Monday, January 24, 2011

Fear is Fantastic!!!

With a title like this, it's hard to just look away. Just like the fact there is something gruesome in staring at a road accident - what the Americans call rubber-necking - stretching your neck forward just to catch a glimpse of a dead body or a pool of blood so you may recount the sordid tale to whomever you meet next. Anyway, I digress.

So why was my title worth a second look? Simply because it had an element of 'surprise' or the unexpected woven into it. We don't normally associate fear with positive emotions, so how can fear possibly be fantastic? Well, as the saying goes: Mind Over Matter. What the mind perceives to be true, the heart believes. Therefore, if we can reprogramme our mindset, and make it accept that fear is a good thing, fear challenges our boundaries and fear makes us excel, then indeed, the statement might hold water.

The way I see it, both students in general and the teachers in my profession have one thing in common: Fear of Change.

Teachers fear the tide of change will wash over them and make them lose their footing. The internet, digital technology, student-centred learning, mobile phones as something more than a communication gadget, overhead projectors, all of these things point the way forward, they are the inevitable learning tools that our new generation are empowered with, gadgets which are like the compass leading the way northwards.

Yet almost all the seminars and teacher gatherings I go to seem to tell me something about the average Malaysian teacher. And their message is clear: Teachers fear the new education revolution because they are ill equipped to face the challenges of IT in the classroom. I have given talks and tried to show how easy it is to use a simple digital camera to take pictures, record video clips of students doing work in class, uploading to YouTube and FaceBook... and yet the majority of teachers resist. If only they could feel what I feel, see the euphoria on each student's face as soon as they see they've been published online, that their teacher values their work so much, she'd like to share it with the world. If only today's teachers would stop with the 'I don't know how...' and 'It's too complicated..' and replace them with two simple words: "I'll try." Then the floodgates of knowledge would burst open, and there would be a whole new world to explore and their students would benefit from the wave of new information that would raise the tide of motivation to learn and embrace English.

Ok, maybe that sounded too surreal, but you get my point. The students can only be as good as their teacher. If the teachers don't try to be more creative in their teaching techniques, they will start to fall out of favour with the new age students. Teachers fear change, and this fear paralyses them towards accepting and implementing new technology in classrooms today. So who ultimately loses out? The teacher who doesn't want to try? No. The victims are the students because without such exposure, they grow up in a state of ignorance. They plod through the chalk & talk, sadly and surely, never knowing the difference. In the end, they find English boring, repetitive and unchallenging. And whose fault is it? Definitely not the students.

So what now? Well teachers out there, please hear my plea. Change your ways. Even if it instills the deepest fears in you, and makes you shiver to your very marrow. Take on the bull by both his horns, face him head on. Or take baby steps, learn one new thing at a time and pace yourself. Make fear your friend for fear is truly fantastic. It challenges your boundaries, makes you push your limits, dares you to dive into the deep end, gives you strength to freefall without a safety net if your life depended on it. It's all about your attitude, mind over matter. Adjust your mindset, put into place a paradigm shift and embrace the impossibilities.

So is fear fantastic?

Of course it is.

Simply fantabulous.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Invention Prototype Project

A good lesson for any MUET class to combine the four skills is to get them to form groups and invent something useful. First they brainstorm and plan it out, the next lesson they bring recycled products to make the invention and prepare a poster advert for it (writing). Then they practice their 'sales pitch' (speaking). Two reps for each group stay with the product and become sellers, while the others are buyers. Each buyers asks questions and can only buy TWO products. They 'buy' by writing their names and comments on the poster (evidence of speaking, reading and understanding). After 10 mins, change roles and allow the sellers to become the buyers. At the end of the time limit, the group that made the most sales wins a prize.
Writing is put into authentic practice with the poster advert. It also makes students read in an authentic situation.
Students can be as creative as you allow them to be. As a teacher, expect that they CAN do it, instead of ASSUMING they CAN'T do it. You'll be surprised what they can do.

Mechanical fold machine.. folds t-shirts automatically.. fantastic idea! The boy eating the Choc-Stick is because it was a free gift to lure the customers to buy the product, so you can brief your students on what makes a good salesman and a great sales pitch, after all, Malaysians love free gifts right!

Live demo makes all students enthusiastic and motivated to use the language.

My student explaining the product. :P Language (broken or otherwise) usage in its most authentic form in class.
The point is, any lesson which heightens motivation and gives students a purpose for speaking English cannot be a bad lesson. Steer clear of chalk and talk, my message is that a teacher's core duty is to EMPOWER HER STUDENTS. Trust that they can do it and you'll be impressed with the outcomes. :P

Friday, January 7, 2011


Well you guys are well aware that the results are out for end of last year's MUET. Seems like the exam itself was harder than any i've encountered previously and the essay question about arranged marriages was simply an 'un-spottable' question. All of my students have been drilled on all the hot topics and current issues but we didn't talk about this. Consequently, a lot of you out there had to rely on your own ideas and opinion to answer it. Never mind, it turned out all right in the end. If there is one thing I've learnt from this, it's grammar and vocabulary makes all the difference. You may not be able to 'spot' questions accurately, but if you have impeccable grammar and a wide vocabulary, Bands 5 & 6 can be within grasp, I assure you. So strive for Zero-Error!

As for my school... I'm happy to report that SMK Majakir, Papar, Sabah has had a slight increase in quality (more band 4 this year than previously) although the number of band 3s have reduced marginally. Of the four classes, there were a significant amount of band 2s compared to band 1, so the overall quality also shows an upwards trend. And for the first time in my personal record, NONE of my students from the two classes I taught scored Band 1. For a suburban school, I find this to be an excellent achievement. Congrats to Upper Six Science & Upper Six 2, Class of 2010. You've done an old lady like me proud.

Anyway, the new year has begun, I'm in the midst of organising a Kota Kinabalu Level 1st InterSchool Colloquium Competition for MUET and will be busy designing modules for SPM English & MUET Students' Handbook soon. If I'm successfully published, you guys will be the first to know. Wish me luck.

All hell will break loose next week as activities in school heat up with meetings after meetings and my part time lectures at University Malaysia Sabah twice a week on Mondays & Wednesdays start. I'll try to keep the blog rolling with what I do in class. Will blog soon about my students' "Prototype Presentation" project which they will be doing next week. Cheers for now!