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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Rain During Shine


The picture doesn't quite capture it... but I was trying to take a picture of raindrop shadows on the floor of my study. See those little gray splatters on the floor? It was very strange weather that day. The sun shone bright but the rain fell also in large drops, making a musical clatter on the glass roof outside my study. It was so strangely pretty that I had to take a picture to share.


Motivation: Fixed VS Growth Mindsets

This post first appeared in the Singapore Motherhood Forum HERE.

All their lives, I have told my children, “We are not a highly intelligent family. Mommy isn’t a genius. Daddy isn’t either. You, being our children, cannot be very smart either. We get where we did from sheer, dogged effort.” As a psychologist, I am well able to administer IQ tests and interpret the results. I have never done so. In Primary 3, the Ministry of Education tested The Daughter. I swung into damage control. I explained that IQ tests do contain a margin of error and did my best to discredit the reliability of a single test.

By now, her IQ score is lost in the mists of time. By now too, the IQ score is irrelevant because by sheer motivational effort alone, The Daughter often topped her classes and eventually, she graduated with eight distinctions at her ‘A’ levels. No one knows what her IQ level is. Certainly, not I. I don’t even know what my own IQ level is. I never want to know for fear that it be so low that I will sit down and stop trying to better myself.

Motivation Like Ripples On Water
Few people realise that in order to successfully motivate at any point in time, there must be PRE-motivation-moment actions and words. In other words, the things that you might have said and done days and weeks ago can make or break your efforts to motivate your child today. Motivation should never be viewed as single and discrete moments in time – yesterday, today and tomorrow. Motivation needs to be viewed as a series of moments, each influencing the next like ripples upon water. Certain words and actions influence motivation throughout a child’s scholastic career.

Strangely enough, one of the most demotivating PRE-motivation-moment words you can say to a small child is “You succeeded! You must be so intelligent!” If you examine these words in the context of the success that has just been experienced, nothing seems to have gone wrong. After all, you are praising your little one for having just succeeded. Your child is overjoyed at having experienced success and thrilled that you have noticed. It’s wonderful to see that small face radiant with joy and raring to go. That certainly looks like a very motivated child.

Problems arise some weeks and days later when you try to stretch your child by raising the bar of performance. Inherent in the word “stretch” is the notion of difficulty. The child taught to believe that success arises from IQ loses heart at the first sign of intellectual difficulty. The child understands that if success is a celebration of his natural intelligence, then failure is equally an indictment of his lack of natural intelligence. This is a very disempowering thought because IQ is an immutable (i.e. unchangeable) part of the self.

Children intuitively know that there is little they can do to increase the intelligence they are born with. To know that one is born not intelligent enough for such or such a task, is a death knell for further sustained effort. It doesn’t matter how intelligent these children really are. No child is so intelligent that he is spared from failure or difficulty. Indeed, there are extremely bright children in top schools who still look towards private tutors to make challenges easy. These children fear difficulty and failure because both are indictments of their intelligence (and therefore threats to their sense of self-worth). These children may ace all their exams but one fears for their resilience against failure when they meet real life without private tutors.

Proof In The Research
It does seem from the paragraphs above that I write on the basis of my own opinion. At this point I want to point readers to the raw psychological research that undergirds my comments above. The inspiration for this entire column is the research of Dr Carol Dweck, Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. Please find a link to one of her experimental studies here. I have thus not written my opinion. I have merely described what psychologists know today to be true. Accordingly, it now behooves us now to briefly examine the work of Dr Carol Dweck, who pioneered research in Self-Theories. According to Professor Dweck, there are two types of Self-Theories:
(1) The Entity Theory (a fixed mindset)
 (2) The Incremental Theory (a growth mindset)

An Incremental Theorist believes that with enough effort, people can change in incremental steps. People who are lazy can become diligent. Those who aren’t intelligent can put in more effort in order to achieve success. An Entity Theorist Parent is more likely to attribute success to intelligence. An Incremental Theorist Parent is more likely to attribute success to effort.

A Parental Choice
I suppose it is up to parents to decide whether they want to be Entity Theorists or Incremental Theorists. Do bear in mind, however, that the research does show the following: if you attribute success to intelligence in a PRE-motivation-moment, then its effects ripple forwards in time. You might find that in the days and weeks that follow, your child may baulk at being stretched beyond his comfort zone. Indeed, if a parent teaches his child early in life that success arises directly from intelligence, then it could well set in motion a pattern of consistent de-motivation in the face of difficulty throughout that child’s scholastic career.


