Friday, October 10, 2008

About assessment books

There is a whole thriving assessment book industry in Singapore. Like many Singaporean/SingaPRean mothers living abroad, I too lugged workbooks with me when I left Singapore for Frankfurt in 2004. For the first year or so, I even bought photocopied school testpapers but they quickly became recycled paper, so I stopped buying them.

We used one main book, this series from Andrew Er, the first few years. It has plenty of practice sums which I sometimes skip, homing in on the problem sums instead.

We added this Challenging Math early this year when Adeline recommended it. Both are good, Andrew Er's has more practice sums which can get tedious but it also has challenging questions. Challenging Math has mostly word problems, which I like, but it does try really hard to trip kids, and we found quite a number of errors in the solutions given (for P5 & P6).

We don't use textbooks; my approach to Math is Nike-style Just do it! If you know it, you know it, if you don't, we'll work on it, and then you'll know it. If you still don't know it after we've worked on it, you're not ready then, we'll leave it for another time.

Sean completed both P1 books earlier in the year, of course peppered with mistakes here and there. The jump in difficulty level from P1 to P2 is pretty steep so he's only done a few units of Andrew Er P2 and none of Challenging Math P2. I don't think he's quite ready. Andrew Er's P2 workbook has many additions and subtractions involving large numbers and I am reluctant to expose Sean to the carrying and borrowing method just yet. I still prefer him to do his sums the horizontal way instead of vertical (which we grew up learning). And that gets pretty hard when the sum is 459+276+398; plenty of such sums in Andrew Er's.

For Andrew Er's P2, I just told him to do what he can and skip any that he finds hard. We'll just revisit the work that he doesn't know in a few months. I spare myself a case of hoarse voice and bulging veins this way, cos in a few months, he may suddenly see it. Well, that's been my experience so far.

The boys don't do regular work on the books. Usually, they do it when we're on term break in Malacca, cos that's when I have no internet access and have nothing else better to do. For example, Sean started on the P1 books during our December 2007 holidays in Malacca. He managed to complete them over a few months, doing a unit or two each time he ponteng-ed school.

In Brian's case, he only worked on Challenging Math P5 right before we returned to Singapore for summer hols. He was joining his GEP classmates for a month in ACS, so I said he should go through the workbook just to be sure he's not lost in class. We had one week of holiday before leaving for Singapore so I got him started on the book, previously untouched. This was his schedule. 1 hour for each unit followed by 1 hour of break. About 3-4 units a day. He completed the whole book in slightly more than 4 days, yup, on the first page the dates are shown as 21 June (Sat) start, 25th June (Wed) completed.

Was it easy-peasy? No way! Obviously, there are gaps in his knowledge as he's not been instructed in these topics the conventional way; he learns the concepts from Murderous Math and from doing past assessment books. And as I've always told him, when your brain doesn't work, it turns to mush. So this is what happened. After half a year of not doing any real math (just school work), he did Unit 1, and to my dismay, got 24/50. Goodness, in a week, he was joining his GEP classmates and he can't even pass a unit on whole numbers? I emphasised FAIL!

I went on my rant about how his Moscow school's dumbed-down approach to math was making him lose his edge in math. When he continued making unwarranted mistakes in the next few units, I thought my head would explode. So this is what I did, can you feel the anger in my marking...haha, a huge cross so hard that it tore the page, and to emphasise I wrote EASY after I marked them.

Brian has always had fine motor skills issues. He tries really hard to write better but to no avail. It's like something doesn't quite connect from the brain to his hands when it comes to writing. So many times, his handwriting has let him down. In the question above, for example, he had divided 33168 by 3 to get 11056. When he had to subtract this from 28528, he wrote 11056 but the 6 looked like a zero, and while doing the subtraction, he saw it as zero. Mistakes like this you can't afford to make in Singapore exams. That's what upsets me.

I wrote P2 on this next marking telling him this was P2 work! Well, the concept for this problem sum was definitely introduced in P2.

I've given up getting him to do any proper working. As long as he gets the answer, I'll accept it. I figured if he really needs to do his PSLE, I'll just get intensive tutoring to teach him exam techniques.

