Achy breaky heart

In one of the exercises, the Year 3 students had to unscramble the letters to make a word. A girl comes to me asking what ‘unscramble’ means.

‘Look at these words. What do you think ‘unscramble’ means?’

“Oh! I need to play scrabble?!?!”

Excited. Excited at the possibility of being able to play scrabble. The primary students aren’t allowed to play scrabble without supervision from a secondary student or a teacher. The thought of getting to play scrabble under my watch made her eyes light up.

‘Unscramble. M. M. M. Scrabble is A. A. A.’

I explain the meaning of unscramble and off she goes to complete the work.

I was driving home one day and started thinking of ways I could encourage my students to build up the word in their vocabulary. Most of them aren’t fans of reading. My thoughts drove me don memory lane, right to when I was a 13 year old.

On weekends, my siblings and I would play Scrabble with my parents. We will have to have a dictionary with us to look up words to make together with its meaning. We were learning a myriad of words just by playing the board. I asked myself if my students would respond the same way I did toward playing Scrabble.

What if this isn’t the way they want to learn?

What if it is…

So months ago, I bought the Scrabble board for my secondary students to use as a tool to build their vocabulary. The rules were simple:

  • You must have a dictionary with you when you are playing
  • Ensure there are 100 tiles at the start and end
  • First timers get my assistance
  • After that, I get half the points from the word I help put on the board
  • Keep the scrabble board accordingly

The kids are now addicted to the board. Everyday, they come seeking the permission to play. I would randomly walk around to check the board and ask them to explain the meaning of the words they have created. Even with that, they do not feel the stress of having to answer. They continue playing and learning.

I expected them to play scrabble. But not as committed as they are now. I am beyond happy that they have picked up another great habit and game. Some are even going to get their parents to get a board at home. One board is RM100. Take it from me: it is a worthy investment.

Love

#littlegirlwithamillionwords

Patience

It’s been 9 months that we have been instilling the habit of maintaining cleanliness after lessons and meals. 9 months, and it still has to be reminded as if it was the first day.

After much thinking and pondering, I have figured out why it is taking so long. The habits we are trying to instill are not habits they are used to practice at home.

Here are some of the things I have discovered after conversations with different students:

‘After meals, who cleans up?’

“Mummy.”

‘Do you help?’

“Errrr… no?”

‘Do you read?’

“Yes!”

‘What do you do once you’re done reading?’

“I go and play.”

‘What about your books?’

Silence

‘What do you like doing with mummy or daddy?’

“I like to bake cookies with mummy.”

‘Who cleans up after you’re done baking?’

“Mommy? Sometimes I help.”

Most of them do not get into the habit of performing house chores. Some do, but most of them don’t. In a learning environment, when the mass are the ones who are not accustomed to chores, they tend to pull those who are used to chores to not doing the chores.

What I have discovered is that in this country, this generation is given a comfortable and clean environment to live in. But they are not included in the process of keeping comfortable and clean. Therefore the process of instilling such a habit is prolonged. Because for at least 7 years in their life, they get to leave their mess for someone else.

I grew up with maid. But, we were never allowed to escape chores. After every meal, we were required to take all the dishes to the back for cleaning. Table and placemats were to be wiped clean and chairs pushed in. Maid only took care of the cleaning and storing. Once in every month, we needed to clean our toilet, bowl and everything. Dirty clothes were to be put in the laundry basket, never on the floor for the maid to pick up. Clothes were to be hung, never left on the bed for the maid to sort out. Ironed clothes were to be arranged in the closet, never for the maid to store. If we had supper after the maid had gone to bed, we would need to leave the kitchen the way the maid did before she went to bed. Nothing is allowed to be left for the maid to handle when she wakes the next morning. Shoes were to be arranged, not scattered for the maid to put on the rack.

I had a maid growing up. But we were never allowed to escape chores. We had to pick up after our own selves. It was a habit instilled from home.

