3 new teachers after CA1

Term 1 practically flew by. January saw them settling down and getting acquainted with their new P6 teachers as only his Math teacher followed them up from P5. February was a short month with CNY festivities and before we can catch our breath, CA1 was upon us and we’ve come to the end of March!

The homework load was as expected, with daily homework from most teachers.

The good thing is that #5 does his homework very quickly. Unlike his sisters who waste a lot of time in the lead up to homework (tidying their desk, taking out pretty stationery, filing their notes neatly, choosing the perfect pen from a bulging pencil case, chatting with their siblings), he whips out a pen, thinks quickly and gets through one worksheet after another without dawdling. 

The bad thing however, is the quality of his work. He has given up asking us for help when he’s stuck because the hubs and I spend a long time trying to figure out each question, and his siblings are either too busy studying for their Os or As or they themselves have forgotten how to do it and it becomes very time-consuming. He goes into their rooms and the few of them will be huddled around his worksheet and he emerges 45 minutes later, and there is still other homework to be done.

So far he only has Chinese tuition on Saturdays at his aunt’s place and I’m still in the midst of looking for a good private tutor for Math and Science.

Based on his CA1 results, he has been moved to another class for 3 out of 4 of his subjects. When I spoke to his Principal recently, I brought up the issue of #4’s PSLE year, where it was quantity over quality and I asked what would be done to help students prepare for the PSLE instead of shifting the responsibility over to parents and tutors.

She promised that they will be keeping a close watch on the P6s this year and true to her word, these kids who need more help have been placed in smaller classes of around 10 students.

I was delighted but did have one more concern – yet another change in teachers and ‘wasting’ time getting to know each other as we are approaching the start of April which leaves us 5 short months before the PSLE (haha, parents are difficult to please right?).

Thus when his dear Chinese teacher sent me a final Dojo message that he will no longer be in her class and updated me on how happy she was that he is now participating well and willing to try, I voiced out my sadness especially since he had been making steady progress under her. She reassured me that she had shared her observations with his new teacher who is the HOD of Chinese and that #5 should continue to see improvements under his guidance.

It was not easy for #5 to come to like his Chinese teacher and I was not hopeful that he will find another teacher whom he can quickly build rapport with.

Lo and behold, he came home and declared that he likes his new Chinese teacher!

He related how his teacher was very friendly, did not give them homework, and even told them to write down his handphone number and that they can call him anytime if they needed help. Not just for homework, but if their mothers are angry with them and scold them, they can reach out to him.

I was flabbergasted but I guess as HOD he is concerned and has to be especially vigilant with the P6s. Over the years, I have personally heard of several situations where students go into depression, or their minds go blank during the PSLE, and even students going missing because they feared going home to face their parents and police had to be called in.

The PSLE is a very stressful year for most kids, sometimes too stressful for 12-year olds to navigate and as parents, the hardest thing is to find the balance between stretching them to reach their potential yet not pushing them over the brink.

I have been in close contact with #5’s teachers this year, and am really heartened to hear that he has had a shift in attitude and gradually adopting a growth mindset and willingness to push on.

His aunt has set him an even more realistic goal for Chinese. Instead of telling him to aim for a Pass, she turned it around and told him “Let’s aim to not fail too badly.” That took the pressure off him and he now enjoys going to her place every Saturday for Chinese tuition.

After going through so many PSLEs and O level exams and now able to look at the big picture, I am more concerned about the mental and emotional health of my kids. So long as he is starting to take his work seriously and has a good attitude towards learning, I am contented.

In a way, I’m glad he is still a simple child, joyful (no doubt still mischievous), eyes brimming with excitement and animated when he talks about subjects he loves.

One term down, 2 more to go. Jia You all P6s!!

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

~ 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 ~

PSLE Results: Good or Bad, what do you say?

2017 PSLE results will be released tomorrow. I was asked for my views for a CNA article, and what poured out was enough to write a whole post after going through this 4 times!

As the PSLE is the first major exam they face, we, as parents have an important role to frame this experience for them. How we guide them to view failure and success is crucial. Our children need to know that one failure does not define them; they can get up, dust themselves and try harder next year. If they have the resilience and tenacity, they will go far despite early failures.

Thus whether they do well or not, it is a window of opportunity to start talking to them about how they themselves feel about their achievements and what they did to get there. The discussion about the process is even more important than the end result of the grade.

I remember the day I collected my PSLE even though it was so long ago. My parents were not well educated and left us to handle our school life. They did not know when our exams were nor gave us any tuition or assessment books.

The day before the results were released, my dad who had never said much relating to school told me this: “No matter what, just come home. It’s ok.”

I didn’t really know what he meant until the next day.

When we received our results, there were exuberant friends, crying friends and parents with grim faces.

My results were average, better in some subjects, worse in others. I didn’t know what to feel, as there were friends who did much better and friends who did much worse.

What stuck with me the most, was that the aggregate itself didn’t matter.

