Tips for Poor Essay Writers - Part II
I posted an article entitled “Important tips for students who are weak in essay writing” some time back and since then there has been a steady stream of enquiries of varying nature. In order to follow-up on almost all the enquiries I have received, this article addresses 5 issues:
- Elaboration of Point 1 Essay Flow
- Elaboration of Point 2 Character emotions
- Question of reading and its materials
- Expository writing
- About me & my teaching preference
Disclaimer: My essay tips are targeted at students who are weak in essay writing and require structured help. As such, students who likes change or are highly creative may find such structured approach boring.
Elaboration of Point 1 - Essay flow
Do recall that in my earlier article, I cited a crucial problem of students’ inability to link sentences which result in disjointed narrative.
Annie was walking back home from school. Suddenly, she saw a cat stuck in the tree.
I have received comments that a lot of time is spent on just encouraging students to discover the link – or lack thereof – between sentences. I agree. It takes a lot of work and disjointed narrative aggravates a lot of educators/parents for their student/children just don’t see it.
If you think narrative essays are bad, I can assure you that the situation is a lot worse for argumentative essays, where underperforming A level students possess an inherent inertia that is resistant to change (including attempts at pointing out disjointed narrative). I invite parents to share their tactics or stories of their attempts at making their children see the light.
Disjointed narrative gripes aside, do consider this essay:
One day after school, Anne was walking back home from school when she saw a cat stuck in the tree. The cat seemed to be falling off the branch. Concerned for its safety, Anne hurriedly called for the firemen. The firemen arrived in ten minutes. One fireman placed the ladder against the tree and began climbing up to save the cat. Anne was very happy when the cat was saved that she thanked the firemen profusely.
This short, report writing-like style which provides an account of the incident is not a sign of disjointed narrative. It is a probable sign of bigger problems with likely reasons listed below in increasing severity:
- The student is not exposed to narrative writing structure
- The student is lazy for elaboration requires too much work
- The student has weak English foundation which hinders his/her ability to express and elaborate
- The student lacks imagination
Students who are not exposed to narrative writing structure are usually lower Primary students who just need more time to get used to narrative essays. Their problem is not severe.
In mild cases, students with weak English foundation do not possess extensive vocab to elaborate in detail. For instance, my student wanted to write:
She was afraid that she would plunge to her death
but was unable to do so as her vocab was limited. She certainly had enough sense to refrain from writing
drop and die
and without other alternatives, she refrained from writing that sentence altogether. Severe cases will see students experiencing difficulties in structuring sentences due to grammar and language deficiencies.
In addition to point (3), my current student is firmly embedded in point (4). She claims that she is unable to imagine a situation without experiencing them in reality beforehand. Without plot inspiration, no amount of aid in the mechanics of writing is able to salvage her writing.
It should be obvious that there are multiple problems compounded into and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Some are weak in vocab, some are unable to form sentences, some have no inspiration, some have all the problems mentioned earlier. Let me phrase it another way.
Recall that I included a highly simplified essay lesson plan that spanned over 5 lessons. If the problem of disjointed narrative surfaces in the 2nd lesson when the student attempts to length his/her essay, this problem rears its ugly head in the 1st. It is a foundational problem with multiple root causes that vary among students.
For my students, including my existing one, I stress on developing actions or motions for characters in essays. Character motions are the most basic elements in an essay for value-added components like vocabulary and complex sentence structures are built upon it.
Example. Original sentence
One day after school, Anne was walking back home from school when she saw a cat stuck in the tree.
Simple motion added
School had ended for the day. Anne waved goodbye to her friends and walked back home from school.
More motion added
School had ended for the day. Anne waved goodbye to her friends. She picked up her schoolbag, exited via the back gate and began to walk back home.
I don’t demand for anything more. No vocab, complex sentence structures nor other requirements. Only when students achieve this basic objective of elaboration of actions/motions are they allowed to moved on to higher level stuff.
