Archive for October, 2010

No place for Geography

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

THE Education Ministry had some years ago made History a compulsory subject for all SPM (Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia) students. Recently it stated that from 2013, all students must obtain at least a pass at SPM level. Umno deputy president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who is also Education Minister, said this was like Bahasa Malaysia where SPM candidates must pass before they could get a certificate.

The Ministry will also introduce History as a subject to all Year One pupils in 2014.

While the move to give History such an elevated status should be welcomed, it has been at the expense of sidelining the importance of Geography in secondary schools.

As it is, Geography as a subject has already moved down in terms of importance.

Several schools in Seremban, Negri Sembilan, have already dropped the subject from their SPM list since it is an elective, and this in turn has reduced the number of candidates sitting for the subject in the STPM examination. I am sure there are schools in other states that have also done the same.

Up to the 1980s, Geography covered all the continents of the world and was made compulsory for all Science stream students in Forms Four and Five. Geography is the study of the earth.

It helps students to have an understanding of the countries so that they can relate to what they read in the newspapers or views on television. From trade and commerce, the subject touches on a country’s imports, exports, vegetation, weather, population, economy, demography, wildlife, forests and industries, and the type of natural disasters it is prone to such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis, floods and typhoons.

With fewer students studying Geography, we Malaysians will one day become like some foreigners in the West, who think Malaysians live on trees! I recall reading about the 10-year-old English girl Tilly Smith who saved her family and friends from the deadly 2004 tsunami on a beach in Thailand because she detected its arrival by observing the bubbles on the shore, as she had learnt about it in her Geography lessons.

I have never regretted studying Geography as I have always found it interesting and informative. The authorities, by giving importance to History, have sidelined Geography even further.

The government should not be hasty in making decisions especially if it was done with an ulterior motive or political agenda. Ultimately, it is the students who will suffer.

by Jesu Maria Selvam.

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Simple spelling hints

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

This week, we focus on hints that are valuable to know to be able to deal correctly with some of the common spelling traps in English. A number of selected everyday spelling errors are addressed using simple, easy-to-remember spelling hints.

The first is the spelling error where the words “all right” are spelt wrongly as either alright or allright. It is unfortunate that some dictionaries present alright as an acceptable spelling option despite it being incorrect.

It is easy to remember the 4S Spelling Hint: ‘all right’ is like ‘all wrong’. Just as “all wrong” is spelt as two words, so should all right be.

Another common error is to spell believe as beleive. While one can apply the basic ‘ie’-’ei’ memory rule: ‘i’ before ‘e’, except after ‘c’, it is also simple to use the hint: “Don’t believe a lie.”

Just as lie is spelt with ‘ie’, so too is believe.

The word piece is another ‘ie’ word that can cause spelling problems. To help you remember, use the statement: “Have a piece of pie” as a hint to remember that just as pie is an ‘ie’ word, so too is piece.

Problems also occur with the spelling of sieve. The word sieve belongs to the same word family as sift. It will be noted that sift is spelt with an ‘i’. Likewise, sieve should be spelt with ‘ie’.

There, their and they’re

Most people have made mistakes at some time using there, their and they’re.

These words are best taught initially in context, e.g. Put that box over there. – Is that their new car? – They’re going to the beach today (they are).

As there causes most difficulties and as there, where and here all can refer to a place or a location, remember this spelling hint: “Where is there a place like here?”

Again, because here and hear are confused spelling-wise and because hear and ear are naturally related in terms of what they can mean, the 4S Spelling Hint: “Can you hear with that ear?” has proved to be a way to solve this issue.

The word cemetery is regularly misspelt as either cemetry or as cemetary. The easiest way to remember the correct spelling is with this hint: “There are three ‘e’s in cemetery.”

Many English words are spelt wrongly because they are pronounced wrongly.

The words tragic, magic and logic are examples where mispronunciation causes spelling errors.

In these cases, a “d..” sound is added when pronounced and often, “d” is added when spelt, e.g. tradgic, madgic, lodgic.

