Monday, January 31, 2011

Happy Chinese Lunar New Year of the Rabbit 2011

Just like to wish all my Chinese readers a Prosperous and Happy Chinese New Year of the Rabbit.

I've included a few pictures of the CNY greetings which were posted on Facebook and received in my email box.


Rodney Tan

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Announcement : Call for Participation ICELT 2011 in Damai Laut, Lumut, Perak

Dear Readers,

Here's a conference that teachers in primary and secondary schools should go.

I had a good time there at the same series of conference and had a very packed room for my workshop.

The theme this year is on Performing Arts -- a powerful tool to create interest and engagement with our students when used with the Literature Component.

It's one of three conferences that is geared for practising teachers, besides the usual academia.

The place chosen is the very lovely full flegded spa & golf resort in Lumut, Perak--The Swiss Garden Resort & Spa.

Here's where we ETs will have a good time for physical and professional refreshment plus useful networking.

Present a paper or a workshop if you can. As the theme is on performing arts, you can present something on what you did with the drama, poems, short stories or the novel in the Literature component.

I hope to present something and to be there. The main speakers and presenters look interesting. Details below and at website.

See you there!

Rodney Tan

P.S. I'm looking for a room partner to split the bill (3 nights). If anyone is interested, please email me at
International Conference on English Language Teaching

Teaching English as Performing Art

ICELT 2011 invites papers on all aspects of ELT and English Language Studies

Deadline for Proposals: 30th June 2011

18-20 September 2011 (Sunday-Wednesday)

Swiss-Garden Golf Resort and Spa

Damai Laut, Perak

Fees: RM 290 or US $ 110 for the 3 day conference (lunches and coffee/ refreshment provided)

Note: Breakfast & dinner is not included.

Accomodation with breakfast is a separate payment but it could be arranged at a special rate from the Resort.

Deluxe Room: RM 210 nett per room ( 2 Buffet Breakfasts)

Studio Apartment: RM 170 nett per room (2 Buffet Breakfasts)

1 Bedroom Apartment: RM 190 nett per room (2 Buffet Breakfasts)

2 Bedroom Apartment: RM 250 nett per room (4 Buffet Breakfasts)
Organized by


A huge resort complex awaits you with all the facilities
for a perfect rejuvenation,
both for your emotional and professional health.

View the setting sun and the glow of the twilight from the resort.
Worth your conference fee just to view this.

The long corridor leading to a spacious lobby.
The whole place has a Malay village influence to it.

The bedrooms are spacious and clean with a charming kampung feel.
This is the Deluxe Room.

A fantastic view of the sea and Pangkor Island from the dining area.
Watch the sunset from here. 
The resort has a commanding view as it is situated on a high hillside.

Spacious and comfortable ballroom as main plenary location but
you have to walk up and down some flight of stairs from your room.
Don't worry. The resort provides buggy service if you live on the hillside chalets.

After the North-South Expressway, you still have about
21/2 hrs travel through scenic paddy fields and villages
before reaching Damai Laut.

Organised by:

News: Discarding the Salutation "Dear" in Emails.

Dear Readers,

The salutation "Dear" which is usually used in writing letters whether formal or informal is slowly being discarded in electronic communication such as SMS, emails and Twitter.

There are reasons for discarding but there are others who would maintain the convention.

Read the article below to come to our own conclusion.

As for me, I'm slowly discarding the use of the salutation "dear" for the sake of brevity.

But there are times, because of  what I was taught and for reasons of uncertainty, I will still use that salutation.

What do you think dear readers?

Rodney Tan


JANUARY 6, 2011

Hey, Folks: Here's a Digital Requiem For a Dearly Departed Salutation

Writers of Emails and Texts Find a Too-Tender Greeting a Comedy of Manners


When Abraham Lincoln wrote to Ulysses S. Grant in July 1863, after a key victory during the Civil War, he began his letter, "My dear General."

When Giselle Barry emailed a throng of reporters recently to tell them about an important development regarding her congressman boss, she started the message, "Hey, folks."

Like many modern communicators, Ms. Barry, a spokeswoman for Rep. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, has nixed the salutation "dear" in her emails.

"Dear is a bit too intimate and connotes a personal relationship," she said.

Ms. Barry said she wants to keep her business communications with the press at "the utmost and highest level of professionalism."

Across the Internet the use of dear is going the way of sealing wax. Email has come to be viewed as informal even when used as formal communication, leaving some etiquette experts appalled at the ways professional strangers address one another.

People who don't start communications with dear, says business-etiquette expert Lydia Ramsey, "lack polish."

"They come across as being abrupt," says Ms. Ramsey, who founded a Savannah, Ga., etiquette consultancy called Manners That Sell.

"It sets the tone for that business relationship, and it shows respect," she says. "Email is so impersonal it needs all the help it can get."

But to Kevin Caron, the word dear seems girlie. While he may begin an occasional email to a female family member with dear, Mr. Caron, a sculptor in Phoenix, would never use it when writing a man, even a client.

Kevin Caron

"Guys talking to guys—I'm sorry, that's against the code," says Mr. Caron, a 50-year-old former trucker and auto-repair-shop worker.

Dear isn't in Mr. Caron's business lexicon at all, he says. He begins an email to a client with "salutations" or "good morning" or sometimes "to whom it may concern."

"I feel dear is a little intimate for someone I don't know," says Mr. Caron.

The art of proper salutations in communications has been debated through the centuries.

In his 11th-century "Flores Rhetorici" (or Flowers of Rhetoric), the Italian cardinal Alberic of Monte Cassino implored his students to use this guide for a salutation in letters:

"First we must consider the identity of the sender and of the person to whom the letter is sent; we must consider whether he is noble or common in rank, a friend or an enemy, then what kind of person he is and of what background."

