Monday, 16 October 2017

On assessments again

Recently, I attended a talk on statistics and the speaker opined that adding t-scores of different subjects at the PSLE may not be meaningful. The t-score of individual subjects gives information of the relative standing of a student for that subject, but the aggregate score does not tell which subject the student is strong at. A student who gets t-scores of 60 and 70 for languages and 50 and 40 for maths and science will have the same aggregate score as one who gets t-scores of 50 and 40 for languages and 60 and 70 for maths and science. Although the two students may end up in the same school, the disparity in ability for individual subjects may be huge (40 means below the mean while 70 puts the child at around the 98th percentile). The speaker also opined that it was only meaningful to add t-scores for those who are good in every subject.

I think the new grading system that will be implemented from 2021 may not help much as the achievement levels of each subject will again be added up and each child will still be measured by an aggregate score, ignoring his strengths in individual subjects.

My wish: 
1) That the range of marks in the achievement levels be widened especially in the top range.  
2) That students can be recognised for their strengths in individual subjects. 
3) That the duration of maths exams be lengthened so that students have time to employ strategies for checking and savouring.
4) That what is assessed will bear more resemblance to what is done in school. 
5) That learning will be made fun and weighted assessments be less frequent. Informal assessments can be carried out regularly though. 

Friday, 13 October 2017

Preparing for P4 Oral Exam

I mainly help J in Chinese revision but as he has not had an English oral exam since last year, I thought I had better go through some oral materials with him. It turned out to be enjoyable and I discovered things about him that I had never known before.

To protect his privacy, I will only reveal neutral information he shared. For one, I realised that he would like to go mountain trekking! Perhaps we should go to Bukit Timah hill soon to gain momentum before doing a mountain trek.

When asked who he looked up to, J said the first person he thought of was his sister, but as it was strange to look up to a 4-year-old, he made up an 11-year-old sister who helped with household chores instead! I was sad that he did not think of me but at least Little An immediately said 'Mama' when she was asked the same question at the National Gallery a couple of weeks ago. :)

Finally, when asked what he would do when he felt stressed, he said he would pray, but he could not say that during an oral exam as the examiner might not be a Christian. I told him it was perfectly fine to say what he actually did as the question required him to talk about his experiences.

I was glad to see that his teacher has prepared him for the exam sufficiently and that he enjoyed expressing his opinions and sharing his experiences.

I used this book to give him further practice:

We only managed to go through two practices from the book but upon flipping through the pages, I found the questions to be interesting and relevant. I bought the P6 book not because I am kiasu but since the format of J's oral exam is the same as the PSLE format, I thought it would be more worthwhile to purchase a book I could use for two years (Oct 2017 to Aug 2019). Hehe.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Birthday Reflections 2017

This comes a little belated, but I thought I should still take time to thank God for His blessings this past year.

I thank God for my family members, who love me despite my imperfections. It is lovely to come home from work to happy children who rush to the door to greet me. It is wonderful to have J still giving me bear hugs and Little An saying "Mama, I love you" ever so often. I pray that God will continue to bless my family and to use us as His beacons of light.

I thank God for friends, who share my joy and cares, and who make time for me. This year, Jess, K, my colleagues, my JC friends, Jace and Lyndon gave me birthday treats and I ate till I was stuffed. Even at my ripe old age, I received gifts from Jace, H, S, my brothers, my cousin, my aunties, my uncle, my mum and my mother-in-law. Besides a once a year celebration, friends like C, A and H also make time to listen to me when I need advice. I am simply thankful.

This was presented to us at the end of one of my birthday meals. I was so impressed by the waitress who drew this. :)

I thank God for helping me be efficient at work and in my studies. It is no joke working, studying and caring for two children at the same time but He blessed me above what I could ask or think last semester. I totally enjoyed what I was learning. This semester, the going is tougher as I have a heavier work load and the module I am taking is more demanding. However, I believe God will continue to help me excel so that His name will be glorified.

I am also thankful that both J and An had opportunities to serve Him. J said during his oral exam that he would like to be a teacher next time and helping out at a homework centre is honing his skills (I paraphrased). Both J and An took part in community blessing events and An was enthusiastic about giving out food packets to those who passed by our church.

I thank God for opportunities He has given me too. It was a nice experience conducting a workshop for a group of teachers in KL. A project I undertook sometime ago gives me a small passive income too and that is a blessing especially since I am working part-time.