It's not that I expect much from him, but I really felt he had been slacking off too much at that point and needed a wake-up call. He got worried, rightly so. That was Day 1. Subsequent days after Day 1 went better.

And would you believe it, by the last exercise, ie Semestral Assessment 2, he scored 95/100. Just goes to show, use it or you lose it.

I hope he learnt his lesson well from this experience. I learnt from this too, that assessment books from Singapore are indispensable if the boys are to be adept in Math, if I were to only rely on overseas schools' math instruction, we're done for.


monlim said...

oi, u very scary lah!! one entire assessment book in 4 days? Lesley-Anne would go on strike! I notice you use algebra for some of the workings, here they're still using the model method.

And Sean is just 6, right?? Doing p2 work? Your expectations very high leh...

Lilian said...

Some I allow him to use algebra, cos we both aren't good in models lah. For lower primary, can still cope with the model method, but when at upper primary, pretty lost. How?

Nolah, I didn't bother with Kindergarten math workbooks cos they're pretty inane, moved straight to P1 work. Since he finished P1 work so move on to P2 lah since I have no other work for him. And as I said, he's still not ready for P2 work so we're moving very slowly here.

monlim said...

I find the model method very good cos it shows you visually what the answer shd be, and most kids are better at visual learning. But it does take practice to master, I slogged thru with Lesley-Anne :P

btw, the mistaking zeros for sixes, copying wrong numbers, all very common, not unique to Brian. Lesley-Anne still makes tons of these mistakes, drives me nuts.

Lilian said...

I love the model method too! Wish I was taught that way when I was in school. Maybe I should go for tuition to learn about models. You can be my tutor!

monlim said...

I don't dare be your tutor, u so fierce one...

Lilian said...

Donch be like that...I'm a fierce teacher, but a docile student.

Anonymous said...

Wah, very 'xiong' leh...

I--being quite kiasu still--also ordered math & science textbks & workbks from for my tyke who's now in grade 2. It's one of the favorites with homeschool moms in USA apparently. I read an article from NYTimes on homeschooling and was recommended!

How does it compare with Andrew Er, anyone knows? Is it possible to order Andrew Er books online?

I love the model method too! I learnt it when I slogged through PSLE with my stepdaughter in 2002. It's cool! When hubby's cousin--who's a Math prof in Univ. of Western Australia (in Perth) saw the PSLE math questions, he went: "Wah, you'all training the kids to become geniuses ah!!"

But actually with the model method, you can solve many questions which seem previously to be oh so unsolvable...


Lilian said...

YY, you can run far away from Singapore, but the kiasuism stays with us wherever we go! It's part of our psyche. hehe.

I don't know what Singaporemath books are like, in the past some were just My Pals are Here books. Books like Andrew Er etc are needed only if you're doing PSLE, otherwise, the basic Singaporemath workbooks should be good enough to build a strong math foundation.

Unfortunately, just having strong math skills isn't enough to do well in PSLE; for that you need loads of exposure to the types of questions they ask. The questions can be sooooo amazingly complicated when you look at them, then when you see the solution, you smack your head and think what a moron you are for not seeing that.

bACk in GERMANY said...

Chum... die!
We are so not going to survive Sg Math!
We use only Homework Helpers Math for Grade 1 (US) addition for Bryan. And it's just simple addition and I was happy like lark that he can do it without any instructions from me. Now when I read this... alamak, DIE!
We've got a couple of months left here to enjoy life on earth! Sigh...
That about kindy Math is so true. I only have one that I bought last year and forgot all about it. And when I took it out this year, thinking Bryan could practise some Math... but it's more like for Kristin now...

You a docile student, Lilian? Sure or not? Monica, you wanna be on Lilian's unforgettable teachers list?

Lilian said...

Still plenty of time don't worry. Enjoy your last few months of carefree life!

Hehe, on my teachers' list I'm quite effusively positive about a few of my old teachers so the list isn't all bad.

Anonymous said...

The nice thing about being 'kiasu' here is that you're the ONLY one--esp. in my boy's school in which he's the only Asian kid in class. So it's not like you're going to 'lost out' to anyone. You just don't want your kid to lose out on learning-opportunities that would be stimulating & enjoyable to him.