The same guidelines apply in business email today, says Joyce Walker, an English professor at Illinois State University in Normal.

Rarely would anyone use dear when writing a friend, but it might be appropriate when applying for a job or emailing a boss, she says.

The salutation 'Dear' is going the way of the hand-written letter. WSJ's Dionne Searcey and Digits' Lauren Goode talk about the phenomenon.

"How formal you are in your email might be based more on the actuality of the writing situation," Ms. Walker says.

On her blog, the author Amy Tan has mused about evolving salutations she has noticed in her inbox.

"Dear Amy Tan" is from eBay or PayPal, telling me I have either paid for something or should pay for it. 'Hey Amy' is only from someone I know well enough to hug," she wrote. "No salutation is from my husband, my assistant, my friends I am in touch with everyday. Familiarity breeds lack of hello, hey, and dear."

Etiquette experts, knowing that salutations set the tone for correspondences, say that dropping a greeting and using only a name can seem cold.

Using "hey" can seem too familiar.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston, who runs the Syntax Training business writing school in Seattle, says she tells clients they can forgo dear in email but must keep it in business letters.

"We don't use dear because someone is dear to us," she says, "but because we understand the standards of business writing and recognize the standards of intelligent business people."

The Emily Post Institute says it's OK in general to drop dear but advises using it in particularly formal email.

"I don't think it's as important as it used to be," says author and institute spokeswoman Anna Post, the great-great granddaughter of etiquette guru Emily Post. "You can still certainly use it. If you don't know someone well, or for a new client, I would absolutely use dear."

Chris Allison, a 36-year-old international-trade analyst, says he uses dear only when he doesn't mean it.

"I find that I am most likely to start a letter with 'dear' exactly when the recipient is least dear to me, probably because I have never met the person," says Mr. Allison, who lives in Washington, D.C. Otherwise, he is more familiar, starting an email with "Hi."

For Hal Reiter, chairman and chief executive of headhunter Herbert Mines Associates, abandoning dear is all about speed.


“ Dear Sir or Madam, Generally speaking, I'd like to offer my sincere apologies for attempting to confer a basic level of respect for you. In deference to the changing times, I have now adopted Fozzie bear's trademark "How a'yaaaaaaaaaaaaa?" ”

—Charles Mc Manus

If he uses the word at all when corresponding with clients, he drops it after the first email in the chain.

"It has to do with how fast we want to type and get it done," says Mr. Reiter, who also uses an auto signature that automatically types "Thanks a lot, Hal" at the end of each email.

Some people prefer to stick to the old niceties. Lynn Ducommun, of Manhattan, says she usually uses dear in her email communications. "Probably because I'm a dinosaur, my emailing to me is equivalent to writing a letter or a note," she says.

She admits to sometimes signing off with "xo," meaning "hugs and kisses."

These days, even the current Dear Abby rarely uses dear. When writing a friend, she says, she is more inclined to write, "Hi, sweetie."

"We live in an age of technology, and things are going to evolve, and it's a good thing," says Jeanne Phillips, who writes the advice column founded by her mother.

It especially strikes Ms. Phillips as being disingenuous to use dear when writing someone you don't particularly like. "Sometimes it's polite to refrain from saying everything you're thinking," she says.

Write to Dionne Searcey at

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President Abraham Lincoln writing to his wife.
Correspondence styles have changed since 1860, when
Abraham Lincoln addressed this letter to
Mary Todd Lincoln 'Dear Wife.'

Story: A Burning Desire to be an Excellent Student

A Burning Desire to be an Excellent Student

A young man had once asked Socrates the secret of success. Socrates asked the young man to meet him near the river the next morning.
When they met, Socrates asked the young man to walk with him towards the river. They continued walking until the water level was up to their necks. Socrates suddenly took the young man's head and ducked it into the water.

The man struggled to get out but Socrates was strong and kept him there until he started turning blue. The young man struggled hard and finally Socrates released his grip and let the young man get out. The first thing the young man did was gasp for breath. Socrates asked "What did you want most when you were there?"

The man replied "Air". Socrates answered `that's the secret to success. When you want success as badly as you wanted air, you will get it. There is no secret.

Now do you have this burning desire to excel in your studies? If you do then you are already on the road to success.

News: Major Shift in the Literature Component of the Malaysian New English Curriculum

Dear All,

This news is rather old (28 April 2010) but for those who missed the reasons why there was a shift in the Literature Component, please read the news below as it comes from the horses' mouth.

Dr. Mohamed Abu Bakar, a friend whom I will usually  meet at ELT Conferences presents the MOE's views on this matter. He clarifies about the previous implementation of the Literature Component and elaborates on the additional time required to teach English.

Rodney Tan

The Star Online > Lifefocus

Wednesday April 28, 2010

A major shift



Graphic novels have been included in the literature component of the new English language curriculum.

STUDENTS in lower secondary will be reading graphic novels in the form of famous classics like Black Beauty and Journey To The Centre Of The Earth under the literature component of the new English curriculum to be implemented next year.

‘This fresh approach to teaching literature in Malaysian schools is aimed at providing students with an enjoyable learning environment,’ says Dr Mohamed Abu Bakar.

Plays have also made it into the list of prescribed texts for the first time, but instead of studying Shakespeare, students will be doing works like the new Form Four text, Gulp And Gasp by John Townsend (see chart).

