16 October 2006

Heheh. I Get The Feeling That Sandra Davie Has Been Reading My Blog

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the abolition of the EM3 stream in our schools and I mentioned the Rosenthal effect. Now suddenly the Straits Times has an article on it too. Ah, how lucky our journalists are today - they have bloggers to educate them, or at least inspire story ideas.
ST Oct 16, 2006
Dear teacher, do you think I am too stupid to do well?
Rosenthal Effect links teacher expectations to students' showing

By Education Correspondent, Sandra Davie

HIS mother wept when she was told that he would be placed in the EM3 scheme. He had to bribe his brother not to tell relatives and neighbours about it.

Polytechnic student Marc Tan knows all about the stigma that is attached to the stream for slow learners. 'I was so ashamed,' he told The Straits Times in an e-mail message he wrote after news broke that the current system would be replaced by subject-based banding in 2008.

With the change, he hoped that the labelling and stigmatisation of students will go away. He remembered how streaming affected the way teachers treated the students.

'In primary school, I was quite good in maths, but all the teachers treated us like we were troublemakers and worthless.'

Marc might be exaggerating the extent of derision his teachers dished out. But he is clear about who is responsible for his turnaround: his form teacher in Secondary 1. 'He made me the monitor of the class and said I was better in maths than some of his Express stream students.

'It made all the difference. It was such a confidence boost for me. I worked hard to prove him right,' he said.

Marc took the predictable route for most EM3 pupils, making it to the Normal (Technical) stream in Secondary 1. But where he broke tradition was when he did well enough in Secondary 1 to be transferred to the Normal (Academic) stream in Secondary 2. In Secondary 5, he did well enough in the O-levels to make it to a junior college, but opted for a polytechnic course instead.

Do teachers' expectations of students' performance affect how well their charges do?

Harvard psychologist Robert Rosenthal thought so. His seminal study in the 1960s of young students in what he called 'Oak School' found that when teachers expect students to do well and show intellectual growth, they do.

Likewise, when teachers do not have such expectations, performance and growth are not so encouraged and may in fact be discouraged in a variety of ways.

His conclusions were based on a 'trick' he performed on teachers. After he gave an intelligence test to all the students at the beginning of the school year, he selected 20 per cent of them randomly.

Then he told the teachers that these were students who showed 'unusual potential for intellectual growth' and could be expected to 'bloom' in their academic performance by the end of the year.

Eight months later, he re-tested all the students. Those labelled 'intelligent' showed significantly better results in the new tests than those who were not singled out for attention.

Hence, the Rosenthal Effect: Teachers' expectations about intellectual performance can lead to an 'actual change' in how the students do later.

What happened in between? A self-fulfilling prophecy, going by Professor Rosenthal's observation: 'If you think your students can't achieve very much, are perhaps not too bright, you may be inclined to teach simple stuff, do a lot of drills, read from your lecture notes, give simple assignments calling for simplistic factual answers; that's one important way it can show up.'

Subsequent studies by other researchers appear to back this up. One study involved videotaping the teachers' interaction with students who had been identified as bright.

The tapes showed that teachers smiled and made more eye contact with 'bright' students while other students were treated in a generalised, standard manner.

If the Rosenthal Effect is real, will Singapore's subject- based banding, as opposed to streaming, alter teachers' expectations of their weaker pupils?

That would be wishful thinking. This is how subject-based banding will work for the weakest pupils who are currently streamed into the EM3 course.

All pupils, including those who are lagging behind, will be banded according to their strengths in specific subjects.

For example, a student strong only in mathematics will study it at the standard PSLE level but he will take English and Mother Tongue at the easier foundation level, which covers the basics.

In the current system, he would be studying all three at the foundation level, branding him a weak student.

While the refinements recognise that even the weakest students may have strengths in some areas, let's not run away from the fact that the education system is centred on the belief that children have varying levels of ability and need different curricula and teaching approaches.

This has always been the case, from the days when classes were labelled Primary 1A, B and C. The difference is that the humiliating label EM3 will now be defunct.

Prof Rosenthal himself believed that children have varying abilities. He complained how, at Harvard, some of his colleagues gave out all As.

'Not everybody is going to be a star, a PhD or what have you, that's reality,' he said.

But he strongly believed that all his students can 'learn more than they are learning' and does not prejudge a student's ability.

So he sets high expectations of all his students at Harvard and almost always, all of them deliver.

