Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cultural dimensions of effective learning

How many times have we heard the importance of knowing your own self? ‘To know others is to know one self first’, or something along that line. Indeed, the subject that I am teaching at uni brings to light the importance of knowing yourself first before knowing your students. This notion of self-concept is much discussed in the arena of identity and it is not hard to see why.

Personally, I feel that a concept of self helps to define a person. Many of us go through life without realizing that we carry with us various identities while maintaining one main identity. Does that make sense? We will always have an inner self, this core identity, which will mould our thoughts in life. However, at the same time, we juggle many other minor identities, which we switch on and off according to situation and need. As my housemate put it over dinner earlier, we are like rubber bands, which I think she meant malleable.

Knowing the identity or identities you carry determines or at least, influences the way you decide your life. Without this knowledge of self, I find that it is that slightly harder to define who you want to be as a teacher. This would in effect make your teaching less ‘you’. But in our day and age, how hard or how easy is it to maintain this uniqueness?

I would say, it is extremely hard but it is up to us to make it easy. Take us Malaysians, for example. I feel that there is a certain degree of ‘Asian’ in our thoughts despite being trained in a fairly ‘Western’ environment. Our schooling system is British, our mass media is mainly from America, Britain or Australia and most favoured education philosophies are from Europe. I mean, every teacher (from preschool up to high school teachers) would have been drilled with the theories of Piaget, Vygotsky, Bruner, Montessori and Bronfenbrenner to name a few. Tell me which one of those names sound Asian to you.

Whilst I agree that the knowledge of the theories by these famous Western people come in handy, I feel that we as the users of such powerful information need to know how to apply them in real life. Do we follow word for word? For example, we know that the Reggio Emilia approach is fantastic but do we merely transport all that they do to a kindergarten somewhere in Kuala Lumpur and expect to see the same things happen to our children? Have we thought of how meaningful it would be to our kids? It may mean naught, for all we know. Would our society be able to understand and accept the concept behind the Reggio approach? We need to look at the people we are serving – every society has their own needs and a unique future that they are working towards.

I do, however, acknowledge the superiority of the Western style of education, especially as an immigrant in Australia where learning is more active and more intrinsically driven. But I find that teachers in the West are less ‘holistic’ – they tend not to know the ‘outside of the classroom’ child. It could be due to several reasons, one being respecting the privacy of the families. Another could be due to maintaining a professional relationship. Back home, we know the whole of their families and it is more personal.

I am not saying that learning back home is not active and is externally driven but comparatively, there is a difference. However, there are schools and kindergartens back home that run their programs in a less teacher-directed manner and I salute them for stepping out of the box. In addition to meeting the academic expectations of families, they also provide other experiences that are enjoyable, stimulating and relevant to the children’s learning.

But being an Asian studying (and now teaching) in a foreign country, I feel that few locals appreciate us immigrants. No, they are not racist but perhaps there is that underlying notion of us not being able to contribute due to maybe a communication handicap. But, education is not just about academic skills and information. It is about life chances.

Think: why do multilingual people like us work better in groups? I feel that it is because of our ability to be rubber bands, as I mentioned above. As we are able to talk in many languages, we are able to think in many languages, which varies the way we view things. We are more able to have multiple perspectives and are more adaptive to changing situations. I sound like I am praising myself, gosh. Please feel free to correct me if you do not agree to my thoughts…

Research also points out how Asian students in a Western environment have been found to have low self-esteem. Recent studies, or a handful of studies, have shown that this is not the actual case, as self-esteem is assigned different meanings by different cultures. To us Asians, especially the Chinese, we term it humility, or qian xu. From young, we are taught to have respect for others and always maintain humble. We, or at least I was constantly reminded not to flaunt my good grades or a new dress. Some of you might feel that this is in disregard for my right to freedom of speech or freedom of self-expression but I feel that this is good discipline. To put it simply, nobody likes a show-off.

So really, it is up for interpretation – the way we define the world around us and the way we make the world work for us and vice versa. Education, and especially early childhood education is serious business. It is plenty of work and it sometimes requires you to redefine yourself before you could even start your journey. What have you packed to bring on this journey? Have you decided where to go?

Are you ready to embark on this adventure as a person who could be the most influential to another young soul out there?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Home-made abacus seed dinner

Our lovely Audrey invited us over to her place for dinner. She said she had something special for us. Something very Hakka. Hm, being Hakka myself, I was curious. What will we be served, I wondered...

Imagine my salivating awe when I saw the table set up...

