Sunday, November 29, 2009
之前，在礼堂 里，老师们分享编写教案和试教的情况时，一位在邻里学校的老师热情洋溢地说，后来如果没有安排读报课，她的学生就会不断追问为什么不上读报课了。学生的反 应出乎她的意料之外，其实也可能出乎学生自己的意料之外。他们现在发现，自己原来读得懂《联合早报》上的国际新闻。
我在这套教案试教半 年快结束前，总算安排出时间去学校观课。那是邻里学校中一的学生，学生翻报纸玩老师设计的游戏，抢着举手回答问题。体育新闻版里学语文，篮球比赛用什么形 容词，请表演灌篮的动作。课上得热闹，站在课室前面的华文老师，活泼地用少年的语言和学生一来一往。有时柔声鼓励，有时用激将法。华文老师像个落力演出的 演员，没有威权，只有亲和力。
我们开始做这个读报计划时，很快意识到我们用的是报人的语言，老师们用的是教学的语言。我们要怎样用教学 的方法，把报纸的阅读方式传送到学生那里去？今年初，我和《逗号》副主编慧容讨论给老师们安排讲座、研讨时，左挑右选了好几个星期六。学校正事杂事已够 多，老师明年愿意再花这个时间和心思吗？刚刚开学的星期六好不好？农历新年前的星期六好不好？就这样，我们有点过意不去的占据了编写教案的华文老师好几个 星期六。
但那只是开始的阶段。真正进入编写教案，还有会议。而老师们几人一组，也要经常自己碰头。我在教学手册里看到培雅中学的谢陈琦 老师回忆美丽的合作过程时，叙述了这一段：“当初为了写教案，春娇老师和我‘山长水远’分别从金文泰和新民路下课后赶去科兰芝中学讨论。第一个教案讨论完 毕后才发觉晓玲老师的学校已经空无一人，附近组屋万家灯火。我开动车子欲离开科兰芝中学时，学校大门早被锁上，等了约莫20多分钟，晓玲和春娇才出现，真 是‘虚惊一场’。讨论第二个教案时，是5月1日！劳动节，地点还是科兰芝中学。没办法，老师平时事务繁忙，为了完成任务，只好连公共假日亦赔上。”
看起来付出的是时间，但是在付出时间的背后，展示的是华文老师的信念和理想。我再翻看参与的华文老师留下的感言，没有悲情，有的只是帮助教学、引起学生兴 趣，并且提高学生能力的殷切期望。他们当中，大部分来自邻里学校，几位老师来自历史悠久的传统英校。直接面对学生，他们比谁都清楚现实，却又比谁都努力地 依照现实，为华文课寻找新的有效的方法。引起兴趣的同时，让学生通过华文看到世界，在不知不觉中培养不同观念，了解华文不只属于教室、课本和考试。
我从他们想到了自己接触到的许多华文老师。这几年来，我在不同的培训、讲座场合里碰到他们，当中有我的老师辈，也有我的同代人。华文老师在岛国是一个特 殊的群体，一方面受到特别的尊重——其他科目也没有模范教师奖项，唯独华文老师有之；另一方面，他们承担比任何老师更大的压力，在社会上成为经常被单挑出 来议论的群体：学生学习华文的经验备受关注，学得不好，抱怨华文老师教学沉闷、方法古老，造成孩子恐惧，似乎都言之成理，并且在媒体里得到放大。我的同代 人中，一些选择当了华文老师。我们都是时代的产物，华文程度不高，大学中文系里同学抄笔记时用拼音，文字不通的为数不少。从某个角度而言，我们是时代的牺 牲者，但在他们决心继承华文老师衣钵的时候，时代在他们身上留下印记的责任，却也都由他们扛下。作为一个群体，无论是哪个年龄层，华文老师轻易就成为别人 公开指指点点的对象。
华文老师在众多科目老师当中，心理素质其实是最强的，这才能够经得起一波又一波的震荡。在岛国的教育史当中，最为 折腾的是华文，没有其他科目像华文一样，需要跟着内部和外部的环境过山车。而在这个过程当中，一代又一代的华文老师不断适应，在最迷惘的时刻坚持着，在最 清楚的时候困惑着，在最喧闹的时候沉默着。但是什么原因，让他们一代又一代人锲而不舍？
Sunday, November 08, 2009
By Julianna Kettlewell
BBC News Online science staff
Some language rules may be innate
The language follows many basic rules common to all tongues, even though the children were not taught them.
