Saturday, May 20, 2017

stress-free exam...

It is only natural to feel anxious when our kids are taking examinations. As parents, we often feel that the responsibility of children performing well in their exams partially lies with us.

Since Renzo entered Primary school last year, I've been going through revision with him before his term tests, just like most other parents do. I must say I'm really blessed that Renzo has never given me any frustrating moments or hair-pulling experience. He even told me that exam paper to him, is just a set of questions which he should already have answers to. I was pretty impressed with how calm and composed this little Primary 2 kid is. Of course slowly I figured out that he's probably just too innocent ignorant to understand how those test results will impact his life in the long run. Anyway I am glad he can remain the cool and chilled boy as he always is, even though the exam schedules can get pretty tight with his usual English spelling or Chinese tingxie coming at the same time.

Recently, this famous school Principal letter to parents  has taken the internet by storm. A friend of mine also shared that her girl's school principal advised parents during a parent-teacher-meeting session, that parents should refrain from reminding their children about upcoming test dates. As they have been reminded often by teachers in class, it's added stress to keep telling them about the same at home.

Interestingly, I do notice that compared to actual exams, Renzo has been performing better for his mock tests in the past, it has nothing to do with the difficulty level of the test papers because sometimes the mock tests can be even harder. And I do suspect that Renzo has unknowingly taken on certain level of pressure from my constant reminders before exams. So this term, I've decided to take a step back, since he's only in Primary 2 and there are plenty of chances to salvage his results, even if he fails his paper due to lack of preparation. We didn't even remind him on his test dates (we do have the dates pasted on the wall which he could easily refer to), let alone helping him with revision this term.

After the exam period was over, waiting for result became extremely torturing this time as we totally have no idea how he fares since we didn't prepare him before exams. He didn't do any revision either, but of course he followed his routine to complete his daily learning in the afternoon. We spent all our weekends during his exam period at Wild Wild Wet, I didn't feel like uploading our fun pictures on social media as all my other friends were sharing their tips (or at times struggles too) on how they prepare their kids for the upcoming term test.

End of the day, I was the one who stared in wide-eyed wonder at Renzo's SA1 results. Again, Renzo passed with flying colors, indeed his results for all sujects were better than what we expected. When being asked how did he manage to score well without any preparation before his tests by me, he answered, "I know, I just need to learn and practise everyday!", with the look of incomparable determination on his face!

The daily afternoon self learning routine we've instilled at home for Renzo seems to be working really well. Even on those days when I had to rush for work and forgot to leave any "smart work" aka assessment book for him, he would take his own initiative and work on a few pages for each subject. At the same time, he has plenty of play time when he gets to work on this Gundam models, Lego bricks or simply zone out in his cozy corner doing absolutely nothing!

I'm ending this post with a book I would like to recommend to all pupils, I believe this book helped Renzo tremendously in getting 12/12 for his English composition.

Will I be preparing Renzo for his term 3 papers? I guess not. I'm going to give him a stress-free exam period in hopes that he could perform his best again. But please don't get me wrong, not preparing him doesn't mean not caring about how he gets himself prepared. I will still be checking his school worksheets and as soon as I notice he needs help, I will step in and I will stay open minded about tuitions and enrichment lessons. He's never attended any as of now, but he might need it when things get tougher with one more subject added into his curriculum during upper primary.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

helping Renzo with his Chinese...

Last week, Renzo had a Chinese mock test in school, which we were completely unaware of, and he wasn't prepared for it either but he aced his paper somehow. I wouldn't say we were very surprised at his result, because he did well for his Chinese during P1 anyway, although he always thinks Chinese is his weakest subject since it's a language he doesn't use at home.

We didn't send Renzo for any enrichment lessons although we are fully aware that he might have struggles with his Chinese in school. Instead, we made sure to make Chinese revision as higher priority and incorporate it into Renzo's daily routine after school.

I know you might have heard this a thousand times from Chinese teachers or your other friends with kids who absolutely hate learning Chinese, that in order to learn Chinese well, you need to use the language at home! Well I am not saying that's not right, but how many have seen significant improvement just by switching the primary language from English to Chinese at home? Personally I think learning Chinese involves a lot more efforts than just that, and there are many other good tips that actually help to reinforce what they've learned in school.

