Friday, August 1, 2014

Random thoughts: teaching my son and teaching my pupils

This blog is kind of trigger by LP post on rote learning. I have been thinking about teaching these days too.

Just a few weeks ago, my MIL told me to sign my son up for CL classes. I said No, she said its just $65, her other daughter's child is going, why not just go. She complained I always play with my son, I am not concerned about his future. I told her I will teach him myself. There are many reasons for this decision, although it is easier just to dump him off a weekend class.

1) I want to very clearly signal that what someone has or do, doesn't mean I have to do it too.

2) Language is acquired and not learned at age of 5, at such, once in a week learning of CL at such young age is a waste of time.

3) related to point 2, I believed spending 1/2 hour every day is definitely more effective than a drop and dump once a week lesson, even if I am less competent than the tutor.

4) I am sure I will focus on the language experience; the playing, the speaking, the authencity of activities, the story books I choose. I dun want drilling of vocabulary or exam skills at age 5. That can come later.

5) it is just 3 weeks, and my MIL commented that my son speaks better now. Of course la, his dad is professional, you know LOL( sorry, I can't help myself, my ego just exploded)

I tried to balance exam skills and language experience in school, and LP concept of rote learning, ( I will define it as regular drill and practice resulting in memorizing) is what I applied rather regularly too. ( rote learning means something else to me)

Rote learning is highly efficient and effective. Efficient because it uses the least amount of time, effective because it pertain to exam skills, and have a high correlation with exam results.

But scoring A means you are a proficient language user? Have you know someone who score A but speak like S***? Language is a tool, but also a gateway to culture, a carrier of emotions. It has authentic uses for communication, written or verbal. The ministry is trying to emphasize "interactive" spoken and written language now, which is the right direction, but the assessment has not shifted yet, given we are all pragmatic, efficient driven humanbots, what do we do? Exam skills practice, how to analyze the passage? How to prevent careless mistakes in your answers, although your answers would have shown clearly you understand, but No, follow the standard way of answering because in the end, it will be marked and graded that way.

A problem based approach to language acquisition would be more meaningful, in my humble opinion. But that would mean there is no standard curriculum, how to grade pupils?

Don't get me wrong, practice and drilling is inevitable. But we do not live in a black and white world.

Do you think there is a magic formula where u can trade/ value invest and make money? No, there is no standard answers, just various methods that work well with your mind and money.

My pupils always tell me, they don't know the answers. I say, try, it doesn't matter if you get it wrong. Remember I told you a method to derive the answer? Just try it, I won't blame you if you get it wrong. It is returned blank, usually by 1-2 hardcore pupil. To me, it is far more serious than not knowing the answer, in life, we never have answers to many things! Why is my wife unhappy with me, what I didn't snag that promotion? It's ok not to have the "right" answer, but we cannot stop exploring!! The pupils who do not try usually get it hard from me. Tell me how to survive outside, if you don't know how to think!

Pupils are more than happy when I gave answers. Quick solution, long term pain. Just like I never agree with 5-7 years stint of principals, before they are rotated out. How to build character of a school that way? Some scholar come and know he only has 5 years to prove himself, what would he do? We all know how focus of the short term gains in the Coporate world lead to. Need me to repeat GFC? Would he do things differently if he knows he will be around for 12 years minimum? You bet. I know all the pros and reasons for that rotation, but if that is the case, why is PAP not adopting that line of thought and is doing well, both internally (still in power) and externally ( people are still relatively well off ). Given how the ministry is trying to run school like the Coporate world ( saw Singapore quality class award on school banners few years ago, good riddance with that! Glad we have a minister that talk about value- centric education), how irony they didn't see the flaws of the Coporate system.

Sorry that I Side- tracked a bit. I took a hard look and reflected on my lessons after my first 5 weeks. Plenty of misses, since I miscalculate the workload and curriculum requirement of my new workplace. That is the easy part, I can easily adjusted and catch up. But the verdict of my review, do more lessons that focus on exam skills. It is still a real world out there, put interest at a back burner for now, CA is round the corner.

I am glad I am teaching my son the way I want it. Nope, say all you want, I am not sending him to language classes yet.


  1. Totally agreed with your view, even though I don't have any kids ;-)

  2. Hello Sillyinvestor,

    1. That 1/2 hour everyday with your boy boy, this bonding and relationship building cannot be measured in exam scores nor $ :)

    2. I can vouch for the Scandinavian style of early play education model. Just look at the amount of innovations and patents coming out from that region! Play on!

    3. There was a time when we remember our schools fondly with certain "eras". And that ties in very closely with the 15-20 years "eras" of the principals there.

    Its the same for companies. If we have a new CEO every 7 years, may I know what Vision or Strategic Thinking we are talking? Just look at HP in recent years....

  3. Hi sillyinvestor,

    Glad to have inspired this emotional piece from you :) Can always trust you to have something good to say when it comes to the field of education :)

    Pray tell, what's your definition of rote learning? It seems like you have one, but it also seems that it's something distasteful.

    I don't have a kid. But if I do, chances are that I wouldn't send him/her to tuition centre too. I'm a full time tutor, for god's sake, if I can't fill the role to educate my own kid, nobody else can!

  4. SMOL,

    Thank you for your affirmation. Many do not feel this way, of at least many I encountered do not feel this way. I have a colleague in my new workplace, who thinks I am mad to transfer.

    "People are dying to get into my previous workplace" she said,I cannot say I am not affect by her. But, looking up again on my way home, I remembered all my secondary school friends, hmm... I think it is ok.

    Not easy, in case your closed ones start to blame you when things go wrong.

  5. Rote learning is committing all to memory, with little ability to apply what is stored in the memory. It allows simply resurfacing of facts.

    7x7 =49 is a fact. It can be recalled easily.

    Some paragraphs can be memorised to prepare for essay writing, rote learning with understanding, will allow a person to accurate edit what is stored in the memory to fit the context of the story to a T, rote learning will only allow the pupil to "vomit" back what is learned.

    Rote learning is like photo taking, you may edit, crop here and there a bit, but you can't do much else.

    Rote learning with understanding is like photo shop...

    My own definition.

    Also, rote-learning is deliberate committment to memory, usually in a short period of time. Like, how long did you take to learn your spelling or multiplication tables?

    I prefer to drill and practice nuggets of skills over a long period of time, with reinforcement of previously learned concepts consistently during the journey. I would rather call that mastery of skills rather than rote learning.

    Rote learning is ruthlessly productive and efficient but unsustainable in application of knowledge.

    Sorry to bored you with my own "definition"

  6. It will be tougher to swim against the tide when you have kids. My people will rather play it safe. "I have did all that I can, if it didn't turn out well, no one can blamed me"

    I would rather my son take knocks and learn to stand. Nevermind he walked much slower than others or due to the handicapped at the start point, cannot travel as far, at least, I think I tried to teach him to pick himself up. Picking one up, is more important that doing a rat race. When you race, you missed all the flowers along the route, you missed the chance of getting stronger, because the fall didn't kill.

  7. Hi sillyinvestor,

    Nah, not bored..if I'm bored, I wouldn't have asked you for it :)

    My definition of rote learning came from wikipedia. It simply says that rote learning is a memorisation technique based on repetition. It seems like only I know that definition because someone also told me that what I wrote in my article isn't rote learning, it's just mastering good habits.

    Ah, no wonder you said my examples are not right. It makes sense once you've told me your definition.

  8. LOL, LP,

    It seems i have failed as the model answer differs from mine. Do you think I should update wiki's definition with mine??? LOL

    Just kidding, I not so free.

  9. i like this. i think i should print it out and stick it on a wall to remind myself / others whenever i hear silly stuff on sending my poor kid to a million classes. everyone keeps telling me i should work hard now and quit / stay at home when my kid is in p1 so that i can help him study. totally messed up. like our point of existence is to study hard, at the grand age of 7 years old - and that's when our existence of life comes into being? 7, the magical age, dictated by the education system as the age of learning?! honestly.

  10. Hi gagmewithaspoon,

    I visit your blog, you write interesting stuff, did you blog get aggregated at Dun remember seeing your post.

    Yea.. Wonder how long I can fend off these ....

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