Related Posts with Thumbnails

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Beanie's Mom Wrote a Book Review!!

I first met Beanie here after years of reading her Mom's blog... and her Mom reads mine. Beanie is a veritable poster girl for Moms like me. See a beautiful photo of Beanie here. Whenever I feel down, I log on to that post and stare at the picture of Beanie. I feel better straight away because that little girl's innocent joy shining from the eyes just lifts my spirit.

Anyway, this is my SECOND blogger book review! Yay! Thank you Beanie's Mom!

Click HERE to read book review!

Friday, September 28, 2012

A Prayer Gift

I found a friend after so many years of knowing her. In my hour of need, she has been a veritable Prayer Warrior. I woke up this morning and found this on my WhatsApp. I could tell that my test was first on her mind this morning because it was so early when I received the prayer. It is such a beautifully crafted prayer that I have been praying it every 15 minutes even as Little Boy is doing his exams.

Good morning heavenly Father Lord. Thank you for the day that went past for our PSLE children. Father, as a new day breaks forth, we ask you for renewed strength, endurance and stamina. Lord, for the Math paper, we ask for accurate computational and problem solving skills. We speak your power into their bodies to be able to recognize the type of Math problem and use the appropriate method to solve it. In times of fatigue, Lord, I pray you uphold them. Once again, I pray that you cease all fear and nervousness. All negative forces will be broken in your name! 

All glory is yours only Lord. 

I ask for continued good health for our children and parents. We love you Lord! In Jesus' glorious name I pray. Amen!

I am touched by Bl****m, Toddles, R***na, B**nice and LL (who managed in various ways to communicate their support) and all the many non-PSLE Moms and Dads who have lent support and advice on the Kiasu Parents Forum (even an anonymous reader called YP, who gave useful exam tips). Amazing solidarity! It's so wonderful to know that entire phalanxes of Mommies and Daddies join in prayer and support for our little 12 year olds taking PSLE. If this is not a uniquely Singaporean phenomenon (our cultural equivalent of the bar mitzvah perhaps?), I don't know what is!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Rubber Band Wars

Little Boy shot a girl's backside today. He shot her from a distance... in the middle of class... and got the boy sitting behind her into trouble. SHE thought that the boy behind her had used HIS toe to poke her backside, and she was not pleased. At all. It is no wonder that little girls find little boys annoying. Even a good and serious little boy like my Little Boy has his moments of prankfulness, and so a poor little lady got her backside shot today!!

By my son!!

And the little girl still doesn't know who did it because Little Boy trains weekly at the rifle range and he can shoot rather accurately from quite a distance. He doesn't have much luck with shooting the pigeons around our house, but admittedly, a girl's backside has quite a bit more surface area than a bird... especially if the young lady is sitting down and paying attention to Teacher.

"Shouldn't YOU be listening to Teacher too?" I queried.

"Yes... but I got that question right, Mom. And it was funny seeing her give HK a dirty look." he countered.

"But, that's not a nice thing to do," said I.

"Yeah.... giggle... snort... giggle... it was fun though, and I was helping out R. R asked me to help him shoot because his aim is lousy," said he.

Kids can make fun outta nothing at all. We give them iPads and video games and all, but really, the most fun games come about when a bunch of fifteen boys get to know each other well enough to clown around. There are 15 boys in Little Boy's class and by now, they're as thick as thieves. They've gone through the hell of PSLE preparation together, remember? They've seen each other cry, comforted each other in bad times, helped each other out and copied each other's homework for the past 1 year and 8 months. On the day of the Language Oral exams, Little Boy carried his own bag and this other little girl's bag as she rushed hither and thither trying to locate a phone with which to call her parents so that they could bring her examination proof. So ok... my son isn't a complete rogue after all even though he DID shoot another little girl's backside today.

