Saturday, November 24

My Beliefs In Developing Students For High-Stakes Exams

When I look back upon the year, I'd stay that beyond my duties as a chief warden, I played a very large part in shaping this year's PMR students. Close inspection of my methods reveals my underlying beliefs in developing these students to face high-stakes examinations.

Méthode #1: Year-long Brainwashing

Need I say more?
Many administrators & teachers think that one hit wonders like Motivation Camps or Guru Pakar Lectures are good enough to motivate or push students to do better. These programmes are great & they do provide a short-term injection of enthusiasm. However, I do feel like an ongoing programme throughout the year would be more effective. It's human nature to procrastinate & this is especially rampant in today's microwave generationHumans need reminders & constant engagement to stay focused. With so many subjects & so much to cover, the preparation should actually begin from Day 1, if not earlier.

That is what I did with my Weekly Motivation Sessions. Every week without fail until the last week of PMR (See... I'm so proud of this fact. haha~~), I'd meet with my PMR students & I'd remind them of their goals. For those who needed encouragement, I'd remind them of how great they were. For those who needed to be put in their place, I'd put fourth my thoughts candidly. I was with them from the beginning of the year & I monitored their progress throughout to tailor my message to their individual / seasonal needs. I made sure they left every session with something to think about.

Méthode #2: Regular Exercise

Preparation for the rat race.
Many teachers brush off anything beyond the classroom or their office hours as 'none of their business' even though it is an opportunity at the extraordinary. I have read that nutrition & general health plays a powerful role in cognitive function. Better health = better cognitive function = better focus + better retention + better processing = better academic performance.

I was unable to dictate what they ate every day so I gave them advice on nutrition. What I was able to do was improve their general health through physical exercise. I did this during my Weekly Motivation Sessions. I took them jogging with me & watched as their stamina & self-esteem improved. They also enjoyed themselves = stress relief. That in itself is a good enough reward & boost to their preparations.

Méthode #3: Exam Drills

A predicted outcome of our school system.
At the end of the day, students are evaluated with their exam results. I agree that exams are simplistic evaluations which do not do justice to our talented students & their multiple intelligences. However, that is our reality at this moment & we have to do our best to portray our students in the best light. Even though a certain Swede called this cheating, I advocate exam drills & believe wholeheartedly that it makes a difference in a students performance in the actual exams.

Every year after the mid-year holidays, I'd tell the Form 3 English teachers to perform exam drills in classes. The teachers would conduct an actual exam of a full English paper during class time to get students used to having the exams (esp the time frame & the pressure). We would use 5 periods for this & 5 periods to discuss the exam paper. During discussions, emphasis was given to best practices & how they can present their answers better.

Méthode #4: Best Practices

The straight & narrow.
Examiners mark according to a schema. This means that they look for certain things & overlook other things when contemplating the marks to award a particular answer. Naturally, different questions require different kinds of answers. Examiners are humans too. I please them to get more marks from them. I do this by making their jobs easier. I make their jobs easier by making it easier for them to find what they are looking for in my students' answers.

Thus, I train my students in the best practices for the exam early on. So that the other Form 3 students are not left out, I gave up half of my August holidays to stay in school & give the students a seminar on best practices.

Why didn't I enlist the help of Guru Pakars? Well, they were too shy to risk their lives getting on a skimpy wooden boat & traversing crocodile-ly waters to my school. I do it on a weekly basis. BOOYA!

Méthode #5: Personal Touch

Yes, we were posing.
At one stage, the benefits of preaching to the masses reaches a plateau. This year, I tried to breakthrough the glass ceiling with individual coaching. My hypothesis is that personal touch & individual attention makes a difference. It also humanises us & shows them that we care for them. Love & attention. Something that all humans crave but are too shy/proud to admit.

I dedicated a whole weekend (Friday afternoon - Sunday night) to give personal time to each student from my Form 3 classes. I went through an essay assignment I gave them & discussed with them how they could improve & what they should look out for. I also highlighted grammar errs & lexical mismatches. I decided to focus on essays because that was where most of the marks & potential improvements were.

