Sunday, 9 January 2011

Teacher Talk 11- A Lesson from pakcik Hassan..

This was pakcik's response to my questions- How do you teach English? What sort of resources do you use? I must explain that pakcik was an engineer by training and he is happily retired with his family in Terengganu. Visit Al Manar to be inspired by his stories. He has been giving free tuition to the children in his kampung via Al-Manar, a non-profit organisation. Although pakcik is not a trained teacher, he has produced results and his methods may put some of us so-called English optionists to shame! I'd like to share his email in this edition of teacher talk. 

Donn Bryne English Book that pakcik uses

Dear Rahmah,

Thank you for the reply.

I  wanted to get the two new literature components you mentioned but could not get from MPH or the Japanese shop. So I ordered from overseas and they are now in the post. The air-postage is very expensive but I have to do that when I cannot find locally what I want.

I am pleased to hear that you do not subscribe totally to 'standard' teaching technique. I do it my way because that is all that I know. Now let me see my approach to teaching English. I concentrate on form 1 to 3 pupils. Many leave the schools in my vicinity after getting good PMR results – admitted  into SBP, MRSM or Tech Schools. Form 4 and 5 groups come for English and with specific problems in Maths, Physics and Chemistry.
Being a one-man show I can only give three times a week to each group.  It is a seven-day-week for me.

If these children follow me faithfully, they really need not attend Math and English at school. And my target is 100% A in Maths and 50% A in English at PMR exam. But I do not give any PMR tests. Let the school concentrate on the exam ‘formats’, a method I DETEST. To me understanding must not be related to exam format, be it in English, Mathematics , Physics or Chemistry. An assistant principal of a secondary school here openly run me down in front of a group of selected Form 3 children and their parents, stressing the fact that I was  never trained as a teacher and would not know exam formats! He refused to accept the fact that practically all those in that group had been attending Almanar classes from F1, and none of them had 5A’s in their UPSR exam.

I have two English books which I go into detail with the children for three years. (1) Basic Comprehension Passages and (2) Intermediate Comprehension Passages, both by Donn Byrne - Published by Longman of London. They are old books, each with about 30 passages. The language is truly superb to me, true English. I have important words and phrases underlined for the children to pay attention. I choose Adibah Amin's Grammar Builders ( which comes in 5 volumes, 1 to 5 ). Adibah uses standard English, introducing words and phrases beautifully. As one goes through the series one will come across words of the same meaning being upgraded into more difficult words.
To save cost I have most materials, except Grammar Builders, photostated  for each pupil. I have 30 copies of each volume of the Grammar Builders for children to read in class. I encourage those who can afford it to buy the Grammar Builders for own reference at home.

I make pupils read aloud in turn in class the English books (to ensure proper pronunciation). I would explain in detail words and important phrases, making sure the children have all the words and phrases copied out into their 'Vocab Books'. Additionally I make copies of selected simplified English classics. I usually start with Jane Eyre followed by Heidi (both simplified).I have important words and phrases underlined for them to pay attention to. Reading aloud in turn is a general practice.

Apart from going through those books with the pupils I prepare my own notes on English grammar, making sure they fully understand  grammar, from Simple (present, past and future) to Continuous, Perfect and Perfect Continuous. I know for sure none of the schools here gives half what I give. For exercise I spend a lot of time making the children translate Malay sentences into English, progressing to translating passages from UPSR and PMR Malay essays. Only towards the end of form 2 and in form three I would ask them to write essays from scratch, the standard essay writing.

My philosophy:

To learn and be good at a language a child must build a large vovab and learn grammar in detail. Translating will ensure that the children will find that direct word for word does not do any good. For instance one should not say ' I want to go to sleep.’ As you know English children  will say ' I want to go to bed' . Children must learn to see such sentence as ' It is raining'  instead of 'Rain is falling' . Malay children naturally think in Malay but they must be aware at all times that direct translation is not always acceptable. ' I have no money, no friends' sounds very odd in Malay. And Malay children will never think of that kind of oddity. At the same time they must know that one can also say ' I do not have money, or/nor friends'

From experience, these kampong children will have about 3000 words in heir vocab book after three years with me.  I make doubly sure that every word must carry at least one sentence, and they read and reread this very important 'vocab book'.  I know many of them pride themselves in having put into memory the vocabs contained in the book (normally books).

I must admit most of the time I teach in Malay.  Many would be horrified at this. In reality, I have very limited time with them, running single-handed all the classes and teaching them the core subjects (except Malay). I want complete understanding. It is impossible to make most of them understand conversation in English. Secondly I do not wish to start using simple English just to make them understand. To compensate for that shortcoming somewhat, I normally make them read aloud the supplementary books, Jane Eyre and Heidi etc, correcting their pronunciation. These children lack practice in conversation. But I have no assistant. Like it or not, forced to make a choice, I choose to make sure that their written English is acceptable, hoping that they will, at some stage in time, have the opportunity to practice speaking in English.  

Towards the end of form 3 and into form4 and 5 I spend a lot more time showing how to effectively write complex and compound sentences. In any case I find it essential to make children appreciate the importance of of phrasal verbs and idioms, differences between Malay expressions and English equivalents. I encourage them reading Don't Look Now ( Daphne Du Maurier).

Form 4 and 5 pupils often have difficulties in understanding certain chapters in Chemistry and Physics. I do not use the local books for explanation. GCSE books are far superior because they stress more on the understanding of basic principles rather than lots and lots of details to put into memory. My background helps me a lot in making them understand.

Tutoring aside, I realise what matters most to these children are the words of encouragement and personal talks I have had with them. I suppose this is what counseling all about.

I think I have written long enough to bore you.                                                    

Tell me about what you said of making essays from pieces of newspaper cutting. I do not quite understand that. I often select newspaper headlines for common words/phrases to know. Making them read English newspapers at home is almost impossible.

I think I must stop here.

Pakcik Hassan.

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