Sunday, February 26, 2012

Reading to Children - A Non-event

Carpet for the children
On Saturday, February 18, 2012 the St. James Parish Library presented “Wi Likkle but Wi Tallawah” intended for young children accompanied by one or two parents. The carpet was laid out for them together with a book display. I was on hand to talk to the parents about the importance of reading to children, to demonstrate ‘how to’ and to answer questions. This was the second installment of an initiative, which was launched in November, but, guess what, nobody came!

Flyers had been distributed and people who were at the launch invited, but clearly this was on nobody’s agenda at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday morning. The library chose this time when they’re not too busy. Was it too early? Is Saturday a bad day? Possibly both, but I think the main reason is that parents who already read to their children didn’t need to come, and parents who don’t read to their children don’t see the necessity of doing so. The latter group needs to be sought out and informed.

Book Display

Where are the little children?
Reading to your children is one of the most important things you can do, for several reasons:

1. It introduces children to story and the written word. From a young age they will know that marks on a page represent ideas.

2. When you take a child on your knee and read a book with him, or read to him when he’s tucked up in bed at night, he associates reading with pleasant emotions, and will be more likely to want to learn to read.

3. The written word differs from the spoken word. (We all know this—we can tell when somebody’s reading a speech as opposed to speaking.) Children learn to speak by hearing speech and copying it. They learn the grammar of the written word by hearing it read. This is as true for children who speak standard English as it is for those who speak patois, but for the patois speakers it is an effortless way of introducing standard English. Children learn how to construct past and present tense, plurals and to use possessive pronouns through hearing them read. When they’ve heard the same story many times, they’ll know it by heart.

How can we help parents who can’t read? Could they use the ‘talking book’ in one of its many forms? I remember cassette tapes that went with books when my daughters were little. I presume these have been superseded by CD’s.

The next “Wi Likkle but Wi Tallawah” will be on Saturday, March 17 and thereafter on every 3rd Saturday. If you know of a parent of young children who would benefit from attending, please let them know about it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Orrett Rhoden at Mountambrin Theatre – Gallery

I take a break from my usual topics to write about The First International Orrett Rhoden Music Festival of Jamaica 2012.
Mountambrin Tower
             We have been hearing about Orrett Rhoden’s achievements as a classical pianist from time to time over the last thirty years, so were excited to hear that, on Sunday, February 6, 2012 he would be performing at a venue within reach of Montego Bay. Along the road to Savannah la Mar, we turned left in Whithorn, on the road to Darliston. After about a mile, we wondered if we were on the right road. We were reassured when we saw Toad Road on the left and a sign to Mountambrin. We drove a mile as directed, seeing magnificent views of the Westmoreland plain to our left. We were in no doubt that we had arrived at the right place, when we saw beautiful gardens and unusual architecture.

We entered the theatre gallery at the upper level. Walls are covered in paintings and there are carvings everywhere.
At the western end of the theatre is a particularly magnificent piece of artwork in stained glass, “The Lost Boys of Sudan” by Rus Gruhlke, painter, sculptor and poet. He is the owner of Mountambrin Retreat, which he purchased from Alex Haley in 1975.

View from the Gallery

Orrett Rhoden opened the concert with works by Bach and Scarlatti which he played on the harpsichord. He acknowledged that the instrument wasn’t responding as it should, so to compensate he moved to the piano to play some well-known pieces by Chopin.

Orrett Rhoden and Elaine Oxamendi Vicet (MC)

Bunny Rose and Sharon Martini

Dr. Illo Humphrey, baritone, sang accompanied by Orrett Rhoden, his friend of thirty years. Later in the programme he sang unaccompanied. He is a mediaevalist so his selections were taken from that period. Most were in Latin or French, so he recited the words followed by their translation before singing. He also explained the influence of the synagogue and the Jewish chant on singing in the Catholic church of that time.

In the ‘intermission’ Bunny Rose, cabaret pianist, played and then accompanied Sharon Martini, soprano. When he didn’t feel competent to accompany her singing “I could have danced all night” from My Fair Lady, Orrett Rhoden stepped up to the plate, much to the delight of the audience.

During the second half of the programme, staff from Northern Caribbean University displayed their talents. They were Edison Valencia, pianist; Rafael Salazar, clarinetist; Rosette Chisholm-Salazar, soprano; and Jose Carlos Oxamendi Vicet, violincellist. The MC for the programme was Elaine Oxamendi Vicet, Chair, Department of Communication Studies at NCU.

