Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Switch to holistic assessment may add pressure on students

Lye Kok Leong For The Straits Times


Government's plan to change current methods of assessment to reduce emphasis on academic achievement may be undermined by the fact that Singaporeans will adapt to compete on whatever terms they are given

The winds of change are blowing hard against the Singaporean obsession with examination results that deprives the young of their childhood and propagates despair in society's pressure-cooker environment.
In April, the Ministry of Education (MOE) announced that the aggregate score for the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) will be scrapped, and replaced with wider scoring bands from 2021. This will be similar to grading at O and A levels.
The current system involves working out a child's aggregate T-score based on component subject scores - English, Mother Tongue, mathematics and science - weighted against the range of scores within each cohort.
The MOE has also hinted that it will review the Direct School Admission (DSA) scheme to realign it with its original intent, presumably to recognise achievements and talents in specific areas instead of general academic ability.
The DSA scheme has been criticised for evolving into a channel for students to secure places in sought-after Integrated Programme schools whose students bypass O levels. Some parents also try to boost their kids' chances by sending them for DSA preparation classes and enrichment programmes.
The PSLE review was first announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in 2013. It is meant to reduce the overemphasis on academic results and allow students more time and space to develop holistically.

The writer wonders whether pushing a child to be master of the academic domain plus a just-in-case discretionary admission talent domain, such as ballet (above), is too much for a five-year-old. This, he fears, may be the unintended consequence of th
The writer wonders whether pushing a child to be master of the academic domain plus a just-in-case discretionary admission talent domain, such as ballet (above), is too much for a five-year-old. This, he fears, may be the unintended consequence of the holistic assessment approach. ST FILE PHOTO

Hence, the envisioned brave new world is one where the child can be "holistically assessed" from primary school all the way through to tertiary institutions. Presumably, this relieves the competitive pressure our children face within the school system.
Will it work?
Children go to school to learn and to grow into well-rounded individuals capable of critical thought and self-directed innovation more relevant to today's rapidly changing, technology- driven, globally connected world. Clearly, what Singapore desires of its future talent pool derives more from the Western philosophical "complete student" model, than the traditional East Asian "hardworking student" model of education.
Yet, against this ostensible rejection of obsessive competition, there is no acknowledgement of one fundamental fact - that Singapore is a competitive society. We compete for houses, cars, jobs, seats on MRT trains, the latest giveaways at fast-food restaurants.
It is in the very fabric of the country's culture, as it is in many other competitive societies globally. Strip away all the layers of philosophical, social and political advocacy, and the unvarnished kernel that remains is that Singaporeans will adapt to compete on whatever terms they are given.
Such is the very spirit that pushed the nation's forefathers onto these shores three or four generations ago. Would it therefore be surprising that holistic assessment increases, rather than relieves, pressure on students? Does "holistic" education correlate directly with holistic competition?
GAMING THE SYSTEM
No policy can underestimate the power of the obsessive-compulsive, hyper-competitive parent. This acknowledgement is built into each policy pronouncement. The caricature of the kiasu parent "gaming the system" at every level, from pre-school through to university, is common knowledge.
The MOE's tweaks to primary school registration rules and secondary school posting rules are all designed to defeat the resourcefulness and ingenuity of parents who will pull every string and extract every advantage they can to get their kids into that one elite school.
That some have crossed the line into the realm of "abusing the system" and been publicly vilified is simply a stark reminder of the high-stakes, competitive system in which parents are constantly pushing against the boundaries of the regime. The parental obsession with elite schools is unlikely to wither away, no matter how often the "Every school is a good school" ideal is reiterated by policymakers.
A prototypical parent's first experience with "holistic assessment" would be when her child reaches the Primary 6 critical-year juncture.
Peer pressure to participate in the DSA-Sec scheme - an admission exercise allowing secondary schools to select some Primary 6 students for Secondary 1 based on their achievements and talents before PSLE results are released - derives from two sources. Precocious 12-year-olds clamour to try because all their friends in school are going for it. Parents, conditioned to endless strategising when it comes to getting their kids into the right schools since kindergarten, exert immense pressure on each other to give their children a no-downside, pre-emptive chance to gain admission to an elite school.
Recent policy changes thrusting the concept of discretionary admissions into public consciousness would, arguably, increase, and not decrease, this peer pressure. Yet, what is conspicuously missing is an understanding of the basic mechanics of "holistic assessment".
How does a candidate project her talent, dedication and social consciousness in an application? Almost universally, institutions here and abroad use some combination of standardised (aptitude/ reasoning) tests, personal portfolio/statements, and interviews to screen and select candidates. Despite protestations from admissions officers, all these elements require skill and technique in their conception and assembly.
When schools do not teach their students how to skilfully create, project and articulate the personas that admissions officers are looking for, parents seek out commercial vendors who can gain an immeasurable advantage for their kids.
Astute parents understand that the ability to craft strong personal brand statements which seize the imagination of an admissions officer sifting through a sea of sterling candidate applications is a skill that will bring their kids all the way to postgraduate school.
Deep in my heart, I know that "holistic assessment" will drive parents to add "talent development" to students' workloads, instead of realising the policy goal of reducing the pressure and stress faced by students.
Forward-looking parents know that training kids in the art of interviewing wins that coveted civil service scholarship, internship or top job.
From a personal parental perspective, I view "holistic assessment" with admittedly cynical trepidation. I fear the uncertainty of a system where a child feels the need to become competitive beyond grades.
How do I tell my child in pre-school to prepare for a world where she is expected not just to be the master of her academic subjects, but also to outperform 90 per cent of her peers in sailing, or ballet, or whatever "talent" I must discover, nurture, and groom in the next couple of years before it becomes too late to train her to the requisite level? I wonder whether pushing a child to be master of the academic domain plus a just-in-case discretionary admission talent domain is too much for a five-year-old.
Deep in my heart, I know that "holistic assessment" will drive parents to add "talent development" to students' workloads, instead of realising the policy goal of reducing the pressure and stress faced by students.
Most of all, I wonder how fair and meritocratic it is for an educational system to systematically reward those who have spent $50,000 pursuing music as a "talent" from age four, when the educational system itself offers students no violins, no violin teachers, and no access to the ABRSM (Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music) grading certificates schools ask for.
•The writer is co-founder of a tutorial school and the author of Decoding DSA: The Ultimate Parental Guide To Success In Direct School Admission (2016). He is a father of four children aged five to 13.

