ESSENTIAL STRATEGIES ON IMPROVING READING COMPREHENSION

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Sadly enough, MOST HIGH SCHOOLS no longer have students taking reading tests. However, when students are identified as not meeting adequate yearly progress in their reading, it is certain that there is a deficit in their reading foundational skills. Often-times, when students struggle in reading, educators mistakenly concentrate all of their efforts on improving comprehension. But in many cases, it is a lack of foundational reading skills— phonemic awareness and phonics, which lead to poor decoding skills—which result in students’ poor understanding.

In this post, I am exploring how High School teachers and students can approach Reading And Directed Writing in the classroom as well as essential strategies on how to tackle exam questions with aplomb and flair, that is, answering the questions precisely and accurately.

However, . . .

At High School, reading comprehension is essential.

READING COMPREHENSION is the ability to understand, remember, and communicate meaning from what has been read.

READING STRATEGIES are crucial for any reader. Once students have adequate decoding and vocabulary skills to allow for fluent reading, their understanding can be improved by instructing students to develop a routine for reading which includes specific strategies that can be employed throughout the reading process (before, during, and after) that increase their awareness and understanding of a text.

These strategies include the following:

BEFORE READING 

Preview the text on how the writer’s background and purpose influence what they write. In a way reading a text critically requires you to ask questions about the writer’s authority and agenda. You may need to put yourself in the author’s shoes and recognize how those shoes fit a certain way of thinking.

DURING READING

Monitor their own reading, generate questions about the text; and identify and organize ideas based on a text’s structure.

Engaging and Connecting with the Text – Once students have addressed unfamiliar words through previewing, they can really engage with the text as they read it by visualizing, focusing on the content, generating questions, and identifying and organizing text structure to improve understanding of the material.

The following are effective strategies that help students engage with a text:

Annotating Text – Marking important text or taking notes about information that is important will help students remember the essentials of a reading passage.

Using Questioning Strategies – Questioning strategies help the reader to clarify and comprehend what he/she is reading. Direct students to develop these as they read and to use cue words, such as who, what, where, when, and why, to guide them in order to make effective questions.

Identifying and Organizing Text Structure – The way an author organizes information in a passage can help the reader increase their understanding of the text.

AFTER READING 

Answer high-level questions and summarize the text.

Having students review and summarize material after reading gives you a simple way to ensure that they understood what they read. Retelling challenges them to retain what they read. Summarization allows them to discriminate between main ideas and minor details.

Rereading is the most effective strategy to increase one’s knowledge of the text. Students should be encouraged to do this especially when they encounter a difficult and challenging piece of text.

As most answers come directly from the passage or text being read, students should always be able to support their answer choices with specific quotations from the text. They must not answer the questions by memory alone nor rely on their own knowledge or opinion of the subject but must answer with particular reference to the text read.

17 Ideas On Teaching Students’ Reading Comprehension

Comprehension strategies are conscious plans — sets of steps that good readers use to make sense of a text. The ideas suggested here help students become purposeful, active readers who are in control of their own reading comprehension: C.R. Adler has identified strategies to teach text comprehension which include:

  1. Activating – This is “priming the cognitive pump” in order to recall relevant prior knowledge and experiences from long-term memory in order to extract and construct meaning from text.
  2. Monitoring Comprehension – Students who are good at monitoring their comprehension know when they understand what they read and when they do not. They have strategies to “fix” problems in their understanding as the problems arise. Research shows that instruction, even in the early grades, can help students become better at monitoring their comprehension. Comprehension monitoring instruction teaches students to:
    1. Be aware of what they do understand
    2. Identify what they do not understand
    3. Use appropriate strategies to resolve problems in comprehension
  3. Establish The Main Idea: Check the first and last sentences of every paragraph, or the first and last paragraphs in the passage. As you read, continually ask yourself what the main idea of the paragraph is, how that idea is explained or illustrated, and how that paragraph connects with the rest of the passage.
  4. Metacognition – It can be defined as “thinking about thinking.” Good readers use metacognitive strategies to think about and have control over their reading. Before reading, they might clarify their purpose for reading and preview the text. During reading, they might monitor their understanding, adjusting their reading speed to fit the difficulty of the text and “fixing” any comprehension problems they have. After reading, they check their understanding of what they read.
  5. Inferring – Bringing together what is spoken (written) in the text, what is unspoken (unwritten) in the text, and what is already known by the reader in order to extract and construct meaning from the text.
  6. Specific Details – Use line references when they are given. Make sure you are circling/underlining efficiently as you read so you can locate information quickly. Circle key words in the question and then scan the passage to find them or their synonyms.
  7. Tone/Attitude – How is the author emotionally engaged with the subject? Know the following words: aloof, ambivalent, apathetic, callous, candid, caustic, cautionary, condescending, contemplative, contemptuous, cynical, derisive, detached, didactic, disparaging, dispassionate, erudite, flippant, forthright, grudging, incredulous, indignant, indifferent, ironic, jaded, judicious, laudatory, malicious, naïve, nostalgic, patronizing, pedantic, pompous, pragmatic, prosaic, resigned, reverent, sardonic, satirical, skeptical, trite, vindictive, whimsical.
  8. Vocabulary In Context – Many of the words have multiple possible meanings, so you must always look back to the passage to decide how the author is using the word in context. Substitute each answer choice for the word in the sentence and see if it makes sense, even the tense choice. For unfamiliar words, look for clues nearby in the passage.
  9. Backward and Forward Monitoring – Students may use several comprehension monitoring strategies:
  • Identify where the difficulty occurs, eg: “I don’t understand the second paragraph on page 76.”
  • Identify what the difficulty is, eg: “I don’t get what the author means when she says . . . “
  • Restate the difficult sentence or passage in their own words
  • Look back through the text
  • Look forward in the text for information that might help them to resolve the difficulty
  1. Graphic and Semantic Organizers – Graphic organizers illustrate concepts and relationships between concepts in a text or using diagrams. Graphic organizers are known by different names, such as maps, webs, graphs, charts, frames, or clusters.

