Friday, February 24, 2012


By: Lawrence H. Summers, The New York Times

Level of difficulty: ***

Thanks are due to my friend and colleague Kerem Özkan for this interesting text.


1.       What is the purpose of education?

2.       Does the purpose of education change over time?

3.       What should the purpose of education be in the 21st century?

4.       What changes would you make to current classroom practices to achieve this aim?


  1. Read the first two paragraphs of the text. The writer starts with the following words: “A paradox of American higher education is this”. What is the paradox? You will have to use your own words. Be brief.
  2. In the fourth paragraph, the writer states that “inertia may be appropriate”. Give an example from the text of what the writer is referring to with the word “inertia”.
  3. Now state clearly why the inertia is, perhaps, a good thing?
  4. Why exactly should emphasis shift away from factual mastery?
  5. What current trend should be reflected in education in the writer’s view?
  6. What are the advantages of practices like accelerated video lectures?
  7. More dynamic learning will encourage students to …………………………………………………………………
  8. What developments could reduce the need to learn languages?
  9. Which of the following does the writer advocate: the introduction of analysis into education, the introduction of analysis into all spheres of life or the introduction of more in depth analysis into education?



Write a four paragraph essay discussing the changes the writer envisages to improve the current education system. Use the notes, thesis statement and topic sentences provided to come up with a quasi summary of the text. Your second alternative is to write a multiple text based essay after covering "An Examination of 21st Century Skills" by Dean Vendramin and "A Five Point Programme for Policy on Education: How Do Policymakers, Parents and Teachers Fit in? by Professor Frank Furedi. Consult the notes concerning these tasks for further instructions.

Thesis statement:  There are various changes that need to be implemented in the current educational systems if we are to keep up with the times.

First developmental paragraph: Opportunities should be provided for students to develop their inherent cognitive skills. In this context, discuss the following: how to process and use information, how to analyze information. Remember to provide examples and your own views as well.

Second developmental paragraph: New technology should be allowed pride of place in the classroom of the 21st century. In this context, discuss the following: how technology will change teaching and learning, collaboration, active learning classrooms. Remember to provide examples and your own views.


This is a text about education and learning, a subject which usually goes down like a lead bullet with students, but this one won’t; I guarantee. It is so topical, and so successfully gets to the heart of what all our problems are about worldwide that it can’t but capture and hold students’ attention. The plan for the writing task is closely linked to the text and will help students revise their summarizing skills, show them how text related writing tasks are planned and help develop those cognitive skills.

  1. Although college campuses are seen as the sources for the newest thinking and for the generation of new ideas, society’s cutting edge undergraduate education changes remarkably little over time.
  2. Select from paragraph three.
  3. Part of universities’ function is to keep alive man’s greatest creations…
  4. Because of both proliferation of knowledge and how much of it any student can absorb
  5. Collaboration.
  6. Professors will have more time for direct discussion with students, cost savings, material will be better presented.
  7. Actively use the knowledge they are acquiring
  8. Rapid progress in machine translation and the fragmentation of languages around the world.
  9. The last.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


