Thursday, June 18, 2009

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Photos of Five Corners Two Art Work

Five Corners Two

On Words

Five Corners Two


Jakarta – With OnWords’ recent focus on all things arty and creative, I thought that today would be a wonderful time to invite the readers to an upcoming artists party and exhibition.

The aptly named 5 Corners 2 is the second annual show for five friends who happen to be Indonesia-based artists. This year the artists, Charles Schuster, Gwen Shackleton, David White, Neil Bunting and Jeanie Merila are displaying approximately 80 pieces showcasing myriad styles, techniques, influences and results at the JW Marriott Hotel in Mega Kuningan from November 22nd – 25th.

Schuster, an art teacher at Universitas Bina Nusantara and Monash University, is displaying work he has finished over the last four years. He writes, “My paintings are about the things I love: the sea, mountains, skin, tree bark, weather and, sometimes, the circus.”

I have yet to see any of Schuster’s pieces but am intrigued by the thought of an artist finding the miracle within such commonplace items such as skin and tree bark.

Shackleton, a Jakarta International School art teacher, says that she is influenced by colour, sentimentalism, and the Gestalt principles of perception. The latter explains how we unconsciously organize visual elements into unified wholes. An example of this occurs when we visualize four Pac-Man type shapes set up so that their mouths appear to delineate a rectangle. Our brains, seeing bits of the rectangle’s edges fill in the blanks giving us the sense of an entire shape that is not actually there.

Shackleton says, “I have no particular style of working, nor do I have a singular focus for subject matter – I paint when I am inspired by what I see, and I never know what, when, where or how that will happen – I merely react.”

Shackleton’s two meters by one, acrylic on canvas painting, Cirebon Sawah, Cirebon Rice Paddy, with its repetition and pattern makes excellent use of the Gestalt principles. More importantly to me, at a more animalistic level, its courageous bands of yellows, purples, greens and blues are simply beautiful.

She says about the work, “This is the largest work I have done to date and presented a great challenge to me in technique and scale. The colour scheme is complementary in its use of purple and yellow, but is only a slight exaggeration of the original intense hues seen at early evening on the harvested rice paddies of West Java.”

The second Jakarta International School representative, White has drawn on his experiences in Northern Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa and his current life in Indonesia for this year’s 5 Corners show. A figurative painter, White spent five years in Egypt and Zimbabwe exploring and creating depictions of their respective cultures before moving to Java a few years ago.

White says that he attempts to avoid the typical "photorealism" that is common to the figurative genre. Instead, the curly-topped artist veers toward interpretation through intense color selections, abstract mixtures, personality of the individual subject and their mystifying surroundings.

London-native Bunting, now a fortyish-something family man, revisits the influences of his youth with his My Punk Paintings 2007 collection. The Academic Colleges Group International School art teacher says that he is attempting to capture the “raw energy of late seventies ‘New Wave’ music through paint, pins and canvas. The album covers that inspire each image are a leading point into the painting, which, therein, has a life of its own.”

The pony-tailed Bunting adds, “It is interesting to me that this imagery and music derived from the UK is so popular with young people of Indonesia today. My paintings are created with a range of cheap, raw materials which are not usually combined together in paintings. I have used these materials because they seem fitting to a music form which drew its inspiration from urban and industrial living in the 1970s… I have deliberately aimed to subvert and challenge the rules of painting, as punk rock once rebelled against the rules of music.”

Another color-enthusiast, Merila, an Art & Design teacher at the Australian International School, has done much of her work En plein air, that is, in the open air.

Merila says, “My art is about using colour, light and textures to transform my world. The way light bounces off leaves, sand and sea in the afternoon sun, the broken reflections in water, or the translucent hues and textures on life ten meters below ocean waves. Works are en plein air paintings from Bali and Lombok as well as portraits of the undersea world.”

