Why I love the month of Ramadan

Ramadan,
I adore it,
indeed it’s a blessed month,
it teaches me to be patient,
it brings discipline back into my life,
it makes me remember that there’s more to life than eating,
most importantly, it brings me closer to God (Allah),
it re-ignites my interest in the Qur’an,
it reminds me of what I’m so fortunate to have,
it makes me think of those less fortunate than me,
it helps me clear my mind,
it’s a time to contemplate,
on matters more spiritual,
more closer to the soul,
time to reflect on ones role,
to rectify oneself,
to be more in control,
not to fall for fruitless desires
but to do what really matters,
to help those less fortunate,
to be an example to society,
to show what life is really about,
self-sacrifice and service to others,
to bring hope to others,
to be a force for good,
the ultimate aim of course,
is to please the One and Only Almighty.

Thank you God (Allah) for giving us this beautiful month of…

…Ramadan..,
Oh how I’ll miss it when it goes.

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The Scientific 7-Minute Workout

Declaration: The article below is not mine, and is taken from:

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/09/the-scientific-7-minute-workout/

by Gretchen Reynolds

However, it’s a great up-to-date topic to discuss with your students when discussing health etc. I also want to reveal that I’ve put it up here so that I can keep referring to it! Even old fogies can dream! Let’s get the Play Station generation up and about!

This column appears in the May 12 issue of The New York Times Magazine.

Exercise science is a fine and intellectually fascinating thing. But sometimes you just want someone to lay out guidelines for how to put the newest fitness research into practice.

An article in the May-June issue of the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health & Fitness Journal does just that. In 12 exercises deploying only body weight, a chair and a wall, it fulfills the latest mandates for high-intensity effort, which essentially combines a long run and a visit to the weight room into about seven minutes of steady discomfort — all of it based on science.

“There’s very good evidence” that high-intensity interval training provides “many of the fitness benefits of prolonged endurance training but in much less time,” says Chris Jordan, the director of exercise physiology at the Human Performance Institute in Orlando, Fla., and co-author of the new article.

Work by scientists at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and other institutions shows, for instance, that even a few minutes of training at an intensity approaching your maximum capacity produces molecular changes within muscles comparable to those of several hours of running or bike riding.

Interval training, though, requires intervals; the extremely intense activity must be intermingled with brief periods of recovery. In the program outlined by Mr. Jordan and his colleagues, this recovery is provided in part by a 10-second rest between exercises. But even more, he says, it’s accomplished by alternating an exercise that emphasizes the large muscles in the upper body with those in the lower body. During the intermezzo, the unexercised muscles have a moment to, metaphorically, catch their breath, which makes the order of the exercises important.

The exercises should be performed in rapid succession, allowing 30 seconds for each, while, throughout, the intensity hovers at about an 8 on a discomfort scale of 1 to 10, Mr. Jordan says. Those seven minutes should be, in a word, unpleasant. The upside is, after seven minutes, you’re done.

A version of this article appeared in print on 05/12/2013, on page MM20 of the New York edition with the headline: The Scientific 7-Minute Workout.

What is the purpose of classroom testing, assessment and evaluation?

When we think of testing, we often think of TOEFL or IELTS. These high stakes exams, with their potential to help make or break futures, are what many think of as the typical exam.

In classes across the world, teachers emulate these exams by using the same question types e.g. multiple choice questions (MCQs).

Often, testing, assessment or evaluation is reduced to a quiz of some kind. Students get a mark, and that’s the end of the story.

At the same time, people in the testing industry, who are mainly involved with the big examination bodies, cannot understand why teachers cannot grasp the ideas of validity and reliability.

I think that unless ‘testing people’ are not teaching themselves, they will never be able to understand class dynamics, and thus why there is such a gap or disconnect between those with testing knowledge, and people who want to assess in the classroom. But is it really up to people who are testers? What about teachers? What’s their take on this? Are they worried? Are they also unhappy about testing in their contexts?

In the Middle East, there is a tendency to reduce the role of teachers to just receiving centrally written quizzes and tests. In reality this reflects the lack of confidence in teacher testing ability.

There are a lot of issues.

