Daylight Saving

This is the first time I’ve experienced ‘daylight saving’, a practice that has a history of a century but whose effectiveness in its purported aim of energy saving is suspicious, as revealed by some recent studies.

The UK clock was moved back for an hour yesterday (Sunday), following the ‘spring forward, fall back’ pattern. To be exact, we have just returned to the ‘normal’ time. (Just as the school where I worked would call the winter timetable ‘normal timetable’, and hence we would joke that we prefer the ‘abnormal timetable’ – earlier off!) We had an extra hour of sleep on Sunday. I read that this is affecting the sleeping schedule of some people, especially children, as this is creating a jet lag effect. But for me who is never quite a regular sleeper, and as a cross-continental student, a one-hour time difference is nothing compared to the real jet lag I experience when travelling between the UK and Hong Kong.

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The period between March and October when the clock is one hour ahead is called the daylight saving time (DST), which has just ended for 2016. There is a whole history behind the practice which can be traced back to Benjamin Franklin and later the First World War! Supposedly this is to make better use of the long day time during the summer: by moving the clock forward, there will be one more hour of light during our activity hours – and hence one less hour of artifical light needed, saving candles in Franklin’s time and electricity now, supposedly.

See the Telegraph article for details – where I’ve just learnt all about this daylight saving thingy.

However, for me, who will not enjoy much of the DST with my summer away, I will probably just blame it for an earlier nightfall at around 5 now, which will be even earlier later. You may say, but you get the sunlight earlier in the morning, so it’s not exactly a loss. Hm, yea, my bad to waste that hour of morning sunlight in bed.

Introverts and Classroom Participation

[This post is inspired by and written in response to an article entitled Teachers, Quit Telling Introverts They Should Participate More’ I read on Introvert, Dear.]

The author of the post is a school teacher, and so was I. She identifies herself as an introvert, and so do I. Perhaps I was too much of a goody-two-shoes in primary and secondary schools, but I do share a lot of her anxiety as a student in the university classroom myself, and agree with much of her advice for teachers.

During my undergraduate studies, as English majors, we often had to discuss in tutorials, but it usually took me minutes to formulate my opinion in my mind, carefully rehearsing it, and waiting for the right timing, perhaps waiting for that girl sitting opposite me to finish her point first, before I could anxiously make my comment. After making the comment, please gosh don’t stare at me. Don’t come back to me – I’ve made my contribution. Not that I’m not interested in the topic. I’d love to hear different people’s opinions in tutorial discussion, but please don’t pick on me and ask me to say something when I’m not ready.

Then I did my MPhil. All research students in my university have to be teaching assistants. I actually like teaching and I enjoyed being a TA. I was then the one holding tutorial discussions, having to ask my students to express their thoughts. Perhaps I should have been more compassionate about those who was anxious as I was as an undergraduate, but I seemed to have internalised the notion that verbal communication and participation are essential for students to make the most out of their literary studies. The most important (and inconvenient) reason was that, since I was not the assessed but the assessor, I did not feel the same anxiety.

But then we also had research student polemics where we got together and discussed scholarly articles with a professor, and I shrank back into the nervous anxious student. We actually had a debate in one of the polemics over whether polemics are constructive in academic training. I tend to stand on the negative side with a few of my peers, believing that carefully constructed and researched arguments are probably more valuable than on-the-spot debates, though we all have to acknowledge that verbal exchanges are a necessary part in scholarly activities in reality… conferences and viva!!!

After that I became a secondary school English teacher. The PGDE training tells us to increase classroom interaction and encourage student participation. Of course I’d agree that if it’s all chalk-and-talk, quite a lot of students will just drift off and not learn much in class, but we must also acknowledge that there are introverts in the classroom who would just be discouraged from learning if constantly required to speak in front of the class, or even just have their work displayed. It doesn’t mean they aren’t attentive or interested in the lesson, but the mode of learning doesn’t suit them.

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The boy is well liked by teachers because he is actively participating in class, but look at the anxious face of the girl… She probably isn’t disinterested in learning, but just feels uncomfotable about the way teachers recognise students’ effort in class.

The author of the article has given some good suggestions for teachers: trying to get them talk in small groups where they feel a bit more at ease, and allowing writing as an alternative way to share their ideas. I’d add that multi-modal assessments should be encouraged especially in the secondary school classroom, where the diversity in learning needs can be large. A mix of written assessments, oral presentations, creative assignments, or even video production, if the students are tech-savvy enough (with tablets and apps this shouldn’t be difficult), would probably make learning more stimulating and at the same time help develop the different skills which will be really useful in the future too. This is also fairer because I supppose no one is good at everything, and where they aren’t good at, they should be given the opportunities to hone those skills.

It might actually be the teachers who aren’t very comfortable initiating such changes due to their unfamiliarity with the various modes of teaching and learning. This is understandable. Schools should allow more room – not only the freedom, but actually releasing their workload (instead of asking teachers to add new things to the plate while keeping up with everything already there – for experimentation. At the end of the day, we just want our students to love, instead of fear or hate, learning, and schools should help teachers achieve this mission.

