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End-of-Year English Results (2020) + Tutor Reflection

Part 1: EOY Results Update for 2020

At long last, all my students have come back with their End-of-Year (EOY) exam results. In this post, I will include four notable mentions as well as write a reflective segment on how to improve my teaching. Without further ado, here is the first student I would like to congratulate.

1) Most consistent performer – ZY

Number of academic years as my student: 4

Level: Sec 3 Express

ZY has been one of my most consistent performer.

  • PSLE: A
  • Sec 1: A2
  • Sec 2: B3
  • Sec 3: B3 (2020)

It is not easy to obtain a result that is consistently B3 and above. I attribute his performance to his weekly efforts. He completes his homework on time and he is ahead of his peers when it comes to completing my worksheets and assessment exercises. As he finishes his work ahead of others, we find that we have the time to go back and revisit key concepts often, which further enhances his performance. For ZY, I do not have to worry about him forgetting the teaching since we have more time to spend on practice. For students who are distracted or don’t complete their homework, we don’t have the luxury of time. In fact, we find ourselves often rushing to finish the lesson. That is the key benefit of being consistent. The workload is spread out nicely and the learning is never too compressed to become stressful.

P.S: ZY would have scored an A if he did not fail his oral. Yes, he failed his oral and still managed to snag a B3. His written papers were very strong.

2) Most improved student – RX

Number of academic years as my student: 2

Level: Sec 2 Express

  • Sec 1: A2
  • Sec 2: B3 (2020)

RX is turning out to be another consistent performer. Like ZY, my target for him is to achieve B3 and above every year. Besides being consistent, he really follows the teaching in a disciplined manner. In other words, if he uses the methods every single time whenever he does his English exercises. Obviously, I don’t have to worry about him forgetting to do this or that during the exam. I trust that he can perform under exam conditions and RX has proven himself to be trustworthy. He was awarded a certificate for showing huge overall improvement for this year. One of the most hardworking students I have taught. Great job!

3) Most promising young chap – TR

Number of academic years as my student: 2

  • P3: 81%
  • P4: 88% (2020)

I still remember TR’s father to be a little jittery when he first signed up for lessons and I had to reassure him and advised him to give a little more time for the progress to show. The first year, TR managed 81%, which was great and showed that he was staying on top of his work. But 81% was very achievable at P3 level and I secretly harbored higher hopes for TR. I noticed that it was rare for a P3 student to make relatively few careless mistakes when writing so I knew he had the potential to do really really well. This year, both TR’s dad and I noticed TR’s attitude towards the subject was changing. He seemed to be highly motivated and even started borrowing books to read on his own. He even made it to the finals for the Spelling Bee competition. On top of that, I later learnt that TR set high goals for himself and wanted to achieve Band 1. He definitely achieved his goal – scored 90% (which is fantastic!) for SA2 and 88% overall.

Lessons with TR is never stressful. He is very cooperative and always completes his work. As we all know, learning can be uncomfortable. I remember TR being weak at Open Ended Cloze Passage – the exercise where students are expected to fill in the blanks for a text passage without any helping words. Like many students, it is a challenging exercise and TR started out failing many of the exercises. With regular guidance and practice, TR finally managed to overcome his weakness. At the P4 level, the cloze passages are usually short – between 4 to 5 blanks at most. We elevated his ability to cope with the exercise and soon, he was working with advanced exercises (10 blanks) and passing. Before his EOY, he was able to get close to perfect scores! He enjoys the exercises so much that he doesn’t mind doing more of them now, which further improves his ability. He must find his P4 cloze exercises to be relatively easy now.

4) Most hard-fought result – GA

Number of academic years as my student: 2

Level: Sec 2NA

  • Sec 1: B4 (overall 61%)
  • Sec 2: B4 (overall 62%)

When GA came to me, we had to work on a bunch of challenging issues. He was generally disinterested in his studies and even resorted to copying answers for his homework. He was careless and easily distracted. Getting him to write a simple essay was a real struggle. It took much patience for the both of us to work through the issues. Eventually, GA started to do better in some components – that was a start. He was still inconsistent with his homework and needed much supervision to ensure that he completed his assignments. Last year, he managed a B4, which was a confident pass for the subject.

