Why a co-ed school was the wrong choice for my son

My son had his first Sec 1 PTM and having experienced regular complaints from his teachers in primary school, I was dreading the meeting. From a co-ed primary school to an all boys school, I had no idea what he was getting up to in school. Fights? Bullying? Bad behaviour? Getting information out of him is like pulling teeth. I get scanty details which I have to piece together.

I approached his 2 form teachers, gave my son’s name, and waited with bated breath. After scanning the master sheet, the first thing Mrs Teacher said was, “Oh, he did ok, you didn’t have to come, you know?”

Yes, #5 had told me that his grades were fine and it was not compulsory for me to attend. However, I wanted to have a talk with his teachers to find out how he has been behaviour-wise, and to see if he is settling in well as it was a huge transition for him.

Mrs Teacher gave me a smile and said, “He is an interesting boy. The things he says are quite different from the usual answers.” Hmm, I couldn’t quite decipher if that was a good or bad thing, but drawing from her grin, I don’t think I should be too concerned. “What about his behaviour? Is he naughty in class?”

“No, not in my class. Sometimes he tries to wriggle out of doing work, but he knows when I mean business and he will get my work done nicely. No issues at all. However, he has some scratch marks on his face. Is he cutting himself? I also notice he yawns in class, he must be tired.” I told her that he wakes up at 5.30 to get ready to take the bus to school, but he goes to bed by 9pm. And those scratch marks were done by little Kate.

I was surprised at how they are genuinely concerned about the whole well-being of the child, not only the academic aspect.

Mr Teacher started to talk, and I was keen to hear from a male teacher’s perspective. “I don’t have any problems with him in my class either. In fact, he scored 100/100 for art! He is a very creative boy and you can tell that he is bright. He pays attention and is very focused when he is doing his work. Looking at his overall results, the only thing that is worrying is his Chinese. He scored 16/100 and that will pull his average down. You may want to speak with his Chinese teacher. She’s a very experienced teacher.”

I thanked them for their time and Mrs Teacher got up and escorted me to his Chinese teacher as the hall was crowded.

I felt much better knowing that everything was going fine and he was in such good hands. The last concern was Chinese! I was expecting the same-old, like the past 6 years, where his Chinese teachers tried to tell me (in too cheem Mandarin) how bad his Chinese was, that I had to encourage him to read more Chinese books, sit with him to revise the words he didn’t know, or hire a tutor for him.

Mdm C was a pleasant, smiling lady, and we conversed in English. She started off by saying, “Your son is a joy to teach!” I almost fell off my seat.

My son? Chinese? That was impossible! Was I hearing wrong? Wait a minute, she probably got the wrong child. I scanned the list and pointed out his name.

She was concerned at his score of 16/100, but showed me his compo. “Look at what he wrote. Not bad at all. 2 pages, good sentences, neat handwriting. He’s a bright child, but his foundation is very weak. His standard is below his peers, and sometimes they will laugh when he doesn’t understand even the simple words, but I tell them not to laugh at him because he is trying to learn.”

I asked if she had trouble getting him to pay attention in her class, and that previously he gets bored and would fold origami under the table or disturb his friends. She was surprised to hear that, and assured me that he concentrates in her class and tries his best to complete her work.

What a nice change, that unlike Primary school, she did not handover the responsibility of revision to me nor ask me to outsource to a tutor, but took full responsibility and said that anything that had to be learnt will be discussed with the students directly. She reassured me that he had a good learning attitude and will try her best to help him.

I left his school on cloud nine. Can you imagine how I felt?! To have had teachers complaining about your son for 6 years, with only 2 or 3 out of 20 who had positive things to say about him, and finally finding a school where the teachers accept him and are able to bring out the best in him.

I texted our family chat group with the good news and the girls were so proud of him. One of them said, “Lol, he’s in a boy’s school now, so that is just normal boy behaviour. For years, he has been judged by girl standards at home and in school. He’s given up trying to be good a long time ago.”

For years, he was labelled as naughty simply because he couldn’t pay attention, talks too much, disturbs his friends when he’s bored, and as a result, constantly punished by being made to stand in the corner. All because his Executive Function skills like attention and impulse control were weak and he just could not sit there and take in this “teacher talk, student listen” approach for long periods of time.

An experiential approach is needed for children with such profiles, especially when they are in lower primary. Instead of viewing these kids as disruptive, they are the ones who will be most needed in the changing future landscape where we need creators, inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs.

It was only after 5 years that his first male teacher Mr Tan understood him and told me that he is simply an active boy with a quick mind who gets bored easily and when he gets excited about a new idea, he talks too much, too fast and too loud. Mr Tan made the effort to build rapport with him, and would remind him to tone it down instead of punishing him, and thus could gain the cooperation of #5 to behave well in his class.

I have seen it in the neighbourhood schools and now in a boys’ school, where because these students are the norm instead of the exception, teachers have found ways to handle them so that teaching can be done. And most importantly, teachers seem to understand that there is a difference between learning styles, developmental needs and discipline issues, thus handling them differently. Sadly, he may have enjoyed the learning journey better over the 6 years of primary school if things had been different.

