Friday, May 29, 2009
I dislike Meet-the-Parent sessions because quite inevitably, I will be extremely irritated by some parents who think they are entitled to hog the teachers' time at the expense of other parents. Like today, I was waiting to see Lesley-Anne's English teacher, behind a parent who was grousing for 45 minutes about how the teacher was not making a special effort for her son. I didn't eavesdrop but I caught some bits by accident when I decided to stand conspicuously behind her so as to hint at my impatience.
In fact, other parents soon caught my cue and started queueing behind me. Much good that did. At one point, I dropped my decorum and interrupted the session to let the teacher know I had another teacher's appointment in 15 minutes. That parent didn't bat an eyelid and continued - unabated and unabashed. Another mum in the queue whispered to me, "Basic courtesy, right?"
Of course she eventually left (maybe her parking coupon was up). The teacher, understandably, looked tired and upset, so I felt I had to say some encouraging words to her.
Why do some parents do this? I mean, feel that teachers owe them the earth and sky? I don't know that child in question but you've got to wonder if the parent's attitude is a clue to the child's problems.
Ok, I've done enough grousing of my own. Luckily I've got a scapegoat - I'm blaming my low threshold for inconsiderate behaviour on the stress of the DSA process.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Have you ever encountered this? We meet kids who appear so bright, motivated, charismatic and 100 other superlatives compared to our own. Yet when we speak to their parents, they often seem surprised and have some criticism to offer about their kids. I find it happens with me too. Eg, Lilian always admires Lesley-Anne and I, on the other hand, think her Brian is a mother's dream.
Could it be that there's an epidemic of false modesty? Sure, some parents are transparently fake - they pretend to dismiss their kids' achievements but they're actually loving the attention. But I know that's not true of the mother I cited above, she's a very genuine person. I offer an alternative reason for this behaviour, ie we have come to pitch our standards against those of the imaginary perfect kid.
As parents, we see our kids everyday and we know that they dwaddle when it comes to revision. We have to remind them to do the simplest tasks like wash their hands or brush their teeth. They don't put their things away, they bicker endlessly with their siblings, etc. We see all their annoying little faults and therefore feel that any admiration for them is unjustified. Whereas with other kids, we generally only see the best parts that are on display in public, and we assume that they are the paragons of virtue at all times. So our own flawed kids inevitably fall short when measured against those ideal beings.
Here's the crux of the matter: the perfect kid is a myth, there's no such thing. Just as there are no perfect parents. A diamond is still a diamond, even if it is encrusted in dirt. So instead of wishing that the stone we have is as sparkling as the one in the showroom, let's work on polishing that diamond we have on our hands. And be grateful that we are blessed with such a gem.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
I first heard of DSA only when Lesley-Anne was in p4 and even up to last year, I had a hazy idea of what it entailed. It is essentially an advanced booking for a school, to put it bluntly. Remember back in our generation when we had schoolmates who may not have made the cut-off point to our school but managed to get in via their prodigious violin playing or Michael Jordan-esque basketball skills or something like that? Well, DSA is similar except it's no longer considered the "back door", it's now a mainstream MOE process.
To me, the two biggest advantages of DSA are:
- Schools have an offical channel to recognise and admit talents in both academic and non-academic areas.
- By giving a place in advance, you drastically reduce the stress of PSLE as the make or break exam.
Individual schools offer DSA through one or more of the following areas:
- Academic - can be special ability in one particular subject or overall high ability academically. GEP students apply under this category.
- Arts - special ability in performing or visual arts. Usually requires a minimum level of certification and/or performance at the school or national level.
- Sports - special ability in a particular sport. Usually requires a record of achievement at the school or national level.
This year, 74 secondary schools are offering DSA so the availability is quite extensive. Once again, I highly recommend you visit the school you're interested in. The fit of the school is very important. When I mentioned I had changed my mind about a school for Lesley-Anne after visiting it, I was so tickled to get all these emails from concerned *coughkaypoh* parents asking me what school it was! I'm going to go out on a limb and say that when I visited yet another school, I also had a 180 degree change of heart, this time in the other direction. From not being on my radar, the school now has become a real contender because Lesley-Anne, Kenneth and I all loved its ethos.
And this time, I will state upfront: don't email me to ask me what school it is because I won't tell you! I'm not being a tease, I'm just getting concerned that some people are taking my word so seriously that they let it influence their own choices. What matters to me and fits my child may not fit yours, so do visit the schools and get a sense of their cultures.
This is the DSA process (different schools have varying dates but these are the general time-frames):
May-July: You apply for DSA to the school(s) of your choice. Many apply for more than one school but I don't recommend the buffet mentality as the DSA process itself can be very stressful for the child. In my opinion, two is ideal, three tops.
June-August: Selection process. Some schools require you to sit for written tests and attend interviews (usually for academic domain). For the arts and sports domains, auditions and trials are often required.
Late August/early September: Release of DSA results. You will receive the results for each of your DSA applications, which is either Confirmed (yay!), Waiting List (hmm...) or Rejected (sob). I'll probably need a Valium on that day.
Late October: If you have at least one Confirmed or Waiting List result, you will be given a School Preference Form to indicate your choices. If you list a Confirmed offer as one of your choices, you are GUARANTEED a spot in that school. How great is that??
Late November: You will be given your DSA school allocation results on the same day as the PSLE results. If you are successful in DSA, you can proceed to do fun things like buy your new school uniforms. If you are not, then look at your PSLE results, hopefully you don't faint, and then decide which secondary school you want to apply for under the annual centralised S1 Posting Exercise (where the majority of p6 kids choose their schools).
I will be praying very hard that Lesley-Anne is successful in her DSA because I know that if she has to rely on PSLE, I'll probably keel over from the stress...