May I grow in love, patience, gentleness and humility each day and may I be used for His glory. May all who read this be blessed abundantly as well.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Another Bento

The children have been requesting for another Bento, so I obliged them.

Here they are:

Little An was so happy that she exclaimed, "The panda is so cute. Thank you, Mama!" J was also encouraging. The lovely comments make all the time and effort worthwhile. :)

Sunday, 1 October 2017


After my previous lengthy post about a rather weighty issue, I decided to write about something more light-hearted - my 'aunty' trip to JB to buy mooncakes. I bought avocado Hello Kitty mooncakes last year from JB City Square and regretted not buying more then, so this year, I took a bus across the causeway to purchase more. The avocado mooncakes whetted my tastebuds once again and they came with a very pretty My Melody cooler bag that makes me want to go on a picnic soon.

Since I already had my mooncake fix, I thought I had better not buy any from my homeland - the ones here are very costly! Until I saw the mooncakes from The Little House of Dreams. I could not resist those pretty things and purchased the rose lychee as well as the gula melaka flavours to try. I really loved them! They have been made with less sugar, yet they were fragrant. I also liked their soft textures (as opposed to lotus paste which sometimes hardens after being placed in the fridge).

I will not be buying any more mooncakes this year to protect my waistline from expanding further. But if I receive them, aha, that will be a different story. :)

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Time to relook at assessments?

For my current course of study, I am required to complete four modules. Online quizzes were used as assessment methods in two of the modules I chose. In both modules, the quizzes were open-book. Most questions were thought-inducing rather than straightforward recall ones.

However, there was a great difference in my stress level when I sat the two quizzes. In one module, the quiz was not timed. I could take as long as I needed to answer the questions posed. I could mull over the questions and make my choices to the MCQs carefully. For the other module, we were given an hour to complete the quiz. We were told that if we did not submit the test in an hour, we would not be able to attempt the test again. From the moment I pressed the Begin button, my heart pounded crazily and even though the test was open-book, my flipping of the notes and books was haphazard as I was very conscious of time. As expected, my results were better in the untimed test.

Another difference was that I received immediate feedback for the untimed test as the correct answers were revealed as soon as I submitted my responses. For the questions I answered wrongly, I could ponder over where I went wrong. When I had further queries, I emailed the instructor to ask and it turned out that two of my 'wrong' answers were acceptable. For the other test, I received only my mark. I still do not know which questions I answered wrongly.

As an adult learner, I am able to manage stress and am not complaining about the latter test. I am writing about this because I saw how it is relevant to primary education. In one of J's math tests, he did not score well as he lost 8 marks from two word problems. In the second last question of the test, I saw how he persevered in getting the answer. He even checked his answer by working backwards and when he saw that his answer did not tally with the information given, he tried a different method. He still got it wrong. Persevering on that question turned out to be a huge mistake as it left him with little time for the last question. He had drawn the model correctly and I believe he was on the right track to the solution, but unfortunately, he ran out of time.

Despite the Singapore Mathematics Curriculum Framework listing perseverance as one of the attitudes it aims to inculcate in students, students who show this attribute during tests and exams are penalised. I am also wondering why mathematics tests and exams must be given such short completion time at the upper primary level and most of the time, students are not able to use checking strategies that they have been taught (e.g. working backwards or using of another strategy).

PSLE math questions are very interesting and I have been impressed with the creativity of the setters. I only wish that students can be given more time to complete them. I myself took quite a few minutes to solve some of the questions the first time I encountered them. An example is as follows:

I was astonished that Part (a) was assigned only one mark while Part (b) was assigned three marks. So much thinking for one mark! There were other questions requiring analytical thought in that same paper and I can imagine myself feeling overwhelmed to have to complete 60 marks worth of questions (16 questions) in 100 minutes. Paper 1 which consists of 30 questions has to completed within 50 minutes. Some of the two-mark questions can be pretty demanding. The timing and format of the papers will be tweaked slightly from next year, but I do not think the change will allow for perseverance or checking. There are perhaps guidelines for the time allocation, but the adults who are given access to the exams prior to them being administered are experienced experts in the field and the time they take to complete the paper would be considerably less than an average adult. More often than not, students are rushing through the math papers and are not given ample time for careful thought. I hope the duration of the mathematics papers at primary school can be lengthened.

