Saturday, August 22, 2015

Toast Masters Talk: Shut Down Kids


Good evening ladies and gentlemen.

I am grateful for this opportunity to give a talk on shutdown kids.

First and foremost, I would like to thank Dr. Jacob Yan who invited me to give this talk. Dr.  Jacob Yan is a fellow club member of The Lions Club of Kota Kinabalu Host, the oldest and largest Lions club in Sabah.

This talk is one of the numerous activities of The Lions Club of Kota Kinabalu Host.

Two years ago when my boss who had migrated to Canada returned for a visit, he pumped some petrol into his vehicle and came to my house to fetch me. Within a few hundred metres the car began to jerk. We stopped at the Shell station in Jalan Bundusan and asked a mechanic to check the car. He checked and said that there was petrol in the car’s diesel engine. So, he drained out the petrol and pumped in diesel, and voila! The vehicle performed as it should. A shut-down kid, in a way, is like a diesel engine. If you put in diesel it works fine but will refuse to move when you pump it with petrol.

The problem is not the engine, it is the fuel. A shut-down child needs to be taught in a way acceptable to him or her. Letter sounds have to be taught explicitly to him.

If I were a left-hander and throw a ball at you asking you to catch it with your left hand and you were unable to catch it being a right-hander, can I call you disabled? Unfortunately, this is what the school is doing to these children who are prone to shutting down when confused. They are taught in a way unsuitable to them and then are called stupid or lazy.

About 80% of kids learn to read irrespective of how they are being taught. They are akin to hybrid engines of taxis in Kuala Lumpur which work whether you pump in gas or petrol, having both a cylinder for gas in the car boot and a tank for petrol.

And a majority of the remaining 20% are like the diesel engine we talked about. These kids are always asking questions like ‘How’ and ‘Why’ and when they do not have a logical answer or explanation they shut down/become disengaged/become disconnected. These kids do not ask a teacher in a class setting as they do not want to sound stupid. They hope someone else will ask the question. When no one else does they don’t understand what is going on. They get confused and shut down.

A majority of children, who leave school as illiterates, are those who had ‘shut–down’ very early in their school lives.

They disengage when they are confused. They often say, “Why do I have to learn this?” “This doesn’t make sense!” “This is stupid!”

I taught one of my first students to read the word ‘ox’ and she read it correctly. Then I asked her to say the word ‘fox’ by repeating it after me. She stared at me and refused to say it. I again asked her to repeat what I had said and she just kept silent and stared at me. At that moment her mother came to pick her up.

In our next session I asked her the sound of the letter f and she happily said ‘fur’, I continued and she said m was ‘mur’, n was ‘nur’, and so forth. I asked her who had taught all these sounds and she said it was her tuition centre teacher.

The following day I telephoned the tuition centre and the teacher pronounced it just as my student had. I then realised that this was the problem. To my student, the word fox should have been ‘fur-ox’. As far as she was concerned if the sound of the letter F is fur and o-x is ox then fox must be sounded as fur-ox. If M is sounded as Mur and a-n is an then m-a-n must be mur-an. As such many kids shut down as early as kindergarten because they have been taught letter sounds wrongly. For an example of how letter sounds are taught wrongly please listen to the video in my post at: LINK

You can hear it under skill 2 between minutes 1.48 and 3.05 in the video.

I had to teach this girl to unlearn all the wrong phonemes before I could teach her to read. I taught her three times a week for about 6 months. If I may say so, this girl was one of the top students in her class in St. Francis Convent in Form 3 (year 9) in 2014.

I teach disengaged children on a one-on-one basis. Many times students stop and stare when I say certain words. Their minds shut down when what they hear does not make sense to them. For example, when I teach the family words but, cut, gut, hut, jut, and nut they learn them with ease. However, when I sound out the word put they stare at me. As far as they are concerned the word ‘put’ should be pronounced ‘putt’ and not ‘put’.

I tell my students that this is the problem with the English language and ask them to pronounce the word 'put' the way it is pronounced.

