April 26th, 2015

When teachers give too much

ALTHOUGH teachers are sometimes accused of not investing enough time or energy into their students’ learning as they should, at times it can be quite the other way round.

There are occasions when teachers can actually do a disservice to their students by giving too much and failing to recognise the fine line between teaching and learning.

It may however, not always be the fault of the teacher when she oversteps the teaching-learning boundaries and “over-teaches”. More often than not, she may be just fulfilling expectations which are to an extent tainted by some common misconceptions.

The more information the teacher conveys to her students; the longer she speaks or dominates the teaching-learning session in the classroom; the greater her role in “helping” students with their assignments or projects, the more efficient she is deemed to be.

A teacher who does not do as much for her students may very well be labelled as being less effective.

Hands-on: Instead of being spoon-fed by their teachers, learners can be resourceful by using the newspaper to improve their vocabulary. - File photo

I have often wondered about this especially when someone starts talking about the “declining standards of education” in the country. Although many comments are unsubstantiated and tend to ignore context and settings, there is a measure of truth in them that we simply cannot afford to sweep aside. Have we, by placing expectations on teachers which are not really theirs to fulfil, created generations of students who do not recognise or understand their role as learners?

Is it this what has contributed to masses of students who still look to teachers to feed them with information, solutions, answers, and a sieved form of second-hand creativity?

Is it because teachers were expected to do even the thinking for students that we have ended up with students who are unable to think for themselves? And what about the teachers? It is not uncommon to hear complaints from teachers when new elements are added to the curriculum. Despite the fact that the changes or modifications are within the scope of their own subject content and expected teacher expertise, laments are often heard from teachers at the lack of guide books or ready-made packaged resources.

When workbooks or reference books do arrive in the market, there is a collective sigh of relief because now there is a source of instant, processed information which they can in turn repackage and deliver to their own students. The more there are of these, the better of course.

But then again, teachers may merely be fulfilling what they perceive to be expected of them. The more notes, hand-outs, exercises or material you disburse, the more committed you appear to be towards your students’ learning.

More than just input

The principal and subject heads are impressed by the sheer amount of “input” you give your students and how well your students are able to in turn regurgitate all this.

It is all well-intentioned of course, and there are undoubtedly many advantages in giving students as much help as you possibly can. “Scaffolding” which is the support given during the learning process, is in fact necessary. It may be the only way to go in certain classes as otherwise, you will not be able to achieve any learning outcome.

There are also times when teachers feel they are teaching themselves more than anyone else in the classroom especially when they have to provide answers or solutions for every assignment because the students are simply unable to complete them independently.

At other times however, what is perhaps more challenging to the teacher is knowing when she needs to stop and when to let her students take over. For me personally, this has been one of the biggest challenges in all my years of teaching in a national school.

There have been times when I have had to remind myself that my classroom teaching lesson was not a platform to showcase my knowledge of a certain topic, but rather a place where I needed to motivate my students enough to pick up where I left off and fill in the gaps for themselves.

At times, when students presented weak or flimsy arguments during a writing assignment, it was an effort to just give hints or suggestions of something more substantial and not write the entire points out for them.

Like over-protective parents who sometimes do too much for their children, we may be guilty of depriving our students of the opportunity to actually learn when we so freely supply them with what they should source for themselves.

By not letting go when we should, we also deprive students of the opportunity to discover, think, stumble, make mistakes and learn from them.

And similarly, we also deprive ourselves of the very same opportunities when we demand for guides, resources, work-books, or model question sets with answers provided.

While all these are definitely helpful to the teacher and may even prove to be life-savers on occasion, we may be short-changing ourselves of originality and the opportunity to exercise our own thinking skills by depending on someone else’s interpretation or analysis.

Those of us who have been in the teaching scene long enough will surely remember the days when we were students. There were hardly any workbooks, model examination questions and answers, or specially organised talks on “examination-answering techniques”. Even photo copy machines were hard to come by those days!

Our teachers I remember, left us pretty much on our own to come up with solutions, answers and projects. There were times when we had to make our own notes or devise our own questions.

And yet all that apparent lack of teaching if judged by today’s standards, made us more resourceful, innovative, critical and capable of being independent learners.

Teaching, after all, as we hear so often, is about facilitating the learning process or setting the stage on which learning can take place. It is about pointing out the whole realm of knowledge that is spread out before them and the possibilities that lie ahead. Possibilities that they have to discover for themselves.

For this reason, I especially like this quote by Greek writer and philosopher Nikos Kazantzakis: True teachers are those who use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross; then, having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging them to create their own.

When ‘rojak’ English can still be accepted

MANY suggestions and methods have been employed to enhance English proficiency among students but have ended up with dismal results.

If we still want to retain the national schools or Sekolah Kebangsaan where Bahasa Malaysia is the medium of instruction, then we have to face reality and accept some hard facts.

In the first place, we have to address the feeling of shyness speaking English.

For the Malay boys and girls in particular, English is indeed a foreign language to them as most do not speak the language at home or with their friends.

When they are called upon to tell stories in class by their teachers, they are naturally scared and shy.

Unlike other ethnic groups where English comes naturally to them, most Malays are comfortable speaking only in their mother tongue.

Why is this so? Because the Malays cannot avoid thinking in Malay. You can see them groping for words, which make them seem very unnatural when they speak in English.

So, in schools, the emphasis should be on communication to improve English proficiency.

Teachers and students should be allowed to speak in broken English, not only for English lessons but throughout when students are at school.

The whole idea is to encourage students to speak and not be intimidated by speaking in English. It should be made fun all the way.

For example, a primary school student may begin by saying, “ Teacher, saya hendak ke toilet”. It maybe rojak English, but the whole idea is to increase their sense of confidence and to use a smattering of English.

Along the way, the teacher can explain to the class that the correct way of saying that is, “ Teacher, I would like to go to the toilet”.

We should avoid teaching grammar at primary level so that students will not be bored.

A teacher who is not creative enough will not be able to inject fun teaching English if he/she goes into the subject without adding spice to it.

Grammar can be polished up later, maybe at Primary 5 level or at secondary school.

The focus should be to make them interested and enjoy English lessons so that they can read, write and speak in English.

The role of the teacher as a change agent is very crucial and necessary, especially in rural schools where most parents are unable to help their children with English.

It is not possible for a fisherman or a villager to speak English with their children, like upper middle class families do in the urban areas.

Given the Sekolah Kebangsaan environment, which is a Malay school on a national basis, the onus is on the teachers to create the conducive English speaking environment.

It is a big challenge for the teachers, for in their hands lie the success or failure of all government efforts to improve English proficiency.

So, instead of ridiculing and laughing at the present generation who are weak in English through no fault of theirs, let us give them a helping hand.

At the same time, the authorities must not be hard-headed that they know everything and refuse to listen to the views of others.

They must realise that it is an uphill task to set the clock back to the days of English medium schools when the present education system is devoid of the natural English environment. Hassan Talib, Gombak The STAR Home News Education 26 April 2015