So right now, all I can do it patiently remind them, sometimes blow my top, about keeping them and their environment clean and tidy, for their own benefit.

Do your children a solid and start instilling the habit of cleaning and tidying up from the moment they understand instructions. Start by showing your kids what you mean. Slowly transition into doing it with your kids. And soon enough, they will get into a habit that they will carry wherever they go.

I noticed that kids are very messy eaters. Yes, I bet I was the same. The 7 year olds are made to pick up or clean up all food droppings whether on the table or floor. After a few times of being tired of the sweeping and wiping, they have become more aware of their table manners, especially in ensuring nothing drops.

So imagine this. Imagine our children able to eat without making a mess no matter where they eat, especially when eating out. Wouldn’t our food stalls and mamaks and gerais and sorts stay clean?

Love

#littlegirlwithamillionwords

Too little too late

As I walked in, I noticed that my Year six student’s face was very gloomy. He was obviously sad and he looked like he was about to cry. His mother briefly mentioned to me that you wanted to show me his English UPSR trial paper. He had scored a B. I flipped the question paper and went through the questions that he answered wrongly. As I was reading the reading and comprehension text and poem I was shocked. ‏The language and complexity was the level of a 15-year-old. It was a tough paper for 12-year-old. The first thing that went through my mind was this is nuts! I told my student not to worry about the grade or that he made the mistakes he made because he was not tested based on what he should have been tested.

This clearly did not sit right by me. Before the class ended, I had a conversation with his mother and then it hit me.

Their exam questions are beginning to get really really hard and complex because of the current situation with this generation’s graduates who are not able to speak in English. So the government is putting more and more things for our young kids to learn and I’m not just talking about English. Even for the other subjects I see that kids are made to learn way too much, beyond what they should be learning. They are mitigating the current proficiency issues by making the small ones learn more. Now I’m fine with more. But this is unnecessary more. More that is causing the kids a whole lot of stress.

I’m going to stick to English. The level of English amongst our graduates right now has plummeted not because of the English curriculum. Instead it’s the system that is the problem.

Think about this.

Why is it that our parents and grandparents could speak very proficiently in English? And mind you, speak Bahasa Melayu really well too. They are really good at the language because they were learning in an English medium and what that simply means is that they were learning English in English. They spoke to the teacher in English. They spoke to each other in English. They continues to use English in their homes. They listened to how their teacher used English. They heard how their teachers asked questions. They used what they learned.

Now? In this Bahasa Melayu medium, English is taught in Bahasa Melayu. Teachers are explaining in Bahasa Melayu. Asking in Bahasa Melayu. And students end up talking to each other in Bahasa Melayu.

When are they using English? When are they given the chance to be comfortable with English. When are given the opportunity to experience how easy English is? When are they practicing? How do they get to become proficient English speakers? How do they improve? How do they develop the skill to master the English language? When are they learning to express themselves in English? When are they trying to ask questions in English?

How oh how if teachers are asking and explaining English in Bahasa Melayu?

The problem is not the curriculum. It’s the system. Now I’m not sure if there is going to be anybody in government or Ministry of Education who will see the root cause of this problem; the system, not the curriculum. So I do not know if we can actually depend on them to really know what they’re doing in developing proficient English speaking graduates.

So what do we do?

We start making a difference in the lives of our children. Start helping your children to learn English at home. We cannot depend solely on school.

Learn with your children. When you’re learning with them, trust me, they will be more motivated to learn the language. If you’re not sure what to do for them, give me a buzz. If you’re not sure what to say, let me know. I am more than happy to share tips and even things to say for you and others to learn from.

I’ll share simple ways to create a conversation with your children. I will ways to encourage your children to embrace the English language. Let’s do this together.

It starts at home.

Love

#littlegirlwithamillionwords

Mambo No 5

Since the beginning of the year, there has been a famous saying amongst my students.

Teacher, I don’t know how to do.

These words flow like water from their mouth.

