Tuesday, 26 December 2017

The PSLE English Paper Is Tough, And So…

The PSLE English Paper is tough, and so it is important for us to be clear and accurate about some basic assumptions. For parents overly worried about PSLE English, please be calm. Realise first that you may hold some assumptions that may sabotage your child’s progress. Let me prove it now. I have heard and read about how many Singaporeans employ the drill method to prepare their kids for the PSLE English exam. What is the drill method? Like footwork drills of soldiers, students practise, practise and practise until they master the content and skills of the English paper. Unfortunately, the drill method does not work for all English components. If it has, our students would not be facing problems in reading comprehension and writing.

Let's examine the components of the English paper carefully and sincerely ask ourselves which components can be effectively taught by the drill method. Do you know that some language components ought to be taught quickly and some components ought to be taught slowly? Do you realise that components that can be taught fast can be taught by the drill method and components that cannot be taught fast cannot be taught by the drill method? Although I myself have not seen this point in a book, this is actually basic stuff. Why? This is because effective teaching of a language is dependent on this assumption.

To help you further, let me state the points plainly. For Vocabulary and Grammar, you can use the drill method. However, for writing and reading comprehension, using the drill method will backfire, sabotaging the entire learning process. Understand this crucial point, and adjust your teaching styles. You cannot rush the mastery of reading comprehension and writing skills by students. It is process-oriented and it takes time; it is a synthesis of many skills. If you insist on using the drill method for comprehension and writing skills, well, as some of you have discovered, your child may be turned off, and he loses interest in writing and doing comprehension exercises; for some students, they simply write their answers mechanically, never really taking the time to ponder deeper. If your child has reached this stage, then you have built a wall to hinder and sabotage your child’s learning. Please correct your mistake. 

It is unfortunate that we live in the 21st century and yet our perception of education boils down to a couple of key examinations, the PSLE, O-levels, etc. It is really sad that schools are overly concerned about these exams too. For the moment, since we cannot change this reality, we need our kids to excel in these exams. But we have a choice still – to take the holistic road or take the non-holistic road?

The non-holistic road has been taken by the majority students since the PSLE began. It is the teaching or learning English for the sake of exams only. Students do not see the purpose of learning language skills beyond the exams. This problem is more glaring for second language learners who have convinced themselves that they would not need the language of study. So the academic study of English becomes fragmented, emphasised and bloated in certain areas but without much practical or meaningful use. 

The holistic road to learning English is to teach the language components with meaning. For example, when I teach Vocabulary, usually in the first lesson, I will teach the students words like ‘defecate’ and ‘excrete’ – terribly meaningful words that always produce a giggle and an immediate mastery but unfortunately, are almost never taught by school teachers. Shouldn’t students know these words when they are carrying out such action daily? Maybe I am not a polite teacher, but in my class, the students cannot help themselves but learn new words with enthusiasm, even the most mischievous of students. Why? Because the lessons are meaningful and interesting. Children learn more for meaningful usage and interest than they do for the exams.

What I am merely saying is to relook at how we teach our kids English. The search for the holistic approach creates headaches and more work for the teacher but with time, the English teacher becomes so conscious of meaningful and transformative learning that his lessons are a cut above the rest. The content learnt in such classes are not only more valuable for life, but they can be remembered better by the students.

So the approach to the teaching and learning of PSLE English should be rethought. Perhaps we have forgotten to empathise with our kids today. When I was young, I did not have to study as hard as kids today do. The PSLE was not that tough as it is today. And in those days, many of us had a wonderful childhood, not one of studying, tuition and more classes. But we played marbles, chased after kites and were left to roam the neighbourhood without much parental supervision. Today, we expect our kids to sit like chickens in a cage, listening endlessly to teachers with the hope that they master the subjects taught. Strange modern people we are. Do we not realise that the holistic approach to teaching PSLE English creates meaning and injects interest and enthusiasm into our kids when they learn? What good reason is there for teaching English un-holistically? All of us have had a good taste of un-holistic teaching of languages. Did it do us any good? Whatever was taught in many of those lessons were simply forgotten.  The holistic teaching of PSLE English is long overdue in classrooms, homes and tuition centres. Empathise with our kids please.

Thursday, 21 December 2017

O Teachers, What Are You Really Teaching?

Shaheed Salim's Teacher Training Programme In Pattani, Thailand, In December 2017

I have just finished training some 50 to 60 Thai teachers on the art and science of teaching. One of the things I emphasised in the training is why we teach. Is it enough to teach our kids languages, science and mathematics and religious subjects? Is it enough for us to give them information that they themselves can get from the internet? I believe in transformative teaching and training. This means that by the end of each teaching/training course, participants must be transformed positively, at least in a small way. It may be a new paradigm learnt, the motivation to try something new and many other things, too many to list. This transformative aspect of teaching may have been overlooked by many teachers and trainers.

Below are some videos I showed the participants, videos that those interested in education, teaching and learning anywhere in the world should watch, especially teachers. Do take the time to watch them before reading further. Each video lasts between 1 to 3 minutes. These teachers do not only teach subjects prescribed in the curriculum. They do more than that.