http://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/switch-to-holistic-assessment-may-add-pressure-on-students

Switch to holistic assessment may add pressure on students

Lye Kok Leong For The Straits Times


Government's plan to change current methods of assessment to reduce emphasis on academic achievement may be undermined by the fact that Singaporeans will adapt to compete on whatever terms they are given

The winds of change are blowing hard against the Singaporean obsession with examination results that deprives the young of their childhood and propagates despair in society's pressure-cooker environment.
In April, the Ministry of Education (MOE) announced that the aggregate score for the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) will be scrapped, and replaced with wider scoring bands from 2021. This will be similar to grading at O and A levels.
The current system involves working out a child's aggregate T-score based on component subject scores - English, Mother Tongue, mathematics and science - weighted against the range of scores within each cohort.
The MOE has also hinted that it will review the Direct School Admission (DSA) scheme to realign it with its original intent, presumably to recognise achievements and talents in specific areas instead of general academic ability.
The DSA scheme has been criticised for evolving into a channel for students to secure places in sought-after Integrated Programme schools whose students bypass O levels. Some parents also try to boost their kids' chances by sending them for DSA preparation classes and enrichment programmes.
The PSLE review was first announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in 2013. It is meant to reduce the overemphasis on academic results and allow students more time and space to develop holistically.
The writer wonders whether pushing a child to be master of the academic domain plus a just-in-case discretionary admission talent domain, such as ballet (above), is too much for a five-year-old. This, he fears, may be the unintended consequence of th
The writer wonders whether pushing a child to be master of the academic domain plus a just-in-case discretionary admission talent domain, such as ballet (above), is too much for a five-year-old. This, he fears, may be the unintended consequence of the holistic assessment approach. ST FILE PHOTO
Hence, the envisioned brave new world is one where the child can be "holistically assessed" from primary school all the way through to tertiary institutions. Presumably, this relieves the competitive pressure our children face within the school system.
Will it work?
Children go to school to learn and to grow into well-rounded individuals capable of critical thought and self-directed innovation more relevant to today's rapidly changing, technology- driven, globally connected world. Clearly, what Singapore desires of its future talent pool derives more from the Western philosophical "complete student" model, than the traditional East Asian "hardworking student" model of education.
Yet, against this ostensible rejection of obsessive competition, there is no acknowledgement of one fundamental fact - that Singapore is a competitive society. We compete for houses, cars, jobs, seats on MRT trains, the latest giveaways at fast-food restaurants.
It is in the very fabric of the country's culture, as it is in many other competitive societies globally. Strip away all the layers of philosophical, social and political advocacy, and the unvarnished kernel that remains is that Singaporeans will adapt to compete on whatever terms they are given.
Such is the very spirit that pushed the nation's forefathers onto these shores three or four generations ago. Would it therefore be surprising that holistic assessment increases, rather than relieves, pressure on students? Does "holistic" education correlate directly with holistic competition?
GAMING THE SYSTEM
No policy can underestimate the power of the obsessive-compulsive, hyper-competitive parent. This acknowledgement is built into each policy pronouncement. The caricature of the kiasu parent "gaming the system" at every level, from pre-school through to university, is common knowledge.
The MOE's tweaks to primary school registration rules and secondary school posting rules are all designed to defeat the resourcefulness and ingenuity of parents who will pull every string and extract every advantage they can to get their kids into that one elite school.
That some have crossed the line into the realm of "abusing the system" and been publicly vilified is simply a stark reminder of the high-stakes, competitive system in which parents are constantly pushing against the boundaries of the regime. The parental obsession with elite schools is unlikely to wither away, no matter how often the "Every school is a good school" ideal is reiterated by policymakers.
