A Death In The Family

We’ve had a death in the family so English Teacher Online dedicates this week’s editorial to Juan Wongdee, my father-in-law.

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Juan Wongdee, 80, of Baan Suan, Nakhon Srithammarat, passed away on Tuesday the 11th of April 2017 at home, peacefully with his family around him. He is survived by his wife, seven children, nine grandchildren, family and friends.

He had suffered with dementia for several years and I think Juan chose this time to go, two days before the annual Songkran New Year festival in Thailand. His daughter, who lives in Bangkok, had come down for the holidays and she was lucky enough to hold Juan’s head in her arms as he took his final breath. There’s some comfort in being there at the end, and as a family we have all been drawing strength from each other at this difficult time.

I am truly amazed at how quickly everyone was able to come together on the family farm which Juan had cleared with his own bare hands over 50 years ago.

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Juan was born in 1937 and moved to Southern Thailand after the land reforms in the 1960s. He staked out a small 10-rai plot of land and together with his wife Pa Wongdee, raised seven children.

Following the King’s edict for sustainable living, they worked with the land and held it sacred. Ant hills two meters high, just one example of Juan’s belief that humans and nature belong to a single dependent community.

Some of Juan’s children now have families of their own and as I look out around this five-acre rubber forest, I can see several of his children’s houses, one of which I built with his daughter Pom.

Three marquees have been erected to accommodate the hundreds of people who are attending the five-day wake in honour of Juan. Last night, four orange robed monks presided over a ceremony to lay Juan in his coffin.

In keeping with family traditions we all poured water over Juan’s right hand which was holding beautiful white jasmine flowers. Everyone wanted to help place his body carefully into the ornate silver coffin and then raised it high on a ceremonial pedestal. I was surprised at how naturally the young children reacted to seeing their grandfather’s still body, my eight-year old niece taking part in the rituals.

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White string was placed in the coffin with Juan. The string trailed around his marquee looping through each monks’ chair until it finally attached to the Buddha image which denoted Juan’s faith. The monks held the string in their right hands as they began chanting.

Although I didn’t understand the language, I was hypnotized by the melodic rhythm as we all sat and entered into prayer. I recognized Juan’s name within the chants and understood that this act of remembrance was the beginning of Juan’s journey to his final resting place.

I was reminded that while the language of this occasion was different to my own, the faith, the ceremony and the custom were in many ways similar. The respect being shown was extremely humbling and made me aware of my own mortality. I was able to speak with one of the monks (in broken Thai) and felt an empathy that connects me to the entire human race.

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My Thai uncle reacted by saying, “That was a lovely ceremony,” a very polite and correct way of speaking on such an occasion.

Juan’s passing had bought our family together and many people asked me what religion I belonged to. They wanted to know how Western people lay their relatives to rest, did we bury them or cremate them as Juan would be?

We spoke about English (rather than in English) and discussed the importance of English – as an international language of business, diplomacy, for living in peace. Parents and grandparents expressed hope that their children would learn English, opening up new opportunities to provide security for their families.

For five days we feasted, drank and listened to stories of Juan’s life. Juan was a hard-working man who attended to his rubber trees seven days a week. He would wake up at 2am each night, put on his miner’s light and pick up his knife. Working through the darkness of his rubber forest, he carefully cut a small groove in each tree. He turned over the half coconut shell that he used to catch the valuable white sap. When he had cut 500 trees he would go back to the house and eat breakfast, before returning to collect the thick rubber juice in a bucket a few hours later.

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Juan was an expert in permaculture without ever having read a book on the subject. Using a prah, a 30 cm curved blade atop a meter-long wooden handle, he would clear his path and allow the foliage to mulch. He dug shallow fish ponds under the cover of his trees, raising rice and fish together. He planted fruit trees, grew vegetables and herbs closer to his house. He built a duck-house so the family had a constant supply of eggs. He instinctively knew and learnt by watching other farmers around him, by trial and error, he designed a way of life that many in the West would envy.