These are also seen as visualizing, organizing and constructing a mental image or graphic organizer for the purpose of extracting and constructing meaning from the text. Graphic organizers (venn-diagrams, storyboard/chain of events, story map or cause/effect) can:

  • Help students focus on text structure “differences between fiction and nonfiction” as they read
  • Provide students with tools they can use to examine and show relationships in a text
  • Help students write well-organized summaries of a text
  1. Answering Questions – Questions can be effective because they:
  • Give students a purpose for reading
  • Focus students’ attention on what they are to learn
  • Help students to think actively as they read
  • Encourage students to monitor their comprehension
  • Help students to review content and relate what they have learned to what they already know

The Question-Answer Relationship strategy (QAR) encourages students to learn how to answer questions better. Students are asked to indicate whether the information they used to answer questions about the text was textually explicit information (information that was directly stated in the text), textually implicit information (information that was implied in the text), or information entirely from the student’s own background knowledge.

There are four different types of questions:

  • “Right There” – Questions found right in the text that ask students to find the one right answer located in one place as a word or a sentence in the passage. Example: Who is Frog’s friend? Answer: Toad
  • “Think and Search” – Questions based on the recall of facts that can be found directly in the text. Answers are typically found in more than one place, thus requiring students to “think” and “search” through the passage to find the answer. Example: Why was Frog sad? Answer: His friend was leaving.
  • “Author and You” Questions require students to use what they already know, with what they have learned from reading the text. Student’s must understand the text and relate it to their prior knowledge before answering the question. Example: How do think Frog felt when he found Toad? Answer: I think that Frog felt happy because he had not seen Toad in a long time. I feel happy when I get to see my friend who lives far away.
  • “On Your Own” Questions are answered based on a students prior knowledge and experiences. Reading the text may not be helpful to them when answering this type of question. Example: How would you feel if your best friend moved away? Answer: I would feel very sad if my best friend moved away because I would miss her.

12. Generating Questions – By generating questions, students become aware of whether they can answer the questions and if they understand what they are reading. Students learn to ask themselves questions that require them to combine information from different segments of text. For example, students can be taught to ask main idea questions that relate to important information in a text.

13. Monitoring and Clarifying – Thinking about how and what one is reading, both during and after the act of reading, for purposes of determining if one is comprehending the text combined with the ability to clarify and fix up any mix-ups.

14. Recognizing Story Structure – In story structure instruction, students learn to identify the categories of content (characters, setting, events, problem, resolution). Often, students learn to recognize story structure through the use of story maps. Instruction in story structure improves students’ comprehension.

15. Summarizing – Summarizing requires students to determine what is important in what they are reading and to put it into their own words. Instruction in summarizing helps students:

    • Identify or generate main ideas
    • Connect the main or central ideas
    • Eliminate unnecessary information
    • Remember what they read

16. Searching and Selecting – Searching a variety of sources in order to select appropriate information to answer questions, define words and terms, clarify misunderstandings, solve problems, or gather information.

17. Identifying Techniques – How does the author structure his/her argument? Is the passage meant to teach, persuade, or describe? Is the argument objective or subjective? What is the author’s thesis? What type of evidence is used? Does the author quote his sources, or simply cite their names or titles? Are the ideas concrete or abstract? Does the author give specific details or rely on generalizations?

pexels-photo-261895.jpegEffective Comprehension Instruction

Research shows that explicit teaching techniques are particularly effective for comprehension strategy instruction. In explicit instruction, teachers tell readers why and when they should use strategies, what strategies to use, and how to apply them. The steps of explicit instruction typically include direct explanation, teacher modeling (“thinking aloud”), guided practice, and application.

  • Direct explanation – The teacher explains to students why the strategy helps comprehension and when to apply the strategy.
  • Modeling – The teacher models, or demonstrates, how to apply the strategy, usually by “thinking aloud” while reading the text that the students are using.
  • Guided practice – The teacher guides and assists students as they learn how and when to apply the strategy.
  • Application – The teacher helps students practice the strategy until they can apply it independently.

Work To Understand Your Own Strategies And To Improve Them

  • Ask yourself questions about how you read: Do you read too quickly or slowly? Do you tend to lose your focus? Can you scan for key information or ideas?
  • Consider the characteristics of effective reading above, in relation to those practices and strategies you already employ, to get a sense of your current reading strategies and how they might be improved.

Just as having more than one conversation with another person leads to closer understanding; conducting a number of readings lead to a richer and more meaningful relationship with, and understanding of a text.

This, essentially, requires a lot of practice.

Good luck in all your endeavours.

As of old: Be EMPOWERED and EXCEL!

HOW TO WRITE AN EXCELLENT DISCURSIVE ESSAY @ HighSchool

pexels-photo-279415.jpegA DISCURSIVE ESSAY is a piece of formal writing that discusses a problem, a controversy, or a particular issue.

There are two basic kinds of discursive essays:

  • Persuasive essays in which you can argue strongly either in favour of or against a given discussion.
  • Argumentative essays.

Writing a discursive essay forces you to review all aspects and viewpoints of a particular topic, allowing you to think deeper and more critical.

TYPES OF DISCURSIVE ESSAYS

There are three main types of discursive essays of FIVE paragraphs each (400-450 words):

1. FOR AND AGAINST ESSAYS present both sides of an issue, discussing points in favour of a particular topic as well as those against, or the advantages and disadvantages of a particular question. Each point should be supported by justifications, examples, and/or reasons. The writer’s own opinion should be presented only in the final paragraph.

How to structure it: It has a generic introduction where you state the topic (without stating your opinion). In the next two paragraphs you present arguments for and justifications, examples or reasons. In the fourth paragraph you present arguments against and justifications, examples or reasons. Thus, in the conclusion you need to balance your consideration or opinion.

2. OPINION ESSAYS present the writer’s personal opinion concerning the topic, clearly stated and supported by reasons and/or examples. The opposing viewpoint and reason should be included in a separate paragraph before the closing one, together with an argument that shows it is an unconvincing viewpoint. The writer’s opinion should be included in the introduction, and summarized/restated in the conclusion.