Elaboration of Point 2 – Character emotions
Many individuals find vocab to be beyond them. Upon receiving a list of 40 sentences or phrases, their minds proceed to shut down at the seemingly endless -and useless - vocab phrases. I totally agree with the sentiment. A lot of vocab phrases are useless to those who are just starting to grapple with essay writing. They are unable to memorise that many, much less apply the phrases to their essays.
Let's begin to explore why.
You have to understand that when essay writing is deemed as a chore, many students have 2 main wishes:
- To lengthen their essay as long as possible to make it seem like they are writing a decent length essay, quality notwithstanding. As such, their priority is word count. Chuck in as many words as possible to fulfil minimal word count and be done with it. Some students tend to favour “interesting” expressions that run for miles.
- To possess a set of vocabulary that can be used for every essay in order to refrain from expending energy to learn additional vocab.
Let me provide an example. Do compare the two expressions below:
Happiness bubbled within him
He was so happy, he felt like the luckiest person on earth
My student only remembers the latter. She finds it interesting, unique and most importantly, long and logical (“How can happiness bubble?” she questions). She uses this expression of happiness in almost every composition, even in situations that doesn’t warrant the character to count his blessings.
She is in Upper Secondary.
Now that I have –hopefully- stated my point, let’s move on. For a child weak in essay writing, I always promote emotive vocab as emotions are required in every essay without fail. Even then, there are so many kinds of emotive vocab out there and while parents tend to hoard vocab books, they soon began to realise that it is impossible for a student to remember and utilise so many different kinds of emotive expressions (unless they are interested of course), much less a student who hates essay writing.
How do you then pinpoint what vocab to remember to reduce time wasted on memorising useless vocab and maximise efficiency in learning?
After reading countless of vocab lists offered by schools/assessment books/internet/etc for years, I am of the view that emotive vocab falls under 4 categories:
- Cat 1. Words summarising feelings. Examples:
- filled with indignation
- Cat 2: Feelings / Reactions occurring internally. Examples:
- adrenaline coursed her veins
- blood turned cold
- fingers of fear crept up on me, turning my blood to ice
- fire raged in his blood
- warning bells started clashing in my head
- Cat 3: Physical (Bodily) reactions [external]. Examples:
- clenched fist
- forehead creased
- fury in her eyes
- turning red with fury
- Cat 4: Situational reactions. Examples:
- she broke down and cried
- he snapped and hit his friend
- she screamed her head off
- he stormed off and slammed the door behind him
Cat 4 emotive vocab depicts the mechanics of action according to the environment/setting the character is embedded in. If a character is placed in a room with furnishings, the character might smash vases or slam the door in a fit of anger. If a character is upset, he/she might dive into the bed and sob into his/her pillow.
That being said, Cat 4 emotive vocab is the most undesirable among the 4 when individuals are learning emotive vocab. It may be useful in certain essay settings but individuals are looking for vocab phrases that can be used in almost ANY essay. They want universality. In addition, a child who is finding ways to extend and improve his/her essay quality usually does not require cat 4 type of emotive vocab.
For instance, the child has the gist of the essay plot on his/her paper. Example:
Bob was so angry, he hit his friend.
The child already has the mechanics of the action down as part of his intended storyline. And even if he/she were to replace it with a cat 4 example as shown above (this expression was taken from a vocab list provided by a school teacher), the sentence becomes:
Bob was so angry, he snapped and hit his friend.
While it did increase the quality by a TINY notch, it does not have that great an impact in quality anyway. In addition, Word length did not increase much. Only three extra words…
Cat 1 vocab is not very useful in beginner’s essay. Indeed, learning 5 synonyms of 'happy' might increase your child's chances in Paper 2 (vocab and comprehension), but in essay writing, the child does not need to emphasize how happy he is 5 times in 5 different words. Learning a word or two for each emotive state would be suffice.
Cat 3 is pretty useful as it is pretty universal across essay settings to a large degree. When a character experiences anger, no matter the essay setting, there are certain bodily reactions that will always surface. The problem is that devoted a whole paragraph of bodily reactions is just odd. Imagine describing areas of the character's body from his/her eyes, to the ears, to the nose, the mouth, the cracked voice, tensed shoulders, fisted palms... You get what I mean. In some cases, cat 3 vocab for certain type of emotions are highly lacking. Vocab describing sadness is a prime example.