Anyway, since Monday, and in the moments between Teachers, the class explodes into a veritable gang fight with rubber bands flying hither thither as R's gang and J's gang battle each other. The girls add to the excitement by hopping around trying not to get shot or yelling at the boys for having shot them accidentally. Actually, Little Boy is in charge of ammunition supplies. He picks up all the rubber bands and provisions the others.

"But you can shoot. Why aren't you one of the shooters?" said I.

"The rest don't know I can shoot. I didn't tell them." said he.

"Why?" I asked.

"They dun need to know." he said.

I did know that still waters run deep within my son. I just didn't know HOW deep! Tomorrow, I will blog about VIRUS, another really interesting game the boys invented to play at recess.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

PSLE Prep Little Boy Style

The Ice Cream Stick Bullets

The Thingy to Shoot Ice Cream Stick Bullets

The Thingy Shoots Paper Bullets Too

When Little Boy was in Primary 1, he got all excited about the Sony Creative Toy Competition. Over a period of 2 weeks, he made a total of ELEVEN different toys from odds and ends. Each toy had to be properly documented so he took sheets of lined paper and in his childish and illegible handwriting, he wrote out all the details concerning his creations.

He didn't win. 

The toy that won was accompanied with type written notes (probably produced by a helpful parent) and the workmanship was so skilled that it looked like an adult had helped. Little Boy's school was nice enough to give him a special certificate for Extraordinary Effort. I suppose there was no one else who contributed ELEVEN toys and ELEVEN sets of illegible documentation. Little Boy refused to take part in any more Sony Creative Toy Competitions. He knew he would never win without adult help... and I refused to help.

So I was surprised when Little Boy came to my bedroom to show off a toy he had made encased professionally in its own Carry All Case. He has to take his PSLE in less than a week and my boy is making shooting implements. Sigh! I dunno what to say. I really dunno what to say. He has worked so hard for the past 2 years. It's always been our habit to take it easy in the 2 weeks before any exam. No work on Saturdays and Sundays. Half load on weekdays. I can't really scold him for not studying since I was the one who forbade studying nearer to exams.

But this is the PSLE. 

I wish I could scold him for not studying just so that I can relieve my own stress. This said, that thing he made shoots pretty good. When he gets back to school on Monday, those other boys are gonna feel instant lust when they see his toy. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Croissanwich Set Meal

1 Tiong Bahru Bakery Croissant
3 slices of shaved champagne ham
3 slices of brie cheese
3 slices of rock melon
1 latte

Thursday, September 20, 2012

International Orders of Petunia's Book

International buyers of Petunia's Book 
(Europe, USA and Australia) 
can now purchase from HERE.

Do remember to read the reviews
before you purchase.

If you are a Book Distributor interested in working with us in UK and USA, do get in touch.

How Motivation Research Caused a Nation Pain

In 1966, Edwin E. Locke published his first writings on goal setting. In 1968, he put forth a Theory of Task Motivation and Incentives. It is Edwin E. Locke's research that underpins every single KPI developed yearly in every organization that dares to call itself an organization. It is again Edwin E. Locke's research that underpins every single performance bonus that goes into people's bank accounts the world over.

Before Locke was born, people worked hard without consciously setting goals. Neither did they receive performance bonuses. They found little joys in their every day which gave work its own satisfaction. The best recipes for bread were created BEFORE the advent of goal setting. One of my favourite chocolate cakes (the Opéra) was invented BEFORE Locke was even born. The liquid gold that is the Courvoisier XO Cognac Impérial needs 35 years of careful tending under strict environmental conditions and follows rigorous process steps that would put Toyota to shame... ALSO invented and savored for centuries BEFORE the invention of KPIs. Marie Curie gave her life for her research BEFORE the advent of performance bonuses. Farmers woke up at the same time every day before the sun rose for eons BEFORE the advent of SMART goals.

