In the course of teaching children and coaching parents, I have observed a very interesting phenomenon that I shall call “All Or Nothing.” You see, when the children are very young (and the syllabus is very easy) parents are motivated to sit with their little ones to complete their work. The reasons are as follows…

• Since the children are young, they do not expect the children to know how to work independently.

• Since the syllabus is easy, the parent feels knowledgeable.



The situation changes very quickly in Primary 4. The syllabus starts to look like Greek to many parents. The children start to look very old and very big. One parent after another settles on the idea that the kids are old enough to work independently. Often too, the kids become resistant to parental involvement (and yet, they are unable to cope all by themselves). So, the parents tell the children, “You are old enough to work independently!” and then they disappear from their children’s work processes.

Imagine a little dog that you have been feeding for five years. One day, you tell that dog, “Go hunt your own food.” Predictably, that dog will starve.

Developing the skills of independent learning in children cannot be an “All Or Nothing” endeavour. There needs to be…

Foundational Phase (where you lay the foundation for the day when you tell your child “You must now do study independently.”).

Transitional Phase (where you are involved but not involved).

Independence Phase (where we all want to be).

Get an idea of the foundational phase here.

This article will detail the “Hmmm Strategy”, a cornerstone of the Transitional Phase. You see, you cannot just be there one day, and disappear the next. You need to use the “Hmmmm Strategy” to train your children to check their work.

For years and years, you have taken out your red pen to mark your child’s work. The child then follows your evaluation and comments to improve. This parent evaluation process must become a self-evaluation process on the part of the child. If not, the children will just complete work the way they have always done and since no one evaluates (since the parent now has adjured the child to be independent… or the child insists that parents trust them), the work that is done is full of errors.

The way to effect the “Hmmmm Strategy” is as follows…

(1) Tell your child to self-evaluate according to a pre-defined set of criteria. In Dr Pet’s Enrichment classes, the children are given the marking scheme.

(2) Next, you evaluate.

(3) With a bit of ‘wayang’ (“contrived, fake, put-on” – A Dictionary of Singlish and Singapore English), look through the child’s work. Mentally note the mistakes and then look at your child. With some more ‘wayang’, say flippantly, “Hmmmm… I see seven mistakes. Find them and show me.”

(4) Of course, you are still evaluating in detail (else, you won’t know how many mistakes the child has made). However, you are no longer telling your child exactly what those mistakes are. You are training your child to self-evaluate.
girl writing by window
(5) As time goes by, and the child becomes very adept at self-correcting, you can phase out even more, by saying very vaguely, “Hmmm… I see mistakes” or “Hmmm… I still see mistakes.” At this stage, many of Dr Pet’s parents ‘wayang’ A LOT. They no longer bother to look at their child’s work. They just assume that the first draft that the child delivers to them has mistakes and say, by default, “Hmmmm…”.

Self-evaluation is a critical skill for high performance. Since Dr Pet is not going into PSLE (Primary School Leaving Examination) with the children, I make self-evaluation an integral part of the children’s practice processes. Of course, I make sure I train them to self-evaluate by providing the criteria. Then, I follow behind to check their self-evaluation. If they have not done a good self-evaluation, I will raise hell and high water.

Effectively, this means I am still evaluating. There is no rest for the parent nor teacher during the Transitional Phase towards independent learning. One is still closely involved but one must see the child self-evaluate and self-correct first (to the extent that is reasonably expected of the child).

Our children have to learn to do so much in so little time. They also MUST play. Play is a non-negotiable right of every child. I enforce a learning loop where children must read the comments I have written into their previous composition and not repeat the same mistakes in the next one. If I see the same mistakes, I know that…

• the child has not bothered to learn from my comments.

• the child has not bothered to self-evaluate his/her new piece of work.

I will then refuse to mark that piece of work until the child has done so. This ensures that learning happens from one piece of work to another.

Parents assume that learning happens naturally after a Teacher/ Parent has marked work. It does not (not even when you explain the mistakes to your children).

Our children are so overworked that they complete work for the sake of completion. When you are explaining, they are dreaming. The work is done mindlessly and performance can stagnate at one level for months.

Training a child to properly self-evaluate requires the child to engage with feedback. Until I see the feedback acted upon in a piece of work, it means that the child has not self-evaluated. Self-evaluation is aan important learning skill. It means…

• Faster learning whilst less work is done.

• Truly independent learning skills that will give children pride and parents reprieve. Additionally, parents can feel comforted that in secondary school, the child will be able to learn without tuition.

• More time to play.

Which is what we all want, isn’t it?

Dr Petunia Lee holds a PhD in Business. She reads and researches into Human Motivation within organisations. She is also author of the book Internal Drive Theory(R): Motivate Your Child to WANT to Study. You can purchase her book here.

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