It indicates some language traits are not passed on by culture, but instead arise due to the innate way human beings process language, experts claim.
The US-led research is detailed in the latest issue of Science magazine.
The development of language has long been the focus of debate. Some people in the extreme "nature" camp believe that grammar is essentially hard-wired in the brain, while those in the extreme "nurture" camp think language has no innate basis and is just culturally transmitted.
That is why the sign language invented by a small group of deaf children in Nicaragua is so unusual. It has given scientists the clearest insight yet into how humans learn language.
"When people study historical linguistics to try to figure out how languages are born they are usually looking at old historical data, like scratches on rocks," explained co-author Ann Senghas of Columbia University, New York.
"This is the first time we have had the opportunity to observe it in action because the originators are still alive."
Steven Pinker, a psychologist at Harvard University and author of a seminal book on the acquisition and evolution of language - The Language Instinct - is impressed by the findings.
"I think this research has made some of the most interesting discoveries in language acquisition in decades," he told BBC News Online.
"It shows that children have sophisticated mechanisms of language analysis which give language many of its distinctive qualities."
Before the 1970s, most deaf people in Nicaragua stayed at home and had little contact with one another, according to Dr Senghas.
Then, in 1981, a vocational school opened, and the children began to communicate with each other. No one actually taught them to sign, but they began to develop a system of gestures to get their messages across.
At first, these were rather crude and pantomime-like, similar to the gestures a hearing person might make if they had to describe something without speaking.
But as a new wave of children learned the gestures they turned them into a sophisticated sign language, Nicaraguan Sign Language (NSL), complete with traits seen in nearly all other languages - both spoken and sign.
One key trait that the children adopted is called "discreteness". This refers to the process of breaking down information into small manageable packages.
Expressions of motion are particularly useful for studying discreteness in spoken and sign languages. In developed languages, we break up the idea of continuous motion into separate words.
So, in the expression "rolling down the hill", one word (rolling) conveys the movement, while another (down) conveys the direction.
But if a hearing person were asked to convey this idea in gestures alone, they would almost certainly do it with a single continuous movement.
Dr Senghas and her colleagues showed the deaf people from each of the age groups a cartoon, in which a cat swallows a ball and then wobbles down a steep road. Then they asked the participants to tell the story.
The oldest group, who invented the initial "crude" form of NSL, told it with one continuous gesture as a hearing person might.
"If they were just clever at learning they would have learned to do it the way they had seen it being done," said Dr Senghas. "But that isn't what they did - they ended up acquiring something different. They ended up breaking down the gestures into something they could build a language out of."
This is compelling evidence that humans are predisposed to develop language in this way, say the researchers. In other words, children instinctively break information down into small chunks so they can have the flexibility to string them back together, to form sentences with a range of meanings.
Interestingly, adults lose this talent, which also suggests there is an innate element to the language learning process.
"We lose the ability to break information into discrete elements as we age," said Dr Senghas. "It is not just that children can do it, but adults can't do it."
Dr Senghas does not claim her findings support the extreme "nature" camp, but that they do suggest there is an instinctive component to the way we learn language.
"It doesn't prove that language is hard wired to the degree some people say it is, but it does prove the fundamentals of language are part of the innate endowment," she said. "So you don't have language or grammar in your head when you are born, but you do have certain learning abilities."
Professor Pinker said the results of the study showed something that had always been suspected by some psychologists.
But, he said: "Since children's language ordinarily ends up the same as their parents' language, one couldn't easily pinpoint what their minds added."It takes a case in which the language children end up with is more complex than the language they hear to identify the creative contribution of the child."
Tough love 'is good for children'
The report said parenting style was more influential than income
Children brought up according to "tough love" principles are more successful in life, according to a study.
The think tank Demos says a balance of warmth and discipline improved social skills more than an laissez-faire, authoritarian or disengaged upbringing.
It says children aged five with "tough love" parents were twice as likely to show good character capabilities.
Report author Jen Lexmond said: "It is confidence, warmth and consistent discipline that matter most."
According to the report, qualities such as application, self-regulation and empathy were more likely to be developed in children whose parents employed a "tough love" approach.
