Quality over Quantity

I have a brother who is 15 years my junior, and I often helped him with schoolwork when he was growing up. I was his language and science tutor at home while my sister, the middle child, helped him with math. I often helped him do book reviews when he reached high school, discussing and critiquing the book in question to help him draw his own conclusions for the review. As the youngest, I have listened to him rant about teachers who only go to the classroom to do their work but not teach. He said that some teachers just spout off concepts in class, determined to cover as much topic as they could, without even bothering if the students are catching up.

Working as a nurse back then, I understood what he meant: some nurses, through years of experience, automatically know what to do when a particular situation arises. The danger, as I have seen, is the loss of empathy to patients. The work becomes so routine that a patient’s complaint of pain is sometimes reduced to mere excuse for attention.

I think my background in nursing has helped me develop a reflective attitude on my work. I remember vowing to myself that I would never lose my empathy for my patients, for as long as I work as a nurse. When I decided to teach, I carried with me the same attitude. I remember telling myself that my students are just like my patients. They all have their stories. They all have their realities and these, for the most part, like pain, are subjective. Simply put, I brought with me a nurturing attitude when I came to teach my students. With my brother as inspiration, I promised myself to teach and not just parrot off concepts in the classroom. I would approach each topic as though I was teaching it to my brother. I would normally give analogies regarding situations that my students are familiar with in order to help them better understand lessons.

This has created a reflective attitude in me. I try to be as mindful as I can in my classroom encounters and I discuss with other teachers to find out new and better ways of motivating, say, a difficult class. I have noticed how my discussions become better as the day progresses because, as explained by Kolb (1984), I am able to see what does and does not work when teaching a particular concept or skill. In the few years that I have been teaching, I have come to see that knowing the interests of students help and so I am able to adjust the delivery of a lesson depending on the profile of a class.

Of course, some strategies do fail across classes in that there have been instances when students become more confused. I take these situations as a challenge and take the time to explain and look for ways to help them learn. I have always abided with the idea of quality over quantity: I would rather spend more time teaching them about computing for solution concentrations, making sure they demonstrate basic skills, than cover molarity and molality.

I think the main point of reflective thinking is ensuring that each classroom encounter is maximized in order for optimized learning to occur. Apart from open-mindedness, responsibility, and mindfulness (Grant and Zeichner, n.d.), I think that reflecting on how strategies and styles and being able to tailor-fit them with the needs of all students in the class requires mindfulness and genuine commitment to the education of learners.


Grant, C. & Zeichner, K. (n.d.). On Becoming a Reflective Teacher. Available from http://www.wou.edu/~girodm/foundations/Grant_and_Zeichner.pdf

Kolb, D.A. (1984). Experiential Learning: experience as the source of learning and development. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall (0 13 295261 0).

Creation Spirituality: Taking a Cue from the Dumagats

Last Thursday, several of my colleagues and I went to Camp Explore in Brgy. Calawis, Antipolo City. It was part of our school’s formation session for faculty with the idea of helping us reconnect with nature and interacting with Dumagats living in that area of Rizal. We were supposed to go back to town and spend the afternoon of Thursday through Saturday on formation sessions about cosmogenesis and interconnectedness. Once we were there, however, the formation masters decided to just stay at Camp Explore until the weekend.

What started out as a planned half-day interaction with the Dumagats became a three-day getaway of sorts. There was no cellular signal in this part of Rizal, which was situated near the foothills of Sierra Madre. Many of us showed mild signs of withdrawal: sweaty palms, anxiety, and a need to climb up the higher peaks just to get good signal and maybe send even just one text home. By the afternoon though, we all settled into the relaxing tempo of the camp.

You might be wondering what all of these have to do with teaching. The tree days I spent with them gave me a perspective which is always important in the classroom.

It was a lesson on innovation: we were dazzled by how the Sierra Madre inhabitants created fire from bamboo shavings, cooking pandan-scented rice and bilukaw-soured pork sinigang in bamboo segments.