What mattered was that I could go home, not having to hang my head down or having to face the wrath of my parents. I knew they loved and cared about me, regardless of what was written on that paper in my hands. I felt safe. Several of my friends dreaded to go home, afraid of what their parents would say.

When I showed my parents my results, they acknowledged the good and the bad and told me simply to work harder next time.

These days, it is as much a PSLE mummy’s journey as the child’s, or perhaps there is even more at stake for mum. The time and money poured into sending them for tuition, having to face friends and neighbours who may be judging us or worries about our child going into an “undesirable” school.

But try to resist the urge to compare them to their siblings, label them as “lazy” or take it as an opportunity to unleash your pent-up emotions on them. I’ll admit that I have done all of the above at various times with my 4 older kids. It’s hard, but we have to restrain ourselves and not say things in the heat of the moment we might regret.

So what advice can I give to parents?

If your child has done badly, all the more, it is crucial for you to provide them with emotional support at a time when they are probably feeling lousy about themselves. They may have worked really hard, and are disappointed in their own grades. Or their close friends may have done well and are all celebrating and discussing exciting plans and looking forward to entering the schools of their choice. They may have cousins in the same year and relatives are patting them on the shoulder, telling them how smart they are or how wonderful they have done. It is not easy for a 12-year-old to experience and process all that is going on.

When one of my kids did badly for the PSLE, I had to bite my tongue. I wanted to scold her, “Watch some more TV la! Sleep late and don’t concentrate in class!” My mind darted around, looking for things to blame – Our education system for being ridiculous in expecting all 12-year olds to be suitable for this narrow examination model, her teachers for focusing on quantity instead of quality, resulting in many of her classmates scoring between 180-210, the hubs for allowing her to watch Chinese drama with him and wasting precious time, our dog for her incessant barking, affecting her concentration. I had to exercise tremendous self-control and not rub salt into the wound as I knew she was already feeling awful.

There is no point in giving them a long “I told you so” lecture the day they get their results. Instead, take them out individually for a meal or an activity to show them that above all, you love them and value them, despite their result. Try to refrain from talking about the PSLE (I know it’s hard!) unless they raise it. Then, when they open the conversation, go in for the kill! (just kidding). Talk to them about what they are thinking and feeling. They may be afraid of going to a new school all alone, especially if their group of friends all made it into the affiliated school. They may feel embarrassed, ashamed or upset that they have disappointed you.

Just imagine what they have gone through for the past year. All that stress, late nights studying, and expectations from parents and teachers, culminating in these 3 digits. Give them time and space to process their emotions. When they have come to terms with their results, you can move on to discuss how they can learn from this experience. What strategies worked for them and what did not, what are their areas of strengths and weaknesses.

For children who do well, it is also an opportunity to guide them. Acknowledge and celebrate with them if they had run the race and emerged triumphant! But instead of congratulating them as being a smart girl or boy, praise the specific effort and strategies which helped them to excel. #1 went from failing all 4 subjects at the end of P5 to scoring straight As in her PSLE. By putting in sustained effort and persevering despite the odds, it showed in her results. She was self-motivated and did 4 hours of Math practice almost daily, and went to her aunt’s house every weekend to practice her Chinese Oral, going from being shy and having a limited vocabulary to being more confident about the language.

On the other hand, there are children who are able to ace our exams year after year either because their intelligence fits our education model or because they have been highly tutored. The danger comes when they move into higher education. Some children have never tasted failure, and when they do so, it could be at the A levels or University and they are unable to bounce back. Worse, they may go into depression or even attempt suicide because of self-imposed shame or despair as they are no more seen as being smart.

I was surprised but many bright kids I spoke to regret not putting in more effort and felt they were too complacent. Don’t compare them to others saying things like, “Wow you did so much better than so and so.” Instead, hold them to higher standards because they are capable of more. Tell them that you expect great things from them, and they should still strive to put in their best effort and achieve what you know they are capable of.

The PSLE may be over, but it is not the last exam or challenge they will have to face. It is in our hands to support and empower them to ready them for the next stage and beyond.

It’s not going to be easy, but see it as an opportunity to help them take ownership of both their successes or failures. Good luck parents!

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 ~

My daughter created a winning exam strategy

When #2 took her O levels last year, I knew it was a whole different ball game from preparing for the PSLE.

In 4 short years, they morph from caterpillars into butterflies. Beautiful individually formed strong characters, ready to flap their wings and fly.

But, along with the development of their unique and bold patterns, there are 3 areas we as parents have to come to terms with:

– They are no longer little children whom you can dictate to, and expect pure obedience (could we ever?!).

– Their phones are like an extension of their hand, which can’t be forcefully extracted from them lest I am keen on igniting a war of wills. It can be used positively, or become a huge distraction.

– They have a life (with the prom being a few days away from the last paper not helping things at all) and their friends have a far greater sway than before.

I learned that it was futile to nag and scold, and I left her to figure out her own exam strategy. Instead, I watched from the sidelines and support and guide where necessary.

