Thursday, September 12, 2013

My critique of Emily Dickinson's "Hope" is the thing with feathers

Emily Dickinson; “Hope” is the thing with feathers
            In the poem “‘Hope is the thing with feathers-,” nineteenth-century American poet Emily Dickinson eloquently expresses her perspective of the uplifting, endless, fearless and altruistic qualities of hope. To help readers fully grasp her definition of the abstract feeling of “hope,” Dickinson ingeniously defines hope as the thing with feathers –a bird- through a use of diction, a series of imagery and a unique structure.
The characters of hope are evident throughout the poem as Dickinson carefully uses simple but powerful diction to compare the abstract feeling of hope to an animate being. In the first stanza, to present her view of how “hope” do something to human beings, the poet uses a series of verbs to describes hope as a bird that “perches” in our heart, “sings” the tune, and never “stops.” These actions emphasize hope’s characters as the feeling that will always uplift our spirits. Moreover, the repetition of the word “and” when describing those characters of hope “That perches in the soul- / And sings the tune without the words- / And never stops –at all-” (line 3-4) also conveys the ever-lasting quality of hope that affects on our lives.
            Another element in which the poet uses to express “hope” is her use of imagery. In the second stanza, to emphasize that hope will always stay in our souls even when we face any extreme hardships, Dickinson uses the image of a bird singing warmly in a severe storm. In addition, the poet also uses the auditory imageries of the bird’s melody in “the chilliest land” (line 9) and “the strangest sea” (line 10) to express that even in the worst-case scenario hope still remains within our souls. Furthermore, Dickinson also uses a concrete image of a crumb to emphasize the altruistic trait of hope as well because even in extremity, “it [never] ask[s] a crumb – of me” (line 12).
            In terms of structure, beneath the simple words and visual imagery, the poet presents the endless quality of hope through the repeated use of punctuations –dashes- at almost every lines of the three stanzas poem. In this case, not only the use of the certain punctuation help the readers have more understanding of the poet’s perspective, but also creates the never-ending sentence that keeps on flowing Dickinson’s ideal of hope.

            In this poem, Dickinson does a very effective job of using simple diction but full of imagery to emphasize the nature of hope. Throughout the neatly selection of language, imagery, and distinctive structure of this poem, the poet sharply defines her view of hope as the altruistic, fearless bird that will always uplift our spirits under every circumstances.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Stepping up a notch: Quality research as the key to educational innovation

Stepping up a notch: Quality research as the key to educational innovation

Einstein once said: “problems cannot be solved at the level of awareness that created them”. Tablet PCs cannot solve all of the problems that the Thai education system faces at the moment. However, they can help us in raising the level of awareness if one is willing to utilize it in the right way. Unfortunately for us educators and all of the students being subjected to the frequently changing policies of the ministry the tablets are not going to be used in this way, at least not in the near future.

On the 21st of February the first preliminary findings of the tablet PC pilot research project were published and in all honesty they were disappointing. Not in the least because of the outcome of the findings but foremost because of its lack of focus and poor design. It is observed that text books used are neither a good fit for the needs of the better developed schools nor for the schools in less privileged positions, that the battery life is limited to only 2 hours, and, that schools may face electricity shortages. There is absolutely nothing new or revealing about these findings other than that it is all mere common sense and observed in a wide body of locally published research. To me, the disappointing part of it is that research projects of this caliber and design are typical examples of exploratory undergraduate projects, not ministerially mandated research. There is an abundance of research freely available on the internet and it reports on a wide body of issues in making the paradigm shift to the digital classroom. Dozens of countries have preceded Thailand with similar issues and published their findings, flaws and pitfalls in well documented articles. Literally thousands of schools are organized in international networks on the net sharing findings and experiences on a daily basis. One would be rather surprised if the officials responsible for this project at the ministry have not taken the time to look into this wide network of knowledge available at just one mouse click away.

 The current approach to educational innovation forgoes the core principle of establishing a paradigm shift in pedagogical practice. Scanning textbooks and uploading them onto second rank devices with limited battery life is similar to building new fancy school buildings with the expectation that learning achievement will increase as a logical result. It has been mentioned in dozens of publications over the last year; the problem lies in the fact that we are not reaching the core of the issue, but we are working in the periphery.