How to structure it: It has a generic introduction in which you state the topic and your opinion followed by two paragraphs with viewpoints and reasons/ examples. So paragraph 4 will have the opposing viewpoint and reason/example. In your conclusion, you will have to summarise/restate your main opinion.

NB: For both FOR AND AGAINST ESSAYS and OPINION ESSAYS, remember to indicate, in a single paragraph, that there is another side to this argument, with some idea of the points likely to be made for the view(s) which are opposite to your own.

3. SOLUTIONS TO PROBLEMS ESSAYS, in which the problem(s) associated with a particular issue or situation are analysed and possible solutions are put forward, together with any expected results/consequences. The writer’s opinion may be mentioned, directly or indirectly, in the introduction and/or conclusion.

How to structure it: In the general introduction you state the problem and its cause(s)/effect(s). The other FOUR paragraphs look at suggestions and results. This will lead to the conclusion where you summarise your opinion.

Besides the three types above, many scholars are now engaged with the . . . .

ALTERNATE DISCURSIVE ESSAY – Here make sure you alternate from one argument to the other in an alternate manner, ie: you have an introduction then if you have written the second paragraph in support of the topic, then your third paragraph should be something against the topic and not in support of it. However, the fourth paragraph could be similar to paragraph two, supporting the topic as before.

To write the conclusion you need to sum up the key points, which you will have mentioned in the body paragraphs and based on the essay type, you can state your final position on the topic/statement, which can be either for or against, or even can be neither of the two. Also, remember that your conclusion is not just a repetition of the arguments you have mentioned in the body paragraphs, but a summary of the main findings.

This combination of alternate for and against paragraphs will make your essay look distinct, better and thoroughly researched and will result in a lasting impact on the reader’s mind.

ELEMENTS OF A DISCURSIVE ESSAY

Some of the distinguishing elements of a discursive essay are:

  • Its objectivity. It is important that the writer present the problem in an unbiased manner, discussing all points of argument thoroughly and carefully.
  • An introductory paragraph in which you clearly state the topic to be discussed or the issue’s relevance and context to other current issues
  • A main body – three body paragraphs – in which points are clearly stated in separate paragraphs and exemplified or justified;
  • Present each point in a separate paragraph. A well-developed paragraph contains a clear topic sentence, which summaries the contents of the paragraph, as well as a clear justification, explanation or example in support of the point presented.
  • It is written in a third-person perspective and avoid using first-person phrases such as “in my opinion,” “I believe,” and “I fully support.”
  • A closing paragraph summarising the main points of the essay, in which you stale/restate your opinion, and/or give a balanced consideration of the topic.

FORMAL STYLE

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Discursive essays are written in formal style. This means you should . . .

  • Write in passive voice, impersonal constructions, eg: (It is argued that . . .; It Is a common belief that . . . ). Thus, the writer remains neutral and detached from the topic (objective).
  • Points are listed sequentially with the most important points first.
  • Use a range of advanced vocabulary (verbs, adjectives, abstract nouns, etc)
  • Use sequencing (e.g. First/ly, Second/ly, etc) and linking words/phrases (e.g. however, although, furthermore, however, nonetheless)
  • Use complex sentences with a variety of links, dependent clauses, etc (e.g. Although it is widely accepted that . . . .)
  • Make references to other sources (e.g. Experts have proved that . . . )
  • Make generalisations (e.g. ln most developed countries, education . . . )
  • Inversion, especially in conditionals, (e.g. Were this true, we would . . . ; Never has this been more obvious . . . )
  • Use quotations, either word-for-word or in paraphrase, being careful to identify the source (e.g. As Winston Churchill said,”. . . )
  • Use RACPpERSEE! (There is a topic coming on this, in the Argumentative essay. Once you have mastered this acronym, you will see yourself excelling)

You should NOT use . . .

    • short forms (e.g. I’m, It’s) except when these are part of a quotation
    • colloquial expressions, phrasal verbs, idioms, (e.g. lots of, put up with, be over the moon about…)
    • very emotional language (e.g. I absolutely detest people who…)
    • express personal opinions too strongly (e.g. I know…); instead, use milder expressions (e.g. It seems to me that…)
    • simplistic vocabulary (e.g. Experts say they think this is bad….)
    • over-generalisation (e.g. All politicians are…)
    • refer blindly to statistics without accurate reference to their source (e.g. “A recent study showed…” – which study?)
    • a series of short sentences (e.g. Many people think so. They are wrong.)
    • personal examples (e.g. In my school…)
    • simple linking words (e.g. and, but, so) except for variety

So how do I take off?

Introducing A Discursive Essay

The opening of an essay is important. It should capture the reader’s attention in some way or another. It should avoid being bland or dull. It should invite the reader to read on and create a sense of interest. If the beginning is flat, it will not inspire your audience.

Methods of Opening a Discursive Essay

The following methods are suggestions from BBC’s Bitesize. It is up to you to decide which style suits your writing best.

  1. Provocativeeg. – “It is difficult to see how anyone can approve of fox hunting.”
  2. Balancedeg. – “Fox hunting is a subject about which people hold strongly contrasting views.”
  3. Quotation eg. – “Oscar Wilde once described fox hunting as ‘The unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable.’.”
  4. Illustrationeg. – “On a glorious autumn morning a terrified, exhausted animal is savaged to death by a pack of baying dogs while a group of expensively dressed humans encourage the dogs in their bloody work.”
  5. Anecdoteeg. – “I have always detested fox hunting since I was almost physically sick while watching a television film of the kill at the end of a hunt.”

Linking Ideas In A Discursive Essay

Any well-written piece of discursive writing will flow as one continuous piece despite being made up of three or four different arguments. One of the techniques which can help you to achieve this effectively is the use of linking words. These words are usually used at the beginning of a new paragraph but can also be used to link ideas within a paragraph.

  • Same line of thought – eg: and, firstly, secondly etc., next, furthermore, likewise, in addition, similarly, also, moreover.
  • Conclusion/summary eg: – thus, therefore, consequently, accordingly, in retrospect, hence, in conclusion, in brief, as a result.
  • Definite statement eg: – without question, without doubt, unquestionably, absolutely.
  • Contrasting idea – eg: – yet, on the other hand, nevertheless, however, although, conversely, otherwise, on the contrary.
  • Further examples – eg: because, for instance, since, for example, so that, despite the fact that, accordingly, although, if, though, unless.

