Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Homeschooling in Malaysia

Homeschooling is Malaysia is catching on as a cheap alternative to international schooling. This is so wrong..

Homeschooling is a culture. There MUST be active involvement of parents. In my opinion, homeschooling a learner with learning difficulties is a just and fair alternative option. This is because learners with difficulties cannot cope with the rigour and pace of Asian academic environments where the focus is on how many A's a child scores. Even when schools offer learning support or claim to offer it, learners with difficulties never achieve their maximum potentials because very little is done to actually cater to their learning and educational needs. Parents gain the most from having their children with difficulties in a mainstream school! They gain the illusion that their child is normally functioning and in mainstream school.

Now, let me justify what I say.

When a learner is struggling in the mainstream system, they loose confidence, they loose friends, children are taught from a young age to pick their friends. Kids form cliques in school - the cool kids, the smart kids, and the kids in special education!! Learners with difficulties get excluded from group activities and social activities. They barely cope with the academic load and many mainstream teachers are not happy about making special allowances for one learner. As the demands increase the grades decrease, and now the learner starts to feel the gap in their abilities versus that of their peers.

IN a homeschool environment, typically, each child is allowed to progress at their own rate. Some centres also offer further tailoring of material and content to meet educational needs of learners with difficulties. Some even offer intervention for Cognitive skills alongside formal learning, and activities that help train gross motor skills, teach self control and exercise. One such provision is the one, I run, Sri Rafelsia. We have been successful with our programmes and our learners gained lost self esteem, learnt skills that they could not learn anywhere else and gained knowledge! BUT, the most important factor that separates Sri Rafelsia from the other provisions is that we keep the total enrolment to a maximum of 10 learners. We never take on more. HOMESCHOOL - the environment should resemble home - how many homes have 25 kids and 5 classrooms in built??

Homeschool can also benefit children whose aptitude lies in sports, music or other non academic area. While education is necessary and literacy and numeracy are pre requisites, some children are simply more inclined to focus on music or gymnastics or badminton! Again, homeschooling fits in beautifully for this purpose. It can be done at any time, tailored around training schedules and yet progress still made.

Dysgraphia and other specific learning difficulties

Dysgraphia is a difficulty is forming letters and handwriting in general. Learners with dysgraphia generally show less interest in activities that involve pencils and paper. Some early signs like poor grip and an inability to stack blocks or pick up small objects would usually have been observed.

This is why it is very important to play with children and observe for any possible difficulties they face. These difficulties are more easily corrected at a young age than when they are older. If not addressed early, this can lead to more complex problems later on especially when these children grow and the demands of handwriting become more. Some other later signs include poor penmanship skills, poor ability to take notes, make notes, write essays etc.

If you notice any of these difficulties in your children, you should take active action not assume that it will disappear by itself.

Dysgraphia sometimes also coexists with dyslexia and dyscalculia. So a difficulty in learning to read and understanding mathematical concepts might be another sign to look out for. If you child finds it difficult to understand how vertical addition works, even though you have taught it to them numerous times and the tuition teacher has done it over and over again too, then, realising that it is a learning difficulty is important.

Parents tend to think that a learning difficulty can be remedied with tuition classes. Tuition classes aim to re-teach the pre-existing syllabus. Intervention and learning support focus on the learner and they set of cognitive deficits rather than the syllabus. The problem is not the content of the syllabus - the problems lies with how a learner is processing information. That process needs to be "fixed". You can keep on and on re-teaching but it the receiving end is faulty, nothing is going to "stick" no matter how many times u re-teach it. Teaching and re-teaching is the role of a tuition teacher. So the best tuition teacher is NOT going to be able to help.

You need intervention not tuition for the learner / child.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Building EMPATHY in children: Teaching "grace, courtesy & gratitude"

While it seems like a given, many adults forget the importance of being gracious, courteous and grateful. This leads to all sorts of problems in our daily interactions and relationships with others and with love ones.

Teaching our young these skills is necessary and will also remind us of the importance of being gracious, courteous and grateful. It is quite easy to accomplish too - I am grateful that the sun came up and I got up this morning but what is difficult is remembering to do it. Each day, we can spend a few moments, talking about what we are grateful for, and how many times, we practiced graciousness when it was easier to just be nasty.

Once this culture is built in the home and in school, it will surely bring about positive changes in ourselves and in our younger generation. Again, it requires, consistency, and constant repetition and cannot be accomplished in just one day.

Maintaining positive mental health is a process, a journey. It requires reflection and discipline to maintain. One must work at it daily - just like brushing your teeth or showering to maintain hygiene!

Three things I am grateful for today:
1) That I woke up and finished this blog entry
2) I can smile and know that however my life changes next week, I am going to be fine and happy
3)  The ability to choose to not get angry today and instead choose happiness.

What are you grateful for today?