I lifted this from some vocab list (targeted at Upper Secondary school students) I found a while back. The list offers these ten expressions for sadness.
- Tears welled up in her eyes
- Tears rolled down here rosy cheeks.
- No word could express his agony.
- She sobbed sorrowfully.
- She broke into tears.
- With a heavy heart, he left the hospital.
- A dark mood came over her.
- Her eyes were puffy and red after all the crying.
- She cried her heart out after hearing the tragic news.
- The frightened child was on the brink of tears.
There's an overwhelming number of phrases devoted to crying (which is pretty useless - you don't need to know 6 different ways to cry in an essay). There is very little description on other forms of sorrow. Always using O levels essay standards as a benchmark, I struck the list off immediately.
Cat 2 types are not common. Period. It is difficult to find them in vast amounts in most storybooks or assessment books. But cat 2 types are the emotive vocab types to look out for. They are universal across all essay settings as those reactions occur internally.
For instance, panic alarm (“Warning bells started clashing in my head”) is a classic example that can be used in ANY essay so long as panic is required. And given that essays thrive on conflict and resolution, with characters getting into heart stopping moments rapidly, I say that cat 2 types are godsend – at least it was for me when O levels Paper 1 loomed near.
Can you imagine how utterly useful and time-saving it is going to be if you have say, a panic template which spans over 85 words of cat 2 and 3 vocab that can be utilised in any essay that requires the character to panic?
(Of course, a Primary school student does not need to have that much emotive vocab attrition, which makes lives a lot easier)
Parents have been asking how to get cat 2 vocab in bulk. As emphasized earlier, the unfortunate thing is that a purely cat 2 vocab paperback isn’t going to surface. Storybooks will definitely offer expressions and students/parents will have to make a conscious effort in penning them down in order to collect cat 2 vocab in bulk.
(I collect cat 2 and 3 vocab through my online reading material (fanfiction.net) which is not an advisable online community for young minds to lurk for ff.net has a minefield of rated material.)
If you can’t locate any cat 2 vocab however, don’t panic. Cat 3 vocab should be more than enough for Primary school students.
Side enquiry to parents: I am curious to know the rough breakdown of cat 1 to 4 vocab provided in vocab lists that are offered by vocab books that you have bought for your child. What I’ve seen are a flood of cat 1 and 4, some cat 3 and very little cat 2.
Question of reading and its materials
Fact: Reading aids students in improving their essay writing
Myth: Students who don’t read will fail to see improvements in essay writing
Myth: Students who read will see improvements in essay writing
Raise your hand if you have a child who is an avid reader yet fails to write decent essays, and you are scratching your head wondering why.
I will raise mine. I don’t have a child but I was certainly one of those who read a lot but was lacking in the essay writing department. Problem is, only the content is being eagerly sought after. I overlooked language - skipping tedious passages and difficult words/grammar structure- in favour of the story plot.
Students find language structure to be boring and as such, not too concerned about improving their language through reading of books.
Mindless attrition of reading material without knowledge of how to utilise them is simply not productive and yields little result. As I aged, I maintained a conscious effort on my part to keep a look out for of good emotive vocab and essay structure.
Students, on the other hand, may not be aware of what to take note in storybooks. They should identify their weak point(s) in essay writing – dialogues, character descriptions, setting descriptions, other vocabs (emotives, adverbs, others), complex sentence structures, punctuations, etc – and just keep a look out for those when they read. They should not be ambitious and attempt to cover too much ground at one go. Students should just stick to a key weakness or two, lest they get overwhelmed by the amount of information in storybooks.
Myth: Only “serious” reading material is beneficial
I will bring your attention to the emphasis in CAPS as this notion is ludicrous.
My language and writing skill are products of “non-serious” reading material that I consumed –and still am consuming – years back. After witnessing my writing skills surge from a bucket of suck of yesteryear to the decent levels of today, I became a staunch convert in the church of the “non-serious”.