The target for this year is to maintain at least a B4 and try to do better. He scored 64% for SA2 with an overall score of 62%. I reviewed the exam paper and both his parents and I agreed that the paper was slightly challenging. The fact that GA scored a B4 for the paper attests to his improved language skills. He is never in a position where he has to worry about whether he is failing the subject or not.

Next  year, he will be in upper secondary and the subject will become even more challenging for GA. Assuming that he continues to work hard and follows the teaching, I am optimistic about his progress.

Some might say, “It’s only a B4. What’s the big deal? Many students can do much better. So how can GA be a notable mention?”

Well, you have to understand, getting a B4 is not easy for some students. My goal is to help my students achieve their personal best – not compare them with others. For some of my students who have been failing the subject or just getting a borderline grade, getting a B4 IS a great deal to them! Even a C5 would have been a great deal because they have never gotten such a confident pass before.

So yes, I do think GA deserves a notable mention here. May I also mention that for his recent lessons, I am very pleased with his writing. He is writing fluently with relatively few grammatical errors. So that puts him in a good position to learn more advanced techniques in upper secondary. For sure, a B4 grade is a hard-fought result.

Part 2: Tutor Reflection 2020

What works:

1) Foundation building:

Students who have been with me for at least a year benefits from foundational work. Whenever I get a new student, I almost always find that he or she is struggling due to having poor language foundation – weak grammar and vocabulary. Bear in mind that foundation building cannot be rushed and there is no shortcut. We can’t expect a student to pick up 500 new words overnight. Vocabulary expansion takes place over time and requires consistent effort. Students with a weak foundation start to rely more on luck when giving answers – hoping that somehow, lady luck smiles on them and awards the marks to them just for trying. For example, they may try to sprinkle words or phrases that they do not truly understand in their essays. They do not truly understand these words or phrases simply because they have not taken the time to do so. Or perhaps they have no one to guide them.

For students with a weak foundation, I do not proceed to teach more advanced writing techniques. Therefore, content based lessons are out of the question for those who are still struggling with putting proper sentences together. Without fluency, writing becomes hugely challenging. For this reason, I hesitate to conduct short term writing courses because I have no idea whether the students have a weak or strong foundation. If I find that they have a weak foundation, then the lessons will almost always revert back to basic ones – grammar and vocabulary lessons.

The real benefit comes later. Students with a strong foundation find themselves learning new writing techniques quickly. Personally, I place the cut-off point at Secondary 2. If by Secondary 2 they have not acquired a proper base to work with, it’s going to be an uphill battle. That is because in upper secondary, students are expected to be able writing more advanced essay types like discursive or argumentative. Without a strong base, I have noticed that they struggle. If you find your child in this situation, then I believe the only sensible approach would be to get the child to spend more time on his or her foundation. Attend more lessons, read more, and practice more. School holidays would be a good time to do some catching up.

Remember, language skills require daily practice. Cramming doesn’t work well for skill based subjects. So don’t wait until it’s too late!

2) Improved accuracy

By “improved accuracy”, I mean my teaching accuracy. Over the years, I have had abundant opportunities to review my students’ exam papers. It continues to baffle me, to this day, that the papers are sometimes slightly unfair to the students. Schools often justify their positions by claiming that the papers are more challenging to really test the students. However, my opinion is that by doing that, they may end up confusing the students rather than help them.

More specifically, when I say “accuracy”, I mean school exam papers should be an accurate representation of National Exam papers. When I analyze National Exam Papers, I identify key skills that students need to pick up in order to do well in the exams and I focus on teaching those skills. So when school exam papers do not test those skills, then the EOY exam results become a poor reflection of a student’s progress.