It was a glimpse of our rich history: we listened to stories of how the inhabitants used to live near the sea (dagat in Tagalog. Hence the name, dumagat, literally “people from the sea”) and how they retreated to the mountains when the “lighter ones” came.

It was about the plight of a people: how interaction with the taga-kabihasnan and education has taught them to dream, the tradeoffs being better lives and better opportunities, but loss of heritage and a unique culture slipping into oblivion.

It was about celebrating tradition and custom: we had to take off our shoes or slippers before going inside the mess hall or our cottage. Though we were provided with spoons and forks, we were welcome to use hands when eating.

It was about reconnecting with nature: we were fed sumptuous meals, always with a salad freshly-harvested from around the area. Our cottage, which was made out of wood, nipa, and bamboo – as was most of the structures there – was situated beside a flowing stream. The two nights I spent there were probably the most restful I have ever had in a very long time.

It was the resourcefulness of the Dumagats and how they live in harmony with nature that fuels their innovativeness and creativity – something that is essential for their survival. Conversing with them, listening to their struggles, and learning about their stories is very inspirational and so grounded in the interconnectedness of things that is truly inspiring for a teacher – one who strives to be creative and who tries to let students see how subjects in school relate to each other and to the world. It also was an eye-opener for most of us, listening to how people with a “better” education had driven them from these lands they once owned and called home. It challenges me as a teacher to not only teach my students knowledge of the world, but to equip them with hearts that would truly make them better stewards and advocates of the least, the last, and the lost.

Ano Raw? (Say What?) Bilingualism in the Classroom

For my online class this past two weeks, we studied about teaching skills. These included instructional planning skills, classroom management skills, interpersonal skills, and working with diverse learners.  As I read through the resources, I felt most drawn to the topic on working with diverse learners.  For one, my brother became part of a culturally diverse classroom when he migrated with my parents to the US ten years ago.  The struggles described in The Act of Teaching (Cruickshank, Metcalf, & Jenkins, 2009) were very real for they echoed my brother’s experiences as he told us.

One more thing that drew me to the resource was a chapter section on bilingualism and how it affects the cognitive processes of students.

A few years ago, I had worked for about two months as a substitute teacher for Filipino. It was in an all-girls school – the same school where I teach now.  Back then, I had already noticed how many of the students in my Filipino class had difficulty conjugating verbs.  We studied about Filipino short stories for which “Ang Kalupi” stood out: my students did not even understand the synonym “pitaka” until I had to translate the title in English (“wallet” or “small purse”).   Sending messages via text was still quite a new phenomenon then but I had already begun to notice that students also had spelling difficulties in English, often truncating words or spelling words in text speech.

Fast forward to the present and I notice that aside from increasing spelling errors and a limited Filipino vocabulary, it seems that my students are becoming strangers to their own language – mga banyaga sa sariling wika. They are more comfortable conversing in English with their friends,some even with impeccable accent.  On the other hand, they talk less in class during Linggo ng Wika when they are expected to talk in Filipino.  They hardly understand me when I start conversing with them in Tagalog, some with open surprise that I could actually speak in straight Tagalog.  They would get confused at the use of even the simplest Filipino words like labis (excess), pataan (allowance), or makipot (narrow).

This week, I found out what term to call this phenomenon: language loss.  According to Cruickshank, Metcalf, and Jenkins (2009), it is a kind of unbalanced bilingualism where children become better at writing and speaking a second language (in this case, English) and eventually become unable to use their first language – aptly called the heritage language (in this case, Filipino).

Cruikshank et al also said that language loss can limit students’ ability to learn English as well or as quickly as they otherwise can do. What is interesting to note here is that the phenomenon on language loss was observed in students from immigrant families living in the United States.  I actually felt sorry for my students who are demonstrating language loss while living here in their own country!  What is worse is that when I listen to them talk more comfortably in a language not their own, I somehow get the feeling that some of them do not even have the slightest idea what their words mean.  Many of them seem to parrot lines heard in a movie or song, or use expressions they learn from TV shows or movies.  Most of them compose English essays peppered with dead words.