Some teachers advise against fantasy storybooks for students may replicate similar fantasy plots in narrative essays. Plot notwithstanding however, fantasy books are treasure troves of vocabulary, descriptive and expressions that are definitely essential in essay writing.
I received some feedback of parents echoing the same sentiment, “But my child does not like reading at all. He/does not even like fantasy story books. All he/she does is to watch cartoons/ play computer games everyday!”
My reply would be, “Why don’t you let your child read a book that features the cartoon/game?”
If the child adores the cartoon Powerpuff girls, let him/her buy/borrow any book on Powerpuff girls to read. You may think, but isn't it too kiddish and hey, Powerpuff girls is a cartoon! Cartoons = not serious reading material = bode badly for results = should not let your daughter read it as she needs to be serious to study.
Why do you think it is not serious reading material? Probably girls that are flying around do not seem to fit well with composition where Annie is not supposed to save a cat stuck in the tree by flying up to the cat like a Powerpuff girl. It is simply not realistic. As such, your daughter is encouraged to read more serious books instead -those with realistic plot.
The common misconception among parents and educators is that when a student is having fun, they are not serious in their work and might affect their grades. But when a student is starting to lose interest in a subject, the way to capture that student's attention is to tempt them with something they are interested in. And if your daughter likes Buttercup from Powerpuff Girls, she will relate to Buttercup while reading. And that makes a pleasant reading experience.
(I am aware that books featuring cartoons have lower levels of vocabulary and very simple sentence structures. If parents are creative however, any resource can be used to aid their children’s essay writing techniques. For instance, if an essay-hating child loves Ben 10, parents can consider encouraging their children to write an essay featuring the character Ben. The same value-added components like vocab taught by parents to their children to include in that Ben 10 essay can be applied to other narrative essays as well. In this way, the child is able to write an essay on a character he fancies while learning essential value-added components widely applicable to other essays.)
Some may beg to differ, arguing that the books that their child is reading are definitely fiction with tons of plotlines that are too surreal for reality. Titles like… Peter Rabbit, Enid Blyton etc.
I am spotting a bias here. Those titles that are listed above seemed to be titles that may air/have already been aired on Nickelodeon. Between books adapted from cartoons featured on Nickelodeon and Kids Central, which books do you feel that will possess more educational value? I would think that many assume the former and disregard the latter as time wasting material. My point exactly. What I am promoting is to allow your child to read books that are adapted from his/her favourite cartoons featured on Kids Central. Ben 10 seems to be in the rage now.
I have seen WarCraft addicts (a computer game) devouring related merchandise, of which includes WarCraft fantasy storybooks (the plot of WarCraft translated into words on paperbacks). Well, at least they are reading storybooks.
For me, I found my reading passion in Japanese anime fanfiction (Jap anime - basically the equivalent to Pokemon and Digimon for the current primary school kids. I am proud to say that I have just finished watching the first season of Digimon and remain as enamoured and starry-eyed as I was in Primary 6.) For my O levels, I took the vocab and sentence structure from those anime fiction I've read and dumped them into my O level compo. Worked like a charm. In fact, before every English exam, I logged on to the website which contains fanfiction and just read them. My mother found it highly weird and kept asking why I was playing when I should be studying for my English essay in a couple of day’s time. But I was studying, and thoroughly enjoying it at the same time.
I have never written a single expository essay in my entire Secondary school life. After a particular disastrous attempt by my peers, my teacher told us to stick to narrative writing and ditch expository essays for individuals weak in English will not be able to handle the demands of the latter. I am in full agreement with her.
I shall kick off this topic by forwarding a key point:
Underperforming students should not tackle O level expository essays!!!
Three components of expository/argumentative essays:
- Content – Maturity in thinking
- Essay flow – thought structure
- Essay organisation
- Flow of narrative
Let me put it this way. If your strength is only in content, you will probably achieve a borderline grade but never excel due to the inability to express yourself well. If your strength is in essay flow/organisation, you will pass with grades fluctuating between borderline to an ‘ok’ pass depending on the content required. If your strength is only in language, you will experience absolute failure.