And then, get this, Steve Jobs pulled Apple back from the brink of bankruptcy without getting paid (but he had enough to live on). A friend of mine who lectures at Technion University, Israel, tells me that the Israeli Armed Forces do not have performance bonuses... and yet THIS is the army that won wars and keeps Israel's enemies at bay.

Left alone without KPIs and money rewards (and with enough money to sustain a dignified existence) people found their motivation to work from a natural combination of loving what they do, finding meaning in their everyday efforts, getting good at what they do... being loved by others for it. Before the advent of KPIs, people worked their whole lives and didn't burn out nor need a holiday because the rhythm of work and of life possessed a SUSTAINABLE balance. People fed their motivation with Sustaining Emotions - pride in their creation, love from significant others, respect from the social context. As long as they were paid enough, the enthusiasm to get up and go to work came from Sustaining Emotions.

Factory Audits Took Away Joy of Teaching
I had been teaching some university modules in the past few years. I loved what I did and did well enough to have gotten wonderful feedback from overseas researchers commissioned to audit the quality of the materials I wrote. I scored well for my student evaluations and once, I even had the highest score of all the part-timers.

Then they brought in MOE with all their factory management audit processes. At every turn, I had to comply with some factory-like process specifications and work towards numerical KPIs instead of being left alone to respond to the needs of my students, and enjoy them. I didn't feel like working because I felt that I was FORCED to. Do this or we won't pay you. Do that or you won't have your contract renewed. I began to feel less pride in my work because nothing that I did was exactly like those factory specifications even though I thought I had done a few clever things to respond to student needs. The pay was quite paltry really and without the sense of pride I used to get, the pay began to look very small indeed. I was already earning money and having more fun elsewhere.

In addition, I found myself doing stupid work such as spending hours massaging the wording of my Learning Outcomes in order to comply with audit requirements... BUT still stay true to the initial intent of what I had set out to do for the students. I can so relate to what teachers say about MOE creating meaningless work for Teachers because that was what my university was doing to me in the past 12 months. I was also shocked when someone shared that an MOE school actually only has ONE black and white photocopier for 60 teachers to share. This is what results from tying MOE funding to school excellence. The lousy schools get lousier. How motivating can it be when you don't even have the basic equipment to do your job with?

I decided to quit before my university got to that stage, thanks entirely to the MOE Audit Team. Now, I do my own thing and get my satisfaction from wanting to give my best without being forced to. After I have helped Mommies... Daddies drive up in their big cars, get out and tell me "Thank you. My wife has changed so much."

What the MOE Audit Team did at my university (thanks in part to Edwin Locke's goal setting research), they have been doing to Singapore schools for 3 decades. In a sense, thanks in part to Edwin Locke, our nation has re-defined child abuse in the name of academic excellence.

The thing is this. Goal setting works. It is an effective strategy. Anything that is EFFECTIVE is dangerous if overused or used inappropriately. There is a time and place for Goal Setting but it should not be the ONLY ingredient in an HR system's motivation recipe. It may be good to note that Goal Setting lends itself well to powering the Manufacturing Economy. We exist today in a Knowledge Economy where OTHER motivation strategies need to come to the fore.

Making It Difficult to LIVE At Work
The thing about KPIs, awards and money is that they are ways of FORCING effort. The personal effort expended goes to building up bank accounts and CVs. The personal effort expended does not build the human spirit because there is no generation of Sustaining Emotions (i.e., pride in their creation, love from significant others, respect from the social context). Those who really do want to take pride in their work, leave and become tutors or SAHMs. Those who can still bear to keep going to work for MOE get their joys from competing and winning... from seeing their bank accounts grow... from doing their work so that they can have a life elsewhere (since the system made it so difficult to have LIVE at work).

Teaching is a GIVING job. For many years now, those who are considered Top Potential in the teaching service are the go-getters. They GET. They do not GIVE. The educational system, in its eagerness to emulate the manufacturing sector, has raised a generation of school leaders who want to compete and win, instead of nurture and collaborate. Teaching was a woman's domain that has become a man's world... and believe me, a woman can be more deadly in competition than a man. At least, when Petunia decides to compete, she can be more ruthless than any man. But I hate myself when I am like that.