It found that these qualities made "a vital contribution to life chances, mobility and opportunity".
The report said these characteristics were profoundly shaped in pre-school years.
The most important influence is the quality of parenting
Building Character report
The Building Character report analysed data from more than 9,000 households in the UK.
It found that children from the richest backgrounds were more than twice as likely to develop the key characteristics compared to those with the poorest origins.
Additionally, children whose parents were married were twice as likely to show such traits than children from lone parent or step-parented families, the report said.
But it added that when parental style and confidence were factored in, the difference in child character development between richer and poorer families disappeared.
The report concluded that this indicated that parenting was the most important influence - and the same result occurred when the family structure factor was analysed.
The report said that other positive influences included the main carer's level of education, and breast-feeding.
Girls were more likely to develop character capabilities by age five, while no connection was found between paid employment of either parent and children's characteristics.
The authors urged more support and information for families, and for children with disengaged or low-income parents to be given particular focus.
They recommended that the Government's Sure Start programme should be refocused as a tool for early intervention, with less emphasis on childcare and more on development; improved pilots for the Family Nurse Partnership; and for health visitors to be given an early years role to help with parenting.
"There is some evidence that lower-income households face more difficulty in incubating these character capabilities," the report said.
"But the most important influence is the quality of parenting.
"Confident, skilful parents adopting a 'tough love' approach to parenting, balancing warmth with discipline, seem to be most effective in terms of generating these key character capabilities.
"An ambitious agenda for equality of opportunity will need to take the development of these capabilities seriously."
Ms Lexmond added: "Far from a 'soft' skill, character is integral to our future success and wellbeing."
Parentline Plus chief executive Jeremy Todd said the charity also supported the call for increased help for families.
But he said different children reacted differently to parenting styles.
"If we are to reduce the strangle hold of cycles of deprivation, the issue of how we support families to raise children must be grasped," Mr Todd added.
"We welcome this report and hope that it stimulates debate among policy makers around how best to support families to transform our society into one where we top the league tables for outcomes for children and well-being."
Saturday, November 07, 2009
Babies 'cry in mother's tongue'
Babies' cries imitate their mother tongue as early as three days old
German researchers say babies begin to pick up the nuances of their parents' accents while still in the womb.
The researchers studied the cries of 60 healthy babies born to families speaking French and German.
The French newborns cried with a rising "accent" while the German babies' cries had a falling inflection.
Writing in the journal Current Biology, they say the babies are probably trying to form a bond with their mothers by imitating them.
FROM THE TODAY PROGRAMME
The findings suggest that unborn babies are influenced by the sound of the first language that penetrates the womb.
It was already known that foetuses could memorise sounds from the outside world in the last three months of pregnancy and were particularly sensitive to the contour of the melody in both music and human voices.
Earlier studies had shown that infants could match vowel sounds presented to them by adult speakers, but only from 12 weeks of age.
Kathleen Wermke from the University of Wurzburg, who led the research, said: "The dramatic finding of this study is that not only are human neonates capable of producing different cry melodies, but they prefer to produce those melody patterns that are typical for the ambient language they have heard during their foetal life.
Newborns are highly motivated to imitate their mother's behaviour in order to attract her and hence to foster bonding
Kathleen Wermke, Unversity of Wurzburg
"Contrary to orthodox interpretations, these data support the importance of human infants' crying for seeding language development."
Dr Wermke's team recorded and analysed the cries of 60 healthy newborns when they were three to five days old.
Their analysis revealed clear differences in the shape of the infants' cry melodies that corresponded to their mother tongue.
They say the babies need only well-co-ordinated respiratory-laryngeal systems to imitate melody contours and not the vocal control that develops later.
Dr Wermke said: "Newborns are highly motivated to imitate their mother's behaviour in order to attract her and hence to foster bonding.
"Because melody contour may be the only aspect of their mother's speech that newborns are able to imitate, this might explain why we found melody contour imitation at that early age."
Debbie Mills, a reader in developmental cognitive neuroscience at Bangor University, said: "This is really interesting because it suggests that they are producing sounds they have heard in the womb and that means learning and that it is not an innate behaviour.
"Many of the early infant behaviours are almost like reflexes that go away after the first month and then come back later in a different form.
"It would be interesting to look at these babies after a month and see if their ability to follow the melodic contours of their language is still there."