Thursday, September 30, 2010

Poem: In The Midst Of Hardship (original Malay version)

Dear All,

This poem will be of interest to Malaysian English language secondary school teachers (and students too) especially those who are teaching or learning Form 4 English Liteature Component.

It's the Malay version of the poem : In The Midst of Hardship by Latiff Mohideen.

I usually find for translated works such as poems, the original meaning may be lost or at best distorted and inaccurately translated.

Anyway, do enjoy the Malay version.

Rodney Tan

Malay version of In the Midst of Hardship

Dalam Bencana
Mereka pulang ke rumah
waktu subuh hari
dengan pakaian robek basah
menghampiri api tungku
lengan mereka penuh calar
kaki mereka penuh luka
tapi di kening mereka
tidak kelihatan rasa kecewa
Sehari semalaman
mereka mengharungi banjir
berendam antara bangkai ternakan
dan serpihan kulit tumbuhan
kerbau balar si buyung
masih belum ditemui.
Mereka dilahirkan dalam bencana
tidak ada keluhan dan kutukan
kini mereka berjenaka di dapur
sambil menggulung rokok daun.

Latiff Mohideen 

Contest for Children: British Council's Old Possum's Children's Poetry Competition 2010

Came across this on the British Council Teachers site:

LearnEnglish Kids is once more running the Old Possum's Children's Poetry Competition in partnership with the Children's Poetry Bookshelf.

Children aged between 7-11 years old who live outside the United Kingdom and who are learning English as a second or foreign language will be able to enter the international category of the competition. Judging for the competition will be chaired by British poet Roger McGough. The winning poems will be published on the LearnEnglish Kids and Children's Poetry Bookshelf websites, and all winners will win prizes of books. The competition opens on September 10th 2010 and closes on October 15th 2010. To have a look at last year's winning poems click here:

The competition is open to all learners of English aged between 7 and 11 years old. It is a great opportunity to introduce poetry into your classroom, and to get your pupils writing their own poetry. You'll find ideas for using poetry in your classroom on this page. There is also a teachers' guide (attached below) which has been prepared by UK poet Mandy Coe which has lots of great ideas to help you get started.

You can find more info here:

37 Interesting Things To Know

Dear All,

Here's another variation of the interesting facts material for your enjoyment.

Rodney Tan
37 Interesting Things To Know

1. Coca-Cola was originally green.

2. The most common name in the world is Muhammad.

3. The name of all the continents ends with the same letter that they start with.

4. The strongest muscle in the body is the tongue.

5. There are two credit cards for every person in the United States.

6. TYPEWRITER is the longest word that can be made using the letters only on one
row of the keyboard.

7. Women blink nearly twice as much as men!

8. You can't kill yourself by holding your breath.

9. It is impossible to lick your elbow.

10. People say "Bless you" when you sneeze because when you Sneeze, your heart
stops for a millisecond.

11. It is physically impossible for pigs to look up into the sky.

12. The "sixth sick sheik's sixth sheep's sick" is said to be the toughest tongue
twister in the English language.

13. If you sneeze too hard, you can fracture a rib. If you try to Suppress a sneeze;
you can rupture a blood vessel in your head or neck and die.

14. Each king in a deck of playing cards represents great king from History.
"Spades" - King David; "Clubs" - Alexander the Great; "Hearts" - Charlemagne;
"Diamonds" - Julius Caesar.

15. 111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987, 654,321

16. If a statue of a warrior on a horse has both front legs in the air, the person
died in battle. If the horse has one front leg in the air, the person died as a
result of wounds received in battle. If the horse has a all four legs on the
ground, the person died of natural causes.

17 What do bullet proof vests, fire escapes, windshield wipers and laser printers
all have in common?

Ans. - All invented by women.

18. Honey - This is the only food that doesn't spoil.

19. A crocodile cannot stick its tongue out.

20. A snail can sleep for three years.

21. All polar bears are left handed.

22. American Airlines saved $40,000 in 1987 by eliminating one olive from each
salad served in first-class.

23. Butterflies taste with their feet.

24. Elephants are the only animals that can't jump.

25. In the last 4000 years, no new animals have been domesticated.

26. On average, people fear spiders more than they do death.

27. Shakespeare invented the word 'assassination' and 'bump'.

28. Stewardesses is the longest word typed with only the left hand.

29. The ant always falls over on its right side when intoxicated.

30. The electric chair was invented by a dentist.

31. The human heart creates enough pressure when it pumps out to the body to
squirt blood 30 feet.

32. Rats multiply so quickly that in 18 months, two rats could have over million

33. Wearing headphones for just an hour will increase the bacteria in your ear by
700 times.

34. The cigarette lighter was invented before the match.

35. Most lipstick contains fish scales.

36. Like fingerprints, everyone's tongue print is different.

37. And finally 99% of people who read this will try to lick their elbow.

Views: English mastery not needed to achieve Vision 2020, says Idris Jala

Dear All,

In Malaysia, the debate whether English is needed to ensure that we succeed in economics is still being debated. However, in terms of education policy, it is a settled matter as the nation will revert back to the teaching of Maths & Science in the MAlay language.