Mary Kurt Mason

Chris Emdin

Stephen Ritz

Jeffrey Wright

Dear readers, realise that great teachers teach more than information or facts or what the syllabus dictates. They change lives and they are conscious of what they are doing. Although, like all other teachers, they teach Math, Science, English or whatever subject, the difference is that they see the subjects they teach as a platform to teach, demonstrate and disseminate something far greater than the subjects. Each teacher has an agenda, some hidden motive when teaching and interacting. That hidden agenda or motive becomes the strategic thrust of his lessons. In fact, if you think deeply about what impactful teachers do, you will realise that the subjects they teach have become the context and stepping stone for achieving their motive. Listen carefully to what Mary Kurt Watson, Jeffrey Wright, Stephen Ritz and Chris Emdin say. You will discover their real motives, hidden agendas and strategic thrusts. These are far more important than the expertly-designed curricula. In fact, these are the curricula of these wonderful teachers.

So if you are a teacher, what is it you are really teaching? What is your agenda, your motive, your strategic thrust? Do you have any? Have you thought about your real motive for teaching? What is it that you are trying to really achieve by  teaching your students tirelessly? I once thought that I could not have these – my agendas, real motives and strategic thrusts – when teaching in Singapore. I was wrong. I now realise that you can have them wherever you are, in whatever type of class you teach, whether it is in a school, classroom, tuition centre or home or anywhere else. It is the teacher that must be enlightened. It is the enlightened teacher that makes the difference.

Saturday, 16 December 2017

What Singapore Teachers Can Offer The World

Shaheed Salim (near centre of circle) training teachers in a Mathla'ul Anwar school in Karawang, Indonesia in 2016

For a long time, I dreamt of training teachers in the region. Well, that day came about 7 or 8 years ago. A training consultancy called Irsyad International (now Irsyad Trust Ltd) was funded by Temasek Foundation to train teachers in rural parts of Indonesia. I was contracted as a trainer-cum-consultant on and off, and I have trained teachers in Indonesia, Thailand and Fiji. Funding and grants do not last forever, and so, after a couple of years, the training projects ended.

When the training ended, my heart ached. I realised that there are hundreds of thousands of teachers teaching in village schools in Southeast Asia who have not received proper training in the art and science of teaching. We, as Singaporeans, can make a difference. A new vision gripped me and refused to let go. I saw myself leading a small team of trainers, conducting free teacher training  in the region. 2 years ago, I acted upon this plan and now I am conducting teacher training workshops in Indonesia and Thailand. God willing,  I hope to expand this to Fiji and Vietnam in the future.

Singapore has been marketed as an education hub in the region, and our education system is a notch above our neighbours' (though in my opinion, it is still far from the ideal). There are many things our neighbouring countries can learn from us. For example, the Primary Mathematics Model Method and the teaching of English language can be something we share in the region. 

Why is it important for Singapore teachers to share their expertise free in the region? So many reasons. Your worldview of the world and teaching will be transformed positively. You will become more creative in teaching your students because you will start to crack your head on new ways of teaching. You will gain a satisfaction of giving that money cannot buy. You are reaffirming that as a country, Singapore is a blessing to the region. Remember, compared to our neighbouring counterparts, Singapore teachers are highly paid and professionally trained. You can conduct this free training annually during the school holidays. Treat it like a holiday. Pay for your flight and accommodation, and give something back to the third world. After all, we are from a first world country.

To teachers, ex-teachers and interested adults, if you are keen in helping teachers of village schools during your free time and willing to travel (and pay for your flight and accommodation) and would like to join me in Indonesia and Thailand in 2018, do drop me an email: salimshaheed@gmail.com 
(Note: These projects will be categorised and branded as projects by Edupolis Publishing/Edupolis Training.)

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Failing Primary Math: Hope For The Helpless

Last month, I met some desperate parents who were clueless as to why their kids have been failing Primary Mathematics. Their kids will be in Primary 5 and 6 next year and they have scored less than 40%; some scored less than 20%. Their stories had 2 common themes – firstly, they worry that it may be too late to help their kids and secondly, they did not know where to turn to for help.

“Is it too late? Is there still hope for my child?” a parent asks. Of course there is. Even if one’s child is in the late secondary school  years, hope is always there.The real question is – are parents, teachers and tutors giving hope to students? Are they really helping them master Math? Or are they sabotaging the process? (To find out more about this, please read my article here.)

Saying that there is hope is the easy part. The actual reality for such families may be dark and negative. Well, it need not be. Stop thinking it is the end of the world. Realise that there are many cases of students excelling in Math even after failing for many years. As for me, these are the clients I love – the helpless, the clueless and seemingly-hopeless. Their transformation from blur to confident students is a joy to experience. It makes teaching and tutoring worthwhile.

