Another dot in the blogosphere?

Posts Tagged ‘english

Today I reflect on three seemingly disparate topics. However, all have a theme of not compromising on standards. They are standards of English, decency, and learning.

I spotted this sign at a Fairprice grocery store. It urged patrons to think of the environment.

You cannot use less plastic bags, but you can use less plastic the way you can use less water. The water and plastic are uncountable. Plastic bags are countable so you should use fewer of them.

Actually you should try not to use any plastic bags by carrying your own recyclable bags. If you do that, the sign reads another way: Do you part for the environment. Useless plastic bags!

If standards of basic rules of English have not slipped, we would see fewer of such signs (countable property) and I would be less of an old fart (uncountable property).

Speaking of which, a fellow old fart (OF) responded to a Facebook troll who had terribly warped priorities when commenting on the kids who lost their lives during the Sabah earthquake.

The troll focused on the fact that the deceased could not take their Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE) later this year. When OF called the troll to task, the latter became indignant.

OF discovered that the troll was a student in a local school, and while not all kids act this way, OF wondered in subsequent comments how the standards of human decency seemed to have slipped.

I baulk at the fact that some teachers wait for official Character and Citizenship Education (CCE) materials to be prepared and distributed instead of using everyday examples like these. They are far more timely, relevant, and impactful.

To reiterate what I mentioned yesterday about bad advice for teachers, how are adults to realize what kids are writing and thinking if they do not follow them on social media? You need to be on the ground to see what is good and bad about it.

Parents and teachers should not be reacting in a way so that there is less social media use because that is unrealistic. When someone cannot write or speak well, you do not tell them to write or speak less; you tell them to practice more (after you coach them and provide feedback).
 

 
The third use-less/useless example comes from this Wired article about the change in Twitter leadership.

The author contrasted Twitter’s previously “unruly, algorithm-free platform” with Facebook’s. This was not a negative statement about Twitter because stalwarts value the power of human curation and serendipity.

However, those new to Twitter might view the platform as useless and choose to use less and less of it until they stop altogether. They do not stay long enough to discover its value.

The slipping standard here is learning to persist. I can see why school systems like the ones in the USA are including “grit” in their missions or using the term in policy documents.
 

 
But is grit the central issue?

What if the adults do not have a complete picture and are creating policies and curricula that are as flawed as the “use less” sign?

What if they should actually be spending more time on social media not just to monitor their kids and students but also to connect with other adults so that they learn the medium and the message deeply?

One key answer to these questions is about the ability of adults to keep on learning. We should not be holding kids and students to one standard (it is your job to study what I tell you) and holding ourselves to another (I have stopped learning or I have learnt enough).

Do this and you put yourself on the slippery slope of sliding standards. When standards slip, they are not always as obvious as badly-composed signs or insensitively-written Facebook postings. The refusal to learn can be insidious and lead to a lack of positive role models for kids and students to emulate.

As I reflect today, I link a viral video of a road accident, a cockroach infestation in an apartment, and a forum letter about the public standard of English.
 

Video source
 
Late last week a local dashcam video went viral. It was of a female pedestrian being hit by a taxi while crossing the road even though the light was in her favour.

If you asked just five people what they thought, you would likely have got five different opinions. There are many comments at the original Facebook page.

Some people blame the pedestrian for not being more aware of her surroundings or say she should not have been looking at her phone while crossing. I agree that she could have been more careful, but that muddles the issue and dilutes the blame.

The issue is the carelessness of the driver; the blame is on the driver. The car approached from the left and rear of the woman. Even if she was not on the phone, she would have needed eyes on the sides of her head to have seen the car coming.

Complex situations rarely have clear answers. But if this was a court case, the law has clear standards. In this case, the standard was that the pedestrian had the right of way. As stupid as it is to not pay attention to the road while crossing it, it is not the time to focus on mobile walking.

Mobile walking is an issue and new standards must be negotiated to address it. But let us not muddle the issues or dilute the blame.

 

Video source
 
In more shocking and perhaps stomach-churning news, local papers were set alight to the news of an apartment infested with cockroaches due to the hoarding habit of an occupant.

The road accident happened in the blink of an eye, the infestation was, by one account, at least 16 years in the making.

In separate accounts, everyone except the couple staying at the “roach motel” claims to have tried to do something. These include the children of the couple (who moved out when they grew up); the neighbours (who have to deal with the problem on a daily basis and are stuck with the problem); and various authorities (who the rest look to but seem quite powerless).

Interestingly, it seemed to require a viral video of the infestation for authorities to take concerted action.

However you look at it, the overriding issue is public health and safety. That is the standard to consider first before neighborliness, being tolerant, or social intervention.

All that said, even with standards of public housing and soft social contracts in place, the infestation was allowed to happen. Everyone involved, even the poor neighbours, had some role in letting the infestation grow.

Let us not muddle the issue. The blame is shared.

In #edsg, there is a lively debate following this tweet.

A writer concerned with the standard of written and spoken English wrote this letter to the ST online forum [archive].

The plea is straightforward: Can something be done to arrest the slide in English as spoken and written here? The writer is not the first to bring this up and she will not be the last. This time round, the examples that were cited included public signs and the poor problem-definition of the viral Cheryl’s birthday math/logic problem.