Tip #1 朗读课文
Reading aloud is the foundation for literacy development. While the sacrifices to read aloud are few, the benefits are many. I still remember when I was young, my dad always says he expects to hear 朗朗的读书声 from our room everyday when he's back from work. Kids get to hear their own voice when they read aloud, it helps to increase their attention span. Renzo is asked to read his textbook daily for at least 10 to 20 minutes. He always covers hanyupinyin with his hand because he's not supposed to rely on hanyupinyin to read since Primary 1 Term 3.

You might think their textbook is simple and getting them to read something out of the school syllabus is more useful. Well yes it definitely helps if they read a wide range of books. But when it comes to tests, most of the questions are actually based on their textbook, at least for lower primary.

Tip #2 掌握生字
The child who comes to school with a large vocabulary does better than the child who comes to school with little familiarity with words and a low vocabulary. Primary School kids all have this set of flashcards called 字宝宝, which they use occasionally during Chinese lessons. We bought another set for Renzo so that we could play with the cards before bedtime. Words which he could not read are left on the wall till he can recognize them. And we encourage him to form a sentence with the words each time, so he knows how to use them, not just how to read them.

At the back of their Chinese textbook, there's a list called 生字表, where they have all the 识读字 and 识写字 listed. You might find it simple but trust me, they need to master the list and you can't just rely on their weekly or bi-weekly 听写 in school, because most kids forget more than half of the words on their 听写 list, right after they've been tested. So make sure to go through the list and test your child on it regularly.

Tip #3 诗词背诵
Poetry recitation is literary work where ideas and feelings, accentuated with the use of distinctive style and rhythm is delivered through a public speaking activity with a focus on rhythm, alliteration some repetitions. Renzo doesn't have a strong foundation in Chinese, and we failed to expose him well in Chinese Poetry since young. So it is really tough work here, but for a start, I am getting him to copy Chinese Poetry only. It doesn't matter that he couldn't analyze or understand it, I just want him to slowly feel as if he's submerged himself in a hot spring, and experience the irrational joy or sadness in it.

Of course you can't really expect much result from poetry recitation as kids need a long period of time to accumulate such knowledge. But by the time they are in upper primary or secondary, they will benefit and composition will get easier for them.

Tip #4 勤做笔记
I've asked Renzo to note down all his mistakes from his past worksheets / test papers for all his subjects. But for Chinese, I am doing the job for now because I need to summarize the test questions and put things into different categories, which he's not sure about how to do it yet. I find it extremely important to understand the format of his test paper, so he could focus on the areas which he's not strong at.

For example, under the section 填写汉字, he's required to write the Chinese words based on hanyupinyin. Although he's tested on only 2 questions, it's harder than most other sections in my personal opinion because these are open ended questions, not multiple choices which he can even attempt to make a wild guess. And this is exactly why I said they need to master their 生字表 because if they can't remember how to write the word, they have no choice but to lose marks under this section.

And another example: 词语搭配. This is the section I go through with Renzo many times. Because in Chinese language, you can easily mix and match different words with similar meanings and that's where the confusion comes in. Renzo knows 认真写字 and 认真回答 are both acceptable, but he needs to choose 不敢回答 because he can only use one phrase once, and 认真 has already been used to pair with 写字in the sample given. He has to choose 不敢 to pair with 回答 as there isn't any other more appropriate phrase to pair with 回答. Okay I must say such questions aren't easy and they need to get exposed to a large pool of vocabulary in order to pair the words freely and comfortably.

Of course learning a language is not just about preparing our kids for their tests. Chinese language is one that is extremely profound, and we need to have the passion, to appreciate and embrace the culture in order to master it well.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Father Forgets that you are but my baby...

Thanks to my 4-5 hours sleep a day body, I find myself looking out the window from my seat, staring down at the clouds below while everyone else in my row were nodding away, deep in their sleep. My business flights on planes without in-flight entertainment (no thanks to Tiger Air) oftentimes gives me those moment of solitude outside of my house when I can quiet down and reflect on myself.