A Story of Children’s Literature Researchers

I’ve read an amazing story about children’s literature researchers. Not me, sadly.

The reason why I got to read this story is that one of the Glasgow lecturers here is in the story – Evelyn Arizpe, director of MEd in Children’s Literature and Literacies at University of Glasgow. She gave a guest lecture yesterday which I attended, and we were shown the following, in addition to a lecture fused with zeal.

These are historical items! An 18C chapbook and a doll with letters and words on its body – probably one that would have been sold by John Newbery back then?

It’s exciting to be able to touch these, but what is more exciting is a story in which she was a part. She told us a little bit in class, but for the full story, please do go and have a read of the Prologue of a book entitled Reading Lessons from the Eighteenth Century by Evelyn Arizpe and Morag Styles. (There’s one in CUHK University Library – though on loan at this moment. That might be the only copy in Hong Kong!)

That’s a fascinating story of some children’s literature researchers inspiring one another, joining at different stages of the project, in the search of the history of a mother writing for her children in the 18th century, Jane Johnson.

Let me summarise a bit for people who don’t get to read it. Styles, one of the authors of the book, was first inspired by an American researcher Shirley Brice Heath, who brought to her knowledge a precious collection in Lilly Library at Indiana University – that of Jane Johnson’s. Fascinated by Johnson’s works, Styles was determined to pursue further in collaboration with her colleague Victor Watson.

The two of them, together with the visiting scholar, immediately went on a trip to London to study the wills of the Johnson family, and then to Witham-on-the-Hill, where Johnson lived. It was a small village and the people there were somewhat surprised by the visiting of the scholars. With the kind help of the people there, they got to see what Johnson’s house would look like, and also read a book related to Johnson’s daughter.

This is just the first part of the story, but I fear that any longer description will lose your interest. The scholars continued with the project, with a lot of coincidences and help of interested people (including Evelyn Arizpe, of course), a lot of trips and a lot of research on online archives, they got to dig up a lot of old documents (!!!) and unravel the obscure history of the eighteenth-century reading household.

The burning passion scribed into the book can hardly be missed. The prologue was clearly written with great enthusiasm and the excitement they felt must have been hundred times greater than what pops up on paper. (Read it if you have the chance!)

How I wish I could have the opportunity to do research like they did!

Educational Managerialism

These days I’ve been reading a book entitled Educational Leadership: Ambiguity, Professionals and Managerialism, by Eric Hoyle and Mike Wallace. (Warn you, not a leisure read – I read it for research purpose.) It seems to have summarised some of the problems we teachers face in the workplace under the climate of increasing educational managerialism.

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The following excerpt will probably generate some resonance if you are a teacher:

Meetings are particularly rich in opportunities for finding problems. Meetings have now become a major leadership and management tool. In many schools, attending meetings has become almost a way of life. They occupy time during the school day and also after school hours, contributing to the high number of hours worked each week by teachers. … Such meetings exist to enable staff to solve problems and make decisions. But they also fulfil many other functions, including reporting, mobilizing, motivating, reinforcing group identity, impressing colleagues, or parading grievances. …

But meetings have increasingly become opportunities for generating problems. Constructing an agenda often entails a search for problems … Some committees and working parties are dumping grounds for ‘problems’ that are not resolvable at a particular point. Managerialism thrives on meetings. To reduce the number of meetings may be to reduce the number of ‘problems’ that unproductively absorb staff time. But to do so would be heretical to the managerialist mind. (98-99)

To simplify, there are two types of meetings – meetings that solve problems and those that generate problems. The former is necessary and purposeful, while the latter is exhausting and demoralising.

No one really likes meetings, I suppose, not even the school administrators. Yet, why are we teachers still pestered by all the meetings big and small, eating up time for lesson preparation and generating problems and work that do not always relate to the benefit our students?

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If the school administrators aren’t sadistic, then there must be reasons for them to believe that such meetings are necessary or meaningful for the school (not necessarily the students). Such is the force of the governmental management which wants to tighten its grip over schools.

Yet, Holye and Wallace also point out that ‘there is room to manoeuvre over how far to enter into the spirit of these tasks, as opposed to doing the minimum required’ (91). Administrators ought to exercise their professionalism and decide what is in the best interest of their students, and this should vary from one school to another.

Another point worth noting is that while many activities or programmes could be beneficial to students, a question to ask is ‘whether these improvements have been of a magnitude that justifies their heavy costs, financially and in terms of sapping the energy and lowering the job satisfaction of teachers’ (95). And of course, to view the issue on a macroscopic scale, the same logic applies to governmental directives at the cost of school administrators’ burnout.

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Schools should always put the interest of students at the first priority, but in order to be effective, the working conditions and job satisfaction of teachers must not be overlooked. At the end of the day, who are there to teach the students? Would passionate and enthusiastic teachers inspire students better, or would overworked and unhappy ones do a better job?