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Then the not so good parts. He missed his target of 80/100 for science. We were quite forgiving since this was the first time he'd sat for a science exam, but when I saw his paper, I was just baffled by some of the mistakes he made. Like this 3-mark giveaway question where he just had to look at the picture and fill in the labels:
When I asked Andre incredulously, "how is it you couldn't see that Plant A was IN the water, not floating on the water?", he replied, "I thought it was floating under water." Like huh?
But the subject that he scored lowest in was Chinese. I'm not sure if he even managed a Band 2. I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised, even though he came home and told me the paper was "a little bit easy" (he's completely off in his approximation!) He speaks Mandarin like an ang moh, the intonation seemingly random even for the simplest of words and phrases. For instance, instead of "吃鱼" (eat fish), he'll say "吃雨" (eat rain). My kids watch the Channel 8 Chinese drama 书包太重 but Andre will habitually say "树包", prompting me to ask, "what? you carry a tree bag?"
I was quite hopeful when he told me he got third for Chinese listening comprehension. He had scored 8/10.
"You mean no one scored 10/10?" I asked
"Have, some got 10."
"Huh? Then how did you get third?"
"Some got 10, some got 9. I'm the only one who got 8. One other boy got 7."
(Sound of me slapping forehead) "Alamak, so you didn't get third lah! You got second last!!"
During Chinese tuition, I've seen Andre place his head on the table like he's totally weary or stare gloomily at his book. His Chinese tutor is one of the nicest and most patient human beings I've ever met but lately, I've noticed that an edge sometimes creeps into her voice, possibly when she's explaining something to Andre for the thousandth time.
I don't envy her job. She's currently in China for a holiday, I think I'll spare her the bad news of Andre's results until she returns.
Friday, May 22, 2009
Choosing a school is serious business. Whether it's a primary school, secondary school or higher, our kids will spend a good part of their waking hours there - it will influence their thoughts, their behaviour, greatly. Some parents think the school with the best academic results is automatically the best. Not true! You need to select a school that's best for your child.
A mum whose child will be entering p1 soon had written to me asking my views on choosing schools. Since it's time for p1 registration soon, I thought I'd share some of the thoughts I shared with her. These are based on my own experiences in choosing a primary school.
To me, there are three important aspects to consider: 1) distance 2) coed or single sex 3) culture.
No 1) is a practical reason. You really don’t want your kids spending so much time travelling. In lower primary, they’re entering the formal school system for the first time - it can be very tiring. If they have to spend an hour on the road travelling home, lunch (or dinner, depending on whether morning or afternoon session) will be very late and they’ll be ravenous by then. This can really wreak havoc to their systems. I know some parents resort to getting their kids to eat in the car.
In upper primary, the kids will usually have to stay back at school quite often, for remedial, extra lessons, CCAs etc. Again, it's not conducive to spend a lot of time travelling. This can really take a toll on the energy levels of the kids in the long run.
No 2) for me was also a practical reason. I chose a coed school to cut the hassle of registration for Andre since he would be a shoo-in following his sister's school. But pragmatics aside, I've come to notice that there are other pros and cons of coed vs single sex schools. I have relatives and friends with kids in single sex schools and the advantage is that the teachers tend to be more adept at catering to the learning styles of boys/girls (since boys and girls tend to learn and socialise differently). In a coed school, if the teacher is more suited to teach boys, the girls in the class will be disadvantaged and vice versa. I also find that if you have a very quiet girl content to be a wallflower, she might end up being overshadowed by her noisier, attention-seeking male classmates, so she might thrive better in a girls' school.
But what I like about a coed school is that being around boys has helped Lesley-Anne learn not to be so siao jie and being around girls has toned down Andre's boisterousness. Basically they balance each other out. Whereas I find that boys learn to be more aggressive and rowdy when they enter a boys' school (to keep up with the raging testosterone, I guess!) And some girls, when they go to a girls' school end up very "girly", if you know what I mean.
No 3) is very important. Eg if you are a very English educated family with questionable Chinese standards, doesn't take a genius to figure out that your child will probably be miserable in a SAP school where most of his classmates will be chattering away in Mandarin! If your child loves dance, for instance, it might make sense to join a school with dance as a niche activity.
Personally, we wanted a mission school as we’re Christians and we feel that mission schools place more focus on values. Since the Singapore system is already so academically-focused, we wanted a good balance. One of Lesley-Anne's teachers, during a DSA briefing, encouraged us to visit the schools we're interested in and walk around to get a feel of the school. I didn't realise how important this was until I visited the school I mentioned earlier. From walking around, reading the notice-boards, looking at the kids, you can actually get quite a good sense of the school's culture. If you can, visit the school you're interested in (some of them have open houses) before you decide. Trust your instincts - will you child fit in here? Or will she be like a fish out of water?
Notice that among my three criteria, I didn't include academic performance. Many parents want their kids to be in schools with top academic ratings because they think that their kids will perform better there. I don't subscribe to that. To me, it's cyclical - schools with high focus on academics attract high ability kids. These kids are bright to begin with, so they're more likely to do well in national exams, contributing to the high academic scores of the school.
If your child is not academically inclined to begin with, he might not thrive in an environment where everyone is a top scorer. In fact, I've heard that some of these so-called "top" schools do less teaching because they expect the kids to learn on their own and supplement with tuition at home. In contrast, neighbourhood schools tend to "teach" more, which benefits kids who need such nurturing. When you look at the national exams, you'll find that kids from neighbourhood schools can also churn out top scorers and there will be kids from "top" schools who don't do so well.
