Representing DAS and our respective teams, we had the opportunity of spending 3 full days at NIE/NTU, attending the Educational Research Association of Singapore – Asia Pacific Educational Research Association (ERAS-APERA) International Conference on 12th November to 14th November 2018. In fostering research collaboration, sharing and learning from one another, and networking amongst the international community of educators, researchers and students, the conference explored the theme “Joy of Learning in a Complex World” in addressing the challenges of today.
How do we nurture the joy of learning in our students? What are our beliefs about teaching and the joy of learning?
The ERAS-APERA International Conference serves to address some of these educational issues of concerns typically faced by educators and researchers and seeks to promote educational research, policymaking and educational practices that will be beneficial to the next generation in the 21st century. Although not all the topics shared were relevant to our particular field, we enjoyed a widespread of sharing about teaching and learning in general which ranged from motivation in students to creating conducive learning spaces through architecture, using positive teacher language in the classroom and Dyslexia in Chinese.
We attended several keynote lectures and interesting paper presentations. One of the highlights of the conference was the keynote lecture on Building Autonomous Learners: Perspectives from Self-Determination Theory by Professor John Wang. The presenter introduced the self-determination theory and subsequently shared research studies conducted in Singapore supporting the use of the self-determination theory. He spoke at great length on the effect of motivation and how we could cultivate this in students. He also highlighted the need to create autonomous educators who would, in turn, nurture the joy of learning in students. At the DAS, we work with students who struggle in school and lack motivation. Often extrinsic motivation involving tangible rewards are used to encourage and motivate students so that they can become independent learners. Professor Wang highlighted that these tangible rewards could cause long term negative effects. Thus, the challenge for us would be to understand how we can motivate our students by deploying a balance of tangible rewards and intangible encouragements.
Another keynote speech which we found interesting and relevant was “Helping Students Discover the Joy of Talk” by Professor Christine Goh. She stressed on the importance of the development of oracy which resonated well with us. The value of exploratory talk was shared in detail. Teachers should encourage enjoyable talk in academic contexts such as group discussions, which has the potential to create learning opportunities for students. This goes well with what we advocate at DAS – learning should be interactive and two-way communication. On top of that, it further reassured us of the time we spend discussing topics and exchanging ideas with our students before moving onto “actual work”. We learnt of the wonders of ‘talk’ and this made us ponder – have we spent enough time in our lessons doing discussions; are they quality discussions? Perhaps we need to relook at the “essential” components on what makes a good lesson. Perhaps there could be more time devoted to oracy across the various curriculum. This presentation also cleared the misconception of age limitations in using talk to learn. The common assumption is that only older and more capable students can really benefit and learn through verbal interactions. What surprised us was an example of a conversation Professor Goh shared among a preschooler and his parents. That simple and short conversation truly demonstrated the complexity of developing ‘talk’. It was not simple at all. It was magical!
Last but not in the least important, Associate Professor Liu Woon Chia, another keynote speaker, gave an inspiring speech. Speaking on ‘Preparing Teachers for the Changing Future’, she highlighted that education today needs to progress from one that is ‘content-focused’ to one that underscores guiding and promotes inquiry and discovery, as well as recognizing and acknowledging real-world problems. She conveyed that “teacher training needs to develop professional leaders in the field of education and assume personal responsibility for continuous learning, reflect and think innovatively about their practice, inquire and make informed decisions about the learning needs of their students”. A/P Liu’s speech was inspirational as it made us wonder if we could emulate this at the DAS. While the organisation already has a Staff Professional Development path in place, we wonder how educational therapists can benefit and take greater advantage out of it. Instead of a one-size-fits-all model, can we have educational therapists be responsible for their continuing professional development in the area of special educational needs (SEN) to enable them to make informed decisions of their students’ learning needs? As educational therapists at DAS, we face many challenges working with students who are diagnosed with dyslexia and sometimes, comorbidities. Their learning difficulties can be severe and significant but they may also possess behavioural and social-emotional issues that might require attention before we can effectively provide remediation to them. How then can we train and develop our educational therapists to be resilient in the face of these challenges?
At DAS, educational therapists are fortunate to have the help of educational advisors who conduct lesson observations and provide relevant advice on how to work with a challenging student; this can include the implementation of individualised remediation where the educational therapist can work one-on-one with the student if deemed suitable. This allows the focused attention to the student, as well as the privacy and space, to work with the student’s behaviours and emotions while not compromising the classroom learning of other students. Nonetheless, social-emotional behaviours can be tricky and are often not what educational therapists are professionally trained for. Perhaps we might have to evaluate our training programme, consider new topics to present during the initial teacher training period as well as provide valuable mentorship so as to equip trainee educational therapists with relevant skills that will guide them well to support our specific group of learners to find joy in learning in a complex world. More importantly, we need to ensure that these skills are being transferred and practised.
All in all, this conference had enlightened us in many ways, namely:
- The importance of teacher training and education in an increasingly complex education landscape
- The importance of oracy and exploratory talk for educational purpose so as to help learners develop new ways of thinking and expressing themselves
- The importance of motivation in building autonomous teachers and learners, and that the behaviour pattern of motivation should consist of direction, persistence, intensity, persistence over time and performance.
Emilyn and Joanne had spent a lot of time preparing for this conference. On top of their scheduling issues, they found it challenging to devote their time on this presentation which had taken place during term time and clashing with Meet The Parents sessions, amongst other administrative matters. Nevertheless, they made it a point to meet up for discussion and rehearsals. Considering the amount of time and effort spent on the preparation, they did not expect a low turnout. As trained presenters, they made the best out of the situation. In presenting their topic on the effectiveness of the Exams Skills programme on struggling non-dyslexic students. With a smaller audience, they actually felt more comfortable sharing their research study and made the whole session more interactive. Considering the fact that it is their first time attending and presenting a conference outside of DAS, this served as a learning point for both of them.
Hani presented 4 case studies on students at DAS with severe learning difficulties and significant behavioural and social-emotional issues. Her presentation was well-received by the small group of audience. As one of the case studies shared was on a student who had talked about wanting to kill herself, it prompted a gentleman among the audience to ask on where help can be sought if students show signs of depression and suicide. Throughout the presentation, many in the audience nodded in agreement that the issues with behaviour and social-emotional have to be addressed first before teaching and learning can take place. Given the positive responses that was received, the afterthought from this presentation was – does every teacher in mainstream schools place importance to the management of behaviour and social-emotional issues of students or does the completion of subject syllabus take precedence and in turn, cause SEN students to be demoralised and disgruntled. Can a balance be struck between what teachers need to teach and what SEN students are capable of learning at any one time?
Students of DAS are also students of the mainstream schools. It is hoped that with the rigorous training that teachers in the mainstream schools receive on teaching, and together with support from educational therapists at DAS, students with special educational needs are able to develop skills that will gear them up for a positive future.
Source of keynote speakers content: ERAS APERA Conference Programme
About the Authors
Joanne Tan Shi Huey, Specialised Educational Services, DAS
Emilyn See Hui Zi, Specialised Educational Services, DAS
Porayath Sathi Menon d/o Kunju Rama, Main Literacy Programme, DAS
Hani Zohra Muhamad, Main Literacy Programme, DAS