Just hours ago, I had picked up a book from the bookstore. It is the international best-seller, "How to Win Friends & Influence People" by Dale Carnegie. I used to own it about a decade ago, but gave it to a close colleague of mine as a farewell gift when our careers parted ways.

So here I was, rekindling the love I had for this book... perhaps the only book I voluntarily read from cover to cover more than once. Seventeen pages in... and already I was emotionally shaken by the book. It was a piece by W. Livingston Larned, which back then didn't mean much to me, but now, pens down my guilt.

W. Livingston Larned

Listen, son: I am saying this as you lie asleep, one little paw crumpled under your cheek and the blond curls stickily wet on your damp forehead. I have stolen into your room alone. Just a few minutes ago, as I sat reading my paper in the library, a stifling wave of remorse swept over me. Guilty I came to your bedside.

There are the things I was thinking, son: I had been cross to you. I scolded you as you were dressing for school because you gave your face merely a dab with a towel. I took you to task for not cleaning your shoes. I called out angrily when you threw some of your things on the floor.

At breakfast I found fault too. You spilled things. You gulped down your food. You put your elbows on the table. You spread butter too thick on your bread. And as you started off to play and I made for my train, you turned and waved a hand and called, " Goodbye, Daddy!" and I frowned, and said in reply, "Hold your shoulders back!"

Then it began all over again in the late afternoon. As I came up the road I spied you, down on your knees, playing marbles. There were holes in your stockings. I humiliated you before your boyfriends by marching you ahead of me to the house. Stockings were expensive-and if you had to buy them you would be more careful! Imagine that, son, from a father!

Do you remember, later, when I was reading in the library, how you came in timidly, with a sort of hurt look in your eyes? When I glanced up over my paper, impatient at the interruption, you hesitated at the door. "What it is you want?" I snapped. You said nothing, but ran across in one tempestuous plunge, and threw your arms around my neck and kissed me, and your small arms tightened with an affection that God had set blooming in your heart and which even neglect could not wither.

And then you were gone, pattering up the stairs. Well, son, it was shortly afterwards that my paper slipped from my hands and a terrible sickening fear came over me. What has habit been doing to me?

The habit of finding fault, of reprimanding-this was my reward to you for being a boy. It was not that I did not love you; it was that I expected too much of youth. I was measuring you by the yardstick of my own years.

And there was so much that was good and fine and true in your character. The little heart of you was as big as the dawn itself over the wide hills. This was shown by your spontaneous impulse to rush in and kiss me good night. Nothing else matters tonight, son. I have come to your bedside in the darkness, and I have knelt there, ashamed!

It is feeble atonement; I know you would not understand these things if I told them to you during your waking hours. But tomorrow I will be a real daddy! I will chum with you, and suffer when you suffer, and laugh when you laugh. I will bite my tongue when impatient words come. I will keep saying as if it were a ritual: "He is nothing but a boy-a little boy!"

I am afraid I have visualized you as a man. Yet as I see you now, son, crumpled and weary in your cot, I see that you are still a baby. Yesterday you were in your mother's arm, your head on her shoulder. I have asked too much, too much.

I am guilty for all the negatives pointed out and as Larned puts, I have been measuring Renzo by my yardstick, an adult standard. Renzo's youthful innocence and his ability to love me shows through in almost exactly how it is worded, with him creeping up to me after a lecture just to give me a great big hug both as an apology for not reaching my standard of him, and also as a relief to receive a hug back from me.

Have I forgotten that my proper manners were learned from mistakes?
Have I forgotten that my capacity for self control was acquired not long ago?
Have I forgotten that my independence was built up from failed experiences?

I focused my gaze back at the runway that we were fast approaching and decided to write this post before I headed for bed because although Daddy is a 2-hour flight away from you, Renzo, Daddy misses you and wishes for your forgiveness.

Remain the boy who's fits of laughter bellows down our halls and remain the boy who finds joys in the silliest of things, because then, and only then, can you learn about yourself and define your own yardstick, one which measures your life, not anyone else's.
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