So what is the core of the tablet PC project and how do we reach it? Two answers, the core is the paradigm shift to a pedagogy for learning in a digital age, and, awareness and subsequent action is how we reach the core. We have to ask ourselves if we really understand what it means to go through a paradigm shift. Recently, at a guest lecturer at Chulalongkorn University, Dr. Groves from Duquesne University, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, addressed this issue and compared it to playing chess and checkers. Both are board games but played with different pieces and different rules. Trying to play chess with checkers rules makes you lose and leaves you frustrated in the end because you don’t understand why you lost. It takes the combination of three factors, ability, willingness and readiness to accept the difference and this is where Thailand is seriously lagging behind. A digital classroom is not simply using (second rate) electronic devices to access the same learning materials being delivered through the same pedagogical practice. It comprises a whole different type of learning, teaching and materials.

So the question remains, how do we create higher levels of awareness? The answer is simple: through research addressing better formulated questions and carried out at a higher level of awareness of the issues at stake than our current practice. Investments in research do pay off and are far more sustainable than buying 800,000 tablets. In the case that the current quality levels cannot meet the requirements needed to raise the awareness of the problems created today, it might well be worth to hire resources from outside to carry out the research in collaboration with local researchers. These external resources have a fresh look on the issue and at the same time Thailand can seize the opportunity to become better connected to the international research community. I for one reach out a helping hand.

So where do these tablets PCs come in? They are the instruments that can enhance didactic work forms to establish more effective learning and teaching, but they are not the core element responsible for increased learning achievement. However, we can only start using them effectively if we understand the rules of the new game. As long as we don’t firmly grasp those, the tablets are going to be exactly what everyone fears they are going to be: from the students’ perspective a welcomed distraction from current classroom practices.

Freek Olaf de Groot
M.Ed. TESOL Programme Leader, Asian University.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Tablet PCs in lower primary education in Thailand: is it really the right time?

This article was originally posted in the Bangkok Post (12-10-2011)

In response to the election promise of the Pheua Thai Party to provide all first graders with a tablet computer to enhance learning and improve Thai students’ digital literacy skills, questions have been raised on how this should be incorporated into Thai education. Recent publications have raised issues such as the quality of the Tablet PCs, the schools’ digital infrastructure to facilitate the use of Tablet PCs in classrooms, and the need for teachers to be educated in this new form of learning and teaching. However, before we answer the question how to use tablet PCs in education we need to ask ourselves another question, namely that of whether it is the right moment in lower primary students’ cognitive development to introduce the use of Tablet PCs.

Students in grades 1-2 devote much of their energy and attention to develop first language literacy skills and mathematic skills. These skills have been emphasized by the Thai Ministry of Education as essential in any child’s learning and form the basis of their future education career. An opinion shared by many other education institutions around the world. It is not surprising that recently developed education models for early childhood education and early English language education recommend not to distract students during this stage of development. Lower primary school students need all their cognitive and attentional resources to focus on first language literacy development and mathematics.

Thailand is going to face great difficulties if it attempts to introduce tablet computers as fully fledged learning tools at the lower levels of primary education for a number of reasons. First of all, until now relatively few learning applications are available in Thai language and the Operating Systems (OS) used for tablets all feature English. This means that students have to acquire some form of basic proficiency in English to navigate their new learning tool. This has been acknowledged by Education minister Worawat Auapinyakul and he encouraged schools to provide extra English tuition to tackle this problem. However, this extra English tuition would unnecessarily interfere with the primary learning foci of Grades 1-2. Also, the abstract language needed to navigate the tablet is by no means a match for grade 1 or 2 students if it will be part of the instruction in class. Secondly, if the Tablet PCs are to be used as full learning tools the educational applications focused on Thai language and featured in Thai should currently be available. This, unfortunately, is not the reality in Thailand at the moment and even in Europe the major publishers are struggling to match learning content approved by local education authorities with currently available learning applications for tablet computers.

Education minister Worawat Auapinyakul claimed that the major benefit of the introduction of Tablet PCs in Thai education is that textbooks will be available on these tablets, which in turn would save a substantial amount of money and free students from their heavy backpacks. This, in its most simple form of application, would still pose the problems listed above. From an educational perspective it would not justify the introduction of tablet PCs if we go by the idea that any educational innovation should be focused on enhancing the learning experience. If we don’t pay attention to the arguments raised over the last months, the use of Tablet PCs in grade 1 will only hamper the learning experience.

If Thailand wants to portray itself to the outside world as innovative and establish its position as the hub of international education in Southeast Asia it should start collaborating with local and international publishers of Thai textbooks and learning materials to develop interactive learning applications for use in grades 4-6. At this stage of their education primary school students start using computers more independently at home and they will be better able to navigate and interact with the interface of tablet PCs. First language literacy skills have been fully attained and they will be better able to deal with more abstract concepts. In addition, they will be able to understand the abstract language and terminology in English needed to successfully use a Tablet PC in the classroom.

