Sunday, August 30, 2009

Encouraging students to read: Allow them to exercise choice

Came across this New York Times story (via LISnews), on how a Middle School teacher in the USA, Ms. Lorrie McNeill, allows her students to choose their own books for their literature class. Subsequently her students have to discuss the books with their teachers and peers, and also have to keep detailed journals about their reading.

This quote from the NYT article sums up the rationale of such an approach:
"... assigning books leaves many children bored or unable to understand the texts. Letting students choose their own books, they say, can help to build a lifelong love of reading."

The preceding paragraph quoted proponents of the traditional approach saying that assigning students what to read "builds a shared literary culture among students, exposes all readers to works of quality and complexity and is the best way to prepare students for standardized tests".

There are merits to assigned readings. It depends on the objectives. But the quoted arguments for the "teacher knows best" traditional approach seem weak to me.

A narrow list of reading materials, no matter how "good", has inherent limits on promoting a broad "literary culture". And what is a literary culture" anyway? One's ability to appreciate and analyse stories, or simply having the common experience of reading (maybe hating) the same text? "Quality" is also subjective (whose standards -- the student or the teacher?) And tests can always be redesigned and still have some degree of standardisation.

What I agree is on the complexity of the chosen book. Complexity could be in terms of ideas, plots and sub-plots, sub-texts, allegories and analogies, writing and language styles. For instance, E. M. Forster's The Machine Stops and Frank Herbert's Dune are both considered Sci-Fi classics, and could be said to relate to human society and relationships. But Dune is a lot more complex and detailed, with much more depth in the characters and plot.

Overall, if we are talking about students between the ages of 13 to 16 (i.e. teens), my sense is that complexity is less of an issue compared to getting them excited about reading. The bigger problem is getting students genuinely interested in reading, in the context of the classroom.

Perhaps a hybrid approach could be adopted: students get to propose their text and teachers, with the school librarians, would evaluate what the students proposed.

Which also means there should be some guidelines or criteria on what is deemed as appropriate selections and what is not. Make such guidelines available, so that students can evaluate and justify their selections. In that sense, their learning begins even before the class formally starts.

The best guidelines would have some degree of subjectivity. So in cases where teachers and students choices don't agree, students should be allowed to discuss options with the teacher. The discussion process would allow teachers to evaluate the students reading and analytical abilities.

So I feel Ms. McNeill is definitely on the right track, where motivating students to read is concerned.

And if students are motivated to read, then they are more likely to learn better.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Leadership, Ethics, and Online Collaboration

I was re-invited by Dr. Paul Wu (NTU, School of Communication and Information) to be in their Professional Seminar series, held last Saturday. Instead of speaking (as was the case in the previous two years) I was asked to be part of a panel discussion on "Leadership, Ethics and Collaborative Culture".

My two other panelists were Professor Cheong Hee Kiat (President, SIM University) and Mr. Heng Chiang Gnee (ex-CEO of SembCorp Environment). I wonder how many students wondered, like me, what this simple librarian was doing there, in light of these two very distinguished gentlemen!

Prior to the session, students viewed our talks from last year (recorded on video). I thought this was an excellent way of re-using content. Prof. Cheong spoke on Leadership, Mr. Heng on Ethics. My talk was on Librarians 2.0 (social media, librarians, collaborative culture).

Reading the programme theme made me wonder what was the connection between leadership, ethics and online collaboration. As I shared during my brief introduction for the panel discussion, the linkages seem to be this:
  • Collaborating and participating online is a demonstration personal leadership; and
  • To do it well requires one to exercise (our own) ethics
I've overly simplified things. So here's more. Before the session, I had typed a longer elaboration into my mobile phone. I didn't get to elaborate on those points, so I'll post them here (with some additional points after hearing Prof Cheng and Mr. Heng). BTW, much of what you'll read next is largely based on personal opinions rather than research. In anycase, feel free to critique and comment.

Online Collaboration
While human societies have been collaborating for centuries, I would suggest that online collaboration is a new phenomenon. And a different game altogether.

The Internet has only been with us for about 15 years, since 1995. Most of those years has been about communication like email and website publishing (the latter seems to be centred on Business-to-Business and Business-to-Consumer models).

Then social media came into the scene in the last five years or so, e.g. blogs, photo and video sharing. One can say social media is still about communication and publishing, albeit on a more individualised and personal way. But I think that planted the roots for greater individual participation and collaboration.

I don't think we're not seeing a lot of online collaboration at the moment. Of course, how one defines "collaboration" is arguable. I just don't think we're there yet.