L-R: Rafael Salazar, Rosette Chisholm Salazar, Illo Humphrey, Jose Carlos and Edison Valencia

Illo Humphrey, Orrett Rhoden and Jose Carlos Oxamendi Vicet brought the concert to a close with a performance of the Solemn Mass by Cesar Franck written for organ (played on the piano), violincello and tenor.

L- R: Jose Carlos Oxamendi Vicet, Orrett Rhoden and Illo Humphrey

The brilliance of the performers, the ambiance at Mountambrin and the small but appreciative audience all contributed to the success of the final concert of The First International Orrett Rhoden Music Festival of Jamaica 2012. We hope this will become an annual event.

For futher information on the Orrett Rhoden Music Festival, see the Daily Gleaner Article of January 29, 2012:

On Sunday, March 25, 2012, The Boston Piano Quartet will be performing at the Mountambrin Theatre Gallery.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

JCDC Creative Writing Exhibition Tour 2011/12

Of all the festival competitions run by the JCDC, the Creative Writing Contest gets the least publicity. This is hardly surprising, as the written word does not generate the kind of excitement that music, dance and culinary competitions do. Most of these have parish finals, from which the best go to the national finals. Also, many of the entries come from schools, so participants have followers anxious to see their performances and celebrate their successes. In contrast, entrants for the Creative Writing Competition submit their entries without fanfare, in the last week in June. The public hear nothing about them until the Awards Ceremony held in Kingston in November. After that, the winning entries are put together in an exhibition which is displayed in Parish Libraries – 2 weeks for each parish.

In St. James, the 2012 exhibition runs from Monday, Feb 6 to Friday, Feb 17. Miss Natalie Morris, Cultural Organiser for St. James, must be congratulated on planning an attention-grabbing programme for the opening of the exhibition, which coincidentally fell on Bob Marley’s birthday. Musical presentations by St. James Prep School—Bob Marley Medley; and Spot Valley High School, winner of the Bob Marley Song Arrangement Competition 2011, certainly enlivened the programme.

Dr. Asburn Pinnock
The Guest Speaker, Dr. Asburn Pinnock, Principal of Sam Sharpe Teachers’ College gave an informative and entertaining presentation on Bob Marley. Using modern technology, he illustrated his account of Marley’s life with clips of his songs. Thanks are extended to Mackie Conscious for being there with his speaker box to amplify them.

Miss Morris adjusts the microphone for me.

The only ‘written word’ presentation was given by Helen Williams, who read an excerpt from Delroy and the Marog Princess, her bronze-medal winning entry in the 2011 Creative Writing Contest.

JCDC Creative Writing Exhibition Tour 2011/12 moves to the Hanover Parish Library from Feb 21 to Mar 6, then to Westmoreland from Mar 8-22; St. Elizabeth: Mar 26 to Apr 10; Manchester: Apr 12-26; Clarendon: Apr 30 - May 14; St. Catherine: May 16-30; St. Thomas: June 1-15; Portland: Jun 19 - July 23. The tour has already visited the other parishes.

In order to increase awareness of the JCDC Creative Writing Contest, Miss Morris also organised Poetry, Pudding and Punch (see my blog posted on Dec 23, 2011) with another evening of Poetry and Art, planned for Frebruary 26, 2012. Perhaps we need more functions where music, dance, painting, creative writing and photography can be displayed together. Poetry readings are appropriate for this mix, but other writing not so. Short stories and novels are intended for silent reading at one’s own convenience. A short story of 3000 words would take about 25 minutes to read out loud (and an average of 10 minutes to read silently) and an average novel would take about ten hours to read out loud! Plays, on the other hand, require their own stage and are costly to produce. A well-known play, Smile Orange, by Trevor Rhone was entered for the Creative Writing Contest many years ago, after which it became a popular production.

Do find time to visit the Exhibition at your parish library, and take 10 minutes to read a short story. I enjoyed the children's story: The Adventures of Jonah and Mesky the Mosquito by Lisa Shaw.

You can find out about the requirements for entering the Creative Writing Contest at the JCDC website:

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


“I grew up in a school system . . . where nobody understood the meaning of learning disorder. In the West Indies, I was constantly being physically abused because the whipping of students was permitted.”
-- Harry Belafonte

The learning disorder that Harry Belafonte suffered from was dyslexia, which made it difficult for him to read, write and spell. This condition isn’t linked to lack of intelligence and is in fact more noticeable in highly intelligent children, because they are expected to learn to read easily. Famous people including Agatha Christie, Alexander Graham Bell, Danny Glover, Hans Christian Anderson, Tom Cruise, Thomas Edison, Walt Disney and Richard Branson are (or were) dyslexic.