So, if your child is failing and you are stressed out by it, please stop yourself from being a broken record, playing a negative composition created out of fear of the unknown. B
e positive. Believe there is hope for a turn around. I know, I know. I have heard the story many times. You sent your child to XYZ tutor or ABC tuition centre and nothing happened. Well, don’t be surprised at all. 

If you have sent your child to a good tutor who has produced As and A-stars, and it did not work for your child, it does not mean that the tutor did a bad job. You should realise, if your child is a weak learner, that weak learners in Math require more than just tuition. They require the tutor to do more than just explain and re-explain concepts and skills. The tutor must give more than just worksheets and drilling exercises. The tutor must work to break the negative self-concept of the student and replace it with a positive I-can attitude. It therefore requires a unique teaching approach. Unfortunately, many tutors are not even aware that a unique teaching approach is required for weak learners. Hence, you should not be surprised when most tutors are unable to provide this unique tuition service.

If you are a parent of a child weak at Math and have been scouting for the right tutor with no luck, then listen carefully. There are 2 ways to solve this issue. (1)The first way is to search harder, and you find the right tutors you need. For example, I offer Breakthrough Math – a Math programme for weak learners in Math for P5, P6 and lower secondary levels (see end of this article for more details). So tutors who can help exist but you got to find them. (2) The second way is to teach your kids yourself. You become the tutor. It is not as difficult as you think. 

Step 1
The most difficult challenge when tutoring your own kids is changing your style of interaction with your kids.  If your interaction and communication styles are not productive, then be ready to change yourself. Perhaps having an honest adult giving you candid feedback on your interaction and communication styles would be a good idea. So before starting to teach your kids, you need to assess yourself and change yourself first. This may seem ironical. You may say, " I want to change my kid but I have to change first?" As a parent-tutor, you must shed your prejudice towards your child. You may think he is lazy and fully responsible for his failure, but this is where you need to discipline yourself. Stop the negativity and labelling. Shed your external naggy self and play the role of the positive tutor who injects positivity and enthusiasm to your kid. Realise that although you are teaching Math, teaching Math is not your ultimate aim. See the bigger picture. Math is only a context. Your goal is to break the negative mindset of your child.  You can do it.

Step 2
How do you start? What are your resources? All right, first of all, let’s recognise that a student at P5 or P6 who is very weak in Math has not mastered Math content of the previous levels. You may need to start teaching your child from the P3 level. Your resources? Use the school’s textbooks and activity books. Get new copies of these. In 2018, do not measure your child's Math mastery according to the school P5/6 CAs and SAs. Measure them according to what you are teaching them. If you intend to use the SA to measure their progress, use the SA2 of 2018 and compare it with the SA2 of 2017.

Try out these simple steps, and be patient. I am sure your child will improve in Math with time. 

Breakthrough Mathematics
Breakthrough Mathematics is a special Mathematics programme designed by Shaheed Salim to help weak learners excel in Math. It is recommended for students who are struggling with Math to attend the twice a week tuition programme. Alternatively, attending both the normal Mathematics programme can be supplemented by a single weekly session of Breakthrough Mathematics.

What is covered in Breakthrough Mathematics? Students who are weak at Mathematics have not mastered Mathematics concepts and skills taught in the earlier years. Therefore, Breakthrough Mathematics will not only cover current content but also content taught in earlier years. 

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Carrots And Sticks: Why Singapore Malay-Muslims Can And Must Bridge The PSLE Math Gap

I sincerely believe that if the Malay-Muslim community of Singapore put their hearts and minds to the task of bridging the PSLE Math gap, we can do so within 5 years. This gap has existed since the PSLE began in 1960. We improved in our scores until about the mid 1990s, and then for some mysterious reason, we stagnated at the plateau of producing a pass rate of about 60% at Standard Math. For the last 20 years, we have not shown any improvement. As a Malay-Muslim in Singapore, an educator and a tutor who has helped many weak students excel in Math, I cannot accept the PSLE Math gap; it is ridiculous. I do not blame anyone outside the Malay-Muslim community of Singapore for our state of affairs. It is the fault of our Malay-Muslim community.

The following is a list of reasons, some carrots and some sticks, why we Malay/Muslims must pull up our socks immediately. It is also a message of hope that we can solve this problem within a few years.

Reason 1: Don’t Pull Down The Singapore Math Score

Singapore students have so scored well in international studies from the mid-1990s that it has been categorised as the top country for Mathematics or one of the top-scoring countries for Mathematics. Since our Malay-Muslim students’ scores are way below the national average, we can therefore infer that our international Math score would have been significantly higher if our community’s scores were not included, Singapore would probably have fared better. The point? Don’t pull Singapore Math downlah. Malulah.

Reason 2: Don’t Kacau (Disturb) Singapore Exports
Singapore has exported its Primary Mathematics programme overseas. In USA alone, some say that more than 2000 schools have adopted Singapore Math. This is more than 10 times the number of primary schools in Singapore! How is it possible that on one hand we are so good in Math as a nation that we are exporting our Math overseas, and at the same time, our community is trailing far behind the national average.