The 4S Spelling Hint comes to the rescue of spellers by teaching: “Tragic, magic and logic end in ‘c’ but have no ‘d’”.

Sometimes an extra ‘t’ is added to a word, e.g. spelling bachelor as batchelor. Remember this spelling hint: “Bill the bachelor doesn’t like tea.”

Spelling problems also occur with the everyday word, women, because of the initial “wim..” sound that one hears in “whim”. 4S believes the problem can be alleviated by applying the Spelling Hint: “Do you know that women and woman are spelt with ‘wo’?”

A similar sound-related issue occurs in the spelling and pronunciation of the word business. There is the additional problem of the word having a silent “i”.

To solve these problems, use this spelling hint: “I bus in to my business.”

Omitting one of the double consonants in a word when spelling is a common error that is usually the result of incorrect pronunciation. One such word is parallel, which is often spelt as paralel.

The 4S Spelling Hint is “All the ‘L’s are parallel” – stressing the fact that the combination “all” must be part of the word.

In the case of the word, battalion, writers often are not sure whether the word has two ‘t’s, or two ‘L’s, or both. As battalion can be related to the word battle, remember the hint: The battalion won the battle.

Understanding the rules

While the above, often one-off, spelling hints can be extremely helpful, the best way to develop superior spelling talents is to master the most relevant 4S Keys To Understanding Spelling.

In the case of double consonants, the most important spelling Key to remember is: Double consonants usually follow short vowels.

As mentioned in the previous column, except for double ‘L’, (‘L’ can rebel), if a multi-syllabic word has a double consonant, the preceding vowel will be “short”, that is, it will make its regular sound.

Consider: cof/fee, but/ter, cot/tage, ef/fort, com/mit, bar/rel, op/pose, at/tend, an/nounce, ad/dict, suc/cess, ac/cuse, ab/bey, es/sential, ac/com/modate, mas/sage, cab/bage.

The above, Short Vowel – Double Consonant rule is very dependable as is its counterpart: Long vowels are usually followed by single consonants.

If a vowel is “long”, i.e. it says its own name, the consonant that follows it stays single.

As is expected, some ‘ll’ words are exceptions because “l” can rebel, e.g. roll, roller.

Consider: elect, idle, obey, agent, utopia, baker, miner, Mohammad, Moses.

Compare tiger with trigger and diner with dinner.

To be a competent writer of English, one needs to develop superior spelling skills.

The prerequisite is to be able to pronounce words correctly as well as know the “rules” that explain why words are spelt the way they are.

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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Flashbacks in essays

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

Last week, we looked at a sample essay where the events were presented in a chronological order. When writing an essay in a chronological order, you present the events according to time.

Some writers like to use the flashback technique. This means there is a shift in the narrative to an earlier event that interrupts the usual chronological order of the story. The flashback can occur at any part of the narrative.

Look at the sample extracts below (which are based on last week’s narrative essay) to see how the flashback technique can be used.

Sample A

The man, seated on the bench in the park, looked old and haggard. Silent tears trickled down his cheeks as he thought of his wife, Jennifer and his two children. He wondered if he would ever be reunited with them. The thought of Jennifer reminded him of his college days.

He had been the most popular student in university. He had been like a Greek God with a well-sculpted body and features that even men had envied. Every girl had admired him openly but Jack had only been interested in Jennifer. Upon graduation, Jack had been hired by a leading accounting firm while Jennifer had joined a private university.

He smiled as he remembered how beautiful his bride had been on their wedding day. In fact, everyone had commented that they were a perfect match. Both had worked hard and they had flourished in their respective careers.

In the extract above, the introductory paragraph focuses on the main character. Notice that he is sad as he reflects on his fate. The last line of this paragraph tells us that he is going to reflect on previous events that led to his sad condition.

The flashback technique is used by linking the last line of the first paragraph to the second paragraph where the character reflects on events that had happened during his youth.

Do pay attention to the use of the simple past tense in the first paragraph and the past perfect tense as the character reflects on his life.

