This blog is managed by Song Hock Chye, author of Improve Your Thinking Skills in Maths (P1-P3 series), which is published and distributed by EPH.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

How do I motivate the class? Part 1

Disclaimer – This article is written based on my personal experience as a schoolteacher when I was teaching in a public school. It should NOT to be taken as a professional advice site for teachers seeking help.

There are many sites that give tips to students. There are also many sites that give tips to parents with school-going children. Sadly, there are hardly any sites that give teachers advice. Teachers are humans too. Sometimes we forget that they too have their own set of challenges, just like students and parents have theirs.

This post is thus dedicated to teachers – because they are the most important component in the education system.

How do I motivate the class? Part 1

Let’s face it, Teachers. Being an ex-teacher myself, I know that many of you have faced this situation before:- Yes, it had to come. It simply had to. Then one day, it did. The whole class did BADLY. Hardly anyone passed the test - and the one or two who did, barely scraped through.

The question that comes into the mind is – was there something wrong with my teaching?

A fellow teacher notices you. He comes up to you and reassures you that it was “not your fault”. You knew that he meant well. But that still does not erase from your mind that your class did badly and that affects YOUR morale as a teacher.

If your morale dips, your students will sense it. This then goes into a vicious cycle of “low morale begets low morale” between teacher and students.

So, what next?

Teachers, especially new ones, must remember that not all students can ace in every subject. There are high performers, and there are not so high performers. It is glamorous to teach a superstar “A” class. Not that teaching an “A” class has no challenges. It has its own set of challenges - demanding parents, high expectations from your superiors that your students produce results for the school, etc.

On the other hand, teaching a class that consistently produces below par results does affect the morale of the teacher, doesn’t it? So what can you do to ensure that their results improve?

Go for the jugular – Mathematics

From experience, I find that of the 3 core subjects, English, Maths and Science, Mathematics is the one subject that makes or breaks the student’s morale.

Maths (especially at P5 and P6) can appear very intimidating. However, once the student gets the technique right and starts scoring, his morale takes a quantum leap.

Maths is also the only subject that can be improved within 2 or 3 months. Hence, a student who fails his Maths in CA1 with a 40+ score, if guided properly, can produce a 60+ in SA1.

The above is key to motivating the below par performing student. A student who has been failing Maths consistently, will be in cloud nine, if he passes his first Maths Exam after a long time.

Now imagine if just half the class improved their Maths scores by 20 marks within one term. Those who made that improvement will start to believe in themselves and start to pursue better results for other subjects. The other half that did not improve their Maths, will also open their eyes. If their classmates can do it, why not them?

This then causes a chain reaction. The class will start believing in themselves and will somehow start to make effort to improve their scores for all subjects.

The above all sounds too easy, isn’t it? But in real life, it isn’t so easy! But then again, who said life is easy?

So what must be done to get the below par students to improve their Maths by 20 marks within 3 months?

Here are the 3 most common reasons why some students do very badly in PSLE Maths.

1. They do not know their multiplication tables -

Make it a basic requirement that every student must know his multiplication tables. A student who does not have multiplication tables at his fingertips will be seriously disadvantaged.

A P4 student who does not know his multiplication tables will have problems dealing with Factors and Multiples. He will be slowed down finding common multiples. He will be slowed down when dealing with the addition or substraction of fractions, because he cannot see with one glance, what is the common denominator needed to solve the sum. When it comes to multiplication and division of fractions, he cannot see if the numerator and the denominator share a common factor, such that the fraction can be reduced to a simpler form, so that the problem can be solved more easily.

A P5 or P6 student who does not have multiplication tables at his fingertips is a recipe for disaster. The two and one quarter hours allocated for the Maths Exam Paper would not be enough for him. He will go “finger counting” for almost every multiplication and division working he comes across.

I have invigilated exams and I have observed that P5 and P6 students who go “finger counting” during Maths Exams, usually do not have enough time to finish their papers. They leave up to 3 or even 4 pages of questions unanswered. That’s a lot of marks wasted!

Hence, it is critical, that the student must have his multiplication tables at his fingertips.

2. They do not have a strong grasp on the topic of Fractions (including the 4 operations) -

At P5, when topics like Triangles, Ratio and Averages are introduced, some students “forget” the basic 4 operations of fractions. Some will forget how to add, subtract, multiply and divide fractions.

If you have to, spend a few periods, days, or even weeks, to drill the basic operations of Fractions. If this is not done, no matter how much effort you put in to teach P5 topics, they will never be able to solve P5 Exam Section C questions, such that they can pass the paper.

3. They are unsure of the 4 operations of decimals -

Like Fractions, some P5 students forget how to work with decimals. They may be unable to work out multiplication and division of decimals. They may also be unable to convert decimals to fractions and vice-versa.

Again if you have to, you need to drill them on this topic.

No Multiplication Tables, Fractions and Decimals, means no pass in PSLE Maths -

Multiplication Tables, Fractions and Decimals are so basic, if the P5 or P6 student does not have these at his fingertips, he would be lucky if he passed PSLE Maths.

Of course, some students may be weak in certain topics like Ratio or Speed. However, as a teacher, you must put the horse before the cart. Get the basics and foundation correct first. Then work on the topics.

Maths is one subject where the student can show as much as a 20 mark increase within just 3 months with close coaching. It may take up more of your time, but it definitely is worth every moment, when you see your students start surprising everyone with such an improvement.

The spin-off of this is that students who improve by such a margin will start believing in themselves. Everything else will then be much easier to deal with.

Point to Ponder –

So what if you do not teach Maths but specialize in English instead? Getting students to improve their English takes a longer time than Maths. But it can be done too.

That will be discussed next week in Part 2 of “How do I motivate my class?”


Update: How do I motivate the class? Part 2


keentolearn said...

Dear Mr Song

Are motivational and mind development courses useful for primary children?

Excel Eduservice said...

Those courses are not my area of expertise and as such, I do not feel I am equipped to comment.

Anonymous said...

I got a BS in aerospace engineering from MIT and i am currently working in US. I notice a lot of kids have the same problem here too. They are fairly weak in math but pretty good at their sciences and languages. What i think is important is to let the kids understand how math work. I was educated by the Singapore education system which i think is just an average system. Let them relate math with real world stuff. Understanding is the key to victory. My MIT prof always told me you can do 1 problem, understand it and get A for the class, or you can do 100 problems memories it and get an F. likewise it save you lots of time to do problem if you understand ur material. I believe kids now a days should have creative thinking. Enjoy the class and you will get An A natural :)