The Exhibition opens on Thursday, November 22 at 7 pm. There is an Artists’ Party on that Friday from 7 pm - 10 pm. The five artists will be on site throughout the weekend until the exhibition closes at 3:00 pm on Sunday, November 25. For further information please contact David White at 0813 857 00867 or Neil Bunting at 0813 1092 1265.

See you there,


This article was originally published Nov. 18, 2007 in The Jakarta Post.

Editing your work: writing tight brings the might

On Words

Editing your work: writing tight brings the might


Jakarta – To write tight is to write right. As mentioned in OnWords’ last column, omitting unnecessary words is a huge part of the editing process. Today we are going over how to identify and purge lazy openers, prepositional phrases and tedious nouns from your writing.

Lazy openers are those phrases like It is vital that and There are, that all too often open the baggy sentences that we write. Lazy openers are guilty of two sins. First of all, they contain forms of the weak verb to be. While at times we do need to use is, are, was, am and so forth, crisp prose contains them at a minimum.

Their second sin is that the words that make up lazy openers are simply unnecessary. Jump right into the action when writing. These phrases are easily cut from most writing and sentences read much better without them. Consider this example:

There is a mindless way to preparing meals which comes hand-in-hand with a mindless way of eating. This mindset is becoming more prevalent day-by-day and continues to bring with it greater and greater consequences.

By jumping straight to the point and eliminating the lazy openers and weak verbs we have reduced the excerpt by a third, giving us:

A mindless way to preparing meals, counterpart to the mindless way of eating, grows more prevalent every day and brings greater and greater consequences.

Although more concise and therefore stronger than the original example, you can reduce it even further:

Mindless meal preparing, like mindless eating, grows more…

Prepositions show relationships of one word to another. Some common prepositions are at, by, for, into, in, on, to, and with. A phrase, a group of words, that begins with a preposition is a prepositional phrase.

When editing, examine any sentences that seem to overly rely on prepositions. A good rule of thumb to follow is to avoid listing three or more prepositional phrases in a row.

The following example displays a number of the indications of excess wordiness that we have been covering:

The explanation offered by the principal of the school about the purpose for the new reading program in the English Department and the reasons that the teachers are not able to satisfy the wish of the parents by meeting with them this week was published in the newsletter.

Whew… What an eye full! How many prepositional phrases do you count in that example? What about the main verb? Is it active or passive? Remember from the last OnWords that we should stick with the active voice whenever possible.

Let us edit the passage by going active and reducing its number of prepositional phrases down to one.

In the newsletter, the school principal explained the English Department’s new reading program’s purpose and why the teachers cannot meet the parents, as they had wished, this week.

This condensed version is simple enough to be understood in a single reading, which is the goal of the effective writer.

One final ill to keep our eyes open for during the editing process is tedious nouns. Words ending with tion, ence, and ment suck the life out of your writing. Look for the weak verbs and tedious nouns that burden this passage:

The suggestion that Jakarta’s population increases and decreases by a quarter at the start and end of each working day, the fluctuation is because housing costs are too expensive near the city center may be incorrect since the benefits of living in the satellite cities are numerous in a variety of ways relevant to both education prospects and entertainment options.

Reading your writing aloud is a great way of judging it. Trust your own ear. Try reading the above. It should be hard to get through. Now, read aloud the revision below:

It is not only the high costs of living in the city center that lead to Jakarta’s population increasing and decreasing by a quarter each working day; people also chose to live in the satellite cities for education and entertainment benefits.

Despite being a third shorter than the original, the edited bit provides the same information as the first while being much easier to understand.

For most type of writing the primary objective is to be understood. By keeping our words as concise and as simple as possible, we are sure to meet this goal.

Happy purging,


This article was originally published Jan. 20, 2008 in The Jakarta Post.

Editing your work: the power of verbs


Editing your work: the power of verbs


Jakarta – “Omit needless words,” advise William Strunk and E.B. White in their classic, The Elements of Style. Practicing what they speak, their textbook floats in at a mere 105 pages.

