Wednesday, 13 June 2012

How being a teacher teaches crucial management skills

Any new teaching graduates  from any universities will be surprised to discover that teaching requires more than just knowledge of Piaget's, Thorndike's, Brofenbrenner's and Bordieu's theories. They will be shocked to experience that teaching actually requires more than just knowledge of the subject matters; linguistics, sciences, Mathematics, physics and etc. Teaching expects teachers to be effective and productive managers of students, workload, time and resources.

Some of the essential soft skills  required in the teaching world are never taught formally in university. They are  the things that we picked up indirectly during our college years ( all those late nights hours spent on finishing 3-4 unfinished assignments) . These are the things that we learned outside the lecture halls.  One of these soft skills  is management skills. To be an effective teacher is to be an effective manager and a manager is a legally accountable person, a planner, a supervisor, a facilitator, a controller, an adviser, a mentor, an evaluator, a role model and etc. The following are a few areas in where most teachers often have to take the role of  a "manager":

(1). Students Management Skills
     We learn to manage students when we become teachers. We learn to calm them down, we learn to get them to settle down and we learn to get them to carry out their duties. These require patience, calmness and clarity in speech (when giving orders and instructions). We need to handle their records, documents, certificates and etc. We need to keep track of their attendance to school and to inform their parents promptly if they are not in school. We have the "locus parentis" over the students while they are in school which mean we are the students' legal guardian in school and we are accountable for whatever happens to them while they are still in the school compound.

(2). Workload Management Skills
       Teaching is like an ice-cream business. You have everything; all the flavors, colors and textures. To stay on top of the game you need to know how to manage, blend and mix all these elements. Different teachers have different workload management skills. For example when it comes to marking exercise books, some teachers instruct students to submit their books for marking row by row ( a row a day). Others allocate certain days in the week dedicated solely for marking.  The school usually provide a yearly handbook containing calendars for all activities which make planning of work relatively easy for teachers. But no matter how good a teacher is with workload management, there will always be time when he or she feel overwhelmed because in teaching things can get very hectic. Workload crisis can be mitigated through prioritizing , delegating, delaying (the unimportant and non-urgent works)  and also if worse comes to worse by blocking off times solely to finish off all the important workloads (yes it still happens in the teaching world.Workload crisis didn't end when we receive our scrolls. In fact, all those experiences with the countless nights when we were suddenly transformed into coffee quzzling insomniacs due to unfinished college assignments will remind you that once again you need to go back to the basic-no matter what your post is, no matter how busy you are, you need to sit on the chair and sort out all the paper works.

(3). Time Management Skills
 Time is very crucial in teaching. Each subject is allocated a certain number of "teaching periods" which often last from 35 minutes to 45 minutes per period. A teacher has to optimize the usage of teaching periods to ensure maximum transference of skills or knowledge (or in layman term to ensure completion of the planned lessons for the day). Tardiness and absences from work will jeopardize the quality of the students' learning experiences. Thus, teachers need to manage their times well and to ensure that teaching times are fully optimized.

(4). Resources Management Skills
Without adequate resources teaching can be very dry. A teacher can't teach by "words" alone. A teacher needs some resources to go with his or her teaching. Resources may include colleagues, students, teaching aids, books, audio tapes, reference books, workbooks, presents for the students, fund allocation, times, places and etc. Sooner or later a teacher will have to be in charge of some resources either through his position as a class teacher, as a head of the department and etc. And to be effective and productive he or she needs to manage well all the resources made available to him.

So, are you a teacher now? Remember you are not just a teacher but also a Manager! isn't that great? A Human capital manager.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Preparing ESL Students for Speaking Activities

2. The audience is not clearly set out too. Teachers often involve the whole class in the speaking activity and the students are not sure about who will listen to them when they finally get to speak as there are too many students for the teachers to pay attention too and times are also always limited. Teachers can actually divide a large group of students  into two and these two groups will take turns to be the presenters and the listeners while the teachers can act as prompter or facilitator.Teachers also may use  a video cam or  a voice recorder to record presentations from some groups if there are too many groups to monitor at the same time. The students can be asked to choose either to carry out their tasks with the teacher sitting with them, or to videotape or record their activities for the teacher to evaluate at a later time.

Here is a sample speaking situation from my own speaking lesson  that you can use with your students.

