Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Never Did Finish the Second Round of 28daysofwriting

And no, I never did!  However, I am about to start my trip across the states and I will easily be writing most days.  There may be time between blogs but that will only be because I am on the road and where there is no wifi.

I have talked about the itinerary before but here it is again!  I fly to Toronto and spend two nights, I then take a train to Windsor, cross the border to Detroit, and take Amtrak to Ann Arbor where I am going to stay with a former colleague for a few days.  After that, it's back on the train to Chicago and then down to Kansas City.  I'm there for 3 days and then off again on Amtrak to Reno, Nevada.  I'll be there for nearly 2 weeks and then I do the final leg on Amtrak to San Francisco before flying back to Canada.

Along the way, I'll visit friends and former colleagues, read books set in the cities and towns I'm visiting, listen to my music and study a bit of Latin.  I am really looking forward to this!

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Back Again!

(I hadn't meant to take this much of a break from writing during the better part of April.  It just seemed to happen that way.  First I was in Taipei, then I was coping with jet lag (which didn't make me sleepy tired by destroyed my cognitive abilities), and finally we arrive at this week! )

So, #28daysofwriting round 2 post 16!  My, my March has gone on a long time!

I hadn't meant to talk about Taipei in my #28daysofwriting posts but my slow debrief (if that is the right word) after my visit, has led me to some observations.  One in particular jumps out at me since we are in the lead up to a general election.  In 2012, the voter turn out in Taiwan was over 76%.  For presidential election in 2000, it was 82%.  In the UK, it was 65%.  In 2001, it was 59%.

I've been pondering what conclusions to draw from this.  I did notice that Taiwan's voter turnout has generally been on the increase, especially since the death of Chiang Kai-shek.  The voter turnout in western countries such as the UK, the United States, Canada and France, have gone from high turn out in the 50s and 60s to ever increasing lows.

When I was in Taipei, a lady I met talked about life under the nationalist Chinese and Chiang Kai-shek and compared it to the North Korea of today.  Since people have been able to vote freely and had options other than the one party, they have taken to democracy whole heartedly!  Do we need a few years of a dictatorship to shake off our lethargy and indifference, (and I do talk here of the west as a whole and not the UK in particular), and make us realise the value and importance of our democratic freedoms.

Oh dear, I do sound as if I am beating a drum here.  I don't mean to.  Furthermore, I do understand how this could have happened.  Slowly the major parties have been merging and at one point during the labour government under Tony Blair, Labour seemed more conservative than the conservatives.

Scotland seemed this fall to have rediscovered enthusiasm for the democratic process and I do envy them the excitement that seems to have been generated.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Post 15 part 2 of #28daysofwriting: Taiwan and First Impressions!

I did wonder at one point if I would ever take off from Heathrow and then later, whether or not I would ever get off the plane.  Having said that, I did take off and I did land, first at Bangkok, and then finally at Taiwan, oh so many hours later.  I had decided before leaving that I would have a device-less flight and instead read a book or do some writing.  Well, that plan fell apart before we ever got off the ground and after a two hour delay, all I wanted to do was sleep once I got on board.  I packed 3 books in my backpack...well I was on a 17 hour flight!  I will take a lesson from this and not take so many books when I go to North America.  Why didn't you take a mobile device, I hear you say.  Well, as I said, I wanted to go without my I-pad and truth be told, I much prefer physical books!  I learned another lesson from this flight as well.  The next time I fly a long distance, I am going to spend the money for a more comfortable seat.

Enough of the flight!  Despite the delay in London, we arrived only an hour or so late in Taiwan. As we drove from the airport to Taipei, I couldn't help comparing the city with many I have seen in the US, except of course, for the Chinese-English signs.    There were wide highways and sweeping overpasses.  The traffic sped along and then emptied into the wide treed, city boulevards. At intersections, the stoplights counted down, often as much as 90 seconds, giving pedestrians plenty of time to cross. Western shops lined the streets, many of them high end designer labels, interspersed with local ones and on every corner, or so it seemed, a 7 Eleven. I was later to discover that 7 Elevens are so much more in Taiwan than their counter parts in the US but that for a later post.

And then my taxi started to climb, up through the ever narrowing streets.  I had no idea till this point that Taipei is surrounded by mountains and that my daughter lived part way up one of them.  The taxi took a sharp turn, dipped down a narrow road and crossing a bridge, we arrived at the entrance to the complex of appartment buildings where I was to stay.  Even though it was dark, the street lights revealed a mass of white bricked buildings with red tiled rooves and over hangs.  It wasn't beautiful but it was impressive. And standing outside one of them was Emma.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Farewell 28daysofwriting!

I have not been very good in my second round of 28daysofwriting at keeping up with things.  Now that I am on the Easter half term break and heading off to Taipei, there is even less likelihood that I will.  However, when I come back I will have plenty of tales to tell of my travels!  Best wishes to all for a good and restful break.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Post 15 Round 2 of #28daysofwriting: Note taking and summarising: The Continuing Saga!

