Thursday, August 18, 2005

Of Karsts, Horsts And Rift Valleys

I need to rant.

Today's GESL meeting was most pissifying. Given that no one has a specific community service program to implement, isn't it fairly obvious that the best course of action would be to narrow down couple of organisations and find out from them what THEIR needs are and how we may THEN interface those with our interests and cobble together a viable GESL project? But NO! Perhaps being teachers, some of us feel COMPELLED to design a flawless program before meeting an organisation which is enough of a pushover for us to shove our gem of a program down their throats. Either that, or some of us feel that being civil servants, our job is to talk a problem to death and thus we had to spend 2 hours sharing pet peeves about people who dun allow alighting passengers to exit first before entering the MRT cabin and other misc issues with LIL or NO direct relevance to the task at hand! Dun b mistaken, I have no problems with service learning, but can we like go easy on the talk and see some action already?!?

Anyways, two more of my colleagues underwent the Baptism of Fire today and I believe they'll turn out to be much more resilient teachers. I have no doubt that there are badly behaved students out there. But to pack all the posssible bad behaviours into a short 30 mins lesson is like compressing all the known aphrodisiacs in the world into a 10 mg capsule - your're prob gonna get a cardiac arrest before you reap any benefits. Kudos to them for soldiering on and keeping their cool tho!

A couple of things struck me today. First, LY's classrm mgmt techniques. I must admit I thought it was ingenious when I first realised LY's intention of having us display our EZ-Link Cards. But later on, several shortcomings of this strategy emerged. (1) Some cards started being passed around. This is not a problem with a group of adults. But with a class of 40 less matured Sec Sch students, stuff could go missing quite easily. (2) Upon confiscation, there wasn't any system to log/track whose cards were being confiscated. I guess since most students would hold Concession Passes with their photos on, it wouldn't be that much of an issue. But without documentary support, its quite easy for students to make wild accusations esp if one is not the most popular teacher in sch. (3) Maybe it'll be better to have a gradated system, where students get say 3 chances before their cards are confiscated. Overheard: "Since she's taken our card, what else have we got to lose?" I guess that sums it up pretty well.

Second, I was quite taken with the idea of signalling to students using flashcards, a hand-sign or even a whistle to pipe down and listen up. Today, I was subjected to the third option. And as a student, I didn't like it. Frankly, it felt demeaning and I wouldn't want a class full of 40 Pavlovian dogs. Surely, it's a fly idea to have 40 students respond to u with a snap of the fingers. But I think I'd rather appeal to them logically than to condition them to a single-source external stimulus. At this point, I'm reminded of what my Comms Tutor shared about his own experience. He suggested setting up a system where students would pass the message down from the front. So, if they were in the midst of group work and the teacher wanted them to stop, the teacher would move along the first row and get them to pass the msg on to the rest of the class to cease. Actually I'm still a lil skeptical despite his assurance that he's tried it rather effectively within the setting of a local classroom in a not so branded school, if I may add. But he brought up a really valid point. Students want to be treated wth respect as individuals, not canines in the Police Dog Unit [my addition]. So I guess I'll try the courtesy approach before I whip out my whistle next time.

Third, YZ was focused on particular students in class. Her attention seemed to gravitate towads students of from the extreme ends of the spectrum. As a result, the rest of the class received scant attention from her. Tho one can understand her actions (gd students can be called upon to answer qns; bad ones need to be put on surveillance), one should be mindful of paying equal attention to everyone. Otherwise, it could open one to accusations of favoritism or worse targetting.


Friday, August 12, 2005

The Day I Said Fu*k In Class

Today's QCG520 class saw the first of a series of micro-teaching sessions. Indeed, this will be one class that will stay etched in my memory for quite some time. For *shudder* tis the day I first uttered an expletive in class DURING a 'presentation'. But I digress. This post is to consolidate some of my thoughts on the simulated teaching session, not to compound my shame.

It's never easy to take the lead and start off something. For one, there's no one before you to emulate or take reference from. So Chan Ying's bravery is highly commendable. But more than just bravery, Chan Ying obviously put in much thought and effort into her 'lesson' - her well-conceptualised activity and copious stationary bear testimony. But surely, her well-timed effort to shimmy the postcards from right under the nose of the Cold Storage cashier deserves some credit too. ;-) However, I think I would've chosen to execute the lesson in a different manner if I were put in her shoes.

I think a strong intro really sets the pace for the lesson, as well as captures the students' attention and prepare them for what's gonna hit em. In this respect, the class wasn't called to order and informed of the contents or objectives of the lesson. This probably accounted for the initial chattering and confusion. Furthermore, as Kean Fan pointed out and I concur, the first part of the lesson wasn't used very efficiently. Making students read aloud from the materials had more punitive than pedagogical value. In the meantime, the rest of the class who have already grasped the point are left to gawk. Not only does this not help to build the momentum, precious time is wasted.

The lack of response at the beginning probably also had as much to do with the inexplicit instructions as well as students' inattentiveness. As a matter of fact, I feel that the lesson in general was marked by nebulous instructions. No doubt, instructions were given, but the students' attention were not called to those instructions. Perhaps it would be beneficial to flag instructions with imperatives like "Listen up!" to draw students' attention to key points. It is noteworthy, however, that Chan Yin listed the instructions on the whiteboard for students to reference. But it would probably have been more useful if she had emphasized it verbally and used the whiteboard as reinforcement.

The issue of monitoring students' progress during group work was brought up in class. It was observed that Chan Yin paid more attention to 2 groups. In all fairness, Chan Yin did make her rounds. But seeing how assiduous some of us were, she then turned her attention to more 'deserving' members of the class. This reminded me of one of the difficulties I faced in class when I set group work. It was lovely if students actually asked me for assistance when I made my rounds. But sometimes, students sort of clam up when I approach them. While I'm eager for them to produce good work, I worry about over-intervention, so I usually try to leave em alone. That's probably not the best strategy. However, some of the more experienced teachers I've observed are very intrusive and I wonder what's the right 'dosage' of intervention?

The outburst in the middle of the lesson rattled me. I dread to see a situation as such in my own class. I wasn't exactly paying attention to how the situation was handled. But personally, I wouldn't have reprimanded the students in class. I'd probably remind them to put their differences aside and concentrate on the task at hand. At the same time, I would appeal to their conscience by telling them how much effort I put into planning this lesson and how I wouldn't appreciate them demolishing everything with their (petty) dispute. Of course, I wouldn't let the matter rest but insist that they saw me after class to sort things out.

Finally, while I fully appreciate Chan Yin's well-meaning efforts in planning a lesson like this. I wonder if the time invested was a tad extravagant. I'm not entirely sure how salubrious this activity is to the learning/teaching of this topic. I must qualify this by saying I'm very briefly acquainted with the syllabus. However, I do think that this activity is useful in stirring up interest. But I would probably do it differently by eliciting verbal responses, or perhaps getting the entire class to fill in one itinerary collectively. This would also free up time for other activities. In addition, perhaps financial prudence is not the best decision-making skill to incorporate into a lesson like this. Even if it was mandatory to introduce financial prudence, it would probably be more useful to set a budget for the students, as well as furnish them with a list of hypothetical expenses (e.g. admission charges) so that they can concentrate on the actual decision making.

As this post draws to a close, I can feel my cheeks and ears turning crimson from the memory of my recent faux pas.

Oh well, nothing a good weekend can't take care of! =)


Sunday, August 07, 2005


An initial post to see how this all works out.

Sorry for the boo-boo email with the wrong blog address. I really should've read all the emails first...tsk tsk.