Absorption of information and the ability to put it to use effectively is the ultimate goal of teaching but are there shortcuts to achieving this?
AS A preschooler, Jacob* was unable to sit still. If it were not for his mother’s watchful eye, he would have put his finger into a plug point or even attempted to drive a car and grievously injure himself.
He was always curious and wanting to know more.
By the time he was three, he was reading books on his own and knew that RM10 was double the value of RM5.
Excited about going to primary school, Jacob’s mother Jackie* recalls how enthusiastic he was days before his first day in Year One. About a month later, his mother was called into the headmaster’s office and was told that Jacob was “disruptive in class” because he “asked too many questions”.
He was considered a slow learner because he was unable to memorise the notes given by the teacher. Jacob also made many careless mistakes in his Mathematics workbooks.
By Year Four, he was placed in the “last” class at school, where he lost all interest in studies.
This is just an example of what schooling can do to a child’s desire to learn, especially if educators continue to group students into the “able to learn” and “unable to learn” categories.
Everyone can absorb information but may process it differently.
“A person may be labelled as a visual learner, but it doesn’t mean that he has a 100% visual preference. He will still be able to learn in other ways,” says HELP University senior lecturer D. Gerard Joseph Louis.
However, educators need to take a “whole brain” approach to teaching.
“It can’t just be the chalk and talk method,” says Louis, referring to the main form of teaching in Malaysian schools.
“All children are able to learn but educators need to develop a person holistically,” he says, which is why the multiple intelligences approach is very useful, especially for preschoolers and children.
“It’s a multi-aspect approach that includes teaching them to make friends and so on,” he shares.
He explains that many children are not interested in school because “what happens outside of the classroom is so different from what they’re learning in the classroom”.
Louis opines that the current curriculum is not changing fast enough to adapt to society.
“The world today is changing rapidly and if the system (of education) doesn’t change fast enough, our graduates will be obsolete.”
Louis also questions why preschool children, many of whom appear eager to learn before their schooling years lose interest later.
“When they’re younger, they’re constantly exploring the world. They keep asking ‘why?’. They want to know things. But after about a year in school, their desire to learn is ‘killed’,” he says.
Students in both primary and secondary schools are often reminded that they have to learn and score high marks, but in most instances they are never taught to master effective studying skills and techniques.
Considering this is a major setback of our education system, many “learning” centres have sprouted to cater to an increasing demand for “holistic” students.
These centres offer seminars, conferences and workshops for a specific duration at which students learn efficient studying methods and other life skills.
Many students who have enlisted the help of specialists at such centres have only words of praise for the techniques and skills they had learnt.
Herrvena Kumar, 17, says she learnt the right study skills and attitude when she registered at a learning seminar. Herrvena who is a classical dance graduate, also does sangeetham (classical vocals), plays the piano and is a school athlete. Despite being busy, she says that she has maintained a proper study schedule, especially during exam periods.
“If you say, ‘I think I will study tomorrow’, you won’t study. So I plan what I am going to study and work on each day.”
Gold medal violin soloist Chang Jia Wen,12, who also benefited from the learning workshop says that when she is stressed out from studying, she resorts to playing music. “I find that it (music) calms me,” adds Jia Wen.
Mohd Danyal Taff, 11, tries to balance out his study and play time. Whenever he gets homework, he writes it down in his organiser and finishes it as soon as he can.
Meanwhile, 13-year-old Chang Yeu Wen sets goals and then works towards achieving those goals. His ambition is to become a cardiac surgeon because “many people these days have heart problems”.
When it comes to Maths, drills and practices are important says 16-year-old Tan Kean Loong, who has achieved distinctions in Maths competitions such as the International Competitions and Assessments for Schools Mathematics. Apart from being a “mathlete”, he also finds time to hit the basketball court with his friends.
The president of Art of Learning & Leadership Uthaiya Kumar, says that students must lead a balanced life and should be able to “think, speak and lead”.