Reason 3: 20 years have passed!
In the mid-1990s, about 60% of the Malay-Muslim cohort passed PSLE Standard Math. As of 2016, the percentage of passers is still stagnant. What have we been doing these 20 years? 20 years is not a short time. Are we even discussing the problem and finding solutions? Or have accepted it as a reality that failing Math is our fate as a community?

Reason 4: There are thousands of Malay-Muslims working in the education industry
There are so many teachers in the Malay-Muslim community. If we draw our family trees, I am certain that most Malay-Muslim families will have teachers listed; they may be our siblings, cousins, aunts or distant relatives. The point? How can it be that we have thousands of teachers in our community, and we still cannot solve this problem? Maybe we are not trying hard enough.

Reason 5: How much more must our government do for us?
When I started teaching at a primary school, I was really interested in a programme that is still run today – the Learning Support Programme (LSP). As highlighted by our government, it has been highly successful. When I walked past the Learning Support Coordinator’s room, I could help but estimate the number of Malay-Muslims involved in the programme. Although we are only about 15% of the population, we are an over-represented clientele in the LSP. It seemed at that time, and I have no problem believing it today, that perhaps 40% to 60% of the students were Malay-Muslims. Hasn’t the government done enough for us? The LSP was conceptualised and managed to help weak learners in lower primary Math, and we Malay-Muslims are the community with the largest number of weak students attending the LSP.  Yet we are still over-represented in the number of failures at Standard Math in the PSLE. What is our excuse for not excelling in Math after the government has spent millions to help us? 

My brothers and sisters, the government has done enough to help us. We must help ourselves. We can’t go on like this. We can’t just leave this issue to the Malay-Muslim leaders and forget about it. They need help, whether they admit it or not.

Reason 6: Intelligent Malay-Muslim Leadership
The Singapore government appoints very smart people to leadership positions. In fact, if you were to count the number of Degrees, Master Degrees and PhDs among the Malay-Muslim leadership, I am not surprised that today, the Malay-Muslim leaders can be said to be the most academically qualified when compared their their previous counterparts. This simply means that perhaps we have the best minds to solve our community’s problems. So, where is the master plan for solving the PSLE Math problem? 

Being intelligent is not enough to solve this problem. I worry about 2 things about the Malay-Muslim leaders. Firstly, I worry they are not even discussing this issue and producing real solutions. If they are, where is the masterplan? Our government produces masterplans when they intend to introduce key changes and improvement. Where is our masterplan? Secondly, worse still, I worry that they may believe there is no way out of this problem. I fear that this is why we are no longer hearing this issue being discussed. I know many attempts have been made to close the PSLE Math gap. However, these attempts were arrows shot in the dark, neither addressing the root causes of the problem nor carrying the antidote to rid ourselves of this disease.

It is because of these 2 worries that I am coming out into the open and saying openly – please discuss the PSLE Math gap and prioritise solving it because solutions do exist. It won’t take us another 20 years. 5 years will do. I am sure about it, if we get our act together.

Reason 7: Resources and money are not a problem
Some people have said that Singapore ranks among the world’s richest countries. I have no problem believing this. Is money really a problem for social organisations here? I doubt so. I am sure we have lots of savings in Mendaki, the mosques, and many other Malay-Muslim entities. In fact, if we are serious enough, the whole nation (not only Malay-Muslims) will contribute to this cause. 

Reason 8: Let’s break the psychological barrier
The stigma of the unintelligent Malay has been around since colonial times. Although I think it is a load of rubbish, I cannot help but accept the reality that there are members of the Malay-Muslim community who actually believe that the Malay-Muslim community cannot excel at Math. I have taught Chinese, Indian and Malay students who are weak in Math. I see no differences between them at all.

Take a different perspective. Imagine for a moment that the Malay-Muslim community can bridge the PSLE Math gap. Can you imagine what would happen? I believe a new spirit of confidence will be breathed into us and this phenomenon will cause world champions to emerge from our midst. I am dreaming of course. But you never know how great and positive the effect will be. Break this glass ceiling and I am sure some of us will soar the skies.

Reason 9: An exciting new vision for the Malay-Muslims of Singapore
It is not only the Malay-Muslim community of Singapore that is weak in Math. Many other countries, like those in North and South America and even many of our Southeast Asian neighbours, suffer from poor Math scores. Can you imagine the potential we would have as a community if we successfully pull ourselves out of this diseased state? Do you know that we can lead millions of people from all over the world out from their diseased state too? 

We should see the PSLE Math gap as an opportunity. See it as our passport to play an active and leading role in the world around us. Whether we share the solutions to our problem (when we do solve it) with the world free or as a business, know that there are many out there who are awaiting solutions, waiting for people to help them. I have spent the last few years training teachers in the region and I testify that Singaporean teachers have a role to play in the region, if they choose to see a bigger role for themselves.