It would be too much to expect all teachers not to have any kind of expectations when they teach a class.

After all, as one veteran primary school teacher pointed out, the school system itself encourages the differentiation, right from the start in Primary 1.

The weaker pupils are identified through a school readiness test and given special help through the learning support programme.

The question is, are teachers even aware of the sort of impact they have on a child's ability to perform?

Six out of seven teachers polled by The Straits Times had not heard of the Rosenthal Effect.

Researchers at the National Institute of Education have attempted to study teacher perceptions of EM3 students and how these affect their teaching. Once the results are published, they must be scrutinised, to open the eyes of teachers to how their expectations can shape their students' performance.

As the good professor said, it is the moral obligation of a teacher to check his own presumptions.

And if a teacher does not believe in a student's capacity to learn, he should not be that student's teacher.

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Anonymous said...

omg. it's obviously a ripoff. it's not the first time this has happened.

some singaporean journalists are really pathetic.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

It's fine by me. In my own little way, I am contributing towards a more intelligent mainstream media in Singapore, which is good.

Jimmy Mun said...

Yes, ripoff or not, it is a good thing that more Singaporeans can understand the potential side-effects of streaming or banding. Do realise that this is not restricted to the students; the teachers too are ranked and graded from A to D, and their performance bonus is dependent on the grade they receive. Also realise that, from what I know, correct me if I am wrong, that every school must award the lowest 10% of their teachers a D, which means no bonus, no increment, and more subtly, "Please quit voluntarily before we fire you!". It is obviously an idea taken from the Rank and Yank system. Supporters say this is why GE thrives. Detractors say this is why Enron failed. What upsets me is that 10% of all teachers will be thinking they are incompetent, all the time.

And then consider the effects of flooding our universities with 20% of specially selected and funded foreign "talents". On paper, it is supposed to make our graduates more competitive, but does it? The average PRC "talent" isnt exactly Dean's List material, but they flood the high Bs and low As, leading to a grade deflation for Singaporeans who are not the genius material. What is the impact on the psychology of the average Singaporean undergraduate? Could a late bloomer feel so discouraged that he or she will just give up fighting and settle for the bare minimum and instead focus on say, selling insurance instead of being an engineer?

zyn said...

oh, come on. could your ego be any bigger, seriously? this whole so-called blogosphere is full of gratuitous back-patting. believe me when i say very few st journalists read blogs like these.

Kevin said...

MrWang, relax lah! You should already realize that your readers are smart enough to read between the lines.

In any case, this should remind us to keep watch on how the mainstream media taps on free ideas (via blogs) for their own commercial gains (blogtv.sg?). If there's a trend of plagiarism, then there's a real case to be made.

I think part of the problem is that other than quoting bloggers on opinions, has there been any ST article which has credited particular bloggers for story ideas?

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...


I've actually received fan mail from ST journalists. But you're right, only from a few. The rest just want to interview me. :)

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...


Plagiarism? Oh, what an ugly word. Surely ST journalists would never do that to Mr Wang.

En and Hou said...

Actually, I'd say it's a good thing because the article doesn't seem to be taking the usual governmental position.

There are far, far worse articles out there that try to justify elitism and streaming for their own selfish interests, and looking at who actually wrote them, it's no surprise actually.


Anonymous said...

I believe that most blogs go unread by ST journalists. But a few blogs - Mr Brown, Yawning Bread, Mr Wang etc - are probably regularly read by ST journalists. These blogs & bloggers are so frequently mentioned in the press that it's hard to imagine how journalists could be NOT reading them.

Anonymous said...

Six out of seven teachers haven't heard of the Rosenthal Effect? She must have picked a very skewed sample.

To be fair to our NIE lecturers, I remember sitting through one entire session discussing teacher expectations and the Rosenthal Effect when I was a trainee.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Wang,
I do read your blog, because you do have some insightful things to say about education. But for the record, I heard about the Rosenthal effect years ago. About a month ago it came up again, because of the NIE survey on EM3 teachers, which I am still hoping to get the researchers to release. I spoke to some of my EM3 teacher contacts about it and realised that not a single one of them knew about the Rosenthal study. That's why I thought it was worth writing about. Sandra Davie

Anonymous said...

Blogs can make mainstream media look bad.

Anonymous said...


