Category Archives: Teaching

A direction for Syria

Syria is an issue that demands new ways of dealing with conflict.  The majority of the public concede that more refugees must be accepted, a point with which the prime minister appears to also agree now.  The problem with refugees is that many consider them to have a similar effect on their destination nation as economic migrants would, so much so that the distinction between migrant and refugee has been one of the points of contention during the last few weeks.

Any government which has a major issue to deal with must seek to find the strengths in the situation rather than simply run scared from the problems.  David Cameron infamously said that the solution to the crisis was not simply to accept more refugees.  In this he is correct; the solution must go further than this.  Opportunities must be sought to help those refugees in regaining their lives and their self respect.

It has been suggested to me that training refugees in how to fight and wage a war might be a solution, so that they can return to their nation and reclaim it for themselves.  Whilst it is certain that many of them are currently unprepared for the conflict around them it is also certain that many of them are plainly not going to fit into the mold of a soldier.  If this nation were overcome by war how many of the people you know would plainly not be up to the task of fighting in the traditional position of a soldier.

Likewise, military action and airstrikes are considered to be a necessary path for foreign governments.  Military action is one of the courses that people oppose on idealistic grounds.  For many it is simply out of the question, like suggesting a cull of squirrels to a group of vegans, it is not going to be taken well.  While I do not offer opinions on potential military action I accept that it might be the chosen method of those in power and at present it might not be the time to resist that decision.

My opinion on the path to resolving the situation lies in knowledge.  Perhaps it is my past as an educator that compels me to consider knowledge to be the most important way forward, just as I would assume by brother, the military strategist, to support military action.  Different people from different walks of life will have different ideas which must be respected on the strength of their experience and specialist knowledge.  And there lies that world ‘knowledge’ again.

The people who are currently being forced out of their country bring with them a great deal of knowledge and they also need a great deal of knowledge.  They should be trained, but the training should not be in basic fighting skills.  In a nod to the military perhaps they should at least be trained in strategy and logistics, but mainly they need training in problem solving, team building, diplomacy, and other arts of gentle control.  Britain or any other nation should not be considered a final destination for any refugee.  These other nations should be considered places where they can regroup and discover methods and ways in which they might regain their homeland.

The communication that is allowed by the use of the internet will enable a political state to exist without geographic boundaries.  It is possible for people living in Berlin or London to communicate with people living in small villages in Devon.  Refugees must be aided in organising themselves as a cohesive group while also allowing them to integrate into any host societies.  The inevitable result of segregating them would ultimately be resentment on the part of hosting native populations.

While integrating with host nations, the refugees would be able to create cohesive groups to try and find solutions to their own problems without the need to rely on others to take action.  Offering them training in bureaucratic and diplomatic arts would give them more peaceful weapons to win back their homes.  In exchange they can offer knowledge of their own.  People who live in nations outside the conflict need to hear about what is happening, why it happened and what led up to it happening.  The arabic language they speak is something that more of use should grow accustomed with considering the way world politics is currently shaping itself.
This exchange of information would strengthen not only them but us as well.  While I am sure that military maneuvers may be inevitable just as David Cameron asserted the solution was not simply to accept more refugees, I assert the solution is also not simply to rely on further escalation of conflict.

Since writing this I have had my attention drawn to this additional content:  https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/middle-east/14710-britains-syrian-diaspora-unites-to-build-peace-in-their-homeland .  It is uncanny how closely it connects with what I have written and is probably more worthy of being read due to the information and facts contained within.

So how do you prepare for an exam?

I have just finished reading an article over on my favourite blog, Gizmodo.  If you were to go there you would discover everything I write here in the comments as I am not bothered about where else I write just so long as I also publish it here for my own benefit.  The article dealt with ways of increasing intelligence, such as wearing a particular outfit to focus the mind and eating the right foods, etc.  It was a very enjoyable article. I love this sort of stuff. I am always trying to find an edge. Unfortunately I have succeeded to the extent that I am no longer satisfied to be as stupid as when I started but not satisfied enough to stop trying to become more intelligent.  I do see the disadvantages to having more knowledge but it is a game of swings and roundabouts and there are also advantages.  The Gizmodo article in question can be found here:

http://gizmodo.com/5905310/nine-ways-to-make-yourself-smarter?utm_campaign=socialflow_gizmodo_facebook&utm_source=gizmodo_facebook&utm_medium=socialflow

 

The thing about the clothing is part of the reason why priests and witches and suchlike where special outfits. They need to be able to apply a lot of focus in their work and in order to do so they need to have a shut off point between daily concerns and entering the world of their religions. The changing of their outfits is going over this point. Have you ever noticed how if you go out into town wearing a scruffy pair of jeans and trainers you will feel and behave radically differently to when you are wearing a sharply pressed suit with patent leather Oxford shoes. Obviously feeling different is going to have an affect on our clarity of thought. Incidentally in Oxford they have for years taken their final exams wearing sub fusc, the formal academic outfits that top class university students are always pictured in. It is not just for the ceremonies, it is for the exams as well.