A prototypical parent's first experience with "holistic assessment" would be when her child reaches the Primary 6 critical-year juncture.
Peer pressure to participate in the DSA-Sec scheme - an admission exercise allowing secondary schools to select some Primary 6 students for Secondary 1 based on their achievements and talents before PSLE results are released - derives from two sources. Precocious 12-year-olds clamour to try because all their friends in school are going for it. Parents, conditioned to endless strategising when it comes to getting their kids into the right schools since kindergarten, exert immense pressure on each other to give their children a no-downside, pre-emptive chance to gain admission to an elite school.
Recent policy changes thrusting the concept of discretionary admissions into public consciousness would, arguably, increase, and not decrease, this peer pressure. Yet, what is conspicuously missing is an understanding of the basic mechanics of "holistic assessment".
How does a candidate project her talent, dedication and social consciousness in an application? Almost universally, institutions here and abroad use some combination of standardised (aptitude/ reasoning) tests, personal portfolio/statements, and interviews to screen and select candidates. Despite protestations from admissions officers, all these elements require skill and technique in their conception and assembly.
When schools do not teach their students how to skilfully create, project and articulate the personas that admissions officers are looking for, parents seek out commercial vendors who can gain an immeasurable advantage for their kids.
Astute parents understand that the ability to craft strong personal brand statements which seize the imagination of an admissions officer sifting through a sea of sterling candidate applications is a skill that will bring their kids all the way to postgraduate school.
Deep in my heart, I know that "holistic assessment" will drive parents to add "talent development" to students' workloads, instead of realising the policy goal of reducing the pressure and stress faced by students.
Forward-looking parents know that training kids in the art of interviewing wins that coveted civil service scholarship, internship or top job.
From a personal parental perspective, I view "holistic assessment" with admittedly cynical trepidation. I fear the uncertainty of a system where a child feels the need to become competitive beyond grades.
How do I tell my child in pre-school to prepare for a world where she is expected not just to be the master of her academic subjects, but also to outperform 90 per cent of her peers in sailing, or ballet, or whatever "talent" I must discover, nurture, and groom in the next couple of years before it becomes too late to train her to the requisite level? I wonder whether pushing a child to be master of the academic domain plus a just-in-case discretionary admission talent domain is too much for a five-year-old.
Deep in my heart, I know that "holistic assessment" will drive parents to add "talent development" to students' workloads, instead of realising the policy goal of reducing the pressure and stress faced by students.
Most of all, I wonder how fair and meritocratic it is for an educational system to systematically reward those who have spent $50,000 pursuing music as a "talent" from age four, when the educational system itself offers students no violins, no violin teachers, and no access to the ABRSM (Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music) grading certificates schools ask for.
•The writer is co-founder of a tutorial school and the author of Decoding DSA: The Ultimate Parental Guide To Success In Direct School Admission (2016). He is a father of four children aged five to 13.

http://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/switch-to-holistic-assessment-may-add-pressure-on-students

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Top Ten Tips for Good Piano Posture - Hoffman Academy

Playing the piano is so much more than just picking out notes on the keys. Sound, look, and feel your best by following these tips for good piano posture. Click here for a pdf of this handy piano posture chart that you can print out and keep with your lesson materials.
piano-posture-infographic(2)

1. FIND THE RIGHT FINGER SHAPE

To find the right finger shape for playing the piano, try putting your relaxed hand on your thigh and sliding it forward over your knee. Notice how your fingers naturally curve around your knee cap. Keep your fingers in that position as you lift your hand, and set it on the keyboard to play. Another trick is to cup both hands together as if you were holding a small, delicate baby chick. Now, keeping that finger shape, rotate your hands so they are palm down, and you’re ready to play the piano.