Children are not usually recognized as being dyslexic until they are observed at school having difficulties with reading and spelling, but research has shown that indications of the condition can be seen in pre-school aged children. These include:

• delays in speech (Albert Einstein, who was dyslexic, didn’t speak until he was 3 years old);

• slow learning of new words;

• difficulty in rhyming words, as in nursery rhymes;

• low letter knowledge;

• letter reversal or mirror writing (for example, "Я" instead of "R");

• easily distracted by background noise;

• persistent difficulty in putting shoes on the correct feet;

• unduly late in learning to fasten buttons or tie shoe-laces;

• enjoys being read to, but shows no interest in letters or words;

• often accused of “not listening” or “not paying attention”;

• excessive tripping, bumping into things, and falling over;

• difficulty with catching, kicking or throwing a ball, hopping and/or skipping;

• difficulty with clapping a simple rhythm and with sequence e.g. coloured bead sequence – later with days of the week or numbers; quick “thinker” and “doer” – but not in response to instruction;

• enhanced creativity – often good at drawing – good sense of colour;

• aptitude for constructional or technical toys e.g. bricks, puzzles, Lego, blocks, remote control for TV, computer keyboard.

“Not all dyslexic children experience all of the difficulties listed above. Moreover, it is important to note that many very many young children make similar mistakes to dyslexic children, but it is the severity of the trait, the clarity with which it may be observed, and the length of time during which it persists which give the vital clues to the identification of the dyslexic learner.” (Jean Augur)

Once at school, the trait is more easily recognized. The child has difficulty

• learning the alphabet or letter order;

• associating sounds with the letters that represent them;

• identifying or generating rhyming words, or counting syllables in word;

• segmenting words into individual sounds, or blending sounds to make words;

• learning to decode written words;

• distinguishing between similar sounds in words; mixing up sounds in polysyllabic words (for example, "aminal" for animal, "bisghetti" for spaghetti)

How is dyslexia diagnosed?

A reading specialist will ask the parent what signs of dyslexia she and her child’s teachers have seen. The child may be asked to take reading and skill tests. Tests may include those that look at the child's personality and how he or she learns, solves problems, and uses words. These tests can help find out if the child has dyslexia or another learning problem. An assessment can help a child to understand that there is a genuine reason for their difficulties, which can really improve their confidence.
In Jamaica, The Mico Univeersity College has a Child Assessment and Research in Education (CARE) Centre in Kingston (Tel #929-7720), with other offices in St. Ann’s Bay and Mandeville, where children with learning difficulties can be assessed.

What causes dyslexia?

Experts don't know for sure what causes dyslexia. But it often runs in families. Also, some studies have found problems with how the brain links letters and words with the sounds they make. Some children are unable to distinguish between vowel sounds: short ‘a’ ‘e’ ‘i’ ‘o’ and ‘u’ all sound the same to them. Dyslexia isn't caused by poor vision, and people with dyslexia don't see letters and words backward.


The best time to start helping a dyslexic child is when he or she is between 3 and 7 years old. Many of the strategies for teaching dyslexic children are also useful for teaching other children. The emphasis is on a multisensoral approach—using senses of sight, hearing and touch. For example, the child could:

• arrange objects in order to match as similar set of objects. A child can also do this on the computer - see

• repeat words in the order they are given (three at a time to start with).
Child should thread buttons in correct sequence.

• say rhymes and poems.

• repeat rhyming words

• beat a rhythm he has listened to.

• talk about pictures. Help children notice details by asking questions e.g. is the man in front of or behind the car?

• shake containers of various objects (sand, coins, buttons etc.) one at a time and describe the sound (hard or soft) and guess what is inside.

• Listen to and repeat instructions. (Start with two.)

• Trace shapes of letters and words with the fingers

• Make letters with plasticene or modelling clay.

This puzzle isn't too easy for some children.
 • Do jigsaw puzzles.

• Thread coloured beads on a string in a given order

When teaching reading

• Teach how letters are linked to sounds to make words.

• Encourage children to listen to, say, look at, and write—these 4 activities for every letter and word.

• Have the child read aloud with a teacher’s help.

Medicines and counseling usually are not a part of treatment for dyslexia.

Ideally, dyslexic children should be taught by professionals trained to do so, with a structured, individually designed programme. Ideally, all primary school teachers should be trained to recognize dyslexia and be able to teach dyslexics. However, in Jamaica, this is unlikely to happen. What we can do in the meantime is to raise awareness, especially among parents and the children themselves of this specific learning disability. Dyslexics tackle tasks in different ways from non-dyslexics. They are not stupid—which raises another point—no child should ever be made to feel that they are stupid or inferior, either by adults or by other children.

“If a child cannot learn the way we teach, we must teach him the way he can learn.”

Useful websites: and