Here's a cabinet minister's view on that matter & his take is we don't need the English language to succeed & achieve the targets of VISION 2020 -- our national developed nation objective.

The article explains about the on going debate.

Rodney Tan
English mastery not needed to achieve Vision 2020, says Idris Jala

By Boo Su-LynSeptember 29, 2010

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 29 – Cabinet minister Datuk Seri Idris Jala has dismissed the need for proficiency in the English language to achieve the Vision 2020 goal of becoming a high-income nation.

His view contradicted opinions by AmBank Group chairman Tan Sri Datuk Azman Hashim and the English-language lobby group PAGE, who have said that mastery of the lingua franca was crucial in transforming Malaysia to a knowledge economy.

“You can be a high income economy with the national language,” said Idris (picture) at the CEO Forum organised by the Perdana Leadership Foundation today.

He cited examples like Korea and Japan that became high-income nations without mastering the English language.

“We need to remember that Korea became a high-income nation without using English. Japan went without that too,” said the Performance Management & Delivery Unit (Pemandu) CEO.

Azman, however, warned that failure to master the English language was akin to “handicapping” the country in its bid to increase innovation and competitiveness as it was the dominant language in the world of knowledge.

“We are handicapping ourselves to be innovative and competitive,” Azman had said.

The banker also slammed policy reversals for creating a generation of graduates who lacked proficiency in the language.

The decision to abolish the policy of the teaching of science and mathematics in English — popularly referred to by its Malay acronym, PPSMI — last year was widely seen as a political move to appease Malay language nationalists.

Since then, many have expressed concern that it would cause the standard of English in the country to further deteriorate and hurt the country’s competitiveness.

Idris, however, stressed today that education quality mattered more than the medium of instruction.

“The quality of education is the point,” said the minister in the Prime Minister’s Department.

Malaysia dropped two spots in the World Economic Forum (WEF) competitiveness index this year and ranked 26 out of 132 countries.

The ranking of educational institutions in Malaysia has also dived throughout the past years to the point of dropping out of the top 200 universities in the QS World University Rankings this year.

PAGE has urged the private sector to push for the reinstatement of the policy to teach science and mathematics in English, saying that it is crucial for the success of the government’s Economic Transformation Programme (ETP).

Yesterday, PAGE chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim pointed out that the decision to abolish the policy in July 2009 was done before any economic blueprint was in place.

She also noted that the private sector was to drive the ETP and will require a skilled workforce but, like Azman, claimed most local graduates lack English proficiency and knowledge in science, technology and commerce.

The ETP is one of the Najib administration’s initiatives aimed at roughly tripling gross national income in the next 10 years and is based on a slew of private sector-driven projects that would require private funds to the tune of US$266 billion (RM822 billion).


News: 3Rs- The 4th R is also Important

Dear All,

Many educationist have been emphasizing the importance of the 3Rs but they have forgotten about the fourth 'R'. Can you guess what is that 'R'?

The article below explains the importance of that fourth 'R'.

Rodney Tan
February 24, 2009

Well The 3 R’s? A Fourth Is Crucial, Too: Recess
By Tara Parker-Pope


The best way to improve children’s performance in the classroom may be to take them out of it. New research suggests that play and down time may be as important to a child’s academic experience as reading, science and math, and that regular recess, fitness or nature time can influence behavior, concentration and even grades. A study published this month in the journal Pediatrics studied the links between recess and classroom behavior among about 11,000 children age 8 and 9. Those who had more than 15 minutes of recess a day showed better behavior in class than those who had little or none. Although disadvantaged children were more likely to be denied recess, the association between better behavior and recess time held up even after researchers controlled for a number of variables, including sex, ethnicity, public or private school and class size. The lead researcher, Dr. Romina M. Barros, a pediatrician and an assistant clinical professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, said the findings were important because many schools did not view recess as essential to education. “Sometimes you need data published for people at the educational level to start believing it has an impact,” she said. “We should understand that kids need that break because the brain needs that break.” And many children are not getting that break. In the Pediatrics study, 30 percent were found to have little or no daily recess. Another report, from a children’s advocacy group, found that 40 percent of schools surveyed had cut back at least one daily recess period. Also, teachers often punish children by taking away recess privileges. That strikes Dr. Barros as illogical. “Recess should be part of the curriculum,” she said. “You don’t punish a kid by having them miss math class, so kids shouldn’t be punished by not getting recess.” Last month, Harvard researchers reported in The Journal of School Health that the more physical fitness tests children passed, the better they did on academic tests. The study, of 1,800 middle school students, suggests that children can benefit academically from gym class and recess.

A small study of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder last year found that walks outdoors appeared to improve scores on tests of attention and concentration. Notably, children who took walks in natural settings did better than those who walked in urban areas, according to the report, published online in August in The Journal of Attention Disorders. The researchers found that a dose of nature worked as well as a dose of medication to improve concentration, or even better.

