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Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Boxing Day 2017

Boxing Day occurs every year on December 26th. It's a national holiday in the UK and Ireland. If the day after Christmas falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the following Monday is designated as the official public holiday. This year, Boxing Day falls on a Tuesday. December 26th is also the feast day of Saint Stephen, the patron saint of horses, which is why Boxing Day has come to be associated with horse racing and fox hunting. According to some Boxing Day can be traced back to the Victorian era when churches often displayed a box into which their parishioners put donations. Also in Britain, on the day after Christmas Day, servants of the wealthy were given time off to visit their families because their services were required for the Christmas Day celebrations of their employers. They were therefore allowed the following day for their own observance of the holiday and each servant would be handed a box to take home, containing gifts, bonuses and sometimes leftover food. It was also customary for tradespeople to collect 'Christmas boxes' of presents or money on the first weekday after Christmas as thanks for good service throughout the year.
Samuel Pepys mentions the practice in a diary entry from December 19th 1663: "Thence by coach to my shoemaker’s and paid all there, and gave something to the boys’ box against Christmas." Five years later Pepys was not feeling so generous. Complaining in a December 28th entry from 1668: "Called up by drums & trumpets; these things & boxes having cost me much money this Christmas."
Boxing Day is observed only in the United Kingdom, Canada, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and some other Commonwealth nations. The holiday was not perpetuated by the English in the American colonies.
Boxing Day is really 'St Stephen's Day' in Ireland, dedicated to a saint who was stoned to death for believing in Jesus. 'Wren Boys' were notorious for blackening their faces stoning wrens to death. They would then carry their catch around the town knocking on doors and asking for money. This distasteful act has now stopped, but the Wrens Boys still dress up and parade around town but collecting money for charity.
Hunts were a Boxing Day tradition but the 2004 ban on foxhunting put an end to all that. Despite this, 10 years later 250,000 people still regularly turn out to support hunting. Certain modified forms of hunting foxes with hounds are still within the law and hundreds of Boxing Day Meets take place every year.
What was once a day of relaxation and family time has now become a holy day of consumerism. The sales used to start in January post-New Year, but the desire to grab a bargain and for shops to off-load stock means many now start on Boxing Day.
Last year, Christmas Day itself emerged as one of the most popular days for online shopping, with consumers buying products in the afternoon - often after not receiving their desired gifts.

Source: The Telegraph


Saturday, 23 December 2017

Have yourself a very merry Christmas!

"Those Christmas lights
Light up the street
Down where the sea and the city meet
May all your troubles soon be gone
Oh Christmas lights keep shining on"


To all our readers and visitors, the warmest wishes of a very 
MERRY CHRISTMAS, this year, every year!...

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Key Concepts in Assessing Students

Credits: Muskegon Community College
For teachers and curriculum designers carefully constructed learner assessment techniques can help determining whether or not the stated goals are being achieved. Classroom assessment can help teachers answer the following specific questions:
To what extent are my students achieving the stated goals?
How should I allocate class time for the current topic?
Can I teach this topic in a more efficient or effective way?
What parts of this unit are my students finding most valuable?
How will I change this unit the next time I teach it?
Which grades do I assign my students?
Meanwhile, for students, learner assessment answers a different set of questions:
Do I know what my teacher thinks is most important?
Am I mastering the unit content?
How can I improve the way I study English?
What grade am I earning in this subject?

Explaining the importance of assessment, Brissenden and Slater state that assessment is important because it drives students learning. Whether we like it or not, most students tend to focus their energies on the best or most expeditious way to pass their ‘tests.’ Based on this knowledge, we can use our assessment strategies to manipulate the kinds of learning that takes place. For example, assessment strategies that focus predominantly on recall of knowledge will likely promote superficial learning. On the other hand, if we choose assessment strategies that demand critical thinking or creative problem-solving, we are likely to realize a higher level of student performance or achievement. In addition, good assessment can help students become more effective self-directed learners.
As indicated above, motivating and directing learning is only one purpose of assessment. Well-designed assessment strategies also play a critical role in educational decision-making and are a vital component of ongoing quality improvement processes at the lesson, course and/or curriculum level.