That’s probably why so many students underperform in General Paper even though they have great foundation in language. What aggravates matters is that their grasp over the language gives them a false sense of security/disillusionment that they will excel in General Paper without preparation.
Problem is that for O level students, the majority underperforms in all 3 components. However, the standards in O levels are so drastically reduced, flaws that are totally unacceptable in A levels tend to be grudgingly accepted. However, the tolerance of flawed argumentation at O levels undoubtedly blunts the students’ ability to think critically.
Expository essays are like traps springing onto unsuspecting students, luring them into a false sense of security of seemingly easy, “crappable” essays that requires no preparation whatsoever. After all, the questions are requesting for our life experiences! In Singapore no less! How difficult can it get?
- What important lessons in life are learned away from school? ( O level 2010 Q1)
- Write about some of your worries and hopes for the future? (O level 2009 Q5)
- What do you think secondary schools can do to ensure the health,well-being and safety of the students? (O level 2006 Q3)
Questions of similar nature surface in A levels. 12 essay questions of which wide range topics spanning over Religion, Science, Politics, Arts etc, many students who do not increase their knowledge in those areas panic and usually choose the only question enquiring about your opinion on a certain situation in Singapore. Such questions range from the education system to social policies in Singapore.
Students who choose such questions are usually (not always, but usually) the first to go.
My JC teacher once remarked that the utterly sad thing about students is that while residing in Singapore, they seem to be clueless about what is really going on in the country. Be it their Secondary school, political system, (let me emphasize that Singapore is in no way a democracy. We are a republic and so is America. Big difference but little distinction has been made), etc.
As students have little content in their heads, they draw content from their immediate reality and do not reflect critically on it. Unfortunately our immediate reality is swamped with government rhetoric and the students proceed to parrot about the dominant narrative in their essays.
When asked to reflect critically about the education system in Singapore, my ex-JC student gave me a disjointed account of the streaming system in Primary schools. I felt like I was reading a brochure from MOE. Essays praise the cleanliness of Singapore when it is the cleaning contractors, not the civic behaviour of Singaporeans, that we are supposed to give thanks to.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have students airing trivial grievances.
Thing is that, problems we have in Singapore are prevalent in other countries and a lot less severe. Framing grievances in an uncritical way portray students as spoilt brats.
Airing about the stressful and rigid education system in Singapore does not give the students brownie points, especially when other countries in the region like China have it worse. And there is a reason why despite the touting of Western educational methods, the educational system in America is on very shaky ground. The infamous rigid selection criteria of “basing only on grades” for civil servant jobs is practiced not only in Singapore, but in any country whose government operates as a bureaucracy (isn’t that almost every country?).
I have heard the counter argument that since grading of papers is located in Europe, students should write about topics concerning Singapore as the European markers may not be familiar with the situation in Singapore.
I shall commence laughter here.
(Weak thought structure is an even greater problem, but the scope of this essay does not allow me for further elaboration)
Shallow arguments show little maturity in thinking and it reflects very badly on the students. In fact, in my JC days, the Cambridge report explicitly stated that the students exhibited “schizophrenic” tendencies in their essays.
(Schizophrenic: a severe mental disorder characterized by some, but not necessarily all, of the following features: emotional blunting, intellectual deterioration, social isolation, disorganized speech and behavior, delusions, and hallucinations)
Tips for expository / argumentative writing
Fiction writing requires plot and a decent level of vocab. Some students may find expository a lot easier. At the very least, they are able to write something.
I can’t deny that logic. Rather write something than nothing at all.
However as mentioned earlier, I have never done a single O level expository. After living through A levels and University, it is inevitable that I view the standards for O level expository as seriously insufficient. But I am refraining myself from unleashing a tsunami of dos and don’ts for General Paper essays due to irrelevance. In addition, unlike A level essays, I don’t have any O level expository essays that I can cite examples from. The list of tips I am offering is very, very short for my tips are catered towards A levels (thus omitting a great deal of them in this article). I seek for your understanding. I would suggest that students mail me a sample of their essays for more relevant and effective diagnosis.