Andrea Faber Taylor, a child environment and behavior researcher at the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory at the
The reason may be that the brain uses two forms of attention. “Directed” attention allows us to concentrate on work, reading and tests, while “involuntary” attention takes over when we’re distracted by things like running water, crying babies, a beautiful view or a pet that crawls onto our lap.

Directed attention is a limited resource. Long hours in front of a computer or studying for a test can leave us feeling fatigued. But spending time in natural settings appears to activate involuntary attention, giving the brain’s directed attention time to rest.

“It’s pretty clear that all human beings experience attentional fatigue,” Dr. Faber Taylor said. “Our attention has to be restored from that fatigue, and there is a growing body of research evidence that nature is one way that seems particularly effective at doing it.” Playtime and nature time are important not only for learning but also for health and development.

Young rats denied opportunities for rough-and-tumble play develop numerous social problems in adulthood. They fail to recognize social cues and the nuances of rat hierarchy; they aren’t able to mate. By the same token, people who play as children “learn to handle life in a much more resilient and vital way,” said Dr. Stuart Brown, the author of the new book “Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul” (Avery).

Dr. Brown, a psychiatrist in Carmel Valley, Calif., has collected more than 6,000 “play histories” from human subjects. The founder of the National Institute for Play, he works with educators and legislators to promote the importance of preserving playtime in schools. He calls play “a fundamental biological process.” “From my viewpoint, it’s a major public health issue,” he said. “Teachers feel like they’re under huge pressures to get academic excellence to the exclusion of having much fun in the classroom. But playful learning leads to better academic success than the skills-and-drills approach.”

Malaysian 2010 New Literature Component for Secondary Schools

Hi Everyone,

Many of you would have dropped by this blog because you may want to know more about the new cycle for the Malaysian MOE English Literature Component for English.

Many schools would have received the prescibed texts by now. But there are still some novels that have not being issued as they will be used only in Forms 3.

Latest: Form 5 Novels for Literature 2011
There are 3 different novels which will be alloted according to the states; like the old cycle of the 3 novels of Jungle of Hope, The Return & The Pearl.

The 3 novels are:
1) The Curse by Lee Su Ann
2) Step by Wicked Step by Anne Fine
3) Catch Us If You Can by Catherine MacPhail

From the feedback and my own study of the text (Forms 4 and 5), I noticed that the texts are generally simple and straightforward. The authors/poets are mainly unfamiliar ones.

I think the literary texts chosen were meant to be very accessible and fun for our students.

The main different with this current selection of literature texts is the inclusion of dramas or plays. I think it bodes well for the teaching of literature as students will find it fun to act it out.

There is a possiblity that the Literature Component would be very much school-based (PLBS and ULBS), with activities and is student-centred.

One thing I've noticed about the authors chosen by the MOE is they must be "politically correct" in terms of the local writer/poet or the contents. It's really a shame. In modern literature, texts used in schools and universities elsewhere, are not based on their "political leanings" but rather, strictly on MERIT.

Below is list of the literary texts without the Novels:

Form 1:
1. The River -Valerie Bloom
2. Mr Nobody - author unknown

Short Stories
1. Flipping Fantastic -Jane Langford

Form 2:

1. I wonder - Jeannie Kirby
2. Heir Conditioning - M. Shanmughalingam

Short Stories
1. One is One and All Alone - Nicholas Fisk

1. Rumpelstiltskin -Angela Lanyon

Form 3:

1. A Fighter's Line- Marzuki Ali
2. Leisure - Willian Henry Davies

Form 4:

1. In the Midst of Hardship -Latiff Mohidin  (The Malay version is found in this blog)
2. He Had such Quiet Eyes -Bibsy Soenharjo (For a fun activity, please go to my blog dated 19th January 2011)

Short Stories
1. QWERTYUIOP -Vivian Alcock
2. The Fruitcake Special -Frank Brennan

1. Gulp and Gasp- John Townsend

Form 5:

1. Nature -H.D. Carberry
2. Are you Still Playing Your Flute -Zurinah Hassan (The Malay version is found in this blog)
    *There's a controversy brewing about this "├»ncomplete" poem. Look in my blog for the Malay version.

Please look out for the Pearson Form 4 Literature Workbook which is co-written by Christine Tan and me. We'll be coming out with a third edition as well. There's also a separate resource toolkit.

Rodney Tan

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ideas: 15 Brilliant Uses for Toothpaste

Dear All,

We may probably be receiving lists of helpful tips and facts to inform and amaze us in our email box.

I was thinking how best we could use such materials to engage our students.

Among the ideas I had was using it as a starting point to interest students in a particular topic or a related theme. In this case the toothpaste is for health and household topics.

Secondly, it could be a reading comprehension exercise; a Kim's Game (where groups try to recall the 15 uses); a Cloze test or a vocabulary exercise with the appropriate words listed for blank filling.