To ensure our comprehension on assessment, here are some important concepts in assessment:

1. Formative and Summative Assessment
Formative assessment aims to inform ongoing teaching and learning by providing immediate feedback. A teacher who assesses pupils’ understanding of a listening text and uses the outcomes to change her plan and give more practice before moving on to a speaking activity, is carrying out formative assessment. Ideally, formative assessment should influence both teaching and learning by giving feedback to both teacher and learner. Summative assessment, on the other hand, aims to asses learning at the end of a unit, term, year, or course, and does not feed back into the next round of teaching.

2. Diagnostic and Achievement Assessment
Many assessment activities provide both formative and summative information, but it is helpful to be clear as to the primary purpose and one of an assessment because this can affect what kind of information the activity needs to produce. It is fundamental to highlight the distinction between assessing achievement, i.e. what a learner can do, and diagnostic assessment that aims to establish what a child can and can not yet do, so that further learning opportunities can be provided.

3. Criterion-referenced and Norm-referenced Assessment
If we assess learner’s achievement, we can produce a ranking of learners which says that child X has learnt more than child Y and less that child Z; this would be norm-referenced. Alternatively, we can compare a learner’s performance, not to other learners, but to a set of criteria of expected performance or learning targets. Criterion-referenced assesment can match the child’s performance against an expected response on an item, or it may make use of a set of descriptors along a scale, on which a learner is placed.

4. Validity
The concepts of validity and reliability are used to describe the technical quality of assessment practices. They are more often applied to testing, although are also important in alternative assessment. Validity is more important, particularly in alternative assessment, and concerns how far an assesment assesses what it claims to. If a test does not measure what it claims to, then there are clearly dangers in using it.

5. Reliability
Reliability measures how well a test or assessment assesses what it claims to: would the assessment produce the same results if it were taken by the same pupils on different occasions, or if the same test or assesment was scored by different people? (Gipps and Stobart, 1993).
Validity and reliability can be conflicting needs for assessment techniques and procedures. The most reliable assessments will be pencil and paper tests in which each item measures only a single aspect of a skill and which give each testee a numerical mark. But the most valid assessments will be on those that collect a lot of information about performance on several aspects of a skill. When validity increased, reliability decreased.


Types and Approaches to Assessment

Numerous terms are used to describe different types and approaches to learner assessment. Although somewhat arbitrary, it is useful to these various terms as representing dichotomous poles:
Formative <---------------------------------> Summative
Informal <---------------------------------> Formal
Continuous <----------------------------------> Final
Process <---------------------------------> Product
Divergent <---------------------------------> Convergent

1. Formative vs. Summative Assessment
Formative assessment is designed to assist the learning process by providing feedback to the learner, which can be used to identify strengths and weakness and hence improve future performance. Formative assessment is most appropriate where the results are to be used internally by those involved in the learning process.
Summative assessment is used primarily to make decisions for grading or determine readiness for progression. Typically summative assessment occurs at the end of an educational activity and is designed to judge the learner’s overall performance.

2. Informal vs. Formal Assessment
With informal assessment, the judgments are integrated with other tasks, e.g., lecturer feedback on the answer to a question. Informal assessment is most often used to provide formative feedback. As such, it tends to be less threatening and thus less stressful to the student. However, informal feedback is prone to high subjectivity or bias.
Formal assessment occurs when students are aware that the task that they are doing is for assessment purposes, e.g., a written examination. Most formal assessments also are summative in nature and thus tend to have greater motivation impact and are associated with increased stress. Given their role in decision-making, formal assessments should be held to higher standards of reliability and validity than informal assessments.