Sample B

The man, seated on the bench in the park, looked old and haggard. Despite the numerous wrinkles on his unshaven face and his dishevelled appearance, he still looked quite handsome. He gazed into the distance and smiled wryly. He had lost everything – his wife, his children and a well-paying job due to his foolishness.

“Yes, I, Jack Raymond belong to that category of foolish men who waste away their lives all for the love of a woman,” he reflected sadly.

Silent tears trickled down his cheeks as he thought of his wife, Jennifer and his two children. He wondered if he would ever be reunited with them. The thought of Jennifer reminded him of his college days.

He had been the most popular student in university. He had been like a Greek God with a well-sculpted body and features that even men had envied. Every girl had admired him openly but Jack had only been interested in Jennifer. Upon graduation, Jack had been hired by a leading accounting firm while Jennifer had joined a private university.

In this extract, the first paragraph is more well-developed that the one in Sample A. There is a lot more focus on his appearance and his thoughts. His appearance and his actions tell the reader that something is not quite right. The last line of the first paragraph confirms this.

The first three lines of this paragraph are written in the past tense – notice the verbs!

The last line is written in the past perfect (had lost) – suggesting that something had happened prior to this that led to the man’s sad condition.

The chronological order of events continues in the second and the third paragraph.

The fourth paragraph is where the flashback is obvious. The flashback technique is cleverly introduced by linking the last line of the third paragraph to events that happened a long time ago.

Some writers like to use the flashback technique in the beginning and then again at the end. This way they tie up the events well. Look at Sample C below.

Sample C

The man, seated on the bench in the park, looked old and haggard. Despite the numerous wrinkles on his unshaven face and his dishevelled appearance, he still looked quite handsome. He gazed into the distance and smiled wryly. He had lost everything – his wife, his children and a well-paying job due to his foolishness.

He had tried hard to locate Jennifer, but no one knew where she was.

A little girl’s laughter brought him back to the present. He looked up and realised that it was getting dark. Slowly, he stood up and walked away full of regrets.

In the sample essay below, the writer uses the flashback technique to weave the present with the past. Only attempt this if you are competent linguistically.

The patient in Ward 4 lay comatose on the white sheets. The nurse walked in, according to schedule, to monitor her condition. The doctors were baffled. The operation had been a success but the patient had not regained consciousness. It was as though she had sunk into nothingness. Unknown to them, her mind was like a television screen with images from her past flashing across her mind.

She saw herself laughing happily as she ran across the field, the retrieved kite in her hand. She was about thirteen, and just learning how to manipulate situations to her advantage. She had fooled her mother and teachers into believing that she was not the perpetrator of the fight, but rather the victim. Like a Cheshire cat, she had smiled wickedly at the punishment her poor classmates had been subjected to.

“How is she? Is there any chance of her recovering?”

Ah, the sweet voice of her colleague, Jane. Unlike her, Jane was kind and forgiving. Jane never held grudges. There was not an ounce of jealousy in her. Unconsciously, her mind went back to the past.

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Set realistic targets

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

When students are anxious or unprepared for major exams, they must come up with quick measures to reach attainable goals.

TWO major public examinations are just round the corner — the SPM (Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia) and STPM (Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia). With both exams approaching soon, it is only natural if you’ve begun to feel some form of anxiety. Have your preparations been enough? Are you ready?

Despite the mounting tension, there is still some time for you to take on some quick measures to ensure that you succeed.

To begin with, get motivated. If you lack drive and energy, then it simply means that you are not fired up and raring to go.

Although your parents, teachers and friends give you the support, the best form of motivation should spring from within you.

In her 1952 book, Key To Yourself, writer Venice J. Bloodworth, stays current and relevant when she proposes a simple yet classic approach to achieve success.

Decide, visualise and act,” she suggests.

I would say the same. The first thing you have to do is decide what it is that you wish to attain or achieve in the coming examinations.

For instance, Raju, who is in Form Five now, has decided that he wants to achieve an ‘A’ in all the subjects he sits for in the SPM examination.

Meanwhile, Amrin, who is a mediocre student, is realistic. He has chosen to concentrate on getting credits for five key subjects.