Deleting words, sentences and entire passages from your writing requires a hard to come by ruthlessness. After all, we, when writing, often become fond of what we have laid down and fall in love with our work. It happens to all of us.

The ability to look at sentences analytically is the key to being able to edit and liven up your own work. In order to do this, you need to understand the building blocks that make up a sentence. Its two main parts are the subject, the sentence’s who or what, and the verb, the sentence’s action or state of being.

Although subjects normally come before verbs as in Mom cooked and The sun rises, it is the verbs that give life to your writing. The grammatical subject of a sentence is often times different than the topic of discussion. Look at this sentence, She likes cereal more than eggs. What is the subject? What is the topic under discussion? Are they the same or different? If different, which is more important?

By asking these questions you see that the topic of breakfast foods is more important to the sentence than the grammatical subject, she.

The use of weak verbs produces limp, lifeless copy, while, conversely, active verbs give writing strength and confidence. Weak verbs are those which do not show action such as seem, be, remain, feel, appear along with passive forms, made up of the verb to be plus a past participle: for example, was stolen and has been bitten. The more weak verbs your writing contains, the more tiresome your writing most likely is.

When rereading and editing your work, look for weak verbs. When you find one, ask yourself what the sentence’s action is and then try to express that action as a verb.

Find the weak verbs in this sentence about expensive restaurants, These more expensive, less popular restaurants, whose lack of success was often the result of how expensive they were, are likely to go bankrupt.

The verbs of the rambling sentence are all or contain forms of the verb to be. Let us strengthen it by putting the action into verbs where we can. Here we go, Since these restaurants charge more, they are not popular and may go bankrupt.

Although we still have a single form of to be, this example is stronger for two reasons. First, the second sentence is much easier to understand and secondly, it is half the length of the first sentence. Remember, concise writing is powerful writing.

Consider this copy about a fictional project,

Though the canal ferries will be owned by the neighborhoods that they operate within, they will be operated by members of Jakarta’s Venice Project Association and partially supported by funds raised by the group. The remainder of the funds is to be provided by the city.

The wordiness of this 46-word example results from the many uses of the passive voice. Once you make the verbs active you end up with this tighter 25-word example,

The neighborhoods will own the canal ferries while Jakarta’s Venice Project Association will operate them. Both the association and the city will fund the ferries.

Now that we have shown that we must always be aware of weak verbs, we need to recognize that all to be forms and all passive verbs do not need to be kicked out of our writing. After all, “To be or not to be, that is the question,” is tough to improve upon. Weak verbs do have their place. We just need to ask ourselves the right questions during the editing process to ensure that they belong in ours.

Happy editing,


This article was originally published Jan. 13, 2008 in The Jakarta Post.

Three Ingredients to Good Writing

On Words

Three Ingredients to Good Writing


Jakarta – Writing hurts.

First of all, ideas are hard to cage elusive creatures. And then once we have been fortunate enough to secure a collection of thoughts to work with, we need to wrestle them into some sort of coherent order all the while deciding which to keep for further development and those of which we need to discard.

Understandably, many never get past this initial prewriting stage.

This does not need to be the case. The most talented, so-called natural writers schedule regular time to work at the craft. They know that writing is a skill that can be practiced and mastered the same as any other. They treat writing much the same as many of us approach golf, cooking, or any other hobby.

Indonesian residents often face the additional challenge of writing in a second or even a third or a fourth language. This hurdle brings with it its own set of unique difficulties since language is in a large part a manifestation of the thought patterns of native speakers.

Just as rules for eating differ from culture to culture, the rules for writing are different all around the world. When it comes to writing, being conversant in the grammar and the vocabulary of the target language is not enough just as when it comes to dinning it is not enough to bring your hungry Acehnese mother-in-law to Tony Roma’s. In order to write well, we need to understand how these speakers organize and communicate their thoughts and their language.