Sunday, February 24, 2013

Dreams


I cannot even remember where we bought these 2 plaques. The one on the left was given to Little Boy because he gave up ever so easily. 7 years younger than his sister, Little Boy came off second best in EVERYTHING for as long as he could remember being alive. Losing was Little Boy's place in the family. His favourite words were "I can't do it, Mom!" This applied to anything that required more than 2 minutes of effort.

The one on the right was given to The Daughter. She was a social butterfly par excellence. She loved her friends so very much that if someone else wanted to score better than her in exams and assignments, she would let them and be very proud of herself!! Her way was to stroll through life and enjoy the people who appeared in it. Not surprisingly, people enjoyed her too. I, however, worried that she had no ambition whatsoever that did not stretch beyond today. The girl had no goals!

I worried. Visions of an old age spent supporting a Loser Son and a Dilettante Daughter gloated at me like hungry ghosts.

So, when I came across these plaques on an overseas trip, I bought them. I placed the plaques in the children's rooms and adjured them to remember the words. I told them that these plaques would stay with them to give them courage, for as long as they needed the courage. When they thought they didn't need them anymore, they could return them to me.

I noticed both plaques today for the first time, sitting in MY study. I don't know when they were returned to me. Life has been full and busy... and the momentous moments came and went. Unnoticed.

That's part of the mothering journey I guess. We worry and worry about our children's imperfections and have nightmares about why their teeth have not come out (as if any young bridegroom has ever walked down the aisle without a mouth full of teeth)... about them being unable to focus (when time is all it takes for them to learn how)... about them being playful (when they're children and learn through play).

Then one day, you wake up and notice 2 plaques.

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Budding RobertA Louis Stevenson?

Robert Louis Stevenson is today one of the most translated authors. He wrote books like Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Renowned authors such as Rudyard Kipling (who wrote The Jungle Book) and Ernest Hemingway (who wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls) admired Robert Louis Stevenson.

I think I might have a RobertA in the making (her real name is C.) in my English Enrichment class.

No... she is not one of those kids that stand out from the crowd. In school, she is in the E class. That means she is 4 classes away from the TOP class in a school that takes the class rankings pretty seriously. The lower classes are deemed incapable of stretch. When I started teaching her during one of the December compo workshops, she was not outstanding in any way.

Sometimes, there are children who sparkle at you and you begin to expect much more of them when you move them along their learning paths. You know, like at the race horse track, there are sometimes "favorites" tipped to win? They look good these favourites - lean, muscular, aggressive. Sometimes too, during the race, a skinny little horse with spindly legs, who never attracted much attention, races forth and blossoms into the lead?

This is the skinny horse with spindly legs.

Something about the things we've been doing enthused her. She first produced amusing drawings which showed that she played with her work. And to me, that is a good thing. Play, in Dr Pet's classes, is NOT a dirty word.

I love that red-faced stick figure!!


And THEN, last night, coming home from a dinner and sleepy too, I was jolted awake because she sent me a POEM. Now this wasn't just PLAY-work... this was HARD play-work. And what a poem too!  I am told she was seized with inspiration after listening to Custard the Dragon HERE. I have C.'s permission to reproduce her work here.


Candy Land
As the soothing music filled my ears,
 my eyelids drooped down low.
Before the moon shone on my face,
I drifted off to sleep.
I dreamt of sweets and chocolates,
and a wide range of food.
 Lollipops, fudge cookies, candy galore,
 with extra chocolate sauce.
Before I knew it,
 I was drooling on my pillow.
I rode dragons, unicorns,
and raced with knights.
I could fly like fairies,
And swing on trees.
Swim like mermaids from sea to sea.
 I took a bath in strawberry – milk - falls,
 then visited candy cane canyon.
My friends were there,
my family were too,
but friendship hasn’t end.
Gumdrop teddy bears, candy kangaroos!
We played all day with something like football with, chocolate coated shoes.
I started getting tired,
and gave out a long slow yawn.
 I laid on the cotton candy floor and grabbed a Malteser from the cold pebbled path.
 Taking a bite was like a poison apple dream.
I woke up with my mind full of irresistibly delicious ideas.
I sketched out my dreamscape, and decided to create a wonderfully delectable poem

For mummy and Dr.Pet

Aiyo... I was trying to teach them writing techniques to ace their PSLE compo... and this one just went and used almost all the techniques she has learnt from me to produce POETRY. Ok... ok... there are some eensy weensy grammar errors, but the rich writing techniques I taught her are mostly there! This goes to show that you can never predict what children are capable of. 

All the more why we should not label our kids. The MOE may do it but parents should never believe these labels. Parents should just believe in their kids.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Nespresso U Arrived!

