Thursday, May 07, 2015

Exam Season

The question I'm getting asked most often this week is "Do your kids have exams?" followed by "Are they/ you stressed?"

The short answer is no, they don't have exams. But the long answer is that the short answer is a load of crap. Any test that we are informed of at the beginning of the school year, has the children bringing homes files for revision and has a mock test before the actual one is an exam however they try to couch it. Mini-test, Bite Sized test, Continual Assessment, Holistic Assessment; all exams by another name.

Are we stressed? A little bit. The twins are resentful of the sheer amount of work they have had to do in order to revise and be prepared for the test. But a contract's a contract and they're very admirably sticking to it and living up to their part of the bargain.

There are a few things that have helped me and them keep sane. I know the pressure and expectation intensifies as they get older. But here are some things that have been doing the trick this time round.

1. The aforementioned contract: Now, knowing that Packrat is dead serious and knowing what they have to lose if they slack off, both Evan and Jordan have been remarkably on task. Of course, there is complaining and mistakes but the earnest attempt to actually complete their work is more visible. That helps because I don't need to come home to a pile of undone, messy work.

2. Planning: I sit with all their stuff and schedules open and look at what needs to be done and whether it is realistic in the given time frame. Then I work backwards from the number of days I have, the number of pages they can realistically complete and date the pages. I don't spring anything more than the stipulated pages that I had already dated. That way, they know that once they are done, they're done and they can play.

3. Have good support: I am thankful I have good support for the twins. They have a brilliant Chinese tutor that makes learning fun. She has squeaky hammers and tennis balls as part of her bag of tricks. I do the boring stuff with them like make sure they finish whatever revision papers she sets them and I try to go through as much of it as I am able to (ability here plays a huge role). I sat with the tutor before the test season and discussed how we were going to do it. I told her specifically not to have the twins sit there and do papers with her but for her to just focus on the bits they needed help with.  So she does just that and I pick up the slack on the bits that the twins need less help with.

On top of that, the twins are still at BlueTree. And once again, while their teacher is strict with them and expects quite a bit out of them, she revisits old topics as she moves ahead, making their understanding of multiplication and division, for instance, more malleable. She intersperses the table work with games and physical math. So the twins came home declaring their ability to use the measuring tape and regaling tales of the various things they subjected to the measuring tape. So, while she keeps their noses in the grind with homework, the twins are willing to do it. It also has got to do with the amount of scaffolding she gives them. Making them not fear Math, just like the Chinese tutor that makes Chinese fun for them is truly half the battle.

If I hadn't been blessed with having these teachers around to help then I think I would be spending much more time making and looking up resources so that I could replicate these things at home though I'm not sure what degree of success I would have with them.

4. Mastery: The biggest thing that is keeping me from losing it and taking it out on the twins is the constant reminder that these tests really aren't about the grades and an end in themselves. Whenever I feel the urge to let rip a roar of frustration, I remind myself (to varying degrees of success) that it's one test and it's not what matters. I'd figured out that a lot of the stress comes from my expectation of what is good for them. Having been brought up in the Singapore education system, it's easy to say that the best thing for them is to be in the top class and in the top school. I constantly have to fight that voice in my head. In the last few months, there is another voice; softer at times, not as confident but gaining more each day, that reminds me that if the twins are truly struggling, despite all efforts then perhaps the top class isn't where they ought to be and what I think ought to be re-looked. The semi-epiphany that I came to is that eventually I want JED, Muffin included, to be able to grasp the concepts and be able to use them. In one word, mastery.  So then, what we should be working  towards  isachieving that mastery and I've tried to shift my focus towards helping them attain that.

I'm not sure if I'll still be singing the same tune next year or this year end when the stakes are raised. After all, I am fighting a rising tide that is our ridiculous education system that epitomises academic inflation. But framing testing in this light does seem to have given me a little bit less to yell about.

All that being said, I really cannot wait till next week is over and everyone gets some much deserved rest and play time. Even as a teacher, I don't know if I looked forward to school break as much as I have in the last 18 months.

On that note, here's a little bit of a shout out, for those looking for something for the kids to do during the holidays. The twins saw this mailer from BlueTree- an Art-Science camp about the feathered friends and have asked to do it. It's two days at the beginning of the holidays and since I'm going to be at work, I figured why not. And the best thing about it is that after having fun at BlueTree, they're still going to have the rest of the day to play!

There's an early bird special going on, so catch it before it flies off. (Bad puns intended!)

BlueTree Education is at  271 Bukit Timah Road, Balmoral Plaza #02-15 Singapore 259708. You can call them at 91064702.

 The twins' Math class for the term are being sponsored by BlueTree Education. If anyone is keen to try their stuff, they offer free trial classes. I love what they do at English, Logic and Literacy (which sounds way fun!) and Current Affairs Club too but for now, the twins need more play time than classes.


Post a Comment