So of course at the start, I would help them out. I’d explain what they needed to do and they’d be on their way.

7 months in, they were still saying the same thing. Something is definitely wrong somewhere. Is it because they cannot comprehend the question? Highly unlikely because they understand other things they read. They can explain what they understand. I tried my luck on something

What does the instruction say?

They would read the instruction in front of me. Half way through reading, they would pause, throw me a sheepish smile, turn around and get started completing the work.

That was it! They were not reading the instruction. That’s why they weren’t able to answer the questions 💆🏻💆🏻.

So the next time your child says they do not know how to do something, ask them to read the instruction to you. Now, if they still do not know what to do, that would mean they do not understand the instruction. So what you do is break the instruction down.

Let’s take this instruction as an example:

Connect the dots to create a picture.

What does ‘connect’ mean? Show me the ‘dots’. What does ‘create a picture’ mean? Now read it again and tell me what you think it means. Voila. That should do the trick. One word at a time. One breathe at a time. The kids will soon be able to understand on their own.

Love,

#littlegirlwithamillionwords

Don’t stop believing

Azzalea can finally scoop her food to feed herself!! While I will miss the days I feed her, I am so proud and glad she finally did it!

Since a month ago, she wanted to try to feed herself. She would try to scoop, but couldn’t control her spoon and so would fail. And she would get frustrated. She gets upset when I scoop for her. And she liked it even less when I held her hand to guide her into scooping. Yes, this little one wants to be independent quick.

So when she finally did it, I was super stoked. And so was she. My father was behind us and saw what happened. And what he said next resonated with me. He said:

This is something adults should see. Progress. – Prof Dr Rozhan M. Idrus

Precisely. Life is about progress. We don’t get anything instantly. Things don’t happen instantly. Success doesn’t happen overnight.

Much like learning a language. Many have complimented me for my ability to speak fluently in English. This skill did not happen within a day. Heck, I did not pick it up within a year. It’s years and years of speaking to people around me, listening to movies, music and people, reading book after book and writing what I know. It’s a process that takes place which in time, progresses.

Nothing happens overnight. You cannot expect to learn English for a few days and get frustrated days after because your English is not improving.

You can’t keep saying ‘I’m too old to learn the language’ and feel sorry for yourself when you don’t understand a TED talk that is delivered in English.

You can’t say ‘My English is not good enough’ and yearn or expect yourself to speak well. By saying to yourself that your English is not good alone shows you’ve given up before even trying.

Say ‘if only’. Say it as many times as you want. ‘If only I can speak English.’ ‘If only I can understand English.’ Say it if it makes you feel better.

BUT!

Do something about it at the same time. Speak to someone every day. Even if it is one word or one phrase one day. It’s like saving. A penny saved is a penny earned. A word said is a sentence acquired. A sentence said is a speech gained.

And be okay with progress. As long as you are progressing, it’s okay. As long as you’re speaking, you will make progress.

Also, please start saying this to yourself. ‘I will speak English well. I will get there.’

Love,

#littlegirlwithamillionwords

No more sad songs

I know I have accomplished my goal in making my students comfortable with English when they speak to me in English even outside school. The bar is set. Whenever they talk or send me a text, it's in English. I do not need to remind them to speak to me in English. It's automatic wherever, wherever.

I know I need to do more to help them embrace the language because among themselves, they go back into their comfort zone of speaking in their first language. Which shows me that when with peers, they are not yet comfortable to use English.

The good news is that if they are around someone of authority, they already can, and will speak in English.

The unfortunate news is that they lack consistency, which could stump their progress in mastering the language.

Beautiful isn't it? The job as an educator. There is always something to accomplish, a greater height to achieve. The question what's next will never cease.

Looks like role play sessions will be doubled in the English class. I'm hoping that if they can get comfortable with speaking to each other in English during class, it will become a habit.

Pray it works!!

Love,
#littlegirlwithamillionwords

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