So, no sweat, no pressure, no fear that if he doesn't do all that supplementary home-coaching he'll be at the bottom half of the class or flunk some test.

When I compare PSLE during my time and my stepdaughter's time in 2002, it's gotten so much harder to excel because the general standard has gotten so much higher. I felt like it was swimming upstream the whole time. Morale was low for her because we felt we were putting in extraordinary efforts just to end up being 'average'. She's obviously a highly intelligent girl--it's just that there's a wrong fit somewhere. She lacked that kind of focused 'test-taking training' which should start right from P1 if one wants to do well, but due to unfortunate circumstances all that focused training started rather too late for her. She had a lot of catching up to do but the system waits for no one.

Gosh, PSLE was like a huge, intensive project... I obtained a thick stack of test papers from, like, 7-8 other schools and pushed & nagged at her to do them. All that was rather new & alien to her, so I did meet with a lot of resistance & indifferent, sloppy work. It wasn't easy.


Lilian said...

Yup, PSLE is ridiculously difficult, I know even if I do were to do it today as an adult who has graduated from university, I wouldn't be able to do really well. And you need perfect or near perfect scores cos everyone else has prepared really well too.

Dunnolah, I don't think it's necessary for kids to spend 2-3 years of their most impressionable years preparing for an exam no one really cares about years later. Those years could have been better spent doing lots of other more memorable things. During our time, we probably spent at most a month preparing for a major primary school exam.

Anonymous said...

And mind you, she did have Eng+Math+Sci tuition on 3 days & Chinese tuition on 2 days of the week. On top of that I was coaching her. Like that still not enough and nearly got into neighborhood school. But that was during the time when we had to choose the sec. schools before the results came out, and we chose poorly. We begged & pleaded to get her into St Marg. But at the end of it all her 'O' results were better than most in that school.

Here in Canada she got all kinds of praise, accolades, awards and a few scholarships when she graduated from high school (i.e. equivalent of JC). Now she feels top of the world.


Anonymous said...

"" ... Dunnolah, I don't think it's necessary for kids to spend 2-3 years of their most impressionable years preparing for an exam no one really cares about years later. ... ""

Why can't every parent in Singapore think the same????!!!

Let's start an 'intelligent-&-compassionate parenting' campaign!!

If only you were the wife of the Education Minister or something & were quoted saying that... keke..


Lilian said...

Any wonder why us overseas mums just dread returning to Singapore when our kids are still young? Our kids are so unprepared for the harsh reality back home. And that is why I insisted on keeping my kids somewhat in touch with Singapore work (well, at least in Math, I can't help with English and Science)

This caused some conflict between me and my husband in the first year or so that we were overseas; he has an extreme case of allergy to seeing his child do academic work. Ideally, when he returns from work and opens the front door, they should be watching Cartoon Network or Tom & Jerry dvd, that would make him really happy! We're meeting halfway these days so no conflict...he realises (a little) the merits of maintaining certain academic standards while I have relaxed significantly the longer time I spend away from Singapore.

Lilian said...

YY, many parents know it's ridiculous to spend so much time on exams, but the system is such that they aren't left with much choice, everyone's like a hamster running on the wheel, the only way you can stop running is to jump off the wheel, ie emigrate, homeschool,... Of course there are parents who are so lucky that their kids need no help from them and still ace through everything effortlessly. But for the majority of us, it's a constant struggle.

In overseas schools, you don't compete with others, you compete against yourself, ie, you challenge yourself to be the best you can be. That's good enough. But that's not good enough in Asian countries. Even if you try your very best, and your parents try their very best, you can never be sure how you'll do, cos it depends on how the cohort for that year does! You're screwed if the exam's easy too, cos everyone else is gonna find it easy. That's where the stress comes in, the uncertainty of it all even after you've put in years of sweat and heartache in.

Yet, I always remember something Pastor Prince said, it goes something like this, "So what if you end up winning the rat race, you'll still be a rat."

bACk in GERMANY said...

