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Saturday, February 11, 2012

With added flavor, a mix of food, education

In a Web-program, teachers are gourmet literary chefs

It is from the known to the unknown and from the familiar to what is new. A literacy program that caters to the thirst of teachers and students alike has placed what else, food, as a learning method. Terming instructions as recipes and comprehension as consumption, the Web-based program adds flavor to the educational needs of people across the world. Just like Web forums can make an aspiring teacher familiar with the socio-cultural background of the place she is going to work, there is an array of teaching programs on the Net that offers ways to familiarize with the classroom. This 'food for thought' program, coordinated by Dr Dale Willows, a Canadian educator, tastes different because of the way it is served.

When the program, aptly named The Balanced Literacy Diet, was introduced at Fawsec Kuwait Educators' Conference recently at Bayan Bilingual School, Hawally, the participating teachers felt like they had a sumptuous meal. Dr Willows' presentation, 'A Recipe for Successful Literacy Education in Elementary Classrooms' cooked many ideas and methodologies that can be digested continentally. "In primary school, it doesn't matter what the first language or the second language of the students are," Dr Willows said. "It's about teaching. Learning to teach literacy is a seeing and doing activity". A participant-teacher agreed saying, "In Kuwait, children who start their education at foreign schools, in effect, learn three languages: English, classical Arabic they are taught and colloquial Arabic they pick up from their peers and outside classrooms".

Dr Willows who teaches at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto says Toronto speaks over a 100 languages. Her lit diet program, by the Miami based non-profit organization Melissa Institute for Violence Prevention and Treatment through education, speaks more visual, considering what is seen is more remembered. Thus the program ( has over 100 videos on teacher demonstrations and student learning. In one of the virtual classroom visit videos, a teacher asks his students to describe a photo, integrating art, technology and psychology. In another, a teacher demonstrates how to put on a jacket, engaging role play, costume, culture and occupation.

Teachers should be gourmet literary chefs, Dr Willows said, with a winked comparison between some educational programs and hospital food. When teaching is like medicine, education is a nightmare. Dr Willows' food pyramid has phonemic awareness as the basic. From letter sounds to reading comprehension through strategies, vocabulary and expression, it is a long way. But it is worth a healthy meal. Teachers enjoy serving it, learners enjoy having it. When you enjoy your work, you don't feel tired.

Dr Willows' youthful smile is the proof.

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