, you will be expected to keep information about individuals within professional circles and confidential. Only those with a need to know should be given information about an individual. It is easy to carry personal information outside of the professional circle–at which point it becomes gossip. And gossip can injure individuals: the children in your charge, other teachers, etc., and can destroy your career.

Your supervisor will be more able to assist you if you have systematically recorded your observations. Recording reinforces memory.

Some key factors in learning in a class:

  • High Academic Learning Time
    • Allocated learning time: intended, budgeted [but what is the learner doing?]
    • Time on task: engaged in the scheduled activity [But how much of the time is the learner actually learning?]
    • Academic Learning Time (Berliner, 1981): the amount of time that the pupil spends at task while achieving at a 90% effective rate or better.
  • Effective classrooms have higher academic learning time ratios than less effective classrooms.
  • Frequent monitoring of student progress/feedback.
  • Coherently organized curriculum with a tight relationship between curriculum and objectives.
  • A variety of teaching strategies so that the teacher can implement more appropriate approaches when the pupil isn’t learning.
  • Opportunities for engaging in responsible behaviors, e.g.,involvement in student government, as a monitor/ helper, peer and cross-age tutoring, planning and carrying out projects, etc.

These are the things that make for more effective teaching and they are the things we will work on this year and that the good teachers will spend the rest of their careers perfecting.

Some additional things to look for during the observation semester:

  1. List beginning school activities observed.
  2. Briefly list, analyze, and discuss various room arrangements seen. (How did they support or interfere with learning?)
  3. Identify all areas of school environments which require pupils to learn/use specific procedures.
  4. Make a list of procedures (including safety and procedural rules) that the master teacher/student teacher will use with pupils.
  5. List master teacher’s rules for student behavior (in addition to procedures).
  6. List positive consequences and reinforcers used.
  7. List negative consequences and reinforcers used.
  8. Note how teacher’s behavioral expectations/rules are presented.
  9. Record how teachers deal with inappropriate behavior.
  10. Record how teachers reinforce appropriate behavior.

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English language: It’s the lingua franca

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

ONE way to language mastery is to use the language. If we don’t master the English language, problems such as wrong grammar and word use in examination papers will occur. Errors are not confined to just those who set the test papers; some university lecturers are not proficient in English, too.

But they are not to be blamed; the lack of use induces less mastery. This is the dilemma we face when dealing with language in Malaysia.

Let’s identify the problems faced by our youth: the moment they are out of school, they discover that they need English in almost every aspect of daily and academic life, especially if they live in cities and big towns.
Only when they go to the wet market, helping their mothers to do shopping, for example, do they converse in Malay. Alas, the conversation is not conducted in the Bahasa Malaysia they learned in school. Rather, it is in Bahasa Malaysia pasar or sometimes in the manner spoken by foreign workers, such as the Bangladeshis or Indonesians.

They, like all young Malaysians, surf the Internet. Based on chats with young people, we find that almost all sites they visit are in English. The only sites that are in Bahasa Malaysia are those of government agencies and the ministries. However, they do not surf government websites every day like they do the rest. Some ministries have also put up an English mirror site for the ease of the international community.

All brochures about goods, hotels, shops and organisations are in English, except for those published by the government. Employers want workers who can converse and write in English. Those not proficient in English will lose out.
Certain careers require absolute use of English. One such example is the aviation industry. A trainee pilot told us that none of his training was conducted in Bahasa Malaysia. He said his friends who were not good in English faced difficulties studying and communicating. Not being able to decipher instructions may cause mishaps on runways. Those who go overseas to do medicine and law also learn in English.

To apply for jobs, our children have to write letters and prepare their resume in English. Those in private colleges and universities need to write assignments in English, not Bahasa Malaysia.

Similarly, when it comes to entertainment, youth mostly listen to English songs. The Astro guide and TV schedules are in English. Informative and academic channels like the National Geographic, History, Discovery and Discovery Science are in English. So are the news channels such as CNN, BBC and Al Jazeera. Their favourite shows on sports, cars and entertainment are all in English, too.
The language used in the brochures of imported goods is English, even if they are produced in China or the Middle East. Books sold on are in English.