I always went to special measures to ensure my edge in exams myself though I never wore any particular outfits beyond that which I would have worn anyway. Of course I would have been living in a certain way throughout university but in the final couple of days I really focussed on preparation in building my advantage. Of course because on a number of occasions I had far too much to drink the night before I really needed this advantage.

The night before the exam I would drink beer or wine. This was partially just coincidence but additionally studies have shown that people who drink a glass of wine in the evening will show a better performance in mental tests the next day than people in a control group who did not. For this reason I also had a small glass of red wine about an hour before the exam. It is also helpful as it loosens you up, relaxes you and deals with nerves. Have you ever noticed how you can play pool better when you are drunk than when you are sober if you are a practiced player. Same theory I guess.

In addition I would have a cup of coffee after my wine. This is only advisable if you are also in the habit of regular coffee because you want to ensure your state dependant memory is working well. Essentially the way to help your memory is not to alter your state of mind from the condition it was in when you were originally learning. Like how you have dreams at night and do not remember them at all during the day but as soon as you start dropping off and your mind is once again in that state you suddenly remember them. Or how you do something when you are drunk but can’t remember it clearly when you are sober but the next time you are drunk you do. For this reason you do not want to alter your mind too far away from its learning state. Coffee has been shown to aid memory when studying but only in moderate amounts. When taken to excess it can cause your memory to deteriorate.

Of course if you have just had a coffee and a wine then you need to ensure that your mind is properly hydrated so make sure you also have a glass of water just before the exam. Do not go into the exam without a bottle of water as well because water is a lubricant of the brain that is very much overlooked. Also not having water can itself be a distraction if you are thirsty.

It is also good to take something into the exam that can power your brain. I usually take a selection of things. Glucose tablets are good; chocolate is good; dates are good. Often I barely touch them because when you are focussed you are so distracted by the task and the fact that you can remember everything that you need that you do not have the time to enjoy a piece of chocolate but the fact that it is there is very reassuring and it is one less worry, so even if you do not eat any it will still help you relax in the knowledge that you are prepared.

In addition to these very important items I would eat salmon in the run up to the exam. Salmon the night before is good, it definitely sharpens the mind, and even if this is merely a placebo effect we all know that even a placebo can have a powerful effect anyway.

The morning of the exam a muesli for breakfast is a good idea. Muesli, containing oats releases its energy gradually during the day so is a good constant source of energy for the mind. Another good source of energy is carbohydrates, which is why athletes load up on carbs the day before a race. Perhaps think about having your salmon with some tagliatelle the night before. With my breakfast I will have berries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, etc. These do indeed help. A nice extra that can be obtained from a lot of health food shops, in England at least, is hemp seeds that are packed full of energy and omega oils which will aid thinking. Sprinkle a few of these on your breakfast.

While it is a good idea to always try and stay in shape it can help a lot if you exercise vigorously before the exam. Preferably about 3-4 hours before. I mean really pump it. Cycling always helped me. Do not do it too soon before the exam as your mind will be racing and you will be useless. You need time to calm and cool down again. The extra blood rushing through your brain will really help clear the cobwebs out. In addition endorphines will add to your sense of calm and well being. Following the exercise it is a good time to review your revision. Do not try to revise hard or anything, this is the point that you satisfy yourself that you have already revised enough and just try to remember what you already know. This is the time that you want to be meditating rather than revising. The important thing is to get you mind into a state of calm.

Of course there are a huge amount of ways that you can improve your memory. This would be far too much to go into here. I would recommend checking out a book called ‘remember remember’ by Josh Foer. Josh decided as an experiment to train himself and see if he could become a memory champion and memorise the order of packs of cards in minutes. He was tutored by Ed Cooke who owns the memrise website. Memrise is an excellent place to train your memory as you can create your own tests but the real beauty of Ed’s method is his use of mnemonics. The book goes into a little detail about them but more than anything it is an interesting story about a year of training. The real mnemonics are best if they are ones you have created yourself.