“This fresh approach to teaching literature in Malaysian schools is aimed at providing students with an enjoyable learning environment as well as inculcating the reading habit,” says Dr Mohamed Abu Bakar from the Education Ministry’s Curriculum Development Centre.

Literature has always been recognised as a vital component of language learning. The new English language curriculum therefore formalises literature’s inclusion in primary school.

New methods will be utilised for teaching literature in schools to boost students’ confidence in the language. These include more “production” activities such as choral reading, acting out scenes from stories and producing works on different literary genres to enhance creativity among students.

The new texts for secondary schools will see the current works, introduced when then Education Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak first announced the introduction of the literature component into the English curriculum in 2000, finally being replaced.

Under the present curriculum for the novel component in upper secondary, schools choose one of three texts – John Steinbeck’s The Pearl, Keris Mas’ Jungle Of Hope or K.S. Maniam’s The Return.

However, about 70% to 80% of schools opt for Steinbeck’s novella, partly due to the availability of learning materials on the Internet.

Teachers also reported that students found the local titles “difficult” and could not relate to the subject matter.

Despite the constraints, the introduction of literature is viewed as a success. It has been reported that the passing rate of students sitting for the English Language subject has improved in the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM).

Dr Mohamed is confident that the new texts, with titles such as Flipping Fantastic by Jane Langford and Qwertyuiop by Vivien Alcock will prove more appealing to teenagers.

He was speaking at a recent colloquium on children’s literature held at Universiti Malaya, organised by the English Department, Arts and Social Sciences Faculty.

Picking titles that would be acceptable to everyone, however, was no easy task for the selectors, especially in a multiracial and multireligious country like Malaysia. Furthermore, as English is a second language, the language used has to be appropriate to the average reader’s proficiency level.

The new English language curriculum for primary and secondary schools will take a modular approach. In addition to the four basic skills – reading, writing, listening and speaking – two new modules have also been introduced; grammar and language arts (which includes literature).

Following the government’s decision to discontinue the teaching of Maths and Science in English, the strengthening English policy was initiated. This means that the time devoted to English will increase by three periods in primary schools.

Of the three extra periods, two will be for language arts while one period has been set aside for the teaching of English grammar.

In all, there will be a total of 330 minutes of English per week in Years One, Two and Three and 300 minutes in Years Four, Five and Six.

No announcement has been made about secondary schools, but the number of periods will likely increase too.


Views: Importance of Grades Overshadows Social Competence

Dear All,

This letter below from an undergraduate shows a maturity of thought that is not often observed by high scoring CGPA students in the collegesor even universities.

In our nation's rush to elevate such individuals, we often forget the "soft skills". Even at the selection and interview level, many prospective employers will like to see how the individual is able to communicate and sell himself or herself. Such ability would indicate the ability of the person to also promote the company, a project or a policy.

Read the letter below to appreciate the wisdom of emphasizing soft skills besides having a decent CGPA average.

As an educator, I wish my students would be able to understand this and to also strive for good results in their exams and assignments. Many times I have to push and to spoon feed them because part of the reason is they view the teacher as a knowledge giver instead of a facilitator.

Rodney Tan Chai Whatt

Importance of grades overshadows social competence

THU JAN 27, 2011

My whole life, all I've ever heard is how important it is to get good grades for that all-important Grade Point Average in college. In high school, my grades would affect my high school GPA, giving me the opportunity to not only apply to certain colleges, depending on the strength of my GPA, but to also receive money from scholarships. However, I feel the need to mention that the GPA isn't necessarily as important as everyone makes it out to be.

Do not misunderstand me, please. A student's GPA is very important to overall academic success. A higher GPA grants awards and honors, and many scholarships require certain levels of GPA. These two facts alone make the GPA very important.

Yet I can't seem to feel like this becomes the sole focus of many students, and they forget how important other aspects of growing up in this world can be, such as developing personality, skill, organization, and pride, or simply living life in

In one of my classes, we were required to prepare a short speech, selling ourselves to the class as a worthy team member for a group project: an "Elevator speech." It was not a hard assignment — it had no written portion, was only two minutes in length and included a resume we had to hand out. However, I couldn't help but feel that several students in the class faltered with their speeches, bringing me to my current assessment on the importance of GPA.

More than once, a student would stand up, pass out the glowing resume (which usually had a wonderful GPA on it), and present a considerably short speech that was clearly improvised and not prepared in the slightest. The speech barely described the student's ability and made it clear that, since the speech was not for a grade, the student did not care to represent him/herself well.

At this point, a contradiction enters my mind: why would a student with such a high GPA prepare a lackluster speech on such an easy topic as telling people what kind of person he/she is? My own GPA is nothing to be proud of (2.9), yet I presented a fully prepared speech to tell the other students I'm competent, sociable, able to converse, creative, and have some general common sense. Why the drastic difference with these "smarter" students?

While not the most neutral example, this situation represents to me the overrated altar the Grade Point Average has been placed upon. It is important to do well in school and achieve high grades, however these students showcase a disregard in personal pride, preparedness, enthusiasm, and overall personality when a grade is not a concern. While some of these qualities are arguably important to a high GPA, clearly they get lost in the struggle for good grades.

Life is so much bigger than a Grade Point Average. After college, it's hardly going to matter outside the scope of one's career. There is so much more to enjoy: family, friends, hobbies, love, mistakes, and everything else the world has to offer. It's important not to forget about these things, or you may lose yourself in the process.

It seems that it can be very easy to get soaked up into your GPA and all the hard work it requires to get that wonderful job and career, but try to not lose yourself, and all that you have to offer the world, in the process.