Likewise, signboards and notices, apart from the government’s, are almost all in English. Instructions and prescriptions on medicine bottles are all in English. So, too, the language used in manuals and guidelines for scientific and engineering equipment.

When Muslims go to Mecca to perform the umrah and haj, the signs are in English, French and Arabic, not Bahasa Malaysia. Wherever we travel, other than Indonesia, we find the common language used is English.

In an academic setting, applying for research grants, reporting research, publishing and conferences are all conducted in this international language.

In the main, assignments and publications in universities have to be in English, and applying for jobs and the language at the workplace locally and internationally is in English.

It is puzzling why those in authority want to switch back to Bahasa Malaysia when it comes to the teaching of important subjects in schools. Aren’t we making the working and studying life difficult for our young?

Increasing the hours to teach English would be less effective than conducting classes in English. Learning in English is killing two birds with one stone. One will acquire the language and learn the subject, and the language learnt in this manner will be more authentic.

Let the generation who learned their Mathematics and Science in English in 2005 finish their education, let them be the rebirth of a new generation that will revive the use of English. Let them help us be more competitive in the global market, and let them teach the next generation this language of academia, this language of the world.

by Dr. Megawati Omar and Dr. Abu Bakar Abdul Majeed,

Research Management, Institute UiTM, ShahAlam, Selangor.

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Mutual respect vital

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

Effective communication with your child starts from infancy.

MANY parents know that punishments and threats do not really work with their young children.

It helps to have realistic expectations of your children. Babies are curious about their world. They use their senses to explore their surroundings. Once they grab something, they will put it in their mouths and then throw it down.

When they are exploring, they are not looking for something specific. They want to find out the limits. This is the best time to commu­nicate in the right manner with your baby to help him be cooperative. In every interaction with your baby, show mutual respect.

Before giving your four-month-old baby a bath, take some time to talk to him. Make eye contact and tell him exactly what you are going to do.

Your baby may not know exactly what you are saying but he is learning. Even though he is so young, you must use words that reflect your respect for him, including saying “please” and “thank you.” By doing this, you are acknowledging your child.

Make time to communicate with your baby as this will set him on the right path to learning how to behave. Babies are keen on getting what they want. They are not trying to manipulate their parents. All you have to do is show your baby what he can or cannot do, in the most loving way.

Toddlers are beginning to learn about what will happen if they do something. They may try to do what you do not want them to do. This is their way of testing the limits. They explore cause and effect as part of their growth.

If you are out shopping with your toddler and he screams as you pass by the toy shop, you can say to him: “You are screaming because you want me to take you to the toy shop. I get upset when you scream. You can help me by telling me what you want or show me so that I can understand.”

Your toddler will often act in ways that may suggest he is uncooperative. He is not being naughty or rebellious. It is just his way of asserting his independence. Act firmly but kindly. Your toddler will learn to stay calm and in control by observing and interacting with you. Use positive words to encourage him to pay attention to you.

Knowing that your toddler is active and needs safe boundaries, put him in an environment that caters to his activity level. This way, you do not need to constantly remind him not to do anything dangerous.

Remind your toddler that running and climbing belong to the park. Make time to take him to places where he can be his energetic self.

When he appears to be struggling with a task, ask if you can help instead of taking over from him. Your child would be more willing to cooperate when you seek his permission. He needs to feel in control.

Show him how he can do certain tasks at home, such as helping you prepare the family meal. He can lay the table or help you wash the vegetables.

The more skills your toddler learns, the less he will behave badly. All he needs at this stage is to learn ways of cooperating. Spend more time showing him how to do things rather than telling him what not to do.

by Ruth Liew.

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Train them from young

Monday, May 24th, 2010

IT is a sobering thought when businessmen lament that our graduates pass with flying colours but do not know how to work.

It was mentioned that Robert Kuok, the Malaysian sugar tycoon, used to say he did not want graduates with good CGPAs, but those who can work. Thus there were suggestions to shift our education system from “studying to pass exams” to “learning to be creative”.

To produce graduates who can think we need to shift the mindset of parents first. For to create creative children, many things begin at home.

First, parents should inculcate the reading habit at home. Most of our children only begin reading when they enter kindergarten or primary school. Reading should be a part of the child’s experience as soon as he learns how to walk.