Aside from these points I have already mentioned I would say that it will help if you take a vitamin supplement the morning of the exam. I also took a gingko biloba pill and a cod liver oil capsule. And of course definitely try to get a good night’s sleep. This will make a massive difference. Poor sleep leads to your IQ deteriorating rapidly through the week. Make sure you are not late or flustered. Being early, prepared and calm can help a great deal. Aside from those tips I do not recall anything else that I had in my regime but these things were things I would follow like a ritual for exams. Ultimately it all helped because I managed to finish in the top four of my course at university. This was helped by having a natural knack for coursework but a major disadvantage I had was that I was extremely bad at exams. It was only through the development of this regime that I gained the advantages I needed to achieve results in my exams that I could not have achieved if I had not focussed not only on the subject I was supposed to be studying but also on the topic of how to enhance intelligence.

Confidence

Mindsplurge.

One of the things that is problematic with working in isolation is having no reference to the work of others to provide a scale by which to judge oneself.  I have been working for the last several months as the sole teacher in a new establishment that plans to open up other courses next year.  I have worked in previous colleges that have taught English and know that by comparison to them my teaching standards are very high.  However having said that, the number of colleges that have been closed down for not being up to standard is huge and those that no longer exist will naturally have teaching standards below those that I hold myself.

I do manage to project an impression of confidence a lot of the time but when I have nothing to gauge myself against does this impression of confidence actually mean anything.  There are times when I am lacking in confidence to an incredible degree but in either state of mind neither of these projections means anything without being able to objectively gauge myself against anyone else who is conducting similar work to mine.

Looking around I sometimes get the feeling that all a lot of people are doing is projecting confident personas.  I look at the boss and he has an incredibly confident appearance but then he is the boss; part of leadership is having that confident appearance.  In fact isn’t that the key essential requirement of leadership, a confident appearance.  Having looked at the management of a large number of companies it seems that with many CEOs and board members it is this appearance of confidence that is their only talent.  Certainly there are some that have other qualities that go a long way to creating a successful company but at the same time this is overpowered by an ability to exude confidence.

This is of course tied into an ability to bluff.  I have noticed those who I consider to be successful will at times create their own reality.  They are fully confident in the fact that by the time evidence is called for there will be evidence on which to call.  The problem with isolation is that you don’t see these bluffs.  You think that everyone is telling the truth about how capable they are.  When you actually come out into the light and look around you it could be that you discover you are surrounded by idiots.  In fact you can be pretty certain of it.

Even that big guy on the top floor with the huge desk is only good at what he does.  He may have no idea what you do.  He thinks that he is placed in a higher position because he is better but really everyone’s scale is judged purely within their area.  He may be one of the better choices for running a company but in all other walks of life he may be a gaffspapper.  Certainly a lot of these people worked their way up but at every stage it was judged that his ability to exude confidence and bluster was better than his ability at whatever level of the business he was supposed to be working at.

Promotion is therefore a demotion of sorts.  I’m sorry son but you have very few of the qualities that are necessary for designing a curriculum but on the plus side you are incredibly bossy and confident; you do like ordering people around and despite not actually knowing what you are doing you manage to bluff it most of the time.  I am going to isolate you from the rest of the work force but as a consolation for shutting you away in your own office where you can’t mess up too badly I am prepared to give you a pay rise.

Early morning

Well, here I am, 7:17am at work.  I can only justify this by not actually doing any work and instead posting on wordpress.  It is not that I don’t have enough work to do.  In truth I have too much by a long shot.  I feel like I am in front of a mountain stood on a grassy slope.  Ahead of me is a gradually sharpening incline up similarly meadowed land.  I know that I am not going to reach the crags for a while so I might as well chill in this warm soft landscape.

I guess I need to get it into my head that a journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step.  However the step off from writing a blog or a short story into writing commercial law texts is not such a small step.  I am particularly not looking forward to writing on Intellectual Property rights.  Silly really, as a citizen of the net with an interest in tech I am very familiar with the subject, yet it is not one of those that I studied academically.