Water reservoir on the right and drip tank in front.

Water reservoir on the left and drip tank to the side.


The Nespresso U was the 2nd cheapest machine on the French Nespresso website. It didn't look like much at first but I thought it had some really nifty features. For one, the water reservoir rotates so that it fits any kind of countertop arrangement. For another, the magnetic drip tank can be removed from under the spout and stored neatly at the side in instances where you're using a tall cup.

I had a cup of Arpeggio this morning. It was sublime.

I can't get over the difference in prices for the capsules. It costs 3 times what it costs to get them in France!! That's it... I am shopping online for capsules.


Sunday, February 17, 2013

A Peek into Dr Pet's English Class

Impossible Goal


Kids Meeting To Agree, Disagree and Conclude


The children have to do the Deep Reading Comprehension questions as a group. The individual questions stuck on the doors are from the worksheet HERE. I don't believe in pitting children against each other like gladiators to see who is the strongest... so the kids collaborate to find the answers. If you really examine the Deep Reading Comprehension worksheet HERE (and match it to the audio file HERE) you will realize that the questions are highly difficult.

The questions were mostly designed to activate the highest three levels of the Higher Order Thinking skills. If the children had to do this as individuals, they would all cry and give up. I really doubt many adults can arrive at the answers by themselves. In effect, in assigning this worksheet, I had assigned the kids an Impossible Goal (see pg 240 of Dr Pet's book). However, as a group, they gave each other ideas and fed off each other's energy... and this way, they were able to persist through to the answers.


Since the questions were difficult, they could be tedious if the class facilitation were not done right. To counter the tedium of the worksheet, I structured Physical Movement (see pg 269 of Dr Pet's book) into the lesson. The children needed to move back and forth from the questions (stuck on the wall) towards the mat where they wrote their answers on flip chart.


Behaviors Important for Success at Learning

Water Bomb Incentives

This lot of kids have been made to feel stupid in school. They never score at the top of the class and they don't have much confidence in themselves. When they first came to me, they were like skittish deer, ready to hide their intelligence away at the slightest danger to their self-esteem. One took refuge in an endless stream of irrelevant chatter. Another took forever to get work done. He was so afraid that he would get the answers wrong that he thought and RE-thought his work. Another had a melt down at the 6th question in the worksheet I gave on Lesson 1. "It's too difficult for me!" he wailed. 

I needed the children to demonstrate some Behaviors and Attitudes important for Success. So... I structured incentives tied to behaviors and attitudes such as...

(1) Not being afraid to make mistakes
(2) Being able to focus well
(3) Being curious

I had other behaviors and attitudes in my list too but I won't bore you with all the details. Anyway... after every Deep Comprehension question, the facilitator gave out water bombs to 3 of the students. Each time, she tied the reward specifically to a specific behavior. For example, "This water bomb is given to Alec because he focused very well for this question."

The children were NEVER praised nor rewarded for getting the right answer. They were praised and rewarded for demonstrating the behaviors that I deemed important to their success at learning the material. The children then stored their water bombs nicely in their little pails. They were excited about their bombs and went to great lengths to make sure their bombs had no leaks or other erstwhile defects.

A Cutie Pie Storing Away His Bomb



Bombs Away!

As they moved from question to question in the worksheet, the children focused ever and ever better. Their enthousiasm was fed by their successes with previous questions and of course they tried their mostest to be focused so as to get more Water Bombs. 

The facilitator (not me) guided them somewhat but the kids mostly figured the answers out for themselves... which is ABSOLUTELY necessary if they are to get any opportunity to practice Higher Order Thinking skills.

They worked fast and they worked furious because they knew that if they had not completed the whole worksheet by the end of class, they would not get to use their water bombs. In the end, they got a bit wet but I think they had a BLAST of a time.

I know I did! They were so CUTE! And errrrr... by now, thanks to the irreverent facilitator I hired, the children refer to me as The Evil Witch Queen. Maybe I should sack that facilitator. And next class... I think I'll do something with Face Paint.

Nota Bene: Not every class has incentives. Children should not be working hard for incentives. They should work hard because they WANT to, in the same way people WANT to play mahjong. When this group is ready motivationally, I will transit them AWAY from incentives and try to ignite internal drive. Slowly. These things take time.

Click HERE to see a student's work.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Inundated with Work

So sorry I have not been blogging. I've been inundated with work!