I had never been to a such a long wake before. Each day the guests returned to pay their respects to Juan. It was truly exhausting for my wife and her siblings who served them constantly. We’ve had little time to mourn. The wake has kept us busy and it seems that laughter has defeated our tears – for now.

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With so many guests, the food had to be cooked in the largest woks I’ve ever seen. Thai curries, soups and barbecued meats served at all times of the day – as the people kept coming. The monks returned each morning and evening, blessing the food and chanting in remembrance of Juan.

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On the final evening, all the tables were full as over 200 people came in a show of solidarity for Juan’s family. One of his sons, Ruk, had shaved his head and taken the robes of a novice monk. He was unable to drink that night and went to sleep in the temple. Eventually, we all went to sleep in preparation for the funeral.

On Monday the 17th of April 2017, just after mid-day, a line of more than 50 cars, trucks and bikes made the slow trip to the local temple close to Juan’s home. We stopped at a junction and a monk got out to pray. We gathered around him as he lit a candle and said a prayer. We did this so Juan would know where we were going and how to find his way. Mum also left coins along our route so Juan’s spirit could follow us to the temple.

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Ten monks, including Ruk, led the hypnotic funeral chants. Robes and alms were offered to them – and then it was time to say good-bye to Juan.

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We carried his coffin to the funeral pyre, and his friends placed flowers in the coffin. Close family members placed candles, incense and flowers next to nearby trees.

We all said our own personal prayers as the flame was lit and the door was closed.

After his cremation, we scattered the ashes in the temple grounds and planted a coconut tree with Juan.

May he rest in peace.

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I Want To Learn English Talking About

What do you love to talk about?

English Teacher Online listens when you say, “I want to learn English talking about [add your interests here].”

We know it’s not easy to become fluent in English when the subject is boring.

People have many different interests in life and some topics never get taught at school.

That’s why we wrote this post, I want to learn English talking about …

Computer games, sports, heroes, hobbies, travel, cooking, my pet cat Fluffy! Any topic you can think of would be the perfect starting point for a fun English lesson online.

Choose your own topic and let us do the rest. Interesting and fun lessons for you to learn English. If you want to study grammar, we can do that too!

How does it work?

Can you remember the 6 question words? What, when, where, who, why and how? Can you write 6 questions about the thing you want to study right now? Below are some examples to help you.

What is your favourite topic?

When do you do this thing?

Where is your favourite place to do it?

Who does it with you?

Why is this your favourite topic?

How would you teach someone else to do this thing?

What other questions can you ask about your topic?

Can you answer your questions?

Try writing the questions and answers (in a notebook or) in a Word document on the computer. Later, we can share Word documents on Google and discuss how to make better sentences together.

After checking your sentences, you could post the best ones in the comments section and start a discussion. You would be surprised how many people want to study the same topics as you. It’s easy to find a study partner or form a study group to keep costs low.

Video Prompts

We live in an online world and the internet is full of great videos. There must be thousands of videos about the topics you love.

 

Videos are a great way to prepare for any lesson because they can provide valuable vocabulary. Videos often start conversations and discussions when we ask questions like;

What do you think about the people in the video?

Have you ever thought about [something in the video]?

Do you agree with a message in the video? Why or why not?

How could you start [a club like] that in your own town?

Who would you ask to help you? Why?

There are so many directions a video can send the conversation. That’s why a video prompt is the perfect way to prepare for English lessons.

Google Hangouts, Docs and YouTube

If you want to pay for an online lesson, we can study using Google Google SuiteHangouts or Skype, in groups or on your own. The whole point with online learning is that YOU get to choose what’s best for you.

I recommend the Google suite of products because you can watch a YouTube video before your lesson begins.

We can use Google Documents like an interactive classroom to share your written work live!

Google Hangouts or Skype allows us to speak to each other while working with a document on the screen.

Tell me your topic and I will write a fun lesson that keeps you interested.

Facebook Threads

Social media is really popular with students because it’s a quick and easy way to practice English for free. Facebook treads are just one way to study English with friends during the school holidays.