 The First Factor: Background; the First Alternative
It is all reasonably well educated parents’ dream, even obsession, that their offspring should be encouraged to develop every cognitive skill open to man. He should be creative, imaginative; his IQ should be through the roof; in short, no intellectual feet should be beyond him. The raising of this super human requires diligence and careful planning of each and every activity, every syllable that is uttered in his presence and all stimuli that he is exposed to. With this in mind, the modern parent will do all he is capable of to imbibe the frontal lobe of his precious offspring with “useful” information and skills and then move on to the neocortext with the hope of dealing with the twin abilities of recognition and recall. No area of the brain is neglected the ultimate driving force being a brain shining with neurons and firmly established synapses all lighting up like a Christmas tree. That wonderful and intricate electrical circuit, i.e. the brain of the child, should surpass all others allowing the proud owner to reach the dizzy heights that his loving parents feel he deserves. As parents, we were far from being immune to this frenzy and started off with the usual diet of stimulating games (thanks to Fischer Price), jigsaws, legos and of course the bed time story – with the all consuming desire that the toddler learn to read quickly as there is no time to be lost. All parents know about the Mozart effect which leads to a diet of classical music. Last and by no means least, there are the outings: I distinctly remember taking my daughter along with two of her friends and their parents, two professors at the university I teach at, to Topkapi Palace for a taste of Ottoman culture. Professor Cem Taylan, a dear friend of mine now sadly deceased, set about expounding his views concerning the artifacts we were viewing to what we all thought was a rapt audience. One member of the latter, meanwhile, turned to her friend and chirped “Shall we see if we can hop as far as the door without stepping on the cracks?” and hop they did with peals of laughter. Our reaction was absolute horror and dismay: they were not interested; they didn’t care; how could they! We were incensed. One fact I should draw your attention to here is that they were three at the time! It made no difference to us though; it was only years later that we were able to smile about the whole story. Our kids turned out to be a resilient bunch though and thanks to a well developed sense of self preservation, managed to enjoy their childhood despite our efforts to “develop” them. They did learn to read very early, turned out to be musical and also creative. They also learned to express their opinions with conviction; probably due to the fact that they grew up surrounded by rather opinionated academics, who were all over achievers. In short, they learned to hold their own. At this stage of the child’s development, the parent feels that he has successfully laid the groundwork for a brilliant education which will build on all he has achieve thus far. The stimulation will continue, more synapses will be formed, more skills acquired; creativity, rational thought, reasoning skills will all be developed or will they?
Background: The Second Alternative
Not all children in developing countries or indeed anywhere in the world are born into families of overzealous and overambitious academics. Many are born into working class or lower middle class families where all the stimulation they get is being shoved out the door after breakfast so that poor mom can attend to her never ending chores. These kids, unlike their peers, become very street wise and able to fend for themselves at an early age. They develop a kind of shrewdness and practical common sense that allows them to make the most of their environment.  They learn about cooperative team work, leadership, the camaraderie that goes with all this and develop a resilience their peers can only dream of. As for any other stimulation, mom is too frazzled for that and is dead on her feet by bed time. There is television of course and that superb example of a man made jungle:  the internet, which all modern children succumb to at increasingly earlier ages. Unsupervised access to the internet can have seriously detrimental effects on the child depending on the amount of exposure. A diet of games will consolidate the already established tendency to seek immediate gratification. This break neck speed of interaction will set the stage for chronic ADHD especially if it is reinforced by game boys, Nintendo’s and mobile phones with all their applications. The access of children to technology varies tremendously all over the world but it is safe to say that most are affected to some extend although some may suffer more than others. Naturally, these modern pastimes have numerous other disadvantages such as a tendency to sleep less than the previous generation, lack of physical exercise, obesity and various other health problems  such as repetitive strain injury but it is the damage they do to certain cognitive skills that we are going to focus on here. Undeniably, certain cognitive skills are enhanced by appropriate games but the slower pen and paper drill suffers.  Slow application tasks such as critical analysis of a text, summarizing, essay writing even just reading for any length of time become inordinately difficult. The problem of inappropriate stimulation from some sources is often compounded by the complete lack of it where parents are concerned; the second important home factor. The lack of intellectual stimulation is often due to the parents’ background and the reflection of the latter onto day to day living: children emulate like all mammals – monkey see, monkey do – and if parents enjoy no intellectual pursuits at all save the box – which hardly qualifies – expecting the children to pick up such habits is, in general, unrealistic unless the home environment is changed and the children are sent to boarding school. Fischer Price doesn’t enter this home; neither do legos, jigsaws, the chessboard and the like. Intellectually stimulating outings never take place; the kids are “out”, in more senses than one, the whole time anyway.
The Second Factor: School
When the hammer is the only tool, every problem looks like a nail.