Discursive Essay Topics

Try one of these essays and then send it to me for marking. Write in about 400-450 words in length.

  1. “When people succeed, it is because of hard work. Luck has nothing to do with success.” Discuss.
  2. One should never judge a person by external appearances. Discuss.
  3. “Animals should be treated with the same respect as humans.” Do you agree with this view?
  4. “The generation gap is one which cannot be bridged.” Discuss.
  5. Do you believe that equality for women means that women should also do such things as military service?
  6. “One language spoken worldwide would lead to better international relations.” Discuss.
  7. Genetic engineering poses a number of worrying problems, both moral and practical. Discuss some of these problems and suggest what could be done to overcome them.
  8. “Celebrities should be allowed to keep their private lives private, without the invasion of the media.” Discuss.
  9. “Fear and ignorance are the root causes of racial hatred.” Discuss this state-ment and offer some possible solutions to the problem of racial prejudice.
  10. What are the advantages and disadvantages of our ever-increasing use of computer technology?

Good luck in your endeavours.

As of old: Be EMPOWERED and EXCEL.

BRILLIANT IDEAS ON APPROACHING A DESCRIPTIVE COMPOSITION

The moon with its wisps of white light hung suspended in the frosty air over the still, quiet countryside. He could see in all directions, from the majestic outcrop of mountains to the vast ocean on the other.

The reader can certainly SEE the moon and the countryside.

  • DESCRIPTIVE WRITING focuses on observation, is static, and paints pictures with words. Someone or something can be described.
  • DESCRIPTIVE WRITING is about using words that give your readers the details they need to visualize what you are saying and become a part of your writing.

In a descriptive composition, the writer describes something to allow the reader to experience the topic being described as vividly as possible. Thus,

SHOW, DON’T TELL!

HS Teacher and StudentWORD POWER – Descriptive writing is writing with flair.  It means using words so that they paint a picture for the reader, but doing so in ways that often surprise the reader. Those words and expressions are chosen carefully to achieve the desired effect.

Here are some of the tools available to you when dealing with descriptive writing:

USE YOUR FIVE SENSES

Images of sight, sound, hearing, taste and touch can be used to make the description vivid. So to bring your writing to life and truly immerse your readers in the story, be sure to engage all of their senses. The key to unlocking the five senses is the question behind it. The question of why you are seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, or feeling something will help a lot.

TASK: Imagine you are walking outside. A spring storm is coming. Describe for your classmates what you see, hear, smell, taste, and touch.

SIMILES

These are comparisons using the words “like” or “as” (simile)

Instead of saying:

    • “The bread is hard,” SAY “The bread is as hard as a rock.”
    • The surface of the moon is like crumpled sandpaper

METAPHORS

These are comparisons minus cue words

  • My tears were a river.                     I died with embarrassment
  • Her heart was on fire.                     He hit the wall of exhaustion

ADJECTIVES

These are words which describe or modify nouns.

  • The tall, thin man entered the spooky room with measured steps.  Inside the room deep shadows crouched in wait for him.

ADVERBS

These are words which describe or modify verbs.

  • The jets dived steeply out of the sky, tumbling rapidly as they maneuvered gracefully past each other.

PERSONIFICATION OR HYPERBOLE

They add interest to inanimate objects.

  •  Instead of saying:
    • My heart started beating fast. SAY: My heart leaped out of my chest.

INTERESTING VERBS

It is worthwhile taking the time to think about the verb for the situation you are trying to bring to life.  Often, a carefully chosen verb can transform a so-so passage into something quite different.

  • He ran.                                   He jogged.
  • He fled.                                   He sprinted away/ He stormed off.

CHARACTER, PLACE AND ACTION

The best descriptions have a focus. They aren’t just lists of everything in the scene thrown together. Try concentrating on character – bring it to life!

SHOW, DON’T TELL:

This would be telling your readers:

  • He walked over to the stage and they gave him the award. 

This, instead, is showing your readers:

  • His feet felt like they were walking on air, as he glided towards the stage. An award like this was a dream he could never have imagined coming true.

Your readers will feel like a movie is showing inside their heads, because you gave them all the details they needed to truly “see” it.

Here are four tips that will help you add vivid descriptions to your writing:

  • Use your five senses.
  • Use figurative language.
  • Have fun with words.
  • Show, don’t tell.

pexels-photo.jpgTASK: Identify all the descriptive words and techniques used. Then, comment on the effectiveness of using such words in your descriptive composition writing.

Look at this . . .

  • When I think of the home town of my youth, all that I seem to remember is dust- the brown, crumbly dust of late summer- arid, sterile dust that gets into the eyes and makes them water, gets into the throat and between the toes of bare brown feet. I don’t know why I should remember only the dust… And so, when I think of that time and that place, I remember only the dry September of the dirt roads and grassless yards of the shanty-town where I lived.

What about this one?

  • The waves roar like a lion, as they hit the crumbling cliffs very powerfully. The white spray is thrown against the shore, and the vicious waves gnaw on the jagged pebbles. The wind cries loudly, weeping and moaning in the rain. The roof of the fragile, isolated beach hut is hit by the gales; its frost-bitten structure decaying in the briny tempest. At the edge of the jagged pebbles, where there are reeds and grasses you can see the remains of a snow fall which is like cotton wool. Colourless clouds carefully caress the horizon and a few brave seagulls fight against the fierce currents. Surely nothing can survive for long.

What’s wrong with the following?

  • The lighthouse goes up into the sky. I can see its spotlight and I can hear it moving around. I can also hear the waves. They are moving back and forth on the shore. Sometimes the waves splash over me. I look again at the lighthouse in the distance.

Why is this better?

  • The lighthouse soars up into the cold night air.  The low grown of its rotating spotlight struggles like the moan of a wounded animal.  Reluctantly, the waves retreat, sucked back into the darkness, then angrily return, pounding the foot of the mighty stone structure.  The spray showers over me and my mouth fills with the cold taste of the sea.  The lighthouse stands stern, a forbidding guardian of the shore.