But having said that, I prefer my kids to go to schools with a reasonable academic standard (though not necessarily the top), not because I believe the teaching is superior in any way, but because my experience tells me that these schools tend to have fewer “pai kias” or kids who don’t like studying, and I don’t want my kids to be influenced or make wrong friends at this impressionable age. Of course this is a generalisation but when you're in a school/class where the kids are motivated to study, there's a higher chance you will be the same. Similarly, if your classmates treat school as a chore and are trying to play truant half the time, you might be influenced. Never underestimate peer pressure at this age.
I've been very, very pleased with Lesley-Anne and Andre's primary school - it has played an integral part in shaping their characters. I hope and pray that we can make an equally wise decision for their secondary schools.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Anyway, as promised, I'm posting one of the compositions Lesley-Anne did this year. This composition is Lesley-Anne's best (in terms of marks) to date. She came home and told me excitedly that she had gotten 30/40 - it was significant to her because it was the first time she had hit the 30 mark threshold. Up to that point, I had hardly read her compositions *blush* so when I read this one, I was pleasantly surprised and immediately struck by the fact that her use of the English language had become more sophisticated compared to a year ago.
This was the picture, followed by the composition (again, reproduced in its original form with mistakes):
My Mischevious Side
As I walked into the barber's with my Mom to wait for my turn for a haircut, I had a flashback to the day where I showed my mischevious side. No doubt I was given a tongue-lashing and was punished after that incident. No, it is not an elaborate prank I performed. It only involved a pair of scissors.
That school day, I walked into class to find a huge crowd gathering around Jane, my classmate. I guessed that she was probably showing off again as usual. I was right. When it comes to this kind of things, I usually am.
I really hated Jane. She is just a show-off. I recalled an incident where she was the only person in the class who got an 'A' for her essay. During recess, she walked around the class showing every single person her essay. Not only that, she passed off comments like "See? I'm the only person to get an 'A'. Then again, it's nothing out of the ordinary when I'm gifted with good looks and of course, smarts".
My thoughts were interuppted when the school bell rang, signalling the start of lessons. By the way, if you are wondering what Jane was bragging about this morning, it was her new haircut which supposedly was done by the best hairdresser in town.
At this moment, Mr Eng, our art teacher, came in. After the class settled down, he started teaching us how to make a collaige. Soon, everyone was lining up to get the art materials provided. As I was lining up, I saw Jane strutting down the classroom with her art materials, flicking her inky, black hair in the process. Seriously, why does she do that? She is just plain irritating.
When we all had our art materials, we got down to work. Jane, who sat beside me, starting cutting her white paper neatly into strips. As I looked at my black piece of paper, I imagined Jane flicking her hair about but shook the image out of my mind. When I was about to cut it, a mischevious idea came into my mind.
I picked up my scissors and... "Snip!" This was followed by an ear-piercing scream echoing throughout the class. As I looked at that thick lock of hair on the ground, I grinned.
However, my grin was wiped of my face when the teacher approached. "What happened?" he asked in a worried tone. Before I could even open my mouth to explain, Jane shouted "This horrid boy cut off my hair! Oh my beautiful hair! It had to be cut off by this monster!"
The expression on the teacher's face changed. My, my! If looks could kill, I would be lying in a coffin right now.
Now, it is obvious what happened next. I was given a harsh scolding and a long lecture. Even when I mentioned how vain Jane was, the teacher gave me another long lecture about tolerance. However, I gave in and even felt repentent. I apologised to Jane, not expecting her to forgive me. This was one rare occasion when I was wrong.
I was shocked. "Why?" I said, my eyes growing as big as dinner plates. She replied "You can't expect a good girl like me who has all the character traits in the world to not be forgiving? Won't Mom be proud! I even forgave a monster like you!"
Sigh. Looks like she was still vain Jane. I wanted to shout that she lacked the character trait called humility, but I controlled myself. However, being an optimist, I found a silver lining in this cloud. I had learnt about thinking before I act and I learnt to be tolerant.
I came back to earth as I heard the barber call my name. I walked over to him, the events of that day still lingering in my mind.
In p6, there is no evaluation form attached with the composition. Instead, the teacher writes her comments at the end of the compositions. Here's what she wrote for this particular one:
- gd! Consistent use of characterisation to drive the plot
- gd to see you using foreshadowing and building suspense
- some apt use of vocabulary but continue to work on use of expressions
- where possible, paragraph dialogue
- gd use of paragraphing
- watch spelling
- gd effort!
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
I started looking through Lesley-Anne's English files. In p5, I notice she was given quite extensive exercises on plot development, what makes a good story and the elements of different genres of writing, such as mysteries and persuasive writing. She also has a list of literary elements that can be used in writing, such as theme, imagery, dramatic irony, characterisation and hyperbole. Obviously the kids don't have to use everything but Lesley-Anne tells me the teachers do go through some of them and give examples of how they are used.
This once again reinforced my belief that composition can be taught. Just because I don't know the techniques doesn't mean there aren't any. Lesley-Anne's file had worksheets and exercises that they do to strengthen their skills in specific writing elements. This is more concrete than just "practising" because without being equipped with know-how, you'll keep writing the same thing in the same style, with the same mistakes, over and over.
Then I looked at her p6 file and comparing her p6 and p5 compositions, I realised that her writing had improved noticeable towards the end of p5 and especially in p6. Lesley-Anne's reading has not increased significantly during this period, which tells me that either the way composition is taught in her class is very effective or she had matured on her own, or both.
I thought I would share a couple of samples of her writing to show her growth in this area. This is one of the early compositions she wrote in p5, she garnered 26/40, which was the best mark she received for composition in the entire year (in GEP, anything from 25 above is considered good, rarely do kids score above 30). It's based on the picture below and I reproduced it wholesale, mistakes and all:
Just because of a kite
"Mom, please let us go to the park. I want to fly my new kite!" said Tim. "Okay. But you have to let Henry have a go too." Mom replied. "I will", said Tim.
