Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Teacher Talk (24): Summary-writing

Some time back I posted on  'Shortcut to Summary-writing?'. Thank you for your response Nuha. I hope it will be useful to other visitors.

To: "rahmahs@yahoo.com"
Sent: Wednesday, October 19, 2011 3:42 PM
Subject: Shortcut to summary-writing?

Dear Puan Rahmah,
Referring to your latest post "Shortcut to summary-writing", I would like to share what I knew & what I did to my very weak students. (I was unable to find the comment button for this post :D big grin)  Firstly, allow me to define "my very weak students". They are the ones who possess very poor vocab, don't understand mostly what they read even a simple passage, don't understand what the question wants & ultimately won't be able to answer a question, which in this case - writing a summary. These students fail to identify the 5 main points from the passage.

I received the following tips from a colleague who attended a seminar organised by the PPD of Sepang early this year:
  1. Copy the first 2 sentences of each paragraph starting from the second  paragraph (because the 10 introduction words are taken from the first paragraph).
  2. Copy the sentences in full.
  3. Copy the sentences without any spelling errors.
  4. Copy only 60 words.
  5. If the 60th word is not the last word, ask the students to complete the sentence.
  6. Omit the 10 introductory words.
  7. Use linkers in order to get 3 marks for language.
I taught the above tips only to "my very weak students" for PMR 2011. By using the above tips, students might get (if they are lucky) 2 -3 marks for contents and 3 marks for language. Not bad huh? Nevertheless, I hate this tips because we merely help them to pass the exam but not to improve their proficiency in English.
(I shared the above tips on my blog...yikes!)

Any thoughts? Feel free to share.


  1. Well, the good intention does not always justify the action. While teachers are desperately searching for ways to help their students pass exams, they should not forsake their real reason for being teachers which definitely extends beyond that. I personally think that dirty tricks such as the short-cut to summary writing SHOULD NEVER be shared in open platforms like courses, workshops or even personal blogs as they may unexpectedly backfire us teachers. Nevertheless, I never wish to claim that teachers should never try them out.

  2. dear anonymous,
    thanks for your personal opinion. to be honest i too was shocked to learn of this 'method' and the writer too said something to this effect. however, i try to understand the desperate situation such teachers face in the light of our society over-emphasising exams and RESULTS. in no way am i advocating the method but there must be a platform in which healthy discussions such as the one we are having now can take place.

  3. Dear Puan & Anonymous,

    I teach in a school where getting A is the main target in every exam. In 2010 PMR, only 14 ss got A and there was a failure for English. The teachers who taught Form 3 English for that year were ridiculed & condemned not only by the school's admin but also by the PTA and PPD. So this year, the Form 3 English teachers (me-1st time teaching F3), were always reminded to do whatever it takes to increase the percentage of As and if possible--no failures. For a newbie like me, this is tough and can be quite stressful - not the teaching part but the getting-excellent-grades-and-no-failures part.

    As much as I want to teach English using the right methodology, I was constantly advised by my seniors to conduct very serious exam-oriented TnL actvities by drilling them with exam questions from the beginning of the year until the final moments prior to PMR. NO GAMES - my senior told me. Therefore, lessons should be tailored to mentally prepare ss 4 the BIG exam. The fast learners could still take all these nerve-racking drilling positively but my slow learners? They were bored to sleep. For these ss (slow learners with extremely short focus span), everything was done in class - no homework bcos they won't do it. Sometimes, I did some language games with them - they were so happy & enthusiastic. These were the times where I saw that they were completely immersed in the activities. But then again, I'd to return to the reality where exam is the main purpose of studying - in Malaysia.

    I did my best to teach all students the right techniques (again its 4 exam) to answer writing, summary & literature questions. In the last minute, those who did not show any improvement, i needed to resort to so-called "dirty tricks" to help them. These include giving them shortcuts to answer summary question & get them to memorize short answer for literature (tips were given in a seminar organised by PPD). I hated doing it so much but i didnt see any other options. Maybe i shudn't have shared the tips on my blog.

    I'm sorry Puan, I hope that I didn't deviate from the topic of discussion. If it's not so much for getting A & pass the exams, i'm sure teaching ESL would be totally different.


    Nuha (teachernuha.blogspot.com)

  4. dear nuha,
    thanks for your explanation. i shoudn't worry at all about comments from anyone as long as they are professional in nature. aren't we all 'trapped' in the crazy world of exams? it's such a shame that young teachers are 'indoctrinated' to be exam-focused too. call me nuts but i seriously want to start a campaign in my blog- TEACH ENGLISH FOR PROFICIENCY SO STUDENTS ARE READY FOR THE TEST OF LIFE RATHER THAN A LIFE OF TESTS!! does this make sense to you? if you notice, i seldom talk or post on exam matters. i'd rather blog about what teachers do and why. it's when teachers stop thinking that we are all in trouble!! and another thing (although this is verging on exam hehe) some people say, to change teachers thinking, you must change assessment. do you agree? i will post on this when time permits. this long weekend is for spring cleaning and stuffs :) have a good weekend.

  5. Puan, regarding the campaign, u'll hv my full support. When i did my dip ed, I learnt abt "backwash effect". i'm so sure u r very much familiar with this term. The term carries a scary meaning - teachers only teach whatever that might come out in exams. n this effect has been affecting our society since...i dont know..a few decades? its getting scarier when some teachers start saying "stupid! whats the point of teaching drama & short stories when they'll not be tested in exams?" Sometimes, I hope that parents & the administrators cud be professional & rational when it comes to exams. However this doesnt happen in my school. It'll always be the teachers fault if their high expectations arent met.. I do wish the assessment system wud change in the future. have a good weekend too..

  6. teacher nuha...a lot of us are in your situation. Honestly, there is nothing wrong with you sharing the summary tip in your blog as it is your personal blog and I know it is your good intention to share it with us. It is good to know this tip but at the end of the day, it the educator's choice...dislike the tip - leave it..need the tip - use it. I know most of us teach our kids and teens to prepare for the test of life but at the same time, we are walking on a delicate tight rope between exam-oriented teaching and life-long learning so it is an inevitable, endless situation that one needs to decide on his or her own....

  7. yin, thanks for sharing your thoughts :)


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