You have good intentions but perhaps unintentionally, you have made it seem like the NIE lecturers weren't doing their job. EM3 teachers are not representative of all teachers, so perhaps more thought could be put into citing statistics.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Hi Sandra, thank you for dropping by and .... gasp! ... leaving a comment. Hope you have not committed a breach of some internal SPH policy hidden away in the files of Mr "Blogs Are Worse Than Porn" Carl Skadian or Mr "Bloggers Have Opinions Therefore They Should Be Regulated Like Me" Andy Ho.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if I may be allowed to offer a comment on Ms Sandra Davie's contribution/response here? This assumes, of course, that the person who posted the contribution/response is indeed the Ms Sandra Davie, author of the Straits Times article.

If so, and if Ms Davie knew about the 'Rosenthal Effect' several years ago, why did she not raise the implications of this study several years ago in whatever capacity she had and in whatever institution she was in (educational or the newspaper industry) and make her views known publicly?

There is also some indication in her article that her reference to the 'Rosenthal Effect' may have been culled from Wikipedia. This, in itself may be no great intellectual sin, but an attribution would not be out of place.I should add, however, that some Wikipedia entries should be taken (read) with a modicum of salt. The entry on the 'Rosenthal Effect', however, is not one of these.

Having said this, and as the matter of 'plagiarism' has been raised in one way or another in this thread, I wonder if I may draw readers' attention to yet another interesting conundrum?

One university in Singapore advocates the use of a proprietary plagiarism detection computer programme. It is called 'Turn It In'. Basically, the programme works on the basis of an algorithm which establishes text string similarities - as far as I understand how it works which, honestly, is not much. But it is there and you can subscribe to it. It will generate the percentage of copying (i.e. duplicated text string), thus producing a measure of plagiarism based on a search engine (not as powerful as Google's)that trawls the Internet.

Mr Wang, without explicitly saying so, has in fact drawn a distinction between the dissemination of ideas (this, however is clear enough - but he doesn't deal with the 'tighter' definition of plagiariasm - i.e. plagiarism in the sense of 'appropriating the words of others as one's own without proper acknowledgement' (if I could put it that way). The avoidance of this 'tighter' defintiion, in my view, is entirely appropriate given the overall thrust and intentions of contributing to discussion about aspects of Singapore society as Mr Wang has stated them.

For those concerned with plagiarism in the 'tighter' definitional sense, you may want to consider running Ms Davie's text through the Turn It In programme and see how it 'matches' with the Wikipedia entry. But to do so, you will have to pay for this service.

On the other hand, you may want, in a quite commonsensical way, to read the Wikipedia entry and compare that with the text of Ms Davie's article and decide for yourself if plagiarism has or has not occurred.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic, now suddenly everyone's a journalism expert. Just goes to show one thing: everyone likes to - and clearly only know how to - criticise.

Wonderful, you guys are indeed showing fantastic proof of the Ugly Singaporean that everyne constantly criticises.

Anonymous said...

Welcome to the club anonymous (Tuesday, October 17, 2006 11:18:41 AM).

You are better at it so we can learn from you. "Criticism" = ugly...hmmm.

I bet there isn't a single good-looking human being on the face of the earth.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the invitation and warm welcome, fellow Anonymous.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But when a group of bloggers keeps congratulating themselves for being so sharp, so perceptive, so ahead of its time in its views vis-a-vis the media to the point that it becomes self-indulgent and masturbatory then it becomes ugly.

Everyone thinks they are good looking when they look at themselves in the mirror.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm...speaking from experience?

Anonymous said...

To Anon (Tuesday, October 17, 2006 2:45:43 PM), waaah, lucky you are writing this on Mr Wang's blog, not to ST Forum or P65 blog, otherwise you will just get deleted.

Anonymous said...

Come to think of it you are right man. Brilliant. We are nowhere near that group.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, people, I am not understanding this - where is the ugliness that is being referred to?

Mr Wang is not angry with Sandra. Sandra says that Mr Wang is insightful. There are both positive & negative comments here about Sandra and her article, so it looks pretty balanced to me. Mr Wang's articles ARE generally very good & perceptive, who would argue with that.

So where is the ugliness?

Anonymous said...

Well, Mr Wang clearly works on the assumption that journalists read his blog for ideas for their reports and congratulates himself for it. Even the headline is smug and self-praising ie

Heheh. I Get The Feeling That Sandra Davie Has Been Reading My Blog

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the abolition of the EM3 stream in our schools and I mentioned the Rosenthal effect. Now suddenly the Straits Times has an article on it too. Ah, how lucky our journalists are today - they have bloggers to educate them, or at least inspire story ideas.