... with these little babies!:

Yup, these are what we call abacus seeds, a traditional Hakka dish made from the main ingredient of yam.

I think it is rather obvious where the name derived from. Too bad I could not do much to the lighting, as it was a cool purple shade. Of course, no Chinese dinner is complete without soup!

Audrey also painstakingly made this:

It was funny how before she made it, she rang us up to ask us if we ate spring onion... haha...

Dessert was something we bought from the Korean grocers down the road, as we thought it would not be nice to turn up empty-handed. It is called geggi cake, which we were not intending to eat due to how stuffed we were but after having looked at the expiry date (the next day), we had no choice... haha!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Bird's home

Last term, the children have been learning about a bird's home. Or well, that was the main theme. What they learnt were the topics that stem from this main theme. Therefore, everything revolved around the theme of the two-legged feathery friend's home. Everything including the three languages and creative arts.

As we are big on scenarios, the children were part of the process of putting them up with the teachers.

Over at the taska, the younger children helped with the leaves, which were palm prints. They also helped to scrunch up brown paper to give that tree trunk effect. The children also drew, coloured and cut the animals, which they thought would also live together with the birds in their home (i.e. forest). The green foliage is actually flyswat prints on butcher's paper.

Over at the tadika, the older kids produced a scenario that had more of a 3-D effect. Collecting branches from the garden, they reproduced a tree over one of the windows, rolled lidi together to make nests and crumpled paper up to produce 'birds'.

Somehow, they all had the thinking that birds live on trees. Wonder if it occurred to the teachers that they could point out to the children that some birds live underground and other places. However, it was good to see some children point out that birds also live in buildings and on the cables hanging from lamp post to lamp post.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

I must have done something right...

... to have these cutie pies run towards me, hug and ask me,


... to have one family support us for 12 years and counting...

... to have an ex-student who is now 21 to come look me up at my kindergarten's concert 'just to say hi' and bring me out for dessert...

The perks of being an early childhood educator - lifelong and exceedingly rewarding even with such small gestures.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Birthday love

Dear Self,

How have you been? It has been a year since we last had a heart-to-heart talk. Another year, ey?

Time really flies. It seemed like yesterday that you had your dinner with the girls at Zanmai. This year, same group of girls but at Pitstop Cafe, instead. Looked like you had a great time, with them surprising you with a birthday and song...

They gave you extra candles, even! Haha! But hey, that did not matter, did it? You were just stoked with the surprise, as you thought it was only a normal gathering with them. The night was filled with happy laughter and lots of hot gossip, leaving you in tears of silly laughter and appreciation.

Another staff member left you this in the office, as well:

Unfortunately, you could not bring this to Sydney with you. But wow, second year in a row you have a bouquet of pink roses as a present! Touching...

Upon your return to your North Strathfield home, you had a sparkly blue birthday card with Malaysian postage stamps. Aw, one of the teachers posted a card not knowing that you would be home during your special day. How sweet! Looks like you have another card to add to your collection on the wall. Apparently, you still have another one on the way...

Your friends, Sonia and Brent of Nutrition 101 also gave you something, did they not?

You seem to like the cutlery set in the trademark Herbalife green. Well, you like the chopsticks the most, really.

I hear your housemates are bringing you out for dinner this weekend, too. Oh, and one of them is treating you to a pedicure session. Haha, I wonder if you would let that happen...

In case you did not already know, you are a lucky girl to have so much love in your life. Your housemates protect you feverishly, your staff members care about you, your mentors look out for you and your family just loves you to bits. Does not look like you have anything to complain about...

... except for perhaps the supposed watch or Victoria's Secret present someone promised...

Do take care and enjoy the rest of 2010. And when I say take care, I mean take care, really. You are your most important person and no one can take you away from yourself.

Yours truly,
Your other self

Monday, November 15, 2010

Cargo Bar / Lounge

Honestly, I have never heard of Cargo until Michael worked there. Cargo Bar and Lounge is situated on the waterfront of King Street Wharf. The evening view under their alfresco canopies is picturesque, with the reflection of pretty lights on the water.

They claim to have dishes served in 20 minutes but I did not bother timing them.

I mean, who really cares when there is good company and free booze? We tried a few dishes and one that was a must-have, according to our in-house chef, was the ribs:

I thought it gave the ribs at the other famous establishment on the other side of the harbour a run for their money. Chef, I concur - finger-licking good and definitely fills up an empty stomach!