Thailand has a lot of potential but it should be warned by mistakes made in the past. Getting teachers to use tablet PCs in grade 1 is probably an educational innovation of a larger scope than the proposed paradigm shift from a teacher centered to a learner centered teaching style, the aim of the 1999 Educational Reform. It requires a thorough rethinking of how we approach learning and teaching in Thailand. Although Secretary General for the Office of the Basic Education Commission (OBEC) Chinnapat Bhumirat has announced that a manual is being developed to train Thai teachers how to use tablet PCs in education, its success is far from guaranteed if we have to judge it by the success rate of the implementation of last 1999 Education Reform. Thailand should be careful not to take success of educational innovation for granted on the basis of policy changes only.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

QR codes in English language teaching

I have just set my students an assignment in which I sent them a QR code of the website of our university's M.Ed in TESOL website. I have not told them it's called a QR code.

The quest is to find out what the picture/code is and how they can use it in their class. The objective is for them to use the internet in their search to unravel the code of the picture, download the apps onto their cellphone and view the website. This will not only improve my students' level of computer literacy and knowledge about online applications that can be used in class, but also show them the concept of 'hard fun' rather than just fun. (The concept and rationale of hard fun is explained in an article by Chris Johnson of NIDA called "Games, really?"

In addition I hope this will encourage them to think about ways in which they can get their English language learners to use their cell phones in class effectively within an educational framework with for instance QR codes in a PowerPoint Presentation.

I believe that using simple apps like this in class as part of an assignment, for instance a web-based information gap activity in which the assignment is posted online, will increase students' social and cognitive engagement in class in a pedagogically responsible way.

I hope that my students will find this website by using google with the right search terms in the labels that I have used for this post.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Overview of points addressed in assessment and evaluation class

Dear students,
In short, below you'll find an outline and some references to the points discussed in class today.

Factors influencing SLA:

L1. First language interference is a delicate issue. The extend to which it influences depends on the distance or the degree of difference between the L1 and L2. For more info on that pages 85-87 of the Lightbown and Spada book.

Major points: Grammar and syntax can influence L2 learning. Example: English uses verb inflections to add tense. Thai adds extra words to add tense to a message.
Word order is another example. English uses subject verb inversion in some cases of question formation. Thai has more freedom in word order without changing the meaning of the sentence.
Phonology and phonetics: First language Intonation and stress patterns can create difficulties in communication or even lead to a communicative break down. Thai is a tonal language. English is a stress timed language. English uses tones to add intention to a sentence. Thai uses tones to change the meaning of a word. In this case more problems would occur for the English speaker learning Thai than the Thai speaker learning English as far as tones are concerned.

Culture: Different mindsets lead to different associations of words and concepts. Concepts have different words in different cultures even though they might share the same language. Basically, a Thai learner of English will use English words that are closer to the perception of a Thai concept than someone from Europe would do.
Example given in class: fixed expressions with figurative meaning “What’s up?”. These are culturally related expressions that are often not easily translated if at all. They come forth from different behaviors in communication and different social relations. Think about the way of addressing someone in Thai, Pi and Nong, and the different names for family relations from father and mother’s side. In more general terms we say that different cultures have different communicative rules and strategies.

Language anxiety: this is the feeling of excitement, fear, anxiety that comes up when is learner is prompted to use the target language. It will impair second language production. Language anxiety is mostly associated with speaking skills but has also been found in writing and listening.

Motivation. The desire to master a certain skill and the willingness to put effort into learning this skill.
Motivated students have a desire to achieve a goal and this goal is some degree of proficiency in the target language. Motivation is considered to be one of the most if not the most influential factor in language learning.

Learner environment: Creating an encouraging and positive atmosphere will definitely increase the satisfaction of the learner. A good learning atmosphere is a prerequisite to learning languages it helps you and the student. A positive attitude toward the learning environment is stimulating the second language achievement in general.

The student. Students, learners, they are individuals. They have feelings, emotions and a history. As language learning is quite a personal experience these factors play a role in language learning as well. Some days students don’t want to learn, some days they’re great. It’s not up to you as a teacher to force students to learn anything. You can facilitate the language learning process through the above mentioned factors but you can’t push students.

Teacher: You as a teacher are largely responsible for the atmosphere in class. If you’re a repressive teacher your classes will feel different than a largely facilitating teacher who emphasizes students’ responsibility in language learning. You’re important as you’re an entity in the class who determines a lot but as it comes to learning and skills development, the students are the most important in class and you’re a facilitating factor in the learning process.