I think we need to simplify things and create a take-off point, from which teachers can move forward in terms of their testing knowledge. Let’s keep the testing and assessment jargon to one side.

What I’m proposing, is that we start off with a simple question. The question being. “What is the purpose of classroom testing, assessment and evaluation?”

Once we have the answer to this, we can then take the discussion further. I have my own answers, but if you are a teacher, who teaches a language, what in your view is the purpose of a test?

Once you have an idea of this, it’ll open doors, and hopefully result in an innovative movement in testing, although it’ll be a tough job to convince those who see testing as merely a score producing exercise. But the point is, that we need to look at the classroom as a different context, and study it’s dynamics. The classroom is a learning environment. The role of testing has to be seen as something that contributes to this. Unless we start looking at testing in this sense, it is difficult to see how large numbers of teachers will see tests as anything beyond the merely producing a score.

Lastly, we mustn’t forget our most important stakeholder, the student. After all, they are the ones directly affected by all of this.

Until next time..

Assessment without numbers

What does a number mean? If someone gets 80 on the TOEFL iBT what does it actually mean? Is someone who gets 85 better that someone who got 80? Really? How?

What about in the classroom? You give students a score out of 10, 15, 20 etc, but what does the score really mean? What does good, very good or excellent mean? Do we really know what we mean? Do the students understand what the scores mean, or even these expressions?

What if scores were totally replaced by descriptions or descriptors? What if we gave a student a description of what they had achieved?

Are we giving students marks, because that’s the way it’s always been? Or may be this is also a reflection of our educational backgrounds as well as the undergraduate and graduate courses we’ve taken. After all, we probably also got scores or grades.

And what about the usefulness of assessment. What can we do to make students more aware and at the same time get them to do something about their learning?

It might require us as teachers to also take a closer look at what we mean, and/or what our students are really doing. But may be we just don’t have the time?

So there are a lot of questions here, a lot of elements, what now?

Well, what do you think? What do you do? How can we reinvent testing and assessment?

I’m hoping to add future posts to the questions above.

Trying to diet and get healthy

I’ve recently decided to get fit again.  Why now? I don’t know, I guess I have the urge to look better and feel better, plus my belly… Well, I won’t say too much about that.

My diet has changed. I’m now eating mostly proteins, and some carbohydrates during the day. There is virtually no sugar in my diet. I’m hoping this is going to help me lose weight!!

So basically, at the moment, for breakfast, I have freshly squeezed orange juice. I also have grapefruit. 2 to 3 hours later, I eat a piece of grilled chicken. I drink plenty of water in-between. I also eat a green apple if I get a chance.

For lunch, I have a sandwich. This is with brown bread and grilled chicken or tuna.The sandwich also contains some salad, so things like cucumber, lettuce, tomato and onions.

I try to drink plenty of water, and again a few hours later I’ll have some more chicken. Not too much. So between lunch and dinner I’m eating mostly fruit, and drinking water.

In the evening, before going to the gym, I’ll have a banana to give me some energy. When I get to the gym, I’ll do some  warm-up exercises, and this is then followed by a session in the gym. I was never a fan of going to the gym, but I’ve decided to have a go. There are different types of sports machines. It’s all new to me. My muscles do ache a little after doing a session. I suppose this is a good sign? On alternate days, I will also do an hour of aerobic exercises. This really makes me sweat.

All of this exercise of course makes me hungry, and so when I get home, I have a ceaser’s  salad (basically, lots of salad and chicken). I know I seem to be eating a lot of chicken, but I do vary this. I eat tuna if I can. So the current focus is on eating a lot of protein, eating relatively few carbohydrates, drinking lots of water and fresh juice, and eating as much fruit as I like.

Where is this all going to end up? Well, time will tell. I’ll keep you posted!

You can use this article as supplementary material if you like, as most EFL/ESL books have a unit related to health. All the best.

Teaching very very weak students how to write

picture source: emiller27.wordpress.com

How many times have you ended up with a class of students who seem to be well below the level required for a particular class?

They cannot seem to comprehend what you say (listening and vocabulary knowledge?), and are unable to respond when you speak to them. They seem to lack basic words, and yet you have to teach them how to write a 5 paragraph essay!