3. Continuous vs. Final Assessment
Continuous assessment occurs throughout a learning experience (intermittent is probably a more realistic term). Continuous assessment is most appropriate when student and/or instructor knowledge of progress or achievement is needed to determine the subsequent progression or sequence of activities. Continuous assessment provides both students and teachers with the information needed to improve teaching and learning in process. Obviously, continuous assessment involves increased effort for both teacher and student. Final (or terminal) assessment is that which takes place only at the end of a learning activity. It is most appropriate when learning can only be assessed as a complete whole rather than as constituent parts. Typically, final assessment is used for summative decision-making.

4. Process vs. Product Assessment
Process assessment focuses on the steps or procedures underlying a particular ability or task, i.e., the cognitive steps in performing a mathematical operation. Because it provides more detailed information, process assessment is most useful when a student is learning a new skill and for providing formative feedback to assist in improving performance.
Product assessment focuses on evaluating the result or outcome of a process. Using the above example, we would focus on the answer to the math computation. Product assessment is most appropriate for documenting proficiency or competency in a given skill, i.e., for summative purposes.

5. Divergent vs. Convergent Assessment
Divergent assessments are those for which a range of answers or solutions might be considered correct. Divergent assessments tend to be more authentic and most appropriate in evaluating higher cognitive skills. However, these types of assessment are often time consuming to evaluate and the resulting judgments often exhibit poor reliability. A convergent assessment has only one correct response (per item). Objective test items are the best example and demonstrate the value of this approach in assessing knowledge. Obviously, convergent assessments are easier to evaluate or score than divergent assessments. Unfortunately, this “ease of use” often leads to their widespread application of this approach even when contrary to good assessment practices.

Assessment Principles
What principles will provide the most essential, fundamental "structure" of assessment knowledge and skills that result in effective educational practices and improved student learning? McMillan (2000) tries to elaborate the principles as follows:

1. Assessment is inherently a process of professional judgment.
2. Assessment is based on separate but related principles of measurement evidence and evaluation.
3. Assessment decision-making is influenced by a series of tensions.
4. Assessment influences student motivation and learning.
5. Assessment contains error.
6. Good assessment enhances instruction.
7. Good assessment is valid.
8. Good assessment is fair and ethical.
9. Good assessments use multiple methods.
10. Good assessment is efficient and feasible.
11. Good assessment appropriately incorporates technology.

Testing: Why and How

Testing is certainly not the only way to assess students, but there are many good reasons for including a test in our language course:
1. A test can give the teacher valuable information about where the students are in their learning and can affect what the teacher will cover next. They will help a teacher to decide if her teaching has been effective and help to highlight what needs to be reviewed. Testing can be as much an assessment of the teaching as the learning
2. Tests can give students a sense of accomplishment as well as information about what they know and what they need to review.
3. Tests can also have a positive effect in that they encourage students to review material covered on the course.

However, sometimes testing doesn't work and we could find many arguments against using tests as a form of assessment:
1. Some students become so nervous that they can't perform and don't give a true account of their knowledge or ability
2. Other students can do well with last-minute cramming despite not having worked throughout the course
3. Once the test has finished, students can just forget all that they had learned
4. Students become focused on passing tests rather than learning to improve their language skills.

Frost (2004) admits that using only tests as a basis for assessment has obvious drawbacks. They are 'one-off' events that do not necessarily give an entirely fair account of a student's proficiency. As we have already mentioned, some people are more suited to them than others. There are other alternatives that can be used instead of or alongside tests.
1. Continuous assessment
Teachers give grades for a number of assignments over a period of time. A final grade is decided on a combination of assignments.
2. Portfolio
A student collects a number of assignments and projects and presents them in a file. The file is then used as a basis for evaluation.
3. Self-assessment
The students evaluate themselves. The criteria must be carefully decided upon beforehand.
4. Teacher's assessment
The teacher gives an assessment of the learner for work done throughout the course including classroom contributions.