I don't know if this post really counts in 28 days of writing since I have been working on it for days, it seems.  Certainly I will have spent more than 28 minutes on it once I have finished!

Note taking and summarising: The Continuing Saga!

Having come to the conclusion that we must somehow (somewhere, sometime) start to teach summary skills, the obvious place to start would be in the English classroom.  However, we would also have opportunities to hone these skills in various other curriculum areas where students are required to read non-fiction texts and take notes for research.  At my school, I would suggest that humanities and science would be ideal subject areas in which to start.  Students do a lot of research projects in both these subjects.  The trick now is to come up with activities which teachers will not find too time consuming (i.e. which take time away from their subject matter)  and which appear beneficial, in a timely fashion.  If it takes a school year before students are showing progress, I think that would discourage teachers.

The first article I looked at is a pdf entitled, Summarizing Strategies, and is well work downloading. In 24 pages, it offers background information, strategies, teaching activities and a good bibliography. I haven't 'digested' it all yet but will and hope to comment further at a later date.

On the first page, the article mentions a site for teachers of history (any humanities subject really) to assist them in helping students with reading comprehension in such a content and reading heavy subject.  The information appears to be secondary school related though I am sure that some of it could be adapted.  I will definitely be suggesting this site to my humanities department.  Again, a further analysis of the site will come at a later date.

And finally (for today anyway), though written in 1988, Teaching Students to Summarize offers a good explanation of summary skills, the importance of developing these skills, how they develop, what teachers can do, and the importance of starting early.

The more I read, the more I am convinced that summary skills are overlooked in the curriculum of my school and that they are vitally important to help students understand the texts they are reading and take notes from them.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Post 14 of Round 2 of #28daysofwriting: Magazines, journals and newspapers

I have spent part of this evening exploring the International Literacy Association's website to which I now have access to as part of my membership.  I have been changing priorities in my periodical collections and am starting to spend less of my budget on recreational reading and more on professional magazines and journals for teachers.  I used to have an avid readership of my magazines and newspapers but I am finding that students are less and less inclined to read them.  I got rid of a few this year and I will do the same when subscriptions run out over the next few months.  It saddens me but even the teachers aren't reading magazines such as National Geographic, New Scientist, the Economist and even Wired and Focus.  All this is to say, that I decided to buy a membership in the ILA and have access for teachers to their journals on reading and reading research.  What better place for me to look for articles on summarising and précis writing, a topic I have been boring you with over the last few posts!

I have just started to research the back issues of the journal Reading Teacher and hope to find some useful articles but there it will have to remain for tonight since I have become far too tired to carry on with reading the articles once I have found them.  They do require that you are alert!  I shall keep yu posted on my reading in future blogs.  Good Night!

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Post 13 (Notice I'm behind!) of Round 2 of #28daysofwriting Importance of summarising skills

So sick, so a holiday must be coming soon!  Here's hoping I get over this cold before it starts!  I really don't want to spend my holiday in Taipei sick.

Red Nose Day events followed by my cold have slowed me down considerably.  I've reverted to doing admin work, in particular getting caught up on cataloguing and processing books.  I've just placed a large order which should start to come in next week so I will have a lot to catalogue after the break.  I also have 18 books to read for the Battle of the Books.  I may try and take a few of those with me to Taiwan.

Back to Exploring the Question of Note Taking and Research

It is so frustrating when something is blindingly obvious but you keep missing it.  Thank heavens, I finally realised that the problem of students not taking notes when they researched was not because they lacked a format but because they probably didn't know how to summarise or précis.  I'm not sure when it was last week that I realised this but I'm so glad that I did.

As far as I can see at this point, there is nowhere in our curriculum where we teach students how to summarise.  I'm not even sure how you go about teaching it though I could hazard a guess.  Luckily, the Internet is there with all sorts of resources to explore on the subject.

My first stop was Reading Rockets .  Below is taken directly from the site and explains the reason for teaching summarizing:

Why use summarizing?

  • It helps students learn to determine essential ideas and consolidate important details that support them.
  • It enables students to focus on key words and phrases of an assigned text that are worth noting and remembering.
  • It teaches students how to take a large selection of text and reduce it to the main points for more concise understanding.
Next there is a simple lesson plan that could be used in subject area:

How to use summarizing

  1. Begin by reading OR have students listen to the text selection.
  2. Ask students the following framework questions:
    1. What are the main ideas?
    2. What are the crucial details necessary for supporting the ideas?
    3. What information is irrelevant or unnecessary?
  3. Have them use key words or phrases to identify the main points from the text.

Though step one suggest that the teacher read or have the students listen to a text selection, I wonder if you could simply have the students read it themselves.  I wonder what the advantage is to reading it to them.

There are several good handouts which could be used as they are or edited for use with students.  I will ponder this question of teacher reading the passage versus students reading to themselves and return to this another day.