Why I am not offering tips on content: Maturity of thinking largely stems from the conscious effort on the individual’s part to self-reflect, think and read. I can’t teach students what to argue. As an educator, I can’t impose my views on my students. I can only provide students the materials to stimulate them to think. Moreover, the materials I have are catered towards General Paper, not O level expository.
IMPT: Essay stand MUST be located in the first paragraph. Not in the second, nor the third, nor the last.
Every introduction comprises of 2 to 3 components:
- Introduction of intended essay structure (optional, can be merged with stand)
IMPT: If possible, a student should introduce how he/she intends to structure the essay immediately after stating his/her stand.
I lifted this example from the O level Ten Year Series answer scheme:
O level 2008 Paper 1 Q4 Television, newspapers and the internet – which of these do young people prefer as a source of information and why?
“Information overload!”So goes the common complaint due to the constant flood of data bombarding the common person in this day and age. Yet, ‘knowledge is power; information is still sought to keep abreast with the times. The television, newspapers, and Internet are common mediums via which information is obtained. However, which of these three is the preferred choice of most youths?
Therefore, with the control it affords, easy accessibility, and the interactive nature of the Internet, it is the clear choice of most youths.
For some reason, the answer scheme placed the stand in the concluding paragraph. The introduction is entirely made up of elaboration with no stand and/nor introduction of intended essay structure. That is a big no-no.
What should be in the introduction:
XXX (Elaboration) XXXX The Internet is the preferred choice of most youths. (Stand) In this essay, I shall demonstrate that youths favour the Internet due to the allure of individual empowerment, ease of accessibility and interactive nature.(Introduction of intended essay structure)
I know there are many styles of writing. But as a student who is weak in expository, you have to live by one basic principle – your thought process has be CLEAR and thus understandable. Even you have complex ideas, as long as the student organizes his/her thoughts well, presentation of ideas will be simple. Regardless of the high level of content maturity, an examiner’s inability to understand an essay will warrant an immediate failure. While the essay structure I have presented is the simplest form of presentation, it is based on academic writing in University - the highest standard there is to writing argumentative essays.
Please try NOT to imitate the essay structure (not content) of model essays. A fair number of model essays, especially for A levels, boast complex essay structure all while maintaining simplicity in understanding. When students imitate them, they might end up with utterly scrambled thought structure and ease of understanding becomes non-existent.
- Taking a stand by “Agreeing/disagreeing to a certain/small/large extend”
- Do note that this is flawed and absolutely FORBIDDEN in A levels.
- Unfortunately, this expression is deemed as the norm in O levels. It surfaces in all humanities and language-based essays.
- I have a lot to say about this but since it is the norm in O levels, I won’t elaborate further on this point.
- The “One shall” horror
- The thought of expository leads many students to attempt to speak philosophically. They will write things like “One will be led astray by the influences of the internet”. My Secondary 4 classmates’ maiden attempts at grandeur by including this horror into their first expository essays blew up in their faces.
- This is NOT even accepted in O levels. If you wish to speak about people in general, substitute ‘one’ with ‘the individual’ (not the ‘person’).
- Your brand of philosophy
- Everyone has an opinion, but some are more valued than others.
- Unfortunately, the opinions of students are located at the bottom of the food chain, in particular students with little maturity of thought.
- In order to give your argument more weight, you have to cite sources of authority. These sources come in 2 forms: (a) statistics (b) theories/arguments/examples forwarded by accredited individuals of status.
About me & my teaching preference
A brief history of my journey in English learning is in order.
My Upper Primary English grades hovered at a constant 60. English at the Primary School level was dead boring with a capital ‘B’. Language and comprehension were the main culprits. I went totally brain dead during grammar lessons.
Come Secondary School and my grades plunged into the red. Remained largely unsalvageable for the next 3.5 years, save for a crucial semester or two.
Comprehension became the bane of my life. Essay writing was unheard of.
Months before O levels, my tuition teacher made me write my first essay from a stack of past year questions (2003 O level Paper 1 Q3) (excluding essays from CAs and SAs) in my entire Secondary school life.