The three main ingredients that determine the organizational patterns of your written English are subject, purpose and audience. Increasing your understanding of these three elements will have you well on your way to becoming an effective writer.

Perhaps the biggest hindrance to writing is not having anything to say, that is, not having a suitable subject. Good writing needs a subject that is neither too general nor too specific. Think about having your school or your workplace for a subject. Both are too large to grip. They must be narrowed down.

The whittling of the former subject may go something like this:

My School

Long Days

Many Classes

Limited Free Time

45 Minute Lunches

Not Enough Time for Lunch

“Not enough time for lunch” is a subject that most students are interested in and would like to explore further. A strong subject is something that you know or that you want to learn more about. Finding a hook to your interest is a large part of the writing process.

The purpose behind your writing is just as important as your subject. Simply put, you need to know why you are writing. Are you writing to entertain, to inform or to persuade? Most writing will have more than one purpose, such as attempting to entertain while at the same time trying to persuade or inform.

An activity that you can do to help build your awareness of purpose in writing is to skim through some newspapers and magazines to find articles that entertain, inform, and persuade. Also, you can look for some that have more than a single purpose.

The final ingredient we are exploring today, audience, strongly affects the first two. Whom you are writing to helps you decide upon your subject and your purpose.

All audiences read your writing with differing expectations. To best be understood and, more importantly, to not be misunderstood it is vital that you keep your audience in mind as you proceed through the writing the process. You probably have incorrectly read between the lines of an email or have had your own emails incorrectly read. As more of our daily communications become less face-to-face and more frequently written, this type of misreading will become more commonplace. By paying attention to your audience you can avoid this error.

A last exercise to tie your understanding of subject, purpose and audience together is to narrow a subject down from the broad ideas of either your school or your workplace. Once you have discovered a subject like “not enough lunch time” determine a purpose and an audience. Then write a paragraph that meets the demands of your subject, purpose and audience.

After you have written this paragraph, change the purpose and the audience while keeping the same subject and write a new paragraph. After you have your two paragraphs compare them and see how writing is controlled by these three ingredients.

If you play with these three basic steps until you are comfortable with them you are sure to make quick progress in your written communication.

Until next column happy writing,


This article was originally published Jan. 6, 2008 in The Jakarta Post.

Technology in the classroom: e-portfolios

On Words

Technology in the classroom: e-portfolios


Jakarta – Portfolios have traditionally been folders that artists, photographers and models proudly toted around town showing off their work. Nowadays, however, portfolios are finding their ways into the lives of more and more of us. In fact, at the international school I last worked all students possessed electronic versions of them.

I never understood the reasons behind their use so I asked two Information Communication Technology teachers to talk to me about e-portfolios. One explained that e-portfolios showcased students’ work. He said that a selection of the students’ work was scanned into or produced upon a hard disk that was then saved to DVDs for the children to take home to their parents. He summarized that, “The only positive to this is that we can save audio and video.”

While I understand the need for children and their schools to please parents, this use of e-portfolios did not seem to me to be a true representation of a way technology could best be part of the classroom. Sure, there are some peripheral skills being practiced during this process such as video and audio recording, editing, scanning and saving files, but honestly I expected more. Fortunately, it turns out, there is more.

Supposedly, when ancient Egyptian King Thamus was presented with the new technology of writing he worried that it would turn out to be a tool of recollection rather than a booster of wisdom. When not completely utilized, e-portfolios run this same risk of becoming merely repositories of past accomplishments.

But, the good news is that fully-realized e-portfolios are more than that; they are truly tools of learning. They delineate clear learning standards for educational professionals, students, parents, family members and, in certain cases, the public. Educator June Ahn wrote in the T.H.E. Journal that e-journals are tools that help teachers with both reflection and feedback. She wrote, “As an assessment tool, e-portfolios provide an economy of scale in terms of efficiency and informational depth… providing ease of access to teachers, students and the general public.”