Purging Toxin
It will take a while for MOE to purge the wrong people out of its system... the sharp tooth wolves who are out to compete and win, instead of nurture and collaborate. These people will be those who will worry about how they will be appraised and rewarded. Those who deserve to stay are those who tell themselves - "I am here to teach and to love the children. These silly MOE HQ people can do what they want with all their outdated management systems but I am already happy that I get more time to do what I love."

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Open Door Policy

The Sister-in-Law talked about a place called Open Door Policy in Tiong Bahru. So we went to check it out. It is a nice restaurant but I found nothing really crave worthy. Still, that's a personal reaction so it should not reflect poorly on the restaurant. It is a nice restaurant. It just didn't have anything that burnt its flavours deep into my brain circuits so that I get irresistibly drawn back just to eat that thing that can't be had anywhere else.

Restaurant Decor

Watermelon Jamon & Scallop Small Bites (interesting... my favourite dish today)

Smoked Salmon on Focaccia (perfect balance of tastes)

Braised Beef Cheek (nice and tender)

Caesar Salad ( a bit dry)

Pork Belly (could be less fatty and more tender)

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Ping Pong Squash

Little Boy loathes jogging.  It's my fault really. I didn't follow any of the advice in Petunia's Book to get him to WANT to jog. I forced jogging upon him in one form or another. I didn't give him ANY choice. He had to jog. Full stop. Come on... Petunia's motivation strategies take time, effort and self-control. Being entirely human, I sometimes just wanna veg out and let myself go.

"When I tell you to jog, you go and jog!" yelled I... too often.

"I don't know why, Mom. I just hate jogging," confessed he.

At 12, Little Boy is as tall as I am. My size intimidates him no longer. Increasingly, he just digs his heels in and won't jog. Typical teenager. Sullen and stubborn. He begins to rebel and stake out his own space, on his own terms and there is NOTHING I can do to make him jog. Even the sport Little Boy loves is a quiet and controlled one - shooting. To shoot well, you need focus and concentration. Sure! After 2 hours of shooting practice, he stinks of dried perspiration. His thigh and arm muscles are well-toned. But shooting is no aerobic exercise. Little Boy won't jog.

Oh well... better he rebel on this issue than on matters like Drugs and Sex and I Don't Wanna Go to School. But I absolutely abhor the notion that he will grow into Fat Potato Milk Boy - fat, flabby and pale skinned. I've been proposing walks in Botanic Gardens, cycling, trekking just to get Little Boy away from his books and into God's spaces. That means Fat Potato Me has to go along.

So, I was most pleased to hit on the idea of Ping Pong Squash. Little Boy and The Husband can go it together whilst I lounge lazily on my bed. Tee hee!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Comfort Food

I freed up my schedule right up until PSLE. I have nothing to do. All day. I wasn't sure whether Little Boy needed any support of any kind and when... so, I decided that I would just hang around. As it turns out, all Little Boy needs from me are cuddles and food.

2 days ago, he said "There is no more milk in the fridge Mom. Friday is my Listening Comprehension PSLE exam. Can you buy milk? I need milk to calm me down on the night before the exam." Ok... I went to buy milk.

Then, he requested for spaghetti bolognaise. So I made my spaghetti bolognaise sauce - 2 pots of sauce. Enough for 28 individual portions of spaghetti bolognaise. And since he also likes kouign amman and croissants from Tiong Bahru Bakery ... I got ready a store in the freezer.

Those kouign amman are really something. It's like a cinnamon roll but each layer is thinner. Soft and "moelleux" on the inside... crispy and caramel crackly on the outside. It's also like roti prata with soft fluffy insides and caramelized outsides but each layer is thicker and chewier. It's like apple strudel sans the apple but each layer has WAY more butter. I think kouign amman butter poisoning is the best way to die. You will literally die chewing heaven.