It’s really simple to get a conversation going. Discussions can move in many different directions at the same time. You can post replies or just read what other people think so there’s no real pressure!

I know some people are shy but it’s only a Facebook thread. It’s only a game to help you practice English.

Just do it! And you can study on-the-go for free too!

Have you seen the Facebook threads on my wall? You are welcome to join a thread anytime.

Not Like School

It doesn’t matter if you make mistakes because this is not like school. There are no grades and no one will make you do anything.

Think of it like a game, where you can make mistakes and learn English while having fun with your friends too.

Please post a comment or question to start a discussion now.

If you want to book a lesson please email: Steve@englishteacheronline.org

 

Singapore Method Math Tutor

A parent recently asked me to find him a Singapore method math tutor for his daughter. He said that he wanted her to get ahead in that subject and become fluent in English too. I offered to help and then decided to write this article to explain why the Singapore method of teaching math is best.

Like all academic subjects, no one is born with mathematical ability. Singapore has a strong belief that “effort” is the human characteristic that makes kids “smarter” at math.

Effort is a choice

As humans with free will, we can choose to either work hard or not. But giving effort when the method is flawed may not make us smarter at math. So we need to control the method too. When we use a sound method and choose to give full effort, we start to take control of whether we become smarter at math or not.

“Children usually give full effort when they play – which is probably why the Singapore method is so popular with students.”

In the 1980s, Singaporean schools developed a curriculum that focused on fewer topics but studied them in greater detail. Students learnt how and why equations worked. They refined problem solving skills using pictures and diagrams. To understand why this is important when teaching math, we need to remember how we learnt in kindergarten.

Early Learning

Kindergarten math starts with blocks, numbered cards, or counters like on an abacus. These are concrete objects that young learners can touch and feel in playful tactile discovery.

Later, when we went to primary school, many of us were expected to study equations such as 1 + 2 = 3. As easy as this seems to us now, it is abstract and rather difficult for young children to grasp.

The Singapore method added a “pictorial” stage, as a bridge between the concrete and abstract stages of learning.

Based on the work of Jerome Bruner’s Constructivist theory, Singapore’s curriculum developed a system of teaching that makes learning easier because it focuses on understanding how and why! Students start with hands-on group activities with concrete objects like buttons or dice. Then students learn the pictorial stage, drawing pictures of these same concrete objects before moving onto the abstract equation stage.

It is really important that each stage of development constructs new ideas or concepts based upon current/past knowledge. If the students started counting coins or buttons in stage 1, then they should open the book and see coins or buttons in stage 2. Only in stage 3 will the abstract appear and build on what was learnt in the concrete and pictorial stages. If stage 2 is neglected, then understanding at the stage 3 level could be underdeveloped.

In the Singapore method, this 3 stage approach, of concrete – pictorial – abstract, is not abandoned after kindergarten but kept alive throughout primary and secondary education. We know that children need to play in order to learn. By making math fun we are able to help them understand why things are.

4th Grade Fractions Example

The traditional way of teaching fractions was to learn a method and do lots of practice. Teachers didn’t always explain why the method worked, maybe they couldn’t, they simply barked instructions!

Do you remember being told to just multiply the top numbers together, and then multiply the bottom numbers together?

Thus ½ x ½ = ¼

Having been taught this method, students often knew how to find the correct answers but they didn’t know why. This caused major problems later on in school life, when equations became more difficult.

The Singapore method teaches children “why” by adding a pictorial stage. Think of a whole one as a circle or a whole pizza. Pizza is a concrete object that we all understand. If there is 1 pizza for 1 person we have 1/1 or one whole pizza each. If we share 1 pizza between 2 people we have half each, we need to cut it with a knife to get half a pizza. Students draw a complete circle to represent the pizza and cut it in half. To multiply ½ x ½, students know they must cut the half circle in half again. They are left with two quarters and a half pizza.

The pictorial pizza stage builds on the concrete pizza stage. When the students understand why ½ x ½ = ¼, they begin to master the abstract stage 3.