Nonetheless, I’m extremely grateful for his dedicated teachers and I’m sure they have been and will continue to be instrumental in developing the students who come through them into contributing adults with character, and to give them a fair chance to succeed in our traditional classrooms.

School Stories:

#1 – When your son gets into fights in school
#2 – My son the loan shark
#3 – So kids can’t play once they start school?

#11 – How #2 topped her level in English
#12 – DSA. Yet another initiative parents have warped
#13 – Tuition – First line of attack?
#14 – Why do exams have to be so stressful?
#15 – First day mix up!
#16 – The day I forgot to pick my son from school
#17 – No more T-score. Now what?
#18 – Tackling the new school year
#19 – She did it, without tuition.
#20 – So who’s smarter?
#21 – Why I do not coach my kids anymore.

~ www.mummyweeblog.com – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Kate’s own Grad ceremony

Kate has officially graduated from kindergarten! She is the only K2 student in her school and we were joking with her Principal that it should be called Kate’s Graduation instead of K2 Graduation.

Such a lovely gesture that despite having just one child graduating, they had a proper ceremony with a video montage showcasing her milestones. It was rather amusing and we felt a little pai seh that all these parents had to watch an entire video featuring her. But it really shows how each and every one of the children are respected as individuals, well-loved and so precious to the teachers.

Several of the parents congratulated us, and many still remember her as the new kid at the beginning of the year who cried for an entire January before settling down. They commented that she is now a confident child, striking conversations with them and having made many close friends of all ages and nationalities.

She has really grown and blossomed in one year. When she left her Montessori after K1, she was well-prepared academically and could read and do Math. However, she was afraid of new experiences and challenges and would shy away from trying new things or would make excuses to escape from things she felt was too difficult.

How fortunate that I found this gem of a school. Her teachers spent time to talk to her, walk her through her fears and to empower her with a can-do attitude.  They gave her responsibilities like patting the younger children to bed and she was a big sister to many of the toddlers.

Now that the end of the year is nearing, we have been preparing her for the big transition as I know she is not one who takes transitions easily. She was really excited to follow the footsteps of her older siblings, packed her big new desk with files and stationery all lined up neatly, and told me that she will be able to wake up at 5.30am to take the school bus.

Yesterday, she went for her P1 orientation where they were brought to their class and met their new form teacher and classmates. They spent the 2 hours doing simple worksheets, singing songs and listening to their teacher explain some basics about next year such as “If you need to go to the toilet, you have to raise your hands.”

Last night, she stayed awake in bed for a long time. Finally, she said to me, “Mummy, on the first day of P1 can you come with me?” I sensed that she was anxious.

I assumed that because she has been to the school many times to pick her brother up, it wouldn’t be too unfamiliar. But she said, “The school is very big, what if I get lost?” Comparing her current school to her new school, that must be really daunting.

Today, she asked me many questions about P1 and when I asked if she is afraid, she teared and said yes. I have forgotten how long it took her to settle into her childcare at the beginning of the year! Poor girl, for some children like her, transitions are hard.

I’ve decided to take her out from childcare for a few days and send her to my centre for our P1 prep camp. I thought she was all set for the transition as she is academically ready and classroom ready. But she has a lot of anxieties and fears about the big change.

The camp will be good for her as they get to practice new and unfamiliar things to gain confidence. Taking on responsibilities like being the class monitor, learning to read the timetable and how to pack their bags, sharing about their anxieties, discussing what to do if they are bullied, and brainstorming ways to solve problems like getting lost will help equip her and make her less anxious. The kids at camp will be put to the test as they have to make decisions like whether to spend money on food or cute stationery and I’m keen to know what she will do!

We were chatting over dinner last night and it feels so strange that #2 is graduating from JC 2, #3 from Sec 4, #5 from P6 and our darling little Kate is embarking on her very first day of formal education come January.

One of my teens asked, “Oh mum, you have to go through this all over again! How does it feel?”

Honestly, I feel excited! So much promise. So many beautiful years lie ahead for her.

I hope she will enjoy her years of learning, make good friends for life, and meet teachers who will touch and inspire her.

All the best, little Kate!

For K2 kids who need a little boost to get them prepared for Primary 1, check out The Little Executive’s practical P1 Prep Camp which runs next week, and another round in December. Wishing you the very best to all K2s in your new and exciting journey ahead!

~ www.mummyweeblog.com – A blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

9 more days to PSLE?!

That’s what happens when you reach your 5th child. I flipped through my diary yesterday and was shocked (yes, shocked!) to see that PSLE is in 9 days. I had written down the dates, but being bogged down with a myriad of problems, I lost track of time.

We have been focusing all our attention on #5’s Chinese because his social studies teacher showed them the grades of last year’s students and told them they would retain if they failed Chinese. However I have clarified that with the people at MOE and they assured me that he will not have to repeat a year just because of failing 1 subject. The overall aggregate will still be taken into account. I think his teacher was trying to scare them, and I have to admit that it worked.

