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In my previous workplace and among the colleagues, we would talk about our children and their learning experience and share notes and tips base on our personal experiences. There were really no major challenges. It never occurs to me that there are still many children who are not in the most favorable condition to learn and to be what they can be. Being in the school has allowed me to interact with the children and learn more about the challenges they face every day, at home and in school.
I was bought up and educated in the old days where it was very teacher directed on the blackboard. Our knowledge was learnt from textbooks, enhanced through pen and paper practices and drills and instructions were duly completed due to fear of being punished or ridiculed. There were no special need students, just naughty and lazy students whom the teachers gave up trying to teach them anything.
The education system now is very different and my son, who is currently in Primary Six, is going through it. The current system aims to provide education equality, providing students of different learning ability the opportunity to be the best that they can be. It is no longer through pen and paper only, different types of manipulative and technologies come into use. Being untrained, I wonder how I am able to face and teach a class of 40 children, with different learning abilities and from diverse background.
Before coming into training, I had practically little or no knowledge of the jargons, pedagogies or methodology used in education. I was not sure whether the method I was using to impart knowledge was applicable in the current context. I believe that the children will be able to feel if a teacher is sincere or not and they will be on task for the teacher if they can feel that sincerity. When I was a new student in a new secondary school at secondary two, the teacher-in-charge of the National Police Cadet Corps (NPCC), Mr Yang, made sure that I was on par with the rest of the cadets and that I was not left behind. That gave me the motivation to excel and I was awarded the Best Unit Cadet in secondary four. This has also given me the passion to continue to serve in NPCC in Junior College, University and even until now, I am still an adult volunteer in a secondary school as an Honorary Officer. I understand how a teacher can affect the student's motivation and passion.
I believe that different children learn at different pace and in different style and are able to excel in different areas. I like the quote by Albert Einstein, "Everybody is a genius. But, if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it'll spend its whole life believing that it is stupid." In Singapore's Education System, every child is given equal opportunity for an education. And because every child is different, the resources required to help each of them would be different. The high ability child should be stretched further while the lower ability child must be given more support. Being untrained, I gave extra lesson to the weaker children before and after school as I was not sure how to carry out differentiated learning in class. I wonder if there is a different way of doing this, especially for some of the children who have learning difficulties.
As a Physical Education teacher, I enjoy physical activities and sports and I believe that children learn through play because it is enjoyable. But playing the game and teaching the game are totally two different things. Being untrained, I have limited resources and much time was spent on the internet looking for suitable activities for the children of different levels. I also need to ensure that the activities are conducted in a safe environment with the appropriate equipment.
I once read a book "Change Your Questions, Change Your Life: 10 Powerful Tools for Life and Work" by Marilee Adams. It changed the way I ask questions. Instead of asking why it happened, whose fault it was and what was wrong, I ask questions like how it can be done and what was working. By changing the questions, we direct our attention to positive feelings, possibilities and solutions. In school, I would sometime hear remarks like they are unable to excel because of their family background or they are at a disadvantage because other students are smarter or richer. I would ask them to change their questions. Instead of asking why they cannot do it, they should ask how they can do it which would direct them to search for solutions that would help them achieve their goals. I believe that by getting the children to have the right mindset and ask the right question, they are able to resolve challenges and achieve our potential.
After coming into National Institute of Education (NIE) for training, my philosophy has not changed. Rather, it has been further enhanced and strengthened by the knowledge and skills gained through the different academic and curriculum subjects. Teaching and Managing Learners has provided valuable knowledge and tips about effective communication, classroom and sitting arrangement and classroom management so that learners with different learning abilities or special needs can learn together.
For meaningful learning to take place, the environment has to be safe and inclusive. From prior knowledge acquired in the Education Psychology module, I can better understand the psychosocial challenge or crisis faced by the learners in the different developmental stages (Erikson, 1968). So as a beginning teacher, I need to know what kind of safe and inclusive environment is best so that everyone can learn and achieve their own best; an environment that the learners can learn without fear and at their own pace. It was interesting to see how each group present their own ideas during class. Some did it through picture, some through words and the music teachers did it through music. All these give me ideas on how I can create such an environment. But most importantly, the environment has to be owned by the students. The whole class has to agree to a set of acceptable behaviour and consequences. This will set the ground rules and routines for a constructive learning environment.