Friday, August 19, 2016

Building EMPATHY in children: Teaching "sharing"

Until the age of 6 years, children are egocentric at varying levels. And that is just nature, not much parents or teachers can do about it. This is the stage where the word of the month is "MINE!", phrase of the month is "THIS.. MINE!" especially with the 2-4 year olds.

However, in my classroom, I have successfully promoted sharing using a few simple and effective steps. I will share my favourite technique. Modelling. If you want a child to do something, they must first experience it - therefore, the parents or teachers  have to model it. This means, you have to be actively interacting with the child - hands on play. Use simple language to accompany the action. (if you want details of language used, pls PM me). The language should complement the action not over shadow it. After a few times, see if the child is now willing to reciprocate. Bear in mind that with children, you cannot expect to just do this activity once and expect them to "get it"! The key is consistency and repetition. Best part is, parents and teachers can use this methods very effectively across both environments - home and school.

Once the child is ready to share with an adult, then and only then, can you attempt to facilitate the same with peers and siblings. Bear in mind peers and siblings may well be in the same developmental stage and therefore, resist having to share..:)

But emphasizing the act of sharing should be part of school and home culture, ideally. As children get older, then, fading the augmentation of the act of sharing can be done. Sometimes, adults need reminding too, and in my experience, highlighting a few acts of sharing can be useful even in adult relationships.

Look out for the next quality that flows naturally from sharing - grace and courtesy..

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Building EMPATHY in children: Teaching "kindness"

In a world where chaos and hatred seem to be reigning, I agree that it is the responsibility of all of us to bring about peace. It is a process. Let's start with teaching the younger generation how to be peaceful through kindness.

As educators and parents, it is our responsibility to teach our children to be kind. To do this effectively, we must lead by example. Show kindness. Be kind. Children learn by watching. They internalize what they witness and experience.

At home, we can start by being kind to one another. Practicing saying "thank you" or " you look wonderful today" or "can I help you with that?" are simple steps towards building a culture of kindness.

At dinner time, as the family sits down together, why not highlight acts of kindness that was shown or experienced during the day. Simple conversation but important and useful.

In the school setting, teachers can also contribute to this culture of being kind to one another. As part of the daily routine, in younger classrooms, teachers can build a "kindness chart" where children can freely go and place a sticker against the name of another child who has displayed an act of kindness. To self monitor, the teacher can have his/her name on the chart too and it will amaze you to see what children actually notice about the level of kindness of a teacher.

At the end of the week, a small discussion surrounding the issue of kindness can be carried out where the teacher can facilitate the exploration of emotions. I find that these days, we are almost afraid to explore feelings beyond the surface "are you happy or sad?" within the classroom environment.

If we can start with the building of kindness from a young age, I truly believe that it will have a profound effect on children's emotional growth in the long term. We not be able to change the whole world but we can start by changing one child at a time...

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The adult with high functioning Dyspraxia

I had an interesting experience a few weeks ago. A semi-diagnosed adult with  a very high functioning specific learning difficulty possibly even SpLD that was commorbid! I can't be sure because the person was not assessed. I was intrigued 10 minutes into the conversation.

Difficulties with planning thoughts and then sequencing them prior to executing them verbally can be a challenge for some people. Have you ever met someone who can talk about 20 different things in a span of 10 minutes and you find your head just reeling?

Imagine 15 thoughts running through your mind every minute, so fast that you cant even figure out which comes first, second or third. And there you are stuck in a board room with 8 other people who seem to have it all under control. What do you do? Before you can stop to think, there is a question thrown your way.. so whatever thought is running through your mind at that point becomes your focus - even if it is irrelevant! The rest of room frowns and looks at you and you have very little idea of why they seem, uhh... "blurr"!

When the thoughts are going and going, it is easy for these individuals to loose focus on a specific point at hand.It is also difficult for them to draw conclusions because they find it difficult to control the speed of thought. Little planning exists with people like this. Often, they present and are, impulsive, and act on the spur of the moment, having to live with regret later on. Sometimes, it goes well and it pays off but typically, huge problems can arise as a result.

That is just a day in the life of someone with dyspraxia!!

Make no mistake.. these individuals make great CEOs if you can keep up with them. They are by no means lesser in IQ than the next person RATHER, you need to have a high IQ in order to keep up! My question is, who needs the help here? The individual who runs at 150 mph in thought processing or the others who cant keep up with the sheer speed!?

The solution?

Get help!! If you know an adult with these characteristics, advice them to seek help from a professional who can diagnose and then work with them on overcoming the difficulties. An active hands on approach to intervention works best for adults with dyspraxia.