So how did you fair? For you to get it right and become excellent, you need to practice. Take time to write and see yourself improving.

Good luck in your endeavours.

As of old: Be EMPOWERED and EXCEL!

 

COMMON IDIOMS IN USE 8

English@HighSchool would never be complete without idioms, proverbs, and expressions which are an important part of everyday English. They come up all the time in both written and spoken English. Because idioms and proverbs don’t always make sense literally, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with the meaning and usage of each idiom. That may seem like a lot of work, but learning idioms is fun, especially when you compare English idioms and try to decipher their meanings.

An idiom is a common expression understood figuratively, as the literal definition makes no sense.

Can Of Worms

Some idioms are given below together with their meanings.

  1. To make clean breast of is to confess without reservation.
  2. To keep one’s temper is to be in good mood.
  3. To catch a tartar is to catch a dangerous person.
  4. To drive home is to emphasise a point.
  5. To have an axe to grind is to have a private end to serve.
  6. To cry wolf is to give false alarm.
  7. To end in smoke is to ruin oneself.
  8. To be above board is to be honest, legitimate and open in any business dealings.
  9. To pick holes is to find some reason to quarrel.
  10. To leave someone in the lurch is to leave someone in difficulties.
  11. To play second fiddle is to support the role and view of another person.
  12. To beg the question is to take for granted.
  13. A black sheep is an odd or disreputable member person.
  14. To smell a rat is to suspect foul dealings.
  15. To hit the nail right on the head is to do the right thing.
  16. To have the gift of the gab is to speak with eloquence and fluency.
  17. A bone of contention is something that causes a quarrel.
  18. Once in a blue moon, means very seldom indeed.
  19. To keep the pot boiling is to keep the brisk momentum of something.
  20. To eat the humble pie is to apologize humbly.

How did you find these idioms? Please leave a comment below.

Good luck in all your efforts.

As of old: Be EMPOWERED and EXCEL.

AMAZING DO-ABLE NEW YEAR RESOLUTIONS & OTHERS IN 2020

Happy New Year to you and your families. Can you imagine that we are not even two weeks old into 2020, yet we seem tired and exhausted of it already? Why?

MONEY SAVING PLANS

My sincere apologies on digressing – I am not a money matters expert but sitting down with my Mrs on New Year’s day, we just started talking about money saving challenges available so . . .

If saving money is high on your list of New Year’s Resolutions, there is a simple way to ensure you have a nice nest egg at the end of 2020, without it, feeling too punishing.

Is your financial situation undisciplined, unrestricted, and impulsive?

THE 365 DAY CHALLENGE 

Apartment Therapy has unveiled a foolproof money-saving approach – the 365 Day Challenge, which could net you almost £1,500 ($2 023) over the course of the year by putting aside a small sum of money each day.

Every Sunday, you put aside £1, on Monday it’s £2 and so on until Saturday when you put away £7 before starting again at one the following week. This amounts to £28 ($38) per week, and £1 456 ($1 976) a year.

Because it’s a case of saving just a few pounds, the plan should not feel like too much of a burden day-to-day.

52 WEEK CHALLENGE

Anyone who’s searched for a way to save more money has probably heard of the 52 Week Challenge. It’s a way to slowly build up your savings throughout the year—you start by putting aside $1 on week one, $2 on week 2, and so on until you reach week 52, putting aside $52 that week. In total, if you follow the 52 Week Challenge, you’ll save $1,378 (£1 000) by the end of the year. Easy enough, right?

OTHER WAYS TO SAVE MONEY

Just saving loose change has persuaded many people that they are able to save.  And when they become convinced that they can save, they find other ways to build an emergency fund or save for other goals.

Establish your budget. Are you looking for an easy way to begin? On the first day of a new month, get a receipt for everything you purchase. Stack the receipts into categories like restaurants, groceries, and personal care. At the end of the month you will be able to clearly see where your money is going.

Budget with cash and envelopes. If you have trouble with overspending, try the envelope budget system where you use a set amount of cash for most spending. And once the cash is gone, it’s gone.

Don’t just save money, SAVE. There’s a difference between saving money and saving money for your future. So don’t just spend less, put the money you save into a savings account to plan for other expenses or emergencies that can leave you financially better off.

Save automatically. Setting up automatic savings is the easiest and most effective way to save, and it puts extra cash out of sight and out of mind. This means saving automatically.  As millions of savers have learned, what you don’t see you won’t miss.

Choose something to save for. One of the best ways to save money is to set a goal: choose between a short-term and long term goals! Start by thinking of what you might want to save for—anything from buying a lap top to a vacation—then figure out how long it might take you to save for it.

Aim for short-term savings goals. Make a goal such as setting aside $20 (£15) a week or month, rather than a longer term savings goal. People save more successfully when they keep short-term goals in sight.

Save your loose change. An easy way to start to save is to collect your loose change. By being aware of the loose change around you and making a conscious effort to save it and gather it in one place, you will soon reap the rewards of your new saving habit.

Use the 24 hour rule. This rule helps to avoid purchasing expensive or unnecessary items on impulse. Think over each non-essential purchase for at least 24 hours. This is particularly easy to do while shopping online, because you can add items to your cart or wish list and come back to them a day later.

Treat yourself, but use it as an opportunity to save. Match the cost of your non-essential indulgences in savings. So, for example, if you splurge on a smoothie while out running errands, put the same amount into your savings account. And think of it this way, if you can’t afford to save the matching amount, you can’t afford the treat either.

Watch your savings grow. Check your progress every month. Not only will this help you stick to your personal savings plan but it also helps you identify and fix problems quickly. These simple ways to save money may even inspire you to save more and hit your goals faster.

Everyone has the ability to save. At America Saves, they say “Start Small, Think Big.” You can start with only $10 a week or month. Over time, your deposits will add up. Even small amounts of savings can help you in the future.

WHERE CAN YOU SAVE YOUR MONEY?

