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Strategy #10: Specify and Magnify

Mr Khemistry

Specify and Magnify

This is strategy #10 from Dr Lee’s book, ‘Internal Drive Theory’. If you have not read the previous strategies, click here to start!

This method looks for the positive behaviors and points it out. Amplifying it. This increases the child/student’s motivation level. 

The challenges for this method:

  1. Lack of patience. It requires patience to actually look for the good in the child/student.
  2. Tendency to judge the wrong instead of waiting and appreciating the right.
  3. What to magnify. For academic studies, we can focus on the wrong things. Which might at best waste their time. At worst, it may cause them to lose marks.
  4. When this method is taken to the extreme. E.g. you appreciate them doing their work, then all they do is work and forsake play.

At JC level, it’s not so easy to pick out good in the student when you only spend about two hours with them every week. Humans have a tendency to notice what’s wrong instead of what’s right, teachers included. Sometimes teachers can misinterpret or over-compensate for comments made in the A level Chemistry markers’ report. For example, students putting the wrong dipole moment for hydrogen bonding diagram. Teachers end up getting them to put dipole moment for every atom to prevent them from putting it on the wrong pair of atoms. 

How to make use of this method:

  • Find out what is good. For example, what are the marking points
  • Be observant to pick out positive behaviors
  • Be patient. Wait for the opportune time
  • Make sure the emotional connection is strong
  • Provide a positive model, i.e. you model the behavior
  • Ignore the negative. For the moment.

That’s it for strategy #10. Go to the last strategy!

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Set Goals to Learn Chemistry

Mr Khemistry

Came across this really good TedEx talk by Stephen Duneier on goal setting, watch it if you have the time.

Well, we’re reach the 3rd last strategy by Dr Lee in her book “Internal Drive Theory”. If you haven’t read the previous strategies, start here.

Strategy #9 – Set Goals to Learn Chemistry

Dr Lee starts by stating why it’s important to set goals. It helps the child/student visualise what they want to achieve. Due to the focus of time and energy on a specific goal. And when they’ve achieved the goal, they feel elated. 

One of my favorite speaker, Jim Rohn, used to say, ‘There are two kinds of people when it comes to facing the future. One with fear and apprehension and the other, with anticipation. The difference lies in the fact that those who anticipate, designed their future.’

Goal-setting then, is a simple exercise in ‘designing’ your future. There’s short term goals and long term goals. The point about setting goals is you have to be specific. There’s no point in setting a vague goal, you wouldn’t even know if you’ve achieved it!

Challenges of goal setting

Calibrating Goal Difficulty – this point has been brought up before but it’s good to remind ourselves that the goal has to be doable with some effort. If it’s totally out of their league, the child will be demoralized and give up without trying. 

Before setting the goal, have a sense of how motivated the child is. If he/she is low on motivation, give easy goals and frequently praise them upon completion of each task. If they are motivated, set goals which will stretch them. Only set those “impossible” goals when you have good rapport and available to give timely feedback. Doing these goals will help to build up his self-efficacy. Remember that if your child/student fails, both fails.

Second challenge is to set some grand blanket goal and use threats. You may achieve those goals, but at the emotional expense of the child/student. I remember as a student, i have respect for teachers who are firm but fair. I’m afraid of the discipline master because he is usually very fierce. I would do assignments from both but one is out of respect, the latter is out of fear.

At JC level, it’s amazing to note that many students still do not set goals. They are mostly drifting along, whatever score they can get, that’s it. I remember when i was in Secondary school, i had a close friend who would always compare grades after every test. I wasn’t a competitive person, so at the end of the day, i did not keep up. My wife tells me that she too had a friend like that, but the difference is, my wife was the top student in class. Sometimes having a goal (a person to beat), can motivate us to work harder. How can we foster more friendly competition at JC level Chemistry?

That’s it for strategy #9. Go to strategy #10!

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Design the Self-Concept to Learn Chemistry

Mr Khemistry

This is Strategy #8 of Dr Lee’s book, ‘Internal Drive Theory’. If you have not read the previous seven strategies, click here.

Words are powerful. They send a subliminal message from the physical world to our subconscious. Our subconscious mind has no way of telling which words to believe and which words to keep out. That is a job only the conscious mind can do. So as parents and educators, we need to be VERY careful what are the words that come out of our mouths. 

I used to think that if i could just not label students as being “stupid”, i am doing pretty well. But now i know, even body language, sighs and words have the ability to demotivate a student and discourage them from even trying. There are many research showing how when we put labels on a child/student, they will behave in such a way to live up to that label. For example, if you mix in average students with the brightest students in class 5A, over time, those average students will come to see themselves as being bright. And they behave accordingly. 

Challenges of designing the Self-Concept

Parental fears – Sometimes we project our fears onto what the child randomly does. We pass judgement and hence sculpt the unformed self-concept of the child/student. When we repeat it often enough, it becomes a self-fulfiling prophecy. 

Learning how to ride a bicycle, we are told not to focus on the tree, but on the road. But guess what happens? We focus on the tree and steer the bicycle into the tree. This is a all too common scenario. We become that which we fear. Or in this case, we mold our children/students into what we fear.

How can we consciously design their Self-Concept?

By passing GOOD judgement using a positive example of behavior. And if they do naughty acts from time to time, separate the act from the child’s self-concept. It’s difficult but necessary. One analogy that is familiar to some of us is how God separates the sins from the sinner. He hates the sin (act) but loves the sinner (the person).

Sometimes, certain experiences will cause the child/student to come to the conclusion that they are not smart or capable. We need to tell them it is not true. Rather, it is due to a lack of effort. Then show them by working with them through the challenges and celebrating mini-victories. By showing them that they can change their results through effort, they will learn to see that poor results is not final and is can be improved upon.

For JC Chemistry, they need to understand the concept. And explaining it with scientific terms. One of the challenges i face as a JC tutor is some of their self-concept is already ingrained. For example, “I am not good in calculation questions. I cannot remember the reagents and conditions.” These are simply not true. Anyone can practise more to get better in calculations. And using concept maps, most students are able to remember a big chunk of reagents and conditions over time. Getting better is simple, but it’s not easy. 

That’s it for strategy #8, go on to strategy #9!

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Failure Management: Learning Goal Orientation

Mr Khemistry

Failure Management: Learning Goal Orientation

Hi all, here it is, strategy #7 Failure Management: Learning Goal Orientation, from Dr Lee’s ‘Internal Drive Theory’ book. If you have not read the first six strategies, click here.

In this chapter, Dr Lee shares three kinds of goal orientation or mindset (paraphrased) :

  1. Results orientated.
  2. Risk orientated.
  3. Growth orientated.

Kids or even adults with results orientation focus only on the results. Once they meet with failure, they give up. Because the results tell them that they cannot do it.

Those who are risk orientated, looks at all the possible risks and never attempts to do anything. Another way to describe this condition is the fear of failure. This is very prevalent in our society, especially in the public sector. The mindset is one that says, ‘I don’t want to take risks at all, i want to be safe and comfortable. Nevermind if i never accomplish anything significant.’

The growth orientated mindset is the one we want to cultivate in our student/child. So that they view failures as a chance to learn from the experience. To grow in wisdom, knowledge and everything else. 

Challenges in cultivating the growth orientation mindset

  • Emotional impact
  • Wrong person adopting the attitude i.e. teachers and parents

Think about it, in Life, most of us learn from trial and error. When did we stop learning from errors and mistakes? When did we start getting frustrated and giving up on doing something worthwhile? 

To quote my favorite speaker, Mr Jim Rohn, ‘Don’t say i’ve got to do it. Say i get to do it.’ The first part has the victim mentality, of being forced and not having a choice. A simple shift in the verb brings us from being the victim to being a enthusiastic person who is privileged to do it.

Another quote, ‘Don’t wish it was easier, wish you were better.’ Shift in perspective, it’s not about the challenge, it’s about YOU!

Lastly, another quote from Mr Rohn, “I’d tell you how risky Life is, you’re not going to get out alive~. The Englishman says, ‘if that’s how it’s going to be, let’s give it a GO!’ Right~, give it a go!”

Remember to IMPART the growth attitude. Ask them what did they learn from the failure. Because most will. Get them to scrutinize their study strategies. 

Many people have remarked that A level H2 Chemistry is one of the hardest subjects to study for. But because some students did well for O level Chemistry with last minute work, they are lulled into complacency.

Prime them right from the start, get them to write down what do they expect to score for tests/exams. Then remind them AFTER they get back their results. Inculcate the growth mentality into them. When they can persist on their own conviction when faced with challenges, the battle is half-won.

That’s all for Strategy #7, hope you’ve found it useful 🙂 Go to strategy #8!

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2019 Mr Khemistry Chemistry A level results

Mr Khemistry

Congratulations to all students for successfully completing this challenging journey! I am glad to have been part of your A level Chemistry journey 🙂

whatsapp from student









Our Centre’s results for 2019 A level H2 Chemistry:

53{8445fa0408f68c331c03e03f10d6a7bff33fb7168cc52e9b2191ddf5ec3671a6} – A

88{8445fa0408f68c331c03e03f10d6a7bff33fb7168cc52e9b2191ddf5ec3671a6} – A and B

100{8445fa0408f68c331c03e03f10d6a7bff33fb7168cc52e9b2191ddf5ec3671a6} pass

Very glad for those who did well. Proud of all of you who put in your best effort.

Those who didn’t do as well as expected, dust yourself off and learn from this experience. We are not patronizing you when we say this is a small setback in the grand scheme of Life, it really is.

Those who did well got a headstart but nothing is stopping you from catching up later right? Remember Life is a marathon, every day is a gift, don’t live in regret. 

All the best!!!!

By the way, if you are interested in joining us for H2 Chemistry Tuition, click on the whatsapp icon or call icon and get in touch!

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Strengthen Self-Efficacy: Difficult Victories

Mr Khemistry

Strengthen Self-Efficacy: Difficult Victories

This is strategy #6 from Dr Lee’s book, ‘Internal Drive Theory’. If you haven’t read the first five strategies, start here.

First of all, Dr Lee defines self-efficacy as a belief one has about one’s capability to perform. Not to be confused with self-esteem, which is a sense of self-worth.

Self-efficacy is very specific and we would be talking about self-efficacy in school, specifically towards academic studies like Chemistry. E.g. i have low self-efficacy about my ability to bake a cake. But i have high self-efficacy about my ability to teach ‘A’ level JC H2 Chemistry. I feel confident that i can help students to overcome their challenges in studying Chemistry.

A quote from motivation researcher, Prof Gary P. Latham, “Given the same low level of performance, people with high self-efficacy exert effort and persist until they have mastered the task, whereas those with low self-efficacy view their poor performance as a reason to abandon their goal.”

Learning new things is always tough, so we need to inculcate high self-efficacy in our students/child to press on. There are three ways to develop high self-efficacy:

  1. When others believe you can (Tutors can fill this role)
  2. You observe a role model who could (One of the more diligent classmates could fill this role)
  3. Experience your own Difficult Victories (most effective way, personal breakthough. One example is the fire-walk done during Tony Robbin’s seminars)

Challenges in providing Difficult Victories

  1. Parents/Teachers rush in to help – As a parent and teacher, i know that it’s sometimes better to let the child/student struggle with the problem. To wait for them to answer the question rather than giving them the answer. But we are impatient.
  2. Parents/Teachers fear failure will cause the child/student to give up. So we set our expectation too low, set the test to easy.
  3. Parents/Teacher live vicariously through their child/students. Naturally we want to see them succeed, not fail. We need to allow them to taste failures (where there is no serious consequence). So that they will experience the exhilaration of overcoming a difficult task.

How to provide Difficult Victories 

  1. Set the difficulty to be a stretch for them. More than what they can comfortably achieve. (Difficult as Schools will need to answer if the failure rate is high)
  2. Help just enough, so that they own the success process. (Try not to spoon feed them too much)
  3. Scaffold the process and set them up to succeed. (One of my teaching strategy is to tell them what i will test them later on)
  4. Prevent them from giving up, by using the previous five strategies. (Emotional Connection and Rapport is vital here)

It is particularly difficult if i may add, at A level Chemistry. The student fails every SINGLE tests and exams even after working diligently. This is very different from O level Chemistry where drilling will get you across. Drilling at A level H2 Chemistry will only work for basic questions, not so much for application questions. So tutors will have to make sure that they actually understand the concept rather than memorizing the model answers.

That’s all for Strategy #6 Strengthen Self-Efficacy: Difficult Victories. Hope you learned something from this article 🙂

Go to strategy #7!

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RIVR for Learning Chemistry

Mr Khemistry

Random, Intermittent and Variable Reinforcement (RIVR)

This is Strategy #5 RIVR from Dr Lee’s book ‘Internal Drive Theory’, if you haven’t read the first four strategies, click here.

In this strategy, we look at using rewards to help influence the child/student’s behavior. 

Firstly, we have to distinguish between ‘approval’ and ‘reinforcement’. Approval for the right behavior should be constant, however, the reward should be RIV (random, intermittent and variable). An example she uses is the Jackpot machine. Since the rewards is RIV, the person is motivated to keep on pulling the lever in the hope of getting the intense pleasure of hitting the jackpot. This is why some are addicted to gambling. A chemical released in our bodies called dopamine helps to reinforce this addiction. 

What to Look Out for When Using RIVR for Learning Chemistry

  1. Use a reward that is viewed by the child/student as highly positive. 
  2. Rewards needs to be given immediately after the desired behavior for there to be a tight link.

How to use RIVR for Learning Chemistry

  1. When there’s a spontaneous RIVR in class, celebrate it together with them. This elevates their happiness to exhilaration.
  2. Make it memorable so that they will want more.
  3. Avoid bribes or any physical things/toys/gadgets that is tangible. It may cause the child/student to associate the happiness with the bribe rather than the joy of achievement. (Example: Economic tuition teacher gives plane tickets and ipads for test prizes)
  4. If you’re a parent, use hugs and lots of verbal encouragements. Even more play-time than usual will cause a positive reaction.

Dr Lee went on to talk about the use of punishments to deter undesirable behaviors. It is mostly the reverse of RIVR, we need to choose a punishment that is intensely painful (thus memorable) to the child. It does not have to be a physical punishment, it can be a verbal one. However,  we need to be careful that the child/student does not link the punishment to studying. The child/student need to link the punishment to the undesirable behavior.

An important point was that parents should not use RIVP when they are not in full control of themselves, i.e. when they are very angry. This may cause the parent to inflict more pain than necessary. 

Linking results to effort

Sometimes, the punishment might simply be inflicted by Life itself naturally. In that case, parents and teachers just need to help link it back to the undesirable behavior. We need to avoid adding salt to their wounds when Life inflicts punishment. Remember to keep our Emotional Connection (strategy #2) strong. We could keep a private record of what the students have not done throughout the term and show them the correlation when results are out.

Alright, that’s it for strategy #5, RIVR for learning chemistry.

Go on to strategy #6.

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ps: A classical experiment done by Pavlov on dogs was one of the pioneers in conditioning studies. 



Informational Feedback to Learn Chemistry

Mr Khemistry

Informational Feedback to Learn Chemistry

We’ve come to strategy #4 from Dr Lee’s book, Internal Drive Theory, Motivate Your Child to Want to Study. If you haven’t read the previous three strategies, start here.

This ranking of feedback is based on my own personal opinion, not from the book. The idea is, we need to get a good balance between giving detailed feedback and time spent doing it. When i was a school teacher, i fluctuate between level 1 and 2, depending on how much time i had to mark the scripts. Not surprisingly, students were unable to improve much based on level 1 marking. With level 2 marking, they only know that some keywords are missing. Hardly actionable. When i observe the teachers who took time to give detailed feedback, most of the time, their students were able to realise their misconceptions and improve. 

Level 0 – No feedback 
Level 1 – Right or Wrong. Tick or Cross. Ok or Not Ok. (Good enough for some calculation questions)
Level 2 – Tick or Cross with some comments. “Missing key words”, “Wrong Spelling” etc.
Level 3 – Tick or Cross with detailed feedback. “Dipole moment on wrong atoms, missing hydrogen bond label”

People tend to get discouraged if no feedback was given over a long period of time. We need to shorten the feedback loop since children tend to get discouraged easily.  In short, we give our child/students a little dose of emotional boost to keep them going. 

What to Watch Out For

  1. The right difficulty level. Need to be careful to give them tasks which is attainable but requires a stretch of their abilities. We all have a circle of competence, learning takes place just outside of this circle. We muster our available resources and wits to tackle the problem. And in the process of solving the challenge, we enlarge our circle. The problem comes if the task is WAY out of our league, more so for children/students. When they see no way to tackle the task, they get discouraged and give up immediately without trying.
  2. Language feedback. In qualitative answers for ‘A’ Level JC H2 Chemistry, students are expected to use scientific terms to explain chemical phenomenon. Something which they could skim over in ‘O’ Level Chemistry. They could still get some credits for using layman’s terms to describe chemical processes. However, at ‘A’ Level Chemistry, they will be penalized quite a bit. I would give them weekly mini-quiz on standard ‘A’ Level descriptive questions and mark their work. This allows me to quickly see if they are able to use scientific terms correctly.

Dr Lee also demonstrates the use of a marking scheme (like a rubrics/scoring guide) in increasing detail as the child/student gets more advanced. Rubrics would have to be customized to the child/student’s level. Sometimes, a negative rubric could be used to call attention to and weed out some undesirable traits.

That’s all for Information Feedback to Learn Chemistry! Go to Strategy #5 RIVR and RIVP!

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Study Process to Learn Chemistry

Mr Khemistry

Study Processes to Learn Chemistry

The next strategy listed by Dr Lee is called “Study Process”, if you haven’t read the prior two posts on the first two strategies, click here to start.

It’s basically forming good study habits together with your child/students. I see it as an extension to the first strategy, ‘Structured Choices’. The only difference is that ‘Study Process’ involves the results as part of the cycle. She argues that focusing on results will set the child/student up for frequent disappointments. However, focusing on the process is rewarding as the child/student is competing against themselves only. The sense of progression will also be very motivating.

As parents and teachers, when we focus on their study process instead of just the grades, they too will not place too much emphasis on their grades. Having said that, we can still look at their answers to get an idea of their thought process. It would be even better if they are able to articulate why they were stuck or made that particular mistake. If it was a calculation error, it is easy to rectify. But a conceptual error at Advanced Level could be a long list of misconceptions with its roots deeply embedded from lower levels.

Learning and Drilling

One point which she makes in the book i would like to elaborate on, she mentioned that doing more of the same (wrong) process will not change the results. Also we need to distinguish between the learning stage and the drilling stage. In the learning stage, they are allowed to refer to materials and search the internet for answers or explanations. But in the drilling stage, they are doing exams questions under timed constrain and marking their answers to check for mistakes.

Most parents and teachers do not distinguish the two, which works fine when they are at lower levels. However, at Advanced Level Chemistry, just drilling and checking the answers, they still wouldn’t understand. To check their understanding, all we need to do is to slightly tweak the questions. You will quickly realised they can’t solve the new (slightly tweaked) problem.

Image result for frustrated

Refining the Study Processes to Learn Chemistry

Your students/child is the best judge of whether they have understood the learning objective. Some sources call it the “Aha!” moment. It is when their understanding of the topic suddenly click in their mind. Sometimes it’s described as if our minds are in a fog, then when we finally understood the solution, the fog clears and we can see what was it that was troubling us.

So when the child/student feels that the process helps them learn better, they will be able to handle different variations of the particular question. At A levels, it is important that they are able to learn the concept rather than just memorizing the information. One of the learning outcomes is they have to apply their knowledge and make predictions for new contexts. So if they have been just drilling all the way til JC, they will find it very hard to score quality grades.

That’s it for Strategy #3! Go to Strategy #4 Informational Feedback to Learn Chemistry 🙂

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Emotional Connection to Learn Chemistry

Mr Khemistry

Emotional Connection to Learn Chemistry

For her second strategy, Dr Lee spoke at length about an “Emotional Connection” between parent and child. This is what the teaching fraternity refers to as “Rapport”. (If you hadn’t read my post on the first strategy, click hereIn layman’s terms, it means that ‘if your students likes you, they will do anything (your homework, tests, assignments etc) for you. And most likely they will do it well.

Why? Because they want to be in your good books.

This is a handy tool to have in our teaching know-hows but it’s a double-edged sword. Because if students hate you…GG haha. You mean know it as mental fortitude or grit, determination. There’s a TED talk that describes it as the X-factor which differentiates the people who become successful and the people who don’t. Watch it here.

Motivation, which is the main crux of her book, depends a lot on this “emotional tank’. Learning new things is difficult, learning chemistry at advanced level

Image result for difficulty level asian meme 

So the rapport between students and teacher, child and parents, helps to see the student/child through tough periods. ‘A’ levels is one of the toughest period in a young person’s life. If the child has a strong peer group or a tutor that can guide them through, with good resources, it’s half the battle won.

As parents and Teachers, we can build this emotional connection with our child/students by not sabotaging it. How?

How NOT to Break the Emotional Connection

By not venting our frustrations at work on them, by not projecting our deepest insecurities on them. Being angry at the student/child distance them from us, causing them to activate their self-defence mechanism. And when there is a wall or divide between parent/child, teacher/students, they will choose to withdraw. As a result, they lose this emotional connection, get frustrated and give up trying.

In the Harvard Teaching and Learning course, they say that the lesson started 15 minutes before the bell. What are you learning about them in those precious minutes? (For those in the corporate world, “The sale happened (or was lost) before the customer ever stepped into your store.”)

Ok, that’s all for now. See you in strategy #3 Study Process to Learn Chemistry!

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