Monday, February 13, 2017

3 Lessons to Improve Communication Skills

This took place recently in my Bright World Thinkers class (for Primary 1 to 4 kids).


At lesson 1, most of these kids were not sure how to contribute to a discussion.

Everyone could answer questions if I posed them some, especially if the answers to my questions were already in a handout that was given to them. But that, to me, is the easy part, since they were being spoonfed with content.

Some could express their views. Many had no views or maybe they had but were too shy to say anything.

One or two would ask questions and be able to contribute to discussions with me leading and facilitating, i.e. a class discussion. But when they were placed in a group to discuss among themselves, most were completely lost. They understood the task but just did not know what to say to each other.

In addition to learning content and discussing issues, ideas and views etc... a big focus of all my classes was on the training of communication skills, both verbal and written. 

In every lesson, through the carefully planned activities that students were introduced to, they were shown techniques to communicate better.

By lesson 3 (in the photos and Facebook post), they could already be placed in groups, given their tasks and just with some simple pointers, get on with their discussion independently.

I get immense satisfaction just watching the kids, putting all that they have learnt into practice!

Once again, this proves my long-standing beliefs that every child can learn to communicate better. They do not have to wait till they are older. Why wait?

Just imagine how much they could gain with better communication skills!

Whether it is about expressing one's views or contributing to a group discussion, every child can learn and improve, as long as they are shown HOW to do so and given the opportunities to practise.

Just putting kids in groups without proper guidance on the HOW to discuss, will not work effectively for everyone. Occasionally the more savvy ones may figure "it" out. But most will not improve their communication skill.

Just telling kids all the pointers on HOW to discuss, also will not work. Like all skills, communication skill can only be honed through lots of practice. And there has to be immediate constructive feedback to their child, so he knows how he can improve.

So is it really possible to improve everyone's communication skill in just 3 lessons? Of course it is.

However, there is one group of students who needs more time.

We can take a thirsty horse to the river but if the horse refuses to drink, will the horse die of thirst? 

I have come across students who simply would not say anything in class. I am sure they are too nervous, scared, intimidated, shy and/or afraid to make mistakes or be seen as not clever enough etc.....

Yes, personality counts. But who says introverts and those who are usually shy are unable to contribute or speak up. Any parents who believe this have a fixed mindset and unfortunately, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy for their kids.

The real issue here is a lack of self-confidence and resilience. For some, they also have a high need for validation, approval and praise, likely because they come from an environment whereby they are used to tons of praises and validation for what they have achieved. This is one BIG reason I refrain from such praises.

But I heap praises on effort. The effort to TRY and those who put in effort to PERSEVERE are the ones who will improve. They may take longer to show results because now it is not just a case of working on the child's communication skill but also his self-confidence and resilience.

The more these kids are exposed to an environment where they can witness other children learning to communicate, making mistakes and improving from them, these once-quiet-and-reserved kids will eventually realize there is nothing to fear to open their mouths, utter some words and raising their volume.

It is the first step that we want. After that, the next few steps will come fast and furious.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

How to Accelerate Learning

I have a soft spot for children who want to learn. A BIG soft spot.

I think children who really want to learn and to do their best should be given as many opportunities as possible.

Whenever I meet such children, I just want to squeeze out every ounce of my energy to help them learn, to boost their confidence and abilities as quickly and as much as possible, to equip them with skills and tools so they will be empowered to make progress on a daily basis.

Every step and improvement a child makes will in turn boost his confidence and motivates him to want to learn more.

Student #1
Take a boy in one of my classes who started lesson 1 end of Oct 2016. At first, he did not recognise his letters, struggled with activities that involved even writing a number or drawing any lines. His attention span was very short. He ran away after a few minutes and could not focus past 5 minutes at any table work (activity that required him to sit at table). He also could not follow discussions and struggled to follow instructions. Hence, he was frustrated very often and wanted to stop trying very quickly into an activity.

I worked closely with his mum every week, suggesting what she could do with him to tackle each and every weakness for that week, before the next lesson. Small changes, easy steps that are attainable for a working mum and child who goes to full day childcare.

By lesson 4, he already showed gradual improvement in most areas.

By lesson 6, he could focus through 45 minutes of the lesson. He also showed more willingness to keep trying on tasks that he found difficult. He often looked around at his peers working on the tasks and even told me and his mum that he wanted to try again.

By lesson 9 (just before Xmas), he could recognise many letters of the alphabet, copy-write short words successfully (just 8 weeks ago he could not even recognise any letters and too frustrated to even write or draw anything) and followed 90% instructions independently. Most importantly, he had full focus for the entire 75 min lesson.

When we resumed Term 1 this January, he became one of my star students in the class. Now, he takes such GREAT PRIDE in his work, can copywrite 5 words (approx 30 letters) at one go and already starting to read simple words. He follows and participates in EVERY discussion and can focus 100% in the 1 hr 15 min lesson.

Whenever I think of how FAR he has come in such SHORT time (I saw him once a week since Oct 2016, for just 12 lessons so far), I cannot help but beam with pride.

I just know if he keeps up with this pace of learning, he will be way ahead of his peers. And for as long as he remains in the Bright Minds Lapbookers programme, there is no stopping him from accelerating this pace.

I know, because he is not my first case of accelerated learning. I have seen the same with my 3 kids and many students in the past.

How To Accelerate Learning? 
There is a sensitive period to learning, also known as the windows of opportunity. Once we identify this sensitive period for the child to acquire a particular skill (e.g. writing or reading), that is the best time to step up all effort to assist the child with his acquisition of the skill.

For many parents, there are two main challenges:
1. How to identify the sensitive periods for their children timely; 
2. Even when they managed to identify the sensitive periods, how to effectively coach their children so they will make fastest progress in the shortest time and with the least effort.

Once we overcome both challenges, we WILL accelerate the child's pace of learning.

To me, accelerating learning is not a dirty phrase. It is NOT being 'kiasu' (i.e. scared to lose). It is about learning smart and helping the child stretch his abilities to reach his own potential.

If adults will agree that to advance in careers require us to work smart and not just work hard, then why should it be different with children and their path of learning?

Whether it is learning to read or write or any other literacy skill, I believe there are the conventional ways to teach and learn, which may or may not always be the best or most effective ways, and there are also lesser-known-but-research-backed methods, which may be more effective in a small teacher-students ratio settings.

To be continued.....

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Monday, January 23, 2017

6 Ways to Cultivate Curiousity and Creativity

Here is an old post from our Facebook page.

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