For teachers Chase March and Kristy Tan, who teach in Canada and Australia respectively, both agree that it is important for a teacher to know his or her students in order to facilitate their learning.
March gets around the different learning styles and abilities by dividing his classes into smaller groups.
“I get to know my students as quickly as possible in each new school year,” he says.
He groups the students according to reading ability and learning style. “For instance, some students are independent learners and do not need much assistance so I group these students together.
“I have another group for high needs children — those who need a lot of help and assistance. Once I have these groups set, I can tailor lessons to the students’ needs more effectively. I have five or six students in a group and I sit down with them and teach a five- or 10-minute lesson.”
Tan, who teaches English as a Second Language and Humanities to international students and refugees at an English Language School in Melbourne, Australia, agrees that different teaching methods are effective on different students.
“I believe it really depends on the individual but it is highly important that teachers know their students so that they can cater to their learning needs,” she says.
In order to do this, she does a quick brainstorm with the class whenever she starts a new topic to find out how much they already know. She then plans lessons that will suit them.
“I draw up a quick diagram and as students give me their answers and examples, I add to it. Doing this engages students because everyone is involved and I think they enjoy seeing their answers on the board,” she shares.
Another thing that engages her students is the game she sometimes makes them play at the start of a class. “I do a quick quiz. Everyone stands up and I ask them questions about a topic we are learning. People who answer correctly get to sit,” she explains.
She adds that it also helps her assess her students quickly and gauge which student might need more help than others.
Tan also tries to construct tasks that students can relate to. “I once made jelly with my class and we got to eat it the next day,” she says.
“I like giving students a variety of tasks so that it caters for all types of learners including those who need to ‘do something’ to learn,” she adds.
Other creative ways that teachers can motivate their students to learn are storytelling and life-coaching.
Storyteller Roger Jenkins who has provided storytelling courses for teachers since 1998 says “Storytelling is a powerful tool. Besides learning language, it also allows bonding between children and educators.”
When asked how stories can be used to teach other subjects besides English, he gave an example of a teacher who used a story to teach her students about the rainforest ecosystem in Science class.
The story was about a girl trapped in the rainforest. While she was walking, she noticed the different flora and fauna and even noticed the insects that the animals ate.
The teacher included all the details that she wanted to teach in the story. “The students aced the exam,” Jenkins shares.
“Teachers can use stories to ensure greater retention and understanding because a story gives context to the information rather than just isolated bulletpoints.”
Teamcoach International’s Director of Programmes and Asia-e University (AeU) faculty member Captain (Rtd) M. Shanmugam says that life coaching is a process that helps the “coachee or trainee” discover his or her fullest potential.
“Coaching is not for deep emotional problems but it can be used to make things happen,” he adds. In a life coaching session with a masters degree student who was overwhelmed with work, Shanmugam says the student found a solution in just 20 minutes.
“Coaching involves listening and asking questions,” he adds.
When the student was asked the right questions, she discovered that she had all the answers to submitting her assignments on time – prioritise work, identify resources and clarify thoughts, says Shanmugam.
Immediate past president of the International Association of Coaching Bob Tschannen-Moran says that life coaching is about assisting people to identify and achieve important goals in life.
“This strengths-based focus is one of the hallmarks of coaching,” he says, adding that the first step for a person to excel using coaching is to decide to be coached.
“Without the motivation to increase excellence, people will not come or benefit from coaching. With motivation, everything else falls into place,” says Tschannen-Moran who has worked with students at all levels – high school students transitioning to college, college students entering the workforce and graduate students who are finishing their dissertations.
“When people are not moving forward as quickly or as successfully as they would like, coaches can be of tremendous value. It (coaching) improves engagement, productivity, retention, advancement and fulfilment,” he adds.
* Names have been changed
By JEANNETTE GOON firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: The STAR Online Home Education Sunday April 29, 2012