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

PulledPorkoDon

Beef Yakiniku Don

PulledPorkoDon

The leftover grilled beef gave me an idea. I tossed the slices in sesame oil and soy sauce, laid them atop the steaming rice. Then I gave a good sprinkling of spring onions and red chilli for some zing. Then I looked at the leftover pulled pork and created a PulledPorkoDon - Mexican pulled pork (seasoned with Indian spices) on top of steaming sushi rice.

It's a very identity-confused dish but it was delicious.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

On Patriotism and Meritocracy

I woke up this morning to an interesting exchange between some Friends on Facebook. I've taken out their names to protect their privacy... after all, I can see their exchange because I am a Friend, but that doesn't mean they want their thoughts shared with the all and sundry. The quality of their exchange and its content spoke to me, and I wanted to share with my readers.

Person A
In my most humble opinion, I reckon patriotism (just like loyalty and respect) has to be earned. It is my naive opinion that too many policy statements which contain the phrase "for the greater good of the whole (or the many)..." is detrimental to the development of patriotism. Further, it is my simple-minded opinion that a point of view similar to the USMC's "never leave a marine behind" policy is the exact soil for growing loyalty. Everybody wants to be loved and valued. Nobody wants to be the individual that is sacrificed so that the rest of society can benefit. Instead, each man's death diminishes me because I am part of mankind ("Ask Not For Whom The Bells Toll", John Donne). The paradox? The more society values each individual, the more likely the component individuals are willing to sacrifice for that society. 

Person B Responded to Person A
Agreed. There is no such thing as an absolute meritocracy, because in such a system, every man who is rewarded for his merits will result in a man who drops to the bottom of the heap. And society will not accept this, since we recognize that the individual at the bottom may not be there because he did not try his best.


My Own Thoughts
It never occurred to me that patriotism needed to be earned, and that asking some to sacrifice themselves for the common good destroys patriotism. Self sacrifice for the common good is a choice an individual makes. We cannot ask it. The moment you open your mouth to ask it, then patriotism drops and no one will volunteer to sacrifice himself for the sake of the country.

Person B's response warmed my heart. If people were all rewarded based on raw meritocratic output, the system ignores the fact that people receive varying inputs... and the individual at the bottom may be stuck there because everyone else has input galore but he has not.

Post on Population White Paper HERE.



Monday, February 4, 2013

The ????? of South East Asia


Cycle 1
In the 1960s, it was easy to grow the economy by injecting more bodies into the workforce to achieve more man-hours. All you needed to do was create jobs by getting MNCs to set up shop here. More man-hours lead to more growth. It then came to a point where pretty much every Singaporean was gainfully employed.


Cycle 2
The only way then to inject man-hours in order to keep things growing was to increase working hours. Notwithstanding that there was some government effort to move into a 5-day week, many jobs squeezed people for hours of their lives. You see... existing HR policy and practices coherent with the old way of achieving growth (through more and more man-hours) were still around. Companies valued face time. Managers wondered if people would goof off if they worked from home. Career progression suffered from lack of man hours, never mind that some people can generate more value from half a day's work than others can from 2 days' work.


Cycle 3
Naturally then... people start to think twice about starting a family. Women's careers take a back seat. If you have kids, then it's hard to manage a demanding job that pulls hours from the same 24hr day. There are opportunity costs such as self-worth, a monthly pay cheque that go with the decision to have a child (especially if grandparents refuse or cannot help out with the grandkids). It doesn't help that kids have to be enriched at home to cope with schoolwork. I did want a 3rd child but after Little Boy's PSLE and my experience with having to run a one-person homeschool to bridge the gap between what schools taught and what they tested.... well... I decided the personal price to me was too high. So... no Number Three. Happily, I had plenty of free time to figure out high productivity work methods and am now able to create more value whilst working much less. My friend A however, works in a bank. She often works through to midnight. She has NO time to dream and innovate... learn new things to get herself more productive. Her only solution is to hire more bodies but her bank has a hiring freeze.


Cycle 4: Babies
Cycles 1 to 3 accelerate as time passes. These cycles should have been nipped in the bud in the 1990s but back then, our government was complacent, surfing upon the crest of the Singapore wave set in motion by the previous generation of leaders. The momentum of Cycles 2 to 3 is hard to beat in 2013 without very aggressive measures.

Money incentives don't work. It is stupidity to do more of the same thing and expect to get different results. The government has been throwing money at this problem for years. Has it worked? Women can work to earn money. Sometimes, they may make more than what the grant disburses to them. Once baby comes, their lost earnings (job loss... slowed career progression) can well be in quantum far larger than the Baby Bonus. Only the extremely myopic would be fooled by the upfront grant and fail to see the long run costs of raising a child. People have no time to look after kids... especially if they want me-time. It's time. Not money.