This can be done only if parents themselves read. Children growing up watching their parents read will take up the reading habit. Have a library at home, not a collection of toys. Buy books instead of toys for your children.

Practise silence in the house, for the mind works better in silence. There are studies saying our brains work best at its lower waves and lower waves can be achieved when we are in a silent environment.

Control noise at home by not having the TV, music, or entertainment programmes on all day long as a “permanent background”.

Parents are to exercise flexible discipline with children. Being too authoritative may curb children from thinking out of the box.

Another way is to teach children early to strategise to get things done. Ask them to plan meals for the week, household chores, shopping lists, savings, or how to spend weekends. Let them devise the ways.

Asian parents seem to say no to their children in many areas. Saying no too frequently will discourage children from thinking differently. Threatening children with “what will people say”, will make children grow up too scared to experiment.

Allow children to question the norms they are not comfortable with. Ask questions which require thinking, research or reading for an answer. For example, why are leaves green, not blue? Why do I have to memorise this chemistry formula? Why do cats have four legs not five? Why do we walk forward, not sideways? Questioning is educating the mind to be creative. It is time we educate, not just train.

Share light, daily problems to train them to solve tasks creatively. For example, if the school bus breaks down, do not be quick to offer to drive the children to school. Give them time to think about how to get to school. When they fail to get help by themselves, then we step in.

by Dr. Megawati Omar and

Dr. Abu Bakar Abdul Majeed,

Research Management Institute, UiTM, Shah Alam.

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Spacemen will likely speak in English

Monday, May 24th, 2010

AS Malaysians, we welcome the scheduled “landing” of some 100 cosmonauts and astronauts on Malaysian soil this October.

It is reported that they would share their experience and give inspirational talks to some one million students nationwide over five days during the Association of Space Explorers 23rd Planetary Congress on Oct 5-10 (“From outer space to KL” – The Star, May 22).

An immediate question that arises is: What language would the astronauts and cosmonauts be using? They are from some 35 countries. It is not likely that each will speak in his or her own language.

I believe they will all be speaking in English. And their talks will be impregnated with scientific and technological terms.

To reap the fullest from such talks our students themselves must not only be fluent in English but also be comfortable with the scientific and technological terms and expressions used.

If the proceedings were translated, their impact and significance would be much reduced. Also, if the astronaut or cosmonaut tells a joke in English, its effect on the audience will be delayed; if at all the translation can elicit the same hilarious meaning.

More importantly, our students may miss much from the talks if they have a poor command of English and its use in the world of science and technology.

Here lies one good and important reason why we should rethink our decision to abolish PPSMI (the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English). Mastering English and knowing Science and Mathematics in English is not the same thing. The first compliments the second but does not replace it.

If we want our nation to achieve global standards in science and technology, we should be bringing in more renowned experts to interact with our students in schools and universities.

We may want our students to hear from, and be inspired by a Noble laureate in Physics, Chemistry or Biology, for example. These scholars, researchers and experts in science and technology will most likely speak in English.

Have we prepared our students the best we can? Many parents have expressed their disappointment at the abolition of PPSMI. There is still time to have a relook at the policy.

I urge the Education Ministry to go back to the “lab” and work out a solution that is more palatable to all.

by Liong Kam Chong, Seremban.

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Promoting gender mainstreaming

Monday, May 24th, 2010

WHY is gender mainstreaming important? First, it is an issue of development effectiveness. Women’s voice needs to be heard because growing evidence confirms that the inclusion of women’s perspectives result in greater equality between women and men and secondly, the Quran mentions repeatedly that women should be treated equally. However, due to limitations of fluency in the Islamic legal discourse, women’s objections are simply suppressed though their inner voice shouts for justice.

Thirdly, women were active participants in all aspects during the Prophet’s time. This was shown by the efforts of Muhammad Abu Shuqqah in “The liberation of women in the era of the message” which revived a neglected hadith that demonstrated the extent of women’s participation during the Prophet’s era.

Women who had their voices heard from the beginning of Islam and in later generations have been an inspiration for Muslim women today. An increasing number of Muslim women have been accepted in the field of Islamic scholarship. Confidence that emanates from the knowledge that women possess renewed the spirit of the early Islamic community. However, there are significant challenges in the institutions and leadership through which women can exercise authority today.