Keep a Cash Jar: Some people feel more productive, savings-wise, if they use cash. If that’s you, and you’d prefer to physically put a dollar (or however many you’re supposed to put aside depending on which day of the week it is) aside every day, try keeping a money jar in a place you’ll remember to drop cash into every day, like on top of your dresser—you’ll see it when you’re getting ready, so you won’t forget. At the end of the week (or month, if you prefer), just deposit the cash into your savings account.

Use a Money App: If you’d rather keep things digital then a money app like Qapital or Acorns will be of great help. These banks are a new way to bank that makes it easy to save and invest money for stuff that matters.

Qapital, for example, lets you set up automatic transfers in the same dollar amount every day, every week, or every month, and has the traditional 52 Week Challenge transfer rule. Always make your homework before committing yourself.

If you don’t mind remembering to put aside money everyday, you can simply transfer the dollar amount for that day into your account with your preferred app—think of it like a digital cash jar, no deposits required. Or, if you’d rather set it and forget it, you can simply set up a recurring automatic weekly transfer of $28, and let your money basically save itself. Minimal effort required, and at the end of the year, your savings account will be nearly $1,500 richer.

Enough of money matters, dear folks . . .

Lastly, whilst doing some chores, one of these chain whatsApp messages popped up. It read:

Welcome to 2020, The Year of Nothing – IF you do NOTHING.

This month’s most popular text trending on phones, whatsApp, Facebook inboxes is all about ‘Happy New Year or Wish you a prosperous 2020’. Now, thank you, but that is the most useless yet popular message all around the world.  It is not about wishes, it is about action!

Pastors will be busy dishing out all types of ‘messages of hope to their respective congregants, The Year of Breakthrough, The Year of Prosperity, The Year of Victory and whatever as their God tells them, but listen, 2020 is a Year of Nothing –  IF you do NOTHING! All the sweet sound messages will not mean anything until you do something yourself.

My message to you friends and folks is: PPP – Pray, Plan and then Pursue. God will only bless what you work on according to His will. Do not be religious but be realistic! Take action and do not keep repeating the same things year in and year out, yet you expect different results. Otherwise 2020 will be like 2017, 2016, 2015 or whatever or even worse. 2020 is just a number, it is not enough to just wish each other a happy one. It will not bring happiness unless you find something that will make you happy.

God has never rewarded idleness. Look at all successful people around you, they all had to do something, they never just waited and hoped. Set up your goals and then prepare, then take up appropriate action.

Do not fear failure. When you try and fail, be happy because you have just learnt one way of not doing things.

Listen to constructive criticism but do not underrate yourself. You are not useless.

Everyone who is normal in the world can do something. It is not about your government always, it is not about God always, it is not about your friends and relatives, it is about YOU. The old say as a man thinks, so he is.

Remember God told Abraham, ‘Look North, South, East and West. As far as your eyes can see, I will give you and your children that land forever!’ Here God was giving Abraham an open cheque. He says you can do anything as long as you believe. Only you, can limit yourself.

So folks, I pray for all of you that God opens your eyes so that you will see limitlessly in 2020.

I am not wishing you a happy 2020, I am praying for you, instead.

Walk in love, believe and be diligent in all you do. Start today, set your goals and move! WALK THE TALK!

Another chain message I came across read like . . .

2020 INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Do not be casual in anything you do. Put your best in everything you do. God does not bless mediocrity, average or break-even.
  2. Serve God like never before without looking at what people say. Look continuously to God who is the rewarder of your service.
  3. Sacrifice. The quickest way to turn from captivity is sacrifice. Sacrifice provokes God to act.
  4. Balance devotion and duty. Grace does not take away responsibility. Balance devotion and duty.
  5. Stay spiritually and visionary focused.

Again, I repeat: Welcome to 2020, The Year of Nothing, IF you do NOTHING.

Good luck in all your endeavours in 2020.

As of old: Be EMPOWERED and EXCEL

Trust Me: THE SIMPLE, YET EFFECTIVE WAYS TO GET CREDIBILITY FROM COLLEAGUES, FRIENDS & STUDENTS ALIKE

Happy new year, dear folks.

Whilst pursuing a Masters in Education: Leadership and Management, one of the key modules was entitled SLOM [Strategic Leadership, Organization and Management]. The module was an eye opener in many ways as, among other notables, it focused on types of educational management based on trust. The emphasis was simple:

Being trustworthy is fundamental to establishing credibility.

However, as people are unlikely to tell you that they don’t trust you, it can be difficult to measure. Here we look at the importance of others having confidence in you, and how you can develop relationships built on trust.

pexels-photo.jpgHow Trust Works

Trust is slightly unusual in the sense that it’s usually afforded in advance but is then tested afterwards. For example, a friend may ask you to do them a certain favour, and they have faith that you’ll do it. With this trust in place, you have to be careful not to abuse it.

If you’re a person who is honest and genuine in their dealings, people will have confidence in you. It’s not necessarily difficult to gain someone’s trust (a lot of that is dependent on the other person), but it will always take integrity.

In order for others to trust you, on a personal level, they need to know that:

  • They can share their thoughts and feelings with you, and that you’ll respect them for it, even if you don’t agree with them.
  • You will not spread their personal thoughts indiscriminately, or use this knowledge to gain an advantage over them.
  • When they ask for your help, you will be supportive and offer constructive advice or assistance.
  • There is respect between you, which in turn informs a positive and beneficial relationship.
  • You will treat them in a fair, open and honest way.
  • You can be relied upon to deal with situations in a dignified manner, and in a way that displays integrity.

The Importance Of Trust At Work

Trust is equally significant when forming working relationships. Whenever you make a decision about someone, it plays a major part in your thinking process. Consider this:

  • When an organization fosters relationship and trust-building behaviors, employees focus on the work they were hired to do and productivity increases.
  • When trust is damaged, morale and productivity begin to decline and turnover increases.
  • Alternatively, as trust is a two-way process, the same applies whenever someone else is making a decision about you. For example: Can I trust them to get this finished on time? Can I trust them to deliver quality work? Can I trust them with this confidential information?