For writing, the students can do a similar list and research on its possible uses; similar to the toothpaste. Some examples: salt, fig/banana leaf or coconut tree.

Anyway, addition comments and ideas are welcomed for discussion.

If anyone wants the list with beautiful and appropriate pictures in MS WORD 2003 or lower format, you can email me at


Rodney Tan

Fifteen Brilliant Uses For Toothpaste

it whitens, brightens, deodorizes, removes stains, and restores and protects enamel.
But toothpaste's cleaning capabilities work wonders on many things besides our teeth.
The same ingredients that help polish our pearly whites
can also soothe some common ailments, make household items sparkle, and even get rid of stains and pungent smells.
Try out these fifteen tricks with a white, non-gel toothpaste (unless otherwise noted), and watch that cavity-fighting, breath-freshening tube of wonder work its magic.

1. Relieve irritation from bug bites, sores, and blisters: These skin irritations all tend to weep and, in the case of bug bites, often itch. Apply a drop of toothpaste to a bug bite or insect sting to stop the itching and decrease any swelling. When applied to sores or blisters, it dries them up, thus allowing the wound to heal faster. It's best when used overnight..

2. Soothe a stinging burn:
For minor burns that donot involve an open wound, toothpaste can deliver temporary cooling relief. Apply it delicately to the affected area immediately after a burn develops; it temporarily relieves the sting and prevents the wound from weeping or opening.

3. Decrease the size of a facial blemish:
Want to speed up the healing of a zit? Apply a tiny dot of toothpaste to the affected area at night before bed. Wash it off in the morning.

4. Clean up your fingernails:
Our teeth are made of enamel, and toothpaste is good for them, so it stands to reason that toothpaste would also be good for our fingernails. For cleaner, shinier, and stronger nails, simply scrub the underneath and tops of fingernails with a toothbrush and toothpaste.

5. Keep hair in place:
Gel toothpastes contain the same water-soluble polymers that many hair gels are made of. If you are looking to style and hold an extreme hair creation, try gel toothpaste as your go-to product if you are out of regular hair gel. (This is also a great trick for making baby barrettes stay in place.)

6. Scrub away stinky smells:
Garlic, fish, onion, and other pungent foods can permeate the skin cells on our hands. Scrubbing hands and fingertips briefly with toothpaste removes all traces of smelly odors.

7. Remove stains:
Toothpaste can make tough stains on both clothing and carpets disappear. For clothes, apply toothpaste directly to the stain and rub briskly until the spot is gone, then wash as usual. (Note that using a whitening toothpaste on colors can sometimes bleach the fabric.) For carpet stains, apply toothpaste to the stain and scrub it with an abrasive brush, then rinse immediately.

8. Spruce up dirty shoes:
This tactic works great on running shoes or scuffed-up leather shoes. As with carpet stains, apply toothpaste directly to the dirty or scuffed area, then scrub with a brush and wipe clean.

9. Remove crayon stains on painted walls:
Rub a damp cloth with toothpaste gently on the marked-up wall and watch the Crayola marks disappear.

10. Make silver jewelry and other silver pieces sparkle: Rub toothpaste onto jewelry and leave overnight. Wipe clean with a soft cloth in the morning. Make diamonds shine by giving them a gentle scrub using a toothbrush, toothpaste, and a little water. Rinse thoroughly to remove all traces of toothpaste. Do not use this method on pearls, as it will damage their finish.

11. Remove scratches on DVDs and CDs.
This remedy has been used with mixed success rates, but it seems to work fairly well on shallow scratches and smudges. Apply a thin coating of toothpaste to the disc and rub gently, then rinse clean.

12. Tidy up piano keys before tickling them:
Piano keys retain oil from the skin, which then attracts dust and dirt. Clean away grime gently with a damp, lint-free cloth and toothpaste; after rubbing in the toothpaste, wipe the keys clean with a second lint-free cloth.

13. Deodorize baby bottles:
If baby bottles develop a sour-milk smell, a good cleaning with some toothpaste and a bottle scrubber will clean away residue and deodorize. Always make sure to rinse well.

14. Remove the burned crust on irons:
For those of you who still use an iron, you may find that after time, the plate of the iron develops a burned crust. The silica in toothpaste gently grinds away this rusty-looking layer.

15. Defog goggles:
Scuba divers, swimmers, and triathletes may already know about this handy little trick: Rub a small spot of toothpaste into each lens of your goggles, then rinse thoroughly, and voila! There'll be no need to ever buy expensive defogger gels again. Avoid rubbing too vigorously, though, as the abrasive ingredients in toothpaste could scratch the lenses.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Ideas: 21 Facts to Know

Dear All,

This list of Facts or Trivia is a fun way of adding engaging materials to liven up our English lessons. Here's how I'll use this list in my classroom:

First, I'll duplicate sufficient copies for all students.

Next, I'll read the list aloud and students can respond with their reactions.

I find that reading the list aloud is a good way for students to listen to the pronunciation and the intonation.