But I'm confident we will see online collaboration on a greater scale. Particularly when we consider movements and trends like Mashups, Creative Commons and remixing (think "ccMixter").

The next wave will be about a non-explicit type of collaboration, or serendipitous collaboration, I think. Where you share content online with the intent of it being reused and you don't really know who will make use of it, or how.

Of course one may ask, "Why participate and collaborate?"

Exercising Personal Leadership
My claim is that participating online is an exercise in personal leadership. It is less about formal power that comes with formal roles but more with increasing one's Expert, Charismatic and Reference power (see Power Control Theory).

For instance,when this ex-A*Star researcher-now-turned taxi driver started his blog, particularly after the local papers ran his story, he probably became the de facto voice for all Singapore cabbies overnight. Without planning to be one, he is a leader in his own way. It started with him participating online by starting his blog.

But starting a blog (or a Facebook, Flickr or YouTube account) is one thing. How do you do it well. Or at the very basic level, how do you stay out of trouble? That's where ethics come in.

Ethics, values and online reputation
Ethics is about one's values, translated into conduct. In the online world, what matters the most is one's reputation.

Or to put in another way, in the online world, all we really have is our reputation.

How we act online can make or break our real-life reputation. Increasingly, we don't have participate online to have our real world reputation broken. All the sex scandals/ online sxposés have proven that. Citizen-journalism (or some might say, Net-savvy Kapoh citizens) is here to stay.

The world is our Ethics Panel.

The "Leadership-Ethics-Collaborative Culture" connection
Why participate and collaborate?

Because to do so is a demonstration of one's personal leadership. And to do it well (as defined by others) would depend on how we translate our ethics -- our values and moral principles -- into actions. On and offline.

There's another connection.

Not all of us want to "participate online" by starting our blogs or post videos to YouTube. Nonetheless, we will become online participants whether we like it or not. It doesn't have to be scandals. It starts at the instant a friend or family member shares a photo online, with us in it.

For those who make the conscious choice, the value we derive from our online activities would depend on our personal values and beliefs. Not in a religious sense. But the sort of values and beliefs that a greater good may come out of what we share online.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Conviction about our own profession

[First posted at sgLEAD, under the title "Excerpt from a Special Needs education blog: EDU240"]

I discovered this blog by chance:
Extension of EDU 240 - The Impact of Special Needs: EDU 240 Extension Case-Study & Instructions

Though there's no About page or descriptive header, I can tell the blog is part of some Special Needs education course for educators. This post mentions "Wheelock College" and "degree in Early Childhood", and appears to be this programme:
Wheelock College, Early Childhood Educational Studies and Leadership

The blog was created recently (Aug 09). So far, the posts are responses to this case study:
Having graduated from Wheelock College with a degree in Early Childhood, you are currently working as a Senior Teacher in a childcare centre and having the primary role of caring and managing toddlers. You have been with the centre for about a year.

Recently you met Mrs Kong, a lady in her 40s in the process of work. She is working as a secretary and has three children. Two of her children are currently in your centre, i.e. kindergarten and nursery. Seeing that you are the Toddler and Senior Teacher, Mrs Kong decided to approach you one day when she came by to fetch her two children. She disclosed that her third child, Nicky, is currently 1 year old and was diagnosed to have Down Syndrome...

... Mrs Kong shared that initially she and her husband had a tough time coming to terms to their child having Down Syndrome. Though they have more or less come to terms with the doctor's diagnosis, she said that there are times where they do not really believe that Nicky has Down Syndrome as their two older children are normal and it seems that Nicky is always cheerful and smiling...

(a) What would you reveal to Mrs Kong regarding your professional view about children with Down Syndrome and their future in Singapore?

(b) Given the limited information provided, what would you advise Mrs Kong about:
(i) Enrolling Nicky into the centre's toddler class;
(ii) Nicky's diagnosis of having Down Syndrome.

(c) What would you disclose to Mrs Kong about special education, special school and inclusive education in Singapore?


As a layperson, reading that case study and the accompanying responses was pretty educational. The case study is fairly detailed and highlights what parents of children with Special Needs might be going through. Sharing the various responses is also a good way of tapping on the "wisdom of the class".

I'm interested in what a "model response" might be.

I didn't read though all the posts. But seemed to me most responses adopted the classic "pyramid" approach of giving background info before giving the actual answer that the other person wants to know. Some chose the empathy/ reassurance approach. That is still an indirect answer to me.

None of what I've read seems to have addressed the crux of the question: "Do I -- the Special Needs educator -- feel children with Down Syndrome have a future in Singapore?"