Now... do you really want me to get started on Tiong Bahru Bakery's croissants? Anyway, Open Kitchen Concept does a great job here.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Thank You MOE

In the past week, MOE has publicly announced some initiatives to bring a system in disequilibrium back into some sort of balance. Try as they may, parents can't really see how getting rid of secondary school banding will help reduce parent kiasuism. Some parents are upset that the banding information is no longer provided to help us choose schools.

Me... I like the get-rid-of-banding. I really do.

Getting Rid of Banding is NOT an Initiative Targeted at Parents
I thought HSK's positioning was masterful. He got rid of school banding and took that opportunity to signal to parents that academics isn't everything. That's so smart because parents DO have a role to play. However, I don't think anyone in MOE is dumb enough to BELIEVE that by taking away banding, they'll change parents' mindsets. What is obvious to us is probably obvious to MOE too. I think. Not sure.

I am guessing that... maybe this banding business is being used as a convenient SIGNAL to parents that academics are not everything BUT what it does really do is it prevents schools from competing with each other.

If schools were siblings, you're telling them... "I don't care what your report card is at the end of the year, I still love you and I will help you perform in your area of strength (note: $55 million for niche development)." What happens when parents rank order sibling performance of 10 siblings? You make them compete. The top ranked 10% feel great and can get cocky. The next 10% feel good. The next 20% feel ok. After that, it all goes downhill. The last band is very demoralized.

Every School Needs Motivated Teachers
Schools in the last band have a tough time motivating teachers. Teachers that get sent there walk around everyday knowing that they teach lousy students in a Band 9 school. How much pride can you feel? How much meaning can you find in your job? We need motivated teachers who love what they do in EVERY school, not just the top 10%. We need to give ALL teachers the right to feel proud no matter what school they're in.

Taking away the School Excellence Awards again stops the historical signaling to schools... School A, you're good and School Z, you're lousy... It's stressful for schools. Beyond the administrative load, it encourages schools to compete and competition is always stressful. Stress leads to burnout and teachers leave. Stressed Teachers stress our kids. Teachers treated like slaves drive our children like slaves.

Still Need SOME Competition
However, HSK was wise. He did say that there won't completely be NO stress. He doesn't wanna take away competition entirely because a bit of that is good. All he is doing is to reduce competition between schools somewhat. He is telling his schools "You are all precious and of same worth to me... and to the nation." This will enable Principals in Band 9 schools to motivate teachers. Otherwise, the Band 8 and 9 schools, like our failing children are stuck in their rut of demoralized failure.... and they do a lousy job with students... and this leads to parents trying their utmost to tuition their kids to death so that they don't end up in these schools.

If we want all schools to be good schools then this is a good first step. Treat all schools the same. Help them all to their need. Level everyone up to a high average. The Straits Times reports that money will be given to schools according to need, not student numbers... because student numbers again is a demonstration of school popularity (aka quality). Sometimes, the lousy schools need more money.

MOE's Work Plan Focuses on Looking After SCHOOLS, not Slapping Parents
His entire slew of measures this year is focused on helping schools. A website with parenting tips goes up too but really, the biggest thing that he is doing by removing banding is to tell all schools that they no longer need to outdo each other. They need to do the best they can... with the students they have, and grow their niches. Schools and teachers within can be proud of what they do because no one is gonna rank them and make them compete like gladiators.

Finally, he is moving to SAYANG his schools... he is moving to RESOURCE his teachers with good teaching materials in Stellar Upper Primary... I like that. SAYANG the schools without favor... just as if they are precious children of Singapore. Schools will naturally be able to help each other look after Teachers. Teachers will help each other look after our kids. In the end, by sayanging his schools... our kids benefit.

Here is a view of the school banding from the perspective of a lousy school - here.