Task A
You and your friends are talking about the factors to consider when choosing a good life partner. In your opinion, what is the most important factor to consider when choosing a good life partner?
Candidate A: You think that family background is important factor when choosing a life partner. Explain.
Candidate B: You think that education background is an important factor when choosing a life partner. Explain.
Candidate C: You think that possess good personal qualities is  an important factor when choosing a life partner. Explain.
Candidate D: You think that financial background is an important factor when choosing a life partner. Explain.
Task B
You and your friends are talking about the factors to consider when choosing a good life partner. In your opinion, what is the most important factor to consider when choosing a good life partner?
i.                    Family background (rich, poor, nice people or mean people, town people or village people).
ii.                  Education background ( low education or high education)
iii.                Good personal qualities ( kind, honest, hardworking, responsible or lazy, mean, abusive, bad tempered)
iv.                 Financial background ( frugal, financially independent, no debt or has a lot of debt, lazy, can’t support self or others).

Friday, 30 March 2012

Preparing Learning Modules for Non-English Speaking Clients

English language is still a "hot commodity" in the world market today.There is still a high demand for English language-related trainings.At the moment  there are  many high quality courses being offered by well-established and internationally recognized course providers. Working adults often enroll in these courses as part of their own self-development effort or as to meet the requirement of the companies they are working for.

Most of the times they are happy with the inputs received from the courses they attended but there are also times when they feel that their needs are not really fulfilled yet; there are still so many gaps in understanding or in the transference of knowledge and skills. This is often true for non-English speaking students who are enrolled in courses designed for speakers who use  English as second language or English as other language.

Here are some of the things that module writers and course providers  might be interested to look into when preparing training modules for  Non-English speaking clients:

1. Get to know the target clients, their background, and their English language proficiency level.

2. Get to know the nature of their works, their working surroundings, the documents used, the style of interactions often taking place and etc.

3. Design something that is based on their immediate daily working experiences.

4. Refrain from designing an "International Textbook" training module because this only serves a broad purpose, it just entertains the target audience without actually building up the practical skills needed by their specific occupation.

5. Prepare a trainer module that contains the course list, syllabus descriptions, objectives, activities and time allocated for each part of the training.

6. Prepare a participant's module that will contain all the materials for activities, games and exercises. 

7. Pilot or get feed backs on the modules from a few representative of the clients.

8. Make necessary adjustments and make sure all the materials for the participant's module are ready for use ( photocopied).

9. Prepare enough course evaluation forms.

10. Involve the clients in the learning process, don't merely brief them, engage them in activities that will help them accomplish the objectives of the course.

11. Finally, have a good time, throw in bonus motivational inputs for the participants.

For further questions I can be contacted at

Writing Argumentative Essays on Social Issues

Social issues are issues related to experiences, problems, challenges, crisis, dilemmas and struggles that people face in their society. Some social issues are quite common, because they are a part of or a result  of  cultural practices while others  are more "contemporary" and "temporal"due to the changing social economic factors happening in the society. 

Some social issues can be quite controversial and sensitive for casual discussion. But they make us think about issues around us, about life and problems. They also challenge students' creative and critical thinking skills.  As a results, social issues are often used as stimulus for writing tasks in examinations all over the world. 

People always think that writing about social issues is easy as the angle and the scope of discussion is more liberal if compared to other more rigid types of writing tasks. However, you need certain skills to write good argumentative essays on social issue topics. 

Here are some popular social issue topics that often come out in upper secondary examination ( Based on MUET, Malaysia and IELT, International Examination):

1. Women make better parents than men. What do you think of this statement? Discuss.

2. Education is the most important factor in the development of a country? What do you think of this statement? Discuss.

3. Friendship is the most important thing in life. Do you agree? Discuss.

4. Money is the root of all evil. Do you agree? Discuss.

5. People who are responsible for causing fatal road accidents must be sent to jail. Do you agree? Discuss.

6. Sex education must be taught in school. Do you agree? Discuss.

7. If children behave badly parents should be blamed. Do you agree? Discuss.

8. Youths are the greatest asset of a country. What do you think of this statement? Discuss.

Here are some tips that I often share with my students:

1. Read the situation carefully.
2. Identify the key words and the task.
3. Decide on a stand.
-this is where you choose either to support (agree) or  to oppose (disagree with) the statement.

4. Think about why you choose that particular stand. Come up with strong reasons.
Topic: Women make better parents than men. What do you think of this statement? Discuss.

Stand: I think women do make better parents than men.
 Why: Well, generally women just seem to make better parents than men and there are reasons to support this such as women are naturally more caring and nurturing than men, women spend more time with their children if compared to men, women share a strong biological bond with their children and men can never reach the depth of closeness that women could have with their children. 

5. Draft the introduction and the thesis statement. 
-There are many ways to write the introduction. It doesn't have to be long, 3 to 5 sentences would suffice.
You can use situation or opinion style to write your introduction.

