Thursday, June 30, 2011

Singapore maths

Two weeks ago, I took time to have a look at Singapore approach to teaching maths at a one-day professional development course for teachers of maths. It was delivered by Dr Yeap Ban Har, who, according to the website mathz4kidzblog, worked for the ‘National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University in Singapore for more than ten years’.
There is no two ways about it, Dr Ban Har was a superb presenter and an outstanding advocate for Singapore maths. One of the most interesting aspects of the programme is that he sees maths as ‘an excellent vehicle for the development and improvement of a person’s intellectual competences’.
You can find out much more about the approach, as well as how successful it is - Singapore being top or very close to the top of the international maths rankings. You can also investigate the content of the materials used to teach Singapore’s approach to teaching maths at Maths no problem!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A History of English in 10 minutes

Here's a super series of shorts giving a history of English in ten minutes. 
Man! Don’t ya just love the Open University!
For those interested in debates around language, the OU's Open Learn also offers a range of discussions.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Times Spelling Bee

I didn’t realise that we have our own version of the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Apparently, The Times newspaper has been running the Times Spelling Bee competition, now in its third year.
Having already come through the locals and the semi-finals, the eleven finalist teams fought out the Grand Final in the O2 Arena. The winning team came from Colchester Royal Grammar school in Essex, with Joe Tagliaferro (great Italian name that!) managing to spell ‘chrysalis’ correctly.
You can watch the boys, along with the ‘spellmaster’ Andrea Glazier, being interviewed on BBC Breakfast.
How did they get to be so good? They practise, practise, practise. In fact, they're almost as good as some Year 2 pupils I saw at St Thomas Aquinas school - but then they were Sounds-Write trained!
The boys also tested Susanna Reid, one of the presenters of the programme, with ‘psychedelic’, which I’m pleased to report she handled with aplomb. I think most reasonably educated people would get the ‘psych’ bit right, though some might have a bit of trouble with our old friend the schwa, which sounds like an ‘uh’ in ‘psychedelic’.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Off piste – favourite number

This morning’s Today programme carried a short piece featuring Alex Bellos, author of the highly entertaining Alex’s Adventures in Numberland.
Alex has been asked about his favourite number so many times, he decided to set up an online survey to find out if people have favourite numbers and what they are.
Although he doesn’t have one himself, he’s found that ‘lots of people have favourite numbers. Not only that, they have incredibly strong feelings about favourite numbers.’
Reasons for favourite numbers though seem to divide along the personal/superstitious, such as the day you were born, versus the mathematical, such as prime numbers, for example.
My favourite? Yan-a-bumfit, but to know what it is you need to speak mediaeval Lincolnshire shepherd’s dialect or read Alex’s book!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Sounds-Write on facebook

Sounds-Write now has a page on facebook.


Looks as if Tricia Millar has revamped her ThatReadingThing website.
For years Tricia has been specialising in working with older children and young adults struggling with literacy and, as you’d expect with a linguistic phonic approach, Tricia is reporting very creditable gains for some of the young people trained using her programme.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

The dreaded schwa

What is it that participants in the Scripps National Spelling Bee worry about more than most? Why, the dreaded schwa, of course!
What is a schwa and why would it cause problems for spellers? Well, to begin with, schwas are the most frequently occurring vowel sounds in the English language and they are always associated with weak syllables in words. For example, in English English (as opposed to, say, Caribbean English, or Australian English), we tend to lay stress on (usually) only one syllable in any polysyllabic word. Thus, in a word like ‘gingerbread’ (three syllables), the stress is on the first syllable ‘gin’.
However, other syllables in a polysyllabic word may contain a syllable or syllables which are not stressed and it is these that often (though not always) contain a schwa, or weak vowel sound. So, in the word ‘gingerbread’, the two unstressed syllables are the ‘ger’ and ‘bread’. In the syllable ‘ger’, the [er] spelling represents the sound ‘uh’, which is a weak vowel sound or schwa.
How does this affect the Spelling Bee spellers’ spelling? The answer is that, if they’ve never seen a particular word before, if it contains one, they may not know how to spell the schwa. To compound the problem the weak vowel sound is realised in different ways according to accent. For example, a person from the southern states of the United States may say ‘chickun’; whereas people from most parts of the UK will say ‘chickin’. In each case, the weak vowel sound will be realised slightly differently - as an ‘uh’ or as an ‘i’.
Single syllable words can also contain schwas, For example, the word 'the', the most frequently occurring word in the English language often contains a schwa, the letter [e] representing the sound 'uh' very often. Again though, this depends on accent.
So, apart from spelling sounds in English in different ways, we also have the problem of the schwa to contend with. This phenomenon is yet another reason why teaching practitioners, many of whom who have never even heard of the word schwa nor been made to appreciate its significance in terms of how we teach reading and spelling, need proper training. It’s also another reason why teaching should proceed from sound to print and NOT the other way round!