For the rest of the subjects, he will be content if he passes them.

Sheila, who knows that she is weak in almost all subjects except Bahasa Malaysia, has decided that she will simply aim to pass all subjects, or at the least – Mathematics and Science.

Yes, this is the way to think. You must first decide what your goals and targets are.

To motivate yourself, write them down and look at them daily.

Visualise: You must visualise your success in terms that you can understand.

Turning to prayer:  Turns to prayer for  motivation and to succeed.

Once you have visualised your success, the next step is to DO the right thing. You have to ACT.

Yes, actions speak louder than words. This is the time for you to stop making excuses and wasting your time.

You have to hit your books constantly, put in regular hours of study and hone your skills by doing many exercises and trying out various forms of academic tasks.

To do this successfully, you must be disciplined, hard-working and persevere.

There is no short-cut to success. As Winston Churchill put it, “It’s not enough that we do our best, sometimes we have to do what’s required”.

You have to study. So, do it consistently and regularly. Know yourself, your weaknesses and strengths and plan your schedule accordingly.

The important thing is to do it:

Yes, choose a learning style or studying method that suits you the most.

Reading, making mini notes, using mind maps, memorising, discussing with study mates or doing exhaustive workbook exercises — choose how you study best, then do it.

But, remember it is very important that you give priority to not only your mental work-outs but your physical and emotional well-being too.

Reward yourself:

To this end, when you take a break from studying please do indulge and reward yourself by doing a physical activity you enjoy.

Stay away from doing another mental activity for this will only drain your mind further.

Going out for ice-cream, dancing, sharing jokes and laughing out loud, cycling, jogging, listening to music, playing with a younger sibling or pet, cooking with your mother, doing a yoga work-out, a car-ride or a walk, are preferred to watching TV, reading a novel or tackling a computer game.

Finally, persevere and be resilient. In the words of Victor Hugo — “people do not lack strength, they lack will”.

So, be willing to “decide, visualise and act” correctly and you’ll be successful.

Good luck.

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Hasty move on History

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

Stakeholders say that the decision to make History a must-pass subject should have been given some consideration and thought.

LIKE it or not, the policy of making History a compulsory subject for passing the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) has taken root.

In what was totally unexpected, Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced at the recent Umno General Assembly that from 2013, SPM students must have a pass in History.

The minister’s statement caught many people by surprise.

Naturally, there was cause for concern as the decision was announced not at an Education Ministry-related event but during a political party gathering.

Muhyiddin, who is also the Education Minister, said at the assembly that students who failed History would not receive their Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) certificate.

Parents and especially students, who are already struggling with the subject, are obviously concerned with the decision.

The minister’s statement has drawn extensive criticism and deep concern from various stakeholders, likening it to a situation of putting the cart before the horse.

A secondary school teacher Sarah*, who has been teaching History for 19 years agrees that students should pass the subject, but not for the purpose of cultivating a sense of pride and nationalism.

“How can you measure an individual’s patriotism in a national exam?” asks the teacher.

There were calls to review the content of the History syllabus following the announcement that History must be presented in such a way that it truthfully reflects the roles played by all races.

Why not English?

Muhyiddin’s decision also sparked notable reactions from some quarters who felt that English being a global language should be made a compulsory must-pass subject instead of History.

Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE) chairperson Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim says that English Language should have been made compulsory.

“The declining standard of English among students is a serious concern as English is the foremost global language.

“If the decision to make English was made compulsory, it would have complemented the MBMMBI (Upholding Bahasa Malaysia while strengthening the English Language) policy which is expected to begin next year,” she says.

If it is made compulsory, she said, students would buck up and improve their proficiency in English.

When the Ministry decided last month to abolish the PMR, she says, the rationale was to discourage rote-learning and make the education system less exam-oriented.

“Making History a must-pass subject, only means putting the pressure back on many students and making it impossible for them to obtain an SPM certificate, since the new condition requires them to have at least a pass in the subject,’’ she says.

There are also some quarters who feel that giving such importance to History, would further reduce the importance of Geography, an equally important and interesting subject.