During my sojourn Down Under, I came across this book: Organisational Behaviour: Leading and Managing in Australia and New Zealand, by Robbins, Millett, Cacioppe and Waters-Marsh which identifies five dimensions that underpin the concept of trust:

  • INTEGRITY – Integrity is consistently demonstrating honesty and truthfulness be it in giving feedback, acknowledging and accepting successes and mistakes of others as well as relaying and communicating relevant information. Integrity seems to be rated the most critical characteristic, as a positive perception of another’s moral character and basic honesty; the other dimensions of trust begin to have meaning once integrity is established.
  • CONSISTENCY – This is having strong credibility, reliability, predictability and good judgment in handling any situation.
  • OPENNESS – It is showing a genuine willingness to share ideas and information freely and openly; ensuring feelings, experiences, and concerns can be aired safely.
  • LOYALTY – This is when demonstrating a willingness to protect and positively represent teams and individuals; as well as retaining confidentiality.
  • COMPETENCE – This is possessing technical and interpersonal knowledge and skills including the ability to initiate new ideas, to be creative and communicating relevant information.

To help with this, it’s important you feel you are working in an environment that inspires trust. Just by being trustworthy yourself, you can have a positive impact and promote this culture.

Love SignEssential Ways On Building Trust 

By working effectively, and respecting your colleagues, you’ll find that trust builds naturally. However, these additional pointers should also help:

  • Understand why people trust you. People will trust you based on their personal experience and knowledge of your performance. If they know that you can do something, they will trust you to do it again, as well as similar related tasks. By constantly delivering and demonstrating your high standards, you can encourage others to increase their belief in your abilities. Trust will develop as your reputation as a high performer increases.
  • When you don’t do the right thing, admit it. Be transparent, authentic and willing to share your mistakes and faults. When you are vulnerable and have nothing to hide, you radiate trust.
  • Spread your trust factor. People remember you for your actions, good and bad! If you’ve made a success of something, don’t hide it. It’s not boasting to highlight a particular achievement; you’re merely demonstrating your effectiveness. Align your actions with results – trustworthy people can afford to let their track record speak for them, so make it a focus point.
  • Show people you care about them. When people know you care about their interests as much as your own they will trust you. If they know you are out for yourself, their internal alarm sounds and they will say to themselves “watch out for that person.”
  • Keep your promises. If you make a mistake or miss a deadline, admit to it rather than hope it goes unnoticed. Take steps to redress the situation and reassure people when objectives will be met. Always be clear in your own mind how you’re going to achieve your goals and keep communicating your progress to those involved.
  • Trust generates commitment; commitment fosters teamwork; and teamwork delivers results. When people trust their team members they not only work harder, but they work harder for the good of the team.
  • Trust is built one day, one interaction at a time, and yet it can be lost in a moment because of one poor decision. Make the right decision.

In this spirit, I have endeavoured sharing some thoughts about how we can build the trust that is essential for great relationships. Many of the suggestions above are already known and most of the ideas are common sense. However, I’ve found that so often amidst the chaos of life and work we forget the simple and powerful truths that matter most.

I leave you with a quote from Ernest Hemingway which goes: “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.

As of old: Be EMPOWERED and EXCEL

INCREDIBLE WAYS TO MANAGE YOUR MOOD

CONSIDER these questions first . . .

  • Do you know that your mood and behavior affect performance?
  • How do you work on attaining the consistent, emotionally intelligent leadership behaviors that breed success in yourself and others?
  • How often do you look for good in others?

Many people would agree with me that the way their boss behaves affects the way they do their job.

Whether irritable or unpredictable, upbeat or encouraging, the range of moods to which leaders expose their followers, is generally viewed as having the potential to encourage or inhibit performance.

In a well written research on moods by Goleman et al entitled ‘Primal Leadership: The Hidden Driver of Great Performance’ in the Harvard Business Review of December 2001, the writers demonstrate that this generally accepted truth has empirical support too. In the research spanning over a two-year study, it suggests that a leader’s mood can actually impact directly on organisational performance; to the extent that an organization’s success may actually depend upon its leader having the right kind of moods.

birthday-cake-cake-birthday-cupcakes-40183.jpegResearch On Mood Management

The notion that a leader’s mood affects their staff and, consequently, their organization’s performance, is not new. A number of studies establish a causal link between a leader’s mood and a follower’s performance. Alice Isen of Cornell University, for instance, established that a positive working atmosphere contributes to enhanced mental efficiency, higher information intake and comprehension, and more flexible thinking.

Mood management is defined by our ability to keep powerful emotions in check so that we can make rational decisions that are in our and others’ best interests. The better we are able to stay calm under pressure, the less likely we will overreact and make poor decisions in the workplace.

MOODS are typically described as having either a positive or negative valence. In other words, people usually talk about being in a good mood or a bad mood. People seem to experience a positive mood when they have a clean slate, have had a good night sleep, and feel no sense of stress in their life. Those experiencing negative moods may have important implications for mental and physical well-being. Thus, negative mood has no specific start and stop date. It can last for hours, days, weeks, or longer. Negative moods can also manipulate how individuals interpret and translate the world around them, and can also direct their behavior.

Mood also differs from temperament or personality traits which are even longer-lasting.

The Impact Of A Leader’s Mood

Leaders’ moods are important because of their prominent position within the company or organization. The effect is most apparent in open-plan offices shared by the leader; but the bad mood can also spread throughout the organization by first infecting those with whom the leader deals directly, and then moving downwards as the various subordinates interact.

Goleman et tal’s research demonstrates that when leaders are in a happy mood they galvanize good performance and the rest of the office smiles with them. When a leader is in a happy mood:

  • They think more positively about their own goals.
  • They are more creative.
  • They make better decisions
  • They are instinctively more helpful to those around them.

On the negative side, when a leader is often in a negative mood:

  • They are rarely successful.
  • They have a negative influence on their followers, who seldom reach their potential.
  • They will often end up being blamed for poor results.

However, the research points out that in a negative situation, if the leader can recognise the effect they are having early enough, the impact may not be irreversible.

