What I Learned & Shared At Sarawak English Langauge Education Symposium 2019

Pictures of idea & slides from the symposium shared by me & others.
If you're teaching English in Sarawak, join us at Sarawak English Educators.

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of participating in the 3rd Sarawak English Language Education Symposium (SELES) organized by the Ministry of Education, Science, Techonological & Research (MESTR) Sarawak in collaboration with JPN Sarawak. At last year's, I was involved as a speaker. Year after year, I've witnessed the symposium highlighting all the amazing English teachers in Sarawak & providing a platform for them to share with their peers. It was indeed a sparky moment to rekindle the flames of our battle-weary teaching spirit.

Initially, I was roped in as one of the MCs for the Opening Ceremony, so I decided to submit a workshop-proposal abstract to kill 2 birds with 1 stone. Thankfully, it was accepted! (More about it later.) When I got there, I found out that I was dropped as MC, & given a bigger role instead. I'd lead a reflection session in the presence of the minister during the Closing Ceremony. Little did I know, this role would leave me devastated & have a long-term effect on my teacher psyche.

== What I Learned ==

==Little Chuckee's Danger Room Lessons==

I came to SELES to learn from this Adiwira & he didn't disappoint!
 So inspired & proud of this budding English teacher in rural Sarawak.
Muhammad Nazmi Rosli is the kind of teacher we wish we had when we were growing up & one that we wish we were as teachers. He takes his lessons to legendary proportions & he's deservingly Malaysia's Guru Adiwira PAK21.

He has inspired the young & young-at-heart in attendance to apply the syllabus with a difference,
with an eye to excite & engage one's students via one's talents.
Nazmi is inventive & makes great crafts & short videos. He applies his skills to great effect.

I hope that I can be like him one day. Certainly have a lot to learn from this young man,
would love to visit his school & be a fly on the wall during his lessons.

"Don't tell your students the sky's the limit, when there are footsteps on the moon." 👏🏽👏🏽👏🏽

==Dislexia Or Dis-TEACH-ia?==

Dr Ong Puay Hoon of Dyslexia Association Of Sarawak spoke with conviction
about the struggles of children with hidden or silent learning difficulties, focusing mainly on dyslexia, a condition that affects 10% of students.

With the diagram in the photo, she explained how children with dyslexia face problems with reading. They are missing a "word processing box" to connect what they are seeing with what they already know.

Dyslexia is not a mental disability. Students with the condition can have average, above average, or even superior intelligence. With the proper diagnosis & intervention, they can function intellectually like students without dyslexia.

She found that more than 50% of youths in a juvenile center in Kuching could not read. If students don't know how to read, they might end up being the ones who snatch our bags. Illiteracy is a crucial issue for society as a whole.

She courageously called out our education system for its "Dis-TEACH-ia": a disastrous failure to address the needs of children with learning difficulties. We would be wise to listen. KPM?

==Teacher Learning Needs==

Elmarie Potgeiter of RITE Education shared constructs & prerequisites for teacher learning.
Her plenary was laden with common sense, calling out the many misconceptions in our education system with regards to education buzzwords like "differentiation" & "PAK21".

She lamented about not seeing differentiation in Malaysian schools, so during Q&A, I asked her for some easy tips for busy teachers to do "differentiation".
In her words... "Differentiation is NOT 3 WORKSHEETS!" 💪🏽💪🏽💪🏽
It can be extra support, grouping weaker students with stronger ones, extra time, sentence starters, & extra prompts. Well said. 👏🏽👏🏽👏🏽

==Robust Teacher Identities For The 21st Century==

Ken Mizusawa from the National Institute Of Education shared how Singapore plans to develop robust teacher identities for the 21st century. The new Singapore English language syllabus will include multiliteracies, metacognition, & critical inquiry through dialogue.

Moving away from an efficiency-centered classroom to an effectiveness-based classroom, & also moving away from their infamous exam-centered-ness. Giving students more power & stake in their learning.