Protecting Teachers
Just a few months ago, MOE top brass told me that if I had issues with the school, I should go and complain to the the school. Try as I might I could not make sense of this. It's a bit like encouraging another parent to discipline my child. As far as I am concerned, no one is allowed to go straight to my child to settle scores. You tell me. I deal with it. It's my responsibility as a parent to make sure MY child behaves... and it's my responsibility as a parent to make sure YOU respect my child's rights to dignity and self-respect.

I was so impressed with KK Hospital when many years ago, there were signboards telling people that if they were abusive to staff, they would not get served. Not surprisingly, KKH is an excellent hospital. It is loyal to its staff. When MOE asked me to go and have it out with the school, I was floored. Why would you open your schools and teachers to potential parent abuse? It's a recipe for multiple small fires and publicity flare-ups of the Mommy-Who-Filed-Police-Report-For-Hair-Cut. Parents should be able to bring grievances first to MOE before going to the police. But MOE always asked us to settle scores with the schools directly.

Oh well... I am glad Mr Heng has signaled that teacher abuse will not be tolerated. Be loyal to your frontline teachers and that will make it easier for teachers to do their job. And our kids will be better loved in school by teachers who feel loved by their organization.

My Only Concern Now
I am only afraid now that things will get worse before they get better. Typically, when a system has been over geared with extrinsic motivators (e.g., competition, bonuses, awards etc...), their sudden removal takes the wind out of every sail. As someone who understands motivation very well, my advice to MOE is to quickly step up on signaling to staff MEANING... MISSION... LOVE... WE'RE IN THIS TOGETHER...  This ignites a bit of internal drive. I do know what I am talking about... I developed the notion of Internal Drive Ignition® and trademarked it. See here.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Positive Teaching® for Lower Primary Parents: October 2012

The next Positive Teaching® Seminar for Lower Primary Parents date has been published here. Those who are interested to sign up, please do so.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Ratatouille: Versatile and Healthy

Ratatouille (picture taken from here)

Little Boy hates his veggies. Ratatouille is the only vegetable dish that he half enjoys. I make ratatouille in HUMONGOUS quantities and freeze them in boxes. It's a very versatile dish. Overcooked and very mushy ratatouille can be served as a soup course with garlic croutons. Slightly less overcooked and rather mushy ratatouille with bits of ham or crispy bacon makes a good topping for spaghetti aglio oglio. Just cooked ratatouille like in the picture above is a good side dish for meats.

Frozen into boxes, I can whip up a meal in 15 minutes using ratatouille as a convenient base. It's also really easy to cook in a thermal pot.

3 aubergines
10 small and over ripe tomatoes
3 zucchini
1 green pepper
1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
3 large yellow onions
4 bulbs of finely chopped garlic
2 tablespoons of goose fat
4 tablespoons of olive oil
4 tablespoons of oyster sauce dissolved in 250ml of water
1 large handful of Herbes de Provence

(1) Dissolve oyster sauce in water.
(2) Dice all the vegetables.
(3) Brown the onions and the garlic in goose fat and olive oil
(4) Fry the diced tomatoes till soft and mushy.
(5) Pour in 250ml of oyster sauce water solution.
(6) Add in the peppers and fry till soft.
(7) Add in the aubergines and fry till soft
(8) Add in the zucchini and fry till soft.
(9) Throw in 1 large handful of Herbes de Provence.
(10) Add salt to taste.
(11) In a thermal pot, bring mixture to a boil, stirring constantly.
(12) Pop the pot into its insulated sleeve and forget about it till it's time to eat.

I add oyster sauce because the vegetables we buy in Singapore lack sweetness. In countries like Israel and France, these simple garden vegetables come packed with taste. There is no need to augment with oyster sauce.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

New MOE English Syllabus 2015

The Singapore Ministry of Education announced changes to the PSLE English Syllabus yesterday here. In a nutshell, the PSLE English exam for 2015 has been tweaked in order to make it even harder to drill for using assessment books. Please note that I did not write "harder to score". I wrote "harder to drill for".