Besides his Chinese, the rest of the 3 subjects were on track as he was placed in small classes of 8 students so we decided not to pile on any more tuition and to maintain a sensible pace of life.

He got back his Math Prelim results and it had plunged from 66 to 50. Gosh, another subject to worry about! I’m not sure what happened, but the strange thing was that he scored full marks for Paper 1 but Paper 2 was almost entirely wrong.

What do we do? Too late to search for a tutor and the hubs and I are unable to coach him (we found that out after #1’s PSLE and decided that we had to outsource if they could not cope instead of wasting time spending a whole afternoon to solve just a few questions).

Good thing that there are so many older siblings right? But I didn’t want to impose on the girls unless they are willing to, as they are up to their necks preparing for their Os and As and it’s not easy teaching #5 as he gets distracted easily. #1 has just started her degree in the Arts and is swarmed by assignments and already sleeping at 1am every night. #4 tried to help but Math is not her strong subject plus her own exams start next week.

#2 was the obvious choice as she scored an A* at PSLE without any tuition, but then again, being able to do Math doesn’t necessarily mean she knows how to teach it. She generously offered to skip her night study in school and came back at 5pm to tutor him. #5 knew better than to be mischevious and he sat obediently and listened to his sister. He even remarked, “Impressive!” when she could solve some problems which stumped him.

Seeing that they made progress, she promised to do that for the next 9 days. Last night, I saw her studying till 1.30am and felt bad as she has to wake up at 7.30am for school. But I reckon her willingness to put her brother’s interest first at his time of need is something to be happy about and encouraged.

Kate just had to be in on it

His Chinese teacher gave me a call to let me know that he has been diligently looking for him at 6.45am every morning to work on his weak areas and was happy to see that he is putting in a lot of effort in his Chinese. He advised me how to guide him for this last week and told me that I could give him a call anytime.

He also shared that #5 has a tendency to go off track at the end of every compo. He would start off well, sticking to short simple sentences. But his stamina would wane and his impulse control would reach the limit, and he would end off the last paragraph with some irrelevant and silly twist of his brand of childish humour. He does that for both English and Chinese compos.

At dinner, we spoke to him about it and none of his sisters could understand how he can do such things in his exam papers. He roared with laughter, excitedly showing them his compos and felt that it was a humorous touch that everyone should appreciate and enjoy, just as he enjoyed writing it.

His writings were indeed full of suspense and slapstick humour and the girls couldn’t stop laughing, both at the content and at how his poor teachers had to mark such things and give sensible remarks to his ridiculous nonsense.

Finally, they told him, “Boy, you have your whole life to write whatever fiction you want. You can write comic books, joke books or be a cartoonist in future. But for this 1 paper, please control yourself and end off properly.”

I am finally at peace. It’s a huge relief to know that even if he failed his Chinese he wouldn’t have to repeat a year and I don’t have to be in worry mode for the next 2 months awaiting his results.

It would be a nice reward for his efforts if he could make it to the Express stream, but we know that his Chinese score will pull his total aggregate down and are prepared for him to enter the Normal stream. I’m not worried about it as the neighbourhood school that #4 attends takes a hands-on approach to learning which suits him. And there is the possibility of moving over to the Express stream if he matures and buckles down in Sec 1 and does well. If not, I heard about the Foundation Poly year and have no qualms about him doing that after N levels.

While searching for a suitable degree for #1 to pursue when she completed her diploma, we discovered that there are plenty of pathways for this generation of children and I’m not worried at all about #5. In fact, the future looks exciting for boys like him with curious and inventive minds who enjoy tinkering, creating and exploring. The good thing is that his interests and aptitudes are very clear, which makes it easy for us to narrow down his choices for the next phase of his learning journey.

I’m glad he has come to the end of his Primary school education. The outdated method of rote learning and narrow margin for answers does not suit his learning style and it didn’t do him good to have teachers who told him to stop asking so many questions and just learn what needs to be learnt to do well in the exams. That is the only gripe I have about the PSLE, where the focus of many teachers in the upper primary is on studying to ace exams instead of encouraging curiosity, developing a hunger for learning and making learning experiential and relevant. It’s good that MOE is working on it and moving in the right direction, and though none of my kids including Kate will see the fruits of this education reform, but I’m hopeful that all our voices put together will hasten the change in mindset all round.

#5 has come a long way this past 9 months and to witness such a huge turnaround in his attitude and effort is nothing short of a miracle! Whatever aggregate he gets is secondary.

All the best to our P6s and the supportive mummies and daddies across the island dealing with this first big hurdle!

PSLE Diaries
No more T-score. Now what?
PSLE results: Good or Bad, what do you say?
My 5th PSLE child – My son
Mum, just get me exempted from Chinese
3 new teachers after CA1
A huge jump in SA1


A huge jump in SA1

After a really bad showing for his CA1 this year, #5 was placed into smaller classes for 3 subjects. He barely passed his Math and Science and failed his Chinese miserably. I asked him how that worked and he told me that he stayed in his original class for English but had to take his bag and move to other classes for the rest. His classmates also moved around, so he had different classmates for the 4 subjects but they meet at recess to eat together.