It was the perfect day to go to the park. The sun was shining and there was an occasional breeze. They even saw a duck or two in the pond. When there was a breeze, Tim started flying his kite. It was a lovely sight. The kite's yellow and orange tail stood out against the pale blue sky and the picture of an eagle on the kite looked as if it was really flying.
"My turn, my turn!" shouted Henry. "Not yet, not yet!" said Tim. "But you have flown it for five minutes already!"
"Well, it is my kite."
"Mom said to share!"
So, an argument began. Both of them were arguing so badly that they did not notice the kite being blown towards a tree. When they finally noticed, the kite was already tangled up in the tree's branches.
"Here is the deal", said Tim, "the first person to untangle the kite gets to fly it for the whole day." "Okay!" said Henry as he climbed up the tree while Tim tried to pull the kite down from below. Then, as Henry was about to reach for the kite, he lost his balance.
He fell of the tree, landed on the grass and rolled into the lake. "Help!" said Henry, "I'm going to drown!" "But you can swim. I can't help you because I cannot swim", said Tim. "I can't swim either with a sprained ankle. It hurts," said Henry.
Luckily, a passer-by stopped by to help. He jumped into the lake and saved Henry. "T.. Thank you", said Henry. "My pleasure!" said the kind passer-by. He even dropped the boys home. Henry's mother was told about the situation. She was too relieved to be angry and thanked the passer-by.
From that day on, Tim took up swimming lessons and Henry never climbed another tree. As for the kite, it is still stuck up there to this day!
I must confess that I have never read other p5 or p6 kids' compositions so I can't compare, but my gut feel tells me that this composition is ok but does not particularly stand out. Her language use is quite ordinary.
There was an evaluation form attached with the composition. I'm not sure if this is done also for mainstream students but I find this very constructive. Instead of just a score, the child is given a detailed breakdown on what she had done well and what was lacking. This evaluation form was given for every composition in p5 and also includes the child's own reflections on the areas of improvement.
This was the form for the composition above:
I know it's blurry. Here are the teacher's comments (in red):
Plot/Story Structure: Good, clear plot. Well planned.
Setting: More can be detailed here
Characterisation Feelings/Emotions: Deal with the feelings of both the boys
Dialogue: You need to know how to handle a dialogue
Story Idea Climax: Good storyline. Well done!
Grammar & Usage Vocabulary: Use better words and expressions.
Punctuation/ Capitalisation: Errors in both these areas. Errors in full-stops, commas and capital letters.
Spelling: No errors. Great.
Handwriting Neatness: Neat
I will post Lesley-Anne's p6 composition tomorrow.
Sunday, May 17, 2009
They really go into detail, from discussing how energy needs cause environmental problems to renewable resources, from climate change and global warming to how cities are working on green efforts for more sustainable development.
The biggest takeaway from this module I find is the lesson that human beings' actions have consequences on the environment. This raises awareness of the interdependence between the physical and human environments, and promotes environmental conservation efforts which I guess they hope these kids will carry through to adulthood.
This is a worksheet that they had to do (after reading a story), underscoring the cause and effect relationship between humans and the environment.
Reproduced here: (Lesley-Anne's answers are in blue)
The Greatest Environmental Crisis Ever for Humanity
Using what you have learnt from the story, complete the worksheet to illustrate how a particular generalization is true.
1. "An effect can be the result of multiple causes with different degrees of influence". Identify the causes of climate change.
- Deforestation --> climate change
- Large scale burning of fossil fuels --> greenhouse effect --> global warming
2. "Causes can trigger simple effects or chain of related effects". Give an example of a simple effect and a chain of related effects of climate change.
- global temperature increase --> melting of glaciers (simple effect)
- eractic weather --> increase frequency of draughts and floods --> destroy agriculture --> disruption of global food supplies (chain effects)
3. "Causes may have predictable and unpredictable effects". Give an example of a predictable effect and an unpredictable effect of climate change.
- global temperature increase --> spread of infectious disease to higher latitutes (predictable effect)
- climate change --> social and political conflict --> environmental refugees (unpredictable effect)
4. "Causes have short-term and long-term effects". Give an example of a short-term effect and long-term effect of climate change.
- climate change --> destroy natural habitat (short-term effect)
- climate change --> extinction of animal and plant species (long-term effect)
Friday, May 15, 2009
When I came home from my meeting, I found this note on my desk:
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Feeling terribly guilty for being a slacker mum, that day when I returned home, here's what I did in the space of 2 hours after dinner: Took Andre his spelling. Set maths paper for Lesley-Anne. Coached Andre in oral (with lots of yelling). Coached Andre in dictation and editing. Marked Lesley-Anne’s paper. Went through paper (more yelling). Gave lecture and pep talk.
I went to bed mentally and physically exhausted. I don't know how my friend does it! (By the next day, I'd regressed to my old ways).
Anyway, the point I'm making in this post is that we all have different methods for helping our kids academically. My friend's is the steady-pom-pee-pee style. Mine is the laissez-faire-last-minute-chiong style, meaning I just nag at my kids to do their homework, help them only when they approach me with something they don't understand, occasionally set some extra work, and then rev up to 4th gear nearer the exams.
I know I don't have the stamina or patience to do what my friend does. If I forced myself to, what would likely happen is that the daily sessions would degenerate into shouting matches, making them counter productive. For my friend, I think if she adopted my style, she would keel over from the anxiety. In other words, it's not about what works, but rather what works for you.
In the corporate world, the current buzzword is sustainable development. Well, I'm advocating sustainable revision, defined as "a revision process that can be maintained over the long term (and keep parents sane)."