Reason 10: The Solution Is Already Here!
Our challenge is not finding the antidote to our disease. As I explained earlier, (please see my article here), the solution is already here. And you do not need to hear it from me. I have even told you how to find the antidote and I inferred that oversight is the reason why the Malay-Muslim organisations could not find the antidote. For me, the solution is clear, and we need only 5 years to solve this problem. 

There you have it – 10 reasons why we can and must bridge the PSLE Math gap. As I write this article, I wonder whether I am the only one who believes that it is that easy to solve this problem? Anyway, I will leave this article in cyberspace  and hope it will bring some good to our nation.

Speaker's Profile
Trained at NIE, Mr Shaheed Salim was a former school teacher. Throughout the years, Mr Shaheed has experimented with numerous teaching strategies for teaching English, Math and Science. His systematic and progressive teaching strategy for comprehension has been very popular with schools; Mr Shaheed’s The Ultimate Guide For Mastering Comprehension books have been used by thousands of students since 2001; this is just one the many teaching strategies he has created. An experienced and effective teacher, students love his classes because they are not only learning and improving; the fun factor is pretty high. Able to read the internal fears of students rather well, Mr Shaheed addresses them positively and helps students overcome them. Tuition is not just tuition for Mr Shaheed Salim; for him, it is a opportunity to make a positive and transformative impact on students’ lives. Many uninterested students have become enthusiastic learners through him.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

The Ultimate PSLE Comprehension Course (Jan-Mar18)

Has your child mastered English Reading Comprehension skills? If he has not, enrol him for The Ultimate PSLE Comprehension Course taught by the author of The Ultimate Guide To Mastering Comprehension, beginning on 6th January 2018 (Bukit Batok) and 7th January 2018 (Tampines). This 12-session course will be the only comprehensive English Comprehension course run by the author in 2018. Limited places. For enquiries, please call 65694897 or 67896198. To contact the author, call 97739441.

Title: The Ultimate PSLE English Comprehension Course
Venue: Bukit Batok Centre (Blk 644, Bukit Batok Central, 01-68, S(650644)
Time/Day: 10.45 a.m. to 12.15 p.m. (Every Saturday, beginning 6th January 2018)
Tutor Mr Shaheed Salim
Fees $160 per month (i.e. for 4 sessions)

Title: The Ultimate PSLE English Comprehension Course
Venue: Tampines Centre (Blk 825, Tampines St 81, 01-48, S(520825)
Time/Day: 10.45 a.m. to 12.15 p.m. (Every Sunday, beginning 7th January 2018)
Tutor Mr Shaheed Salim

Fees $160 per month (i.e. for 4 sessions)

Courses after The Ultimate PSLE Comprehension Course
April to June 2018: The Ultimate PSLE Vocabulary Course
July to September 2018: The Ultimate PSLE Grammar Course

Sunday, 3 December 2017

The Math Structured Ceiling For Autistic Kids

Mr M and I chatted over the phone and he was very concerned about his son, E. He wanted to know my thoughts about his son. That was how it all began. When I received scans of his son’s SA2 Math paper, the name of the school and the unique ways the answers and corrections were written made me feel that I was not discussing about a common student. This one was different. Sensing the father’s deepening interest and dedication to his son, I needed to meet his son to know for sure whether my gut feel was accurate.

E and I met before my talk. Within 30 minutes, I knew what the problem was. E was autistic.  It brought me back to almost 2 decades ago when Mr and Mrs Y entrusted JY to me. However, the couple did not tell me that their child was autistic. They had told me about some of his problems but never once did they say he was autistic. I knew then and now why the Ys and Ms do not tell tutors about their child’s autism. They do not want the thick limiting ceiling to be there at all. Perhaps in my positivity, I could help their child break through the structured academic ceiling.

The parents M and Y diligently taught their kids as much as they could about Math. Their kids could attain a Pass score (a C grade) but nothing more than that. They cannot seem to cross an invisible academic ceiling. Is there really an academic ceiling for autistic kids? Yes, there most certainly is.

But is this ceiling imaginary or real? Let me explain this clearly. So far, the 2 kids I have interacted with, and a few others I have observed, have no problems doing Math sums that are computational. This means the sums are repetitive and follow clear structures. When the sums, especially word problems sum deviate from the clear structures, these students become lost and are unable to solve the problems. This is the invisible glass ceiling autistic kids face when doing Math. Can autistic kids do Math problem sums that are unstructured in nature? Well, read on.

Mr M was persistent. He wanted to know how to break this ceiling. He had approached an educational psychologist who had carried out a series of tests on E. Then she recommended a specialist teacher to coach his autistic son. After about 24 lessons in 3 months, Mr M highlighted to the specialist that his son had failed his termly test. The specialist was surprisingly shocked and she surrendered, according to Mr M. Hopeful parents like Mr M become lost too in finding a solution. But is there a solution?

Mr M consulted me and I told him I am not a specialist in special needs, but I believe in the power of the human spirit. There have been cases where I myself had thought that a child I tutored could not improve (but I never showed this and tried to fight this thought) but the child passed the exam – I told him and reminded myself that we do not know the limits of the human heart and mind. Very weak students can pass and even excel. But we must first believe in them. They are kids. If we do not believe in them, how will they develop a positive self-concept?

