Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Teaching NOT Enough

The school curriculum only requires the Primary 3 kids to write 6 English and Chinese compositions this year, which I think is grossly insufficient to teach and prepare them for the expected level of competence.  Despite the few writing assignments, I was still hoping the teachers will do a fabulous job in the 9 months of schooling to teach the necessary writing skills.

Teaching, in my opinion, should be more than just imparting the basic skills, but also stretching the individual's ability to write, so every child should be making improvements by the end of each term. And we should be able to see significant differences when comparing the pieces done in January and 9 months later (i.e. by end Sept, time of the end-of-year assessment or the Semestral Assessment 2 composition exam).

Of course, I am not expecting the teachers to customize the writing assignments for individuals or to have 1-to-1 sessions with every child. Since every assignment needs to be assessed and marked by the teachers anyway, their comments on the assignment could be a valuable way to help each child understand how he could make improvements.

Unfortunately, this was just NOT the case.

By end August, a month before the SA2 composition exam, only two Chinese compositions were marked and returned. It turned out the kids had only completed 4 (out of the required 6) Chinese compositions in school by then. The class wrote the last two pieces in school in the final week of Sept. Assignment 6th was written on the last Friday before the exam and returned the following Monday, ONE day before the exam.

Frankly, I am just so flabbergasted by the execution of the teaching process.

First of all, I wish the assignments could be more spaced out throughout the year instead of concentrating majority of them in August and September. With only 4 weeks left to the exams, and to be returned only 2 graded pieces means parents are also unable to accurately grasp the teacher's assessment of their child's level of competence. In our case, I just didn't know if M was doing well enough to require coaching.

All the 6 pieces were supposedly to teach the kids how to write different scenarios, each with a different style. However, by introducing the last 4 pieces so late and returning the graded assignments literally days before the exams, means the kids would have very little time to understand and learn from their mistakes and make significant improvements.

Is it also realistic to expect an inexperienced writer (this school does not start Chinese composition writing in P1/P2) to learn the writing techniques sufficiently in a few short weeks, after only 6 practices, and with each practice targeting a different scenario?

A quick check with friends whose Pri 3 kids are in other schools revealed that they did between 10 and 15 Chinese compositions this year. Some were given as homework, while the majority was completed in class. Now, that sounds like a reasonable amount of practice in a year to hone a child's writing skills. So indeed, some teachers are working MUCH harder than others.

Secondly, the teacher's comments on the returned pieces were largely general and useless to help the child understand how he could improve. What good is it to be told 'language expression is lacking'? It will be more effective if the teacher could demonstrate by including or editing specific sentences and show how the paragraph could be rewritten.

The model compositions provided were again, in my opinion, ineffective as they were filled with sentence structures and phrases that were never taught, which seemed to be more for Primary 4/5 levels. The teacher did not go through the model compositions in class either, so I imagine most average P3 kids without tutors would find it hard to understand them sufficiently to even benefit much from them. Some kids may ended up memorizing the phrases and entire paragraphs in order to regurgitate at exams, but that can hardly be called teaching, can it?!

While I lament the lack of teaching, here is another classic example:  the kids were given a stack of notes (about 20 pages) sometime in May. At least in M's class, this stack was handed out but never ever mentioned again in class. The teacher must be expecting the teaching and learning to be done outside the classrooms.

It was not that much better for English writing either. Six compositions a year, general/useless feedback and worse, no sample model compositions provided at all!

Naturally, the lack of practice and delayed assessments by teachers would not pose a big issue for those kids who are attending tuition classes. It is common to hear that they write 30 - 40 compositions a year. So a child, like my friend's daughter for instance, would have had written at least 50 (15 in school and 35 in tuition) Chinese compositions, whereas M had only written 6 (or 12 including those he wrote with me at home)!

It is tempting to avoid the association, but according to M, all those who consistently scored 17 and above (out of 20) for both Chinese and English compositions attend tuition classes, whereas those kids who are borderline cases or failed (a boy was given a 5/20 for his 6th compo!) do not.

Granted, M is not anywhere near as bad; he scored between 12 - 15/20 and 15 - 17/20 for Chinese and English respectively without tuition. And since I did not start our coaching at home till late July, which is when I saw the grades of the first composition done in school, it is safe to say he achieved these grades on his own merit.

But I still find it extremely disheartening and disappointing that he is not learning much from school. I wish the English lessons would stretch him further and the Chinese lessons strengthen his foundation more. But alas....  looks like we just cannot depend on the school to teach the necessary academic skills. Though I can coach him myself, I still can't help feeling the irony.

Now that the English and Chinese composition exams are over, I must admit after this round of experience, I considered recently to enroll M for classes, just so that he would get consistent exposure/practice (and to take the pressure off me to provide the weekly coaching). But on second thoughts, I question if I want to subject him to so many hours of tuition/work per month in exchange for just an additional 2 or 3 marks. Nope, I decided. Not yet, anyway.

He may not be the best writer in class, but for now, these grades shall suffice. Moving forward, I shall assume and expect even less from the school teachers and work out a way to fit in more consistent practice with both boys (Chip shall start in P2!).

No comments:


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...