And then we have a clown by the name of Jonathan who immediately jumps in to say that "it is obviously a ripoff" blah blah blah and then concludes that 'some singaporean journalists are really pathetic"

Time to look into the mirror...if you choose to

Anonymous said...

If it is not true, there is really not need to be so defensive and worked up about it. In any case, ST journalists bash bloggers too.

The truth will prevail.

So, did anyone check Wikipedia?

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

People, people. :)

Let's get a couple of things straight. Journalists -do- read my blog; after all, MANY of them have emailed me AND spoken to me over the telephone - many of them ALSO know my real name.

Sometimes they contact me about things I have ALREADY written on my blog and THEN they write something in the press; sometimes they contact me for my views on something I have not blogged about and then they quote me in their own article. Either way, I have been quoted in the Straits Times, TODAY, The New Paper, Channel News Asia etc more times than I can easily remember; SPH invited me to be part of STOMP's glitzy launch and appear in STOMP's launch podcast; apart from that I have also been invited to appear on TV for Mediacorp - so obviously I must be known to quite a number of media people; why would it be surprising that journalists like Sandra Davie would read my blog?

Anonymous interprets my post to be "smug" and "self-praising" only because he (she?) thinks it is something to be proud of, if a journalist reads your blog ... Aiyah, for some other bloggers perhaps, but for me, the novelty wore off long ago - in fact, sometimes it gets tiresome for me and I *decline* to be interviewed (and I know for a fact that folks like Yawning Bread also *do* decline interviews).

Is it something I should feel particularly flattered about, if a journalist is interested in my ideas? I dunno. I have NUS and NTU graduate students doing their theses in Sociology or Communications, who are interested in my ideas. The Institute of Policy Studies has shown interest in my ideas. Harvard Law School has shown interest in my ideas. WP politicians James Gomez & Goh Meng Seng have shown interest in my ideas. My regular readers - including doctors, PSC scholars, academics, lawyers, bankers, teachers, engineers, civil servants, entrepreneurs, at least one economist, and at least one published author etc etc - must be interested in my ideas, otherwise they wouldn't be my regular readers. Is there any reason to feel particularly flattered, because a journalist might be interested in my ideas?

Anonymous said...

Clearly there is no need to feel flattered. But one would have thought otherwise from the way you headlined that particular blog entry.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

If I were flattered, the title would have been:

"Wow! I Think Sandra Davie Has Been Reading MY Blog!"


"Heheh. I Get The Feeling That Sandra Davie Has Been Reading My Blog."

"Heheh" is like, for instance, when I've figured out my little kids' new naughty tricks but they haven't figured out that Daddy has figured them out already.

Anonymous said...


Mr W, the words are "smug" and "self-congratulatory". I don't even know how you translated that to "flattered".

Let's face it, you are "smug". No? I mean, people, smug is smug so what's the bloody deal with it? If a person can afford to be arrogant, so be it.

The point is, Mr W's posts and this news article really whipped and flogged the EM3 fiasco to death. And for that, we must all be happy.

Why? There will always be SMART people, you know, as in uber high MENSA IQ score? And there will always be STUPID people? Otherwise, how do you tell the SMART from the STUPID?

Whether you streamline them or not, R-effect or not, the smart ones will still top the class, the dumb ones will still bottom the class. The way I view it, EM3 started off with the intentions of identifying these people and addressing their specific needs, so they can achieve greater potential because it's clear that there isn't one education system that will suit everyone's intellect. See? Good move in the right direction towards an intellectual, democratic and humane society.

Unfortunately, EM3 gradually became a form of classification, just as the recent Integrated Programme, a sort of "trophy" or "label" because of competition.

If we continue with this trend, soon we will get a bunch of SMART young people who thinks they are uber-smart, can take on the world, no compassion and base everything on meritocracy, then how? Sounds a bit like breeding more hateful PAP, no?

Anonymous said...

Really, some of these so-called SMART young people are only good at regurgitating facts and do not even know how to apply those facts/concepts appropriately, let alone evaluate.

You may call them wholesalers.

Anonymous said...

I agree with paragraphs 6-8 of what Hermes wrote.

Specialised education is necessary. Labelling is the side-effect that should be controlled.