Sample: Using Situation Introduction

Parenting is a challenging job and many parents struggle to be good parents. Some people think that women make better parents than men while there are also people who think that men can be great parents too. In my opinion, I also think that women make better parents than men. This essay will outline 4 reasons why women make better parents than men. 

6. Support the introduction and the thesis statement using explanation and further elaboration. Add in some relevant examples too.

7. Whatever you do, make sure the discuss the issue by providing pros and cons instead of merely describing it. After all you should be writing an argumentative essay. One way to develop  a sense of argumentativeness in your essay is by :
-acknowledging what others might think about the topic and then to prove why you are taking the opposite stance on the topic. For example: Women make better parents than men. What do you think of this statement? Discuss.

" While some people might  think than men can make great parents too but these men are just a few exceptions. In general, women are just better than men at being parents to children. Even the legal system of most countries in the world acknowledged this fact by awarding most custody rights to the mothers in most divorce cases. This is because women are perceived by most people are the best persons to be the guardian and parents to their children.".

8. Develop each paragraph with enough explanation and elaboration. Keep writing , add  in details and examples until you run out of ideas.

9. Write a simple conclusion.

9. Finally, read your essay as a whole, read it to yourself (aloud, if you are at home or silently, if you are in the exam room). Make sure the essay flows smoothly. If you are happy with what you have written or when the exam time is over, pass your essay for grading. :-)

I hope the tips above can help you with your writing. All the best from me.
For any questions please e-mail:

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Celebrating Children's Literacy Breakthrough

Yeay!!  I have officially coined this phrase "literacy breakthrough". The next time you see it, please think of me, hahaha!

Okay on a more serious note - have you celebrated your children's literacy breakthrough yet? When was that?

People celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, winning a competitions and etc. but they rarely celebrate literacy breakthroughs.

Parents might want to consider celebrating this. I mean this is just a suggestion. Schools should organize a class session solely to celebrate the moment the students' literacy breakthrough.

Here are some tips on celebrating literacy breakthroughs:

1. Jot down the dates when your child is starting  to read  a text i.e story book independently.

2. Call him or her for a "confirmation ceremony" where you get the child to read aloud a section of the book for you. If he or she can do this well then its time for the next part.

3. Pick up the phone, call up your spouse and all the people closest to that child.

4. Plan and save for a special "celebration". It can be a dinner at home, a dinner outside, a small cup cake party, a small mini tea party with a cute little cake, it can be a day out with grandpa or grandma but it has to be something that the child will remember.

5. For schools, the celebration can be  carried out during the PTA activities. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could celebrate one of the most important milestones in our children's life?

So, what are we waiting for? Share your "literacy breakthroughs" photos on my FB page if you wish to. I'll surely share mine too @ Thank you.

Reading Skills: The Key to Academic Survival

"How are many of you are still struggling with reading?" I just love asking students this question. When only a few hands are raised, I would sigh in relieve (glad that at least for them the path ahead is less thorny and treacherous because they have mastered the most important skill) but when more than 5 students raise their hands the dark cloud of worries would start to descend upon me. 

Here are some thoughts on why parents and teachers should pay more attention to their children's or their students' reading abilities:

1. Students need to be able to read in order to handle most subjects in schools such as language subjects, history, science, geography, arts, living skills, science, physics and etc. They need to be able to read and to comprehend what they are reading in order to understand various subject matters. If their reading ability is very poor even at basal level then it will surely be very difficult for them to cope with all the subjects they are learning in schools. The first step to learning a new topic is to read about the topic before hand to prepare the mind for the information that is about to be imparted on the topic. Teachers will teach and will explain on the topic in the classroom but if students do not read on the topic before hand they will have limited understanding of the topic. Besides, they will need reading to prepare for lessons, to revise and to complete tasks. 

2. Reading comprehension is a major part of examinations at primary, secondary and at college level. At UPSR, PMR, SPM, STPM and college level reading comprehension for Bahasa Melayu and English language (+MUET) carries a high percentage of marks. So, how would a student cope with all these exams if his or her reading ability is very poor?

3. The ability to read accurately and the ability to make sense of what one is reading instill a sense of confidence and accomplishment in a child. Students feel good when they can read. They feel good when they can understand what they are reading. They feel "successful" when they can answer reading comprehension tasks in class. They feel confident to interact with teachers and their peers. They feel good about themselves and feel motivated to study.

4. Students who love reading seldom create problems in school. They seldom waste times with empty chatters, loitering and other forms of useless activities. They fill their times with reading as a way to relax their time, as way to find inspiration, to draw life values and to gather information.

Do you have any additional information on the issue above? Please share if you like.