Teachers and authors Leah E Wickersham and Sharon M Chambers wrote about this same benefit in the journal Education. They state that in the past decade the focus in education has shifted “from a teacher-centered instructional environment to a student-centered one.” This has made teachers more accountable to students than ever before and as a result more dependant upon e-portfolios. E-portfolios empower students. They enable us to judge progress and learning objectives against those of other students and institutions.

This work storage and the opening up of the educational ledger are not the only benefits to e-portfolios. Ahn says they also enhance learning by allowing different levels of access to teachers, students and whoever else should be able to review and comment upon work.

These cleared lines of dialogue bring educational content into context. This concept is key in the ESL classroom. Indonesian students frequently know the English tenses rules without knowing when and why to use them. They have the content, but not the context. Content acquisition is fine for sitting exams, while contextual learning is necessary for living.

Wickersham and Chambers continue, “Multiple researchers concur that the best learning, which is retained, occurs in the context of an active learning experience.” E-portfolios brings context to learning by helping with self-reflection while turning the classroom and homework experience into a more dynamic experience by inter-connecting all of the students’ work with what is happening around them.

Just as I am writing this article following years in the classroom, discussions with ICT instructors and the reading of numerous educational journals, all students learn and produce work that has been filtered through their own experiences. When such work is stored online along with links to class material and peer work, students, parents and teachers can look back upon it learning from it in relation to the setting that it was completed in. This helps everyone.

By improving communication within the teacher-student-parent triangle and bringing context to content, e-portfolios are a tech tool that belongs in the classroom. The challenge we face is how to best make use of them.

Happy Holidays,


This article was originally published Dec. 30, 2007 in The Jakarta Post.

Studying Online

On Words

Studying Online


Jakarta – Last column we discussed the benefits of following the higher-education pathway overseas. Today, we will explore some reasons as to why we should consider doing this online.

I have taken online classes with schools in Britain and the United States for a number of years now and feel that the classes have been a boon to me both professionally and personally. I have also worked with and hired people who have earned qualifications online.

Through the use of the internet and virtual classrooms, I have truly felt that I have been part of these classes. After much reflection and research I have come up with five main reasons a person should consider studying online.

1. For many, the most important reason for pursuing a degree online is cost. Distance learning saves money on transportation plus room and board at a school. As stated in our last column, these costs can easily add up to (USD) $10,000 per year.

University of Massachusetts, Amherst charges around $300 per credit for online undergraduate classes. A full-time student completes 30 credits a year which adds up to $ 9,000. Clearly, you can see that by choosing to stay in Jakarta while virtually studying overseas you can cut your expenses in half.

2. My online learning experiences have been vastly different to those of my earlier university years in California. Back then, the huge majority of us were pretty much the same, in our twenties and from Northern California.

Distance learning introduces you to people from all over the world and from all walks of life. Online, I have studied with and learned from peers living on three continents with each possessing unique professional backgrounds and life experiences. An analytical writing class I completed just last week had a Transportation Security Administration inspector, preschool teachers, a computer programmer, a traveler and a metal shop worker for students. They all made for an interesting mixture that made the learning enjoyable and worthwhile.

3. Although distance learning students are in classes comprised of students from around the globe, they are still able to enjoy the benefits of living at home. They can use these years to learn the family business or help with whatever familial responsibilities need to be covered. Furthermore, by remaining home you do not need to be concerned with the costs and troubles of securing a student visa. Overall, staying put in Indonesia while studying online is a great option for those with full-time jobs or families.

4. With distance learning, students have constant and immediate access to course materials. The classes I have been in have had bulletin boards, email communications, online content and library access. I have been able to study and review the materials at my convenience. There is no need for me to carry books around, since as long as I have internet access I can study.