Understanding The Human Brain

A mood is an emotional state and lies with the human brain. The region of the brain which manages emotions, termed the limbic area, is commonly described as operating on an ‘open-loop’ system. Unlike the self-regulating nature of a ‘closed-loop’ system, the limbic area requires external stimulation to operate. Moods are created based on these external influences. The open-loop system explains why, for instance, a sustained period of severe stress affects isolated individuals far more than socially active ones, or why intensive care patients with a loved one constantly nearby are more likely to recover than those without.

It also accounts for the feelings of warm affection shared between couples. Open-loop also accounts for a measurable harmonisation in physiological characteristics, such as heart-rate, between two friends deep in conversation. Finally, in social environments, such as an office or meeting room, individuals rapidly attune to each other’s physiological and emotional states.

A study by Bartel and Saavedra showed astounding results  that monitored seventy work teams in various industries and discovered that, when working closely together, the teams soon began to share moods, both positive and negative.

Negative Moods

It is quite interesting to note that negative moods are not as significant in their effect as positive ones. Put differently, positive moods improve performance more than negative moods which cause performance to deteriorate. Yet, a good mood in itself does little; it has to be the right kind of good mood. At a time of crisis, for example, a smiling, upbeat mood would simply be insensitive. Successful resonance should enable leaders to blend their mood into situations as they present themselves.

Goleman et tal attributes the problem, through leaders who have little idea or fail to notice what resonance, if any, they have with their subordinates. The study authors call this,CEO disease’; namely, a complete lack of awareness by leaders of how they are regarded within the company or organization they lead. This arises not through a lack of concern about how people perceive them – most leaders are extremely keen to find this out. Rather, they mistakenly presume both that they are themselves capable of discerning people’s perception of them; and that negative impressions of them will be communicated directly to the leader.

The CEO Disease can also lie with subordinates who hesitate to tell their boss exactly what they think for fear of being penalised. Less evident is that asking people to comment on how a leader’s emotional disposition affects their work is seen as too unconventional and vague.

The implication is that primal leadership demands more than putting on a game face every day. It requires an executive to determine, through reflective analysis, how his/her emotional leadership drives the moods and actions of the organization, and then, with equal discipline, the need to adjust his/her behavior accordingly.

The solution instead is rather more complex. The Harvard team explain that a person’s emotional skills, while having a genetic component, are significantly influenced by one’s personal life experiences. These in turn build on each other, to the extent that a set pattern of behaviour is difficult to alter. As the authors point out:

‘And therein lies the rub: The more we act a certain way – be it happy, depressed or cranky – the more the behavior becomes ingrained in our brain circuitry, and the more we will continue to feel and act that way.’

group hand fist bump

Five Steps To Managing Your Moods Effectively

The solution proposed by the Harvard team is a five-stage process designed in effect to ‘rewire the brain towards more emotionally intelligent behaviours.’

They outline it as follows:

1. Who do I want to be?

This involves imagining an ideal version of yourself. The team asked leaders to imagine themselves eight years ahead as an effective leader, taking into account how they would feel, what they would do, and who would be there. This exercise encouraged them to envisage how their working and emotional lives might change if they had a different outlook.

2. Who am I now?

This step requires leaders to begin to see themselves as others do. A small element of ‘ego-defence’ is inevitable, and indeed is a useful way of remaining enthusiastic and positive when making difficult decisions. Yet as the team suggest, ‘self-delusion should come in very small doses.’ They suggest remaining continually receptive towards criticism, even going as far as actively inviting negative feedback.

Interestingly, the team also stress that it is important not to focus simply on the leader’s perceived weaknesses. Having an accurate picture of their main strengths provides the motivation and focus for them to concentrate on counteracting their weaknesses.

3. How do I get from here to there?

The Harvard research team suggest that the learning process might take the form of the leader requesting written, anonymous feedback from every team member about their mood and its affect on the team.

Other techniques might include a weekly diary in order to compare, week by week, the leader’s self-perception with that of those around him, or the appointment of one or two carefully chosen colleagues to act as both coach and devil’s advocate.

It must be understood that any change will be gradual and will only be successful if the leader’s increased state of awareness is fairly constant. Paying more attention to new methods of behaviour in itself acts as stimulation for the breaking of former habits and the experimentation with new ones.

4. How do I make change stick?

As already suggested, altering ingrained behaviour patterns requires continual rehearsal. But modifying one’s actions in practice is not the only way that these patterns can be altered. This can actually occur merely by visualising a different method of behaviour: ‘imagining something in vivid detail can fire the same brain cells actually involved in doing that activity…So to alleviate the fears associated with trying out riskier ways of leading, we should first visualize some likely scenarios.’ This can be done anywhere when the leader has some spare time, e.g. while travelling to work, or when waiting for colleagues to arrive at a meeting.

5. Who can help me?

The final stage involves forming what the Harvard team term ‘a community of supporters.’ They cite an executive learning programme carried out by Unilever where managers came together in regular learning groups, initially to discuss career and leadership ideas. This gradually evolved as trust built up between the executives to include frank discussion about each others’ technique and performance. The advantage of such an approach is that ‘people we trust let us try out unfamiliar parts of our leadership repertoire without risk.’

Thus, it is important that once you are aware of an emotion, you can trace its cause and change it. Left unchanged, an extended period of emotion becomes your “mood.” A very extended mood can also develop into a character trait. Some people remain trapped in a chronically negative mood which then affects their state and subsequently influences others.

Surely, the ability to manage your own state is fundamental to managing yourself and to influencing the state of another person. Given the high probability of disappointment, failed expectations and loss in the world, we are vulnerable to being pushed into a negative state unless we have learned to self-manage.

THE BAD NEWS is that a leader’s mood affects corporate results.

THE GOOD NEWS is that moods, while certainly ingrained in our individual psyches, are not fixed there permanently.

THUS, with recourse to the proper techniques, unproductive mood swings and harmful fluctuations of temperament can be reduced; to the good of a leader, staff members and organisation alike.

I am sure I didn’t ruffle up a few feathers.

Good luck in all your endeavours to improve your image.

As of old: Be EMPOWERED and EXCEL.