After a week of tutoring E in a group, Mr M asked me  about his son’s progress. I told him that E required one-to-one  tuition. Group tuition would not help him. I explained that he had pushed his son to the limits of successfully solving structured problem sums. What was needed now is a breakthrough? To attend my Breakthrough Math classes would not really help. This is because I am not teaching students with special needs in my Breakthrough Math classes. I am teaching students with low self-esteem and negative self beliefs. E does not suffer from low self-esteem. His challenge is finding a structure in the less structured world of Math. I told what I thought is the solution, and if your child is like his and has reached the boundaries of structured Math, then you may want to think about this next phase. However, before I explain the next phase, let me enlighten you on the kids' journey.

There are 2 phases in mastering PSLE Math for the autistic child, and this is only my perspective (although I am sure my perspective is accurate and correct).

In Phase 1, the child needs to experience and excel the basics of structured Math. I believe this is what tuition centres which specialise in teaching autistic kids PSLE Math do – they focus on only structured Math through whatever means until the kids master the basics and attain at least a C grade. Mr M has sent E to a couple of centres but there is no improvement. He has even tried a specialist teacher recommended by an educational psychologist, and again no improvement.  To me, as I have explained to him, what is now needed is something new, perhaps.

The Next Phase: In Phase 2, Math problem sums get tough and the thinking involved to solve these sums is no longer simple. So, in Phase 2, the autistic child enters a world of less structured Math sums and I believe he needs to use a new strategy to get the right answer. But without a clear structure, how can he find the solution? I think a new procedure of thinking need to be introduced to E. How? What are the steps in this thinking procedure? I do not know yet. However, I believe it is a series of steps which guides the autistic child to look at the unstructured Math problem in a new way. What are the steps? I do not know yet. Do write to me if you have new insights or questions. May your journey in helping your child be a fruitful and blessed one.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

The PSLE Foundation Programmes

Call it what you will – a lack of business acumen, a prioritisation problem or an amnesia on what makes money in the tuition industry. Well, after a discussion with the teams at Singapore Learner and The Education Experts about the primary level Foundation programmes, we realised that it is difficult to find tuition centres offering PSLE Foundation programmes. Try Googling it, and you will find that we appear on the first page of Google search – yes, we decided to offer it and yes, the one with a link to the conceptlearning.sg website. Haha!

Do you see the irony? It is many of these students who require help in their studies. Would most of them have ended up taking Foundation English, Math, Science and Mother Tongue if they did not face problems with the subjects? Yet it is so difficult to find tuition centres offering Foundation PSLE subjects. Why don’t tuition centres offer tuition programmes to the very students who need them. It is perhaps because there is very little money in this segment and the market of students is somewhat fragmented.

For me, such students are among the best students to teach – they need tuition  and we will be doing a much-needed service. I encourage more centres to offer classes teaching the primary Foundation programmes. These students need it.

To those interested in our programmes, please see the schedule below. Alternatively, you can visit www.conceptlearning.sg 

2018 PSLE Foundation Classes

Blk 644, Bukit Batok Central, #01-68. S(650644)
Tel: 65694897 or sms 98530744 

P6 Foundation Math
Thursday 5.45 p.m. to 7.15 p.m.

P6 Foundation Science
Sunday    5.45 p.m. to 7.15 p.m.  

Blk 825 Tampines Street 81 #01-48 S(520825)
Tel: 67896198 or sms 93460054

P6 Foundation Math
Saturday 5.45 p.m. to 7.15 p.m.

P6 Foundation Science
Tuesday 5.45 p.m. to 7.15 p.m. 

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Seek Street Knowledge Instead Of Book Knowledge

Today, an education may not educate. Many are the impressive-looking educational institutions in the world touting that they impart knowledge and life-changing paradigms. Is this the truth? Sadly, the more I interact with society, I discover how little many of us think deeply about things big and small. In fact, many of us have not really thought about the term “knowledge”. What is knowledge? Do schools impart knowledge? Why then do most of us admit that much of the "knowledge" we receive from school is not useful in the real world? Is the so-called knowledge we learn from school no different from information, like the information found in a telephone book?

I classify knowledge into 3 forms – Book Knowledge (1st Knowledge), Street Knowledge (2nd Knowledge) and Camouflaged Knowledge (3rd Knowledge). Book Knowledge is the lowest form of knowledge and is commonly found in schools and universities. This knowledge is really a mixture of knowledge and information, and one need not go to school to receive this form of knowledge. The 1st form of knowledge can be learnt on one's own.                                            

Street Knowledge (the 2nd form of knowledge) is prized today (and has always been valuable). What is Street Knowledge? It is the knowledge, usually learnt through experience, about the insights of doing things effectively, especially when related to human behaviour. Sun Tzu’s Art Of War contains Street Knowledge.  In it, you will find insightful observations of human behaviour and warfare. Harvey Mackay, whom I respect for his Street Knowledge in business, is the writer of Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive. You will find that his book contains nuggets of insights on business that will impress you. 