Meanwhile, the National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP) has welcomed the emphasis on History as announced by Muhyiddin.

Secretary-general Lok Yim Pheng says creative and innovative thinking can be nurtured in students through the learning of History.

Nevertheless, Lok says students who are less academically-inclined will be put under more pressure as they need to pass History in order to get their SPM certificates.

“The Education Ministry must make sure that there is a wide range of questions in the SPM paper, from easy to difficult, that can be answered by students who are academically poor and those who are high-performing,” she says.

“In a way, students must also be given flexibility in answering the questions,” she adds.

Lok says it is necessary for the Ministry to study the results of the history paper after the 2013 SPM to check whether students are able to cope with the pressure to pass the paper.

by Tan Ee Loo and Kang Soon Chen.

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Call For Students To Take Up Many Languages

Saturday, October 30th, 2010

KUALA LUMPUR:  Students should be encouraged to learn many languages to help motivate them in their careers, Deputy Higher Education Minister Dr Hou Kok Chung said Friday.

Although learning a foreign language took time and called for dedication, the benefits should motivate students to take the trouble to study it, he said.

“As they study more languages, the students begin to sharpen a set of skills that we don’t use completely in other aspects of our life. As they get better at other languages, these learning skills improve too,” he told reporters after launching the fifth Korean Language Speech Contest organised by the South Korean Embassy, here.

Dr Hou said learning many languages would be an advantage to those looking for jobs, especially with multinational companies.


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Unity in diversity

Saturday, October 30th, 2010

The spirit of unity should be instilled at a very young age to realise the 1Malaysia objectives.

THE late award-winning director Yasmin Ahmad touched many of us through her advertisements that thrived on various themes – love, family and unity – against the backdrop and essence of our multiracial Malaysia.

I remember one entitled “Tan Hong Min In Love”, a simple yet heartwarming advertisement depicting Tan Hong Min, a primary Chinese student, professing his love for Ummi Qazzira. His love for Ummi was not one-sided as she also openly admitted that Tan Hong Min was her boyfriend.

As they walked hand-in-hand back to class, many of us could not help but smile to ourselves, applauding the impartiality of the whole scene. It was a candid and spontaneous advertisement, displaying the innocence and purity of young children, that tugged many hearts.

The advertisement, if I remember correctly, was aired when the nation was preparing to celebrate its 50th National Day. Appropriately and aptly, Tan Hong Min and Ummi reminded us of the importance of national unity, regardless of racial, religious or cultural backgrounds.

The advertisement showed that children are colour blind and not by nature prejudiced of other races. They are not born with injurious assumptions about people in any definable group. Children’s intentions and thoughts are mostly, if not all the time, sincere. My point of contention is that we should instill the spirit of unity and togetherness at a very young age.

Since independence, national unity has always been the main agenda of the Government. The 1Malaysia concept aims to strengthen the relationship among races, based on mutual trust and respect for each other. This can begin in schools.

Unity in the 1Malaysia concept is not about creating a singular hegemonic society. Instead, it is about accepting the uniqueness of other races, appreciating the plurality of Malaysia and working together as one nation towards a better, harmonious future. Hence, the key to this concept is “unity in diversity”, which ensures a healthy inter-personal relationship.

Racial and cultural diversity is an excellent topic to teach our young children, who form many opinions about themselves and the people around them. This is when their natural curiosity about differences in appearance and cultural backgrounds really begins to come into play.

As they develop, children are able to put cultural and racial differences into perspective.

They can learn to appreciate or devalue others who are different from them. Hence, this is a significant point of time to shape their attitudes about race and cultural diversity, to make them realise that diversity provides an assortment of benefits that can enhance any classroom.

Teachers are one of the main pillars in delivering the aspirations of the 1Malaysia concept. They bear the weight and responsibility of teaching and, apart from parents, are the main source of knowledge and values for children.

Good teachers are the ones with enthusiasm for their work, and who are highly motivated, committed and resilient. They are the advocates and agents of reform. Teachers, therefore, need to be reflective, active and collaborative, able to take their students beyond text, class and school to the community, nation and the world.