This is one end of dyspraxia - the high functioning end. There is the other end of the spectrum.. where difficulties with thoughts are so serious that these individuals highest potentials are never achieved. Look out for the next article on that.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Sensory Integration Therapy in Malaysia

I am just wondering why in Malaysia, parents of learners with specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia, put them into Sensory Integration programmes? Dyslexics typically do not have difficulties with integrating various textures, sounds and smells etc. They just need help with reading and processing print. Just because some dyslexics have directionality problems, that they need sensory integration. If  the child has

While the research on Sensory Integration Therapy is sketchy and controversial, in other countries, it is a form of therapy used on children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Some studies have shown some changes in the way learners with ASD react to sensorial stimuli after a few weeks of therapy and some others not.

Parents, please understand that SIT is typically carried out by qualified Occupational Therapists. By qualified I mean someone who has studied to postgraduate level. In Malaysia, hardly any of the so called Sensory Integration therapists have any relevant qualification. A graduate in psychology or education, cannot run sensory integration therapy programmes.

Unless parents become more aware of the importance of going to provisions where properly trained and qualified staff are at hand, your childrens' futures are still in jeopardy. Stop getting taken in by "quick fixes" and "miracle cures".

Friday, July 22, 2016

A NEW "fad" in special education, Malaysia

A few days ago, I received a call from a total stranger who was trying to introduce me to "their new product" --- Special Education intervention ONLINE!!!! What is next? Perhaps, I can call up my car manufacturer and ask them to service my car ONLINE too! It's the same level of logic.

Parents, please be aware of quacks and cons in the field of special education. Someone who has a degree in banking and a Masters in Special Education is NOT a specialist of any kind. Would you go to someone for medical intervention if they told you that they have a degree in LAW and a MASTERS in Surgery??Again... it's the came rationale.

The field of special education in Malaysia is at an all time low because there is little legislation to protect and preserve the integrity of the profession.

And, please know.. that in special education, very very seldom is there a "cure" because having special educational needs is not a disease.  It's about the way the person is made up and how best to cater to the deficits and multiple facets that shape individual differences in special education.

Dyslexia does not go away, neither Autism or Down's Syndrome. ADHD and ADD can be controlled by medical intervention but to assume it can "disappear" is unreal. You can loose weight, or stop a headache but u can't make a learning difficulties go away for good.

Intervention changes over time as well. Obviously one cannot teach a 6 year old how to make notes if they are dyslexic Making notes is a skill that is introduced and taught at a later stage in academic life say around 13 - 15years old. You cannot assume that just because you have provided one year of intervention that that learner will no longer face any difficulties even at a later stage.

Something for Malaysian parents to ponder and reflect on. Be realistic.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Inclusion: Placing Learners with SEN in the mainstream classroom

Does inclusion truly work in our context, in Malaysia?

Looking at our system of teacher education, very few students offer subjects in special education during teacher training. So there is little to no awareness about learning difficulties or issues surrounding learning difficulties. This is within the government sector ( which many parents choose to complain about).

Now, lets look at the private education sector and their set of teachers - if at all trained even! Many "teachers" in International and private schools are not even "trained teachers"!! Just because you have taught tuition classes for 3 years, that does not make a person a qualified teacher! BUT, the same parents seem happy with this. Now, what background or understanding do you think a "non-teacher" is going to have about learning difficulties or issues surrounding Special education?

Back to the learner with special educational needs.. are they truly going to be better off within a mainstream system? Is placing them in a private or international school the best option, the best way for them to achieve their highest potentials? Or is it the best option for parents to feel that their child with learning difficulties is now "normalised"?

I do not understand how parents make decisions about this issue..I would think, if the priority is to educate, then inclusion in Malaysia is not the best option especially within the private and international school sector.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Reading and Spelling difficulties

Intervention for reading and spelling run hand in hand and there are specific ways of attacking the issues. Again, a one-size-fits- all approach generally will work only in 50% of the cases. The best way is to have your child assessed properly, and then commence a reading or spelling programme.

Learning to read involves so much more then just learning phonics. If phonics instruction was the only solution to reading problems, then, the world would not have to deal with struggling readers at all!  With phonics instruction, the methodology is important too. Its not just about making your child go through a Phonic series - popular ones in Malaysia are Peter & Jane and some other off-the rack workbook series.

There are a series of processes involved in learning to read effectively and typically, it will take 12 - 18 months to go from no reading to being able to read independently. Any other rushed methods like 6 week crash courses and 3 month reading programmes will not be effective as most of these will advocate reading by rote.

Very often, parents ask me why no improvement and its been 3 months other teachers are promising reading in 1 or 2 months. Sure, they will to make a few dollars. Be patient, research reading as a skill and you will better understand why reading instruction must be structured and never rushed.

Spelling is closely tied in to the reading ability. If reading was rushed and forced and taught by rote, then spelling will lag way behind. If reading instruction is effective, then the learner will learn to read and spell simultaneously. While it is easier for a child to read on sight, it is not easy to spell on sight. This is a pointer that the reading programme is not effective.

If you child can read, "mat, cat and bat" then, they should also be able to spell the same without difficulties and also be able to spell " sat, rat and hat" without having to be taught them explicitly.