English Comprehension 2012 VS English Comprehension 2015
In it's present day form, the PSLE English Comprehension ALREADY tests True Competence in English. To do well, our kids need perfect grasp of vocabulary and syntax... AND they must have the relevant life experience to INFER from what they have read. These are not skills you can drill for. To do well in PSLE English Comprehension 2012, it is necessary to be truly competent in English, as well as rather mature and worldly wise. I don't think the MOE will take away inference questions from the PSLE English Exam in 2015 because that would mean they are lowering standards. They don't like that, at our MOE. Standards must be chased all the way UP because Singapore's economic future is in jeopardy!

Teachers in Little Boy's school are equipped with only a thin textbook to teach with. They have to write up everything else... which they don't. Not surprisingly, English Comprehension skills are not really taught in class. Yes... yes... teachers DO give out English Comprehension exercises to do... but that is testing and assessment, NOT teaching. You give out exercises for children to do to...
(1) test their mastery on skills they should have learnt prior
(2) get them to practice the skills they should have learnt prior

As far as I saw, Little Boy did little learning prior since his Teacher taught from his lousy textbook and gave out no other learning materials. True competence in English Comprehension can only be learnt through text interpretation NOT infrequent Comprehension exercises. So, when the MOE announced yesterday that to support teachers in preparing students for the 2015 PSLE English Exam, it would extend STELLAR (Strategies for English Language Learning and Reading) to Primary 4... I thought it a rather good thing. At least, with STELLAR, teachers are given a set of materials to teach from. Each individual teacher does not have to write their own. Surely that goes some way in helping teachers teach better?

So hey... Yay for MOE! Now, how about "stellarising" the other 3 subjects?

The only problem is that all this STELLAR juice needs to come through the Teacher. See here. If you have a poor teacher (and ummm... these do exist in the system), then good luck to you. The School or Teacher controls your access to learning materials. The Teacher makes decisions on whether or not to give you this or that learning material based on...
(1) his/her own capability to handle the material
(2) the average level of competence in your class
This means that you can't yourself engage in personalized and individualized self-learning even if you wanted to. Your progress towards true competence is dependent on the quality of your teacher. If STELLAR materials allowed for some measure of self-study, then students with poor teachers can still help themselves. At least some self-directed and independent learning is possible by the child himself, using materials from STELLAR. Else, faced with Little Boy's very very poor English Teacher this year and the last, I think I would still need to homeschool Little Boy in English... and parents who can't homeschool will still turn to enrichment/tuition.

PSLE English Composition 2012 VS PSLE English Composition 2015
Currently, the PSLE English Composition is not a good test of true competence. Schools give out long vocabulary lists which students memorize. As long as students are able to include the Big Words somewhere in the essay, and make no grammar nor spelling mistakes, they'll score. Little Boy's school has given out awful pieces of writing with top scores, which remind me of a X'mas tree with too many lights and mismatched decorations. The biggest joke was that when I wrote a composition for Little Boy to pass up, my score was only a miserable 28/40. Nothwithstanding that I actually scored in the 98th percentile of the GMAT verbal (a standardized American English test that all PhD candidates needed to take) based on global norms.

The PSLE English Composition 2012 leaves little room for creativity since story lines needed to be REALISTIC and follow the pictures exactly so. Little Boy learnt that story lines had to be predictable and boring or he would be heavily penalized. Till now we haven't really figured out why he loses marks for content because there are always realistic details Teacher accuses him of having left out. Gee... it's a piece of fiction written in 50 minutes, not an ethnographic report!! It's too short to contain all the details AND none of it is real since it's fiction!! It really doesn't matter how well you write. Marks are deducted for stuff that has little to do with good writing skills. A well-written elegant piece written by Tolkien would fail the PSLE Composition 2012.