The boss wants to see my progress today.  I am unsure whether he will appreciate the efforts I have so far gone through.  It is true that I have essentially so far completed a hefty tome on business law but on the other hand he is expecting snappy powerpoints and lecture plans, not hundreds of pages of academic conjecture and dry facts.  Mind you, as he discovered a new website of graphics for powerpoints yesterday that he has decided that we must all incorporate into our powerpoints for the sake of uniformity perhaps it was wise for me to wait as they would have all been useless at this stage if I had done them.

If I was lecturing myself it would all be so simple.  Well, I am lecturing myself but that is not the problem.  The problem is that many other lecturers are expecting to work from my lecture plans.  As these are currently in the form of a lengthy text I would feel sorry for their students having to sit through it if they are not so adept at delivery as myself.

Anyway, enough splurge for now.  I must whip up a magical induction week before I begin today.  Something a little more relaxed than masses of fact checking and referencing.  If you have any good ideas for leadership development that I could use to encourage independent thinking in young students please post them.

Efficiency.

I have discovered a couple of new ways to improve my efficiency today.  It is always a good idea to kill two birds with one stone as they say so if I can find a way that I can do two things at the same time then I am interested in that.  We only have 3 score years and ten on this planet as they say, if I can manage to always do two things at the same time then I will be able to lay claim to 6 score years and twenty of productivity.  I generally think of myself as being pretty lazy because I am never doing the thing that I am supposed to be doing but the truth is that I value everything I do do so I suppose technically I am an overworker who is never satisfied with what he has managed to achieve.

Anyway my first point of efficiency is that I want to write this mindsplurge as often as I can.  I often don’t find the time to write it because I have so many other things that I am also trying to do.  My tutor for my teacher training wants me to write a personal journal of what I learn and how my teaching develops.  This is something I also do not do because I have better things to do.  Solution:  combine both into this blog.  My teacher wants me to mind splurge, why shouldn’t I do it in my blog.  That now gives me twice as many reasons to write this blog so it has therefore become  twice as important.  It is therefore twice as likely I will do it and technically it will take up half as much time.  Winners all  round.

The blog is interestingly tied in with the last demonstration class I had to prepare for the course.  I was speaking on assessment methods and after considering the options outlined in the books I decide to advocate a new option.  Assessment by social network;  where students are members of wordpress and linked in and about.me etc they can get peer review form the other members of the class as well as students and even lecturers in other colleges.  It prepares them for the working world, it shows they are familiar with technology and social media, it gets their work and CV out there and shows they are developing experience beyond what occurs within the classroom.  Essentially they do what I am doing here.  The internet is the portfolio of the future.  This is the twentieth century, it is time that education moved on.  It has been evolving for centuries but with the state of modern technology it is time for a revolution.

I was also pleased to see a new development in the classroom this week.  I took on a couple of new students last week.  Until now all my students have spoken Tamil and Singhala.  My new student speaks Romanian.  I gave them a task to do today involving rearranging of verbs, prepositions, etc so as to correct the vandalism I did to the first page of chapter two of Alice in Wonderland.  This was a lot easier than it looked.  Some of the students decided that it was too difficult to be bothered with any serious focus on the work.  They later discovered from the group that had done the work that it was actually rather easy.  Anyway, this group decided that they were going to chat to the Romanian instead.   Normally Tamal and Singhala students do not communicate too much with each other and when they do they do it in their own strange patois.  However they had no choice but to speak English to the Romanian.  It was a pleasant morning because although they were not doing what I had told them to do at all they were doing exactly what they needed to do in order to progress their English.  I sat and listened in and was amused when they tried to defend having done no work whatsoever because I had been thinking all along that they were devising their own lesson plan that was probably more beneficial than the one that I had constructed.

So that was my moment of laziness and ease for the day.  Allowing the students to basically construct their own lesson plan.  I wonder if many other teachers allow their students to so flagrantly flout the set tasks.  I suppose anything that gets them talking is the best thing.  One of the people I have worked with in the past has said that she is always pleased when an argument breaks out in the class because as long as it stays in English it is helping them develop and forcing them to really try and find the best way to express themselves.

The conversation continued so long that the work I had given them stretched well into the afternoon and there was no time to start another project.  I suppose it would have been possible to give them some work to do but as it was Friday evening I thought it would be far more decent to let them go a quarter of an hour early so long as they agreed to do some research for a field trip we are planning to the Science Museum in the next couple of weeks.  I do sometimes work them past their hometime simply because I am pure evil but I guess it is a sunny day so I went easy on them.