Of course you also need to take into consideration the learning style of your kids. If leaving them alone means they'll toss their school work out of the window, then you probably need to hand-hold a little more. But in general, I believe that parents need to work around what they feel comfortable with, otherwise the revision process will be a dreaded chore and it's hard to motivate someone else when you're unmotivated yourself.
So there you have it - sustainable revision. I wonder if I can patent the concept...
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
First, Lesley-Anne's. She presented me with this beautiful drawing wrapped up like a scroll with a red ribbon. It's a drawing of a hedgehog (of course!) with a message.
What astonished me was the realisation that she had painstakingly created the large hedgehog from miniscule hedgehogs. I greatly appreciate the fact that this was done during the exam period when she had limited leisure time. Here's a magnified view of the little hedgehogs.
And here's the message she wrote - my normally stoic heart was moved *sniff*!
Trying to emulate his sister, Andre too made a card for me. A little birdie told me he had done this during commercials of Over The Hedge, which he was watching the night before Mothers' Day... LOL!
Here's the front of the card. Look at the message!
Inside, the card reads "Happy Mother's Day!" and here's the back of the card, with some "supervision" from his che-che.
The hearts of kids... priceless. I'm such a lucky mummy! Hope all you mummies had equally wonderful gestures of love from your kids.
Monday, May 11, 2009
Anyway, this post is about targets. Many parents set targets for their kids for exams (or get the kids to set targets for themselves.) I believe this is a good practice as it gives your child something concrete to aim for, instead of an ambiguous "just try your best". But in setting targets, I've found that many parents completely miss the mark, ironically.
Targets communicate your expectations for results based on your child's ability and potential. They should therefore be achievable and reasonable. I've heard of parents who tell their kids they have to get 100% for every subject in their exams. This is just crazy. Even if it were achievable (yes, for some super kid, this might be!), it's just not reasonable. If that's not bad enough, there's sometimes a negative impetus attached to the target, ie if the child doesn't achieve this target, she will be punished for it.
This is akin to your boss telling you that you have to hit a 100% sales quota all the time, meaning that every potential client you approach, you have to win the contract. Anything less, your performance will be considered sub-par and your salary docked. How would you feel?
I have a cousin who when growing up, was constantly told by her mother that she had to be 1st in class or she needn't bother going home. She was so stressed by it that she even fantasised about killing her biggest rival in class. Till today, she's resentful about the anguish that her mother put her through.
There's a world of difference between aiming for a good result vs aiming NOT to get a bad result. One spurs achievement, the other builds a fear of failure. While both may elicit similar results in an exam, in the long term, the former is more likely to build self-motivation and drive while the latter is likely to erode self-esteem.
Naturally this doesn't mean the targets should be set so low that they don't challenge the child. Pitching the target at a level that will make the child work just that extra bit harder without demoralising him ("it's too hard! I can't do it!") is tricky but I believe most parents have a realistic idea of what their kids are capable of. What I feel is important is that the child should agree to these targets. This creates a sense of ownership and hence draws commitment from the child. Andre's form teacher negotiates targets for each subject with every child and gets the child to sign off on the "contract". I think that's great.
In setting targets, you have to be prepared for the possibility that your kid may not meet them. (Such is life!) Here's my personal viewpoint: following my reasoning above, I don't believe in punishing a failure to meet targets. If your child had gone through the due process of target setting with you, then chances are, he would be disappointed by his own result. Punishing him for it or withdrawing privileges only negatively reinforces the point that he is not allowed to fail and he has somehow done something bad. (I guess perhaps the only scenario that would justify punishment is if the child deliberately did badly, in which case you'll have to dig deeper into his psyche to find out the reason for this behaviour).
Instead, talk through the incident with him and find out what was the reason for the result - was it due to insufficient effort? carelessness? lack of understanding? difficult paper? Sure, you can express disappointment (we're still human afterall!) but after that, work out strategies with him for doing better the next time.
Conversely, if your child meets the targets, I encourage you to reward him. Shouldn't be lavish or expensive as it's a reward, not a bribe. It's just a gesture showing that his effort is appreciated and recognised. Common sense will tell you that will motivate him to keep trying. Ultimately, we should always remember to focus on the effort, NOT the result. At the risk of sounding repetitive, it's a marathon! Not a sprint! Since we can't escape exams in Singapore, we might as well use them as opportunities to rear confident children, not turn them into nervous wrecks.
Sunday, May 10, 2009
But today, I'm going to be somewhat sentimental and say that since I started my blog almost nine months ago, one of the best things that has emerged from it is my encounter with so many terrific mums. I've been pleasantly surprised, to say the least. So since it's Mother's Day, it's only fitting that I acknowledge all these women who have come to be such a big part of my life and my parenting adventure, on a daily basis.
First, the witty, intelligent blogging mums - Lilian (mwah! special virtual kiss for you, you're the one who opened up this avenue for me), Adeline, Cindy, Eunice, Ann, Mei, Hsien. Thanks also for introducing me to Sarah and Ailei who are utterly delightful.
Next, the mums whom I've never met face-to-face but who have given me a glimpse of their uniquely wonderful personalities through their comments - QX, Chris, LL, Veronica, Jo, Elan, Daphne, S, TJMummy, YY, Penny, DG, Veena, Justpassingby. I really hope I didn't miss out anyone - if I did, please let me know!
Finally, all the mums who quietly read my blog but are perhaps too shy to comment.
I truly am very grateful for all the support and encouraging words. You don't know how much your continued readership spurs me to keep writing, especially during those times when I'm feeling lazy or uninspired. So in appreciation on this special day, I wrote a little tribute for all you mums, not quite Hallmark style but from the heart nonetheless!