Unfortunately, I did not have the time to quantify the benefits of such a taxing exercise but feedback was very encouraging. Students reported that they remembered my advice from these sessions & it motivated them to study harder. I might expand on this next year & meet individual students a few times over the year instead of having it crammed into one weekend.

Méthode #6: Being There

I didn't ask. I knew they needed it & I gave it to them freely.
This year, I wasn't called up to invigilate the PMR examinations. Since I had a lot of free time, I decided to spend it with the PMR students during their examinations. I started the year taking care of them so I might as well finish well & see them through the last of their exams.

I'd be there during their self-study time. I'd go down earlier every morning to pray with them & give them a little motivation speech. I'd line them up, wish them well & give them a high five as they leave the study hall for the examination rooms. I'd wait for them when they finished & ask them how they did. I comforted those who needed comfort. I reminded them to focus on the next paper instead of worrying about the one they just had. I did all that for EVERY exam.

I believe that children need more quantity time than quality time. Just being around for them is good enough to encourage them or remind them of their goals. Too often we push them away & then wonder why they do not want to spend time with us.


These are some of the programmes I developed exclusively for the PMR students. They may not be the best but I am still learning, innovating & cooking up a storm. Feel free to adapt any of the above & do share your experiences! Also, I feel that my methods & beliefs are strongly linked to my personality & my talents so keep that in mind when adopting any method. Make it an extension of yourself instead of a copycat of someone else.

I'm sure all of you have your own unique & awesome ideas on how to develop your students but you may not have the courage to put it into action or the confidence to believe in your ability to pull it off. Honestly, I struggle with the same doubts... but I say f**k it & do it anyway. Often times, fortune favours the bold.

Wednesday, November 14

Panduan Ringkas Pengurusan Peperiksaan STPM (A Concise Guide To Invigilating STPM)

STPM 2013 Semester 1 exams were over last week & now the STPM 2012 exams are coming up next week.
Basically, the new STPM students (with their first intake this year) will have 1 STPM exam every semester. Previously, under the old STPM (which will run for the last time this year) had students sit for 1 heavy exam at the end of 3 semesters.

As a Head Invigilator, I had to instruct my invigilators on what to do & what to say. All of this is really high stakes & protocol heavy as any slip up might end up in complaints or complications. Instead of just yapping & yapping away at my invigilators, I decided to come up with a guide & a step-by-step script of what to say.

I developed a guide by compiling key points taken from a Head Invigilator's meeting I attended in Miri recently, the 2 guide books I was given & my prior experiences invigilating PMR & SPM.

I piloted this during the STPM 2013 Semester 1 exams last week & improved on it. I will use it again for next week's STPM 2012 exams.
The guide is written in BM. I apologise if I made any errors. I would really appreciate it if you would inform me of any grammatical errors or factual inconsistencies.

Go ahead, download & print. Use this during your meeting with your invigilators & let them use it during the exams. They don't have to remember anything. All they need to say or remember is on this piece of paper which they can fold up & keep in their wallets!
Feel free to add to it or modify it as you wish.

I decided to share this guide over the internet to make it easier for other Head Invigilators. Do let me know if any of the information in the guide is confidential. I will have it removed immediately.
Otherwise, feel free to use it &, remember, sharing is caring! =)

You can find the guides here:

Head Invigilators for PMR, SPM & STPM (maybe even UPSR) may download & modify all of the above for your personal use.
Oh, and if you do, please share them with your friends! =)

Saturday, November 10

My Transfer Appeal Letter


Dengan segala hormatnya, perkara di atas dirujuk. Tujuan surat ini bukanlah untuk bercerita tentang keinginan saya untuk menjaga orang-orang tua saya ataupun mengikut jejak isteri dan anak saya. Saya tidak akan berkongsi tentang kesukaran yang saya hadapi di sekolah pedalaman dan betapa lama saya telah berkhidmat di sana. Semua itu adalah sebahagian daripada cabaran saya sebagai seorang pendidik.