Students may also enquire about the meaning of certain words.

As a variation, teacher can include a few factual errors and then asked the students which statements are true or false.


Rodney Tan
21 Facts to Know

1. Chewing on gum while cutting onions can help a person from stop producing tears. Try it next time you chop these bulbs.

2. Until babies are six months old, they can breathe and swallow at the same time. How convenient!

3. Offered a new pen to write with, 97% of all people will write their own name!

4. Male mosquitoes are vegetarians. Only females bite and savour blood.

5. The average person's field of vision encompasses a 200-degree wide angle.

6. To find out if a watermelon is ripe, knock it, and if it sounds hollow then it is ripe.

7. Canadians can send letters with personalized postage stamps showing their own photos on each stamp.

8. Babies' eyes do not produce tears until the baby is approximately six to eight weeks old.

9. It actually snowed in the Sahara Desert in February of 1979. Can you beat that!!

10. Plants watered with warm water grow larger and more quickly than plants watered with cold water.

11. Wearing headphones for just an hour will increase the bacteria in your ear by 700 times.

12. Grapes explode when you put them in the microwave.

13. Those stars and colours you see when you rub your eyes are called phosphenes.

14. Our eyes are always the same size from birth, but our nose and ears never stop growing.

15. Everyone's tongue print is different, like fingerprints.

16. Contrary to popular belief, a swallowed chewing gum doesn't stay in the gut. It will pass through the system and be excreted.

17. At 40 degrees centigrade a person loses about 14.4 calories per hour by breathing.

18. There is a hotel in Sweden built entirely out of ice; it is rebuilt every year.

19. Cats, camels and giraffes are the only animals in the world that walk right foot, right foot, left foot, left foot, rather than right foot, left foot .

20. Onions help reduce cholesterol if eaten after fatty meals.

21. The sound you hear when you crack your knuckles is actually the sound of nitrogen gas bubbles bursting.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

News: Matching Teaching Style to Learning Style May Not Help the Student

Dear all,

Below is another article about the latest finding on learning styles
of students which relates very closely to the teacher's own learning styles
and teaching rather than to simply categorize students according to their
perceived learning styles which have been questioned of late.

My own take on this issue based on my readings and annecdoctal evidence is
successful learning occurs in the teacher's own values and personal self
that he/she brings into the classroom that motivates students to want to learn, eventhough the teacher's method may just be "chalk and talk".
(Refer to Parker J Palmer: Courage to Teach)

Rodney Tan Chai Whatt


December 15, 2009

Matching Teaching Style to Learning Style May Not Help Students

By David Glenn

If you've ever sat through a teaching seminar, you've probably heard
a lecture about "learning styles." Perhaps you were told that some
students are visual learners, some are auditory learners, and others
are kinesthetic learners. Or maybe you were given one of the dozens
of other learning-style taxonomies that scholars and consultants
have developed.

Almost certainly, you were told that your instruction should match
your students' styles. For example, kinesthetic learners—students
who learn best through hands-on activities—are said to do better in
classes that feature plenty of experiments, while verbal learners are
said to do worse.

Now four psychologists argue that you were told wrong. There is no
strong scientific evidence to support the "matching" idea, they
contend in a paper published this week in Psychological Science in the
Public Interest. And there is absolutely no reason for professors to
adopt it in the classroom.

"We were startled to find that there is so much research published
on learning styles, but that so little of the research used
experimental designs that had the potential to provide decisive
evidence," says Harold E. Pashler, a professor of psychology at the
University of California at San Diego and the paper's lead author.
"Lots of people are selling tests and programs for customizing
education that completely lack the kind of experimental evidence
that you would expect for a drug," Mr. Pashler says. "Now maybe
the FDA model isn't always appropriate for education—but that's a
conversation we need to have."

Advocates of learning styles respond that Mr. Pashler is the one who
lacks evidence. Robert J. Sternberg, dean of arts and sciences at
Tufts University and a psychologist who has done a lot of work on
learning styles, says in an e-mail message to The Chronicle that the
researchers did not fully survey the scholarly literature, and thus
"come across looking either biased about or largely ignorant of the

Mr. Pashler's study does not dispute the existence of learning styles.
But it asserts that no one has ever proved that any particular style of
instruction simultaneously helps students who have one learning
style while also harming students who have a different learning

Of the hundreds of research papers that have been published on
learning styles, Mr. Pashler says, almost none have randomly
assigned students into one classroom type or another. Only that
kind of experiment, he says, can suggest anything definitive about
causation. And the few studies that have used an adequate research
design, he adds, have mostly failed to support the hypothesis that
teaching styles should match students' learning styles.

More Alike Than Different

Consider an experiment about teaching the structure of complex
molecules. The matching hypothesis might predict that kinesthetic
learners would absorb the concept best by building ball-and-stick
models in the lab, while verbal learners would do better by reading a
few pages about the logic of molecular design.