To ensure our young children embrace the 1Malaysia concept, teaching should not just be about merit in achievement. Teachers need to be innovative to develop a balanced educational experience.

They have to realise that teaching is like a living organism, constantly changing. The world is rapidly changing, and as conscientious teachers, they should be aware of this development.

The 1Malaysia concept, in light of education, is to ensure the evolving future needs of our children are effectively articulated.

Henceforth, teachers and school leaders need to work with the current environment that demands school organisations to be collaborative and inter-dependent, so that they can orchestrate a comparative yet competitive environment.

This, I believe, will help improve shared transformational leadership principles and inter-personal skills, to allow members of the school organisation, teachers and students alike, to be appreciative of the values and cultures of our country in the spirit of 1Malaysia.

by Tan Sri Alimuddin Mohd Dom.

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Gifted Children and Lack of Attention

Friday, October 29th, 2010

One of the most common myths about gifted children is that they are the bright-eyed eager students in the classroom. They are the ones who pay rapt attention to every word the teacher utters and love to do their homework. While this may be true of some gifted children, it is far from typical gifted behavior. In fact, many gifted students behave in quite the opposite manner: they may be inattentive and often don’t do their homework, or they may do it and neglect to turn it in.

Causes of Inattention

In most cases, children don’t start out in school not paying attention in class. They quite likely come to kindergarten eager to learn and expand on what they already know. Unfortunately, what most of these children get in kindergarten is information they already know. For example, a five-year-old who is already reading on a third grade level will have to endure lessons on the “letter of the week.”

Even if they aren’t already reading or the information in the lesson is new to them, they learn faster than average children: average children need nine to twelve repetitions of a new concept in order to learn it, bright children need six to eight repetitions, but gifted children can learn new concepts after only one or two repetitions.

Since the majority of students in a classroom are average students, classrooms tend to be geared toward their learning needs. That means, for example, that even if a gifted child starts kindergarten not knowing how to read, a full week spent on only one letter of the alphabet is unnecessary. The lessons can become frustrating and brain-numbing.

Gifted children need plenty of intellectual stimulation, and if they don’t get it from their teachers, they will often provide it for themselves. If lessons become mind-numbingly dull, a gifted child’s mind will wander to more interesting thoughts. Sometimes these children look like they are daydreaming. If the classroom has a window, they might be seen staring out the window looking as though they wished they were outside playing.

While that could be true, it is also quite likely that the child is watching the birds and wondering how they can fly or they may be looking at the leaves on a tree as they drop to the ground wondering what makes the leaves fall from the trees.

Inattentiveness vs. Multitasking

Surprisingly, gifted children can continue to follow what a teacher is saying so that when the teacher calls on a gifted child who looks like he hasn’t been paying attention, the child can answer the question without any problem. However, it’s also quite possible that a child can become so engrossed in his own thoughts that he is essentially in another world and doesn’t even hear the teacher, even when his name is called.

To the teacher, the child looks as though he is not interested in learning, but the opposite is usually true: the child is very interested in learning, but has already learned the material being discussed and therefore isn’t learning anything. Consequently, the child retreats to the rich, inner life so typical of gifted children.


Gifted children who are appropriately challenged rarely have trouble paying attention in class. Unfortunately, it can be extremely difficult to convince a teacher that the cause of a child’s lack of attention in class is the result of too little challenge rather than too much. Teachers who are unfamiliar with the needs of gifted children understand that children who are unable to comprehend a concept can tune out and daydream, but they don’t usually understand that gifted children tune out because they DO comprehend.

The first step in trying to solve this problem is to talk to the teacher. Most teachers want to do what is best for their students, so sometimes all it takes is a word or two about what a child needs. It’s best, however, to avoid using the words “bored” and “gifted.” When parents tell a teacher their children are bored, the teacher may become defensive. After all, most teachers work hard to teach children and provide the materials the children need. Teachers may interpret the comment that a child is bored as a criticism of their teaching ability, even if a parent doesn’t believe that to be true. When parents tell teachers their children are gifted, teachers may think that the parents have an inflated idea of their children’s abilities.