I asked him how many students were there and was surprised to hear that there were only 8 students per class! Wow, similar to being in a tuition centre.

I wondered where they had the extra manpower from and was enlighted recently. I attended a tea session with the Communications and Engagement personnel from MOE and the perennial question of our too large classes was raised.

Mrs Tan Wai Lan, ex-principal of St Nicholas Girls’ explained that after doing the calculations, if they were to spread the additional teachers across the board, it would result in a marginal reduction in the number of students per class. Instead, they have allocated extra teachers which the schools are free to deploy as necessary. Hence in #5’s school, these teachers are able to take the lower performing students.

I had no doubt that the small class size will benefit #5, as he is bright but easily distracted and in a class of 40, he can get away with a lot more without being detected. But we were really surprised at the tremendous improvement in his mid-year exams.

Bored of sitting at the table

He went from a 56 to 83 for Science and 51 to 66 for Math. Even his Chinese, which I didn’t expect to see any improvement as it takes time to master a language, went up marginally from 27 to 32 which still deserves acknowledgement for his efforts. His aunt has been working with him every Saturday for the past few months, but because his foundation was very weak, it will be a tough trek towards a pass, and we are encouraging him every step of the way.

Unfortunately, his English dipped from 71 to 67 and I’m not sure if he would have done better in the hypothetical situation where he was placed in a class of 8. Which leads to the question of where the line should be drawn; at what mark would the students be given access to a smaller class size, and the parental wish that if only all classrooms could be capped at say 20-25 kids to optimise learning.

If only there was some way education could be revolutionized. Because it is not that these kids can’t learn or don’t want to learn. The conditions for learning are unsuitable for them. Sitting for long hours in a large class of 40 students listening to a teacher talk at the front of the classroom is not the best way that they learn.

If the early childhood scene can be transformed, from traditional classrooms to more play and exploration, I’m certain a solution can be found for the primary school years. The search for change should never end.

I am hoping that #5’s positive attitude carries through to his PSLE and am thankful that in this last year of his primary school journey, he has finally experienced joy in learning which has been made possible by the attention his teachers are able to extend to them in a small class.

His aunt was astonished to see that he was keen to know what went wrong in his Chinese paper, and he went through it with her of his own accord! And he was disappointed in some of the questions where he could have gotten the right answer. For the first time, he cared!

In May, when we saw the tremendous improvement in his results, I decided to give up my search for a private tutor for his other 3 subjects as it would be best to leave it to his school teachers after seeing how well they have worked with him. Besides, having a better understanding of the neighbourhood school which #4 has entered and their niche programme, I have no qualms about #5 following along.

Last night I was mentioning to Kate and him how stressed #2 was about her upcoming drama night as her teacher had asked her to rewrite the entire play just a week before the performance. He remarked, “Oh how come she is stressed? I am taking my PSLE which everyone says is very stressful but I don’t feel stressed at all. It’s like any ordinary time.”

I’m glad my boy is unfazed by this, and the pressure in school has not affected him as it did my girl even though life goes on as per normal in our household.

But I did enlighten him that #2 was taking an even tougher exam than him – the A levels, and on top of that she has big responsibilities for the drama night, not only to rewrite the play, but she was also directing and acting in the play.

In that light, his PSLE looked like child’s play.

PSLE Diaries
No more T-score. Now what?
PSLE results: Good or Bad, what do you say?
My 5th PSLE child – My son
Mum, just get me exempted from Chinese
3 new teachers after CA1

~ www.mummyweeblog.com – A blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

“Mum, just get me exempted from Chinese.”

#5 started failing Chinese in Primary 4 and he had absolutely no interest in the subject.

On hindsight, his weak foundation started in preschool. I had placed him in a Montessori in our neighbourhood. It was run by an Indian national and as most of his classmates were expat children the Chinese teachers spoke English to them. We did not suspect that he was not picking up much Chinese as he was able to read the readers he took home. They had complex words like “mangosteen”, “durian”, “grapes”, “monkey”, “elephant” etc and we were impressed! I have since realised that it was because he saw those complicated words with many strokes as a picture and memorised them as an image.

When #5 entered P1, his classmates were rattling off Mandarin verses while everything seemed new to him. His Chinese started off in the 80-90 range but as his foundation was not strong his grades begun to slide year after year as the syllabus became tougher.

I tried hiring a private tutor but none worked out. He has a short attention span and is difficult to teach. Moreover, the native Chinese teachers were strict and did not spend time building rapport with him.

I did not panic yet as my older girls managed to score As despite not having much external tuition and assumed that he would eventually buck up. What I did was to hire a tutor to read to them stories in Mandarin for an hour a week since their grandparents did not speak the language.

After his P4 year-end exams, I had a talk with him and asked him what should we do about it. I was intending to work out a study schedule with him and was taken aback by his response. “Mum, just apply to let me drop Chinese.”