You have a course schedule with a number of units to cover within a finite period of time. You cannot at this point resort to teaching them grammar and improving their lexis.  Admittedly the latter is easier to do than the former.

They also seem to have a problem when it comes to brainstorming, and seem to lack ideas. May be the ideas are there for a restricted list of topics, as they have probably not had to talk about societal issues. I’m assuming that if ideas exist, they are unable to convey these as those ideas can only be conveyed in their L1.

Strategy so far

I’ve been focussing on ensuring that the students internalise the framework of an essay. What I mean is, the idea of having introductions, body paragraphs and a conclusion, and the sub-levels for these important pillars of an essay, e.g. a hook, thesis statement and supporting ideas.

In every class, we have a new topic or topics, and a brainstorming session. This is followed by trying to fit the ideas into the framework. Which of course is then followed by adding meat to this skeleton. This is a good way to introduce new vocabulary. Throughout this period, I’ve been acting ‘all enthusiastic’ as if I’m some kind of football team manager/ motivator.

In addition to the above, I’ve come to the conclusion, that in order to get the attention of the students, we need to brainstorm topics that they can relate to, or are close to their hearts.

I’ve covered topics like ‘finding a marriage partner’, ‘why a certain famous person is famous’ and even how to make ‘rice and meat’ also known as kabsa! I’ve been amazed at the attention the students give, and how familiar, interesting topics engage them. You can see their eyes light-up and of course the smirks when I try to introduce some ‘silly’ topic.

How are we progressing? Well, the prognosis is, that irrespective of how well the student understands the framework, or likes the topic under discussion, if the message cannot be conveyed, which requires a reasonable level of language, then the chances of success are low. Ultimately, the reader needs to understand the message being conveyed. Being able to piece together accurate sentences with appropriate vocabulary is a necessity. Even part accurate will do. But we are even below that. You know how serious word order problems, along with inappropriate vocabulary can just totally confuse the reader.

I’m sure there are ways that others deal with such difficulties, but when you are teaching a 2-3 credit hour course over a semester, it can be difficult to do anything extra. I have asked them to revise certain tenses they may have studied as part of a grammar course in the past. But should I be following this up? There’s little time.

All of the above obviously brings up issues relating to teaching, learning and assessment issues. Issues that I’ll try to discuss in the future. My final thoughts link in to these issues.

Final thoughts: Who let these students pass the previous courses? They could not possibly have passed looking at their current performance. What were they being taught before and how? What kind of assessment was going on, and using what standard? Is the context a major problem, and do we need to take a closer look at this?

All the best.

‘Kosher English’ lessons for Israel’s ultra orthodox

Source: Guardian Weekly TEFL update: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2012/sep/18/elt-diary-september?CMP=EMCGUWEML335

This news report has been ‘lifted’ from the Guardian Weekly TEFL update (link above). Hats off to the Jerusalem Post Group for starting ‘Kosher English’. May be we should have ‘Halal English?’ – Just a thought.  Many could identify with the idea stated by a member of the editorial team i.e. “The challenge is not only to keep the principles of Halacha, such as modesty and avoid lashon hara[slanderous talk], but also to strengthen faith in Hashem and learn English at the same time.”

Article below:

Israel’s ultra-orthodox Jewish community is being offered a new way to learn English: a weekly magazine written in simplified English with Hebrew glossaries and overseen by a religious committee of rabbis and Jewish educators.

The magazine, called Kosher English, is published by the Jerusalem Post Group, and contains local and international news stories as well as articles specially for the ultra-orthodox community.

The editorial team are members of the haredi community. The editor, Tami Kalish, told the Jerusalem Post: “The idea was to create a newspaper for haredim in easy English. The challenge is not only to keep the principles of Halacha, such as modesty and avoid lashon hara[slanderous talk], but also to strengthen faith in Hashem and learn English at the same time.”

Early editions of the magazine have been serialising the bestselling autobiography by Rabbi Aharon Margalit, As Long as I Live, which, Kalish said, describes the difficulties in his life that he overcame thanks to his strong faith.

Kosher English: http://www.jpost.com/LandedPages/KosherEnglish.aspx