Instead, parents should talk about their children as individuals and talk about individual needs. For example, parents might tell a teacher that their children work best when challenged or that their children seem to pay more attention when work is harder. If the teacher seems to be doubtful, then parents can simply ask the teacher to try a new strategy to see if it works.

The point is to keep the focus on the child’s individual needs as a learner and to try to build a partnership with the teacher. Telling most teachers that a child is gifted can move the focus away from the individual child and onto the issue of gifted children in general. Telling a teacher a child is bored may shift the focus onto the teacher’s teaching ability and classroom management skills.

by Carol Bainbridge.

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Top 10 Tips for Talking With Your Gifted Child’s Teacher

Friday, October 29th, 2010
Parent-teacher conferences are a great way to get to know your child’s teacher and to let him or her know something about you and your concerns. While school-wide parent-teacher conferences and open houses may allow you to learn about a teacher’s policies and personality, they are usually too short to allow for any in-depth discussion of a child’s problems or needs. A better way to discuss your child is to set up a private conference. Here are some tips for a successful discussion.
1. Make a list of concerns:
A list of concerns is a good way to start preparing for a meeting with the teacher. If you are concerned about homework, write that down. If you are concerned with behavior, write that down. It is neither necessary nor desirable to write down every single concern you might have. Instead, focus on one or two of the most important issues. Trying to cover every single issue at one meeting can be counterproductive.

2. Talk to your child.
Let your child know that you are planning to talk to the teacher. Chances are that you are already aware of your child’s feelings on the issues you want to discuss, but he or she might have something to add. In addition, it’s good to listen to both your child’s and the teacher’s point of view. Sometimes a child misreads a situation, and sometimes a teacher is unaware of a child’s feelings. Be sure your child knows you are going to try to resolve problems; you’re not just going to complain.
3. Put together a portfolio of your child’s work:
If you’ve been keeping a portfolio of your child’s work, look through it for examples of work that might support what you want the teacher to know about your son or daughter. For example, you are concerned that the homework is too easy, find samples of work on a similar level your child had done the previous year (or two) or current work that is more advanced. Many children, especially the teacher pleasers, don’t always reveal their true abilities, so the teacher might not be aware of them.
4. Set up an appointment:
Your concerns about your child are important, so you probably want to discuss them as soon as possible. However, you have a better chance of successfully resolving any issues if you make an appointment with the teacher. Making an appointment has several benefits:

  • Both you and the teacher have time to prepare
  • You are less like to catch the teacher at a bad moment
  • It shows respect and gets your started on the right foot
  • 5. Keep a positive attitude.
    A positive attitude is important before, during, and after a conference with the teacher. Children can pick up negative attitudes and if a child thinks the parent disapproves of or doesn’t respect a teacher, the child will think such an attitude is acceptable, which will just make any existing problems worse and more difficult to resolve. Leave your anger at home since it can make you look irrational and cause the teacher to become defensive, neither of which will help your child.
    6. Avoid the words “Bored” and “Gifted”
    Few things can upset a teacher more than telling her that your child is bored in her classroom. Most teachers don’t purposely set out to create dull lessons; they usually work hard to create lessons that will be fun and interesting. The word “gifted” makes some teachers feel they are talking with one more pushy parent. Instead, talk about learning styles. You can point out, for example, that your child learns best when given challenging work.
    7. Keep the focus on your child:
    Teachers have more than one child to worry about and so they may respond to your concerns by pointing out what other children need. You can say that while you appreciate their concern for all the children, you are there to discuss your child. For example, a teacher may say that it would not be fair to the other children to give your child special work. Let her know that you appreciate the fact that she is concerned about the other children, but your concern is what is fair to your child.
    8. Ask for clarifications:
    Most teachers are trained to focus on deficits — academic, emotional, and social. Consequently, a teacher may point out where she thinks your child needs improvement. For example, she may tell you that your child is too immature to handle more challenging work. Ask what makes her think your child is immature and ask for examples of the immature behavior. Also ask if other children behave in similar ways. It may be that the behavior is fairly typical for that age group.
    9. Develop a plan of action.
    Work with the teacher to develop specific steps that you will both take to help resolve the issue. Few school issues can be handled at school alone. For example, if your child isn’t turning in his homework and you are asking he be given more challenging work, you might agree to set a specific time for homework and agree to check it while the teacher might agree to try giving him more advanced work.
    10. Send a thank you note:
    Within a day or two after the meeting, send the teacher a note thanking her for meeting with you. List the steps that you and the teacher agreed to take to address your concerns. This note serves not only as a thank you, but also as a way to outline your understanding of the steps you will both take or of any other outcome of the meeting. If there are any misunderstandings, they can be resolved before they cause problems.
    by Carol Bainbridge.