School often comes as a shock to the first group I have described and very restrictive and deadly dull to the second group provided that they enter more authoritarian establishments.  In most authoritarian educational systems, the brain of the child is regarded as a very different place from the way our academics or our modern, educated parents regard it. Forget all the electrical circuits and the Christmas tree, think dusty attic; an attic where no one has been for years, which is full of junk that is of no use to anyone and no one wants, all covered with a thick coat of dust and cobwebs. This, it is believed, is the brain the child has been endowed with and it is the God given mission of the school system to correct this error of creation. The minds of the young are certainly not regarded as possessing any potential skill what so ever, and as far as instilling good values, correct thinking, appropriate knowledge and acceptable opinions go, the ball is very firmly in the school system’s court.  Any enforcer of an authoritarian education system is on a mission to embellish the attic described here with “suitable” skills and knowledge and stamp out, or when necessary, fight valiantly against, the cobwebs that may wish to regain lost ground. It is a serious business and must be gone about with all the heavy artillery. “We must work as a team and that means you must do everything I say” someone once said although I doubt he was referring to the classroom. In his essay “Freedom versus Authority in Education”, Bertrand Russell explains the situation very succinctly; unfortunately, what he said a hundred odd years ago still applies in a lot of countries in the world. He says and I quote: “Accordingly, state education has acquired a certain bias. It teaches the young (so far as it can) to respect existing institutions, to avoid all criticism of the powers that be, to regard foreign nations with suspicion and contempt. It increases national solidarity at the expense of both internationalism and of individual development. The damage to individual development comes through the undue stress on authority. Collective rather than individual emotions are encouraged, and disagreement with the prevailing beliefs is severely repressed. Uniformity is desired because it is convenient to the administrator, regardless of the fact that it can only be secured by mental atrophy. So great are the resulting evils that it can be seriously questioned whether universal education has hitherto done more harm than good.”Students learn very quickly that it is the teacher’s views, his interpretation of facts, his rendition of events are correct and only source material he recommends is worth reading. Any attempts at independent thought are firmly crushed as in the case of one child I know who ventured an “I think…” and was met by the steely gaze of the teacher who snapped “Who are you?” “If you were right, I would agree with you” I remember one teacher now also deceased saying; what she failed to say was that she didn’t believe we were ever right. “Experience is a brutal teacher” C.S. Lewis is reported to have once said and this is certainly true of our victims in such a system who quickly learn to switch off, dumb down and fit in. “The individual has always had to struggle not to be overwhelmed by the tribe” Nietze once said yet there is very little struggling in this instance. Heads down, intellect on energy saving mode, they plod along seemingly soaking up knowledge which they then spew out on tests and promptly forget. The lack of engagement ensures that nothing sticks. The teachers remain confident that they are doing their level best to mould the next generation into the kind of adults that they deem “good and beneficial” yet there being no exchange of opinions or independent analysis of facts, their belief that they have actually communicated  with the students remains one of their biggest illusions. Contrary to what the Apache say, they believe there is only one path to get somewhere and they have clearly marked it out for the students. Little do they know the damage that is thus done. It takes a lot of effort and planning to create this army of automatons and Eric Fromm would probably say that this is, in fact, what capitalism demands but there is no doubt in my mind that these foot soldiers of the authoritarian education system believe, wholeheartedly, that they are doing the right thing and serving the students, as well as the public, in the best possible way.  But turning round and blaming them for plagiarizing is grossly unfair considering the extensive brainwashing and dumbing down that have taken place
 The Third Factor: the System; i.e. the Hurdles
In a study they conducted and published under the title “Developing a Critical Response, Avoiding Plagiarism among Undergraduate Students”, Raihanah M. M., Ruzy Suliza Hashim,Arezou Zalipour and Muhammad Azri Mustaffa  discovered that “most of the problems faced by learners appeared more fundamental including the inability to discuss the issues in a critical manner, lack of paraphrasing skills and doing correct in-citations, purely summarizing the text without creating relevance with the topic and acts of plagiarism” The kind of background the child comes from and the type of instructor described above are most certainly two key factors bringing about such an outcome but they are not the only ones; the choice of material and the methodology employed in primary and secondary education also play a critical part as the authors of the study quoted above also discovered. It is to these factors that we shall now turn.
There are various serious and undeniable challenges that most developing countries are up against one of which is the enormous young population and the second of which is limited recourses – which means, in effect, that the number of good schools and teachers is far below adequate. It goes without saying that every parent desires to get his child in pole position and eventually into these few “good” schools. It doesn’t take a genius to guess what follows: a system best compared to the hurdles where classroom activities are dominated by frequent road blocks in the form of tests which the teacher has no choice but assign pride of place in his teaching. As soon as one is over, preparation begins for the next and this continues ad infinitum. Teaching is replaced by training for tests, all those crucial cognitive skills best developed by encouraging students to reflect on, critique and comment on facts – i.e. those crucial slow application tasks – are forsaken for the teaching of shortcuts and memorization techniques designed to help students excel on tests. A certain mental dexterity if you like is most certainly achieved and students in this country, Turkey, often ace the SAT but the price that is paid is very high indeed. This emphasis on test techniques is by no means limited to science and maths; you would be astonished to discover that social sciences and even literature are tested in the same way. It is very easy for an overworked, underpaid teacher who is obsessed with pass and failure rates to succumb considering the amount of material that needs to be covered. The latter also seems to lead to an emphasis on facts – like dates, treaties, names – rather than the relationships between these facts; this in turn means memorization is in and thinking is out. Students can rattle off all the mountain ranges and mountains in the country for instance but be unable