That sounds intuitive. But according to Mr. Pashler and his coauthors,
almost every well-designed study of that type has
discovered that one instructional style actually works best for both

What happens,Mr. Pashler says, is something like this:
Experimenters randomly assign students to a classroom that uses
laboratory lessons or to a classroom that uses texts. At the end of
the week, students are tested on their knowledge of molecular

Among the students who are taught in a hands-on laboratory
setting, it turns out that the kinesthetic learners enjoy their lessons
much more than their verbal peers do. They also perform better on
the test at the end of the week. Let's say that the kinesthetic
students average a 95 on the test, while the verbal students' average
is 80.

That might seem like strong evidence for the learning-styles
hypothesis. Not so fast, Mr. Pashler says.
Look at the second classroom, where students learn about
molecules by reading texts. Here, the verbal students enjoy the
lessons much more than their kinesthetic peers do. But on the test,
both the verbal and kinesthetic students average around 70. The
verbal students are actually better off learning this concept in a
laboratory, even though they enjoy it less.

In almost every actual well-designed study,Mr. Pashler and his
colleagues write in their paper, "Learning Styles: Concepts and
Evidence," the pattern is similar: For a given lesson, one
instructional technique turns out to be optimal for all groups of
students, even though students with certain learning styles may not
love that technique.

Matching Style With Content

What this means for instructors, Mr. Pashler says, is that they
should not waste any time or energy trying to determine the
composition of learning styles in their classrooms. (Are 50 percent
of my students visual learners? Are 20 percent of them kinesthetic

Instead, teachers should worry about matching their instruction to
the content they are teaching. Some concepts are best taught
through hands-on work, some are best taught through lectures, and
some are best taught through group discussions.

If the matching hypothesis is not well supported, then why do so
many learning-styles studies show positive effects? Hundreds of
studies that do not meet Mr. Pashler's stringent criteria for
experimental design suggest—at least loosely—that students do
better when instructors are trained in learning-styles theory.
One possibility is that the mere act of learning about learning styles
prompts teachers to pay more attention to the kinds of instruction
they are delivering. An instructor who attends a learning-styles
seminar might start to offer a broader mixture of lectures,
discussions, and laboratory work—and that variety of instruction
might turn out to be better for all students, irrespective of any

"Even though the learning-style idea might not work," says Richard
E. Mayer, a professor of psychology at the University of California at
Santa Barbara, "it might encourage teachers to think about how
their students learn and what would be the best instructional
methods for a particular lesson."

In other words, learning-styles seminars might be effective, but not
for the reasons that their designers believe.

Mr. Mayer helped lead a study six years ago that failed to find any
relationship between instructional styles and the performance of
"verbalizer" and "visualizer" students. He believes that Mr. Pashler
and his colleagues have done strong work in debunking the
matching hypothesis.

Bibliography Is Faulted

But not everyone is impressed by the new paper. Mr. Sternberg of
Tufts (and a former longtime professor of psychology at Yale
University), says in his e-mail message that while he holdsMr.
Pashler and his colleagues in high esteem, he believes they did a
poor job here.

Several of the most-cited researchers on learning styles,Mr.
Sternberg points out, do not appear in the paper's bibliography.
"The authors draw negative conclusions about a field they fail
adequately to review," Mr. Sternberg says.

Mr. Sternberg and several colleagues have worked intensively on
models of learning styles for more than a decade. In 1999, he and
three coauthors published a paper in the European Journal of
Psychological Assessment that found that students who were
strongly oriented toward "analytical," "creative," or "practical"
intelligence did better if they were taught by instructors who
matched their strength. (In their paper, Mr. Pashler and his
colleagues cite Mr. Sternberg's 1999 study as the only well-designed
experiment to have found such a pattern—though they add that the
study "has peculiar features that make us view it as providing only
tenuous evidence.")

Susan M. Rundle, a learning-styles consultant who is working with
instructors at Alabama A&M University, also says that the research
base is much stronger than Mr. Pashler and his colleagues believe.
And she adds that the paper's focus on the "matching hypothesis" is
somewhat beside the point.

"In my work in higher education, I've found that it's difficult to get
professors to match their instruction to their students," says Ms.
Rundle, who is president of Performance Concepts International,
which promotes a learning-styles model developed by Kenneth J.
Dunn, a professor of education at City University of New York's
Queens College, and the late Rita Dunn, who taught for many years
at St. John's University, in Queens.

"What we do try to get professors to do," Ms. Rundle says, "and
where we've been successful, is to become aware of their own
learning style and how that affects the way they teach.What are
some things that they can do in the classroom other than just

The Trouble With Tracking

The grandfather of this territory is David A. Kolb, a professor of
organizational behavior at CaseWestern Reserve University, who
began to study learning styles in the late 1960s. In an interview, Mr.
Kolb agrees with Mr. Sternberg that Mr. Pashler's review of the
literature seems too thin.

