Month: March 2009

My parenting secret


A lot of people ask me what I did for my kids to make them do well in school.

In the first place, my kids would challenge the assumption that they are doing well when so many of their classmates are doing even better than they are. Still, the fact is that they are reasonably successful students (in my book, that means they love learning. It does NOT mean that they ace all their tests. I truly think that it is a load of crock to equate test performance with learning, but that is fodder for another post).

In the second place I don’t know if  anything I did actually had any effect. I am very wary of giving myself too much credit for the simple reason that the flipside would also be true- if something went wrong, it would be my fault! Much easier to hide behind smokescreens that go by the various names of divine intervention, fate and pure dumb luck.

But I know that when I say things like this I am not being helpful. Clearly my input has counted for something, and I want you to re-read the preceding two paragraphs before you read any further.

These are my parenting maxims:

  1. There is no such thing as quality time that can make up for lack of quantity. Being with my kids 24/7 allowed me access to their world, and gave them the time to figure out the key to success in mine. There were down moments when we couldn’t understand each other. But there was so much time to talk through those moments that everyone learned from them.
  2. Interaction is vital. From the day they were born I read to them, and sang to them, and held them, and talked to them, and listened to them, and played with them, and danced with them, and told them in so many ways that there was nothing else I would rather be doing. And there really wasn’t.
  3. Being open and honest breaks down barriers. My kids know they can talk to me about anything, and I will do my best to answer all their questions. No discussion is off the table, though sometimes we have to put off a certain discussion if other people around us are uncomfortable with it.
  4. There is nothing wrong with apologising if you have made a mistake. Sometimes I am in a bad mood, or I make a wrong assumption, or I am just plain unfair. Whatever the cause, if I think I owe my kids an apology they get it. And this opens the way for them to apologise freely if they have stepped over the line. Everyone makes mistakes. Ego hassles only lead to breakdowns in communication.
  5. The father is really the heart of the household. So far I have made it seem as though I did everything alone. Nothing is further from the truth. My husband was with me every step of the way. And still is. Now that my boys are grown up, their father is a friend to them as much as he is a guide and mentor, and the three of them have a very special relationship. My boys understand his anger even better than I do, and never hold his temper against him, because they know how much he loves them. From him they are learning what it means to be a good son, brother, husband and father. For he is all these to the various people who depend on him. Fathers teach their sons to be men of substance, and their daughters to value themselves.

And there you have it. My children are still work-in-progress, but so am I.  A million things can still go wrong, but from I each I will learn something that makes me stronger and wiser. There is no such thing as a perfect parent, just as there is no such thing as a perfect child. There are only people who love each other and see learning for what it is: a step in the direction of wisdom, compassion and understanding.

Anyone who thinks that learning is about tests, targets and success in school needs a reality check.


My take on the Learning Festival

It’s been an exhausting 3 days. Running the same lesson 5 times on Wednesday, walking all over the NUS museum on Thursday, and getting cooked in ITR1 today. I could tell that some of you were wary about the whole English and Art collaboration idea. Most of us are not used to thinking so much about art, are we? Yet I wonder why not. After all, artists sacrifice so much to get their deepest thoughts onto a canvas. Why can’t we sacrifice just a bit of time to learn to understand the messages they are trying to convey? Through forcing ourselves to describe, analyse, interpret and evaluate a piece of art, we are opening ourselves up to new ways to looking at the processes and products of creation. Some of you came up with such great ideas, I was really awestruck! And it would not have happened if we had not pulled you out of your comfort zone and plunged you into this whole new world where you translate art into words.

I can’t really comment on the other groups, because we were all kept so separate from each other, but I am very proud of all of you, for the work that you put in and the things you were willing to learn. I am also very grateful for all the things I learned from you over the last 3 days!

Well done. Now have a good one-week break. After all, I didn’t set you much homework, did I?

The Effects of Global Warming- Marker’s Report

Here are some of my comments after reading your essays. Do go through them once you get your work back and see which of the comment apply to your writing.

