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Words Matter

17 Sep 2019

PAT 14 copy
Poems, songs and movies – English teacher Hing Mui Hong uses real-life stories to show her students the power of words and the emotions they evoke.

Miss Hing Mui Hong, Keming Primary School,
President’s Award for Teachers 2019 Finalist
Imagine you’re a child in a poor village in Iran. You’ve lost your sibling’s school shoes and your parents do not have the money to get another pair. What will you do?

When English teacher Hing Mui Hong asked her Primary 6 students this question, the responses included queries about why the children could not ask their parents for new shoes and why their family was so impoverished.

She had shown the students scenes from the Iranian film, Children of Heaven, in which a young brother and sister decide to share a pair of shoes after losing a pair, to talk about the background, values and considerations that impacted the family.

Her purpose was two-fold: To help her students learn about aspects of character, such
as empathy, and to help them write fuller, richer characters and stories.

“A good teacher is a good facilitator, who can connect with students and reach out to
them based on their learning profiles,” says Mui Hong, who has taught at Keming Primary School for nearly two decades and is Head of Department for English.

For another lesson, Mui Hong got students to study the lyrics of the song, Tie a Yellow
Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree. She used this song, which talks about an ex-convict
wondering if his wife would welcome him home, to discuss the notion of forgiveness.

When planning lessons, she not only takes into consideration how best to meet students’ needs, but also pays attention to their development, the effort they put into preparing for class, and how their attitudes towards learning evolve over time.

“At the end of the day, I want to see the sparkle in students' eyes. Then I know, okay, they have understood the lessons and they are one step closer to their goals.”

Helping students find their voice

In her effort to reach out to different types of learners, Mui Hong taps different methods,
including technology. Sometimes, she is surprised by the results.

In one instance, she had asked her students to practise for an oral exam using Padlet,
where she could set topics and students could record their responses.

“I had a very shy student, who lacked confidence,” says Mui Hong. “It was difficult to get her to speak up in class. But she listened to her friends’ recordings on Padlet, looked at the feedback and sent in a very good submission herself. I was really surprised. She sounded really confident!”

She adds, “As a teacher practitioner, I am open-minded about the tools that are  available. When I use ICT, it has to be a tool that helps me and my students meet the lesson objectives.”

Mui Hong’s English classes offer a variety of lessons – in active listening, speaking skills, the nuances of language, the importance of tact and positive messaging, values, and aspects of storytelling and journalism.

“I hope to make the learning of the language a rich and meaningful experience for the
students,” she says.

Some recent projects that have captured the imagination of Primary 5 students revolved
around modern marine conservation efforts – something Mui Hong collaborated on with
subject teachers to marry the learning of English and Science.

The students researched the topic and were challenged to develop ways to educate
schoolmates about it.

“We tasked them to come up with storybooks to teach their peers about how they can
play a part in protecting marine animals – and they did. Last year, a group of students did photojournalism, so they went to S.E.A. aquarium to observe marine life, took pictures and wrote down their findings, before staging an exhibition in the school library.”

“What I’m trying to say is that learning and teaching has to be fun and meaningful. When
students realised they were writing for a real audience, and conveying a meaningful message, they took the task more seriously and became so enthusiastic about it.”

Words that uplift

Mui Hong’s passion for teaching was triggered during her polytechnic days, when she
really enjoyed guiding her juniors in Chinese Orchestra. She had initially planned on
pursuing a career as an accountant, but a stint at contract teaching changed her mind.

“As a teacher, I have found myself growing and felt more excitement in my career than I
had before,” says Mui Hong, whose earliest students included kids facing financial
difficulties or lacking family support.

“I started to think about how I, as a teacher, could provide my students with the love and
care that they need.”

In her effort to do her best for her students, Mui Hong constantly hones her pedagogical
skills – keeping abreast of fresh teaching strategies, learning from colleagues and attending conferences.

She is involved in professional learning teams, where fellow teachers assess areas for
improvement in the teaching of some concepts and brainstorm solutions to strengthen
the support for students in learning.

Mui Hong was part of one such group that looked into why some students excel in
grammar yet struggle with composition.

“When it comes to writing composition, some students have the tendency to forget their
grammar rules, and their sentence structures can be problematic. We did some research
and found that we teachers need to do more to help students connect grammar with
writing,” says Mui Hong.

“If we find practices that work well, we will share with educators in the teaching fraternity.
This creates a ripple effect with more teachers sharing good practices with others.”

In everything she does, Mui Hong looks far beyond her English class. If her students
speak carelessly and lack tact, she gently reminds them how words can hurt, and the
importance of being sensitive and forgiving.

When they read a story or watch a film, she encourages them to use their imagination, to consider what would happen next, and why.

She says, “Through the English language, I hope to uplift students, strengthen their
character and make learning fun and enjoyable for them. My classroom is only a springboard for them to grow up to be lifelong learners and useful members of society.”