Upper Primary, Secondary & JC Level – Bukit Panjang

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English Tutor Reflection 2021

Dear friends,

It’s story-telling time! Usually, at this time of the year, I will write a reflective post on what have happened during the year. Perhaps the highlights can provide some useful insights to my teaching. If not, at the very least, hopefully this post can provide some entertainment. Enjoy!

First, let’s talk about some notable highlights for the year (the good, the bad, and the ugly).

THE UGLY

I’d by lying if I told you everything was smooth-sailing. Over the years, I’ve learnt that teaching is rarely 100% smooth-sailing. I’m not just talking about the ‘bad’. I’m talking about THE UGLY. There is a sec. 3NA student who came to me looking to pass his English. However, he kept working against himself by not following my instructions or coming up empty with homework. Those who know me know that I can work with slower students but I cannot work with students with a really poor attitude or with little desire to improve. The arrangement lasted a year. There you go – the UGLY. I don’t like to dwell on these cases. Let’s move on.

THE BAD

The ‘bad’ refer to students with the potential to get better results but due to some reason, they fell short. Overall, for the year, besides the case mentioned above, we had a good year – i.e. no one failed English or were retained. Even the weaker students managed to clear their EOY exams and got promoted. However, one managed a borderline pass (sec. 2 express, C6) and just scraped through, and two students managed a C5 (sec. 2 express and sec. 3NA).

I must emphasize that some of the results appear ‘bad’ but in reality, the students are happy because they have showed improvement. So, those are not really considered ‘bad’ results.

THE GOOD

These are students who either meet or exceed their own expectations.

First, there is a sec. 3NA boy who got an A2 (his very first) for his EOY and overall B3 for the year.

Then there is another boy, Sec. 4NA, who got a strong A for his EOY.

Next up is a sec. 4 Express student who scored A2 for his prelims. He is a consistent performer who scores B3 from sec. 1 to 3 and finally got his A2.

Then there are three students who scored Bs for the year (two B3 and one B4). Although the Bs don’t shine as bright as As, the still require commendable efforts. So good job boys!

2021 Reflection

Attitude and motivation – Typically, newer students tend to be skeptical about my teaching. However, those who heeded my advice tend to do better and when they see that the results are positive, they start to trust the teaching more, which leads to greater improvements. The converse is also true. Those who remained staunch and refused to listen showed little or no improvement. We know we are on the right track when students are motivated and they WANT to show up for lessons. I have a student who attended my Zoom lesson even though he was not feeling well. And yes, he belonged to the ‘GOOD’ students group mentioned above. What? You predicted that? No prizes 🙂

Efficient teaching – Every year, I learn something new about teaching. This year is no exception. I become more aware of the challenges that students face (even the smaller ones). Therefore, for this year, I’m going to adjust my teaching accordingly to try and help them overcome those challenges. For example, some students struggle with sentence structures (yes, even when they are 15, 16 years old). So I will have worksheets and exercises that target that specific area. Others struggle with coming up with apt examples for discursive essay writing. So we can have a few targeted lessons in that specific area. All in all, if students heed the advice, they will be able to witness the improvements for themselves.

I feel having efficient teaching is important because we can see results quicker without wasting a lot of time and effort. I know there is a lot of general advice given to students who are weak in language – e.g. read more. Sure, reading helps to some extent but there are a few challenges we must overcome. First, how do we ensure that students pick up reading on their own? Second, even if they do (kind of forced to do it if parents threaten to confiscate their hand phones or tablets), how do we know what they have picked up will be useful in an academic setting? They may be going around in circles, groping in the dark, hoping to find something that works. For sure, that doesn’t sound like a very efficient approach. What if one hasn’t found something that works by the time the National exam arrives?

Of course, I’m not saying that we can solely rely on tuition lessons to get good grades and eliminate the need to read. I am saying that the lessons will guide the students in the right direction so that students are more likely to be able to pick the right materials to read and know how to apply the knowledge during an exam setting. Lesson time is therefore focused on learning the appropriate materials and developing the right skills. Teaching efficiently can surely help save a lot of time as students can avoid going down the wrong paths.

Surpassing personal limits – Well, that sounds like another fancy way to say ‘achieving Personal Best’. In order to achieve one’s personal best, we have to look towards surpassing limits. Many of these limits are self-imposed. For instance, some students didn’t believe that they can get a ‘B’ or an ‘A’. Part of my teaching is thinking how to help students overcome these self-limiting beliefs. It takes time and it’s easier said than done as we’re dealing with many different personalities and temperaments.

For me to uncover the mindset of students, I try to engage them in discussions or reflect on their written work. Here, I want to quickly mention that students who are passive or tend not to speak up are at a slight disadvantage. It also makes my job harder. If I don’t know them well, I’m less effective at helping them achieve their goals. That is a logical conclusion. I keep wanting to write a parent’s guidebook on how to provide support but haven’t found the time to do so. Perhaps this is one area parents can help, which is to encourage students to be more ENGAGED during lessons. It’s painless to talk more and ask more questions right?

Zoom vs Face-to-Face (F2F) Lessons – For sure, teaching and learning pose some challenges under current conditions. I am, however, heartened to note that results have been comparable to pre-pandemic years. In other words, results have largely been within expectations and I did not observe any significant impact on EL results.

In the beginning, when we first had to switch to Zoom lessons, I was concerned because both the students and myself would need time to adjust to a new way of teaching and learning. For those who are unfamiliar to teaching, you may be surprised to learn that transitioning to online teaching is not a straightforward affair – i.e. it’s not just about converting the resources to digital materials and do the same thing online. For instance, even with digital resources, it is more difficult to monitor a child’s work when he is doing it at home. I cannot watch over his shoulder and catch him doing something incorrectly and offer immediate feedback.

Therefore, it took a few weeks for me to work the kinks out. For me, the key is to maintain the basic principles of efficacious teaching, be it F2F or online. Over the weeks, the students adjusted well and they learn that fundamentally, nothing much has changed. They still have to do their part and meet expectations, do their homework and hand it in on time, pay attention during lessons, etc.

If online lessons are working well, that raises a question: Will there be full online lessons going forward?

I do observe some tuition centres pivoting to full Zoom lessons and I have received enquiries about zoom lessons as well. However, I am not totally convinced that our students (especially the younger ones) can manage independently if they move to full online learning. So I think I will spend more time to monitor the progress of my students before coming to a decision. In the meantime, it’s still F2F lessons by default, unless affected by Covid restrictions.

Overall improvements to teaching methodology

Every year, I reflect on what has worked well (or not) for the year. I then do more of what I observe to be effective teaching methods. For instance, in previous years, I change the pacing of my teaching and alter my choice of words depending on the student/level that I teach. This year, I focus more on getting students to do more practices repeatedly in areas of improvement that I have identified.

Also, I have learnt to reproduce the common mistakes that are committed by them. This means I have to try really hard to understand their learning processes, mindsets and attitudes. I think if I can clearly understand how such mistakes are committed, I am in a better position to help them. Such changes have already been implemented in the latest notes and worksheets.

In conclusion

I am excited and optimistic about my students’ progress for year 2022. We ended the year on an encouraging note (for most students at least) and hopefully, for each year going forward, I can continue to improve on my teaching and benefit more students.

Thanks to all who have shown your support over the years.

Do take care and I’ll see you in 2022!

Mr. Chow

Personal Best English Tuition