So true...
I think the competition has already been in Bryan even though he was only 27 months we moved out here. Last year, he was so upset that he couldn't do the monkey bars tumble as well as the other boys in his class (he's the youngest, since class intake is from sep 1 to aug 31st of the year). His American teacher just said to him, Hey, that's not true. That's a very different Bryan I saw at the beginning of the year. Remember, you couldn't even hang on the bar then! You are better than you were last year!

Suddenly, I realised that I had to be very careful with my speech that I wouldn't be comparing him with his peers!

Good for you, yy, you moved out...
The kids had it tougher then, but they are feeling tops about themselves in a system they will breeze through.

This is only the beginning of my nightmare: We're going back to be ... ermm... rats and that is only going to happen if we win!!??!! Sigh...

Lilian said...

PP, let's not scare ourselves more than necessary lah. Kids are really hardy these days, a bit of hard work won't kill them.

That said, I agree, we've gotta watch our tongue. Remind ourselves not to compare our kids with others. Focus on the effort and the improvement made. It shouldn't matter how others fare, what matters is you've truly tried your best and put in your utmost effort.

Easier said than done, when our kids come back with say 90%, our first instincts, "How did your classmates do?" ai...Kiasuism rears its ugly head again.

Alcovelet said...

Seriously, for modelling, nothing's better than fan-learning. RK's problem was that he'd be able to do some problem sums if he had the *ting factor. Problem is, no *ting factor, he won't even want to touch (or be very upset, ouch). I passed him the books and, wow! They're so well written, they're really self explanatory, so it's quite easy for the kid to pick up. Serious.

But Cindy, don't stress lah. We did the P1 thing cos, um, my hs guru told me it was similar to K work. Another way of thinking about it, the MOE designed P1 work to be carried out over 2 yrs -K2 and P1, so the kids can get used to thinking about numbers. So for sure got time lah.

Lilian said...

Thanks Adeline, will check your recommendation out next time we're back. My poor kids :)

Yup, agree with you P1 work is an extension of K work. In fact, many kindys/childcare centres prep kids at a much higher level than what's expected at P1.

Was told by a few older friends that there's a big jump in academic expectations between P2 and P3, and that's when some kids start to lose their love of learning.

Alcovelet said...

Tell you the truth, I don't think RK likes to do the Math assessment books. I tempt him with candy and Scooby Doo though, hehe *evil mummy grin*. He tells me he likes "fun math", which can be the Number Devil or anything he figures out himself. But I can't helphim very much there. easier to flip open the assessment books!

I'm soo glad we're not in the school system! Can you imagine hating school work at age 8/9 when you have to be in school at least (hopefully!) through university! That's another 11/12 years!

Lilian said...

Then you should let him explore math on his own this way. Based on what you've written, I think he learns Math in a very different way from most kids.

You're lucky lah to be able to jump off the hamster/whitemouse wheel. The rest of us, still gotta run run run, *pant*pant* very chuan!

Alcovelet said...

Lilian, I've seriously thought about that - getting rid of the assessment books. What he and I have found though, is that the books build up foundational skills, without which he wldn't have been able to enjoy the other stuff on top of it. And that's why we switched - Challenging Math and even Andrew Er are definitely harsher introductions to math concepts while Shaping Math and My Pals are unfortunately, too simple. He dislikes those intensely! Fan Learning is gentle but it helps you through the windy thought processes that Singapore Math is all about. And Math Olympiad is very thought provoking. The switch has made our sessions v enjoyable for both of us! Of course, I haven't started writing, aaargh! Will think about that for next year.

There are days when he says he doesn't want to do work - fine. I find that kids don't learn at an even pace anyway, so we "eat snake" for a couple a days. The other thing about fan learning is - it teaches you a concept and then repeats it for familiarity. You know, our friend loves to speed - so he finds it boring. That's when a little tic tac comes out for additional rewards cos reinforcement is necessary (lol, yesterday, we just finished the Tic Tac Hsien gave him for Stephen's birthday a few months ago when she arrived!!).

Lilian said...

You're right about kids learning at an uneven pace. Your attitude towards homeschooling is certainly the right one, ie not being too rigid about timetables and schedules. Go with the flow.