Also, when students post their work in the virtual classroom we were able to review and learn from it. There have been many occasions when I was simply amazed, in a positive way, by someone else’s take on a topic.

In addition to classes that you enroll in, many universities post lectures online free of charge for anyone to learn from. Of course, you will not get class credit for learning this way, but the benefits to learning need not be only pragmatic.

In the autumn of this year, Stanford University, ranked second best in the world by The Economist Magazine, offered the following free seminars: Seminar in Guidance, Navigation and Control, Bioengineering and Biodesign Forum, Law for Computer Science Professionals, Software on Demand, Frontiers in Interdisciplinary Biosciences, Human-Computer Interaction Seminar, Seminar on Computer Systems, Seminar: Topics in International Technology Management and Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Seminar.

Harvard University likewise offers such lectures online. Another way to find free digitalized lessons and lectures is through Apple’s iTunes software.

5. Distance learning instruction forces students to become fluent in the languages of English and technology. There is a basic educational tenet that all classes are language classes. I like that idea. After all, math has its own vocabulary and needs, just as the different sciences and other subjects do. I feel that technology should be treated the same. In reality, all classes are technology classes. Online classes enable students to improve their English and technological capabilities no matter where they live.

Whichever direction you decided to follow, local, online or overseas, I wish you success in your educational pursuits.



This article was originally published Dec. 23, 2007 in The Jakarta Post.

Why Keep Learning

On Words

Why Keep Learning


Jakarta – It is hard not notice the signs of educational institutions such as Premier Language Service, MIBT, Future and ACG dotted throughout Jakarta. In Indonesia, learning is big business.

And rightfully so, after all, investing in education produces bountiful dividends. Nipissing University of Canada reported in 2001 that a university graduate earned an average of 91% more than someone who possessed only a high school diploma. Over the course of a lifetime this worked out to more than one million Canadian dollars at the then present value. The benefits of a university degree are not merely monetary. Without a degree, you cannot even apply for many of the most rewarding and interesting jobs.

For many Indonesians, a qualification from a local university is not enough. Many prefer to study abroad. According to the Jakarta’s Australian Embassy’s 'Study in Australia' press release, 16,000 Indonesians study in that country alone. There are numerous reasons why people opt to study overseas. For some, it is frustration with Indonesia’s educational system. For others, it is a desire for freedom away from home or the wish to make oneself as marketable as possible.

Whatever the reason, it cannot be denied that an overseas education provides many benefits. First of all, the quality and standard of foreign education is, as a whole, of a higher quality than that which is offered in Indonesia. From The Economist Magazine’s ranking of the world’s top 20 universities, only one, Tokyo University at number 14, is not in Europe or North America.

The internationally-recognized qualifications you earn overseas can help you in a number of ways. They open up the entire world as a job market. They add value to your resume. They provide proof that you have been exposed to techniques, skills, perspectives and systems of thinking that you may not experience in Indonesia.

Language is often another deciding factor for people who are considering such a move. More than ever before, people have a need to learn English. It is the language of business and technology. Many international companies and organizations will not consider hiring employees who lack adequate language skills. Without the ability to process English, you are locked out of one-third of all the information on the internet, and a large percentage of the material published on business, medical and technology matters.

However, the advantages to an overseas degree notwithstanding, there is one prohibitive hurdle to realizing this dream. It is extremely expensive. CNN reported that the average cost of a four-year private college climbed above the (USD) $30,000 mark for the first time last year. For foreign students, who are charged a higher tuition rate, this cost is even higher. In addition to the course fees, students studying abroad also need to figure in travel and living expenses which can add up to more than (USD)$ 10,000 per year.

Fortunately, there are other, less-expensive ways to earn that same high-quality education nowadays. The first option is to complete a portion of the degree in Indonesia. Many overseas-based universities offer foundation programs here. These require students to spend fewer years overseas and help them make an easier transition to international studying styles and norms.