Mitch Harp

junior in marketing



Thursday, January 27, 2011

Punctuation: To double space or not? That is the question

Dear All,

The issue of whether to single space or double space after a fullstop has become a debatable issue after an article appeared in The Globe and the Mail.

I've just been made to realise that the old school of typwriting would double space after each fullstop. But with the advent of computers, a single space would be sufficient.

For reasons why both conventions have been adopted, please read the article below and if you want to hear the many comments about this issue, please go to the link after the aticle.


P.S.  I normally single space after each fullstop. Saves one less stroke and a single space stop does not look much different than a double spaced stop.
Russell Smith: On Culture

To double space or not? That is the question

Columnist profile

From Thursday's Globe and Mail

Published Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2011 4:30PM EST
Last updated Friday, Jan. 21, 2011 4:40PM EST

Why there is an Internet, reason No. 3579: Where else could a passionate debate about how many spaces to type after a period grow to occupy hundreds of pages of text? It would simply be too costly to print and distribute these polemics on paper, but the level of detail and passion in the argument is still fascinating and revealing. I wonder how we ever got on without nerd blogs.

Why is every typographer in North America arguing about spaces and periods online right now? The fire was lit by Farhad Manjoo, a writer for, who recently wrote an essay complaining that some people still do what they were taught in 1970s typing classes, and insert two spaces after every period. Manjoo says, with a strange fury, that this practice is not only aesthetically unattractive, but “totally, completely, utterly and inarguably wrong” (whatever “wrong” means – it appears he is making the leap, for unarticulated reasons, from the aesthetic realm to the moral).

Why the sudden fixation with archaic typography? Because of the WikiLeaks scandal, of course. Manjoo was reading some of Julian Assange’s recently leaked e-mails to a young lover. And he was struck not only by the gooey poetry of them, but also by the now strange convention of double spacing after a period. Manjoo was incensed that a guy so familiar with computers would cling to an obsolete tradition.

To remind you of what that tradition looks like, the following paragraph embraces it.

Manjoo is right, of course, that current convention has abandoned the double space after a period. And it is because of computers.  When we typed on typewriters we had to use monospaced type – that is, type that allocated the same space for every letter.  That type ends up looking loose – a word with i’s in it, for example, will look a bit spaced out.  So an extra space is added just to make the ends of sentences more clear.  But computers are able to use proportional fonts – fonts that automatically adjust their spacing depending on the letters.  (The exception is Courier.)  Double spaces after periods are no longer necessary, and they break the text up with holes.   They also take up valuable space in a tight medium such as this.  They are no longer taught as imperative to writing business letters or anything else.  In fact, HTML automatically reformats text for browsers to remove the double spaces.  (See how funny this looks?)

It turns out, however, the debate is far from simple. People – especially those over 40 who were taught to type in high school – feel emotional about the past. Thousands of comments followed the post. Some of them said they added two spaces – or even taught their innocent high-school students to do so – simply because that is how they learned, and they couldn’t change now. The debate even made it to the online pages of The Atlantic. The most articulate and eloquent dissent came from a technology blogger called Tom Lee, who waxed poetic about Manjoo’s “bullying” prescriptions: “It’s disrespectful to let writing’s constituent elements bleed into one another through imprecise demarcations.”

What is beautiful about these debates is that they evolve, almost always, from minutiae into larger issues. At stake here is really the arbitrariness of so many rules of writing. We respect most of them merely for the sake of consistency. Think, for example, about the vexed question of the serial comma – that’s the comma that you might or might not put before the last element in a list (“we bought apples, cheese, and machine guns”). It is sometimes accepted by journals and sometimes not. There is no good reason, other than tradition, to put it in or to omit it.

Tom Lee also attacks, amusingly, the authority that typographers attempt to impose on lay people: Typographers are “... drunk on the awesome power of their proportional fonts, and sure of the cosmic import of the minuscule kerning decisions that it is their lonely duty to make.” This is the kind of intelligent obsession with the microscopic that can only flourish in cyberspace.

I am curious about how many readers also want to rebel against the typographers. Do you still use two spaces after a period (and what do you think of the serial comma, too)? Tell me at

© 2011 CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.


After the original article appeared, it provoked national interest in Canada and the author of the article summarised his findings in this next article. To read it, please go to:

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Fun Activity: Break Up Letter

Dear All,

Attached below is a picture taken of a break up letter written in badly translated English. It makes perfect sense if it had been translated back into the Malay language. I suspect that it could have been translated using a machine translation (e.g. Goggle Translate).

The resulting translation is hilarious!

Anyway, it gave me an idea for a fun activity.

After reading the text, explain to the students that the Western boyfriend would not be able to understand what was written.

Instruct the students to correct the English and produce an acceptable version and present it to the class.

It can be an individual, paired or group activity.

This activity can also be used for the Form 4 Literature Component Poem entitled He Had Such Quiet Eyes or a hot afternoon class where you need something to stir the students up!

Enjoy and I'll really appreciate any feedback on my comments section below this writing.

Rodney Tan


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

News: Abuses of Facebook by Students Towards Their Teachers and School

Many teachers would have a Facebook account to stay in touch with family and friends.

Some Facebooks are created for the sole purpose of interacting with students and for ELT purposes.

These would be the positive aspects of using Facebook.

However, there are times that this wonderful innovation is abused by students who are out to put down teachers, administrators and the school. What should an educator do then?

Already such abuses have been reported in the Malaysian media.

Below is an article about the negative experiences that actually occured in a Middle East country.

Rodney Tan


The writing on the wall

For disgruntled students, Facebook has become a forum for expressing their frustrations with teachers - but many argue the insults go too far.