4 Things Parents and Teachers are Worried About When it Comes to Their Kids' Reading Skills

One of the most important skills students should master as early as possible in their life is reading. On average, children have their first literacy breakthrough (the moment they could read independently) by the age of  7 or 8 but there are also some exceptional cases of earlier literacy breakthroughs.

There are 4 main reading issues that often cause worries to parents and teachers.
1. Children show no interest at all in reading.
The parents or teachers might be avid readers themselves or they might put a lot of emphasis on reading so when their children do not seem to show the expected level of interests in reading they start to feel worried that this "attitude" will grow into a "life-time habit" of not reading.

This fear is totally acceptable and understandable. However, we might want to consider the fact that most children love books and love reading unless there are unseen problems i.e reading disabilities or motivation issue.

Reading disabilities are real and serious issues that parents and teachers need to be aware of. There are ways to diagnose the disabilities and there are also ways to help the students build up their reading abilities. There are many books on ways to help children overcome reading disabilities that can guide us to help our children or students.

Motivation issue is also a real threat even though it often happens to a small number of students. Some of the students with this issue might feel intimidated by certain approaches; they might feel discouraged from reading or feel intimidated to read in a large group. It is best to handle students who have this problem on a one to one basis allowing them to express what it is that is holding them back from reading; the fear, apprehension and anxieties and then to slowly introduce them to materials that will slowly build up their interests in reading.

2. Children can't read at all even though they are at the age when they (theoretically) should be able to read.

Once again, most parents place high expectation on their children so when their children can't read, let say at the age of 8, they start to panic. Or, when secondary school students still display reading problems at the age where they should no longer grapple with basic reading skills the teachers start to panic.

One thing that I  discovered after my eldest child has started Primary school was that most schools have programs for all levels of students. Students nowadays are streamed according to their abilities in certain core subjects so that the best intervention can be provided to suit their needs.Remedial programs are carried out to help students develop basic reading skills.

However, for younger students (primary school), parents play a very important role in instilling the love for reading and also in developing reading skills in their children. Students learn by imitating the behaviors of adult figures in their lives. Making reading a shared family activity goes a long way at familiarizing a child to the act and habit of reading (at the very least).

3. Children can read but they are reading words inaccurately without any self-correction efforts or without seeking guidance from teachers or parents.

This issue is the trickiest one to handle. Young children love reading their books aloud to their parents and teachers. Some children can read fluently but most kids tend make a lot of mistakes when reading. Some kids pause, retrace, ask questions and self-correct their readings while others just ignore the mistakes and move on to the next parts of the book.

This shouldn't worry us too much and we shouldn't over react when kids  ignore their reading mistakes. What we can do is to avail ourselves to them whenever they read or to allocate a specific time for shared reading time so that they can turn to us whenever they encounter any problems with reading. At the age of 7 to 8, most kids needs prompt feed backs from teachers and parents on their reading especially on pronunciation, meaning and etc. However, when they are older, they will be able to refer to dictionary and to read independently.

4. Children can read but they can't make sense of what they are reading .

I hear this a lot from my students but strange enough, not from my children. But I think I know the reasons. My students are forced to read and to comprehend long general passages without any visual stimulus whereas my students usually read short texts with a lot of visual stimulus in school and also at home. In school,my children use text books that contain colorful images and at home they have their educational comic books subscribed for them.

Initially I was not a very strong advocate of using comic books as a way to develop literacy skills in children. But when my children started kindergarten I asked some friends and colleagues about ways to help children with literacy development. Some friends with early childhood education background suggested comic books. At the same time, the kindergarten also started to send home some book subscription brochures via my children. I took a long look at the list and after selecting some of them I sent the forms back to confirm my subscription. So, my children have been receiving their subscription on a monthly basis ever since.

There are various other techniques that we can use to help students make sense of reading materials but these depends on their age.

At Primary School level, using large picture books, audio books, comic and video narrative together with reading might help the students understand the books they are reading.

At Lower Secondary School level, using guided reading techniques might help as the teacher will break the texts into smaller more digestible parts to make it easier for the students to understand them as a whole. The students may use dictionaries and internet key words search to understand texts they are reading.

At Upper Secondary School level , when reading long general passages, the students can start by underlining the thesis statements and the topics sentences of each paragraphs. Then they can discuss the background of the texts and how it relates to other issues. Then they can find the meanings of  words or expressions used in the text before talking about the main ideas and the supporting ideas. After that they can look at the tone of text, the styles used to develop the text, the intention of the writer and etc.

Do you have any worries about your child's or your student's reading abilities? Please share your experiences if you like.