2.  Bagi pengetahuan tuan/puan, saya merupakan seorang guru opsyen Bahasa Inggeris yang boleh ditempatkan dimana-mana sekolah. Maka, saya mengharapkan bantuan daripada pihak tuan/puan, seorang pemimpin dalam JPN yang nampak gambaran besar untuk mengurniakan  saya  cabaran yang baharu.

3.  Saya hanya meminta untuk diberikan satu matlamat di mana-mana sekolah negeri ini, dan sokongan penuh dari pihak tuan/puan untuk melaksanakan misi ini. Saya hanya berharap untuk berkhidmat dibawah seorang pemimpin yang berwibawa. Saya ingin berjasa untuk ibu pertiwiku dan saya percaya bahawa saya boleh mencapai keajaiban di mana-mana sahaja. Bak kata pepatah “benih yang baik kalau di campak ke darat menjadi gunung dan jika dicampak ke laut menjadi pulau”.

4.  Pada mulanya, saya telah memohon ke Sibu, daerah yang terunggul di Sarawak, kerana saya ingin belajar dari guru-guru yang terbaik, meningkatan diri dari segi profesional dan menguasai kelemahan saya seperti dalam bahagian kertas kerja. Walau bagaimanapun, permohonan saya telah ditolak dan kini saya mengharapkan sesuatu yang lebih baik daripada kebijaksanaan tuan/puan.

Segala perhatian, pertimbangan dan tindakan tuan/puan didahulukan dengan ucapan ribuan terima kasih. Sekian, terima kasih.

Updated: 17 November 2012. I've decided to only include the Malay version of my letter because it has been heavily modified based on valuable comments from my readers & major help from a past student of mine. Thanks so much! The letter is definitely so much better now!

Saturday, November 3

Repair Squad: Redeeming At-Risk Students

I have always had a heart for at-risk students. I have many friends who were at-risk students at school &, sadly, they were often misunderstood or falsely accused thanks to preconceived notions. The more that they were falsely labelled, the more that they stopped bothering to prove otherwise. In the end, they embraced & labelled themselves as they have been labelled by a harsh & restrictive education system. That's why so many of them became tough nuts to crack & they lashed out at people trying to 'help' them.

At my school, the students are so malleable & respectful of teachers. Still, there are students who have less than desirable behaviours. Instead of punishing them all the time or expelling them from school, I decided to put myself out there & experiment with a new way to reach out to them.

I'm no expert, but I think some fundamentals in human behaviour are:
- guys socialise via activity. we cant sit down & talk all day like women.
- guys like to feel important
- everybody wants to belong
- everybody needs to be proud of something

With all of the above in mind, I started the Repair Squad this year with a small group of hand-picked at-risk Form 5 students. I would personally lead them on simple repair projects in the hostels or around the school.
I wanted to give them an avenue to contribute positively to the school after so many years of vandalism or apathy. I also want to give them a sense of belonging at school & do not feel as detached from the school as they would after being punished again & again for so many years.
I also wanted to get to know them so I could influence them. Let them know that I care for them & they have the potential for great things.
I rewarded them with free t-shirts & public praise / recognition. You can see them happier & walking taller than before.

Although I did take part in a Kem Jati Diri this year, I do not believe that such one touch efforts can bring about any kind of significant change in a person. Expecting it to do so is a folly that many make because we'd rather be rubbing shoulders with the cream than digging dirt down in the ditches. Something gradual & ongoing would be even more effective. That's how I've designed the Repair Squad activities.

Here are some of our projects this year:

transporting fertiliser provided by the District Agriculture Dept for use in our hostel gardens
preparing & installing noticeboards for the new hostel blocks
planting new trees around the school
installing new colourful English language hostel room labels
recycling damaged beds into tables
managing pests / infestations
You can view all the pictures of the Repair Squad activities on my FB Page here.

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