In fact, the main clue in the case seems to be this sentence: "Mrs Kong is very confused and overwhelmed with all these information."

The last thing Mrs. Kong needs is more information. Her concerns needs to be addressed directly (tactfully, but head-on).

Seems to me this question is a trick question: "What would you reveal to Mrs Kong regarding your professional view about children with Down Syndrome and their future in Singapore?"

It boils down to what the individual Special Needs Educator believes.

Seems to me there can only be one answer (the difference is how it's phrased according to one's style).

I feel the answer is this:
Children with Down Syndrome have a future in Singapore.

This is what I believe.

That is why I am a Special Needs educator.

I felt this was a trick question because it has nothing to do with facts or figures. It's all about one's personal conviction about one's own work. Whether we believe in the work that we do.

Of course, I'll back up my statements by citing examples. Like how the Singapore government has recognised the need to take proactive steps wrt persons and young children with special needs, and many things have been put in place since the "Enabling Masterplan 2007-2011".

Will also qualify that every individual's future is different. Even more so for a child with Down Syndrome. That's where parental acceptance and support, working with the system, comes in.

But all that's just background information.

It's ultimately that look in the eye -- that surety in one's voice -- that will say it all to parents like Mrs Kong.

It's not about bluster. Or how loud you say it.

I think it can only comes with one own's rationalisation and decision to continue with the job. You can't fake that sort of conviction.

And the same level of conviction applies to any job.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Who better to verify?

"Hi Minister Yeo. just saw PM Lee has a face book account. You think it is a fake?"

"I'm told it is not done by him or his office"

That settles it!
Facebook | George Yeo clarifies!

BTW, he is the real deal.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Kevin Lim: Social Media - Strategy over Tools

Nice set of slides from Kevin Lim. He was invited again ("back by popular demand"!) to the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Buffalo/ Niagara Chapter.

While it would have been better to hear him speak in person, his slides were self-explanatory to me. Nice quotes and images from various sources.

Slides 19 to 24 seems to sum up the essence of Kevin's talk: Strategy first, then decide on the (social media) Tools.

Kevin's presentation made me search for examples of communication and engagement strategies using social media tools. Here's what I found to be relevant ones:

Which leads me to think about libraries.

I wonder: Are there any info or poll out there that reveals what librarians and non-librarians consider as identifiable (nevermind successful or not) social media strategies by libraries?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Say what we mean

At a recent staff event, some of my colleagues shared their ideas and thoughts on work-related matters.

I commented twice during that session. In response to two separate suggestions made by two colleagues.

After I spoke the second time, one senior colleague gently corrected me: "Don’t think of Buts and Ifs only”.

I realised, with a mild shock, that my responses sounded negative.

Which wasn't my intent, ironically.

I actually agreed with the suggestions made by the two colleagues. That was why I spoke up. Because I felt their ideas were worthy of further discussion.

Thinking back, it would have been better if I started with, “Good idea, and how's this to make it better…?”

Instead, what I uttered was saying this in effect: "The idea won’t work and let me tell you why…”

Not my exact words but that was probably the unintended message that people remembered.

Somewhere between the firing of my neurons and my vocal chords, I distorted my own message.

Ah, I’ve still got lots to learn.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Collaborative Creative Commons music album: “2009 Twilight Under Velveteen Skies”

I’m pleased to share this music album with the world. A collaborative effort, featuring three other very talented and very cool people I befriended at ccMixter.
2009 Twilight Under Velveteen Skies

The project started serendipitously. Took seven months, involving three other people whom I've never met -- and probably never will.

It includes this original 4-way collaborative track, pieced together without having met one another - Under The Velveteen Skies:

It all started when I uploaded a sample to ccMixter in Nov 08, released under a Creative Commons license.

A few weeks later, someone remixed my sample. No explicit permission needed from me, as the CC license already covered my intent. When my track was remixed and posted in ccMixter, the system automatically notified me.

I can truly say the album was built upon the foundations laid by Creative Commons.

To read more of how that one thing led to the final album, read this post.

Hope you enjoy listening to this album. I sure enjoyed the process of putting it together.
2009 Twilight Under Velveteen Skies
Album cover adapted from "Leo Rising Over Trees, November 2002", originally uploaded by alexpgp/ CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Album: "2009 Twilight Under The Velveteen Skies".
By Ivan Chew and ccMixter friends:

Creative Commons License2009 Twilight Under Velveteen Skies by Ivan Chew & ccMixter Friends is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Singapore License.

Download the album at