Wednesday, October 05, 2005

A vision of Apocalypse? A Near-Death Experience? Or a Baptism of Fire?

Whichever way one chooses to look at it, my microteaching session was not a walk in the park. But I think I’m finally ready to face the trauma and blog about it without being committed to a Home in Buangkok for a severe nervous breakdown!

Lesson Plan
The lesson was planned for a half-an-hour Secondary 3 Express class. They would’ve gone through an earlier lesson on the basic concepts like food and nourishment. The lesson was meant to follow up with contemporary patterns of mal-nourishment. In particular, I intended for the class to be able to describe and explain current patterns of mal-nutrition using the concept of food security.

The format of the lesson was designed to be student-centered. Ideally, the students would’ve identified the patterns of mal-nourishment with prompts from me. At the same time, they would’ve practiced some of their map-reading skills. The next part of the lesson was an exercise in Co-operative Learning where the students were split into groups and were given different sets of articles to summarize for subsequent presentation to the rest of the class. I would’ve captured the students’ inputs on the whiteboard and used them to introduce the concept of food security.

After that, I would’ve shown them a photo journal on mal-nourished individuals. The point would’ve been to engage the students emotionally so that they realize they are not merely learning about cold statistics. I would’ve then concluded the lesson by providing a summary of their inputs as well as previewing the next lesson.

Although I thought the Geography of Food was novel and refreshing, the fact that I had scant knowledge of the topic as well as the vague syllabus kinda rocked my boat. The fact that no one else really knew what the topic was about was lil consolation. As a result, I wasn’t really confident delivering that lesson. The lack of confidence translated into excessive hedging – a coupla mins into the lesson, I found myself going ‘uhm’ and ‘right’ a lil too often. My initial lack of confidence and the situations that subsequently emerged only served to derail my lesson from its intended trajectory and I could only watch in dismay as it hurtled towards its ignominious end.

I’m not exactly sure how best to structure this, so I’m just gonna go by broad headings.

Dealing with Students with Color Deficiency
My plan to elicit responses about the contemporary patterns of mal-nutrition fell flat on its face. Not least because the color contrast was so unenlightening! Actually I did consider the fact that the colors may not reproduce so nicely on the projector. But the more I stared at it on my monitor, the more I managed to convince myself that it’ll work out fine. I realize now how misguided my senses were. The solution really is to manage the color scheme in Photoshop or the likes.

The case of the color-blind student took me by surprise. Coupled with the bad color contrast, I really didn’t know what to do short of reading out the legend to the class. Of course, if there’s a known case of color-blindness in class, the solution would be to opt for a more inclusive color scheme.

Fielding Questions
I don’t think I sounded too convincing clarifying some of the concepts. At this point I can only recall the question about mal-nourishment. As for the question about the difference between ‘Unclassified’ and ‘Unknown’, I honestly hadn’t given it much thought before and was ill-equipped to deal with the query, save to promise that I would check it out. Regarding the persistent allegation that Islam was the root of malnutrition in the world, I was eager to quell any racist notions. But I didn’t want the student to walk away thinking his answer wasn’t accepted, as it was an impolite response. Thus I thought the best way was to challenge him for empirical evidence.

Giving Instructions
I can’t recall what instructions I gave for group-work. But evidently my instructions must’ve been rather opaque, as I had to repeat the instructions to the individual groups subsequently.

Time Management
The lesson persisted beyond its intended lifespan of 30 mins. Disruptions aside, the lesson would’ve been more comfortably planned for a 45 mins lesson as that would’ve left more time for questions and for students to complete the readings.

Sending Students to the Sick Bay
I made the decision to send Wenhui to the sick bay and leave the running of the class to the Monitor. The fact that she almost fainted indicated it was serious and I needed to ensure she was sent to the sick bay promptly. I figured should she faint again, at least I would be able to haul her to the sick bay, seeing she’s still within ‘carrying capacity’. I thought that most students would not raise hell while their teacher sends their ailed classmate to the sick bay, especially after witnessing their classmate collapse.

Dealing with Torrential Outpours of Student Affection
I dunno if I should comment on this cos it’s rare to see Geography classes develop into Taiwanese Teen dramas. When Mas first declared her affections for me, I tried to side-step the issue and reiterate the classroom as a place for learning. However, when it became clear that her romantic overtures were not about to cease, I decided to co-opt her into the Shrine of Chris Tay by suggesting that if she was really a ‘fan’, she ought to be more participatory in class. That was a ‘great’ help cos it basically propelled her infatuation to greater heights, eventually culminating into the ‘banner’ she eventually presented.

All in all, the lesson left me feeling somewhat broken and battered. But putting a spin to what Mas said, you may not deliver a lesson but as long as you have love, everything will be fine....Mas...MR TAY U 2! =)

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Mighty Mas and Flying Swallow

I can take a breather at last!

Ed psych presentation and EL Integration Task are finally over. I shall utilise the night for recovery, however undeserving I may be. But really, that's just a productive way of saying, "I ain't no doing nothing tonite!" ;-)

2 more micro-teaching sessions today, so here goes.

I don't know whether to congratulate Mas for her well-delivered lesson or her convincing acting. But I guess it's because she really got into her role as a teacher that she managed to pull off a fly lesson like a seasoned pro. On that note, I think it's really important to dive into your role if you're going to reap the full benefit of the micro-teaching sessions.

So yeah, Mas' class quite did it for me today. I thought she really carried it through with panache. She came across as being very confident and assertive (if not a lil dead-pan, wholly attributable to her health or lack thereof, I'm sure). This helped to capture her students' attention. But the real strength of her teaching was that she was able to seamlessly weave the various components of her lesson together, ensuring a smooth flow that captured my attention as a student. As a result, most of the class was on-task most of the time.

Another commendable point about Mas' lesson was her conscious attempt to modify the students' schema by emphasizing key words. Once when someone referred to a lot of trees, she corrected him by saying the right phrase to use was thick vegetation. I also noticed that made various attempts to emphasize keywords like 'emergents' and 'understorey'.

I also liked the way she framed her lesson. I thought the decision to frame the lesson as a field trip is very appropriate for a Secondary 1 class. That's a gd way to perk their interest. Much effort must've gone into the production of the well-conceived presentation. There are just a couple of things I thought she could've done differently. For example, I thought that instead of just flashing pics with the forest sounds playing in the background, there could be some sort of commentary. I think that would've made the lesson stronger. Her aim was to use BTNR as a case-study. But by flashing the pics, the unique nature of BTNR was not highlighted, as the pics could very well have come from any rainforest. More info could've been provided on the special characteristics of BTNR like the sort of endemic species or maybe an introduction to the different areas. By flashing generic pics, the exercise slipped into a somewhat behaviorist mode of identifying the right forest item.

In addition, I thought the presentation could've been better timed. The pic whizzed a tad too fast. I remember at one stage, a poem was presented. And the words were appearing like a quick succession of landmines across an open field. Any Sec 1 child would've been lost in the rapid bombardment of words.

Further, I thought the group activity on deforestation could've been made more relevant to students. It was good that students were taught the effects of deforestation and the pressures on the forest. But the problem of rampant development isn't that salient for BTNR. Perhaps she could've focussed on the human effects of litter on the forest environment. That would've been closer to the heart of the children.

A couple of things stood out for Yen Peng's lesson. Her approach was more teacher-centred than Mas'. But I think that might've been unavoidable, given the nature of the topic. However, I thought that her handout should've allowed for more student input, instead of providing all the answers for them. This only serves to encourage inattentiveness in class.

Further, she could've handled the Raksha-Wesley fiasco a lil more delicately. Firstly, perhaps she shouldn't have reproached Raksha for losing her wallet. Nobody wants shit to happen. Further, upon Raksha's accusations, I felt that it would have been better to check everyone's bag instead of just Wesley's, as just checking Wesley's bag could open a teacher up to accusations of prejudice.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

I'm amazed how calming food can be.

I walked out of English class today with a baby universe unfolding in my cranium. I swear to God my head was going to explode from exhaustion, frustration and a gross overload of information. But as soon as I polished off the last bits of my Breakfast set, a calm surrender came over me. Sakyamuni couldn't have felt more at ease under the bodhi tree.

I hope this isn't the first sign that I'm one of those guys who start ballooning after they start working cos they binge to deal with stress. Hell no....

I'm kinda glad about the PTM role-play. It's gonna be a fresh new experience beyond the micro-teachings that have been taking place. Besides, I think it'll put us on a good steed when we do eventually have to face the Parents. I hope it doesn't turn into a farce considering most of us haven't quite gone the family way yet.

Rezal's Lesson
Quite an interesting scenario today. For once, hardly any inane 'inconveniences' were enacted. I thought the "debt collector" was hilarious - he deserves a prize for Most Congenial Loan Shark for maintaining a smile throughout. Having said that, I thought Rezal's approach was pretty good. He didn't come into direct conflict with Daren's character. I think Daren's character would've been even more upset if he were to be reprimanded for trying to get his money back - assuming the situation was genuine - never mind it wasn't the right time/place. But Rezal was calm, cool and courteous about it. That was good cos if he had come down hard on the student, some serious bad blood could've resulted between them.

The activity, however, could've been more well-thought-through. As a 'Special' student, I felt rather unengaged. Considering the article addressed both sides rather succintly, I felt that it was more an exercise in summary and there was lil to argue over. As a teacher, I wasn't too sure what the learning objectives were. If it was an opportunity for the students to exercise decision-making skills. Perhaps it would've been better for the class to be divided into 3 groups - Egyptians, Ethiopians and UN Officials. If it was for the class to hone their argumentation skills, perhaps it would've have been better for the class to seek out their own materials. The format pursued in class seemed merely to tax the students' summary skills. Also, at some points, I felt that the debate towards the end was just free-wheeling. It would've have been better if Rezal had stepped in to focus the class' attention on certain aspects or issues by asking some prompting questions.

That's all for tonite...time to get LOST.

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.