I cannot do anything about how schools set their exam papers. But I can do the following:

  • Explain clearly to the students the parts of the exam papers that I find to be a poor test of their skills.
  • Set more accurate mock exercises for my students.

So if you see a discrepancy between the National Exam results and the schools’ EOY exam results, know that it is not accidental. I believe school teachers do harbor good intentions and do not mean for the confusion to happen. However, bear in mind that teachers may be operating under a set of conditions that may have been put in place ages ago. On top of that, they have to cope with bureaucracy and their hands may be tied to a certain extent.

For my own students, I insist that they know what is happening.

Areas of improvement:

1) Teach decision-making

I sometimes observe that some students, despite having a strong foundation, continue to fare badly in tests and exams. I find myself going beyond teaching language and starting to teach more decision-making skills. For example, a student can write fluently but chooses an essay question that he is complete unfamiliar with. As a result, he manages just a borderline pass. His results will therefore not reflect his progress simply due to a decision-making error. I see it as my responsibility to explain clearly to the child what his best options are.

2) More accurate tests and assessments

As mentioned above, I will continue to work on my accuracy to ensure that the papers I set test the appropriate language skills. This will always be a work-in-progress.

3) Focus more on oral.

For PSLE, the oral weightage is 15%. But for N and O levels national exams, the weightage rises to 20%. I believe that is substantial enough for us to be concerned if a student is failing his or her oral. Some of my students are chatty, while others are not. Being chatty doesn’t necessarily give a student an advantage because the student may very well be spouting nonsense. I realize that “thinking” needs to be developed and trained so that the conversation is headed in the right direction. This is not to say that the student is trained to parrot arguments made by others. But a student should make an effort to demonstrate that he has given the topic some thought and is able to orally express his ideas eloquently.

Generally, the more reserved students also happen to be more thoughtful. I can see this in their writing. They can come up with good and valid points to write about in their essays. However, when I ask them questions directly, they hesitate and stumble. Sometimes, they even go as far as violating the number 1 rule in oral – “NEVER KEEP QUIET!”. If students keep quiet during the session, they may fail the oral exercise.

I will need to reflect on my teaching to figure out how best to help these two groups of students – the chatty and the reserved.

4) Mindsets and Values

As I become more experienced as a tutor, I find myself spending more and more time on mindsets and values. Mindsets and values affect a student’s performance directly. Sometimes, they have done the foundational work but fail to execute well during an exam. Perhaps they are nervous and don’t cope well under pressure. Having the proper mindset will help them overcome these issues.

Everyone knows how to pronounce and spell words like “persistence” or “patience”. Perhaps some students may even know them as school or class values. However, do they truly comprehend what it means to be persistent or patient? Perhaps I can do a better job at explaining or demonstrating to them the true meanings of these values. Teaching through experience takes time and I understand that we may not see immediate results. Students may need to go through some uncomfortable times, perhaps making mistakes or even failing exams, in order to get a deeper understanding of what each word truly means. What this means for me is that I will need to develop my own sensitivity towards students’ threshold of various issues such as failure, concentration, etc.

Ultimately, I believe they will come out the other end stronger and feeling more confident about themselves. If they show better academic results, that is just icing on the cake. 🙂

Conclusion

In sum, I think my experiences and the data posted above point towards a trend. Do you see it? Do you see it?

All the students mentioned in this post are eager and motivated as they have achieved a level of proficiency that bodes well for their confidence. Feeling encouraged, they are therefore more self-motivated and that is a BIG load off my mind. Getting there sometimes require a leap of faith – i.e. if they haven’t experienced success, how can they believe they are capable of achieving it?

Hopefully, the examples that I have mentioned will serve as useful case studies – something that other students can hold on to while they work hard to achieve good results for themselves. Keep putting it effort. You will reap the benefits down the road.

Signing off,

Mr. Chow

English Tutor

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