Layla did very well for her English final exam last year; it was a near-perfect paper! Her grades for the mid-term as well as for oral and composition weren’t as stellar and they brought down her overall score. The oral exam has always been challenging for Layla; she’s often taciturn when communicating with unfamiliar adults–part of it is personality, some kids are just chattier than others so we don’t hassle her about it.
Composition in Primary 3 was a huge jump from the writing work they did in Primary 2, and I wasn’t happy with the way that writing lessons were conducted in school, especially in the first half of the year where kids churned out one story after another without getting personalised and specific feedback about how they could improve their essays. I tried to help Layla but we’re at the tween stage of our mother-daughter relationship, where we take turns to be impatient and cutting, and because of this, she occasionally perceives innocent comments as a personal attack. My best bet for building a better relationship with my daughter is for us to do more fun stuff together, and helping her with schoolwork doesn’t fall in that category. At year end, I mulled over the possibility of sending her to a regular writing class in a convenient location, which is when I saw the newly opened enrichment centre in my neighbourhood and walked in for a chat.
The trial English classes at thinkBIG seemed interesting and activity packed. They held debates, played charades, and discussed issues like discrimination, where the English teacher Diana explained to kids that people could face discrimination for many reasons, including religion. Teacher Diana also told me that she’d used pencils to dramatise the story of Romeo and Juliet for the kids because she’d wanted to introduce the concept of a tragedy to them, which I thought was pretty cool.
Now that lessons have started proper, Layla’s the only student in her creative writing slot and as much as I appreciate the personal attention, I hope for the teachers’ sake that more students sign up soon! In the first lesson of the year, Teacher Diana focused on writing using the five senses. As an opening exercise, she had Layla imagine she was in a candy store and Layla had to describe everything she saw, smelled, tasted, etc. After which, she gave Layla a sample piece of descriptive writing, and Layla’s job was to modify it slightly to form her own story. The objective of the exercise was to help Layla use words and phrases that she ordinarily wouldn’t have, and it worked.
The first two paragraphs are similar to the sample story she was given, but she managed to veer off and write her own story towards the end (the ending paragraphs aren’t included in this photo). There are continuity and word usage issues but I appreciate that Layla wasn’t over-corrected. She made the effort to use words like “jostle,” which she hasn’t in her school compositions, and I’m pleased about that. However, I did point out one thing to Teacher Diana–like her, I would’ve advised a change in “glanced at and beamed at” too (see paragraph 2), except I would have suggested:
“…glanced at his dishevelled face and ___________.”
The edited “glanced and beamed at” sounds awkward to me, unless one is talking about doing both these things at the same time. As for “beamed,” it’s not the most appropriate word in this context and I would’ve preferred Layla to use a word to indicate amusement. Unless the girl in the story is beaming because of the hug and thanks from Dad–perhaps too many things are going on in these sentences, sometimes less is more.
Anyway, being able to use a variety of words as well as understanding the subtle differences between them would be the next level I’d like Layla to work up to, and I said as much to Teacher Diana.
Teacher Diana and I also had a quick chat about word meanings. I love that she’s introducing materials that are not only food for thought, but also platforms for acquiring vocabulary. Click here and here to view my vocabulary flashcards for the words that Layla’s picked up from her sessions.
We’re often only vaguely aware of what a word means, although that awareness is enough for us to comprehend most of what we read or hear. But since we’re in the information-overload age, checking out a word’s exact meaning takes about five seconds, and we should all do it. In Layla’s notes, I’d noticed she’d written that “on the fly” means “without rules”–it sort of does, but that’s not its precise meaning, which can be found here.
I brought this up with Teacher Diana, along with some observations regarding the odd typo that I’d spotted in the material, to which she responded, “I’m so sorry! There’s no excuse for that.” I was impressed; it’s rare to meet someone who’s humble and willing to accept constructive feedback, and with good cheer too–these are such important qualities for everyone, especially teachers.
Speaking of qualities, in my early parenting days I had this image of the perfect teacher, and my list of requirements (including never lapsing into Singlish, ever) went on forever. But over the years, and having experienced different teachers and seen their influence on Layla–or lack thereof–I’ve come to see that some qualities are more important than others, like the ability to build rapport and help kids gain confidence and find their own source of joy and satisfaction in the work that they’re doing. Superficial qualities like qualifications matter less to me now; I have an MA in literature and I’ve been in the editorial business for almost two decades, but I haven’t been able to help Layla in a way that’s fulfilling for us both. The teachers at thinkBIG are not NIE-trained, but they’re experienced tutors who’re familiar with the local syllabus and they have genuine affection for their students–if they keep up their positive work attitude, they’ll definitely be able to build a fruitful learning space for kids.
A final observation before I wrap up this post: I thought this comment was very sweet. Layla would definitely be receptive to such feedback!
thinkBIG is a newly opened enrichment centre in the Bishan-Thomson area catering for primary, secondary, and JC students. I’ve paid for Layla to attend their creative writing classes, and she’s been invited to sit in for their science classes in exchange for blog coverage. To support them, I’ll also blog about their creative writing classes from time to time. I have a soft spot for young entrepreneurs and we’ve had a positive experience with both teachers from the start. Do check out thinkBIG if Bishan-Thomson is a convenient location for you. To read all my posts about thinkBIG, click here.