There’s a particular class in my school that almost all teachers enter with a sense of dread. Many reasons are given – they’re lazy, noisy, unable to comprehend lessons, do not have discipline, and pretty much everything under the sun. I myself despite all my effort to disagree with my colleagues, in the end I somehow subscribed to that too – probably from the frustration of not seeing any progress despite hard work teaching them. I dreaded the days where I have a double period with this class, because I am tired of having to resort to drastic measures to retain classroom control from being taken over by them. As for how, I probably wont share them here.
This drags on for a few months, until a few days ago. I have recently attended a few workshops about teaching strategies for PMR and SPM English, and decided to modify and apply some of the methods learned on my students. Using the understanding of breaking essay writing into small chunks of writing tasks, I designed a module that aims to help students produce a paragraph. The first class from the same form did well with the module – but I wonder how would the kids in this class take it. Worry that these kids won’t be able to engage well, I decided to break them into small groups, and go around teaching each of it. Hopefully small tutorials would help me to teach, and they to learn, better.
The result was that the students were focused on the task; they try their best to meet me in the middle. Some started asking questions, bringing forward their work for me to see. Even the most difficult student actually sat down, did his work, and barked at his friends for mucking around! Seeing such positive environment, I top it up by throwing praises to some students, who are known to be hard to manage. Perhaps not used to the praises, their face grew red, as red as those Washington apples. I made a point to thank and congratulate the class for showing their best with me, and I can see that some are really proud of themselves.
Later that day, I had a chat with some female students from the class, asking why are they so attentive on my lesson that week. They started telling that my previous lessons are too hard, I moved on too fast, and they struggle to keep up with me. They also said that this modular approach is difficult at first, but they somehow managed to get it after repeated exercise. They also enjoy small group tutorials, saying that they could get their work checked on the spot. No doubt these are great news, and it made my evening drink tasted somehow sweet, despite being just black coffee with no sugar at all.
As I sip my coffee, I was reminded of things my lecturers in teaching college used to say:
“Design lessons that are within their ZPD, and provide lots of scaffolding”
“With weaker students, always let them work in groups – when a few average joes are put together, they can outsmart a smart alec”
“Sometimes, little teacher talk, and more time on task is what the students need to learn”
But the one that struck me right in the chest is:
“Students are naturally well behaving, responsive and eager to please. It is we teachers that destroy those values by teaching like a robot, asking students to do the same thing over and over again. These are teenagers, when they get bored, they start doing funny things and they misbehave. And then we teachers punish them, knowing little that we are the reasons for that to happen”.
Reflecting on the last sayings, the punishment causes the kids to dislike us teachers. And then we go in and teach like a robot again. The students misbehave even more as they already find the lessons boring, and they now hate us. And then we punish them again. It’s a vicious cycle that continues, resulting in the expulsion of the student(s), or that the teacher gets a heart attack.
I finished my coffee with the thought that it is important for us teachers to teach at the right level, as that would keep them engaged in their task, reduce misbehaviour, and ensure positive learning outcomes.
These words are so simple, and yet it took me almost 2 years of teaching to fully comprehend. Well, at least I do now.
I recently attended a course on PMR and SPM English teaching called ‘Meeting of Minds’, its a joint program from Sabah English Language Teachers’ Think Tank and JPN Sabah. The speaker Audrey Koh from SMK Majakir, Papar shared many things, whom i believe is relevant and useful to my own teaching as well. I However, left the course with this piece of thought….
Often we can see new teachers entering the service with full spirit and energy, trying to change the world. That is good and wonderful. However, often they have the spirit, but probably very little substance – they might be well equipped with the teaching methodology or pedagogical knowledge, but they often lack experience and ‘tools’ to do the trade. New teachers often have very little idea on how to teach kids with beginner proficiency to write a narrative, or to produce a summary. Desperate, they approach their senior teachers for help. If they’re lucky, they get help. If they don’t, they’ll be laughed at, and be told ‘buat pe kerja kuat sangat, kau ajar macam mana pun, tak pergi mana juga budak-budak ni’.
Those who are weak give in earlier, and end up being a ‘teacher 25’, those who wait for the 25th of the month to get their pay. Those who persisted will keep trying and trying, a small number would figure it out on their own, and become successful, the rest would eventually burn out, and give up as well. This could just be the reason why burned out teachers become fat (from eating too much), and do lots of funny side jobs.
I wonder, perhaps it could be possible to reduce the burnout rate if they are given help when they’re at the ‘trying hard’ stage? These new teachers will get assistance and support from external sources, and be equipped with new tricks to help their teaching. Hopefully, they could see encouraging results from what they learnt at courses for new teachers, and be determined to keep trying hard. Often we see new teachers being left at the sinkhole for too long, and when help comes, its too late – they stopped trying to get out from the hole, and resign to their fate.
This is what i observed amongst Sabah teachers, what about your place? lets talk.
It was one of those days hatching my colleagues ride to Kota Kinabalu when he played this album Id Pagadadan by Fabian William. it was surprisingly good, unlike the sometimes crass and horrible lyrics in some Sabah songs idea heard.
after the drop off, i realized that the songs are now in my head, and off i went looking for the CD at Donggongon. sadly, they’re either out of stock, or they don’t have it. Desperate, i went to Youtube looking for the songs. and i found a few.
After watching them, i though i might just share it on the Blog. who knows Fabian can win more fans outside of Sabah?
I personally enjoy the second track a lot more, although i still have almost no idea what the song is about, except it sure is talking about some Sumandak. Any readers out there who speaks Dusun?
Hope you peeps enjoy them!
It is always hard teaching really low proficiency students, as they are often demotivated and found traditional sit-down lesson horribly boring. One of the best trick we could use is Total Physical Response. TPR is an English Language Teaching Methodology where physical movements are used in the teaching. As the kids move about, theres is a lesser chance of them falling asleep and all.
I applied principles of TPR in my recent literature revision session with my 2 Jauhari students. the lesson goes like this:
1. SS put into groups, and each groups are assigned a stanza of the poem.
2. Each group will then do dictionary work on the words they have forgotten
3. Groups will then assign a reader to read the stanza, while the rest of the members will ‘role play’ the stanzas
4. SS are given time to practice, and teacher walks around making sure they are ok.
5. Presentation. when each group are done, teacher will ask SS questions to ensure they understand the stanzas
6. 1 student form each group will present their stanzas, while the rest of the SS follows the ‘role play’
This is a simple way to integrate TPR into a literature lesson. Why don’t you try it out?
Kalasiu – seen or ate it before?
I recently went off to the sea with my colleagues to find a particular seashell called ‘Kalasiu’, wednesday evening. The idea came about during the staff meeting, when the teachers talked about having a craving to eat these things. It helps that it is currently their season, so they are abundant on the shallow sea waters. we managed to get 4 people, with 2 of our students as boat drivers and spotters.
Shafie, my student + sea guide
the sea was calm and the weather is merciful – theres some sun, but not too bright that it burns your skin. My students drove the boat for a good 10 minutes from Kuala Sugut, and we jumped off into the water about my waist high.
the process of picking up these ‘kalasiu’ is easy, you just have a walkabout around, if you step on something shell-like, put your hands in and pick it up. we didn’t really work much, we picked for about 10 minutes and then we had a jollyabout for a good 15 probably.
My two colleagues – Rudi and Mawi
overexcited after finding my first kalasiu – ‘orang bandar’ betul
10 minutes of picking
Towards the end, we picked close to a full pail of kalasiu, maybe about 30kg. Of course, that night, we threw a feast. the teachers all had boiled Kalasiu for dinner. you eat them like an escargot – use a toothpick, and pick out whats inside. I myself ate a few of them, but I don’t see what is so good about it, aside it being very high in cholesterol.
at least i enjoyed the picking process, and that a dip in the seawater and some walkies on the beach can do good, especially after a week or two of tense work.
I was recently being asked to conduct a lesson study program for teachers in my panel. So, I thought it would be interesting to share my experience with everybody. If you are confused about the concept of lesson study, it is basically a form of professional development program – teachers meet up, discuss a lesson plan, one teacher carry it out whilst being observed by the rest, and then they sit down again to discuss shortfalls and possible improvements. If you’re still keen to read more, do check on this link.
Lesson Study – Definitions
Being put in the spotlight to run the program for English Panel is quite interesting, as I found myself directing my Head of Panel on what to do! At least he’s happy not being dumped with more responsibilities. After a quick briefing from the Senior Assistant, the panel got down to work.
Instead of applying the standard procedure of having everybody sitting down and drafting a lesson plan, it was decided that I will draft a lesson plan based on goals set, and then the whole panel would sit down and scrutinize it later. The end product looked something like this:
It is an attempt to introduce the style of using the format of (Sequence Connectors), + (Imperatives) in writing instructions on ‘how to’ type of essays. The lesson runs on discovery learning and PPP (presentation, practice, production) principles.
The lesson finished without hitches, although I did not manage to achieve all my goals. Here are some pictures of the lesson as it goes along:
My own thoughts post-lesson is that I might have set the bar too high to my students – a problem that I tend to be trapped in. There is probably a need to reduce the amount of activities in the lesson, perhaps not write a short essay, but just sentences. The students might make use of the extra time to let the new input sink in, and they could put more effort into each of their new sentences. The post-lesson discussion would be done later, probably next week. It would be interesting to hear what my colleagues have to say.
I was made to know that this ‘Lesson Study’ project is a national exercise. Have you done yours? Mind sharing your experience?
I recently received an email from a reader who’s coming to teach in Sabah soon. She asked me about how different does the speakers in Sabah speak Malay, as she has heard from her friends that Sabahans speak half-Indonesian. Her mail kinda sparked me an idea to write entries on Sabahan for Semenanjung peeps.
The first lesson shall be about the word ‘Bah’. its so commonly used here across ethnic groups and is seen as a sign of being a Sabahan. Meaning wise, the word ‘Bah’ could be used loosely as ‘Lah’ in Semenanjung Malay.
- eg: “kau buat macam ini lah!” (smnjg)
- “macam ini saja kau buat bah!” (sabahan)
Much as “Lah”, The word, if given different intonation, could signify various emotions – albeit with some differences.
- ‘cepat bah!’ (rising) indicating impatience, being agitated
- ‘karja (kerja) ini endak(tidak) senang bah’ (falling) – making statement and seeking assurance from others.
“Bah”, if spoke by itself, could also mean ‘yes’
- eg: “Kau bisuk (esok) pigi kedai beli roti 2 buku”
Do try it out if you could. or you could always go to Youtube and search for Sabahan speech, and listen to it. have fun!