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Posts Tagged ‘holiday

Yesterday I reflected on how a field trip was a lost opportunity for modelling and teaching critical thinking.

Today I reflect on how I used a holiday book report to teach my son about metacognition.

In simple terms, metacognition is thinking about thinking. When a person steps back from a task or problem to consider alternatives, the strategising is a form of metacognition. When learners rise above a lesson and ask themselves what they actually learnt, that reflection is another form of metacognition.

When my son was given a book report to complete during the June school vacation, he started reading his book without considering what the instructions and his options were. This is what many students do: When told to do something, the dutiful take the straight path without question.

I asked him if he had been taught how to analyse questions or if he had been taught study skills. He replied that he had not.

I am giving the benefit of the doubt to his teachers since kids often do not see the point of such things when they are told. This is often because they do not get to practice those skills in a meaningful context.

My son’s book report was an excellent context and it was very well designed. He and his classmates could choose from a list of books instead of being forced to read just one book. They were also given several options to submit their report.

The options were varied, e.g., draw a comic to illustrate a key chapter, craft an alternative ending for the book, write a poem as a response, etc. In all options, students had to rationalise and justify their choices.

I was impressed with the design of the task because the teacher had incorporated learner choice into the report. I highlight choice and not learning “style” because the latter is a myth.

My son was about a quarter way through his book before he considered his options. When he decided on one, I asked him why he chose it and he struggled to articulate his reasons. In doing so, he had missed at least two opportunities to exercise metacognition.

When he did not read the instructions and options first, he failed to plan for his journey. That is like plunging into an actual journey without planning, research, money, schedules, or destinations.

The book report options were varied enough so that he could take advantage of his strengths or address weaknesses. He selected an option because it appealed to him. While that seems reasonable on the surface, powerful learning is about knowing when to leverage on what one is good at or face up to what one struggles with.

Our discussion on metacognition will not be the only one we have. This form of learning is a long process of self-discovery and awareness, and I will be there as a guide.

I reflected on the interaction I had with my son about cognition and metacognition.

Metacognition is arguably more important than cognition, particularly of the lower level sort, e.g., factual recall. It is easy to Google for information or find a solution in YouTube. It is not as easy, but certainly more important, to be able to decide if what you find is valid and reliable.

Facts will come and go. Students who face tests and exams are smart enough to adapt and rely on GIGO — garbage in, garbage out — as a strategy.

However, this form of schooling and assessments conditions them into that sort of pragmatic but lazy thinking. The more important types of thinking lie in metacognition. They need to be able to analyse, evaluate, reflect, and strategise. They need to focus on the long tail, not just the short game.

This is the last week of the mid-year break for most schools in Singapore. I do not think that it is my imagination that the breaks are broken.

A nearby library is like a second office for me. I find it harder to get a seat there with every passing break. The kids there are not reading for pleasure. They are doing school-assigned and tuition homework.

I do not have to be a child in school to feel it. While the number of days in the June break hardly varies every year, the number of disruptions to it seem to rise.

My son had two weeks of extra classes in school over the first two weeks. Each day of schooling during this break was as long as (8am to 2.30pm) or longer than (8am to 4pm) the typical school day.

You might forgive this intrusion and even admire his teachers if you consider that he is taking his PSLE this year. You would be less forgiving if you realise how much his school mismanages curriculum time. Let us not forget that teachers need a break too.

Addendum (21 Jun): I forgot to add that my son’s school also has a three-day leadership camp on the last three days of the school vacation.

The DSA processes are also in full swing during this period. This means briefings, entry tests, and interviews that took away even more time.

My wife and I did not put our son through DSA preparation that some enrichment centres offer. We did this not to save on money or to sabotage his chances. We keep believe in our son’s abilities and we hope that a few selection committee members are able to distinguish between the schooled and the educated.

My son already has his own e-portfolio. I started one for him when he was in utero and he has his own YouTube videos and pixel art galleries.

I do not think that things will get better even though the current rhetoric seems to de-emphasise academic grades. Not every school is brave enough to dump homework and re-educate parents on this matter.

Homework is an staple like rice on our table. Homework is given and it is a given. Homework can be done but not done away with. This is despite the research and critical practice that questions its value.

Like it or not, schools will resist change and turn a deaf ear to rhetoric. How slowly do schools change? Consider how lectures as a concept and practice have not changed for hundreds of years despite the evidence stacked against them.