To summarize, what is most essential about assessment is understanding how general, fundamental assessment principles and ideas can be used to enhance student learning and teacher effectiveness. This will be achieved as teachers and administrators learn about conceptual and technical assessment concepts, methods, and procedures, for both large-scale and classroom assessments, and apply these fundamentals to instruction. Finally, the comprehension on the assessment principles will guide the assessment training and professional development of teachers and administrators to run more productive assessment. 

By Agustina Djihadi, found @ A Journey Called Life Blog

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Monday, 27 November 2017

Cyber Monday

Cyber Monday is a marketing term for the Monday after Black Friday (the Friday following Thanksgiving), created by companies to persuade people to shop online. This year, Cyber Moday is today, November 27.
The term made its debut on November 28, 2005 in a Shop.org press release entitled "'Cyber Monday' quickly becoming one of the biggest online shopping days of the year".

image credits: Business Pundit
In 2006, Shop.org announced that it launched the CyberMonday.com portal, a one-stop shop for Cyber Monday deals. Cyber Monday has become an international marketing term used by online retailers in Canada, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Germany, France, Australia, New Zealand and Chile.
In late November 2005, the New York Times reported that "The name Cyber Monday grew out of the observation that millions of otherwise productive working Americans, fresh off a Thanksgiving weekend of window shopping, were returning to high-speed Internet connections at work Monday and buying what they liked."
Cyber Monday came to Canada in 2008. The National Post featured an article, in the November 25, 2010 edition, stating that the parity of the Canadian dollar with the US dollar caused many Canadian retailers to have Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales of their own. By 2011, around 80% of online retailers in Canada were participating in Cyber Monday.
image credits: All Things
According to The Guardian, UK online retailers are now referring to "Cyber Monday" as the busiest internet shopping day of the year that commonly falls on the same day as the US Cyber Monday.
Amazon.de announced that it brought Cyber Monday to Germany in 2010.
In Portugal, the term Cyber Monday was first used in 2009.
Inspired by the US phenomenon, the term Cyber Monday was first used in France in 2008.
The first Cyber Monday Sale in New Zealand was held on 29 November 2010. It lasted for five days, from Monday to Friday.
Chile's first Cyber Monday took place on 28 November 2011. The companies participating in the event are those part of the Santiago Chamber of Commerce's Electronic Commerce Committee.
On 20 November 2012, Australian online retailers held a similar event for the first time dubbed Click Frenzy; many websites immediately crashed, went offline or had major server issues including the Click Frenzy promotion website.

Source: CyberMonday.com & Wikipedia (abridged and adapted)

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Happy Thanksgiving 2017


credits: CDN4
Thanksgiving is celebrated today, November 23rd, as always in the fourth Thursday of this month, all across the USA and Canada and precedes Black Friday, one of the busiest shopping days in the USA.
In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an Autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. For more than two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. It wasn't until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November.


THANKSGIVIG AT PLYMOUTH

credits @ mbeinstitute
In September 1620, a small ship called the Mayflower left Plymouth, England, carrying 102 passengers - an assortment of religious separatists seeking a new home where they could freely practice their faith and other individuals lured by the promise of prosperity and land ownership in the New World. After a treacherous and uncomfortable crossing that lasted 66 days, they dropped anchor near the tip of Cape Cod, far north of their intended destination at the mouth of the Hudson River. A month later, the Mayflower crossed Massachusetts Bay, where the Pilgrims, as they are now commonly known, began the work of establishing a village at Plymouth. Throughout that first brutal winter, most of the colonists remained on board the ship, where they suffered from exposure, scurvy and outbreaks of contagious disease. Only half of the Mayflower’s original passengers and crew lived to see their first New England spring. In March, the remaining settlers moved ashore, where they received an astonishing visit from an Abenaki Indian who greeted them in English. Several days later, he returned with another Native American, Squanto, a member of the Pawtuxet tribe who had been kidnapped by an English sea captain and sold into slavery before escaping to London and returning to his homeland on an exploratory expedition. Squanto taught the Pilgrims, weakened by malnutrition and illness, how to cultivate corn, extract sap from maple trees, catch fish in the rivers and avoid poisonous plants. He also helped the settlers forge an alliance with the Wampanoag, a local tribe, which would endure for more than 50 years and tragically remains one of the sole examples of harmony between European colonists and Native Americans.