It took me days of agonizing effort to present her with a feast of grammar styles - ranging from past to present to past perfect to present perfect to etc – and shoddy vocab within a piece of paper that spanned no more than 400 words. It was enough to drive anyone over the edge – including me.
Upon gaining an abrupt realisation that I was going to be very, very dead unless immediate action was taken, I began devising ways to reap short-term, instant improvements in my essay writing. I tracked down my reading material – I had been reading fanfiction for nearly 2 years then – and started to seriously consider it as my remedy to my lousy essay writing skill.
I saw the light and the rest was history.
Ever since my O levels, I delved into the art of essay writing. In addition, I have developed a personal interest in determining the predictability of essay questions (especially O level essay questions). I began looking at copies of essays by underperforming students, buying touted essay books to find any useful information for essay writing predictability. A month back, I trotted to The Alternate Story and bought that touted essay book to discover the hype about it. My mom was raising eyebrows when I came home with a book targeted at Primary School students. Granted, it was a little pricey but anything is a valued resource in my “research”. If you are interested in contributing essays of any level to aid my little hobby, feel free to contact me. *laughs*
I don’t teach at any tuition center nor am I a full-time tuition teacher. I only teach tuition when my schedule permits. I am currently on the brink of graduation. Tomorrow, I will be entering the working world.
As many know, I teach students from Primary School to JC. I provide all rounded enrichment (going beyond composition) for Primary School students. As a side note, I only teach Primary 3 to 5 students. After teaching that Primary 2 student of mine, I realised that Primary 1 and 2 students requires proper foundational work. Learning shortcuts through tuition at such a young age is definitely not the way to go.
On the other hand, I only focus on Paper 1 (mainly essay writing) for Secondary and JC students. Comprehension is not my forte. Some have voiced concerns that my lack of focus on Paper 2 might not appeal to many Secondary or JC students. Apparently, their concerns are unfounded. There are a lot of students who fare better in comprehension than composition. I just happen to be the opposite.
I only teach underperforming students. (As much as I detested it, the only form of quantitative measurement for underperformance was failure in grades.) It came as a surprise to some when my preference was known. While some educators prefer to teach the brilliant bunch, I target those who fell through the cracks of the system. Given my journey in education, I found that I could understand the frustrations and perspectives of underperforming students. In addition, I deem greater satisfaction and challenge from teaching them.
Due to the amount of attention required by the students, tuition is highly intensive and time-consuming in nature. As such, the number of students I have taught is extremely low. While I have taught group tuition in the past, having 1 student per year is commonplace. Thus in situations where I have multiple tuition requests – as evident in the past months – my preference will lie towards student(s) in dire state(s).
Those who usually top the priority list are severely underperforming students who are:
- Taking their O levels that very year
- In JCs
- Repeat students
- Unable to see improvements despite extensive parental guidance and tuition aid
Some have pointed out that my preference is biased against “average” students who wish to perform better. I totally agree and even foresee that these “average” students might absorb and apply my teachings even more effectively. However, my packed agenda does not provide the luxury of teaching many students. Moreover, there are very few avenues in society for those who fall behind.
Reason for future unavailability
The term “underperforming” students is a broad label that encompasses many degrees of underperformance due to different root causes in students. Some students underperform despite their solid grasp of the language due to their inability to study smart. Some just require a nudge in the right direction. Some have extremely shoddy foundation which severely hinders their ability to perform on the higher level.
And some have special needs that require special education.
Every since I joined KS forum half a year ago, the issue of special needs children popped onto my radar. I realised that to achieve my objective of teaching underperforming students, I have to learn how to teach those with special needs. With that, I applied and thankfully got accepted as a trainee teacher for dyslexics. So in some ways, I should thank KS forum for my career choice.
In view of my potentially packed schedule and heavy workload, I will stop teaching tuition for at least a few years. My current student will be the last student I will have in a long while. I am unsure how to notify parents of my availability for tuition then but I will think about that when the time comes. Hopefully by then, I will be able to teach a wider range of underperforming students including dyslexics. But feel free to contact me if you have any enquiries, though I can’t promise you that my reply will be speedy.