The second option is online learning. The fact that technology is making the world smaller is bringing traditionally brick-and-mortar classrooms to wherever the students may be. OnWords’ next column will explore these two ways of reducing the cost of an overseas education along with the qualities and factors to consider while choosing a program.

Until next column,



This article was originally published Dec. 16, 2007 in The Jakarta Post.

Learning to Think

On Words

Learning to Think


Jakarta – Students are not educated for the past, but rather for the present and the future. This is done by teaching critical thinking skills.

Critical thinking is, as defined by American psychologist Diane Halpern, the ability to use skills and strategies in a purposeful manner, increasing the probability of achieving a desired result. It is this ability, more than any content learning, which students need to bring forward with them into future learning situations both in and out of the classroom.

Without critical thinking skills, we cannot fully participate within our current time and context. Nowadays, we face new learning challenges faster than ever before. Whether at school, home or our workplace, we constantly must make decisions quickly and correctly. For us, living in Jakarta, some of the most common problems we encounter have to do with educating our children, staffing our houses and businesses, choosing places to live and re-upping for another contract. Critical thinking helps us make such decisions judicially.

University of Massachusetts professor Cynthia Suopis likes to demonstrate the difference between standard thinking and critical thinking by giving an analogy of a river running through a town. She says,

Imagine standing by the river and then suddenly you see someone in the water, waving their arms, being swept downstream. If you can swim and you are able bodied, you would probably jump into the water and try to save the person. Good for you! That is good thinking and certainly responsive to the person in need. After you save one person, you go back on shore and dry yourself off and you suddenly see another person floating down stream in the same manner. You jump back in and you save that person. This strange occurrence happens again and then it happens again a few days later when you walk by the same spot along the river. A thinker would jump into the water and save the drowning people one by one by one. A critical thinker would do something else. Can you guess?

Yes, a critical thinker would ask, why are these people falling in the river? What is happening upstream?

Suopis explains that this story shows that simply reacting is “a very different thing” than using skills and strategies to break problems into parts for analysis. This process slows down the situation enabling you to search for the heart of the problem and ways that can best solve it. Suopis’s explanation reminds me of the way in which top-flight athletes talk about how they see the entire court or field while everyone else moves around them in slow-motion.

Fortunately, anyone can improve his or her critical thinking ability. In their book, Writing Analytically, David Rosenwasser and Jill Stephen lay out “five analytical moves” that we may follow in order to strengthen our critical thinking. We will review three of the five moves in today’s column.

The first move is suspending judgment. The two authors argue that the stopping of judging our world with likes and dislikes, agreement and disagreement is well worth the effort since judgments usually say more about the judge than that which is being judged.

Secondly, Rossenwasser and Stephen suggest that we “define significant parts and how they’re related.” This is the breaking down of a situation into workable pieces. This moving from the general to the specific and tracing the relations between the parts is vital to all critical thinking. We often use this technique in the language classroom when it comes to reading and writing exercises. Once, we can see how a text is organized and figure out how everything is connected, the mystery and the fear are vanquished from the learning process.

Finding patterns and binaries is important for the critical thinker and the authors’ third analytical move.

Patterns represent themes. Does more homework make for better educated students? Does the Trans-Jakarta Busway lessen traffic or make it worse? Are there other correlations we need to find and analyze before we can make a conclusion. A critical thinker explores patterns.

Binaries are matched pairs of exact opposites such as open and closed, black and white, home schooling or enrolling in school. Actively searching for these forks in the analytical road is essential since this is from where both sides of arguments are found.

Critical thinking is not a simple process of moving from point A to point B to point C. Sometimes we need to explore the road less traveled before turning back from where we came or, if need be, continuing on. Critical thinkers ponder and revisit all possibilities.

Thankfully, Rossenwasser and Stephen do not merely explain these moves. They also provide suggestions for us to follow if we would like to strengthen our critical thinking. We can actively work our critical thinking muscles on poems, speeches, movies, paintings, or anything we can read or observe.