to tell you what the significance is of having mountain ranges parallel to the coast. They will be able to parrot a long list of treaties without being able to discuss what the significance of various items in the said treaties was. The whole business becomes truly bizarre when literature is considered. Multiple choice literature tests pain me to say the least despite being able to see the reasons for their existence. What is far worse are literature tests that demand the reciting of the teacher’s views on a piece of poetry or short story. There is one test question I shall never forget and it went something like this:”Yunus Emre ……………….. (in Turkish: Yunus Emre ……………………… dir). For those of you who speak Turkish, what was required was: “Yunus Emre’nin şiirlerinedeki doğa tasvirleri usta bir ressamın elinded çıkmış gibidir”. For those of you who don’t, this roughly translates as Yunus Emre’s descriptions of nature   are like the renditions of a good painter. Nothing else, and I mean nothing else, would do. How on earth do you learn to get it right I remember enquiring of this student who simply explained that one kept getting zeros until the penny dropped. Is it any wonder that so few people like to read? Not only that; does it come as any surprise that so many eighteen year olds appear so terribly ignorant. Over the years, my first impression of my freshman class at the university where I teach – one of the top English medium universities in the country – has been that they were mentally challenged to say the least. Commonsense and knowledge of the grueling process they suffer through to get into university assured me that this could not be the case; yet the impression persisted. The reason is a simple rule of thumb: facts that are learned in school are far more easily forgotten than cognitive skills such as applying principals or interpreting new experiments, for instance, based on prior knowledge. In our Shakespeare class back when I was a student, we read Macbeth one term and Hamlet the next, which taught us how to go about reading Shakespeare – that being the ultimate purpose of the exercise. I then went on to develop a great love for the literature of the period and eventually wrote my thesis on Christopher Marlow. This aside, think back, if you will, to all that has been said about teaching and the dilemma is solved: students fed a diet of facts to the exclusion of all else can’t possibly be expected to produce any other impression.  Couple all that has been discussed thus far with the modern emphasis on speed and short cuts like in the case of texting, e-mail speak, ticking drop down boxes and abuse of technology and is it any surprise that undergraduates cannot summarize, critique, provide correct in-citations or paraphrase?
There is one teaching and testing technique that has become all but obsolete in a lot of places – certainly in this country – with grave consequences. What I am referring to is the writing of essays, papers, dissertations, summaries, answering essay type questions and the like. This new trend has even started to encroach on universities I understand. A former student who I came across on the bus to school and who is reading sociology described the multiple choice sociology test he had had in all its lurid details. I fail to be able to see how one can correctly assess a student’s in depth understanding of sociology in this way but I digress. Before going any further, I must reiterate that two of the reasons why these activities have fallen by the way side are sheer numbers and the punishing test schedule described above. The damage has been extensive though. Paraphrasing is an activity that should creep in, if you like, on day one and parroting, the current practice, should be strictly forbidden. In the German school in Istanbul, which prepares students for the ABITUR, students are absolutely forbidden to answer questions in the language of the text; they are required to use their own words. This is where it all starts: paraphrasing creeps in the door stealthily if you like and envelopes everything. Couple this with free exchange of opinions, analysis of material, drawing conclusions from the same, activities like finding main ideas, discussing significance, future repercussions and the like and the brain will come alive. Such activities will lead seamlessly into summaries and essays, which will in turn pave the way for papers and dissertations.  There is no other activity which is better equipped to develop cognitive skills than the above. The difference between students who have enjoyed such a diet and those who have not is sadly obvious; I have come to think of the latter as mentally challenged in a completely new sense of the word.  One example I would like to give you is my daughter to whom essay writing or the planning of essays has become second nature as she has been through the French system.  She described to me how comfortably she settled into graduate work at a prestigious British university and how surprised she was on discovering how much certain other students from various countries suffered. Thanks to her background, she is well versed in various writing skills and has been planning essays since she was twelve. This being the case, she fit in with the system in the UK, which relies heavily on the writing of papers and dissertations, with no trouble; taking to it all with relish if you like. Classmates from radically different backgrounds, as described earlier in this paper, had a lot of trouble: some experienced panic attacks; others got deferments.  It is tough to be thrown in at the deep end so late in life and with this in mind, we, as an institution, have been trying to undo some of the damage done in secondary education and rekindle those fires in the brain if you like, whilst also teaching our students university level English, for many years now. Many of the methods we employ are those also suggested in that brilliant study I quoted earlier in the paper: Developing a Critical Response, Avoiding Plagiarism among University Students. It is to the solutions to the problems described above that we shall now turn.
Possible Solutions: What Universities Can Do