credits @ ucls-chicago
In November 1621, after the Pilgrims’ first corn harvest proved successful, Governor William Bradford organized a celebratory feast and invited a group of the fledgling colony’s Native American allies, including the Wampanoag chief Massasoit. Now remembered as American’s “first Thanksgiving”—although the Pilgrims themselves may not have used the term at the time—the festival lasted for three days. While no record exists of the historic banquet’s exact menu, the Pilgrim chronicler Edward Winslow wrote in his journal that Governor Bradford sent four men on a “fowling” mission in preparation for the event, and that the Wampanoag guests arrived bearing five deer. Historians have suggested that many of the dishes were likely prepared using traditional Native American spices and cooking methods. Because the Pilgrims had no oven and the Mayflower’s sugar supply had dwindled by the fall of 1621, the meal did not feature pies, cakes or other desserts, which have become a hallmark of contemporary celebrations.

THANKSGIVING BECOMES AN OFFICIAL HOLIDAY

Pilgrims held their second Thanksgiving celebration in 1623 to mark the end of a long drought that had threatened the year’s harvest and prompted Governor Bradford to call for a religious fast. Days of fasting and thanksgiving on an annual or occasional basis became common practice in other New England settlements as well. During the American Revolution, the Continental Congress designated one or more days of thanksgiving a year, and in 1789 George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation by the national government of the United States; in it, he called upon Americans to express their gratitude for the happy conclusion to the country’s war of independence and the successful ratification of the U.S. Constitution. His successors John Adams and James Madison also designated days of thanks during their presidencies.
In 1817, New York became the first of several states to officially adopt an annual Thanksgiving holiday; each celebrated it on a different day, however, and the American South remained largely unfamiliar with the tradition. In 1827, the noted magazine editor and writer Sarah Josepha Hale—author of the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb”—launched a campaign to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday. For 36 years, she published numerous editorials and sent scores of letters to governors, senators, presidents and other politicians. Abraham Lincoln finally heeded her request in 1863, at the height of the Civil War, in a proclamation entreating all Americans to ask God to “commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife” and to “heal the wounds of the nation.” He scheduled Thanksgiving for the final Thursday in November, and it was celebrated on that day every year until 1939, when Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week in an attempt to spur retail sales during the Great Depression. Roosevelt’s plan, known derisively as Franksgiving, was met with passionate opposition, and in 1941 the president reluctantly signed a bill making Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November.
 

THANKSGIVING TRADITIONS
credits @ fashionpill
In many American households, the Thanksgiving celebration has lost much of its original religious significance; instead, it now centers on cooking and sharing a bountiful meal with family and friends. Turkey, a Thanksgiving staple so ubiquitous it has become all but synonymous with the holiday, may or may not have been on offer when the Pilgrims hosted the inaugural feast in 1621. Today, however, nearly 90 percent of Americans eat the bird—whether roasted, baked or deep-fried—on Thanksgiving, according to the National Turkey Federation. Other traditional foods include stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. Volunteering is a common Thanksgiving Day activity, and communities often hold food drives and host free dinners for the less fortunate.
Parades have also become an integral part of the holiday in cities and towns across the United States. Presented by Macy’s department store since 1924, New York City’s Thanksgiving Day parade is the largest and most famous, attracting some 2 to 3 million spectators along its 2.5-mile route and drawing an enormous television audience. It typically features marching bands, performers, elaborate floats conveying various celebrities and giant balloons shaped like cartoon characters.
Beginning in the mid-20th century and perhaps even earlier, the president of the United States has “pardoned” one or two Thanksgiving turkeys each year, sparing the birds from slaughter and sending them to a farm for retirement. A number of U.S. governors also perform the annual turkey pardoning ritual.

Source:  The History Channel (abridged and adapted)

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