The debate on #edsg is likely to confuse. Note that depending on how tweeps replied, some responses might not be captured in the thread.

The issues of language acquisition and evolution are complex to say the least. The issues are muddled and it is tempting to lay blame to single sources.

The blame is shared and we must be honest about the problem, accepting the blame, and collectively designing solutions.

The problem is very public. It is only viewed as a problem if there are standards and standard bearers. The writer was brave enough to stand up and be counted.

The problem is also one that developed over a long time, longer than the behaviours that caused the roach infestation. It is an insidious one: Not as immediate and shocking as the traffic accident, and even harder to detect than hoarding behind closed doors.

The problem could be more obvious. If it is not, a week of critically examining posters, brochures, or public notices will reveal the problem. Alternatively, a simple Google search of Cheryl’s birthday explanations and critical examination of those explanations will reveal how language is fused with logic. It will also show how those with a better command of the language are better at defining and solving the problem.

From a systemic perspective, it is important to peel away the symptoms (grammatically poor notices and bad explanations) and find the root problems.

While the home environment is a critical start for language acquisition and formation, it is not a pivot point that system managers can manipulate easily. However, they have greater control as to what happens in schools and para-education (tuition, libraries, museums, etc.). Kids spend much of their time in such environments and there are standards for instruction here.

As educators of a nation, teachers, private tutors, and para-educators might have to own up to feeling “uncool” to have and maintain standards of English. For example, teachers might say that if they speak proper English, they risk not connecting with their students.

Our educators must maintain standards of English. I do not mean this in a muddy-duddy way, but because it is the right thing to do. By “fuddy-duddy” I mean blindly or stubbornly following tradition. By “doing the right thing” I mean recognizing that language evolves but also realizing that clear communication must exist for the sake of transnational and transgenerational dialogue.

If we fail our kids, we let it happen, individually and collectively. There is no muddling of issues here: We are to blame.

This entry is not about edtech. It is about English and serendipity.

A short while ago, @hychan_edu retweeted on Twitter:

Out of curiosity, I investigated that link. If you place any weight on that study, then Singapore is behind the Philippines, Malaysia, and India in terms of competent business English.

At first I wondered how far we had fallen. Then I wondered if we were even up there at all. As if to answer my question with an anecdote, I experienced something as I stood in a queue to collect a parcel from a post office later that evening.

The chap behind me started a loud phone conversation and seemed able to talk only in three-word sentences like “You go where?” and “There got what?”

In my head I was correcting him with equally short but grammatically more correct sentences like “Where are you?” and “What’s available there?”

One person does not represent the whole, but this is becoming more common than any English teacher might like.

Then again, there is an increasing number of English teachers who do not model good spoken or written English. I find myself correcting the English of student teachers during practicum even though I was not an English teacher.

Singaporeans take pride in being able to code switch. I code switch as the circumstances dictate. But the problem is that there seems to be one predominant code now and it is buggy.

I cannot offer broad solutions because this is not my area of expertise. But I will do what I can as a parent and an educator. I will do what I do with values: Model good practice. Come join me?

Tags:

Warning: Rant ahead…

Today, I blog as a parent whose child has started Primary school. But my perceptions are nowhere complete and I stand to be corrected.

I wonder why Science is not offered as a subject in the lower Primary levels. If Science is embedded in the other subjects, I’d be happy because then the subjects are not taught or learnt in silos. But there is little evidence that Science is taught or integrated into Math or English. There is some bad Science as I will illustrate later.

Science, or more specifically, the initial inquiry process of Science, is something most kids take to naturally. As they discover the world around them, they ask what something is, how something happens and why.

Good kindergartens seem to leverage on this by providing experiences and lessons on Science. Kids also learn about the world around them on their own, with the support of resources provided by their parents or from the books and computers in the local library. Just listen to kids talk about dinosaurs, exchange strategies on Plants vs Zombies or share what they read in Kids National Geographic magazine.

But when my son entered Primary 1, he did not get a formal or integrated Science curriculum. I did get a flyer from the school offering optional reading materials thoughtfully prepared by tree-killing publishers. Those materials were vastly inferior to resources freely available online.

My son’s school does have a LEGO NXT programme that is integrated with the rest of the curriculum, but that seems to happen much less often than the serendipitous Science lessons he gets outside school by watching kid-friendly TV, reading magazines and books, searching the Internet, making personal discoveries during our walks, etc.

I could start writing about how deschooling seems to make even more sense, but something else grabbed me by the eyeballs.

There was bad “Science” embedded in at least one English lesson (see highlighted questions in the worksheet). Kids should know that a kangaroo’s pouch is not tiny (a whole joey fits in there), that all rabbits do not have white tails (duh!) and that leopards do not have spots on their skin (it is their fur that creates the pattern).

I doubt that there is a conspiracy to squash the natural curiosities of kids by excluding Science from the early Primary curriculum. But there are factual errors in the existing curriculum that do no favours to Science.

I like “teach less, learn more” because doing that is an art. But I dislike “teach mess, learn flaw” because that is just irresponsible.


http://edublogawards.com/files/2012/11/finalistlifetime-1lds82x.png
http://edublogawards.com/2010awards/best-elearning-corporate-education-edublog-2010/

Click to see all the nominees!

QR code


Get a mobile QR code app to figure out what this means!

Archives

Usage policy

%d bloggers like this: