Rolling in the deep

A couple of weeks ago, many students came up to me and poured their hearts out about being mocked and laughed at.

One 15 year old expressed how they were tired of so many bad things happening in their life. And that they had had enough.

Another 12 year old expressed how they felt disturbed at being laughed at when reading.

One of them asked me how I would feel if I were in their shoes.

Guess what, I have been in their shoes. Since the age of 7, I was laughed at by schoolmates. Many considered me as weird especially because I like to read aloud. Until today, I can hear the snickers by classmates when I recited Iqra' aloud to myself. Until now, memories of being accepted just to lead the English project, and cast aside after is on replay in my mind. I can still remember those days where I yearned to be accepted, but never really was. I lived through it all though.

So here is what I told them:
Shit happens. The older we get, the shittier it is. And shit will happen whether we like it or not. What makes a difference is the way we handle it. Succumb and we will continue feeling down and out. Ignore, and we can only become stronger. So why let it get to us? Why let one incident ruin the entire day? Feel sad. Feel disappointed. Feel angry. Feel frustrated. Take a moment to feel all these. And then snap out of it and move on. Focus on the best the day has to offer. Cause there is a lot more to look forward to.

Love,
#littlegirlwithamillionwords

A little less conversation

My summer class students, 5-6 year olds, sit in my Year 1 Mathematics class. I give them their work and proceed with the Year 1 class.

We were learning to round tens. Halfway through teaching, I noticed that one of the boys had stopped doing his work. He was looking at the board and peeking at the Year 1 workbook. I let him be.

Once the Year 1 students had finished with their work, I let them go for playtime. Then he came to me.

"Teacher, can you teach me how to do that?"

'You want to round tens?'

He nodded. And so I erased the board, and asked him questions.

'If the ones is between 1-4, does it become 0 or 10?'

He answered correctly.

'If the ones is between 5-9, does it become 0 or 10?'

He answered correctly.

I wrote a double digit number on the board.

'If I'm rounding this number to the nearest ten, underline the number I'm rounding.'

He underlined the correct number.

'Which number do we look at?'

He showed the correct number.

'Will this number become 0 or 10?'

Correct answer again. He eventually nailed the question. It was 5 minutes to break time and he kept asking to answer more questions. I had to force him to stop. 😅

Amazing aren't they? Kids? When they are interested, nothing stops them from learning and wanting to learn. Even if it is something beyond what they need to know. When they want to know, learning becomes limitless.

And know what? If you notice that your child wants to learn something beyond their age, let it happen.

Love,
#littlegirlwithamillionwords

Back at one

All of the kids I tutor will be sitting for their UPSR examination this year. Most of them started learning with me early this year. Within the first 3 months, they made major improvements. 4 out of 5 of them are no longer failing their English papers and I couldn't be happier for them.

Now, they have hit a wall. Their grades are not getting any better than a C. So, many many months ago, they were consistently failing. Now, they are consistently scoring C's. My happy feeling for them has now turned to worry.

These kids sit with me for one hour weekly. In one hour, they need to learn new words, understand the meaning and know how to use it in a sentence. Further to that, they need to put all the vocabulary they know into an essay. They also need to read with the correct pronunciation. It is not an easy feat. There are times when we only have time to learn new words. Sometimes, we can only read. Other times, we can only afford to create different sentences using the same grammar rule. It takes time. And because there is much to learn, much more is not learned, causing their grades to be stuck.

Now, I'm not much of a grade junkie. But the stagnant grade is also an indication that what they are learning now, are things they should have mastered at least 2 years ago. They are behind.

I have come to realize that they only learn and speak English when they sit with me. In that little time we have together, they take in as much as they can. Every student's absorbs at a different rate. And each one absorbs different things, based on their capabilities. Clearly, this is not enough. I could double, even triple the time they sit with me. But the time they spend learning with me is not the main solution.

These kids need consistency. Which means that they need to be speaking and reading in English at home. When they get the exposure at home, they connect what they learn faster and easier.

So how can you help your kids read and speak at home?

Encourage them to read. Get books that your kids are interested. Even if it is comics that they love. You know what's even better? You pick a book yourself. Let your children want to read because they follow your habit of reading. When our kids read something they like, chances are, they will want to know the meaning of what they are reading. They will start asking. They will look for the meaning. They will learn!

Encourage them to speak. Even if they start with saying words in English. This alone will build their vocabulary so when they learn the grammar rules and sentence structure, they can connect the dots.

It has to start at home. Habit from home and reinforcement in the education system will help our kids learn at a consistent rate that will help them be good at the language.

Love,
#littlegirlwithamillionwords

Placebo

I taught them to mentally multiply a double digit with a single digit. Most of them had understood the concept. Some were already able to mentally multiply and quickly.
Student A:

“Teacher, it’s difficult.”

‘Keep trying.’

“Teacher, explain one more time please.”

I explain again while the rest patiently re-learn. After a few more questions, I see his hand up and he answered correctly.

‘How come you are suddenly able to answer?’

“I just told myself that I can.”

Student B

“Teacher, how are they doing this?”

I explain again while the rest patiently listen. After a few more questions,

“Teacher, I’ve stopped trying.”

‘C’mon, everyone else can catch up.’ (While pointing to a new question)

“I didn’t see that you wrote another question.”

The mind is a powerful tool isn’t it?

One student decided to tell themselves it can be done even though they felt it was difficult. Eventually, they caught up with the rest. The other student decided they were done because it was difficult. They were so done they did not even notice a new question, a new chance to try was up on the board.

One decided it could be done despite it being difficult, and it was done. This student looked for a way to get it done. A solution. 

The other decided it could not be done because it was difficult, and it was not done. This student gave reasons for not being able to get it done. An excuse.

So the next time we find ourselves stuck or giving in, let’s ask ourselves: Am I coming up with a solution? Or am I making an excuse.

If we come up with a solution, chances are, the problem we think is a problem, will be sorted.

Love

#littlegirlwithamillionwords

No ceiling


To inspire is to move someone to achieve something.

Last week, I was inspired by one of my students to keep doing what I do. 

She asked me what she can do to start earning. After getting to know her for 5 months, I knew she loved writing and dreams of becoming a journalist. I also knew she loves artsy stuff and that she create glass paintings. So I had a half anhour chat  with her about leveraging on her talent for painting and love for writing.

Task 1 was to setup her blog within 1 week and have the pilot blog post up within the week after.

Task 2 was to make and giveaway 10 glass paintings out for free within 1 week, as a marketing strategy. As I was telling her how to make this possible with a small capital, another girl overheard the conversation and volunteered to help with social media marketing. I spoke to the 2 of them about having a profit sharing agreement.

Last Monday, this was given to me as a present.

I can only hope that the things I shared will continue inspiring her. She gave me hope. Hope that the next generation is ready to face challenges. Ready to brave the tough times. Ready to make a difference even at the age of 15. And most importantly, ready to take action.

Her gift reminded me to keep inspiring. To keep repeating myself in hopes that one day it will make a difference. Her gift is a sign that even when I don’t think they listen, they are listening. Even when they seem to not care, they do care. She reminded me that to have faith that when the time is right, it will happen.

I can only hope to inspire the people around me. Guess what, I have ended up being inspired!

Love,

#littlegirlwithamillionwords

Hero

The school was quiet when I received a message from a student from my IGCSE class. He asked if cut the school break short because he was bored staying at home. My first thought was, a kid wants a shorter school holiday?

I later found out that he had stopped attending all his tuition classes and had lots of time to kill. Why?

because the style of the teacher in Abedeen teaching is better

I am still working with him on his English. He has gained so much more confidence to speak since he came in January and that is all I can ask for right now. The more he speaks, the more he will get the hang of the grammar.

This is what the students get at Abedeen Academy. They learn according to their level and are given tasks and assignments that will elevate their interest and thirst for knowledge.

This student is one of the most hardworking students I have ever met. He is proactive and rarely complains about any work or task given. He does lack some self confidence. He is a classic case of ‘I know what I want to say, but I do not know how to say it’ and ‘What if I make a mistake teacher?’

I started digging into his background and found one thing that inspires him. His father. It sparked an idea!

A month ago, I gave him an assignment. His father is an extremely successful contractor. So I told him to study his father’s success from when he was a child, to the trials and tribulations that his father faced to become the success that he is today… and produce a book about his father.

A few weeks after he started writing, I noticed some changes in his attitude. He stopped telling me that things are difficult. He started coming to me with solutions. He started questioning the things he reads, which means he has started to read! Something he found his father does a lot. He has even started asking me what he should read to become more knowledgeable. Small changes, but with a big impact. He has made 2 major changes to the book he is writing. The more he learns about his father, the more he  is inspired to write.

When was the last time any of us felt inspired to learn? Look close by. People around you could just inspire you do learn and do more.

Love,

#littlegirlwithamillionwords

Stay

Azzalea was trying to climb the stairs of the slide when I noted this boy trying to kick her head. I told him to stop. He looked at me and tried to kick Azzalea again. I told him to stop again, only this time with a slightly louder voice. I knew where his parents were sitting and glanced at them. His father was on his handphone and his mother was eating. I was not interested to kick up a fuss, so I told Azzalea that play time was over, and took her back to our table.

Boy, times are different aren’t they. Back then, a parent would immediately get up if they saw their kid being mean to others. Nothing needed to be said because their eyes would have already been on their child. That parent would also ask their child to apologise for trying to be unfriendly. In some cases, the parent would take their child home for misbehaving. That is not the case now is it? 

At the time it happened, I was slightly furious. Furious that the parents were not paying attention to their child. Furious that I did not say anything directly to the parents. But after a while, I realised that it’s good these things happen to me. I

t serves as a reminder for me to always pay attention to Azzalea and never to be distracted by gadgets when it was time for me to be with her. Nothing can be more important than her knowing that I am there to play and have fun with her, not leave her to play and to be ignored.

It’s a reminder for me get up and sweat. After all, I am in an air conditioned area 80% of the time. I have been packing on so much unwanted weight, that my pants are beginning to be to small for me.

It reminds me to show Azzalea the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle. And that if I want her to be healthy and active, I too will be healthy and active. That if I want her to have a healthy mind by exploring, I too will actively explore. I can’t wait for the day she starts running. We can go jogging together.

It’s a reminder that when it is time to work, I work and when it’s time for Azzalea, I am all hers.

Pay attention to your children. Especially in this time and age. Let’s not live to regret the important people we took for granted.

Love,

#littlegirlwithamillionwords

Eyes open

Year 7 students of Abedeen Academy putting their presentation skills into practice


I came across an article in The Star yesterday, 2nd July 2017: The Trenglish way to better English.

Short for Transforming English is Terengganu, it warmed my heart to know that the Terengganu government have take necessary steps to help students in that state better their English proficiency. The percentage of students passing their English examination at SPM level has increased. It is still in its early stages so only several schools have been targeted. The article mentioned about possible efforts to expand the programme to other schools. I for one, hope this becomes a reality. 

But that was not what caught my attention.

The state has hired graduates in English from local public institutions of higher learning to teach, focusing on Forms 3, 4 and 5 students.

This. This melted me. This is precisely what our students with poor English need. I wrote about this once. About looking inside; looking for talents in the country to change the fate of English among Malaysian students.

Students with poor English are highly likely to struggle with the language. They struggle to understand it. Imagine having to speak it.

Which is why locals, with a profound command of the language are the best people to be in front helping these students.  As locals, we understand the culture, issues, problems, struggles. We understand their and most importantly, we can speak their dialect.

More often than not, in order to get their trust in building their confidence, we need to speak English in their dialect and intonation first. Translations are required for them to grasp concepts. We use neutral pronunciations and break the syllables down just so they understand. Once they understand, we step it up a notch and teach them the correct pronunciation and intonation. It’s progressive and it’s a process.

If we want them to understand and accept English, we must understand and accept them first. That is why Trenglish is a success.

I for one, believe that Trenglish worked and will continue to work because it uses local profound talent instead of paying millions of ringgit on native speakers who further confuse our already struggling students with the speed and variety of accents. These people are important, for those who are proficient and want to learn the language at a higher level.

I’ll be keeping tabs on Trenglish, for sure. And I hope more and more students from the east coast of Malaysia grow to excel in English for a better future.

Teaching in an international school, I am helping foreign students learn English. While some of them have mastered the language, some struggle, just like the locals. And I have come to realize that when I speak English with a neutral pronunciation and intonation, they are more receptive. Once they get the hang of it, I add the intonation and correct pronunciation. Works like a charm 🙂

**Read more on Trenglish at http://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/columnists/on-the-beat/2017/07/02/the-trenglish-way-to-better-english-terengganu-is-dead-serious-in-addressing-the-languages-decline-a/#astYhyojIfkJDMOj.99

Love,

#littlegirlwithamillionwords

When we were young

‘Ma… Ba… since we are all on a 1 week leave, shall we take a drive back to Penang? Visit Ibu in SP as well.’
“The traffic is going to be crazy. Not a good idea.”
1 week later, I overhear mums talking to my father about flying up to Penang for the Syawal weekend. My heart beamed. After much planning, by mum, of course, we left on Friday for….. home.

I haven’t been back since 2013. I used to go back at least once a year. But since everyone had moved to the city, there was never a reason or the time to go back. Well, actually, because there was no reason, time was never spared.
The week before the Raya break, many asked where my hometown is. I actually felt sad having to say there is no one left at my hometown. Grandparents have passed. My only grandma has moved to Subang to stay with my uncle. Our house in Penang has been sold off. I felt sad. A 2 day ad hoc trip back home was just what I needed.

Raya these days is not the same as before. Back then, on Syawal eve, we would go back to Kepala Batas to break fast with the extended family on dad’s side. Then we head further north to SP and meet the family on mum’s side. We would stay up late junking on kuih Raya and carbonated drinks. Next morning, we would fight for who needs to wake up first, and then, fight to use he toilet to perform the sunnah Raya bath. The whole family then goes to the surau for Raya prayers and visit our grandparent’s grave. Once home, we would seek forgiveness and till the day we started having a job, receive Raya packets. We would make another trip back to Kepala Batas for Raya. Lunch was always kurma daging, the ultimate dish, cooked using the family recipe. Back at grandma’s in SP, dinner on the first day of Raya is always feast. Roasted duck, turkey, ayam masak cili api, otak otak masak sambal, mee Bandung, oh the list goes on. My late grandma would lay the plastic mat in front of the TV for us cousins to sit and eat while the adults ate at the table. Moments before the cleaning begun, I would hear my uncle call my name to finish whatever else that was on the able. Yeap, I was the one who finished all the food. And yes, it is always that good. The night would typically end with the entire family watching some Raya movie that involved screaming and crying. The adults would call it a day. But for us cousins? Not a chance. Nights are spent laughing and eating away. Until my dad would call out on me to go to bed somewhere around 2am.

Raya was always fun, crazy, noisy, full of food, full of laughter and full of love.

The family is smaller now since the grands passed. The fun, crazy and noise is a lot less. But, the amount of love, is much greater. We don’t gather like before, hence we cherish every moment we are with each other even more. Every time any of us are able to gather for Raya, we remember the tradition and love that was poured by my grandparents, and we do our best to live up to what they have set.
To my grandparents, Tok Nana, Tok Nani, Tok Cak and Tok, you guys were the most amazing grandparents ever. You gave me my Mama and Baba. You taught them values that they have passed on to me. You gave them knowledge that they have shared with me. You trained them to be the best parent through your parenting. You showed them to live and to love. I can only hope to be able to pass down everything you have put into place to my little one. Thank you for being grand!

There are new grands on the family now. And I can only pray and hope that my child will be able to enjoy Raya the way I did. More trips back home are to be scheduled, God willing.

Love,
#littlegirlwithamillionwords

Smile

From afar, I could see the frown on her face. She was clearly tired. The queues were long. Both inside and outside. But she was pretty fast, efficiently alternating her attention to keep the line moving.

As I drew closer to her, I noticed that every other customer was very occupied with themselves. Some on their phone. Some looking at the watch repeatedly, anxious to just get out of the place. No one created eye contact with her. No one looked at her.

I stepped up to the cash register and gave her a smile. She ignored it. Her fast fingers continued to work. As she handed my balance, I looked at her, said thank you and left another smile before turning to leave. She did not maintain any eye contact with me but her mouth twitched as she turned her head to help the next customer, and there was a smile.

So drop a smile at people we deal with. Even if we don't know them. Especially if we don't know them. They have been of service to us. They stand for hours to make our transactions smooth. They sweep tirelessly keeping our surrounding clean. They stay awake overnight ensuring our safety. They endure our inquiries and give an answer they have had to give a million times in that day. 

So smile. It's fast and easy with no need for a conversation, yet able to make someone's day.

Love,

#littlegirlwithamillionwords