The skills that students are encouraged to perfect throughout their school years and which help them to sail over that last all important hurdle come university are not the ones that will help them at university; at least, not in a lot of departments. Those slow application tasks and all the cognitive skills that accompany them are still, thankfully, very much in demand. This being the case the problem remains what to do with a student body that can’t think; at least in the traditional university sense of the word. The university I have the good fortune to have been teaching at for the past thirty five years – as well as certain other English medium universities and one reputable French medium university– has long seen it as its mission to rectify this problem during the year of prep the students do to improve their English before starting their departments proper. Our third aim is filling in, or trying to fill in, some of the gaping holes in the students’ general knowledge. This is the challenge we, as a department, face every year. We are not, by any means, alone: Galatasaray University, the reputable French medium university I referred to, used, until very recently, to have two years of prep before university proper; one year to improve proficiency in French, the second to fill the gaping holes in students’ general knowledge. This second year was optional for graduates of French schools who nevertheless opted, as a body, not to by bass it seeing it as vital for their intellectual betterment. The two years of prep has recently been reduced to one as it meant students had six years to get their degree; an unacceptable state of affairs it was felt.
The ultimate success of the efforts to make up lost ground depends to a large extent on the background of the students and the extent of the damage done.  The students who come from  the kind of home environment with less intellectual stimulation who then continue their education at the kind of establishment I described earlier usually have a lot more trouble with the program, and failure rates among these students are comparatively higher. The degree of authoritarianism in schools varies greatly in degree due to all the practical issues most developing countries face – such as student numbers, the limited number of good universities and the importance of entering the latter to be able to significantly improve quality of life – but the fact remains that we do have a problem and are faced with an impossible dilemma. On the one hand, the emphasis on testing seems unavoidable; on the other hand this system does untold damage. The Ministry is trying to implement reforms and has made some progress but they are also caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.  A shift away from the rapid response multiple choice tests and consequent drop in training for central exams translates into higher failure rates on the said exams which measure none of the skills taught in class. Despite this, some schools have started taking baby steps in the right direction with predictable results as far as exam results go. In the study I quoted earlier, “Developing a Critical Response, Avoiding Plagiarism among Undergraduate Students”, the authors state that they, like us, discovered that the students displayed an “inability to discuss the issues in a critical manner” and went on to explain their key findings as follows: “Students appear to merely summarize the plot or central story of the text without being able to identify the central theme or issue that they wish to discuss. In addition, students also display an absence of the skill to create relevance between secondary reading materials quoted and the issues discussed”. This has long been our view as well. The act of summarizing mentioned by the authors is closer to a verbatim account of the text rather than a true summary in our case; the latter is a skill we endeavor to teach them. The solution the authors of the same study discovered worked is also the one we believe in. They write and I quote: “We found that pertinent analytical questions opened up an avenue for our undergraduate students to provide insightful explication of the text. However, the process is slow and the students need to be guided with meaningful clues. They still require probing and this is where the lecturer needs to function as a facilitator towards engaging a more critical response in them”. It is this last issue, the fact that the process is slow, that is our biggest stumbling block: in our country the law allows us a year to get the students through the prep year and the proficiency exam – a classic pen and paper affair which includes all the skills a university student needs.  You might be forgiven for asking why we persist in blocking the gaps in their general knowledge and teaching them to think at all but the demands that university education place on the student in most departments gives us no choice and quite frankly, I personally believe that students end up developing and growing intellectually in one year, far more than they did in their twelve years of education.
The Reading Program
The Motto: Don’t Talk about Reading; Work With a Text
A reading program that helps develop critical thinking skills, broadens students’ horizons, increases their general knowledge as well as improving their English needs to be a very special one. It is not the purpose of this paper to go into the details of how to design a reading syllabus; we shall just focus on the general principles and endeavor to emphasize their relevance to the development of the desired cognitive skills such as reasoning, critiquing, analyzing, synthesizing and the like. It is widely believed that the following are essential to such a reading program:
  1. Paraphrasing
  2. Summary writing
  3. Text mapping, outlining
  4. Answering analytical comprehension questions – not straight forward “wh” questions
  5. Analyzing and discussing content
  6. Writing reading related essays
These skills should be incorporated in classroom activities as of day one; this includes near beginners. These skills, contrary to popular belief, can be taught at a very early stage of the year. The importance of this latter point can’t be emphasized enough as it is a major source of disagreement among professionals some of whom believe in waiting. The handicap of background is compounded by the waiting and before very long, it becomes too obvious that the targets will not be reached. Such teachers need to seriously rethink their attitude. The second issue that needs to be addressed is source material. Considering that one of our aims is to fill in the gaps in student’s general knowledge, the following sources could be recommended:
  1. Reputable and serious magazines and journals such as The Economist, Psychology Today, The Scientific American, The New Yorker ( out of the latter, I got some of my best history texts)
  2. Quality or popular papers( The Wall Street Journal is wonderful for simpler texts, I also use the Guardian, the Observer and the Times for instance)
  3. Academic books ( Bertrand Russell’s Skeptical Essays or Eric Fromm’s The Art of Loving for instance)
  4. Papers and articles published online
  5. Websites which post reading material like Guardian Weekly
It must be remembered that teachers can actually write the texts themselves or adapt them. Another thing to remember is that there is no text book in the world – as yet – that provides the content we need along with the skills required and whose pace is fast enough. Textbooks on the market were never designed for a one year crash course in reading, which means teachers have to resign themselves to the fact that they will need to prepare reading material. It is this void on the market that led me to set up my blog a few years ago where I post appropriate reading tasks.