The Cargo beef burger consisting prime beef pattie, onion, beetroot, lettuce, tomato, aged cheddar, smokey barbeque sauce and fries was not too bad, either. I suppose Cargo does live up to its name of serving good beef:

If you love steak, be sure to take advantage of this offer:

They also serve seafood. The more expensive item would be the atlantic salmon served on a potato cake with rocket lettuce, sun-dried tomatoes and avocado salsa. This was lovely, although, if it were a slightly more moist, it would be perfect! Perhaps it was due to the thickness of the salmon fillet. Oh well, all the more worth the price!

Typical of all bars, they also serve fish and chips, a grilled John Dory fillet served with steak fries, home-made tartare sauce and salad:

With a skin that is crispy, it could do with slightly more tartare sauce. Don't feel like meat? Well, you could give their pumpkin and sage ravioli dressed in a light buerre noisette a try:

I was wondering where the pumpkin was until having consumed a few pieces of the pasta:

Haha, all hidden underneath! I particularly enjoyed the serving portion - not too big. Also, the noisette gave it a lovely, smooth texture.

We will try their famous steaks and pizza the next time we are there!

Cargo Bar / Lounge on Urbanspoon

Cargo Bar / Lounge
52 - 60 The Promenade, King Street Wharf, Sydney, NSW 2000
02 9262 1777 (Tel)
E-mail: info@cargobar.com.au

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Yum Cha at Palace Chinese Restaurant

When Josh finally made it to Sydney after several failed attempts, we met up at the lovely Palace Chinese Restaurant. Hidden in Piccadilly Mall in the city, I am glad that my ex-manager, May, introduced me to the place. I occasionally have cravings for their dessert but during this visit, we had the following...

... steamed spinach dumpling...

... steamed prawn dumpling...

... steamed prawn and pork dimsim...

... stuffed bread stick wrapped in rice noodle...

... prawn rice noodle...

... eggplant in black bean sauce...

... deep-fried combination dumpling...

... combination beancurd sheet roll...

... pork ribs in black bean sauce...

...chicken feet...

... sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaf...

... which made me miss the sticky rice (lo mai kai) we have back in Malaysia...

... And then it was time for dessert. Waited for the entire meal to end for this part! We started with the slaughter of egg tarts...

... some steamed bun of some sort... it actually tasted like sweet corn to me and I did not heed Yu Sheng's advice of being careful when I tore it apart! The stuffing really did 'flow' out!

And my favourite - their mango pudding!

Look at all the gems in it... the taro balls, the sago, the mango slices, the cantaloupe... I totally recommend this!

It was good catching up Josh after not having seen him for (gasp!) three years!

Palace Chinese on Urbanspoon

Palace Chinese Restaurant
Shop 38 Level 1, Piccadilly Tower, 133 - 145 Castlereagh Street Sydney 2000
02 92836288 (Tel), 02 92836566 (Fax)
E-mail: info@palacechinese.com.au
Reservations only taken for a la carte menu
Yum Cha is on walk-in basis
Yum Cha: Monday-Friday 10:00am - 3:00pm, weekend & public holiday 10:30am-3:00pm
Dinner: 5:00pm - till late

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Good morning!

Every morning I carpool with housemate to work, I walk past a patch of green right opposite the shopping centre. I always keep my eyes peeled for movement in the grass and when I find my friends, I perk up for a brand new day ahead.

Cute, right?

They would stop their munching to stare me back in the eyes. They probably were thinking of whether I would chase after them in their small heads but I would rather think that they were trying to wish me, "Good morning, young lady! Have a nice day!"

Haha... Gotta love going to uni...

Friday, November 12, 2010

Chants, songs, rhymes & finger plays

The inclusion of chants and songs in an education program promotes the learning of content. As it is more enjoyable, children and adults alike would feel that it takes less effort to understand a concept or remember facts through music. Imagine yourself trying to remember the dates of significant events of the Second World War. Now, imagine yourself trying to memorise the lyrics of the latest Justin Bieber song. Totally different feeling, is it not?

So why do we include chants, songs and finger plays in our program throughout the day? “They are having a maths lesson learning the concept of ‘one’ but why are they singing?” some parents ask. I explain that the most basic reason is to make the lesson more interesting. In more ‘professional terms’, I explain that frequent use of group recitation, singing and dancing reinforces the value of togetherness and group support, values which are crucial driving forces of the collectivistic Malaysian society. Sort of in a case of united we stand, divided we fall.

The musical element also helps stimulate different parts of growing children’s brains. Different synapses are formed, creating more neural pathways thus enhancing optimum brain growth. This cultivates the culture of empathy and viewing things from multiple perspectives. They become more considerate children. Also, it helps children become more fluid and critical thinkers.