The PSLE English Composition 2015 looks to be a better test of True Competence. There is more scope for creativity in terms of content. Though I am not sure whether the style of a badly designed X'mas tree will still score. Perhaps so if the Teacher herself equates good writing with bombastic words.

However, the better the test of True Competence in English, the more fear it will engender on the part of parents. Firstly, there are no short cuts. Parents who wake up suddenly in Primary 5 will find that there is very little that can be done to help the child towards excellence. The child needs to be well taught from Primary 1. Secondly, most parents are still stuck in the era where assessment books still helped children to score, whether or not competent. That's all these parents know... and they keep throwing assessments at their kids not knowing that these assessments actually get in the way of achieving True Competence in English. When parents realize that assessment drills don't work in Upper Primary, these parents panic and by then, it is too late because you can't undo the damage done by assessment drills in Lower Primary.

This happened to Little Boy for PSLE Chinese, which already tests True Competence in Chinese. In Lower Primary, Little Boy got by with assessment books that Grandma piled on him. We all got a shock at the end of Primary 4. In English however, I taught him the STELLAR way, and in PSLE Prelim English, Little Boy topped the class even without practicing any assessments nor top school papers.

Are You a Have? Or a Have Not?
I was, however, bitterly amused by one parent's comment reported in the newspapers. Housewife Sajina Apok said that the new syllabus will give her own child a "competitive edge". I assume that this is because her child evolves in a family environment that predisposes her to True Competence in English. Well then, the competitive edge her child has, is also the competitive disadvantage for kids who don't have access at home to STELLAR like materials and teaching. This will be especially so if the disadvantaged child has a lousy English Teacher like Little Boy has had in Primary 5 and Primary 6. Parents have said that STELLAR is as good as the Teacher teaching it. This brings me back to the same point above.

Access to STELLAR materials should be opened to students for self-learning instead of being completely controlled by Teachers.

Lousy teachers have existed since parents were children. The difference was that textbooks in our time documented enough material for us to learn from EVEN IF we were unlucky enough to get a lousy teacher. There used to be systemic redundancy in the way knowledge was transferred. Teachers were backed up by reading material. If you had a bad teacher, you could still make it if you worked hard on your own. In today's system, you need another Teacher (usually a tutor or a parent) if your school teacher is not good.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Retro Phone and Brown Rice

This phone looks almost exactly like the one I couldn't reach when I was a little kid hanging out at my Grandpa's shophouse. They kept it way up high away from little kids like me. I didn't like the look of the exact simulacra made of black plastic, so I picked the chrome colored one. I do wish it had the dial pad though... the one with holes that people stick their fingers into to dial a number. I loved dialing the numbers and listen to the whirr of the dial as it sprung back to rest state.

Maybe that's why Grandma placed that phone way up high.

The thing I don't understand is the cost of this phone. Why is it FOUR times the price of our deck phone? It can't have cost more than the price of the deck phone to make, right? Which reminds me of Little Boy's question "Brown rice tastes bad. Brown rice requires less processing. Brown rice costs MORE? Why?"

Go figure!!

Harvests of Echinacea Blooms

We've had quite a few harvests of echinacea lately... flowers large and little. If the flowers are small, I put 2 in a single teabag. That one there in the middle is HUGE though. Once the PSLE is over, I will put these up for sale (freeze dried). I've probably 10 bags for sale at $5 each. Those who are interested can get in touch via the Contact Form here... or email me if you already have my email.

Let me know how many bags you want.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

We Hung 'Em!!

Theanne's Acrylic Painting and Mom's Brush Painting

XiangYeow's Batik Work

The whole bedroom looks less drab now.

It took me a whole year to find the paintings that spoke to my heart. I am no Fine Art Connoisseur. I have no degree in Art History. But I know when a painting sings to my heart. It's a bit like when I set eyes on The Husband for the first time.

I just know.