Hope this helps you a bit in understanding the blur of information of today's class.

spada and lightbown, how languages are learned 1997.
Schmitt N. Introduction to applied linguistics.

wikipedia articles:

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Using Thai movies in ELT

Thai movies in ELT

Below you'll find a kind of lengthy description of an idea that I worked out over the last couple of weeks. Please feel free to use it. It can be done with any class mathayom, or at university level. Even in adult classes it's no problem. It's a great and entertaining way to show students they can do more than just remember their lines.

The aim of this lesson is to label students’ already existing concepts with English words by relying on students’ common ground and as a result let students express emotions and feeling in their English language use. Movies provide a combination of authentic language, emotions and context. By using Thai movies in ELT you provide your students with two basic ingredients of communication: context and feeling. The third ingredient, authentic language is so to say your variable. A breakdown in communication is often the result of lack of context and or different perceptions of emotions. Thus by providing your students with a context they fully understand and the emotions that are closely related to them, you create common ground for the students and smoothen the usage of the target language. Language, at this point, has become a minor problem. Students can transfer, not translate, the Thai script of the movie into English by using the knowledge they have plus the extra knowledge they gain from the transfer. Even if they have limited knowledge it remains easier to transfer concepts they can relate to into English than something that is not akin. Another advantage, and very important factor, of the use of Thai movies is that they take place in Thailand and represent average daily life situations they can relate to.

I piloted this idea over the last couple of weeks with a Bed third year class that got stuck in automated language use. I wanted to get them away from the preprogrammed rehearsal and the memorization of lexical entries and let them ‘feel’ the concepts and the emotions they convey. As the students of this class are not world travelers and a lot of them haven’t even been to Bangkok yet, I thought it was useless to introduce English movies and ram the English meaning in. This would lead to the same result that I was trying to get away from: preprogrammed rehearsal and recitation. Also, I was trying to introduce the idea of acting as in two years from now some of them will be teachers and as far as I know teaching is performance and performance is often acting. How can you give natural input in an institutional setting without some good acting? Another huge advantage of acting is that the students are not themselves. They act out a character, so if they do anything out of the ordinary it’s not the student but the character. This seems to work great.

The project can be stretched out over a couple of weeks. To complete all the steps it took me about 2 full lectures of 3 hours with low-level B.ed 3rd year students.

Steps of the lesson:

- Students form groups of 4-5 students, have them form the groups on their own as this increases their autonomy and shows your faith in their abilities.

- They choose a Thai movie, preferably one with a foreigner in it, and discuss the movie. This gives them the chance to make a fool out of the foreigner, something they love to do, but also to relate to the foreigner, as one of them has to act out that particular role.

- Make sure that everyone understands the genre of the movie and have them brainstorm on the meaning of the movie. Everyone should have seen the movie or should see it before they start transferring it into English.
- They choose a scene that they find interesting and make sure they had enough roles for all the students.

- They find the Thai script on the Internet and copy the scene.

- They transfer the Thai into English as a group. Encourage them to use the dictionary as little as possible. This lowers the chance of awkward or low frequency word usage and encourages them to explore the boundaries of their English skills.

- Students choose a role that they are comfortable with and that they can relate to.

- Students try to get an idea of the character by making a profile of the character. Have them come up with a list of words that describes the characteristics of the character. This reinforces the links between English words and their concepts.

- Students start practicing the movie and come up with props that they need. Keep the usage of props limited. Let them focus on props that strengthen the characteristics of their role but do not replace the character or take away the essence and function of the language and consequently the objective of the lesson.

The actual classroom performance:

I built up their confidence with a couple of small acting activities.

- Act out a fruit. Students choose a fruit and act out how they feel if they were that fruit. A rich imagination of the teacher will definitely facilitate the outcome of this activity.

- Say: “Wow, you look great today” in different moods. Students pair up and say “Wow, you look great today” to each other in different moods. Sincere, sarcastic, sad, happy, crazy, etc. Model the activity clearly with a couple of students.

The final warm up activity before they actually start their acting is an activity that I borrowed from Dave Hopkins’ textbook, ‘Smooth Moves’. It’s called “Death in the afternoon”. It’s a simple skit that students can act out in different moods. For instructions and the dialogue please see Smooth Moves, page 83. The dialogue can be adjusted for lower level students. I rewrote it and adjusted it to their level. The skit can be hilarious and it takes away the anxiety and it reminds students of the mood they have to take up in the acting.