Having pin pointed the sources, the next thing is selecting. If you recall what our purpose is, the obvious choices are history and especially 20th century history (we cover the Russian revolution for instance and I have a wonderful reading task on Napoleon on my blog), important world events (The Great depression for instance), the latest in science, philosophical issues, ethical dilemmas current issues and the like. These texts should then be fitted into a theme based syllabus to enable recycling of concepts, vocabulary and themes. Each should have a reading into writing activity as no reading exercise is complete without it.
The next thing is adjusting the pace which, in our case, is pretty firmly fixed at the 100 meter dash – the date of the proficiency being set in stone as it were. The details of pace have already been discussed in my paper on syllabus design which you may refer to should you wish to. For information on the teaching of reading, refer to the four papers concerning the issue on my blog
The Writing Program
The Motto: Don’t Talk About Writing; Write and Rewrite
In their study “Developing a Critical Response, Avoiding Plagiarism among Undergraduate Students”, the authors make the following observation:  The review of their essays showed that students have difficulty establishing links between the paraphrased and summarized sentences with their personal response. This gap in students’ writing skills can partly be referred to students’ unawareness of the synthesizing skill”. This is one of the fundamental problems we have also observed in our students and one we have to grapple with. The easy way out would be to go along with students ingrained tendency to work with formulas and grids by giving the “correct formulas” to be able to write specific types of essays. It would be impressed on the students that these formulas, much like Einstein’s, were the keys to good writing. Transition could be dealt with by means of a liberal sprinkling of transition words – to bypass the need to think –  subject related clichés could be added to the mix to bypass English and hey presto: you would have an essay in three easy steps and minimum hassle or would you? This is, sadly, the approach taken by many text books and reputable educational establishments but if you think back on all that has been said thus far, it is sacrilegious to say the least; it is a continuation of all that is undesirable in the current education system; it means passing the buck. Most importantly, the resulting pieces of writing would never constitute essays as the high failure rates in establishments that follow this route will prove all too clearly.
What, you may well ask, is the reason for persisting with an approach that is so obviously counterproductive? The obvious answer is that it is easy and quick. Yet the concept of “through put” or the human assembly line has no place in education; the mission of universities is to enhance cognitive skills, creativity and imagination there by enabling the students to reach their full intellectual potential. With this in mind, a radical transformation of this kind of formulaic writing syllabus is necessary. All material teaching formulas, cliché and subject specific vocabulary out of context is out and text or listening related writing is in.
 Activities that involve reading into writing, or listening into writing are the twin silver bullets in this case. One concept teachers need to be disabused of is the idea that writing stands alone: students are given a topic and they write about it. I have had colleagues walk into my office and ask me if I have a good writing topic; a query that makes me smile. One can’t have a good or a bad writing topic; one has a good text or listening activity or indeed grammar exercise that will lend itself to writing. Writing is the last link in the chain when analysis of the text has been completed and questions exhausted; it is the ultimate reading, vocabulary, grammar and critical thinking exercise and it comes at the end of the day when all else has been completed and all that has been discussed is still fresh in students’ minds; not the next day when a lot of forgetting has taken place. The first thing that needs to be done is, therefore, to plan accordingly. The second fact that teachers need to face up to is that the only way to learn to write well is to get plenty of practice and that includes multiple drafts of essays. Theorizing about essays in the belief that this will transform students’ essays is a pipe dream. For more on the teaching of writing refer to the relevant papers posted on my blog.
Possible Solutions: What the State Can Do
The study I have been quoting in this paper was conducted in Malaysia and the subjects were undergraduate students; Bertrand Russell wrote Freedom versus Authority in Education many years ago and the institutions he compares are the ecclesiastical Sorbonne and the College de France both of which go to show how wide spread and indeed how entrenched the problem is.  Mary Riddle wrote the following in The Observer in 2002: “While the government insists on putting testing before learning, children will always be the losers”. This brilliant article, titled This Exam Madness, is now ten years old but the issues discussed in it are still valid. Problems such as this seem intractable and rightly so given all the circumstances that push away from the teaching of those cognitive skills we feel are lacking. Despite the seemingly insurmountable issues, governments are beginning to consider back peddling to essay type exams. In her article Revival of the Essay, Lucy Ward, the education correspondent for The Guardian, writes that the government has “signaled a shift away from tick box exam questions and a return to traditional essay writing amid evidence that university students now lack the skills to write at length and sustain an argument”.  In the article, she writes that a dissertation paper is being considered “as part of the new diploma”. The article was written nine years ago but on the up side the right people are aware of the problem and are considering it rather than denying it exists. This is an important first step. In the meantime, we, as teachers, should do our level best to help the students to develop their full intellectual potential.
Raihanah, M. M, Hashim, Ruzy Suiza, Zalipour, Arezou, Mustaffa, Muhammad Azri (2011). Developing a Critical Response, Avoiding Plagiarism among Undergraduate Students.  Science Direct:  or
Riddle, Mary (June 9, 2002). This Exam Madness. The Observer:
Russell, Bertrand (1977). Skeptical Essays. London: Unwin paperbacks, pp 140 -152
Ward, Lucy (November 12, 2003). Revival of the essay likely in exam reforms. The Guardian:

Friday, February 10, 2012


YOUR CHALLENGE: Design a warm up or pre reading activity to preface these reading tasks. As they stand they would be very dry. The level of difficulty for the reading tasks and the challenge is:**



By: Hogo Spiers; Published: Saturday 14 January, 2012, The Guardian


1.       Two key findings concerning memory are stated in the text. What are they?

2.       What kind of memories are the following: what you had for dinner; how to read.

3.       What does “its” refer to in the phrase “from its resemblance to a sea horse”?

4.       How is it that patients who have sustained damage to their hippocampus show good short term memory?

5.       In paragraph four, what does “which” refer to in the phrase “which results in the uncanny situation”?

6.       How is it that some patients have poor short term memory but can recall the distant past?

7.       According to paragraph5, the hippocampus ceases to be a key player in terms of supporting recall of all past experience and knowledge with one exception. This is: ..................................

8.       What, according to paragraph six, are memories?

9.       Pattern completion is a process during which..............................................................................

10.   Read paragraph 8 carefully and state clearly what modern day device this ability of the brain reminds you of?

11.   What conclusion can we draw from the example of the London taxi drivres?


1.       There appears to be no single memory store.../Memories are not static entities; over time they shift and migrate between different territories of the brain.

2.       Declarative; non declarative

3.       The hippocampus

4.       Because this ability relies on the neocortex

5.       The further back in time the memory was created, the more likely it is to survive.

6.       Because the brain restructures memories.

7.       Vividly picturing a scene in your mind.

8.       Patterns inscribed in the connections between millions of neurons in your brain.

9.       The initial activity of the cells is incoherent but via repeated reactivation,....

10.   GPS

11.   The physical structure of your brain is maleable depending on what you learn.



By: Alice Bell; Published: Saturday 14 January, 2012, The Guardian


1.       What two conclusions can be drawn concerning memory from the writer’s story?

2.       What does “it” refer to in the phrase “do we want to experience it collectively?”

3.       Read the text to the end. Is the claim that google is making you stupid supported by the text? Why?

4.       Is the claim that facebook has made everybody’s private life public tenable according to the text? Why?

5.       What is the important current advantage of collective memories?

6.       What is the potential advantage of collective memories?


1.       More and more ephemera seems to be kept online/ memories are becoming increasingly public social even.

2.       Remembering

3.       No, memories have long been stored outside our own individual bodies

4.       No; leaking of personal pasts didn’t start with facebook.

5.       It connects and reconnects us to things we need or want and would otherwise be without.

6.       We’llbecome a little more open and honest about  our own complex and sometimes embarassing personal histories.



By: Christian Jarett; Published: Saturday, 14 January, 2012; The Guardian.


1.       Deja vu experiences are due to............................................................................

2.       Flashbulb memories are similar to ordinary memories in terms of................................... but different in terms of .........................................

3.       Read  “the tip of the tongue phenomenon”.  Why do we fail to remember something when it is on the tip of our tongue and we keep trying?

4.       What conclusion can we draw concerning a word we can’t remember from the research cited?

5.       Current research supports/ doesn’t support Freud’s views on repression  because...............  State two reasons.