One of the key challenges faced by Muslim women who have been marginalised is the persistent scarcity of opportunities and access to decision-making processes. They understand the pluralistic nature of these experiences, their context, and associated problems culminating from these issues.

Women leaders who try to assist these women experience inclusion and exclusion in their communities, especially in social and economic dimensions. They also face cultural barriers. It is often said that education is the key to women’s equality. This is particularly significant given that the more educated the women in a particular country, the more prosperous it is.

Access to education is one of the primary indicators of women’s status in a given society. It is a positive sign that women make up more than 60% of those studying in Malaysian universities.

Another challenge for Muslim women today is not only to improve their knowledge but also to increase their visibility so as to be able to help others. If women are not seen, their ability to help others besides the people around them would be diminished.

It has often been said that the well-being of women is critical to the effective functioning of societies; they are still principally responsible for the upbringing of children and home management. They are the key to the healthy functioning of families, and are essential to the perpetuation of social norms. It is proposed that their contribution be further enhanced beyond their domestic domain to include leadership. However, researches have shown that they can be systematically inhibited from playing their social roles fully due to cultural barriers. For example, they are excluded from structures leading to political decision-making and administration in their own communities and societies.

Understanding the realities of Muslim women today, their families, and the communities that they live in, Muslim woman leaders today could easily appreciate these challenges because they are of the same gender and they face the same situation. They can easily acknowledge the Muslim women’s position within the familial, community, and social structures. However, to understand the realities within the context of the Islamic framework makes it quite difficult because this concept has not been well defined.

Camillia Fawzi and Judy Mabro in Muslim Women’s Choices – Religious Belief and Social Reality have rightly pointed out that the tendency to explain it solely in terms of the Quran and other Islamic sources, all too often taken out of context, ignores the fact that Islam has been subjected to growth and development, adaptation and change.

The interface between culture and society has resulted in diversity within this framework. The impact of culture brings deep meaning that pervade every aspect of individual and societal processes and concepts, including how gender is characterised in Muslim society.

Social inclusion – which is an evolving concept that captures the ability of people to participate as valued, respected, and contributing members of society – is still vague. The social inclusion agenda, which involves examining the values that characterises a good society and policies and practices that embody these values, are there, but they seem not to be fully implemented.

To conclude, communities must have accountable leadership which incorporate inclusive decision-making bodies that include representation of women for the purpose of good governance. Such a community will, in turn, help develop responsible individuals who will represent their values and concerns to a larger society.

For Muslim women to move forward, they should work with and alongside men, and not against them. The present decade should not be seen as a decade of confrontation, but mutual consultation.

by Prof. Datuk Zaleha Kamaruddin.

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Put a stop to bad road habits

Monday, May 24th, 2010

IT is a shame that even though the Government and the relevant road and transport authorities are doing their best to provide better roads, motorists and motorcyclists remain adamant in not heeding traffic rules. It has become increasingly a nightmare for law-abiding motorists to drive anywhere in our country, be it on our spanking highways or narrow municipal roads.

Motorcyclists carelessly weave in and out of city and town roads. They beat traffic lights without any care for other users. They speed on the right (fast) lanes along highways. They squeeze through traffic jams, bruising cars. Meanwhile, motorists are also invading the motorcycle lanes provided by highway operators. It is the standard these days to switch lanes without any consideration for other road users. Another ugly sight is the way drivers plough their pedals or throttles as they trail behind ambulances.

All these bad attitudes stem from a corrupt mindset. It causes undue stress to law-abiding citizens and is often the reason for bloody accidents, resulting in kilometres of traffic jams, fuel wastage and excessive wear and tear of clutch and brake parts. Let us also not forget the national productivity aggregate lost daily on the roads.

It is time the police and road authorities initiate a nationwide clamp down to check such deteriorating road manners. It appears that summonses are not effective. Perhaps, these offenders should do community service as punishment. In addition, the employers of such abusers should be notified.

To effectively check this ugly trend, we should also not leave matters to the transport and police authorities. In fact, stakeholders can do more to help solve the problem.

The Education Ministry must introduce compulsory road safety subjects right up to upper secondary levels. Universities must demand good grades in such subjects to consider admission. Employers must introduce pay cuts or increment freezes on those found to have broken traffic rules and the unions must support such an initiative.

