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Congratulations to our 2020 Winners!

We are pleased to announce the winners of the ASCD(S) Gold Medal 2020 (Mr Tan Keng Cheong), and the Capstone Project 2020 (Mr Lee Fook Loong Eugene). Here, we present interviews with the two men about their thoughts and plans for the future:

Interview with ASCD(S) Gold Medal 2020 Winner, Mr Tan Keng Cheong

ASCD(S) Gold Medal winner 2021 Tan.jpg

Q: Please describe what you do now and how the course has helped you with your work. How have the prizes helped you or contributed to your professional development?

I am currently a Year Head in a secondary school and I oversee student matters as a member of the Student Development Team. Other than my teaching duties as an English teacher, I support my colleagues in designing the school-based co-curriculum framework and programmes. I was previously teaching Economics in a junior college before the Masters programme.

The Master of Education (MEd) (Curriculum and Teaching) programme has been an enriching and perceptive experience as the programme provided a useful pit stop for me to reflect and to hone my craft as an educator. The interactive programme design, based on andragogy principles, allows me to customise and take ownership of my learning, creating opportunities for deep conversations with a diverse group of like-minded educators. Being exposed to these diverse perspectives allows me to have a deeper understanding of curriculum and assessment principles, its history and development as well as the different ideologies and policies that underpins the Singapore education system.

Understanding the principles of curriculum design also allows me to better understand and appreciate the differences in curriculum structures, which is particularly relevant in my transition as an educator from junior college to secondary school and in subject, from English to Economics. The deep conversations and close mentorship during the MEd programme also provided much food for thought in my work now as a curriculum designer for the school’s co-curriculum framework and programmes. Such discourse and interactions also gave me the confidence and perspectives to lead my teachers in school-based curriculum and co-curriculum development even as I made the transition to teach in a secondary school. I am currently looking at how Solow’s taxonomy can be used for peer-and-self assessment to develop self-directed and collaborative learners, in a technology-rich environment. This is particularly relevant now as we look at the roll-out of the CCE 2021 curriculum and the Personal Digital Learning Programme.

Being the recipient of the the ASCD Gold Medal is a great privilege and provides affirmation and confidence for me moving forward to carry out my plans for co-curriculum development. The prize would also not have been possible without the support of the wonderful faculty and fellow educator friends in the MEd course as well as my family, especially my wife. I thank ASCD and NIE for the affirmation as I continue embarking on my self-discovery as an educator.

Q: What do you think are urgent issues in the area of curriculum development in your own field of specialisation?

I believe that the constant challenge in curriculum development is to design a differentiated curriculum that meets the diverse needs of the learners while ensuring that the skills and knowledge that students acquired are relevant for them to be future-ready. I think the Singapore Education System has done a great job, evident in the PISA and TIMSS educational rankings as well as the high employability of our graduates.

There are, however, several urgent issues that the education system and schools must address moving forward as we prepare for the technological and socio-economic changes that are upon us. I would like to focus on two of them. The first is the digitalisation of the workplace and by extension, schools. Schools must make use of the affordances of technology to inculcate digital literacy and skills in our students. The COVID-19 pandemic provides fresh impetus and urgency for teachers to adopt innovative pedagogies and tools, such as Zoom and the Student Learning Space (SLS) to engage our students. While the pandemic highlights how versatile and resilient our teachers and students can be, there is a need to take a step further to re-examine how our curriculum can be revamped to better support these new modalities of teaching and learning as well as review the content, the skills and knowledge that our students will need.

The second issue that we urgently need to examine is how the curriculum needs to move away from “what” to learn to the question of “how” to learn. With the VUCA world upon us, content knowledge is made obsolete at an increasing pace and students need to have the aptitude to learn, re-learn and unlearn in order to remain relevant. This is why the development of self-directed and collaborative learners who are able to learn independently and think creatively is so important. This has long been touted as an educational outcome for our students but we still have some way to go. In the 2018 PISA Global Competence study, Singapore students came up tops in the overall rankings but fared below average in the category of self-perceived cognitive adaptability. The indicator examines the ability of students in adapting their thinking and behaviour to novel situations. This perhaps highlights the tendency of our students to focus on the “right answers” amidst an examination-oriented culture that rewards accuracy and compliance. As we move towards equipping our students with the tools to navigate uncertainty, the curriculum will also need to be revisited to provide more opportunities for students to experiment, more opportunities for students to fail and more opportunities to develop their voice, as we move to a curriculum that facilitates heutagogy, where the teacher takes a back seat and students take the lead in designing their learning experiences and content.

Interview with Capstone Project 2020 Winner, Mr Lee Fook Loong Eugene

Capstone award winner 2021 Eugene.jpg

Q: Please describe what you do now and how the course has helped you with your work. How have the prizes helped you or contributed to your professional development?

Currently, I am a vice-principal at a primary school. I have benefited a lot from this Master in Education (Curriculum and Teaching) because I am now better equipped to provide curriculum and assessment leadership in my school. As a school leader, it is important for me to understand curriculum as part of the whole school experience, and not just in the classroom, teaching students a particular subject. As part of the school leadership team, we have to make many decisions including assembly and other curricular and co-curricular experiences in school. The course has broadened my own understanding of curriculum and learning to encompass all the different learning experiences that students have in schools. Having the opportunities to engage in sharing and discussions that lead to this enhanced conception of curriculum has been one of the greatest contribution of this course to my professional work.

Q: Can you briefly summarise your dissertation and your critical inquiry project which won prizes?

As part of my integrative project, I examined how teachers notice algebraic errors. In my experience as a teacher in the classroom, we often come across students’ errors in their work. Despite our efforts to do corrections and remediation, these errors continue to persist. In my previous role as a HOD, supervising teachers, I also notice that different teachers have different capacities and tendencies to notice different things about students’ thinking, or give different levels of attention to students’ thinking. That led me to think about and work on this project. As a math teacher, I believe that how teachers can respond to students’ errors is a pressing issue. I happen to chance upon Dr Choy’s work on mathematics teacher noticing and that inspired me, through more reading and research, to look deeper into the idea of teacher noticing. I have not come across this in the past but I instinctively know that it is an expertise that all teachers actually learn to develop along the way. In fact, more experienced and more competent teachers seemed to be better equipped to notice students’ errors and they know the actions to take in response to students’ errors to improve learning. That spurred me to look more deeply into this topic by thinking through the possible frameworks to frame my own thinking, develop research methods to derive more robust findings that can be translated into ideas to support teachers to better notice students’ errors and respond to them in ways that are mathematically productive.

Q: What do you think are urgent issues in the area of curriculum development in your own field of specialisation?

Moving forward, I think teacher noticing is an important skill for all teachers. We do not discuss enough about it, or rather, there is no common language within our school context to talk about teacher noticing. It’s often implied or left unspoken when we discuss how we can support teachers in their teaching. One of the things I now do on a regular basis is to go into classes and observe lessons so that I can advise and support teachers to improve teaching and learning. The notion of teacher noticing will come in handy because I can give more targeted feedback to teachers by asking them to reflect beyond the surface in their classrooms and think about different possibilities on how they can respond to different classroom situations. I want teachers to understand that ultimately, it is through the reflective process that helps them to improve their teaching.

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