After that I gave the students a little break and some preparation time for their final task: Acting out their scenes.

At this moment I let the students take care of everything. It is their performance and their work. I sat down in a corner of the room and had them rearrange everything. The last thing I wanted to do was walk around and boss them around. I did this every time after I modeled the activity. Back off and sit down, let the students take over. Yes, sometimes it gets out of hand but who cares: they’re learning.

Any comments, suggestions, critics.. please let me know, it would be great if we can improve the lesson!

Monday, June 30, 2008

Independent studies week 5

Dear students,

Below again the requirements for your research topic for this Friday.

If you do a good job now, I'll guarantee you that you'll benefit from it later this term.

For this Friday hand in:

1. A narrowed down topic. e.g., Thai students' knowledge of the English holidays: Easter and Christmas. Or, motivation of Thai students of English, why don't they want to learn? or, Present perfect and past simple: problematic grammatical features for Thai students.

2. Explain your topic in detail. Tell me everything YOU know about it and what your sources say about it. What are you going to do? How are you going to do that? What are you going to discuss. Make it a detailed discussion of your topic

3. Describe/ summarize 3 sources: 2 internet sources and 1 library source. Take time to do this as you'll benefit from it later.

Hand it in on Friday the 4th of July before 15:00. Hand in a printed version, 12. times new roman, double line spacing. Approximately 500-700 words +- 10%

How to quickly read an article:

To method I gave you today in class:

1. Read the titles and the subtitles of each paragraph / chapter.
What is the article about? What do you think?

2. Read the first line of each paragraph/ chapter?
What is the article about? What kind of information does it give you?

3. Read the abstract and the conclusion.
Ask yourself: is the article relevant to my topic or not.

4. Read the full article with the guide below.

Reading techniques for reading a full article:

The following information comes from: accessed on 16/06/2008

How to read an article:

Reading Strategies
The reading strategies offered on this page will help you become a better reader. These strategies will work both in and out of the classroom, but are particularly useful in the classroom. If you learn and use the reading strategies on this page you will improve both your reading comprehension and test scores.

Strategy 1: Ignore words that are unimportant.
When reading, you may often come upon a word or phrase that you don't understand. Your first impulse may be to look up the word in your dictionary. Before resorting to a dictionary, though, you should first determine whether the word you don't know is important. If it isn't, then ignore it. Consider the following sentence.
The farvenugen truck was parked in front of the house.
What does the word farvennugen mean? You probably don't know. Right? Now ask yourself, Is the word farvennugen important in understanding the sentence? No, not really. We can tell that farvennugen is being used as an adjective, but it isn't important to the meaning of the sentence. The point of the sentence is where the truck was parked, not what kind of truck it is, so, we can ignore that word and still understand the sentence.

Strategy 2: Use the context to guess the meaning.
If you follow Strategy 1, and you determine that the word you don't know IS important, then before using a dictionary, try to guess the meaning of the word from the context. Context refers to the words and phrases surrounding the word that you don't understand. Once you think you have guessed the correct meaning, then look up the word in your dictionary to insure you have made a correct guess. Then practice using the word in different contexts. This will help you increase your understanding of the word, which in turn will help you increase your vocabulary.
Being able to guess the meaning of words from their context is a skill that is particularly helpful when you come across idioms. For example, in the sentence
Jimmy lost track of time and was late for class,
the phrase lost track of time is an idiom that means to forget about the time. If you didn't know the meaning of this idiom and you looked up each word in the
dictionary, you still would not understand the sentence.

Strategy 3: Scan for specific information.
Scanning is a skill that requires that you read quickly while looking for specific information. To scan a reading text, you should start at the top of the page and then move your eyes quickly toward the bottom. Generally, scanning is a technique that is helpful when you are looking for the answer to a known question. This is especially helpful when taking a test.

Strategy 4: Skim for general information.
Like scanning, skimming requires you to read quickly. When you skim a text, though, you are not looking for specific information, but rather, you are trying to get the main idea or point of the text you are reading. When skimming a reading selection, start with the title of the text, then read the topic sentence of each paragraph. Skimming is a skill that is especially suited for doing research. By skimming a few pages of a reference book or novel, you can generally tell if the book or novel will be useful for your research.

Strategy 5: Read in units or chunks of words.
When we see sentences written on paper, we see words that are separated by spaces. What we hear when we speak, though, are not words but sounds. Words are separated by spaces on paper for convenience. Reading is similar to speaking because people who are proficient readers read sentences in units of words rather than one word at a time. This skill takes practice, but if mastered is well worth the effort.