Wednesday, January 23, 2008

We're reaching the end of a major JC tradition. This year is the last time 'O' level kids will get to sample JC life for one term before they commit themselves to (or opt out of) the remaining year-and-a-half of hard labour. No longer will there be in subsequent years this opportunity to try before they buy; to focus primarily on making new friends and work on the side and with less dire consequences to bear for taking it easy.

From next year, as soon as they step through the front gate, they're our to keep, for better or for worse. In a way, that helps planning our programme easier. A single intake of students is less disruptive, so whatever systems we put in place the first time won't have to be redone three months later when our 'real' students report for duty a whole term later.

We will need to plan for only one Orientation week, undergo only one time-tabling allocation exercise, and start our co-curricula activities (CCA) immediately without an additional recruitment drive to replace members lost in the second posting period. That cuts down a lot of annual pain by half at least.

So how have we been treating our final batch of transients? In a move contrary to my personal preference, we're running "seminars" instead of the [relatively] small tutorials that we're used to. Seminars, as far as dNYel interprets it, means that we get a huge group of students per venue supervised by two or three tutors at once. We manage the numbers by setting them a group-based project which they collaborate on while us tutors provide the scaffolding as necessary.

Seminars are such an impersonal way to interact with the students. So many kids, how are we going to remember all their names before they graduate? How can we tell from the sea of faces who needs help with what? As tutors, we can only flit from group to group, bearing in mind that there are lots of other groups that could use a little of our attention as well.

Guess what? I'm enjoying this teaching format a lot -- more than I ever expected to. With less tutor time per student, we can't afford to hold anybody's hand (figuratively speaking, of course) for long. The kids have got to depend on their groupmates and on the general seminar discussions a lot more than before, and as they grab the microphone to share their solutions to the assigned problems, their difficulties and reflections on the tasks, they seem more like adults at a learning conference than just a bunch of difficult kids being spoon-fed stuff they don't like to eat. To me, that's progress.

Well, hope our JC1s will be happy with their 'O' level results when they collect them tomorrow. Hope they come back...

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