Let me cite an example to demonstrate the power of Street Knowledge. One day, Mackay bought an envelope company which was losing money. He did not know much about envelopes at all. Well, if Book Knowledge were a person, what would his advice to Mackay be?  Book Knowledge would probably have told him to create a business plan, be clear of his products’ winning features, etcetera. However, Mackay had Street Knowledge. Streetwise, he tailed his competitor’s delivery truck as it visited the offices of several clients and noted down their addresses. Some time afterwards, he met and offered these clients difficult-to-refuse prices for his envelopes. Overnight, Mackay gained a significant number of clients. Wow! A demonstration of street-wisdom! Unfortunately, few institutions teach Street Knowledge. Many only offer Book Knowledge. 

So how streetwise are you? Do you seek the 2nd form of knowledge actively? If you don't, maybe you should begin so. 

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Are Parents, Tutors & Teachers Responsible For Pupils' Failure At Math?

We all love our kids. Who doesn’t? And we want them to excel in their studies. So we load the pressure of high expectations and the routines of tuition classes to solve this problem. Sometimes the problem gets solved. Sometimes it does not; sometimes it stays for a prolonged period of time and we are left asking why.

Today, we shall look at the failures of kids at PSLE or upper primary Math, which in my opinion is no different why some students fail at secondary Math. Through the years, I have guided students, who had scored poorly at Maths, attained A grades, and I discovered that unless these students underwent transformation at the self-concept and self-expectations levels, it would be hard to help them score grades A and above. (Note: Even with low self-esteem, scoring a C is still possible for students but an A is clearly out of reach, unless the test paper is full of lower level thinking questions.)

The first thing you should realise as a parent or even teacher is you must never be a cause for the kids’ failure at Math. You may be surpised by this remark – “Me responsible for my kid’s failure?” Well, the sad truth I discovered all these years is that we adults, and sometimes even teachers and tutors, are responsible for the low academic self-esteem of the child.

I remember being given the challenge of teaching the weakest Primary 6 Math students some time ago. As I got the kids to believe they can succeed, it became clear that I was the only adult who sincerely believed they could excel in Math at the PSLE. A boy who told his parents that his specialist teacher (i.e. me) believed that he could score an A for Math witnessed disbelief and disagreement of the part of his parents. The kid had been failing Math since Primary 4 – perhaps the specialist teacher should be realistic in predicting his future scores! Well, this kid scored a B at the PSLE after just 7 months of being involved with this program. So parents can be a problem. I have taught tuition kids whose parents, although diligently paying the tuition fees monthly, would openly declare, “My son is stupid”. Why this irony exists is baffling but believe me, it exists.

It is not just parents who are the problem, The Math HOD of the school I was teaching at told me one day, “Mr Shaheed, let’s be realistic. These kids can’t improve much. Let’s aim to improve their scores by about 10, even if they fail.” It was clear he did not believe these kids could succeed. Even teachers teaching such low achieving kids, through their body language and so-called differentiated teaching approach, send clear signals to the kids – “You kids are failures”. To them, they have spent years teaching very weak kids and they believed they were being truthful – "From my experience, these kids are sure to fail!" I can hear their imaginary talk aloud. 

So if a student who is failing at PSLE Math has teachers who doubt they will succeed, treating them as unintelligent kids destined to fail, do you think such children, if they were normal, can rise above this negativity? Are teachers and tutors aware of their children’s state of mind? Do they teach or tutor without realising that such kids need a re-programming of who they are and what they can achieve. I doubt most teachers and tutors are knowledgeable on this matter. In fact, in all my years, I rarely hear discussion on this matter except in cosmetic and misleading terms.

Research has shown that teacher or adult expectations will influence how students perform academically. Positive academic expectations breed students who succeed academically. To have positive expectations of your students means that you sincerely believe in them – believing that your students can succeed in school. If you believe that your students cannot soar to the skies, then you have placed a glass ceiling to what they can achieve. This is true even if you do not say this out loud. Our expectations, positive or negative, are transmitted from us to the students through the way we interact and feel about them. Have you heard about the research conducted by Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson? They wrote their findings in Pygmalion In The Classroom (1968). They visited a particular school and randomly identified 5 teachers and 20% of the students as their research subjects. 

The following was what they had informed the teachers:
  1. They were the 5 best teachers in the school. (Note that this was not true. These teachers were randomly picked.)
  2. They were going to teach students who were potential late bloomers and gifted students. (Note that this was not true. The students were randomly picked.)
  3. They could not tell their students that they were either a late bloomer or gifted. (Note that the teachers were told this as if it were a fact.)

After 180 days, it was found that the average scores of the students taught by the 5 teachers were significantly higher than the average scores of the other 80% of the students. There was only 1 variable in this experiment – the 5 teachers’ expectations. Because they were told they were the 5 best teachers in school and going to teach the top students in the school, they naturally expected their students to excel in their work. Therefore, from this important experiment, we discover that when you interact with the students with positive expectations, they will naturally start to believe in themselves and perform academically better.

