When School of Management and Communication senior lecturer Ella Siu entered the classroom in her first semester in RP in April 2014, the last thing she had expected was students walking out of her class.
The students told Ms Siu, who teaches accounting, that her lessons were “too pressurising”. The incident served as a learning point in her teaching journey.
“I realised that I cannot use my set ways of teaching students because at the time, I thought grades were everything,” Ms Siu said. “I had unknowingly pressurised them and I learned from their feedback that students actually want to enjoy their lessons and be able to learn in a supportive environment. From then onwards, I began to change the way I taught and was open to the students’ feedback.”
Ms Siu’s work paid off recently when she won the President’s Award for Teachers 2019. The award recognises excellent educators for their dedication and hard work in developing students. Over 3,800 individuals were nominated by school leaders, teachers, parents and students for the award this year. President Halimah Yacob presented the awards to the seven winners at a ceremony on September 4, 2019 at the Istana.
Recalling the moment when she heard the news, Ms Siu said: “I was quite shocked because I never thought I would be able to get the award.”
Among the feedback she had received during her time in RP, one stood out in Ms Siu’s memory. “A student came up to me and said ‘Ms Ella, accounting is very heavy, why don’t we play some games and learn at the same time and still be able to leave the classroom with a smile and learn something from that day’,” she recalled.
Ms Siu printed the two-page reflection journal entry, pasted it in front of her desk and mulled over the suggestion for months. She took the first steps to come up with interesting games relevant to their learning. One of these games was to print out different accounting terms such as “Bank Loan”, “Furniture and Fittings” and to paste the piece of paper at the back of each student. Students then have to go around the classroom to ask one another questions, such as “Am I an asset?”, “Am I a liability” or “Am I placed in the office?”. Through this simple game, students get to understand how accounts are classified.
Ms Siu also experimented with information and communication technology (ICT) tools, such as Padlet with a point system to engage students to contribute different levels of knowledge as a competition; or using Wiki as a platform to discuss lessons with students to create a knowledge sharing board for the class.
Initially, not all of her attempts in using ICT tools were successful. But as time went by, she was able to hone her skill in creating discussion and engaging students in ICT platforms and games. One example is an E-learning simulation exercise game where students play the part of characters and act as an advisor to a character who needs to choose between two paths during an accounting decision-making process. If the advisor gives a correct piece of advice, and if the player chose the correct answer, the character would light up with a smile and the advisor may proceed on his path. Through the simulation exercise, the students get to see the correct steps to approach the decision-making process to reach the best solution.
For Ms Siu, the joy of having her students understand and enjoy her lesson through her interactive sessions keeps her going. “My main focus is to engage and encourage them to learn, so if the student can see the value in the program, they can engage with it,” she said.
Ms Siu also firmly believes in having fun in her class. “I have learnt not to be too conscious of myself as long as my students learn,” she said. “I will be happy because that should be the call of an educator, to help my students enjoy learning so that it can encourage them to explore more knowledge.”