Students will also work with Rich Texts: features, content, scope, & implications. He broadens the definition of text to include modern texts that students are consuming in their daily lives, like memes & gripping photographs.

"Our job as teachers is not to demonstrate our knowledge. Our job is for our students to demonstrate their learning."

"When planning a lesson, rather than building a "tower" where each segment of a lesson builds only on the previous segment, build a "staircase" where subsequent sections are based partially on previous segments AND something new."

During Q&A, I asked if Singapore is moving away from exams like Malaysia is attempting to, because in Malaysia, students, teachers & schools are currently being evaluated & rewarded/punished based on a single digit, the Average Grade. He responded that exams are inevitable. Rather than merely teaching what the test requires, teach why the question requires that.

There were other keynote speakers, like Cikgu Nazira, who is a decorated English teacher in Putrajaya involved in female empowerment & interviewed on TV & at international events.
There were also useful workshops conducted by organizations & fellow educators.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to attend & benefit from some of them because I was preparing for my own sessions.

== What I Shared ==

== From Telur To Lulus: Activities Which Motivate & Prepare Students For SPM ==

Prior to arriving, I was told that my session would be a hands-on workshop. Thus, I planned for about 30 participants. On the day before my session, I found out that 90 teachers had signed up & they placed me in the ballroom. Right before my session, I found out that they added another page to my sign-up sheet & a total of 130 teachers had signed up.
I didn't count how many attended on that day, but my workshop turned into a mini plenary.

Together with insights into which parts of the exam to focus on & techniques to employ for our most challenging students to pass SPM 1119 English,
I shared a toolkit of activities developed for my classes of exclusively male students
who have very low motivation for SPM & have been handing in blank answer sheets during exams.

I hope that it was useful for my colleagues & it provided them with some activities that they could take back & implement immediately in their classrooms.
Thanks, to all my awesome participants, & JPNS & MESTR for accepting my proposal.


== Reflections on SELES ==

Understanding that it would be very difficult to elicit good reflections if teachers were only prompted at the reflection session during the closing ceremony, I elicited reflections on social media prior to the event & curated the most insightful teachers for in-person sharing with the ministers.

Reflecting on SELES, it's biggest impact in my career & in the careers of several hundred English teachers in Sarawak was the formation of the Sarawak English Educators (SEE) fb group, which was born during last year's SELES.

To date, it has more than 1.1k members (95% are active) &, every day, there are 3 posts, 12 comments, & 79 reactions. In the group, teachers share teaching materials, resources, activities, reading, opportunities, & inspiration. We ask for help, support each other's efforts, celebrate each other's achievements, & we have a superhero in the group. I made sure the minister knew this.

However, I fumbled at the end, & embarrassed myself in front of an entire ballroom of fellow educators, department officers, & 2 ministers. I felt like I failed my people. Knowing that the significance & impact of SELES was being questioned, I really wanted to deliver for them. I really wanted SELES to take place year after year & continue to feed the fire in Sarawak's English educators.

I took the next day off, as I had a fever & was bedridden, as well as emotionally & physically spent.
I finally sleep after a few long days. Then, I saw something beautiful that lifted my spirits.
The SEE fb group swelled with pictures & posts sharing positivity, ideas, & follow-up activities stemming from SELES. They more than demonstrate the impact of the symposium.

Clearly, transforming the English education of a state isn't done by one individual, but a collection of like-hearted individuals doing their little bit & together inching towards a better shared future.

I'm glad to be a teacher. I'm glad to be in the presence of many great teachers with unique talents. I'm glad to be part of something bigger than myself. I'm excited to see what the future will bring. Good or bad. We'll make the best of it.


So thankful that gorgeous Michelle & charming Amory were able to make it to SELES too!
Thanks, Jarrod Sio, for sleeping with another man, so we could have the room to ourselves!

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