But Mr. Kolb also says that the paper's bottom line is probably
correct: There is no strong evidence that teachers should tailor their
instruction to their students' particular learning styles. (Mr. Kolb
has argued for many years that college students are better off if they
choose a major that fits their learning style. But his advice to
teachers is that they should lead their classes through a full
"learning cycle," without regard to their students' particular styles.)
"Matching is not a particularly good idea," Mr. Kolb says. "The
paper correctly mentions the practical and ethical problems of
sorting people into groups and labeling them. Tracking in education
has a bad history."

Mr. Pashler, for his part, says that he and his colleagues are still
open to the idea that some kinds of matching are actually effective.
"Most of what we're pointing to in this paper is an absence of
evidence," he says. "Here's what you have to show—and they aren't
showing it. But there may yet be better studies in the future."

Mr. Pashler's co-authors are Mark McDaniel, a professor of
psychology atWashington University in St. Louis; Doug Rohrer, an
associate professor of psychology at the University of South Florida;

The Chronicle of Higher Education
1255 Twenty-Third St,
N.W. Washington, D.C. 20037
and Robert A. Bjork,
a professor of psychology at
the University of California at Los Angeles.

News:Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits

Dear All,

This article from the NY Times on how we learn and remember is interesting and might change some of the things we do in the classroom and what we ask our students/children to do as well.

What this article is pointing out is a lot of what we took for granted about learning styles of individual learners in the classroom is not based on solid research. As a result students' achievement using this approach is unpredictable at best.
Another typical example is studying in one fixed conducive place. Research showed that studying in different places helped students retain the lessons better.

Read on below to find out what the research has revealed so far.

Rodney Tan Chai Whatt


September 6, 2010

Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits

Every September, millions of parents try a kind of psychological witchcraft, to transform their summer-glazed campers into fall students, their video-bugs into bookworms. Advice is cheap and all too familiar: Clear a quiet work space. Stick to a homework schedule. Set goals. Set boundaries. Do not bribe (except in emergencies).

And check out the classroom. Does Junior’s learning style match the new teacher’s approach? Or the school’s philosophy? Maybe the child isn’t “a good fit” for the school.

Such theories have developed in part because of sketchy education research that doesn’t offer clear guidance. Student traits and teaching styles surely interact; so do personalities and at-home rules. The trouble is, no one can predict how.

Yet there are effective approaches to learning, at least for those who are motivated. In recent years, cognitive scientists have shown that a few simple techniques can reliably improve what matters most: how much a student learns from studying.

The findings can help anyone, from a fourth grader doing long division to a retiree taking on a new language. But they directly contradict much of the common wisdom about good study habits, and they have not caught on.

For instance, instead of sticking to one study location, simply alternating the room where a person studies improves retention. So does studying distinct but related skills or concepts in one sitting, rather than focusing intensely on a single thing.

“We have known these principles for some time, and it’s intriguing that schools don’t pick them up, or that people don’t learn them by trial and error,” said Robert A. Bjork, a psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Instead, we walk around with all sorts of unexamined beliefs about what works that are mistaken.”

Take the notion that children have specific learning styles, that some are “visual learners” and others are auditory; some are “left-brain” students, others “right-brain.” In a recent review of the relevant research, published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a team of psychologists found almost zero support for such ideas. “The contrast between the enormous popularity of the learning-styles approach within education and the lack of credible evidence for its utility is, in our opinion, striking and disturbing,” the researchers concluded.

Ditto for teaching styles, researchers say. Some excellent instructors caper in front of the blackboard like summer-theater Falstaffs; others are reserved to the point of shyness. “We have yet to identify the common threads between teachers who create a constructive learning atmosphere,” said Daniel T. Willingham, a psychologist at the University of Virginia and author of the book “Why Don’t Students Like School?”

But individual learning is another matter, and psychologists have discovered that some of the most hallowed advice on study habits is flat wrong. For instance, many study skills courses insist that students find a specific place, a study room or a quiet corner of the library, to take their work. The research finds just the opposite. In one classic 1978 experiment, psychologists found that college students who studied a list of 40 vocabulary words in two different rooms — one windowless and cluttered, the other modern, with a view on a courtyard — did far better on a test than students who studied the words twice, in the same room. Later studies have confirmed the finding, for a variety of topics.

The brain makes subtle associations between what it is studying and the background sensations it has at the time, the authors say, regardless of whether those perceptions are conscious. It colors the terms of the Versailles Treaty with the wasted fluorescent glow of the dorm study room, say; or the elements of the Marshall Plan with the jade-curtain shade of the willow tree in the backyard. Forcing the brain to make multiple associations with the same material may, in effect, give that information more neural scaffolding.

“What we think is happening here is that, when the outside context is varied, the information is enriched, and this slows down forgetting,” said Dr. Bjork, the senior author of the two-room experiment.

Varying the type of material studied in a single sitting — alternating, for example, among vocabulary, reading and speaking in a new language — seems to leave a deeper impression on the brain than does concentrating on just one skill at a time. Musicians have known this for years, and their practice sessions often include a mix of scales, musical pieces and rhythmic work. Many athletes, too, routinely mix their workouts with strength, speed and skill drills.

The advantages of this approach to studying can be striking, in some topic areas. In a study recently posted online by the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology, Doug Rohrer and Kelli Taylor of the University of South Florida taught a group of fourth graders four equations, each to calculate a different dimension of a prism. Half of the children learned by studying repeated examples of one equation, say, calculating the number of prism faces when given the number of sides at the base, then moving on to the next type of calculation, studying repeated examples of that. The other half studied mixed problem sets, which included examples of all four types of calculations grouped together. Both groups solved sample problems along the way, as they studied.

A day later, the researchers gave all of the students a test on the material, presenting new problems of the same type. The children who had studied mixed sets did twice as well as the others, outscoring them 77 percent to 38 percent. The researchers have found the same in experiments involving adults and younger children.

“When students see a list of problems, all of the same kind, they know the strategy to use before they even read the problem,” said Dr. Rohrer. “That’s like riding a bike with training wheels.” With mixed practice, he added, “each problem is different from the last one, which means kids must learn how to choose the appropriate procedure — just like they had to do on the test.”

These findings extend well beyond math, even to aesthetic intuitive learning. In an experiment published last month in the journal Psychology and Aging, researchers found that college students and adults of retirement age were better able to distinguish the painting styles of 12 unfamiliar artists after viewing mixed collections (assortments, including works from all 12) than after viewing a dozen works from one artist, all together, then moving on to the next painter.

The finding undermines the common assumption that intensive immersion is the best way to really master a particular genre, or type of creative work, said Nate Kornell, a psychologist at Williams College and the lead author of the study. “What seems to be happening in this case is that the brain is picking up deeper patterns when seeing assortments of paintings; it’s picking up what’s similar and what’s different about them,” often subconsciously.

Cognitive scientists do not deny that honest-to-goodness cramming can lead to a better grade on a given exam. But hurriedly jam-packing a brain is akin to speed-packing a cheap suitcase, as most students quickly learn — it holds its new load for a while, then most everything falls out.

“With many students, it’s not like they can’t remember the material” when they move to a more advanced class, said Henry L. Roediger III, a psychologist at Washington University in St. Louis. “It’s like they’ve never seen it before.”

When the neural suitcase is packed carefully and gradually, it holds its contents for far, far longer. An hour of study tonight, an hour on the weekend, another session a week from now: such so-called spacing improves later recall, without requiring students to put in more overall study effort or pay more attention, dozens of studies have found.

No one knows for sure why. It may be that the brain, when it revisits material at a later time, has to relearn some of what it has absorbed before adding new stuff — and that that process is itself self-reinforcing.

“The idea is that forgetting is the friend of learning,” said Dr. Kornell. “When you forget something, it allows you to relearn, and do so effectively, the next time you see it.”

That’s one reason cognitive scientists see testing itself — or practice tests and quizzes — as a powerful tool of learning, rather than merely assessment. The process of retrieving an idea is not like pulling a book from a shelf; it seems to fundamentally alter the way the information is subsequently stored, making it far more accessible in the future.

Dr. Roediger uses the analogy of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle in physics, which holds that the act of measuring a property of a particle (position, for example) reduces the accuracy with which you can know another property (momentum, for example): “Testing not only measures knowledge but changes it,” he says — and, happily, in the direction of more certainty, not less.

In one of his own experiments, Dr. Roediger and Jeffrey Karpicke, also of Washington University, had college students study science passages from a reading comprehension test, in short study periods. When students studied the same material twice, in back-to-back sessions, they did very well on a test given immediately afterward, then began to forget the material.

But if they studied the passage just once and did a practice test in the second session, they did very well on one test two days later, and another given a week later.

“Testing has such bad connotation; people think of standardized testing or teaching to the test,” Dr. Roediger said. “Maybe we need to call it something else, but this is one of the most powerful learning tools we have.”

Of course, one reason the thought of testing tightens people’s stomachs is that tests are so often hard. Paradoxically, it is just this difficulty that makes them such effective study tools, research suggests. The harder it is to remember something, the harder it is to later forget. This effect, which researchers call “desirable difficulty,” is evident in daily life. The name of the actor who played Linc in “The Mod Squad”? Francie’s brother in “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”? The name of the co-discoverer, with Newton, of calculus?

The more mental sweat it takes to dig it out, the more securely it will be subsequently anchored.

None of which is to suggest that these techniques — alternating study environments, mixing content, spacing study sessions, self-testing or all the above — will turn a grade-A slacker into a grade-A student. Motivation matters. So do impressing friends, making the hockey team and finding the nerve to text the cute student in social studies.

“In lab experiments, you’re able to control for all factors except the one you’re studying,” said Dr. Willingham. “Not true in the classroom, in real life. All of these things are interacting at the same time.”

But at the very least, the cognitive techniques give parents and students, young and old, something many did not have before: a study plan based on evidence, not schoolyard folk wisdom, or empty theorizing.