As a Filipino, I am concerned with the deteriorating status of the Filipino language in today’s generation.  Part of our identity as a people is our language. As a teacher, I am concerned at how limited their vocabulary is. The more limited their vocabulary becomes, the harder it is for them to understand simple instructions – be it in Filipino OR English!

It is for this reason that I commend the Department of Education’s (DepEd) decision to use a Mother Tongue-based framework in teaching basic education which is also in line with the department’s aim of developing a “culture-sensitive” curriculum (Sec 5, RA 10533).

The idea of using mother tongue as medium of instruction is for basic education to be delivered to learners through their first language, that is, a language they understand. There are 12 mother languages (Official Gazette, n.d.) that have been identified based on the number of speakers of the approximately 150 dialects spoken in the country (Headland, 2014).  I am only hoping that as we proceed to implement these new standards of the K-12 curriculum, we will be able to truly enrich and equip our students.  As Hansen, Umeda, & Kinney (as mentioned in Cruickshank et al, 2009) found out, “having a large vocabulary in a first language has been shown to save time in learning vocabulary in a second language.”

It is time we help our students brush up on their mother tongue. It is time to go back to our roots.



Cruickshank, D. R., Metcalf, K. K., & Jenkins, D. B. (2009). Teaching diverse students (Chapter 3, pp 64 – 79). In The act of teaching. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill. Available from http://www.oercommons.org/courses/educational-psychology/view

Dead Words (n.d.). Available form http://ptfaculty.gordonstate.edu/msilverman/Dead%20Words%20Reference%20Sheet.pdf

Headland, T (2014). Thirty Endangered Languages in the Philippines.  Dallas, Texas:  Summer Institute of Linguistics.  Available from http://www.researchgate.net/publication/248078736_Thirty_endangered_languages_in_the_Philippines

Official Gazette (2013). Republic Act No. 10533, http://www.gov.ph/2013/05/15/republic-act-no-10533/

Official Gazette. The K to 12 Basic Education Program, http://www.gov.ph/k-12/

The Need to Understand

“To teach is first to understand.” – L. Shulman (1987)

About a couple of months ago, I, together with other Science teachers in my department, were invited to a half-day training by PASCO Scientific (a company that offers software and hardware geared for the instruction of science). The school where I worked had just acquired additional software and hardware from PASCO and the technicians came over to help us familiarize ourselves with their use.

I remember how my coordinator told me that we will get to “play with our new toys” – she was so excited about how these new gadgets can help our students have a better appreciation of science.

During the training, I was surprised at the existing PASCO gadgets we had. I was unaware that we had those “toys”! For a while there, I thought about the times that I could have used them in my classes. However, I was just glad that I finally know that we have those probes and sensors to use in my future classes.

I was excited because we have a new digital microscope that will allow us to project specimens onto a screen. The software bundled with the microscope could even take pictures of the specimens! There were also sensors for gathering different data that will be useful when conducting investigatory projects.

During the demo, I realized that besides having new gadgets, it was also crucial for us to not only understand how to operate them, but also to know where they can best be used. It was a good thing that the software bundle also came with suggested activities that can be modified and adapted in the classroom.

The half-day training spent with PASCO also made me understand all the more how important it was for teachers to understand the content of the subjects they teach. This way, we can plan our lessons and activities better for the benefit of our students. This will also help us choose which tools we can use in the classroom that will help us impart knowledge effectively and that will fit the needs and skills of our students.

This experience brings to mind Mishra and Koehler’s (2006) idea of TPACK (technological pedagogical content knowledge) which basically states that “[q]uality teaching requires developing a nuanced understanding of the complex relationships between technology, content, and pedagogy”. Understanding content and knowing which strategies to employ is the first step towards teaching effectively. Understanding and using which technology works best will further enhance and enrich classroom experience.


For more information on PASCO products and services, you may visit http://www.pasco.com/


Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2006). Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge: A framework for teacher knowledge. Teachers College Record, 108(6), 1017-1054. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9620.2006.00684.x.

Shulman, L.S. (1987). Knowledge and teaching: Foundations of the new reform. Harvard Educational Review, 57, 1-21.