There are different types of mums
Type A and Type B
But one thing we all share
Is the fear of PSLE
Plant cycles I don't get
Compo makes me fret
Chinese I'd rather forget
Math gives me cold sweat
Our concerns are many
Answers are sometimes few
There should be a mother's manual
Telling us what to do
"What school should I choose?"
"How do I improve her score?"
"Should I send him for tuition?"
"I can't take it any more!!"
You read on my blog
"Please don't love money!"
"Marathon not sprint!"
"You shouldn't be a key!"
Truth is, I'm just another mum
We all learn along the way
Thanks for journeying with me
PS Happy Mothers' Day!
Friday, May 8, 2009
Starting with something old, this book is a long-time favourite of mine and my sister's. It has been re-read many times ever since I received it as a gift when I was a teenager.
First published in 1943, the novel is a coming-of-age story of Francie Nolan and her Irish American family struggling to survive in Brooklyn. White's depiction of family relationships is charming and the characters believeable, without romanticising the hardships of poverty and alcoholism. The protagonist, Francie is a girl who loves to read and write and yearns for a better life for herself and her family. The story follows her through to young adulthood where she gets her heart broken and ends with the insinuation that she does find love afterall.
Lesley-Anne is now half-way through the book and she loves it. I suspect it would be more of a hit with girls than boys though.
2) The Cat Royal series by Julia Golding
This second recommendation is purely Lesley-Anne's. She found this series in the library and quickly became hooked. There are six books available in this series so far (she found four in the library): The Diamond of Drury Lane, Cat among the Pigeons, Den of Thieves, Cat O'Nine Tails, Black Heart of Jamaica and Cat's Cradle. Eventually, there will be nine all together.
The protagonist of the series is orphan Cat Royal and the stories are set in the theatre. She sets off to solve mysteries, from recovering a stolen diamond to saving fugitives from slavery.
I haven't read this series so I can't share my views, but Lesley-Anne raves about it and she devoured all four books within a week. She also loves the Companions Quartet by the same author, which is a series of four fantasy books.
Although the protagonist is female, I think boys may also enjoy this author as she writes in the mystery and fantasy genres which boys generally love.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
I never used to understand this - when I was back in school, my mother would ask me, "Do you understand the concepts?" and I would say impatiently, "yes, yes, of course." But I didn't, not really. You see, I knew all the formulae, like Area of Rectangle = Length x Breadth, Distance = Speed x Time, etc but they were just formulae to be executed, I never got the real meaning behind those formulae.
A case in point: Adeline was recounting how when she saw the sum ½ ÷ 1/4, she tried to teach her son the "inversion" method, ie flip the 1/4 and change the sign to "x", so you get ½ x 4/1 = 2. That's the way we were taught in school some 20 (ok, ok, closer to 30!!) years ago. But she couldn't explain it to her son and we didn't really GET the meaning behind the answer, until Lilian's son Brian explained, "well, 2 quarters go into half, that's why the answer is 2." Doh!
I'm confident that the Singapore education system is laying a very strong foundation in maths because having undergone the primary math curriculum for six years with Lesley-Anne, I can see how it systematically reinforces the understanding of math concepts, first in solid, tangible methods before moving into abstract forms. Maths in Singapore doesn't teach blind application of formulae to narrowly defined, topical questions. Eg. it used to be that if you came across a question with a circle, you just need to apply one of the formulae for circles and you should be able to find the answer.
These days, a question may feature a pie chart but involves your application of knowledge not just of pie charts but maybe also of circles, percentages, fractions and algebra. Which is very reflective of maths in real life - afterall nothing ever falls neatly in pre-determined categories! And that is the reason why many Singaporean parents find their kids' maths so difficult even at the lower primary levels. It's not that we're dumb or bad at maths, we were just never taught that way!
Many parents, being unable to solve their kids' maths problems (let alone teach it), immediately dismiss the subject as too difficult and call for a tutor. I would like to suggest an alternative solution that is quite straightforward. The catch is that it may not be too palatable for parents - we need to re-learn our maths. Before you groan, let me tell you why: I find that when parents embark on the learning process together with their kids, their kids often are more motivated to work. Never say you're too old - it's doable!
Let me share my experience with Lesley-Anne thus far and hopefully this will encourage you. I never attended a single math workshop and my kids never had math tuition. I was one of those stubborn and tidak apah types who only bothered to find out more about a topic if my kids didn't understand something. I naively thought, "This is primary school maths! How hard can it be??" Until Lesley-Anne hit p3 and was stumped by a question that required models in an exam paper. I knew nothing about models then. When I saw the sum, I was indignant. "Siao! Expect 9-year-olds to solve this kind of question!" I still remember complaining to Lilian when she happened to come back to Singapore for a visit. I showed her the paper expecting sympathetic horror but she said calmly, "oh, this one needs models." (Lilian, I don't know if you remember this!) I was like whaaa..tt?
From there, I looked up model drawing in assessment books and I fell in love with the ingenuity of it. It introduced me to a whole new way of visualising maths problems that I never knew existed. So that was the start. From then on, I would always keep one topic ahead of whatever Lesley-Anne was learning in school by referring to her My Pals Are Here math textbooks and understanding how it's taught (usually very simply yet brilliantly). Consistently, I found that it emphasised understanding of concepts, using meaningful drawings. New topics start from the basics and more complex ones build on topics previously taught in a logical manner. Qualifier: I'm referring only to mainstream maths. I never bothered with topics under the GEP maths syllabus.
However, the textbooks cover only the straightforward and foundational stuff. Often, in assessment books or exam papers of top schools, you will find the questions are much tougher. These are the ones that usually cause much angst in parents. To be able to solve these problems, you need PRACTICE. No two ways about it, sorry. Once the net is cast open for maths questions to involve applications of multiple concepts, there are just too many computations and permutations, you cannot possibly learn ALL the possible ways of solving them by rote. The only way is to ground yourself so firmly in the principles that you are able to manipulate them in different ways to solve the problem. That's what our kids are taught. And they're made to practise. A LOT.
I haven't got it down pat. As you can tell from my less than stellar score in the Nanyang prelim paper, I still have lots to learn. But you know, I'm enjoying it. Once you realise that maths is about applying concepts to solve problems, it becomes fun. For me, it's like doing puzzles (of course I realise that's not everyone's cup of tea!) But it certainly is more interesting and effective than simply doing math by rote.
If you still need more convincing, here are some numbers for you: The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) measures the performance of math and science achievements of students around the world. In 2007, the TIMMS ranked Singapore students second in the world (just after Hong Kong) for Grade 4 (equivalent to p4) and third in the world for Grade 8 (equivalent to sec2), after Chinese Taipei and Korea. In 2003 when the TIMSS was last conducted, Singapore ranked first in both categories.
The consistently high results achieved by Singapore students in math have attracted attention in the US and several states have already adopted our math curriculum and are beginning to see results. You can read this article in the Philadelphia Inquirer and another in the LA Times.
So as I stated in the beginning of this post, the Singapore maths curriculum is rock solid. (Now if they can only do that for English!) I encourage you to take the time to "go back to school" and re-learn your maths. If not for your kids, then for yourself. Approach it with an open mind, I think you might surprise yourself.
Monday, May 4, 2009
I'm sure that if this had occurred 20 years ago, the child would simply be considered "shy". In fact, I had a discussion with a girl friend several weeks back on why there appears to be a proliferation of children's disorders in modern times, whether:
- these conditions had always existed and are just being discovered today due to increasing awareness and research
- there are indeed kids with more disorders these days due to a global change in lifestyle and environment
- we are just trying to create more labels to cater to kids who don't fit nicely into any of the recognised categories
But one thing I'm certain of is that with human beings exhibiting such an impossibly vast spectrum of behaviours and personalities, no matter what new condition you come up with, there will inevitably be some kid who has those symptoms. So I decided to come up with my own fictitious Top 10 list of children's disorders, complete with acronyms (what's a disorder without an acronym??), garnered from years of observing my two young 'uns and other children.
1. Selective Attention Deficit (SAD) Disorder
The ability to sit unmoving for two hours in front of X-Men, but not being able to focus on maths for 10 minutes.
2. Memory Aptitude Deficiency (MAD) Malady
The ability to remember every line of an advertisement jingle they heard a year ago, with accompanying gestures, but not what their teacher had told them earlier that day.
3. Lack Of Sensory Tracking (LOST) Syndrome
The tendency to lose water bottles, lunch boxes, books, files and stationery in school without the slightest inkling of how it happened.
4. Broken Channel Disorder (BCD)
The inability to adjust one's volume so it's constantly tuned to LOUD, particularly when there's a need to ask questions like "MUMMY, WHY IS THAT MAN SO FAT?"
5. Snot Magnet Syndrome (SMS)
Afflicts 5 times more boys than girls. The magical ability to attract dirt, dust and anything resembling snot, coupled with the uncontrollable desire to spread these to different crevices in the body.
6. Sound Origination Syndrome (SOS)
Afflicts 50 times more boys than girls. The ability to fart, burp and create a musical assortment of noises from every body part at will.
7. Total and Irrational Regression in Energy Disorder (TIRED)
The sudden and puzzling drop in energy level, often triggered by the tutor pressing the doorbell.
8. Blasted Bladder and Bowel (BBB) Malady
The strange and instant urge to pee or poop the minute they've left a place with a clean and available toilet, despite having been asked 10 times before, "Do you need to go?"
9. Monosyllable Muttering Syndrome (MMS)
The obsessive and highly annoying use of mono-syllabic answers to probing questions, like "yah", "no" and "mmm". Sometimes improvement may be observed in the upgrade to two syllables - "ok".
10. Hard uf Hearing (HUH?) Syndrome
The ability to hear the opening of a packet of potato chips two rooms away but not their mothers standing next to them, yelling at them to do their homework.
Efforts to find cures for these disorders have so far been in vain, despite modern scientific breakthroughs. So if your kids have any of these disorders, best of luck to you!!
Disclaimer: I am not trivialising real children's disorders. If you are offended by this post, then perhaps you're suffering from the Humour Deficiency Type V (HDTV) Disorder - please seek help.
Sunday, May 3, 2009
I dislike oral revision because it's so iffy - there are no outright answers (unlike math!) and I don't have a clear idea how to help Andre improve. So as usual, procrastination set in and we scrambled to revise only a few days before the exam.
Surprisingly, his passage reading has improved. I think it helps that he's very animated so his narration comes across as lively. Except he sometimes swallows his words, which he explained away as, "I have a lot of saliva in my mouth!" Eww...
He's less adept at the picture talk. For one, his grammar is atrocious. Past tense and present tense all jumbled together with a generous helping of Singlish. Plus his tendency to start a sentence without thinking about it first, leading to lots of "And, and, and...", "Ummm...", "Errr..." and starts and stops.
The other problem is that just like in composition, his imagination sometimes runs away with him and he is unable to apply the picture in a realistic context. This is a picture I used to revise his picture talk.
Looks quite straightforward, right? Andre was quite enthusiastic about it as it looked like an exciting scene. He said very dramatically, "A robber on the left side was carrying a SWORD." And then, you see the bar stool that had toppled behind the robber? Andre said, "Somebody left on the floor one of those... those weights, you know? The thing you carry in the gym."
The night before the exam, to give him some assurance, we prayed with him. I prayed something along the lines of "God, please give Andre confidence for his oral exam tomorrow and help him think clearly and know what to say."
When he came home from school, I asked how his exam went. He declared, "VERY CONFIDENT!"
Doomed. We're dooooomed.
Friday, May 1, 2009
The hardest questions were in Section C, from Q42 onwards, so here they are.
Q42 (a): The figure shows a rectangular field ABCD. Mike walked from A to B to C to D and he covered a distance of 57m. Sandy walked from B to C to D to A and she covered a distance of 48m. What is the perimeter of the field?
A: I used algebra, B = breadth, L = length. Based on Sandy's distance, 2B + L = 48 (equation 1). Based on Mike's distance, 2L + B = 57 (equation 2).
Using equation 1, L = 48 - 2B. Substitute this into equation 2, you'll get:
2 (48 - 2B) + B = 57
96 - 4B + B = 57
4B - B = 96 - 57
3B = 39
B = 39 ÷ 3 = 13
Mike's distance is just short of one breadth from the perimeter of the field, so 57 + 13 = 70
Answer: a) The perimeter of the field is 70m.
(b): Some construction work was undertaken on the same field and a semi-circular part was removed from it. What is the perimeter of the field after the construction? (Take ╥ = 22/7)
Note: I got this one wrong due to a careless mistake, but here's the correct answer.
A: First, find the perimeter of the semi-circle, which is ½ (╥d)
½ (22/7 x 10.5) = ½ (321/7) = 16.5
The two remaining bits of the breadth are B - 10.5 = 13 - 10.5 = 2.5
The perimeter of the field is Mike's distance + perimeter of semi-circle + remaining bits of B
57 + 16.5 + 2.5 = 76
Answer: b) The perimeter of the field after construction is 76m.
Q43: got this wrong, refer to Lilian's post.
Q44: The tickets for a show are priced at $10 and $5. The number of ten-dollar tickets available is 1½ times the number of five-dollar tickets. 5 out of 6 ten-dollar tickets and all the five-dollar tickets were sold. The ticket sales amounted to $5600. How much more would have been collected if all the tickets were sold?
A: This is the only sum in the entire paper where I used a model (bah, so much for being a model mum!) First, note that there are two different variables here, the number of tickets and the value of the tickets. There are 1½ the number of ten-dollar tickets vs five-dollar tickets available, ie for every five-dollar ticket ($5), there is 1½ ten-dollar ticket ($15). In terms of value, the ten-dollar tickets are three times that of the five-dollar tickets. I drew a model for the value of the tickets available (right pic).
Next, we know 1/6 of the ten-dollar tickets were not sold, so I cut the ten-dollar ticket portion into six portions. Since I halve each of the 3 portions for the ten-dollar ticket, I have to do the same for the five-dollar tickets. (If you're not clear about the rules for math models, refer to my earlier post.) The shaded part is the part that is unsold.
Since ticket sales amounted to $5,600, $5,600 is represented by the 7 unshaded parts.
1 unknown part = 5600 ÷ 7 = 800 (which is equivalent to the shaded part)
Answer: $800 more would have been collected.
Q45 A rectangular tank measuring 60cm by 35cm by 40cm is half-filled with water. If Tap A is turned on, it will take 6 min to fill the remaining half of the tank to its brim. Tap B drains water from the tank at a rate of 12 litres per min. How long will it take for the tank to be filled to 1/8 of its capacity if both taps are turned on at the same time?
A: First, find how much water is in the tank, which is total volume of tank divided by 2.
(60 x 35 x 40) ÷ 2 = 84,000 ÷ 2 = 42,000 cm³ or 42 litres
The rate of Tap A is 42 ÷ 6 = 7 litres/min
The rate of Tap B is -12 litres/min (take note of the minus, since Tap B drains water, not adds water).
This means that every minute both taps are on, the tank loses 5 litres (7-12)
We need to find out how much time it takes for the tank to reach 1/8 of its capacity (which is 42 ÷ 4 = 10.5). The amount of water it needs to lose is 42 - 10.5 = 31.5.
- 5 litres takes 1 min
- 31.5 litres takes 31.5/5 = 6.3 mins
Answer: It takes 6.3 mins for the tank to be filled to 1/8 of its capacity.
Q46: got this wrong, refer to Lilian's post.
Q47. At a school carnival, there were 520 more girls than boys. 1/8 of the girls and 20% of the boys left the carnival. In the end, there were 488 more girls than boys. (a) Did more girls or boys leave the carnival? How many more?
A: If we put aside the 520 more girls at first, we have an equal number of boys and girls. So we convert 1/8 and 20% (1/5) into a common denominator to be able to compare the number of boys and girls who left the carnival, which is:
Girls - 5/40 + 1/8 x 520 = 5/40 + 65
Boys - 8/40
So the number of boys and girls still at the carnival is:
Girls - 35/40 + 520 - 65 = 35/40 + 455
Boys - 32/40
This means there were 3/40 + 455 more girls than boys still at the carnival, which is equivalent to 488.
3/40 + 455 = 488
3/40 = 488 - 455 = 33
1/40 = 33/3 = 11
Since 1/40 = 11, the number of girls who left the carnival is 5 x 11 + 65 = 120
The number of boys who left the carnival is 8 x 11 = 88
120 - 88 = 32
Answer: a) 32 more girls left the carnival than boys. (Note: This is the roundabout way! Lilian's is way more direct but I couldn't work it out at that time).
(b) How many children were there at the carnival in the end?
The number of children still at the carnival is:
35/40 + 455 (girls) + 32/40 (boys)
= 67/40 + 455
= 67 x 11 + 455 = 1192
Answer: b) There were 1,192 children at the carnival in the end.
Q48: Couldn't do this, refer to Lilian's post.