    Experts will be neutral

    Friday, October 29th, 2010

    THERE was a time when many Malaysians could well consider themselves as native English speakers as English was the medium of instruction at the secondary and tertiary levels.

    The usage of English was not restricted to schools alone but also in much of public life. With regular usage, many Malaysians spoke the Queen’s English and went on to do well at the international level, be it in the field of education, commerce or diplomacy.

    But the winds of change brought about by social and political realities relegated English into the background, and the standard of English in Malaysia has never recovered from its downslide since.

    That does not mean, however, that English was neglected.

    Among those who valued its importance, and those with the means to ensure that their children – and their children’s children – would not suffer from its neglect, there were always different roads to maintain one’s linguistic superiority.

    So, much like the digital divide, our citizens too are divided between those who are proficient in English and those who are not.

    To master a language, one needs to start young, and one needs to use the language regularly.

    And it is important that those who teach are equipped with the right tools to smoothen the way for our young ones to not only be functional but be proficient in English.

    The Government’s plan to hire some 375 foreign English experts to monitor the teaching of English in primary schools nationwide as part of the Education Ministry’s plan to strengthen the language and streamline the curriculum must be viewed in this perspective.

    Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said the experts would monitor how the language is taught by teachers from the start of the school year in 2011.

    “The experts are not here to teach but to monitor and guide the teaching of the language in line with efforts to strengthen the English language,” he said at a dialogue session with trainee teachers at the Institute of Teacher Education in Durian Daun in Malacca on Monday.

    Some may opine that we have enough retired teachers who are practically native English speakers themselves who could do the same thing, at a lesser cost.

    However, we must be mindful that the English issue is like a hot potato, and there has been too much emotion in practically every debate about it.

    It is a good move, therefore, to bring in “uninvolved but professional” experts who are not emotionally driven by the politics of the day.

    They are here to monitor and to recommend and the ministry must, therefore, be prepared to listen.

    Let us be clear that despite English being relegated in importance, it has never gone away.

    Our leaders, when they are not bowing to political pressure, do know the importance of equipping our people with the extra linguistic skills beyond the national language.

    Which is why we still have, within the system, a huge pool of English teachers as well as trainee teachers committed to teaching the language to our schoolchildren.

    These native-speaking experts, or “master teachers” as they will be called, will get the opportunity to observe our teachers in action, and see for themselves why the teaching process has failed to improve the standard of English all these years.

    They will move from school to school and they will have to understand the different playing fields that our primary schoolchildren are subjected to.

    Words and terminology familiar to the urban child who is practically surrounded by an English-speaking world will be like Greek to a rural child in a Felda estate where the teacher may still be using the Bahasa Baku approach to pronounce all the English words. And we all know that English as a language just does not lend itself to that approach.

    The ministry, in bringing in these 375 “master teachers”, including those from Britain and Australia, will help the policy work better if it ensures that there is a good ethnic mix among them.

    The perception that English is the white man’s language must be laid to rest, just as the perception that all Australians and Britons are white is no longer rooted in reality.

    The master teachers should also interact with our current trainers who have much to share on their difficulty in teaching the language to our trainee teachers.

    Let us, therefore, be open to their mission and take their recommendations seriously.

    And let us not let political one-upmanship derail this process that is seeking to make our young Malaysians proficient in English.

    The Star Says….

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