Besides, from my many years of teaching music and movement, I have found that children relate more to the lyrics of a song when accompanied by an action. I have tried many ways of teaching a song and trust me, practice makes perfect and different groups of children would require modifications to your original teaching method. Some children learn better if you give them both song and action simultaneously while some children would require song and action to be separated. The song and action helps them remember new words, thus increasing their vocabulary in all three languages (Malay, English & Mandarin).

Chants, songs, rhymes, jingles and finger plays are simple and fun ways of brightening up a lesson. There are many resources available out in the shops, online and the local library. When interwoven and into a normal lesson, it naturally becomes a part of children’s lives. It takes away the need to specially slot in ‘Song Time’ or ‘Music Time’.

So, when other teachers ask me how is it that I am able to teach the children a new topic or concept in a breeze, I am unsure of how to reply. However, I do share with them that their lessons would need to be interesting to grab the attention of the children. I do not mean for you to behave like a monkey in front of them each time. Instead, be creative. Think of how you would enjoy your classes. Would you remember a class that you were sitting down throughout more or would you remember a class that had you up and about and singing along to a tune more?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

For Good

I love this part of the lyrics to the song, For Good, from the Broadway musical, Wicked:

I've heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
Well, I don't know if I believe that's true
But I know I'm who I am today
Because I knew you

Like a comet pulled from orbit
As it passes the sun
Like a stream that meets a boulder
Halfway through the woods
Who can say if I've been changed for the better?
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good

It well may be
That we will never meet again
In this lifetime
So let me say before we part
So much of me
Is made of what I learned from you
You'll be with me
Like a handprint on my heart
And now whatever way our stories end
I know you have re-written mine
By being my friend...

Like a ship blown from its mooring
By a wind off the sea
Like a seed dropped by a skybird
In a distant wood
Who can say if I've been changed for the better?
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good

Monday, November 08, 2010

Michael's birthday dinner at Imperial Peking Harbourside Restaurant

The Imperial Peking Harbourside Restaurant was the chosen venue for this year's annual celebration of 'becoming a year wiser'.

Housed in a heritage-listed sandstone building (circa 1820), the restaurant boasts some of the most spectacular views of the Sydney Harbour, the Bridge and the world-renowned Opera House.

The centre has Private and Semi-Private Rooms commanding these views to accommodate 20 to 140 for a sit-down dinner and up to 400 for a stand-up cocktail party. I really liked how they infused Chineseness into the place:

As a gesture of appreciation, Michael stole Angeline's lovely idea of giving each of his guests a thank you card, a fortune cookie and two scratchies:

Look at the message in my fortune cookie! If only they were real premonitions...

Before the food arrived, we presented to him his birthday gift:

Yes, it is a very handsome over-sized watch from TW Steel. We more or less had to 'force' him to open it in front of us. And because he was king for the day, Nic helped put the watch on his wrist for him:

Then, it was time to be fed. Having been independently established and run for over 25 years, the dishes the restaurant serves are mostly Pekingese in origin with modifications for the warmer Sydney climate. Their famous Crispy Baby Duck with Green Vegetables & Shallot Sauce came out first:

OMG, to die for, I tell you! The meat was silkily tender and with its crispy skin cackling in my mouth, I understood straight away how this dish is a stellar seller. The King Prawns in Mustard Sauce with Crispy Fried Vegetables did not let us down, either:

Look at the size of those prawns! Juicy, very. I also enjoyed the appetizing flavour of the Salt & Pepper White Baits with a touch of Shallot and Chilli Bits:

Perhaps it was because of the fragrant spices they used. All I could see in the Chinese Spinach with 2 kinds of Mushrooms were the fungi:

Not overly salty, I liked the spongy texture of the fungi. Then, a dish which looked like taufu arrived on the table:

Only after biting into it would one realise that it actually was the Pan-fried Coral Trout Fillet Stuffed with Minced Prawn Meat. Clever! I accidentally deleted the photo of the Pork Spare Ribs steamed in a Black Bean Sauce but it was steamed to perfection. Dessert soon followed on. We tried the Almond Jelly...

... Fried Ice Cream...

... and Korean Balls with Red Bean...

Hope you enjoyed yourself, my dear!

Imperial Peking on Urbanspoon

Imperial Peking Harbourside Restaurant
15 Circular Quay West, Campbells Store, The Rocks, NSW 2000, Australia
02 9247 7073, 02 9223 1128 (Tel), 02 9247 9850 (Fax)