To fight against the combined momentum of Cycles 2 to 3, policy needs to be far more aggressive than that little bit of paternity leave. There must be a political will to CHANGE social mores and make child-rearing as much an alpha male thing to do as it is a lowly female thing to do.


Cycle 4: Productivity
There was a brave effort to increase productivity but since measures to increase productivity (training and re-skilling) for long term national gain also reduced short-term economic growth for individual businesses (which of course reduces GDP) Cycle 1's drive for economic growth also put the brakes on Cycle 4's efforts to increase productivity and value-addedness. Chiefly, the government tried to get companies to co-fund or fund these training and re-skilling efforts. Companies baulked. They resisted these efforts at productivity training and pushed hard for more foreign labour.

Meanwhile government investments made humongous losses in some areas (though overall they've still made $$)... those moneys could have been used for citizen upgrading and advances here could have been way more aggressive (this would probably save more on future welfare spending than the not-much-money made in investments).

Instead of trying to ACCUMULATE ever more reserves and to INVEST them (only to make some little money), these reserves could have been aggressively used to invest in citizens without asking private sector companies to foot the bill. And future welfare spending would be saved. This means you dun need so much taxes to support the aged, that you need 7 million people.

And there was YOG. Millions gone... just like that.

Meanwhile too... public services went all out to increase profits. Bus routes that would save commuter time and contribute to their productivity were deleted from service. MRT routes had no bus redundancies because it ate into transport profits. All the lost time from the millions of lives transiting through the MRT daily became $$ and cents for the transport companies. Transport became more productive at generating profits but the workforce became less productive at working and making babies (because so much time is lost in transit).

Singpost also went that way and increasingly, mail gets lost in transit leading to even more productivity losses. Education tried to mirror the private sector, making schools compete with each other. As a result, there is duplication of effort from school to school... and no possibility for economies of scale. How productive is that? And since schools are not productive parents/tutors have to teach in lieu, increasing the costs of child-rearing... and we have seen how that impacts birth rate.


Cycle 5: No Resistance
In the end, we are left with one logical conclusion. We can't get out of our low productivity and low birth rate trap. This cycle meets with the least resistance... very little resistance from some vocal detractors.

It will accelerate.

As immigrants come into Singapore in droves... our best youths will go abroad simply because they are wanted there and quality of life is better for them (bigger cars... bigger houses... nature), and since they're smart, they'll end up working less hard to fund a better lifestyle than if they stayed here. They've had a good education (our best talent truly gets a good education) and are bright.

The best of the 3rd world countries around Singapore will come here. They have less opportunities in their own country and are as bright as the best Singaporean youths (who have left). Those young Singaporeans still trapped here will fume as they realise that they can't compete with the best from the region (who will work for cheaper). Several well-to-do retired friends with children in top US and UK universities say that they're happy enough here because Singapore remains affordable to them... BUT looking at how crowded and competitive Singapore has become, they encourage their kids to stay abroad, and build their lives there.

Older Singaporeans who've accumulated a tidy sum in their years here (but for whom Singapore remains no longer affordable) will seek to retire elsewhere. They've no more income and want a quality retirement at a low cost of living. Even our hawkers can afford to live in style in a village in China or Malaysia. The older folks from the 3rd world countries around here will come and take their place as babysitters for their children who work here as foreign talent. For a while. Then they too will all go home to enjoy the money they earned here.

Hence, Singapore will live up to its promise as the ????? of South East Asia... welcoming transient people with their transient affections with open arms, whilst scorning the rich deep affection of Singaporeans born and bred here (either because they can't afford to live here anymore [the retirees] or because they get better treatment elsewhere [our youths]).


Worst Case Scenario? No lah... It's an easy retreat.
Ever heard of the general who burnt the bridges he crosses so that his soldiers cannot retreat? Since they can't retreat, they have to fight and WIN. The will to win is important to winning. The Knights Templar were a formidable force in battle precisely because they believed in NO retreat.

The worst case scenario Population White Paper allows our government a way to retreat from the twin challenges of...
(1) Re-engineering social mores to improve birth rate
(2) Increasing productivity

The government won't have the political will to carry through either (1) or (2) if it can get the population to agree to potentially living with 7 million people on this island. That is an easier way out you see.

Singaporeans MUST NOT AGREE to the 6.9 million figure in the Population White Paper... whatever color it happens to be - White or Blue or Green or Pink. Nonetheless, the part of the White Paper that describes necessary infrastructural investment is highly desirable.

Let's not throw out the baby with the bath water.