6.       For what three reasons did Wildschut reach the conclusion that  “ nostalgia is emerging as a fundemental human strength”?

7.       Why is it that we walk into a room and can’t remember what we went there for?

8.       What conclusion can we draw from the stories of false memories  recounted in the text?


1.       The memory process of familiarity

2.       Forgetting or accuracy; vividness and the amount of detail

3.       Because we look in the wrong part of our memory banks

4.       We should deal with elusive words by looking them up immediately if we can or asking someone.

5.       Traumatic memories are particularly vivid; emotionally charged words such as incest  seem to be immune to the process

6.       Nostalgia leaves people feeling more loved and in a better mood, it protects us from existential angst; it leads to people categorizing positive traits as relevant to themselves more quickly.

7.       The act of passing through a doorway creates a new chapter in our unfolding memories.

8.       The mind doesn’t maintain immutable archives



By: Ed Cooke; Published: Saturday, 15 January 2012; The Guardian


1.       What does “this” refer to in the phrase “To understand how to do this”?

2.       What is the key to achieving the above?

3.       Read the questions that are listed at the top of the second page. What is the point of them?

4.       Proust appears to have been less interested in....................... and more interested in..................

5.       What are the problems when trying to remember names?

6.       State clearly why the pieces of advice listed at the bottom of page two help one remember names?

7.       What are the twin human failings that prevent us from focusing?

8.       What is the immediate purpose of the technique suggested in this section? What is the ultimate purpose?

9.       What point is the writer trying to make with the example of the obscure word and the tropical fish?


1.       Experience the world as vividly, clearly and meaningfully as possible.

2.       To treat perception as an active process of recognizing, probing,questioning, comparing, opening, feeling.

3.       Digging deep into the unique details of the face, discovering its distinctive and memorable character

4.       Pretty women; women with depth of character.

5.       They give us much less to work with

6.       Behaving as if you are really interested in a person’s face has the useful side effect of actually making it more interesting.

7.       We’re typically so busy bouncing around our own minds that we devote...; Or, we hardly notice when our minds are running all over the place.

8.       To learn to notice the difference between good and poor attention; to calm the mind and bring it under better control.

9.       We actively discover meaning on the basis of prior knowledge. We only really perceive what we know how to perceive.



Published: Saturday, 14 January 2012; The Guardian

Level of difficulty:****


1.       Why is it “important to challenge the stereotype of inexorable age related cognitive decline”?

2.       What fact could make it possible for adults” to make the most of their memories” ?

3.       Neural degeneration of frontal lobes may not, in fact, be as serious a problem as was once thought because....................................................................................................................

4.       What change could improve recall in older adults?

5.       Read the section titled “Attentional Lapses”.  Attentional lapses become a problem during the following two processes: .......................................................................... The former can be adressed by ............................................................. while the latter can be adressed by ..................................................................................................................................................

6.       In view of the above, what would you suggest the following people do to deal with their problems: person A can never find his car keys and person B  is always forgetting appointments.

7.       Read the section titled “Source Memory”.  From this section we understand that older adults remember ................... better and may confuse ....................................and ....................................

8.       The above problem can be dealt with by ...............................................................................

9.       Read the section titled “Ignore the Hype”. All the advice given in this section can best be summarized by the following phrase in the second half of the section: ...............................................................
Students may need clues to be able to answer questions 5, 7 and 9. For question 5, they need to locate the bridge paragraphb which is the third paragraph in this section. This where the answer to the first blank is stated. They then need to pinpoint the solutions. While doing so they need to go for the all encompassing generalization rather than the explanations. For question 9, they need to make a mental list of all the advice, see what they have in common and then check the text. 

1.       Because the stereotype of the forgetful older person may become a self fulfilling prophecy.

2.       Various aspects of memory can remain relatively well preserved.

3.       Decrease in frontal lobe activity may be accompanied by increased activation in other cortical regions.

4.       Using strategies that promote the formation of rich, elaborate memory traces.Or: thinking deeply and elaborately about the meaning of information they are learning.

5.       Encoding information, prospective memory / developing a fixed method for performing such tasks, by carrying out an action when a specific external event occurs.

6.       Put it in the same place; put up a postit for example.

7.       The statements themselves. Something they imagined and something that actually occured

8.       Ascribing values to the information and the person conveying it

9.       Enhancement of lifestyle factors


You work for a large daily. Your editor has asked you to write a summary of the five texts you have just read to post on the back page. Space is limited but you need to cover all the essential facts. What would you write? This is a five star activity by the way. Have fun