I tried out the analytical moves on Emily Dickinson’s, Because I Could Not Stop for Death. Sure enough, by suspending judgment and searching for the parts that make up the whole, I was able to appreciate the poem in a way that I had never been able to do before with poetry. I hope that you too can find the time to practice the moves.

Happy thinking,


This article was originally published Dec. 12, 2007 in The Jakarta Post.

Three Big Answers by ESL’s Biggest Star

On Words

Three Big Answers by ESL’s Biggest Star


Jakarta – For educator and thespian Jason O’Donnell, all the classroom truly is a stage. The American, a long-time Jakarta resident, graces our living room television screens and our children’s English classes. O’Donnell recently took time out of his busy schedule to answer three questions for OnWords.

OnWords: What productions have you been a part of in Indonesia?

I hosted more than 30 Turis Dadakan, Sudden Tourist, prime-time episodes. This has been my favorite shooting gig, since I got to travel all over Indonesia, stay in luxurious 5-star hotels, and explore this amazing country. All this while inviting a poor, hard-working Indonesian fellow to join me for the trip of a life-time. It was a reality-travel program. We stayed in presidential suites well out of most people's budgets, some upwards of eight million rupiah a night! It did, of course, spoil me immensely.

On the other hand, I enjoy fiction, though not Cinetron so much. I especially like acting in comedies. There's such a challenge in comedy, and it's just a lot of fun to do. I have been a guest star on a variety of shows like, Rumpi Talk Show, Selebriti, Kontes Dangdut Indonesia and Dangdut Mania.

I really have a passion for acting and have enjoyed the roles I have played on made-for-television films, Layar Komedi and various roles for Tawa Sutra.

In addition to the acting, I have been a contestant on Bule Gila, (Crazy Whitey), Indonesia’s Family Feud game show, and Super Deal 2 Milyar (billion). Non-fiction is easier; I just have to be myself when I'm a host or a contestant on a program.

OnWords: How did you get involved in teaching and what do you enjoy the most about it?

Teaching for me is very similar to being onstage, it's all in the performance and delivery. If you can teach and entertain at the same time, it makes it all the more enjoyable, and therefore memorable, for the students. I first started teaching in Taipei, Taiwan. I lived there a couple years attempting to learn Mandarin. Soon, I discovered that teaching English was a lot more rewarding than studying Chinese!

I love teaching young people. They're more likely to be as gila, crazy, as their bule gila teacher. I often like to do dramas and role plays in class, and the students are less reticent to just jump up in front of the class and do it. Business classes I find a little too dry so I try to avoid those. Teaching to my strengths is important to me.

I have been lucky to have an understanding director of studies, Justin Roberts at English Education Center, who has been very accommodating to my turbulent schedule. Last year was especially tough, I was shooting three or four episodes of Turis Dadakan each month and my classes were affected and cover teachers often had to be found at the last minute. Justin was a great help. Students, for the most part, didn't mind too much. I think they liked the fact that they could see their teacher on TV, if not in the class. I always told them it was homework to tune in and help ratings at the same time!

OnWords: Why did you first come to Indonesia and how do you like it?

I basically came as a language refugee from Taiwan. Indonesian proved far easier to learn. It should really be the international language, rather than English. But then we'd be out of a job.

I had come to Indonesia first as a tourist and found it intoxicatingly fascinating. And I've always been a fan of islands, and what better a country than Indonesia.

It’s a bit cliché, but honestly Jakarta is like a durian. It smells and tastes awful at first, but then you get used to it, and it pulls you in. It tugs you in such a way that escape is impossible. And there are a ton of negative adjectives that could be used to describe Jakarta, but boring would never be one of them!

OnWords: Thank you for your time O’Donnell. I look forward to catching you on the screen in the near future.

Until our next column,



This article was originally published Nov. 26, 2007 in The Jakarta Post.