Thursday, October 8, 2015

Q&A on Disengaged Students



The following is a Face Book Q&A between my former employer Mr.Kandiah Namasivayam and myself.
Kandiah:
Luqman, some Kids shut down while Learning English. Others don't. Why? That is the million dollar question. It is obvious to you. But when some kids have no problem why only some kids shut down? So the entire blame cannot be put on English and its teaching method. Obviously there is more to it than what is apparent. Now I wonder why kids turn off when watching Sesame Street? There could be many reasons, one being distraction or attention deficiency syndrome. How do you connect the former to this one?

Luqman:
Malcolm Gladwell  says it like I have said all this while. He said kids 'Tune off' when things get confusing. Similarly, kids disengage when what they are being taught makes no sense.

80% of kids learn regardless of the method used to teach them - be it whole language method or phonics with Dolch words.

There are about 20% of kids who are probably wired differently (like the left handed) who when not taught explicitly they disengage.

Teachers teach A is for apple, B is for bed, C is for cat and so forth and all kids learn these very quickly and easily. But when the teacher subsequently teaches A is for ace or A is for arm without telling the kids that the letter A has more than one sound the about 20% of kids who are prone to shutting down will shut down. These are kids who are instruction casualties and the teachers call them lazy or stupid. There are videos produced by "Children of the code" series where children were interviewed after a number of years. If you listen to them they sound exactly like my students whom I have taught over the past 11 years. They can think and speak well but avoid reading.

I ask myself as to why these same kids can learn to read in Han yu pin yin (Romanised Mandarin) and read like a bullet train but not in English?

It is not just me but there are reports in the internet about researchers who say many students read fluently in Italian but not in English. Unfortunately the researchers don’t appear to go another step forward to find out why but take the easy way out by saying that Italian is a ‘transparent language’ as opposed to English which apparently is an ‘opaque language’. There are others who call it ‘shallow language’ as opposed to ‘deep language’.

As for what Malcolm said in his book Tipping point I have it in my blog post dated: 21.3.2011.

For convenience I copy it here for you:
“If you take these two studies together – the toys study and the editing study- you reach quite a radical conclusion about children and television. Kids don’t watch when they are stimulated and look away when they are bored. They watch when they understand and look away when they are confused. If you are in the business of educational television, this is a critical difference. It means if you want to know whether – and what – kids are learning from a TV show, all you have to do is notice what they are watching. Preschoolers are so sophisticated in their viewing behaviour that you can determine the stickiness of children’s programming by simple observation.”                                                                  Pg 102

You may also want to read the book "Men of massachusettes" where Anderson who was the pioneer of Sesame Street says "...if the kids could not make sense  of the pictures on the screen  they simply tuned out the programme or walked off." 

Please also read the comment by a teacher at the bottom of the above post.

Reasons why kids can be disengaged can also be, like you said, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), coming from a broken family (divorced parents), poverty and so on. But the question is how many such kids? Surely it cannot be 20%.

In US it is said that some kids are disengaged because they come from families that don’t speak English. That may be so but in my class in primary one, I believe, hardly anyone knew a word of English and yet all of us learnt to read well in English as well as in Malay.

Kandiah:
If a kid is confused about any subject he shuts down, not necessarily English. i.e. Weight and mass. I was confused too when I had to learn them, but when taught what they really are with logic I understood. Some kids even then had not understood. As do some kids learning English. Teaching the English language to different groups, style may vary according to the ability of different groups to grasp the concept. The right style of teaching English is the crux of the matter. Controversy lies there.

Luqman:
That is exactly what I am saying, isn't it?

The roughly 20% of kids get confused and stop learning completely - don't forget they are in kindergarten and in primary one. They are in the 20% unlike you who fall in the 80% and if you cannot understand today you ask your friends/parents etc until you get it. You will raise your hand and ask the teacher to explain but not the kid who falls in the 20% category. He waits for others to ask the question and when others don’t ask, because they understand, he is lost.

If I may explain, it is like a bricklayer who is laying bricks to make a wall. He has to lay the first layer of the wall before laying the second, third and the other layers. These kids in kindergarten are kids who have not even ‘laid the first layer of bricks’. How can the second layer be laid? They go on to primary 2 and then to primary 3 without having learnt the basic. Will they be able to read? No! Then people say, “give them encouragement/motivation and they will be able to read”. Tell me, Sir, what encouragement or how much motivation will make them to be able to read when they are already in primary 2 or 3.

By the time he is in primary 2 or 3 his self esteem will have already eroded. He will have begun to believe what his friends (unfortunately sometimes even teachers) call him – stupid. 

My first student who came to me in 2004 was a classic case of a ‘shut-down’ kid. He had gone to kindergarten for one year and then primary one in a government school for one year. He was then transferred after having finished one year of study to a private school – Simon Fung - where he was admitted back to primary one. You have met his father Mr.Ho, an accountant. This kid was brought to me mid-way into primary one in Simon Fung. He could not read anything at all.

I am glad to say that he was promoted to primary 5 while half way into primary 4. How was this possible? I had to start from the beginning and teach him to unlearn the wrong sounds of letters that he had learnt from kindergarten. I had to teach him that all the vowels in English have more than one sound. I also had to teach him that some of the consonants have more than one sound. Once he could grasp this the rest was easy. All that was needed was to make him understand. Somewhat like you not being able to do weight and mass until you understood the ‘logic’.

He passed his UPSR exams (year six) with good grades. Don’t forget he had to catch up with science and mathematics that he had not studied in the second half of primary 4 and the first half of primary 5 because he jumped class. He did extremely well in form 5 (year 11) and now is in upper 6.

Sir, over these 11 years I have taught about 50 students who fall in the same category.

Kandiah:
There are so many variables Luqman. Some kids are really smart but had blocks in certain aspect of learning and that is compounded by the idiosyncrasies of the English language.

Luqman:
You are absolutely correct. I am talking about the majority of kids who shut down who are instruction casualties. We all know about the idiosyncrasies of the English language. I am not talking about that at all. I am only talking about getting a kid to read. Once he can read, and understands what it takes to read, the other matters he will learn in due course. I believe I have told you about my friend’s kids who laughed at me when I pronounced the word salmon. This was when I was about 45 years old. No one had told me that the letter ‘l’ in the word salmon is silent. But what is the big deal? I can read and able to understand most words. I can now look up words for meaning as well as pronunciation on the computer.

Kandiah:
Yes that I agree. Methods and styles should suit these kids' requirements. Perhaps that is the reason most of them succeed when suitable one to one instruction is given.

Luqman:
Yes, sir. That is why I am spending so much time with this blog, Face Book and in Linkedin. There is no money in what I am doing. I really feel for these kids who are very smart but are instruction casualties.

Did you see my video of the Australian lady who teaches Phonics? That is exactly how most teachers here teach. I have seen another blog in Australia where the teacher says the same thing as I do. Many teachers in many parts of the world teach kids the wrong sound of letters. However, as you know, that is not the only problem with teaching a kid to read in the English language.

Kandiah:
I didn't see the video. Well, Ok Luqman, we will continue may be tomorrow. Here it is past mid-night now.

Luqman:
Sure. I will email you the video. Tomorrow you can view it.
Good night sir.

4 comments:

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