So what are you going to do as a parent, teacher or tutor – will you have positive or negative expectations of your students? It is really up to you.

[Note: Shaheed Salim runs classes (group tuition and 1-to-1) in Singapore for those who are weak in Math. 
For more information, you can contact him at: salimshaheed@gmail.com or +65 97739441.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Why Malay Muslim Organizations In Singapore Cannot Solve The Math Problem

I express my own opinions here. May Allah s.w.t. forgive me for the next few statements. And yes, I believe I know better. I add – those who have consistently help turn failures (especially consistently failing in Math over the years) will be able to verify I say. Why do I say this? Because every time I succeed in turning a failure, some failing for several years, to a pass, it follows the same pattern. Therefore, there is no ambiguity in this issue of breaking the Math glass ceiling for the Malay Muslim community.

Well, if such is the case, then why have the Malay Muslim organizations failed to find the right approach to the problem? Here’s what I think the problem is. They did not carefully think about the process of solving this Math challenge. Let me hold your hand and walk you through this simple oversight.

Let’s identify the problem. The problem simply put is that the Malay Muslim community is underperforming in PSLE Math. In 2015, only 61% of our PSLE students passed standard Math while 90.6% of Chinese students and 81.6% of Indian students passed. This is the result for Standard Math only; it would be much worse if Foundation Math students were included; we are over-represented in Foundation programmes at the P5/6 levels.  So we trail by about 30% behind the Chinese and 20% behind the Indians. This has been the case for the last 20 years. So simply put – the challenge is to close the academic gap, to ensure that there is no significant difference between in the performance of Malays, Indians and Chinese students in PSLE Math.

Our Malay Muslim organizations have done a lot to try to close this gap but the gap is still there. I mentioned that they committed an error, an oversight; what is that oversight? Did they not consult experts? I am sure they did. Did they not discuss the problems in detail? Of course they did. Did they not try very, very hard? I am sure they did. So what was the oversight?

Let’s understand this issue by using an analogy. Imagine you are living 200 years ago and you want to travel through a forest in Borneo to reach an ancient cave. Who should you consult? Will you consult academics or even explorers who have travelled to Antarctica? The answer is simple. You consult the people who have been to the ancient cave you plan to visit. Don’t just consult one person. Consult as many people who have been to the cave. After finding out about their journeys, you get a very clear picture of how to get there – not just by one way but by many ways.

So what did the Malay Muslim organizations not do to close this Math gap of our community? It’s simple. They did not consult the people, the teachers and tutors, who have successfully helped very weak students in Math pass the subject. I am sure they consulted academics, teachers and experts. But the question is – did they consult the teachers and tutors who have helped very weak learners (scoring less than 30% for current and past years) to pass with As? I confidently infer that they did not.

How do I know that they did not? Simple. As I said in the beginning – there is a common pattern that most, if not all, weak learners in Math go through as they progress from F to A. If you have experienced this as a teacher or tutor, you will know what I have said is true. The fact that we are still grovelling in the dark, trying to find the right approach, means we do not know how to solve this problem and we do not even realise that the approach exists, is crystal clear and it works.

So what is the approach? Attend my talk and you can draw a simple outline of it. It’s free and only takes an hour. What is costing us millions to find the solution to, well, you can get it free. Then perhaps our Malay Muslim organizations, if you tell them, will not grovel in the dark for the next 2 decades.

Actually, I had planned to have this talk for parents of weak learners in Primary Math. However, I realise that interested parties in our communities can benefit from it too. The talk is not focussed on the Malay Muslim community but the world of weak learners in Math.

Talk 1
Venue: Singapore Learner
Blk 644 Bukit Batok Central, 01-68, Singapore 650644
Date/Day: 25 November 2017 (Saturday)
Time: 5.45 pm to 7.00 pm

Talk 2
Venue: The Education Experts
Blk 825 Tampines St 81, 01-48, Singapore 520825
Date/Day: 26 November 2017 (Sunday)
Time: 5.45 pm to 7.00 pm

To attend the talk, message/Whatsapp Shaheed Salim at 97739441.

Speaker's Profile
Trained at NIE, Mr Shaheed Salim was a former school teacher. Throughout the years, Mr Shaheed has experimented with numerous teaching strategies for teaching English, Math and Science. His systematic and progressive teaching strategy for comprehension has been very popular with schools; Mr Shaheed’s The Ultimate Guide For Mastering Comprehension books have been used by thousands of students since 2001; this is just one the many teaching strategies he has created. An experienced and effective teacher, students love his classes because they are not only learning and improving; the fun factor is pretty high. Able to read the internal fears of students rather well, Mr Shaheed addresses them positively and helps students overcome them. Tuition is not just tuition for Mr Shaheed Salim; for him, it is a opportunity to make a positive and transformative impact on students’ lives. Many uninterested students have become enthusiastic learners through him.