Common Core Standards

New textbooks have been introduced which align with Common Core standards. Unlike the old approach, where material appeared in a spiral, each skill set in the new curriculum is a foundation for future lessons. Schools are now opting into the Singapore method of teaching math.

“As a teacher it’s easy to see the appeal. For parents however, it is not always straight forward.”

The main reason parents stumble over these phrases is because schools are switching over from old methods of problem-solving to new ones. I learnt concepts like “carrying and borrowing” when doing addition and subtraction problems. Students today are learning concepts like “regrouping.”

Let’s look at some other vocabulary and then watch a video.

Singapore’s 7 Step Solution Strategy
  1. Read the problem carefully.
  2. Determine the variables, who and what?
  3. Draw the unit bars.
  4. Break down (chunk) the word problem, re-read it and adjust the unit bars to match.
  5. Place the question mark.
  6. Write the number sentence and solve it.
  7. Write a grammatically correct answer.

 

Special thanks to Amy Cantone for making this educational video.

If you need an online tutor please email: steve@englishteacheronline.org

University vs Technical College

 

As the academic year comes to an end, the world’s students are busy cramming for exams. Are you planning to go to university, technical college or some other route to employment? At this time, I urge all students to work hard and prepare properly for your exams.

For certain people, further education is the best way forward, especially if you are going into a professional environment where you need those qualifications. For others, it provides a chance to become fluent in English, fly the nest and find some independence away from the prying eyes of parents. Whatever the motive, university gives students a chance to develop emotionally and intellectually while enhancing their education.

Every year the university vs technical college debate is reopened. Preparing for university starts early and most sixteen year olds are currently busy choosing their options for A-Levels or equivalents. If you are looking to study in the United Kingdom and want to attend Oxford or Cambridge, then I recommend you check out Collyer’s Sixth Form College. Their prospectus gives full details of how they can prepare you for life at Oxbridge.

But I am also reminded of a quote from Richard Branson, “You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.” Richard helps us understand that formal education doesn’t necessarily play any part in being a business success. It is interesting to see other successful people like Albert Einstein, Jim Carrey and Oprah Winfrey, who had challenging childhoods which in turn created drive, passion and the desire to succeed. Falling down is a normal part of learning and picking oneself up is one of the strongest attributes to actually being successful.

Labelling people as intelligent or “not”, depending on whether they go to university, is a big problem in the modern age. You do need to be intelligent to build a successful business empire like Virgin but being intelligent doesn’t mean you have to go to university. Students may enter into vocational training or an entrepreneurial environment. For some people that might be a much better education than spending five years on further education.

Recent research shows that more than a third of employers, including large firms, expect to expand their recruitment of school leavers and apprentices with A-levels. The simple truth is that school leavers are more educated than ever before. Just compare the current math curriculum to that of thirty years ago. Children are exposed to much more difficult concepts a lot earlier with every generation.

With more employers looking to hire at 18, often through innovative on the job training schemes, it is important that teachers listen to business leaders. Our educational institutions need to work with businesses and governments too. Together we must help to ensure that exam reforms prepare young people for a working life which allows for flexibility as much as specialization.

I make this point because career change statistics suggest that the average person will be making a career change between five and seven times during their working life. Countries go in and out of recession and there is an ever increasing number of different career choices on offer. Incredibly about one third of the total workforce currently change their job every twelve months.

Parents continue to fund their children’s sixth form education and thus help to raise the leaving age closer to 18 and 21. This puts even more pressure on us to develop high quality options for those who do not choose the A-level to university route.

We need to urgently address this debate by developing simple and effective structures for vocational study. We must learn from the good examples offered by Technical Colleges and give more options to young people. We must also think about reinventing the family run business model by moving it online.

So please study hard and prepare for your exams seriously but also remember that this is just the beginning of an amazing journey. It is important to choose subjects that inspire you to become a flexible worker over the coming decades. As Richard Branson said, “If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!”

Are you ready for a career change? Make sure it’s in an industry you love by checking out some Wealthy Affiliate web options today.

Need me to write you a lesson or answer a question? You can leave a comment or email me: steve@englishteacheronline.org