By Dafna Arad

These days, it isn't only classmates attacking each other on the Facebook social networking site. Schoolchildren have also discovered that juicy virtual lemonade can be squeezed out of any sourpuss teacher. The increasing levels of disrespect and violent behavior seen in classrooms are now reinforced via targeted attacks on Facebook.

Even if the vitriol expressed on the site doesn't warrant a panic attack, it's impossible to look the other way given the extent of the phenomenon.

"Apparently one of the students filmed me during the course of a lesson and uploaded it on Facebook. I felt humiliated," relates a junior high school teacher form the center of the country.

Teachers who find out about these hurtful Web pages generally choose one of two reactions.

The standard, educational course involves a reprimand, a meeting with parents and the suspension of any students involved.

The more extreme response: contacting the police and filing a suit. The Education Ministry has not yet formulated procedures for addressing the problem.

Dr. Carmel Weissman of the SMART Family Foundation Communications Institute, who specializes in the connection between media and culture and wrote her doctorate on the blogs of teenage girls, explains that the repercussions of such behavior do not end in the school.

"When speech becomes written publication, it comes under the law prohibiting slander, but go try to apply the law to blogs, online comments or Facebook pages," she says. "The legal reality will have to deal differently with the implications of an [online social] network, and we will also have to get used to speech no longer being temporary or evanescent."

Just before the start of the current school year, veteran Nes Tziona high school teacher Merav Amdursky discovered that her students had opened a Facebook group called "Merav Amdursky - Wait for June 20."

The page included harsh posts put up by her students - posts containing death threats and virulent language.

The agitated teacher first contacted the police and subsequently decided to sue 10 of her students for slander, for the sum of NIS 30,000 each.

"We are living in a very violent society. As part of my educational work and as part of my civic [duties] I contacted the police, because I too am afraid," Amdursky said worriedly during an interview with Channel 2 News, explaining why she had taken such stringent steps. "There have already been cases abroad in which children have gone into their school and sprayed students and teachers with submachine guns."

The specific Facebook page in question has of course been deleted, but research conducted for this article revealed that there are still traces of activity against Amdursky on the website.

The recipe: Acetone + a lighter

For administrators, who try to quell discipline problems and maintain a positive environment for students, the school's image is one of their top priorities. But the battle to improve the image of a school has its limits.

Teachers say they refrain from joining Facebook, despite their curiosity, because they are not interested in revealing their private lives to the plethora of students on the site.

However, this reluctance also keeps them in the dark in terms of exposure to the extensive and unhindered activity conducted against them.

As of last week, 120 students were members of the group "I also Think it's Necessary to Burn Sha'ar Hanegev School!!!" One recommended the following recipe: "Acetone + a lighter + school = No school!!!"

The principal of Sha'ar Hanegev High School, Aharon Rothstein, was surprised to hear that such abusive activity was still going on.

"This is at least the third time I've encountered an invective page on Facebook directed against the school or related parties," he said. "On the previous occasions, the things said were even harsher and more targeted, but were done on a smaller level. As a means of punishment we brought in the police, we called in the students' parents and at a certain point we halted studies."

'Like' as therapy

There are many examples on Facebook of active, public groups one can join, where members can add fuel to the fire by uploading pictures and videos or writing cruel comments and curse words. For members of a group that bashes one high school gym teacher, the Facebook "Like" feature serves as therapy.

"Aren't you fed up with her yelling at you for no reason?! Insulting you?! I'm fed up with her fitness and her butt-face... It's time to resist and join the group," wrote one girl. "I feel like making her run around the school until she dies, the carcass."

Another group called "If we Reach 1,000 People, the Gym Teacher Buys Normal Clothes!!!" has 630 members. Endless discussions about a certain teacher's clothing take place on this page. For example: "He is improving, he has started coordinating colors," wrote one girl.

"His ugly clothes are simply in the laundry, so this week he came dressed alright," another commented.

"He improved after he saw that, compared to the number of Facebook friends he has, four times as many people want him to change his outfits," another student posted.

'May the school burn down, amen'

It is not only students in the public school system who go home in the afternoon to the bosom of Facebook. Many students in the religious sector, too, have found the site to be an effective forum on which to express their dissatisfaction with the academics and authority figures at school - in this case, the rabbis.

In a group opened under the name of a religious school in Ashdod, members wrote a collection of comments like "May the [school] shut down," and "What do you mean, shut down? May it burn down. Amen!"

"May the son of a bitch principal be burned and die," another student wrote.

"Hahaha .. He is seeing this now, you jerk," one friend replied, but the first boy does not let up: "Let him see it, the son of a bitch."

On the Facebook "Wall" of another group created by students at a religious elementary school, members list reasons why the teacher should be thrown in jail.

"A ) He abuses us. B ) He steals watches. C ) He hits children. D ) He was born," one student posted.

Another student invites his classmates to come to Room 2B and sign a petition for the teacher's dismissal.

For the profile picture of the group, which has 69 members, the children chose the image of a small red devil.

Lecturers at Israeli institutions of higher education are also at the mercy of embittered students, who just like the elementary schoolchildren have opened disparaging pages.

A lecturer at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem, for example, found out one day that she was a member of Facebook.

Because she had never signed up to join the social network herself, she looked into the situation and found a profile in her name that depicted her in an unflattering way.

A moment after making the chilling realization that her identity had been stolen, she discovered a Facebook group called "The Association for the Cancellation of Typography," where she found extensive correspondence between some of her students after they had received their course grades.

Harsh words against the lecturer were published on the page, with curses and particularly creative images, as one might expect from design students.