The Tourism Ministry must collaborate with the industry players to come up with effective road safety campaigns if they are determined to keep the national tagline “Truly Asia”.

If we are able to commit to a national effort aggressively, we should be able to curb the dangerous road habits in a reasonably short period of time.

by J. D. Lovrenciear, Semenyih.

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It’s inclusive now: Max

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

Kota Kinabalu: Sabah and Sarawak became just like any other State under the Federation of Malaysia after the first 10-year review of the Federal Constitution, according to Datuk Dr Maximus Ongkili.

The Science, Technology and Innovation Minister said this was among the changes made to the Federal Constitution following the review.

“Keep in mind. There were some changes to the Federal Constitution, which I think was done during the mid-1970s, that was after the first 10-year review. Then the constitution changed,” he said.

“We used to say, for instance, the Malaysian Federation consists of the states in the Malay Federation and the states of Sabah and Sarawak before it (constitution) was amended after the review. After it was amended then it stated that the federation consists of all the states including Sabah and Sarawak,” said Dr Maximus, who is Kota Marudu Member of Parliament.

He, however, disagreed with Prof. Dr Ranjit Singh of Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM) who opinioned it was not wrong to say that Sabah and Sarawak joined Malaysia.

Dr Maximus said Sabah and Sarawak became part of Malaysia through the merger of five entities at that time, namely, Sabah, Sarawak, Singapore and the Malay Federation.

“So when we said we formed Malaysia, that is the history.

I don’t think we can argue against that. The basis was a merger under the same roof in the first place,” he said.

Dr Maximus was commenting on a Daily Express report Friday quoting Prof. Dr Ranjit that Sabah and Sarawak cannot really claim that the Federation of Malaysia is a partnership of three equal members.

Dr Ranjit had said while this position might have had validity when the Malaysia Agreement was signed, both states accepted the new Constitution of Malaysia whereby the Federal structure applied to all states in an equal manner except for the special state rights of Sabah and Sarawak, which were recognised and guaranteed.

“But of course this is (done) through discussions and negotiations between representatives of the states including from Sabah and Sarawak during that time when the first 10-year review was made,” said Dr Maximus.

“I think he (Dr Ranjit) was talking in an ideal manner. But the books do not show that way.

But whatever he said, to me the Federal-State relationship is a dynamic process, it’s perundingan (negotiation) all the way,” he said.

“And I think without even politicising the whole thing, a lot more can be achieved for Sabah and Sarawak. This is rather than shouting in the air out there.”

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Teaching accurate pronunciation

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

TO BE able to teach accurate pronunciation, teachers with language-related responsibilities require a detailed knowledge of why words are pronounced the way they are. Additionally, they need to understand how English sounds are made.

Having an appreciation of these two prerequisites ensures that teachers can readily – both vocally and visually – demonstrate words encountered in class, and explain the sound variations produced by vowels, consonants, and symbol combinations.

They would also feel more competent and confident to correct pronunciation errors.

In turn, students are more likely to be able to imitate accurate reproductions of sounds. In such a learning environment, learners will quickly be able to distinguish both the difference between the regular vowels and the consonants when they are aware that vowels are made using the lips and mouth without obstruction.

For instance, the different “th” sounds heard in “this” and “thumb” are more easily imitated when it is known that the position of the tongue changes in relation to the teeth.

As the phonemes (a sound that distinguishes one word from another) are encountered, being able to categorise their production in terms of how (manner) and where (place) they are articulated is advantageous.

For example, the production of phonemes such as “p” and “t” are better understood when there is an awareness of their “plosive” nature, which refers to a consonant that is produced by stopping the airflow using the lips, teeth or palate, followed by a sudden release of air.

Voiced and voiceless sounds

Knowing if a consonant is “voiced” or “voiceless” can assist with pronunciation.

When the frontal or preceding consonant is “voiced”, the final “s” in a word says “z..”, for example in “goes” and rags”.

When the preceding consonant is “voiceless”, the final “s” says “s..”, as in “bats” and “cliffs”.

Consider the symbol combination “ed”. Usually, “ed” on the end of a “voiced” word says “d..” as in “gagged” and “raced”.