I pretended not to know what he was referring to, and he elaborated. “Some of my friends are exempted yet their Chinese is even better than mine! I’m sure I can get exempted too.” I was shocked that he had this mentality as we have never spoken about the topic of exemption before.

I explained that his classmates must have some sort of learning disability, hence the exemption.

“No, they are normal. Why don’t you ask their mums how they did it?”

When I checked with friends and kids from various different schools, it surprised me how an elite school like theirs seem to have a disproportionately high percentage of exemptions. Many parents knew about this “loophole” and had lots of advice for me. No certainty of getting an A/A* for Chinese? Better to drop one laggard and protect their overall aggregate, which also leaves more time to concentrate on the other 3 subjects. If you can afford it, why not give it a try? Brilliant strategy, until it seemed like MOE started moderating the number of exemptions they granted.

It was a tempting backdoor, but I didn’t want to send the wrong message to my kids. If you are not good at something, instead of pressing on and trying your best, let’s find a way to wriggle out of it. And I was afraid that after going through all those sessions of testing, what might he think? Maybe there really is something wrong with me.

I have to admit that I did consider that option for #5. I spoke to the hubs and in his characteristic straight way told me, “What are you thinking? He is a bright boy and there is nothing wrong with him. Are you letting him take the easy way out? Find him a good tutor. All he needs is to put in much more effort. I’ll give him a good pep talk.”

I’m glad he had swiftly put a stop to it, and ended my dilemma of taking the big step to get him tested.

That was in P4 and I did not think about it again until now.

Looking at his devastating P5 results, the reality sunk in, and my fears were heightened. What if there really is cause for concern and my child had a genuine difficulty in picking up Chinese? It would be unfair to him to let this slide.

I finally made the decision to send him for an assessment.

On the way there, it suddenly occurred to me that this cheeky boy might intentionally get it wrong because he badly wanted to be exempted from Chinese.

I told him, “Make sure you do your best. Don’t think that by getting it all wrong will you get an exemption.”

He thought for awhile then said, “How will she know?”

I told him that it is not easy to get an exemption and it has to be shown that he is capable of learning the other subjects but not Chinese.”

Sometime after that session, I went for the consultation and the psychologist told me that there might be grounds for exemption and a few more rounds of testing were needed to further assess and substantiate his learning disabilities. He would also need to be referred to a practitioner in another field for further assessment.

However, what was puzzling was that his results had a great disparity in a few components which tested the same aspects.

Strange as it sounded, I was glad to know that he may have some issues and could be exempted!

When I told him that the results were out, he beamed, “So how? I got exempted right? I purposely did one whole page of questions wrongly! And when she was testing the numbers, I jumbled them up.” He was jumping around excitedly.

I stared at him. Goodness. That explained the huge variances in his scores!

He had figured out which bits to do right and which bits to do wrong in relation to learning Chinese.

I was mad.

Then I calmed down and thought about it. In his juvenile mind, that was his goal.

For a few moments, I was conflicted. Should I let him go ahead with the next rounds of testing, knowing that he would likely foul it up, and perhaps have a chance at exemption? I can’t believe how desperate I was to “help” him.

But I would be reinforcing that he can try to think up ways to outsmart the system instead of putting in effort to work on his challenges.

The answer was clear.

I told him: You know what? The results show that there is absolutely nothing wrong with your brain nor your learning ability. In fact, you are a bright boy and you will have no problems learning Chinese if you put your mind to it. I will take you to your Aunt every weekend for tuition and she will help you improve.

Strangely, he accepted the conclusion, as though he had given it his best shot but now that avenue was shut.

I explained to the psychologist what #5 had admitted, and we decided it was best to end the testing there.

Even though he is starting from ground zero at P6, this will be a hard lesson he will have to learn.

He will have to find it in him to fight this battle, tough as it may be. And I will not succumb to letting him take the easy way out, but to stick with it.

The good news is that his Chinese teacher has given me feedback that his attitude has improved tremendously this year and he is putting in a lot of effort.

She sent me a message on Class Dojo:

“He has put in a lot of effort this week and was able to pronounce the words when I went through revision. Everyone was truly happy for him and I took the opportunity to praise him. He is starting to show interest and I think that is a very important step. As long as he continues this good attitude towards learning, I believe he will improve.”

I am so thankful for his teacher and her willingness to walk the extra mile with him to encourage him. It feels like we’re all in this together!

We have set a realistic goal of achieving a Pass for his PSLE.

I know I made the right decision.

PSLE Diaries
No more T-score. Now what?
PSLE results: Good or Bad, what do you say?
My 5th PSLE child – My son

~ www.mummyweeblog.com –  A blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

My 5th PSLE child – My Son

Somehow, I feel like a new PSLE mum. After #1, it was more or less the same with the next 3 girls as they were on auto-pilot and there was no need to micro-manage their school work.

For #5, after a horrific showing at his P5 year-end results, I need to monitor him closely this year. We gave him a serious pep talk and I think the severity of the exams have sunk in. At least a little.

It helps a lot that there is the Class Dojo app, a lifesaver for parents like me with a boy who is still not getting with the system at P6. I can easily send any of his teachers a quick check-in text and vice versa, and follow up on the reminders they post almost daily.