The students who had posted insults were called before the school's disciplinary committee and punished in accordance with their contributions to the page. Three students were suspended for a semester; other students were suspended for four weeks. The less active members of the group received various punishments or warnings.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Resource: The Best Sites for Learning About Planets and Space

Since returning from the Honeywell NASA Educators @ Space Camp recently, I've been very interested in materials that will help me use Space Science and Technology texts and exercies as a resource to teach English.

I've found an interesting site. Below is the link to a well-known ELT teacher blogger: Larry Ferlazzo's blog where he lists down useful websites to obtain such materials.

Have fun exploring and adapting the materials for your classroom!

Rodney Tan
Larry Ferlazzo has added some historic NASA photos to his excellent page, The Best Sites for Learning About Planets and Space.


Saturday, January 15, 2011

News: Malaysian Student is Tops AGAIN in Singapore

Dear All,

It's really gratifying to know that Malaysian students are among the top students even in highly competitive environments like the city-state of Singapore.

This speaks highly of the quality of our students and the education that they had received in their primary school which has been enhanced by the excellent education that is provided by the Singapore education system.

Malaysians BOLEH!   Proud to be a MALAYSIAN!

Rodney Tan
Malaysian student is tops again in Singapore

All smiles: Pei Yun celebrating as she is recognised for being the top O-level student in Singapore.

PETALING JAYA: For the third year in a row, a Malaysian has become a top scorer in the island republic, with Chia Pei Yun scoring 10 A1s in Singapore’s GCE O-level exams.

The 16-year-old student of the St Nicholas Girls’ School (SNGS) loves to read, practise handicraft and play the piano.

Chia, from Damansara Utama here, said she was a down-to-earth person and a “normal teenager” who was often on Facebook in her free time.

The Asean scholar managed to score As in Mathematics, English, English Literature, Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Geology, Huma-nities, Malay and Chinese.

According to Chia, she managed to achieve her excellent results through perseverance in revising throughout the year.

“This helped me relax when the exams approached,” she said in a telephone interview.

Chia said she was focused and determined in her journey towards achieving the position of top scorer in the GCE O-level exams.

“When I am away from home, I miss my family a lot but I do not let my feelings get in the way of my studies,” she added.

According to SNGS principal Chan Wan Siang, Chia was a hardworking girl who was always positive and willing to learn.

“Pei Yun loves music and was a level coordinator in the school choir,” she said.

Chan is proud at the school’s achievement in having top O-level scorers for three years in a row.


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Opinion: To teach or not to teach grammar?

Dear All,

To teach or not to teach grammar?

This has been  a long drawn debate in the ELT world. But to write off the old structural approach completely may not be the answer.  I was partly taught through this approach.

The communicative approach has its short comings too, like the lack of emphasis on the proper sentence structure formation to provide a precise meaning.

In my classroom, I use the electic approach. I find some explanation of the rules help to improve in the proper construction of sentences and to provide some meaning to sentence construction. This is especially helpful for students who have some working knowledge of the English language.

What do you think?

Rodney Tan

To teach or not to teach grammar?
Ravinarayan Chakrakodi

There has been a debate on the place of grammar in English language pedagogy.

Many researchers argue that grammar is acquired naturally if learners are exposed to sufficient comprehensible input, and that grammar doesn’t need to be taught. However, some educators believe that teaching can enhance the acquisition of grammar, and help speed up the process.

Two approaches to teaching grammar

If we believe that the teaching of grammar is necessary, then there are different ways of doing it. One is the form-focused teaching of grammar and the other is the functional approach. In the form-focused approach, formal grammar - rules and principles of language - becomes the starting point of teaching. On the other hand, functional grammar views language use, communicative purpose and the context as more important than the formal properties of linguistic expressions.

The form-focused teaching of grammar was the hallmark of structural approach which was based on the behaviourist views of learning. It was widely practiced until the 1970s in many countries. Structural drills, pattern practice, substitution tables and sentence-based linguistic rules were prevalent in the language classroom then. Exercises asking students to transform one sentence pattern into another were widely used in teaching English language. Although these teaching practices are still widely used at all levels - from primary to college level classrooms - in our context, there has been a major shift in the teaching of grammar.

One of the reasons for the shift is that explicit teaching of prescriptive grammar is not found effective in learning a language. Also, learners find it extremely difficult to transform the grammatical structures learned in the class to communicative contexts outside. Form-focused means of teaching grammar promote passive rather than active participation of learners in the learning process. Moreover, what is important for a language user is not only the production of rule-governed sentences but also the ability to negotiate meaning and produce coherent communication. Hence, the scope of language study has broadened from the development of grammatical competence to the development of communicative competence.

In the functional approach to the teaching of grammar, meaning is central. Grammar is seen as a resource for making and exchanging meanings. The focus is on language use rather than on the formal aspects of language.

Language awareness approach

In the functional approach, ‘language awareness’ activities play a crucial role. Here, grammar instruction takes place in implicit and inductive ways rather than in an explicit way. Instead of the teacher presenting an explicit description of grammatical structures or rules, learners are made to notice particular aspects of language. Using input-processing and consciousness-raising tasks, learners are made aware of specific grammatical features. Here, learners are required to discover the rules for themselves.

Corpus linguistics and lexical approach

Another interesting area that has important implications for understanding and teaching grammar is Corpus Linguistics. Students need to learn common/ high-frequency words very thoroughly because they carry the main patterns of the language. Massive databases for spoken and written language are available to us on websites (British National Corpus) and concordance programmes help us identify examples of particular grammatical patterns. For example, the word ‘any’ typically occurs in the following combinations:

*Any + plural noun (Do you have any brothers or sisters?)