Short of becoming an education minister who rules with an iron fist, there is little each of us can do. But the little is also what is the most empowering.

These are the little moments of time relating to our children and what they do.

It is a little movement to turn your head away from tuition ads or to throw those flyers into the nearest recycling bin.

It is an even tinier movement of the computer mouse to not click on tuition bait or kiasu parent stories in Facebook.

The little people in our lives matter and they have important things to say and do. All we need to do is set aside a little time.

safari by cuatrok77, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  cuatrok77 

Sometimes you hear folks say that they need a break from their break. They might be referring to how their vacation was more hectic than work. Or how more stressful it was. Or how tiring it was.

Mine was relaxing but I still need a holiday from my holiday because of the people I met while I was away. Somehow you can travel to almost any part of the world and you will bump into socially ugly Singaporeans.

Everyone will claim to know someone uncouth or from a backcountry. We have no countryside, so what is our excuse?

We are well-to-do and generally well-behaved. But when we travel, the body wanders but the mind does not. This manifests itself in ugly behaviours.

Like piling plates high at buffets, talking loudly, and complaining unreasonably. I was unfortunate to see all three at once thanks to a large family group at a restaurant.

The last thing we need is to export the way we talk. With language comes a culture. The video below is meant to be funny and is quite funny. But I would classify this as horror-comedy.

Video source

Then there are those who behave like idiots because the rules seem different elsewhere. Like creating a ruckus till 2am and throwing fruit and chairs into your swimming pool.

Thankfully my holiday was largely a restful and peaceful one. But I was treated to the occasional safari where I saw that the Ugly Singaporean animal was not just alive and well but also breeding.

Oh, to have a hunting licence.

A holiday overseas is an opportunity for both body and mind to travel. All too often I see much of the former and not enough of the latter.

Any holiday, be it for rest or for enrichment, should stretch one’s thinking or beliefs. So it saddens me to see how some things remain the same because they have “always been done that way”.

I took a total of nine flights over three weeks and experienced an assortment of idiosyncratic practices.

Like the way airlines still insist you completely switch off a device in airplane mode even though studies show there is no need (just Google it or check out the links here).

Like how one airline insists you remove your headphones to listen to the safety briefing even though it is clearer to hear with headphones. (Compare this with another company that lets you wear them the entire journey).

Like how some airport baggage screeners insist you remove slate PCs from bags and others do not. Some say you can leave a computer in its sleeve, others insist you take it out. All reprimand you for not knowing what their signless, implicit rules are.

Travelers are guilty too. You are asked to wipe down the plane loo after you use it. I invariably spend more time cleaning it before and after I use it than actually using it. Some of the “souvenirs” people leave behind are disgusting!

Yes, we live in a world that has changed since 9/11. Sometimes I think that it is a world that has not really embraced change for progress. It has grudgingly accepted change for worry or fear, the very worst reasons for change.

Like me, you may have heard folk who come back from vacations say that they now need a holiday from their holiday.

Perhaps they enjoyed themselves so much they wish they had more. Perhaps they did not get enough rest. Perhaps it is just something to say when you gather around a water cooler.

Nowadays, when is a holiday a real holiday? Is it a break from the rigours or pattern of work? If work is doing something, then is a holiday doing nothing? Or is it doing nothing related to work?

If a holiday is doing nothing, then we all know of folks who are already on holiday at work. These folks do not need or deserve a holiday.

If a holiday is just replacing a work-something with something else no less stressful, then we begin to understand why folks want a holiday (of doing nothing) because they just came back from a holiday (of doing something).

A holiday can be quite stressful. First, there is the planning. Then there is the reacting to events that do not go according to plan, e.g., a flight delay that causes you to miss a connecting flight.

There are the stresses of modern travel, adjusting to a new time zone and culture, sleeping less because you want to experience more, etc. Is that really a holiday?

You might be tempted to connect with work just to feel normal!

You might think like that if you think of work and holidays as separate and opposite things. Just like the oxymoronic work-life balance. There is no need to see them as separate and opposite if you find ways to integrate the two.

That is why I am willing to do small pockets of work during my holiday. That is also why I encourage a reasonable amount of play at work.

No, I do not go on holidays to take a break from work. Holidays are excellent opportunities to learn more about myself and the world around me.



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