1. Lack of title

It is specifically mentioned in the question that you need to include a title, yet many of you left it out. This lack of attention to instructions is the most frequent cause of low marks in situational writing. The pity of it is that it is so easy to get this part right.

2. Incorrect title

There were many who used the title “Effects on Global Warming”. One little word makes a world of difference when an examiner is trying to assess how much you understand about the question and the task you have been set.

3. Merging points

You are asked to pick three points from the list given. Yet many of you chose to group the points together. The result was that you ended up using one point as supporting detail for another, instead of elaborating on each point in its own right. Again, this could have been avoided simply by following the given instructions.

4. Poor elaboration

A string of consequences cannot take the place of clear explanations or relevant examples.

5. Irrelevant hook

Some of the hooks provided were too far-fetched, and therefore difficult to transition from to the thesis statement.

6. Inappropriate tone and register

This is a written article, not a speech. So it is not appropriate to say, for example, “The first thing I am going to talk about is…” nor is it appropriate to use too many rhetorical questions. The primary text type required here is expository, yet many of you are so conditioned to use alarmist rhetoric that you are unable to break out of that mode. Successful situational writing requires that you respond to the specific task you are given.

7. Quoting verbatim

It was very evident which writers had consulted the transcript, because of the large chunks of text that were copied wholesale from it with no attempt made to tweak them to suit the situation. This not only puts your writing at risk of being irrelevant, it is also known as plagiarism, which is to be avoided at all costs. Furthermore, Al Gore was essentially making a speech, so he used a tone and register appropriate for that setting. Yours is a written article. Copying a spoken form leads you to produce many sentences that are only grammatical in a speech setting, such as sentence fragments.

8. Irrelevant elaboration

At the other extreme were students who clearly had not looked at the transcript at all, and so made up their own stories surrounding each of the main points. This stretched the points to ridiculous extents, and affected the writers’ credibility.

9. Copying the points in the question

Some of the points given in the question had a dash followed by a brief explanation. It looks ridiculous when these points are copied wholesale into your writing with no attempt made to ensure that they fit into a grammatical sentence format.

10. Vocabulary issues

The phrase is “to become extinct”, not “to go extinct” or even “to extinct”.
The word is “fewer” (for countable nouns) or “less” (for uncountable nouns). There is no such word as “lesser”, except in a very specific context (for example, there is a movie with the title “Children of a Lesser God”, in which case the word “lesser” means “inferior”).

11. Grammar issues

I am surprised to see that subject-verb agreement and sentence separation are still such common areas in which errors are made. Many of you also have problems with expression and phrasing. While we can target these errors in class to a certain extent (watch out for more grammar training next term!), you are all going to have to read a great deal more (newspapers, magazines, books) if you want to bump up your grades.

We will be addressing these issues in more detail when school opens in the second term.

Borneo’s Moment of Truth

I have given you an article to read over the one-week break that I took from National Geographic’s November 2008 issue. The theme is of course environmental, so there will be some content input there for you, but I would like to draw your attention to the text types in the article. Here are the things you need to do as you read the article:


  1. Mark out any words or phrases that look interesting to you, and that you think you might want to use in your own writing.
  2. Draw brackets around stretches of text that seem to be of particular text types. You will notice that there is a mix of text types.
  3. You might also notice that there is one primary text type, and that the others are included (or embedded) to support that primary text type. What is the primary text type? What are the secondary text types?
  4. Who do you think the article is written for? Consider the average readership of the magazine.
  5. Write down your answers to these questions on the front page of the article, or anywhere in the margins as the thoughts occur to you.

This sort of activity is not only useful for raising your awareness of and sensitivity to writing styles targeted at particular audiences (something that can come in very handy when you do situational writing in school, and REAL writing when you leave school), it also exposes you to the type of text that examiners love to choose for comprehension passages.

(The photograph of the orangutan appears in the article. I think there is something to sweetly vulnerable and trusting in the way this young one is exploring its surroundings while holding tightly to the man’s hand. Check out this poem I wrote when Ah Meng- whom I always considered Singapore’s own orangutan- passed away: