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05 《歲月如歌 》
07 《愛得太遲 》
08 《在世界中心呼喚愛 》
Sharing from English Subject Teacher Miss Vicky Shek
Trust and Understanding are Catalysts for Students’ Learning
When it comes to learning English, quite a few students with dyslexia will choose to avoid or even dislike it out of feeling helpless and not knowing where to start. To them, English is like an alien language.
After becoming Pathway’s English teacher, Miss Shek noticed that every student with dyslexia has his/her different needs, with varying learning ability and difficulty. That is why she starts by understanding the student’s psychological condition.
“Every student has his/her strength and weakness, and students with special education needs often resolve to negative behaviour as an expression of their shortcomings or fear. As long as the teacher does not form conclusions about them based on their behaviour, or negate that they also have a desire to learn, trust and understanding will eventually develop and become catalysts in the students’ learning.”
Miss Shek recalls her experience when she provided in-school support at a secondary school and how impressed she was about the changes that occurred in one of the boys.
“John* was a Form One student. He was a typical boy who liked to appear strong, and created for himself an image of being ‘a little bully’. At first John was always causing trouble in class and arguing with his classmates, but gradually he became eager to learn and was the first one to arrive for class. His worksheets also became much neater! I was extremely pleased and appreciative to see this change because it reassured me that my teaching was effective.”
Before joining Pathways, Miss Shek had taught secondary school students with special learning needs such as autism, hyperactivity and a minor degree of reading and writing difficulties. She admires Pathways’ small group approach in teaching 2-3 students per class, and feels that the students here are quite lucky to receive the individualized intervention support which was much needed.
Overcome Difficulties One Step at a Time
And then there was another Pathways student Ken*, a Primary Five student who was caring and clever. He was prefect and boy scout at school, and was also part of the elite class; who would have thought that Ken had to deal with the helplessness and difficulties typically faced by students with dyslexia?
“English reading and spelling cause Ken great frustration, and he often tries to avoid them. He still has a lot of room for improvement. I hope he will not give up, and will strive to manifest his talents in other areas.”
Miss Shek often encourages her students to face difficulties with courage.
“No matter how unwilling you are, you have to continue to take forward steps and keep going, even though it may be small bird-like steps. No matter how big the challenge ahead is, you must try to overcome it one step at a time. For example, if you cannot remember the pronunciation of certain words, use your mobile phone to record its sound; if you have difficulty reading a whole paragraph, start with one sentence. If you dislike reading English, watch a TV show or a movie. Reading comics can also be a good way to learn!”
Importance of Collaboration with Parents
Besides the student’s own effort and hard work, it is important to collaborate with parents.
“Every parent who sends their child to Pathways is caring, and is willing to work together with the teacher to help their children continue their learning at home. There were parents who told me, “Miss Shek, xx is doing better in his dictation, or xx’s examination scores have improved, thank you!” And I replied, “That is a result of your child’s hard work, your praise should go to him/her.”
Miss Shek continued to explain that parents and teachers of children with dyslexia in most cases can only “see” their learning difficulties, but not really “feel” it personally. If their child works hard and succeeds, parents should give clear verbal encouragement; if the child has tried but is not making it yet, parents should continue to show support with patience and love.
This year, face-to-face class was often disrupted by the pandemic, and students often had to take lessons from home. This brought great challenge for students with attention deficiency. In order to motivate their concentration in front of the computer monitor, the teacher has to spend time to create and design more class activities, and to break learning units down into smaller parts.
”For example, for regular reading activity, I will record the content in advance and use it for listening exercise material. After showing the video and introducing the new vocabulary, I will ask the students to do one or two listening exercise, before reading the sentences or short paragraphs for the students to check their answers. This makes the students more willing to read,” Miss Shek explained.
The thoughtfulness behind Miss Shek’s teaching is well appreciated by her students and their parents.
Ms. Shum is a hard-working teacher. She is always deep in concentration preparing for class when you meet her at Pathways. During her close to 10 years tenure as a teacher, she has come across students with different special education needs (SEN), such as physical disability, intellectual disability, visual impairment, attention deficit/hyperactivity, autism spectrum disorder. At Pathways her focus of course is on students with dyslexia. To her, they are students who have varying learning difficulties and need professional intervention. With experience gathered from mainstream schools supporting students with special education needs, she understands the kind of pressure students with dyslexia are facing and knows how to steadily help them especially to increase their self-confidence.
Below Ms. Shum shares her world of teaching at Pathways…..
By using the original Japanese “Where’s the Fish?”, the most unforgettable class was created.
The Most Memorable Class
That was the class where the picture book “Little Goldfish Escaped” was used as teaching material. This is a classic work by Japanese picture book writer Gomi Taro. I happened to buy the Japanese version while travelling in Japan.
During the first lesson, I asked my two primary one students: “Can you read if you are illiterate?” One of them shook his head and hands. The other one said you can look at the pictures. Then I showed the Japanese version of “Little Goldfish Escaped”, pointed to the words 「きんぎょが にげた」, and asked them to read the name of the book. Naturally they could not read it. Then I said, ”Neither can I. Why don’t we try and see if we can understand it by going through the book?”
During that class, we went through 《きんぎょが にげた》 three times. The first time, the students told the story while looking at the pictures. The second time, they tried to guess what the words in Japanese were saying. The third time they read it, I encouraged the students to write the words or sentences on post-it-notes and stick them onto the book. As soon as they heard they had to write, they started moaning and groaning. But when I told them this was to help the other lower grade students to read the book, they immediately sat upright and tried to convert the verbal language into written language sentence by sentence. I wrote the sentences on the whiteboard, and they carefully copied them onto the post-it-notes. Finally they read their created version confidently.
When the next lesson came, I showed the students the Chinese edition of “Little Goldfish Escaped”. They were very surprised and could hardly wait to read it. After reading it once, I turned to their ‘created’ Japanese version of “Little Goldfish Escaped” and asked them to compare the two versions. Like detectives, they went through each word and sentence to compare their similarities and differences. When they came to a sentence which was exactly the same, they screamed in excitement! I praised them for becoming young writers, as great as Gomi Taro. They left that class feeling very satisfied.
The Most Memorable Student
Student A on his first day of class, entered the classroom pouting and looking angry. He said without even greeting the teacher, ”I don’t know any words, I don’t know anything!”
Teacher: “Do you know how to count?”
Student A: “I know how to count, but I don’t know any Chinese words.”
Teacher: “Not even one single Chinese word?”
Student A: “No!”
Teacher: “That can’t be true.”
Student A: “I’m not lying, I really don’t know one single Chinese word.”
Teacher: “You must at least know 3 words!”
Student A looked puzzled. The teacher wrote the student’s name on a piece of paper and asked him to read it. He read it aloud immediately.
Teacher: “I thought you said you didn’t know any Chinese words.”
Student A laughed.
Two years later, his mother told me what he said one night when they were having a tete-a-tete talk. The student told her since he was learning Chinese and Mathematics at Pathways, he only had to go to Pathways and did not have to go to school. The parent’s intention was to share with me the fact that the student liked to come to Pathways to learn, but it led me to think how long had the student been harbouring this thought in his mind.
The Most Unforgettable Parent
A parent used her spare time to teach the student writing at home. She saved the “model essays” to cope with his tests and exams, filling up several exercise books.
Several exercise books filled with model essays! I cannot imagine how much time and effort that took. If it were me, I wonder if I would have had the persistence to do so.
Ms. Shum has been in the education field for many years. She understands well that the more one learns and teaches, the more one realizes the difficulties
and has increasingly discovered her own deficiencies. There are times when she feels discouraged, but she is thankful to Pathways in providing teachers opportunities to try different ways of effective teaching.
Challenges of The New Learning Era
In response to the pandemic forcing face-to-face teaching to be halted, Ms. Shum had to adapt to the new learning era like other teachers and switched to teaching online. In the process of change, the biggest challenge was the need to reproduce teaching material which must not only attract students’ attention with pictures and texts, but also think of ways to interact with each other to get immediate feedback.
To be more well-prepared, she searched for different interactive teaching materials on the Internet, tried about 20 games, did role-playing with other Pathways teachers, and simulated online classes in the strive for excellence.
When asked what words of encouragement can be given to children with dyslexia and their parents, one famous saying came to Ms. Shum’s mind: “God closes one door and opens another window.“ Some may think it is a cliché, however it brings out an important positive message of encouragement that there is no need to dwell on the disabilities of these children, and instead, through the support of teachers and parents, they are given some opportunities for success along the way to make them feel that “I can do it”.
“When parents learn that their child may be dyslexic, it is natural that they will go through a difficult time accepting it. It will be hard work helping their child cope with their studies, but they must never give up.”
Ms. Tracy Tong is Pathways’ Early Literacy Support teacher. Being also a mother to a son who has special education needs, what she wants to see most is for parents to support and face the challenges together with their child, instead of being frightened and avoiding the “difficulty”.
“If we, as parents, are not committed to helping our child, then how can we ask for help from others?”
Ms. Tong used to be a kindergarten teacher. She noticed that many parents do not understand dyslexia. When a teacher discovers that a child had apparent learning difficulties and wishes to explain and suggest support methods, often parents are unwilling to accept the reality, and avoid facing the problem. They simply hope that the teachers at school will help their child overcome such learning difficulties.
In contrast, parents who seek help from Pathways mostly possess a fair amount of knowledge about dyslexia. They understand that children with dyslexia have normal intelligence, they only need a different way of learning. That is why most of these parents accept the suggested intervention methods, and are willing to help their child face the difficulties.
To encourage parents to support their child outside of class, Ms. Tong tries her utmost to maintain close communication with the parents. Every time after class, she pastes the content of what she taught in the student journal; if the parents come to pick up their child after class, she makes it a point to brief them on their child’s progress. For those who are unable to pick up after class themselves, she communicates with them every month to understand more about the child, so that she can design customized content for them.
Since Ms. Tong mainly teaches kindergarten students, she is experienced in handling pre-school children with mood problems in class. If a child does not want to participate in the small group activity, she will tell them softly: “It is fine if you don’t want to play now; you can join us when you want to play later.” Usually the child will be aroused by the group interaction, and will gradually overcome the negative mood and join the group activity.
Ms. Tong has taught over 50 students. The one who impressed her the most was a student whose progress in literacy learning was very slow. That student had been at taking class at Pathways for almost two years, and had experienced different methods of literacy learning. Yet he did not seem to be making any progress. But in the third year he was like a changed person all of a sudden, and made great strides in learning. He became even more confident when he entered primary school.
Ms. Tong revealed that her feelings during the time she taught this student was like a roller coaster ride. “I doubted whether I had used the correct method to teach him. Looking back, I realized that what he needed was time to absorb the knowledge he had been taught. As long as the direction is correct, the reward will eventually come. When I shared this case with my colleagues, they were just as amazed and delighted as I was.”
As our students grow up, they will be able to master and apply the skills they learnt. This is the source of satisfaction for our teachers.
Mr. Panny Chan (also known as Chan Sir) is into his tenth year at Pathways. With a total student service count of over 200, Chan Sir is one of Pathways’ most experienced mathematics teacher.
Back then, following the reform of the local education policy, the administrative workload of full-time day-school teachers became very heavy. Chan Sir, however, wanted to keep his focus on teaching students. So when he came upon the opportunity of working at Pathways’ for its After School Support Programme, he took the offer, and has been teaching students with dyslexia until today.
As classes in Pathways are mostly in small groups or even individual-based, Chan Sir can design individualized teaching plans to suit each student’s pace of learning. When a new student joins, Chan Sir will start by establishing a mutual friendship. He will observe closely and communicate often with the student during class, so as to understand whether the student’s numeracy difficulty is due simply to a weak memory, or if it is a problem with number sense. Sometimes Chan Sir also pays attention to the emotions of the student, identifying the reason behind the fear or dislike of mathematics, so that the correct intervention method can be applied.
“Students with dyslexia are usually also less confident and lacking in social skills. That is why it is very important to understand their feelings. Once there was a student whose parents consistently urged him to do mathematical exercises. This led to his dislike and refusal to learn mathematics. When I come across students who have poor learning motivation, I try to teach them through games, hoping that they slowly grow to like the subject. Only by increasing their motivation to learn can marked improvements become evident, and this process takes time,” Chan Sir explained.
Among his students, Chan Sir finds most impressive a girl who has been his student for almost seven years. She came to Pathways when she was in Primary 2. She was disengaged in class, and reluctant to do any math exercises. Chan Sir used different multi-sensory methods to arouse her interest in the subject, which facilitated her understanding of the mathematical concepts. Her grades at school gradually improved; she came second in the whole grade when she graduated from primary school, and remained among the top students in secondary school. Teacher and student are like friends now, and every class is a happy experience.
Through his many encounters with students with dyslexia, Chan Sir discovered that it is very important to identify and support children with the difficulty as early as possible. “Parents should pay attention to their child’s learning starting from lower primary school, or even before that. Generally speaking, if a child has difficulty counting numbers or skipping over numbers at pre-school stage, parents may want to have screening tests done to identify whether the child is at risk of dyslexia, as this may cause the child to have numeracy difficulty,” he said.
He explained, “The thinking pattern of younger students is not fixed yet, so they are more open to new concepts. This helps to make learning efficiency more apparent than in older students, and effect from the appropriate intervention support will come even sooner!”
Ms. Nonette Tsang has been teaching at Pathways for 12 years. She enjoys teaching as it is an exceptional opportunity to make a difference in a child’s life, and moreover she considers it as learning process for herself, too.
“Every child is unique. One has to think of the best way to teach every child,” said Ms. Nonette.
She holds this view that students with dyslexia should be regarded as “different learner”, or “differently-abled”. Given good opportunities and a suitable environment, they can be motivated to learn.
Some kids can have a bad day in school, so Ms. Nonette will observe their mood first. If they are not ready, she would talk to them about their day or have games to make them relax, in order to get them engaged in the lesson.
“In the teaching-learning process, everyone around the child counts to make that child feel confident and motivated,” Ms. Nonette emphasized the importance of creating good learning atmosphere.
Fifteen-year-old Alex Hoeflich is one of her former students. When Alex first came to Pathways in 2011, he only knew five letter sounds. Also, his writing showed inversions in some numbers and letters. With efforts given by Ms. Nonette and in partnership with Alex’s mother, the young boy is now a confident learner. In 2018, he won the Hong Kong Young Writers Award in fiction, and his poem was published in the book “New Journeys to the West.” Alex is now studying in a boarding school in the United Kingdom.
“Parental support is crucial to the success of a child,” said Ms. Nonette, “Parents should totally accept their child’s condition and be that child’s number one fan.”
She also admired the mother of another student Lucas, who came to Pathways when he was seven years old. Lucas’ mother always finds the best support for him so that he can unleash his potential, helping him to become a confident boy. “She believes in her son’s talents and capacities, even if he struggles in the area of language. She always makes sure Lucas gets the best resources and support available, even though it means he has to change schools a number of times,” she added.
Teachers at Pathways have always regarded the building of trust with students and parents as top priority. Ms. Nonette appreciates the parents who are involved in their children’s learning. She also enjoys working with people who share the same passion and love for children, and values the regular training opportunities that allow her to interact with experts in special education.
“Teaching at Pathways is both challenging and rewarding. I believe there is still so much more to know about children with dyslexia.” Ms. Nonette concluded.
Alex (first from left) was excited to receive the Hong Kong Young Writers Award on stage.
Pathways Staff Development Day
Ms. Crystal Chan joined Pathways as Chinese subject teacher in September 2017. Before then, she had taught Chinese at a secondary school for eight years, and was also the SENCO (Special Education Needs Coordinator) in the school. Ms. Chan felt that the move from a conventional school to a non-profit organization gave her greater opportunity to apply the theoretic principles she learned to actual practice.
“Working within a school, I had to make sure that the students can keep up with the curriculum. Yet it was difficult for me to closely follow up with each individual student who had learning difficulty, and I could not fully utilize what I have learned to help them due to resource limitations,” said Ms. Chan. Incidentally, Ms. Chan came across an opportunity to know about Pathways, and realized that Pathways was an organization that specializes in supporting students with dyslexia, led by experienced professionals in the medical and education fields. Hence she decided to join the Pathways team.
From her teaching experience at Pathways, Ms. Chan is pleased to find that she can attend to the individual needs of her students within the small group setting of two to three students. Teachers can also design various learning activities to rekindle students’ learning interest and build their confidence. In addition, under the guidance of Professor Cheng Pui-Wan, Adjunct Associate Professor at the Department of Educational Psychology of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, the Pathways teaching team constantly shared insights in teaching to help students with dyslexia bridge the learning gap.
Ms. Chan was most impressed by one Primary 5 student who had very good memory. He was able to remember Ms. Chan’s explanation on how to understand a character by separating its different parts, and then apply the technique to learn new characters on his own. His significant improvement was also the result of his mother’s effort in cooperating with the teacher. As the child was not very talkative, Ms. Chan suggested the mother to share with her son each other’s happy and unhappy events every day through the use of mobile phone recordings. After practicing this for more than a year, the child showed improvement in his ability to organize his speech, while also scoring better grades at school. Moreover, this helped to strengthen the mother-child relationship.
“At Pathways we always focus on communicating with parents because we firmly believe that the support from parents at home is essential. The teacher offers support and guidance, yet eventually it is the parents who can provide continuous training to their child. As their teacher, I can see my students making improvement in learning while developing a better relationship with their parents. This brings me a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that is hard to find in a conventional school environment,’’ said Ms. Chan.
Ms. Chan also added that children with dyslexia is like a“mini computer” with limited memory capacity. Hence their learning should be guided in simple and systematic ways, while teaching them to apply the knowledge to other situations. This way they can memorize less, and avoid jamming up the memory space in their “mini computers”.