2. WATCH YOUR THUMBS

Unlike the other fingers, the thumb should not be curved when it plays the piano. Keep it straight but loose. When using the thumb to play the piano, just drop it downward. Only the side edge of the thumb, near the tip, should contact the piano key.

3. BALANCE

If your head is not aligned over your body, that’s a lot of weight your back and shoulders have to be holding up! To find the center balance point for your head, gently touch your fingers inside each ear and nod your head up and down, like you are saying, “yes”. This will help you feel where the center point of your head is. That center point should be in line with your shoulders over your hips.

4. USE A FOOT REST

It’s very common for kids to slide forward on the piano bench and sit too close to the keys. To keep this from happening, use a foot stool, a crate, or even a pile of books as a foot rest. Kids will be more comfortable and exhibit better posture at the piano if their feet can rest firmly on something instead of dangling.

5. FIRM FINGERS

Sometimes the end joint of the finger buckles the wrong direction when pressing down on a piano key. This joint should always curve out, not in. One way to practice keeping this joint firm is to place one hand in a curved finger position on a flat surface. Using the pointer finger of the other hand, push gently in on one end joint until it buckles inward. Now try it again, this time resisting the pressure so the curved finger stays rounded out. Remember that these are little muscles we’re dealing with here, so, please, go easy on yourself! Just a little bit of pressure is plenty. I would recommend only doing this exercise with fingers 2, 3, and 4. As you play the piano, make sure your fingers stay nicely curved and don’t buckle.

6. USE GRAVITY

Rather than relying only on finger strength to play a note on the piano, use the whole weight of your arm. To learn how to do this, try pushing the piano bench back a little ways from the piano. Practice holding your arm as if you had the keyboard in front of you, then letting your arm drop into your lap. Feel the natural weight of your arm as it falls limply into your lap. It may help to imagine you are a puppet with just a couple of strings holding your arm up. Someone cuts the strings, and the arm falls heavily and without resistance. After you have tried this with both arms, move the bench back up to the keyboard and, with fingers in curved position, feel your arm fall on each note. The weight of your arm will transfer through your fingers into each key.

7. WRIST ACTION

A flexible, supple wrist will help transfer the weight of your arm into your fingers when you play. With curved fingers already in contact with the keys, allow the wrist to comfortably drop, slightly, as you play a key. After you play the key, then allow the wrist to gently rebound back up, in preparation for the next down stroke. Fingers should stay in contact with the keys as you do this. Sometimes I tell my students to think of the wrist as a trampoline. It starts off level, then you bounce down, and whenever a trampoline goes down, it always rebounds back up! Above all, remember that the wrist should always feel comfortable and relaxed. Don’t force these motions—as I mentioned in the last tip, the trick is to let gravity do the work for you. Think of simply “falling” into each key.

8. ARM ALIGNMENT

When playing the piano, the pinky finger, the wrist, and the elbow should line up in a mostly straight line. Sometimes, especially when playing with both thumbs on Middle C, kids will rotate their hands so their wrists are bent. Try instead to keep the wrists straighter and let the hands turn in toward each other. Keeping the wrist locked at an angle creates tension, which interferes with playing your best.

9. USE YOUR PINKY TIP

The pinky (finger 5) is your shortest and perhaps least muscularly developed finger, so sometimes I see finger 5 “cheating” by lying flat on the key when it plays. The problem with a flat finger 5 is that it collapses your hand position, and it will fail to develop muscular independence and agility in finger 5. Finger 5 should have some curve like all the rest, and only the tip of the pinky should be touching the keys. It’s true that since finger 5 is shorter than your other fingers, it does not necessarily need to curve as much to find a comfortable playing position on the keys. It is important to not tightly “over-curve” the fingers. Remember, the whole point of curved fingers is to find a relaxed, efficient, and comfortable playing posture.

10. SIT AND LEAN

Kids seem to love to slide around on the bench when they play, but this isn’t really a good use of energy. It is better if they sit in one spot and lean if they need to. If an entire piece is played low on the piano, start out sitting to the left on the bench, or if the piece is high, start out on the right. If a piece goes low and high, sit in the middle and lean to reach all the keys. A foot rest can be a big help with this, providing balance and something to push off when leaning.

Happy playing!
Joseph Hoffman


Top Ten Tips for Good Piano Posture - Hoffman Academy:



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