As there may be learners with different learning or physical disabilities, I must ensure that the classroom arrangement is such that it would accommodate the special needs of the learners. Learners with hearing impairments must be placed in front and conscious effort must be made to pronounce the words carefully. For learners who are easily distracted, they should be seated away from areas of high activity like the door and windows. And for learners who are left-handed, they should preferably sit on the left hand side of the table arrangement.
Besides academic, learners also need to learn proper social behaviour and values. Learners see teachers as their role models. So, if the teacher is sensitive and caring to the children, they too will learn how to show care and concern to each other. And through activities like collaborative learning, peer teaching, think-pair-share, the children learn about sharing and cooperation. These are values which are important to their future and can be taught through daily interaction and activities with the learners. Hence, meaningful lesson plan is very important.
As learners may come from diverse social economic background, I need to ensure that each is given opportunity and access to the many different technologies and gadgets. With a well-planned classroom layout, different activities can be carried out simultaneously and smoothly. I can make the classroom more efficient for activities to encourage differentiated learning. Learners with learning disability also learn better through interactive and interesting computer games and gadgets. So together with knowledge learned from the ICT for Meaningful Learning module, I can better use ICT to enhance the learning experience of the learners. A good classroom layout also facilitates smooth transition of one activity to another and great classroom management skill.
Besides the learning environment, the teacher's ability to deliver the content is also very important to their learning. Teachers should not just teach content, they should also check for understanding while teaching. To check for understanding, the learners must be able to explain with new examples and apply the concept in other areas. This understanding process is a continuous one ((Blythe & Associates, 1998). Managing small-group and independent work is an important skill for the teacher so as to ensure that the lesson can be carried out smoothly.
I know that praise is important to learners as it reinforces good behavior and reaffirm their effort in learning. Through this course, I also realize that there are different types of praise. Ginott (1965) divided praises into evaluative and appreciative. He suggested that appreciative praise should be used as it affirms their effort and achievement. Evaluative praise should be avoided as it places a burden on the learner that he is no good if certain thing is not done (Manning, 2007).
Communication is another important factor to encourage teaching and learning. While we want to build rapport with our learners, we must also be able to assert expected behaviors from them. This course also provides tips on how we can use positive and effective communication to create such an environment that encourages learning. When we have understanding and open communication with our learners, they are more willing to keep on learning. Punishment should be discouraged as it only tries to avoid future punishment instead of learning self-discipline. Sarcasm and ridicule should also be avoided as it destroys their self-confidence and self-esteem.
Besides the teachers, other partners like the parents, caregivers or tuition teachers also play an important role in the learners' learning process. Communication and collaboration among these parties is crucial regardless whether the child has any learning disability or special need. It is very important that all parties monitor and intervene or seek help from experts should they notice that there is little progress in their learning. When there is communication and common understanding, a common approach can then be used at home, in school or in the tuition agency. When the learners are not confused, they can learn better.
As a PE teacher, not only do I need to maintain a great learning environment in the classroom, I also need to have great management skill outside the classroom. Through the other PE modules like Principles of Games, Instructional Methods and Instructional Strategies, I now have a vast repertoire of activities and variations that can cater to the different learners of different ability. Activities can be differentiated to suit the different skill level of the diverse learners. Activities can also be modified to cater to the learners with physical disabilities. I am now more confident to be able to conduct meaningful and enjoyable lessons which train their fundamental movement skills crucial for their growth and development.
I believe that every child wants to learn and can learn, especially if it is fun. So with the training in NIE, I am able to create an environment that is conducive and fun for learning, a place where the learners like to come to learn and share. I can design and plan lessons that are both meaningful and fun and cater to the differentiated learners in the class. I hope to be able to equip my learners with the necessary skills and correct mindset to succeed and be the best that they can be.
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