* Not + any + plural or uncountable noun (There isn’t any milk)

* Any + of (Have you read any of her books?)

* Any + comparative (Do you feel any better?)

Using the Corpus of English, teachers/ learners can make a list of the grammatical patterns of high-frequency words. By doing this, they can learn important grammar structures in English. The classroom implication of this for English teachers is that they should pay more attention to lexical units such as words, set phrases, idioms and collocations since these units contribute extensively in developing fluency in the language.

It is useful to expose learners to high-frequency words and their high-frequency patterns as, according to research studies, the most frequent 700 words of English account for roughly 70 per cent of all English text. Which means, around 70 per cent of the English we speak, hear, read and write is made up of 700 common English words. Besides, the most frequent 1,500 words account for 80 per cent of all text and the most frequent 2,500 words account for 86 per cent of all text.

However, the words by themselves may not carry much value. For example, words such as ‘the’ and ‘of’, which are structural words, have no meaning on their own. It is only when they combine with other words that they carry meaning. Hence, the lexical way of teaching helps in understanding the meaning and use of English. It also helps in expanding the language repertoire of learners.

Learners should not be made to practice grammar in decontextualised and mechanical ways. Rather, meaningful exposure to large samples of language is necessary in learning grammar. Grammar should be practised in such a way that students learn to use the language meaningfully and appropriately


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Poem: Are You Still Playing Your Flute? (original Malay version)

Dear Readers,

Below I have included the original Malay version by the poet, Zurinah Hassan.

A controversy has been brewing recently. The final 4th verse with 3 lines of the English version was NOT included in the school textbook edition. Why this was left out is unknown. 

Another controversy is the gross discrepancy between the English and Malay version in Stanza 3 Line 4. The poet herself says that it was not her fault. It was a typo error by the publisher.

For more details of this second controversy, go to:

and also the poet's own comments about this latest controversy:
in the hazard of you   (stanza 3 line 4)

should be

in the hazard of this city
(di kota yang semakin kusut dan tenat)

Teachers, please correct and add this to the poem.

For an interpretation and comments about this poem by the poet herself, please go to the poet's blog at and look for the topic blogged on Monday17th May 2010.


Masihkah kau bermain seruling
walau waktu telah terlewat untuk kita bercinta
aku semakin terasa bersalah
melayani godaan irama
lagu yang tersimpan pada lorong halus buluh
dikeluarkan oleh nafas seniman
diukir oleh bibir
diatur oleh jari
dilayangkan oleh alun angin
menolak ke dasar rasa.

Masihkah kau bermain seruling
ketika kampung semakin sunyi
sawah telah uzur
waktu jadi terlalu mahal
untuk memerhatikan hujan turun
merenung jalur senja
mengutip manik embun
menghidu harum bunga.

Masihkah kau bermain seruling
ketika aku terasa mata bersalah
untuk melayani rasa rindu padamu
di kota yang semakin kusut dan tenat
adik-adikku menganggur dan sakit jiwa
bangsaku dipecahkan oleh politik
saudara diserang bom-bom ganas
dunia sudah terlalu tua dan parah.

Di sinilah berakhirnya percintaan kita
kerana zaman sedang menuntut para seniman
hidup di luar dirinya.

(Zurinah Hassan)

English Version (4th verse that was left out)

Is this the end of our love
time is forcing us, as artists
to live outside ourselves
Note that this poem is NOT a romantic poem but it is a poem about poets and writers being social activists.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Report: Honeywell NASA Educators@SpaceCamp 4

This is the final of my 4 part report on my experiences at the Honeywell NASA Educators@SpaceCamp in Huntsville, Alabama, USA.

It concludes with the usefulness of the materials that I've acquired during the whole camp, how it has enriched my professional development and the contest to be selected for this fully funded experience.

If you have any questions or comments,  please write it below. I'll try to answer them the best I can. Do leave your email if you prefer a personalized answer.


Rodney Tan
4) How has the programme been useful in imparting knowledge to the student?

The Educators Space Camp is an excellent vehicle for teachers to influence their students to be interested in Space Science and for getting students to like the sciences. It encourages students to find solutions to problems while having fun. At the same time, the activities motivates the students to consider space science related careers such as being an astronaut, space or rocket engineer

The Space Camp for teachers focuses on new ideas and activities that teachers can use in the classroom especially in Maths and Science subjects but with more emphasis on space and space exploration. The activities can be also adapted for other subjects such as languages, geography and physical education.

Most of the materials for classroom and teacher’s resource kits are available freely on the Internet. You can try and google keywords such as NASA LCROSS STEM K12 or go to

5) How has this program enriched me?

The whole programme is an out-of-this-world experience and so far, this has been the greatest professional development that I have ever participated in.

One of my favorite part was probably the simulations like the Moon Walk (1/6th Gravity Motion), the Multi-Axis Trainer (aka The Vomit Machine) and the Space Shot (vertical Gs) & G-Force (horizontal Gs) experience. It made me realize how much more goes into the preparation of an astronaut for space flight than I had ever imagined.

Having experienced Educators Space Camp, it`s so much better than reading about space in a textbook because now I have some background information and some extra experiences which I can share with my students.

This camp has inspired me to reinvigorate my English lessons with Space Science materials and to share what I have learned with English, Math and Science teachers. It also made me realised that the space science theme cuts across the curriculum. For example, I learned to read and interpret actual Martian landmarks and this could be a geography lesson. On the other hand, the space science reading materials are an ideal vehicle for learning English and English for Science and Technology. The physical training and simulations of an astronaut involves Physical Education and the medical sciences as well. The list goes on.