I have also noticed many of my students opening their eyes wide and staring at me when I teach them the words - 'A cat'. I start by teaching my students the family words bat, cat, fat, and so forth. This they learn with ease. Then when I read 'A cat' they look lost. Why is this so?  They have learned the phoneme of the letter 'a' as in ‘air’ in the family words bat, cat, fat, mat, pat, rat, and sat. However, now the letter 'A' in 'A cat' has a different phoneme (sound). Here the alphabet ‘A’ has the sound of ‘A’ as in ‘around’. When this is not explained to a child who is prone to shutting down, his mind shuts down. He does not want to listen to a teacher who says one thing about a letter at one time and then says a completely different thing about the same letter at another time.

I tell them that the letter 'a' represents many sounds. I point out new sounds to them when we come across them in the course of our reading.

The English language has 26 alphabets to make up 44 phonemes or sounds. For instance, the letter A represents 5 different sounds as in:

A as in ant, atlas, axe, animal

A as in article, ask, art, arm

A as in around, away, ago, asleep

A as in always, almost, although, also

A as in alien, ace, angel, aim

The alphabet E represents 6 sounds, U and I 3 sounds, and O 5 sounds. Even the consonants are not spared. The letter C for instance represents the K sound (cat) and S sound (city). The letter G for instance stands for gun, giant, and giraffe.

I have had students who have asked me, “Uncle, the other day you said o-n is on and now you say station and not stay-shawn.

One student asked me why ‘was’ is spelled that way and not ‘wos’.

So each time a disengaged child sees any one of these letters he has to think as to which sound is appropriate. Now, he can do this when he has been told that these letters represent more than one phoneme/sound. It is when this is not taught that he shuts down and does not learn further. Imagine if you will, a bricklayer building a brick wall. He has to lay the bottom layer first. Then he lays the second, third layer and so on. He cannot lay the third layer without having laid the first layer. This is similar to a disengaged kid who has not learned the very foundation of reading- the phonemes/sounds of letters. He is then branded as stupid or lazy by his teachers and friends. He loses his self-esteem and in time begins to believe he is stupid. To take the attention away from his ‘inability’ to read he begins to be disruptive in class. He begins to clown around and earns a bad reputation. The downward spiral continues and the longer you wait the more difficult it becomes to re-engage him in learning to read.

So, ladies and gentlemen please help us to help parents who are ‘suffering’ with kids who shut down. Help us spread the word that The Lions Club of Kota Kinabalu Host has this committee that wants to assist them. Pass on the blog. LINK

The above blog has been created with these shut-down kids and their parents in mind. Please pass it on to teachers who may be unaware of the problems faced by these disengaged students.

Thank you and good night.


Kandiah N said...

Hi Luqman,
This is beautiful. You have fully explained the problems faced by these so called dyslexic kids. Of course I see that now you have coined a new word ''shut down kids''. Nevertheless, the kids who have this types of problems will benefit from this approach to teaching them English. The problem is actually in the English language itself in the first place. With 26 letters they are trying to form sounds that go beyond 44.
On the other hand look at the ancient living Tamil language. Once the child (any child)learns the sounds of 12 vowels and 18 consonants, they are set to read Tamil by themselves without help. Anyone in the world will read a letter or word that sounds exactly the same.

Luqman Michel said...

Thank you for your comment,sir.
The problem is to get those who speak and read only in the English language to understand what we know. How do we make them understand what we know? We know for a fact that one who speaks Tamil can learn to read in Tamil if he learns the Tamil alphabets.One does not need a teacher to teach one to read in Tamil. When I mention this to the professors who read and speak only English they brush this aside by saying all these are shallow languages or transparent languages.
They say that all these languages where a child who is 'dyslexic' can read is a shallow language.
I prefer to use the word shut-down, disengaged or disconnected student to dyslexic student as there appear to be people with vested interest who keep adding ailments/conditions to the already long list of ailments/conditions that have been assigned to dyslexia.
This will be obvious when you see the definition of Learning Disabilities by Learning Disabilities Association of America where dyslexia is defined as one of the learning disabilities. The dyslexic association on the other hand includes all the learning disabilities under the dyslexia umbrella.