Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Strengthening English, Reinstating BM

Was invited to attend a dialogue yesterday on Strengthening the Teaching of English at the Curriculum Development Centre of the Ministry of Education.

30 of us, mostly academics and stakeholders from a wide range of institutions and bodies sat together all morning and into the afternoon to brainstorm practical ways in which the teaching and learning of English in Malaysia could be enhanced, now that the Science and Maths in English idea has been junked. (It had to be, I think, given the low competence in English of so many of the science and maths teachers.)

It was a very positive brainstorming session with ideas on everything from the recruitment and training of teachers to the curriculum to classroom activities to school libraries being shared, and eventually a list of recommendations being drawn up.

Many of us though shared the feeling that all this is ground we've been over many times before : "Weren't we saying this 20/30 years ago? Has anything changed?" was a refrain.

The rational for the change ...

A quick impromptu photo at the end of the day - and thanks Elizabeth Lee, Sunway College Principal, for both the photos and a lift home.

While we were talking about English in one room, another focus group (which includes my friends, authors Utthaya Sankar S.B. and Faisal Tehrani) and talked about the way forward for the Malay language. Things got a little more heated here, I understand! But perhaps someone else can give the details ...

16 comments:

Richard said...

So what was the conclusion of the meeting?

My secret formula for learning English is to read, read and read! Build more libraries in rural areas!

When I give English lessons I make my students read out loud and I correct their pronunciation. I also give them dictation to force them to listen.

bibliobibuli said...

lots of conclusions - a whole list of 'em about all aspects of improving english.

included recommendations about school libraries, involving parents more in the classroom as teaching assistants to hear kids read etc, training parents to read to their kids and support kids homework, ensuring kids with literacy problems are picked up and supported early ...

reading aloud is a double edged thing though - good at primary level while they are learning but can actually create slow inefficient readers since reading is done with the eyes and we have to get kids over sub-vocalisation.

bibliobibuli said...

oh brillliant. the best paper on the for and against arguments for reading aloud is online

college admission essay help said...

The basic component in improving your English skills is reading aloud and trying to understand what words meant.

bibliobibuli said...

college admission essay - not really. please do read the article i linked to and chew it over a bit.

it's a practice i try to get my own teacher training students over as quickly as possible! and of course they are just aping what THEIR teachers did without any thought of how readers actually learn to become efficient.

sure, sounding out the words is good for primary kids and gives us a way to find out where they are at, but we need to move kids beyond that pretty quickly. efficient readers don't sound out words when they read, they take in chunks of text at a glance and use peripheral vision.

there are huge problems slow and marginal readers in malaysia who never learn to read quickly enough to enjoy a book!! teachers relying on getting students to read aloud in class may well (unwittingly) be a factor that contributes to it.

but if you still feel you want to do it in your classroom, do make sure that students have plenty of opportunity for silent reading and do your best to force the pace of them processing a text.

pronunciation is better taught in more fun ways eg minimal pairs, tongue twisters, dialogues

btw have taught methodology of teaching for many years.

Richard said...

I teach one child at a time, not classrooms. This boy I'm tutoring now understands English okay. He doesn't need me to sit beside him while he reads quietly. He can do that at home. If I employ a native English teacher I would want him to be talking as much as possible while I listen and absorb. That's my rationale.

I taught my own kids in the same way and they don't have any reading problems. Plus, they can say "The thief stole my teeth" very clearly. :)

Coming back to the main topic, I grew up in KL and the only reason my English has reached this level is because I read a lot. No short cuts, no substitution.

bibliobibuli said...

i'm sure you are a very good teacher Richard and i am sure you know what is best for the kids you tutor.

what i am against is the pattern of read-aloud teaching which takes place in schools with secondary students totally in lieu of extensive reading practice and the teaching of the skills readers need.

i have run courses in speed reading at tertiary level and found most of the malaysian students i taught read slowly with poor retention and and often with sub-vocalisation.

Anonymous said...

"Rasional" ...Jeesus...

- Poppadumdum

Damyanti said...

Reading aloud is one of the best ways to learn a language at a primary level. But it is counterproductive at a later stage.

I'm taking Italian, and now that I am more or less fluent, I find that reading Italian books silently like I would read English books helps a lot.

Anonymous said...

I sub-vocalise - how do you read without sub-vocalising? And I'm not an auditory person at all ...

And I like to hear the words sometimes, if only in my head :) esp poetry.

As for learning English, I had the tremendous good luck of attending a convent school, where even though the medium of instruction was BM, everything else (school assemblies, everyday chitchat among students, nagging by the disciplinary teacher) was in English. In fact I ended up more fluent in English than in BM simply because English was the language I used everyday.

Just for the record, my BM did improve tremendously the one year I spent in a school where the medium of instruction was English but the "everyday" language was Malay.

I guess the dispiriting conclusion is, what you as a teacher do in the classroom is less important than what language the disciplinary teacher nags in. :P

bibliobibuli said...

there are different reading skills needed for different kinds of text and yes, with poetry you need to read slowly and read aloud sometimes too. above all learners need to know how to adjust reading spped and skill to text type ...

katztales said...

If I may in my two Sen worth.... Psychologist Howard Gardener proposed the theory of multiple intelligences. This suggests that each person demonstrates his or her intelligence in varying degrees in seven distinct forms.

These styles are: Verbal/Linguistic that is the ability to use language, Logical/Mathematical that is the ability to use logic and numbers, Visual/Spatial that focuses on image perception, Music/Rhythmic that focuses on music, Body/Kinesthetic that relies on body movement and touch, Interpersonal that is the ability to understand and relate well to others and Intrapersonal where people have strong personal insight and deliberation.

I think Malaysians are more inclined towards Visual than Verbal styles - which has an effect on reading competency when compared to cultures like the UK that are (I believe) much more Verbal than Visual.

Richard said...

I was not trained as a teacher and, frankly, won't have a clue how to teach in a classroom. :)

As far as I'm concerned, tuition should always be one-to-one.

bibliobibuli said...

yes, multiple intelligences should be taken into account in what goes on in the classroom. (it is certainly included in teacher-training courses). i think individuals in any country/culture vary enormously, but I'd agree that on the whole Malaysians are very visually gifted.

Richard, kids need the kind of one-on-one teaching you offer, and in fact this is what parents need to learn to do - reading with them and talking about texts.

Jessie said...

Hi Sharon...its a huge challenge teaching English here in this country..being an ESL speaker myself I find it very challenging despite having a slightly deeper understanding of the challenges faced by the students..one serious thing I find lacking among the students is the lack of extensive reading leading to the lack of familiarity with the various subject matter included in their reading or writing tests..i have been thinking hard about this issue for the past few years..only this year I was able to come up with extra 'programmes'(like 'our voices', Readers' Digest, Just English and 'What's Your Decision Interactive Reading) in school that could contribute to develop these skills and the latest addition to the programme is the NST sponsorship programme...i can't wait to receive them within tis week so my NIE activities can be started...one has to be passionate about TESL..passionate enough to seek new approaches to teach it ...thank you for allowing us to send comment here..

bibliobibuli said...

Jessie - you are absolutely right and it sounds as if your students are very fortunate to have you.