I made it a point to turn up for all her parent-teacher meetings, and was so heartened to see that her teachers were genuinely concerned for her. She was a child with a lot of potential, but she was very clearly an Arts student who loved her Literature and English subjects, but struggled with the Science subjects.

Her poor Chemistry teacher found it so hard to motivate her and even encouraged her to turn the boring formulas into songs and allowed her to bring her guitar to school to sing. When she received her results, she told me: “Mum, she was the only teacher who never gave up on me.”

 
 

She devised this simple but effective strategy in the months leading up to the O levels.

She painstakingly wrote out every chapter of every subject on individual bits of paper, numbered and colour-coded them.

Once she had finished revising a chapter, she would move that piece of paper to the other side of the wall.

With this system, she demolished the chapters systematically. The brilliance lay in its visual cue, where you can see the number of chapters per subject left very clearly.

It was also highly motivating to see the bare side of the wall starting to fill up!

She was excited to take up the challenge of this crucial year and after the exams, she said, “It was actually quite fun to set my goals and study so hard.” And her great achievement was sweet reward indeed.

I am pleased that my efforts over the past 15 years of guiding them to be independent learners have finally borne fruit.

And that I was able to give them a carefree childhood where tuition and assessment books are not a normal part of their lives, yet they have emerged to be driven and motivated teenagers.

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?
  4. Things teachers say
  5. Lessons learnt from #1’s Os
  6. My son. There’s hope yet
  7. Who has an obsession with tuition?
  8. Paying tutors $250 an hour to do assignments?
  9. I didn’t even know my child was being bullied until…
  10. How I got my son to do his homework without nagging
  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
  22. My Best Parent Teacher Meeting EVER
  23. My daughter created a winning exam strategy
  24. 6 tips to really prepare your child for P1
  25. 6 tips to choose a Primary school
  26. 6 things to do in the PSLE year
  27. 6 tips to choose the right Preschool
  28. 6 tips to choose a Secondary school that is right for your child
  29. Our education system is starting to get exciting!
  30. PSLE results: Good or bad, what do you say?
  31. “Mum, just get me exempted from Chinese.”
  32. A huge jump in P6 SA1
  33. PSC Scholarship? WOW
  34. My teen in a neighbourhood school
  35. What the PSLE is really about
  36. How to choose the “best” Secondary school for your child

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 ~

She did it, without tuition

We attended #2’s award ceremony last week at her alma mater. It was indeed a joyous occasion for us, seeing how she has blossomed over the 4 years, not only doing well academically, but displaying leadership qualities and being surrounded by close friends. She received a leadership award for her position as band major, and topped her cohort in Social Studies/Literature for the O levels.

I think what I was proudest about was that she managed everything on her own, without me having to nag or micro-manage.

When she entered Primary 1, I gave her my expectations and her responsibilities and guided her to be in charge of her own learning for the next 6 years.

She did not have any tuition nor extra “mummy homework”.

So what did she do with her time?

She spent a lot of time reading, and went to the playground every evening with her siblings, even throughout the PSLE year. Their fond memories of playground games with their neighbours will stay with them forever.

Dinner was at 6pm and bedtime at 8.30pm, so that hardly left room for much else during the school week. When bored, she would create all sorts of things, such as mazes for their pet hamsters or swimming pools for their terrapins, and the 5 siblings would find their own fun.

The grandparents took them out most weekends, to the zoo, bird park or science centre.

The only tuition I gave her was after the P6 prelim exams because her grades were Bs and Cs. On hindsight, tuition was probably not needed as we discovered that her school had set very tough prelim papers, and she scored much better for her PSLE with 3 As and 1 A*.

In secondary school, she returned home at 8pm twice a week due to CCA and in her spare time, she wrote fan fiction (she has more followers than me!) and taught herself to play the keyboard and guitar.

I encouraged her to balance health and family with school work especially when the latter became a monster which took on a life of it’s own. And even when she bucked the trend and was the only one amongst her classmates sleeping at 10pm, she stood firm.

I did not keep track of her tests or exams, because it was her responsibility, and the message was always that learning does not equate to passing exams, nor competing against friends, but for herself.

In the run up to the O levels, I checked in frequently to see if she needed additional help from a tutor (while reminding her that it should be the last resort), but she reassured me that she was managing ok and was getting help from her friends in her weak areas. In the end, she did well and entered a JC of her choice.

School days are the best days!

I made a decision not to be sucked in to the rat race, to keep my focus on what was healthy and meaningful for them, and the achievement she attained today is testimony that pushing our kids relentlessly through the education mill is not the only way, and we do have a choice in how we want to bring our kids up in this over-competitive academic landscape.

Having walked this ‘alternative’ path alone, I’m glad they turned out alright.

10 years on, I am assured that I have not short-changed my kids in any way, and that I have achieved my simple goal of giving them a happy childhood, guiding them to be self-motivated, to discover their passions, and to never be afraid to chase their dreams.

For that, it’s time I gave myself a pat on the back 🙂


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.