In J's math test, the second last word problem was phrased in a way he had never encountered before. He had no problem understanding the solution later on and when I gave him a similar problem to solve, he was able to do it quickly. It made me think that students who attend tuition or math enrichment classes would have an edge over those who do not. An extra time of two hours per week would give them a substantially larger exposure to math problems. J does not have any math instruction outside of school. I was wondering if I was short-changing him by not employing a tutor or more actively tutoring him myself. It is no wonder it is hard to find an upper primary student who does not attend tuition or have a parent (or a relative) who can help in his schoolwork. Don't get me wrong. J's math teacher teaches him well and I can see her imparting interesting  and useful strategies to the students. I just feel there is a discord between the relatively simple questions in the workbooks and the questions that appear in tests and exams and that means external instruction is necessary unless the child is a math prodigy.

As for my other point about receiving immediate feedback on assessments, I was thinking about an example I know. The student performed consistently above average in English in school but was the only student in his class who got a B for English during PSLE. The rest scored A or A*. Unfortunately, we will never know what went wrong for him during the PSLE. I guess it is inevitable that students do not receive their scripts for such placement exams, but now that I am a student again, I think I will feel unjustified if I have been performing well regularly and I receive an unexpected grade.

I was not surprised to hear the OECD report that Singaporean students suffer from high levels of anxiety. By Primary 4, J has sat for at least 20 timed tests or exams and a number of these tests are used for streaming purposes. Perhaps our stellar performance at TIMSS and PISA is due to our students' experience at test-taking and being exam-smart. I read recently about how a homeschooler could teach her kids at suitable paces and I was sorry that a school-going child could not have such a luxury. Since we are in the system, I can only pray that God will help J in his studies.

Lastly, I pray that all students will have joy in learning. I myself was very enthusiastic in the modules I read last semester and that propelled me to find out more extensively than what I was required to. J likes reading to learn outside of curriculum but when I saw him reading a Horrible Science book just now instead of preparing for an upcoming exam next week, I was very tempted to stop him. I did not but I wish there can be fewer assessments in a year. The coming ones have a weighting of 50% and they will have a great say in which class he ends up in next year. I do not think I am kiasu, otherwise J will not be tuition-less and we will not be having so many leisure activities. Neither am I advocating for a stress-free education system. I am just asking for reasonable assessments and assessment systems.

May my wish be granted, although that will take a miracle.

Friday, 29 September 2017


A Mama shared her concerns about her child with me a couple of weeks ago. One of her worries was that her child's grades were slipping and he seemed to blank out during tests despite knowing the content. Another friend shared she would punish her child for making careless mistakes during exams.

I realised that J fitted the description of the first Mama's child and that he made careless mistakes during exams as well. As J approaches tweenage, there seems to be other things I could be worried about. For one, a handful of his peers use expletives on social media. (I am glad he chose to leave some chat groups when he decided that they were meaningless.) I could very well be laden with cares, but I have chosen to trust the Lord. I do get worried at times, but whenever I commit my children to God, I am guarded by the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.

Recently, I thought through the purpose of my parenting and concluded that I would like my children to grow into useful citizens of God who would desire to serve Him with excellence in all they do. Rather than worrying how they would turn out, I decided to seize opportunities for them to serve Him. Thus, Lyndon and I encouraged J to use his ability in mathematics to coach younger students and he has been doing so weekly at a homework centre. We also coaxed him to take part in a musical to glorify God with his musical ability.

Regarding school grades, I absently-mindedly told J one day that he'd better get good grades for SA2 so he could enjoy his birthday celebration in November, then I retracted my statement and said that I just wanted him to do his best. J replied that both my statements stressed him. The stress from the first statement was obvious. For the latter, J explained that doing his best would mean working non-stop day and night and that would be too tiring. We came to an agreement that he would make a study plan each day and abide by it. On most days, he has been good about following his schedule. We thank God for his improvement in Chinese. Besides getting close to full marks for tingxie, he obtained 90% in his most recent Chinese test. It was a remarkable feat for him and I was most pleased when he said he had prayed for God's help.

I pray that I will continue to look at my children through the lens of God and to love them as He does. The cares of the world and the pressures all around can be overwhelming but we can cast all our cares upon Him for He cares for us.

Cast all your cares upon Him for He cares for you.
I Peter 5 : 7