So far, he seems to be pretty upbeat and on top of things and he has been putting in effort and handing up all his homework on time. I was most glad to hear from his Chinese teacher that he is trying hard but Chinese is still a subject he really struggles with. His aunt has taken on the very daunting task of tutoring him and we hope that he is able to lift himself from a miserable ungraded mark to at least a pass this year.

We attended the talk by the Principal last weekend and 2 things caught my attention.

One was the flip classroom model whereby students are to be more initiated and learn at home via Google Classroom so that when they come to class, there is more time for discussions and customised learning (whatever that means in a class of 40).

I was pleasantly surprised to hear of this transformation from the traditional method to one where there will be more opportunities for discussion and individualized attention. I was wondering if my other kids are also using it as they have never mentioned it before and asked them at dinner. My older girls giggled to themselves and tried to explain to me that it is nothing fantastic. “Mum, it’s the same as google docs. Everyone can see the lesson and questions. That’s all.”

Oh. I thought it was some kind of interactive online learning portal from the way it was explained at the talk. 2 of them have been using google classrooms, in poly and in sec 1, while the other 2 girls in sec 4 and JC 2 have not come across this as yet. I guess it will be rolled out in all schools soon enough.

Let’s see if this new method is effective, though I wish the students had more time to get used to it before the PSLE year.

The other thing which I was dismayed to hear, was the Principal explaining that this year the focus has shifted from quantity to quality, that there is no point piling them with a whole load of extra work with no real understanding.

This was the exact feedback I gave to the Level Head 2 years back after #4’s PSLE. Many students from her class and the next class fared between 180 and 220 which is disappointing for a top school, and we parents were lamenting how many of them were burnt out from doing stacks of past year papers yet there was not enough time for the teachers to go through with them the corrections to learn from their mistakes.

Yes, I’m glad they take our feedback seriously, but why does it seem like it’s still a matter of trial and error. It was disconcerting to know that there isn’t a solid system to prepare the cohort well for the national exams.

I’ve seen this swing in my other kids’ previous primary school as well. If there was an alarming case the year before, there would be a call to step down on the PSLE workload given to the point where up till March, she still had almost no homework at all until I explained to her teachers that she did not have extra tuition outside and her teachers gave her individual homework.

The more I go through the PSLE with different kids having their own learning footprints, the more I feel a better way of sorting them at 12 is needed.

The kids are stressed, the parents are stressed, the teachers are stressed. I honestly can’t tell who is the most stressed!

I’m not overly bothered about the grade he will eventually get for his PSLE (yes, I’ve reached this stage after going through too many PSLEs) but it is sad that for a child like #5 who is creative, bright, and able to think out of the box, but weak in Chinese and not keen on memorizing key words and composition formats, he may very well end up in the technical stream which is not suitable for him.

I can totally understand many parents’ fear and drive to push their children to accumulate awards and do up impressive portfolios for DSA and such.

We need to relook this PSLE game.

Is it really achieving its objective about educating the next generation and sorting the kids suitably according to their natural aptitude and abilities into the different pathways or has it become a system gamed by the adults with our kids feeling like pawns?

There is no easy solution, but not addressing it head-on soon enough is like letting a bullet train derail at high speed.

~ www.mummyweeblog.com – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

My BEST Parent Teacher Meeting EVER

I dreaded to attend #5’s PTM. Every year, his teachers complain about the same things. He doesn’t pay attention in class, blurts out irrelevant things while the teacher is talking, is always fiddling with something, does not hand in his work on time and can’t file his worksheets properly.

They have tried everything – the soft approach (talking to him nicely), the hard approach (scolding him), punishing him by making him stay back during recess to finish his work, but nothing works.

In their eyes, he is a mischevious and problematic student.

While walking into school, I seriously contemplated turning back. I don’t have to subject myself to another round of complaints from his teachers, exhorting the same problems. I can already hear it coming… “He talks too much, is distracted, likes to do his own things.”

But I took a deep breath and as the PSLE is next year, I wanted to keep tabs on what he’s been up to in school.

I entered the classroom with trepidation. Finally, it was my turn.

Mrs Lim, his Science teacher sighed and said, “You are xx’s mum…” (yes, she did let out an audible, resigned sigh. I’m sure I wasn’t dreaming it).

I looked at her pleadingly like ok, give it to me straight.. what else am I going to hear this time. Let’s get it over and done with.

She started with the same old. “He doesn’t pay attention and is always busy fiddling with his pencil case and I have to confiscate his things.”

I probed further. “What do you mean by not paying attention?”

Now I’m almost an expert on attention issues, having seen all permutations of kids who come to my enrichment centre because they are bright but not reaching their potential.

Sitting across his teachers trying to figure out his learning behaviour made me realise how much firsthand experience I have gained in this one year by being the bridge between hearing from parents and seeing the changes in the kids by isolating their problems instead of seeing them as being “naughty”, “lazy” or “distracted”.

I wanted to get to the root of the problem so that we could work together to help him.

Mrs Lim elaborated. “Halfway through my lesson, he will stop listening and do his own things. Thus when it comes to doing the worksheets, he does not know what to do because he has stopped listening.”

Ah, he had the same problem last year and his Math teacher discovered exactly what was happening. She said that the first time she introduces a new concept, he is interested and will be listening attentively. But when she repeats herself the second or third time to cater to those who did not fully understand, that is when he will switch off and start fiddling in his pencil case to create something. She realised that he understands concepts easily and gets bored when the lesson is moving too slowly.

So his Math teacher decided that she would let him fold his origami quietly if she has to repeat herself for the other students. This is better than him turning to his friends to start chatting. So long as he is not disturbing anyone, it was a reasonable solution.

However, because he has switched off, he would miss important information and thus would not be able to complete his homework. She would then call his attention before issuing instructions. It took her many months, but she finally figured him out. In a class of 40, it is not easy to move everyone along at the same pace, thus it is inevitable that some students fall through the cracks.

#5’s tinker corner
Mr Tan, his form teacher, had been listening quietly as I chatted with Mrs Lim and he finally chipped in. This is the first time #5 has a male teacher and I was keen to get his perspective.

I asked him directly. “Is he naughty in school?”

“He is not naughty. Yes, he is playful and very active and tends to talk loudly. But he is not what I’d call naughty. In fact, he has a caring side. When classmates do not understand their work, he will explain to them.”

Music to my ears! Finally. A teacher who could see past his challenging behaviour, and in turn, he probably behaves himself better in Mr Tan’s class.

He asked me what he does at home and I described how he likes to while away his after school hours tinkering with engineering concepts.

He starts by looking at the manual, but would toss it aside and freely create what he envisions in his mind. He would spend hours cooped up in his room and has no problems being able to focus on a single activity for several hours.

He built this structure and allowed Kate to place the little balls at the top and watch them drop into the collection cup he fashioned. He patiently problem-solved and shortened or lengthened the various threads and added or removed segments of the track to align it at the precise height for the ball to turn smoothly. He must have adjusted it a few hundred times! Such perseverance.

He explained to me that it should not roll too fast (or it will fly off course) nor too slow (as it will come to a halt). After playing with the same structure for a few days, he will dismantle it and start dreaming up something new.

Mr Tan said simply. “#5 is a bright boy. He is creative and inventive. He has lots of ideas and can lead others. The unfortunate thing is, he will perhaps not thrive in our local system, but I think you don’t have to be worried. I am certain he will have a bright future. Are you considering sending him overseas?”

I asked him, as his English teacher, how can he tell that he is intelligent? He explained that when they discuss open ended questions, it is usually #5 who can come up with a fresh idea and he is able to back it up with a logical reasoning.

Mrs Lim, on the other hand, was concerned that this term, he has become even more inattentive. As we discussed further, she said that they are spending time covering answering techniques.

That explains it. She said that #5 is attentive when she is teaching a new Science topic. But when she teaches them how to answer the questions using the correct key words, he is not interested in listening.

Can I fault him? Should our exams even be thus? Nothing more than drilling and regurgitating, and giving the examiner the correct key words they are looking for?

As for his other ‘bad’ behaviour like blurting out in class, not filing his worksheets in the correct order and not handing in his homework on time, these are weaknesses in his executive function and that is a whole different set of skills altogether that is hard to address adequately in school.

I was never able to pin point them until now, and am actually relieved to discover that he is not just being lazy. He has poor verbal impulse control, lacks time management and organising skills and is weak at task initiation. Really need to work on these with him.

It was a rather strange PTM. 3 seated at the same table, coming from 3 different standpoints.

Mrs Lim was very worried and stressed that the PSLE is next year, yet he is so “unteachable”.

Mr Tan who didn’t quite know what to say to this parent, as he seemed stuck between a rock and a hard place. He is a part of this system, a system which is glaringly inadequate to support these mavericks, yet he recognises the different learning styles and needs of the students.

And me. A parent who wishes our education system was more progressive. I have thought long and hard about it and have made peace with the situation. We live in this country we call home, with family and friends around us, and we will stay put. It’s a pity that our education system is evolving at such a snail’s pace and our children are wasting too much time learning to ace exams.

It is something I have never conformed to and have decided that I will not subject #5 to it, at the risk of dampening his love of Science and of learning.

I will not force my round peg into a square hole. It is not worth it. I am prepared for whatever score he might get for his PSLE and I know it is not a reflection of his abilities nor intelligence.

I will be sure to let him know that too.

School Stories:

#1 – When your son gets into fights in school
#2 – My son the loan shark
#3 – So kids can’t play once they start school?

#11 – How #2 topped her level in English
#12 – DSA. Yet another initiative parents have warped
#13 – Tuition – First line of attack?
#14 – Why do exams have to be so stressful?
#15 – First day mix up!
#16 – The day I forgot to pick my son from school
#17 – No more T-score. Now what?
#18 – Tackling the new school year
#19 – She did it, without tuition.
#20 – So who’s smarter?
#21 – Why I do not coach my kids anymore.

~ www.mummyweeblog.com – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Why I do not coach my kids anymore

I have been asked this many times – Do I coach my kids? The answer is no. Not at all. I don’t look at their daily homework nor test them spelling. In fact, I tell them not to come to me when they get stuck because I probably won’t be able to answer their questions.

I’m not kidding. The way they do Math is different from our time, and don’t get me started on Science structured questions. “Mum, you need to answer with key words.” When I guided them on their Chinese composition, they came back with a fail grade. It is still a running family joke.

They know my standard answer – go look for an older sibling as they’ll have better luck in getting the concepts explained properly to them, with the appropriate key-words thrown in.

It wasn’t that I didn’t try. When #1 was in P2 & P3, she would come to me when stuck while doing homework and I was able to help her. The turning point came in P4. Every few days, she would need help to finish her Math, Science or Chinese homework and truth be told, I was annoyed that she couldn’t independently handle homework doled out to her.

Having 4 other kids on my tail left me scarcely any time to deal with #1’s academic demands, and being in a constantly sleep-deprived state must have made me prone to going berserk.

I remember one particular incident when I was trying to help her with her Math homework, and she could not comprehend it. I became angrier and angrier and started yelling at her. I can’t remember exactly what I said, but they were unnecessarily hurtful words along the lines of “I’ve explained to you so many times! What can’t you understand? What is wrong with you? Why are you so stupid?” My blood was boiling and I felt like smacking her. 

I was shocked at my own extreme reaction. I am by nature a calm and patient person, and here I was, getting agitated by my own child, over MathI saw the fear in her eyes as she recoiled from my wrath, and there and then, I decided that it was not worth it. I could not let this ruin our mother-daughter relationship. My first and foremost responsibility is to be her mum, and this tutoring job can be outsourced.

I did feel like some kind of failure, but found out that many of my friends were in the same boat. Some have flung school bags out of the house, while others have raised their hands at their children. It is never the right thing to do, and we have no excuse. But the reality is that it is not easy teaching our own children. Some parents are cut out for it, and some are not. I am glad I recognized it early enough before saying or doing things I might have regretted.

When she moved on to P5, it became an almost daily struggle to complete her homework. Being our eldest, it did not occur to us that she might need tuition as she was fairly bright and in a top school so we had the impression that the teachers would prepare them adequately for tests and exams.

Since I had thrown in the coaching hat, the hubs volunteered to do it. The first time #1 went to him with her Math problem sums, he eagerly took on the challenge. 3 hours later, she finally emerged from the room. She revealed that daddy took so long to finish 2 pages of her Math homework and she still has other homework to do. Worst of all, he used the wrong method. His coaching stint ended as soon as it began.

Since then, we have stopped coaching them. Even if they come home with entire worksheets covered in red or if they fail their tests, I seldom nag or scold them. I ask if they had prepared well for it, and what are they going to do about it. I don’t want the focus when they get test marks back to be on what mum is going to say, but on how they think they can improve in future.

I keep an eye on the big picture and monitor their grades for their CAs and SAs throughout the year. It is better to find out their percentile instead of looking at the raw score. In her P5 year, #1 barely passed her English mid-year exams. I was concerned, but when I spoke to her teacher she said, “Oh, don’t worry, it was a very tough paper and almost the entire class failed. She was one of the top scorers.”

They get one-to-one tuition in the P6 year because I find that an effective way to plug the content gaps in topics which they might have missed over the years. The tutors also know how to guide them to phrase their answers to suit the examiners. 

While writing this post, I was chatting with my girls to get their perspective now that they are already in secondary school. I asked them how did they manage without coming to me for help.

“We know that you will tell us to figure it out ourselves or ask our teacher, so we have to pay attention in class. There is a lot of wasted time between lessons, so we quickly get our homework done and if there is anything we don’t understand, we ask our friends. Most of them have tuition.”

I burst out laughing. They had found their own strategy and outsourced the coaching to their classmates! It’s good for their friends too, as the best way to understand something well is to explain it to others. Brilliant win-win situation.


School Stories:

#1 – When your son gets into fights in school
#2 – My son the loan shark
#3 – So kids can’t play once they start school?

#11 – How #2 topped her level in English
#12 – DSA. Yet another initiative parents have warped
#13 – Tuition – First line of attack?
#14 – Why do exams have to be so stressful?
#15 – First day mix up!
#16 – The day I forgot to pick my son from school
#17 – No more T-score. Now what?
#18 – Tackling the new school year
#19 – She did it, without tuition.
#20 – So who’s smarter?
#21 – Why I do not coach my kids anymore.

 

About MummyWee

Michelle Choy is an Occupational Therapist by day and mum of 6 by night. Besides the already very demanding job of managing 5 teenagers and one 7-turning-17 tween, she is also Founder of The Little Executive, a nurturing centre to develop children in areas like resilience and executive function, to survive today’s volatile world. She is also a parenting coach and has been featured on national TV, radio and print media.

~ www.mummyweeblog.com – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~