However, in voiceless consonant words, instead of making a distinct “d..”, “ed” is often pronounced as a consonant “t” sound, such as in “popped” and “tapped”.

It needs to be noted that this oral distinction between “t..” and “d..” in “ed”-ending words is not always heard, and can depend on an individual’s personal pronunciation.

Using mirrors and one-on-one listening situations — where the manner and place of sound articulation can be better seen and heard — can help address pronunciation error, as well as enhance the accuracy and quality of an individual’s pronunciation skills.

Voiced consonants are: “d”, “b”, “g”, “j”, “m”, “n”, “ng”, “l”, “r”, “v”, “w”, “y”, “z”, “zh”, “th” (this).

Meanwhile, voiceless consonants are: “t”, “f”, “k”, “s”, “p”, “ch”, “sh”, “th” (thumb).

The value of phonemics

Modern phonology studies sound patterns and develops general principles that are applicable to the sound systems of all languages. It involves the study of both phonemes (vowels and consonants) and prosody (stress, rhythm and intonation) as subsystems of spoken language.

In teaching, the value of phonology centres on the learner’s need to understand the sound- and symbol-related characteristics of English if they are to acquire superior skills in pronunciation and spelling.

Therefore, the emphasis is more on phonemics, i.e. the study of phonemes and phonemic systems.

Phonic knowledge (sound-letter knowledge) should be imparted in a meaningful context to maximise the learner’s ability to map sounds to letters (symbols) and symbol combinations.

To achieve this goal, the rules and features that underpin the relationship between the sounds and the symbols need to be known.

For example:

·While all letters produce a single, regular sound, some make more than one sound value, e.g. c = cat, city, cello, cuisine.

·Some symbol combinations produce more than one sound value, e.g. ch = church, chef, chemist, choir.

·Different symbols can produce the same sound, e.g. the “k..” sound is heard in camel, key, and mosque.

·Different symbol combinations can produce the same sound, e.g. the “sh..” sound is heard in ship, chateau, action, anxious, precious, mansion, and ocean.

·Phonemes can be affected by their position in a word, e.g. “s” is pronounced differently in “six” and “nose”, while the letter “g” changes significantly from “gun” to “bridge”.

·The Influential Consonants (w, r, l, q, and v) can influence and change the sounds of other symbols in words. Compare: fork and work (the sound of “or” is changed by the “w”); cat and car (the sound of “a” is changed by the “r’).

·Vowels can influence and silence the sounds of other vowels, such as in the words baitgoat, and fuel.

The importance of having an in-depth phonic knowledge is demonstrated by the symbol combination “ear”.

Imagine if an ESL learner is only aware that “ear” is pronounced “ear..” as in “fear”, and then encounters the words, bear, wear, learn, learnt, heart, hearth, appear and nearly. It would be interesting to hear that person read these words aloud.

Again, if a learner has only learnt that “ur” says “er..” as in “burn”, how would they pronounce the words bury and jury?

By Keith Wright, the author and creator of the 4S Approach To Literacy and Language (4S) — a modern, innovative and proven method of accelerating the learning of English.

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No to ‘licence to teach’

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

KUALA LUMPUR: Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has shot down the “licence to teach” proposal, assuring teachers that it will not be implemented.

Muhyiddin, who is also Education Minister, said such a proposal would be “simply impractical”.

He said requiring teachers to have a teaching licence was against the concept of free education that the country practised.

“It is simply impractical in this country although there are others that practise it.

“Schools are built by the Government and they do not need licences to operate,” he said, stressing that the “idea would remain an idea”.

Muyhiddin, however said it would be a different matter if the idea were to be implemented by private schools, which had their own systems and required licences to operate.

“So, requiring teachers at government schools to have licences to teach is unsuitable, impractical and will not be implemented,” Muhyiddin told reporters during the Juara Rakyat programme at the Sungai Bonus People’s Housing Scheme near Setapak here yesterday.

Deputy Education Minister Dr Puad Zarkashi had on Friday said teachers might be required to sit for an examination to obtain a licence, just like doctors and lawyers, as an initiative to ensure professionalism and avoid having unqualified teachers or those involved in criminal activities in the profession.

The National Union of the Teaching Profession had objected to the idea, saying that there was no need for such a proposal.

by Zuhrin Azam Ahmad.

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