Interestingly, our Space Camp team has set up a Facebook and we are in daily contact with each other. We continue to exchange ideas and news, and we try to collaborate on projects such as e-mail exchanges and to share ideas for the classroom through the Internet. Through these efforts, we hope there will be mutual understanding and cooperation between our schools, teachers and countries. This is an invaluable experience that I will continue to draw from in the years ahead.

The school which I am teaching now, SMK Methodist ACS Melaka has the school motto, “Ad Astra Per Aspera” (To the Stars through Perseverance) aptly describes the effort taken to be successfully selected for the programme. I have heard about this opportunity since 2006 when I googled for professional development opportunities. After three attempts, I was excited to be finally chosen for this once in a lifetime chance in 2010. This one-of-a-kind experience for teachers reinforces my own belief and the school’s to have faith and persevere until we achieve our objective even though we failed the first few times.

I would particularly like to thank my Principal, Mr. Lee Bun Chuan for his great encouragement and full support for me to attend this programme, and also to the Melaka State Education Department for the permission and leave required to attend this camp. But my greatest gratitude is to the Honeywell Hometown Solutions selection committee consisting of Jill Williams, Graham Campbell and Kelly Reed for believing in me and fully paying for my trip there.

Special thanks also to Harren Solveig,  Marian Gilmore  and Ruth Marie Oliver for facilitating all the flight arrangements, accomodation and the efficient running of the whole programme. Thanks also to our two facilitators: Diane Brown and Martin (Shaggy) Demel for making us feel at home as a group and helping us learn and enjoy our activities.

There are also possible opportunities to bring our students for the students’ Space Camp in the US or other countries where they have a similar set-up. I am actively pursuing one of these options to send my students to a Space Camp in a foreign country. I have obtained a limited number of scholarships for students to attend the Turkish Spce Camp in Izmir, Turkey from 17-23 July 2011. The student has to prepare the roundtrip airfare and some miscellaneous expenses like insurance etc. (approximately RM5,000). Please contact me soon as possible if you are interested at . This opportunity is open only for Malaysian students studying in Form 1-3 (ages 12 -15)

Latest Update:
As I have received poor response regarding the above offer, I've decided not to take up the scholarships for this year. If anyone is able to get a substantial reduction for the airfare and is interested to join this programme for next year (2012), please contact me as soon as possible.

6) How do we get selected for this Honeywell NASA Educators@SPACECAMP?

We need to note that the selection process is strictly based on the merits of the essays that a teacher writes. It is highly competitive and winners are selected by a panel from the Honeywell Space Programme following an online application which includes brief paragraphs and three brief write ups on various aspects of teaching in ones subject area. The essays are of 200-300 words maximum.

The participants are chosen based on evidence that the teacher has displayed passion, innovation and is not afraid to challenge traditional educational paradigms. Do write about your achievements and contributions in education especially about Science and Mathematics, engineering, module writing and related competitions like robotics, technology, astronomy, rocket building and space related ones. Don’t forget to write about how you can promote this programme as well.

I would like to encourage all teachers in primary and secondary schools and teacher trainers to apply for this opportunity.

Filled an online e-form for the Educators Space Camp by 31 December 2010 at the latest and if you are successful, you may receive a formal invitation from Honeywell & NASA Educators@Space Camp in March 2011. The next two batches of the programme will begin from June 15-21 and June 22-28, 2011.

For application & complete information on Honeywell NASA Educator@SpaceCamp and the fully-funded scholarship go to:        or

If you missed this year's application, please persevere and try for next year's intake. Remember, it took me 5 years and 3 attempts (I missed out on 2 years).

Note: Successful applicants need to prepare about RM1,000 as cost for the US Visa application and interview, and transport to and from home to KLIA which is not provided for.

Written by:

Rodney Tan Chai Whatt
English Head of Panel
SMK Methodist ACS
Jalan Tengkera
75200 Melaka.


Standing by the Eagle which aided man's landing on the Moon. The 4 wheel Rover is just beside the Eagle. Awesome!

I'm standing right underneath an actual Saturn V rocket engine that took man to the Moon and back. Look at the size of the most powerful machine ever built by man at that time.

Posing in my Flight Suit in front of the Space Shuttle cockpit model.

Assigned as the Head of the whole space mission based in the Command Flight Centre.

Being securely strapped to the Multi Axis Trainer by the facilitator. I had to remove my glasses and everything from my pockets to avoid my stuff from flying all over the place!

Building toys that were tested before in micro gravity (outer space).

My complete model rocket before the actual launching outdoors.

The Zip-line tower where we were attached to a zip-line and splashing into the shallow pond. We were also dunked into the water in that drum like carriage on the bottom left of the picture and later rescued in a basket to simulate a helicopter rescue. That's a Huey helicopter perched on top of the tower.

A very interesting quote to inspire boys. I remembered our Melaka State Education Department having a programme a few years ago to toughen up the boys in schools! We share the same aspiration!

The Dunking Machine where we were slowly lowered into the water almost to our neck and we had to swim out to a safe area for rescue. 

In the Science research lab of the International Space Station simulator. Posing with a Filipino and an American teachers.

Ed Buckbee giving an interesting talk on the Real Space Cowboys -- the very first astronauts chosen for the early space programme. He recounted the Space Race with the Russians and development of the Space Shuttle. One of the stories that caught my attention was about the special treatment received by the monkey that was sent into space.

Trying to create the illusion that I was holding up the Saturn V rocket.

Group photo of Team KIBO during the final night dinner and dance.

The band named Alley Cats providing live music while teachers dance the night away! Noticed the Eagle space vehicle behind the band? We had a great "let your hair down" fun time!