Monday, 29 January 2018

Reflection, Reflection, Reflection

"Do you think you've changed, after PSP?"

Emily, a fellow 2018 asked, when we were en route from Johor back to KL, after our Pre-Service Programme (PSP) with Teach For Malaysia (TFM) have come to an end.

"I think so....I've definitely gotten in touch with my creative side. Being a teacher made me realize we are all a lot more creative than we thought,"

Which is true, I never knew I could craft so many nonsensical dances and songs until we started teaching the students at KemSkorlah. I found myself singing silly tunes and crafting song parodies to teach student English.

Most of the 2018 cohort too, crafted their beautiful worksheet for students from scratch, and their classroom display looked like something you'd see on Pintrest.

Here's one of my inspiration. 

"Also, I never knew I could still function well, after staying up past midnight and waking up at 5am, five days a week, for three weeks straight," I added.

This was very unlikely of me - I'm the type who would KO after 11pm. During KemSkorlah, most of us did our lesson plans and prepared lesson materials till past midnight. We had to leave our place by 6.30am to school in the morning so we always had to force no drag ourselves out of bed wake up before the crack of dawn.  Seeing the smile on the students' faces energizes me and gives me the motivation to do more. Plus, most of the time I gung-ho-ed with my friends which made lesson planning so much more fun!

"I never knew I could work together with so many different individuals, all with different working styles," someone added.

During Akademi (the first four weeks of intense, pedagogical skill training), we had to work with different people in the cohort. The facilitating team knew how to throw us out from our comfort zone , they would jigsaw us with different groups of people so that we get to know each others better, and also to encourage us to work with different people rather than our own niche. I have to admit, Akademi was tiring. There were days where I don't feel like socializing, wishing I could just be buritoring (buritoring is a noun that exists in the jiaqi-dictionary. 'Buritoring' implies staying in my room/at home, doing what I like, ie, reading articles, cutting off social interaction. Please do not use this word in your essay in exams.) - like when you play Sims 2 and you're waaaaaay over the social gauge and your energy level is drained. (Not that I have anything against anyone but I just need to recharge :D)


It's been more than a month since PSP. Looking back, I've certainly grew in many different aspects. Some pedagogy & classroom management skills are more versatile that I thought - its application isn't just limited to classroom, but to my every day life, in the simplest things. Here are a few of my key learning and takeaways from PSP, that I've been applying in my daily life.

1. Check For Understanding (CFU) 

"Do you know how to get out from my residential area?"


"Okay good, bye!"


This, my friends, is one of the effect of being a teacher. You always want to ensure and check if someone truly understands what you just said. While watching the semi-finals of The Voice Malaysia & Singapore, I remember a few friends and I were commenting on how the host could've CFU better.

"He should have asked the audience to repeat the instruction! The audience were just saying 'yes' for the sake of saying yes!"

An effective CFU is not limited to just asking "Do you understand?" or "Thumbs up if you understand!". Admit it- most of us here are guilty of saying yes for the sake of saying yes even if we had no idea what is going on, but everyone else is saying yes so let's join in the yes-man party.
A teacher's duty...for effective CFU. Not just in class, but in real life scenarios too!
I've learnt how to ask better questions to gauge one's understanding - instead of asking polar questions with specific answers, ask open-ended questions, where one can craft the answer based on his/her understanding. Be prepared to be goreng!

2. Giving Feedback

When my housemates and I moved into our apartment in Johor, our agent, Mr X, was late by almost an hour. I was in a foul mood, as:

1. Mr X was late.
2. The house was a mess (Mr X promised to hire a cleaner to clean up the house and dispose of any large, dysfunctional items like the TV and a huge massage chair, before we move in)
3. Mr X promised to fix some spoiled stuff in the house (one of the toilet seat was loose) before we move in but nope.
4. We were promised two parking lots but turns out we are only getting one. Mr X insisted that we misunderstood what he said. Unfortunately, this wasn't in our contract and we had no black and white proof
5. He was fixing some of the things he promised to do before we move in. I just wanted him to leave ASAP so that we could get started on cleaning
6. I was HANGRY (Mind you it was close to 7pm). Jia Qi needs her food.

I felt as if I was an active volcano, about to erupt anytime soon. My temper was boiling, and I was scripting my hate speech in my head: let him know you're upset! Let him feel tormented by your anger! Grrrrr roarrrrrrrr blererghghghghghg.

Thank goodness for my lovely housemate, Sophie, that kept me grounded. She suggested that we give him our feedback by applying the sandwich method. Start off by:

1. The Positive: Acknowledge the effort he has put in
- Even though he did not complete some task he promised, he did fix our lamp, changed a spoiled air-cond in one of our room and changed one of the curtains in one of our rooms.


2. Give him feedback on what we are disappointed about/what needs to be changed & done
- Basically item 1-5 above.

And it hit me that this scenario is very similar to what we might experience in a classroom. Students misbehave/agitate teacher. Teacher looses his/her temper. Teacher shouts and hurls negative words, thinking it will torment the students, get them to listen/behave but in actual fact, it will only generate negative feelings and might even induce a reverse effect.

The sandwich method worked well on Mr X. I have to admit though, this is easier said than done, especially for someone as impatient as me.

Always remind yourself to take a step back and think about the consequences about your action, and ways that you can work around it! If you shout and scream at someone, that person might not even know what he/she has done wrong. Communicate with them what you want to be changed. Very lucky to have a lovely housemate to learn from! :) (Yes, Sophie, if you're reading this I'm dedicating this to you ❤.

3. Modelling & Scaffolding Instructions

A: "How do you get to xxx"

B: "Oh, it is easy! Just go straight from here, then turn right when you see the hospital, then go straight again, and turn left at the junction and you'll see it"!

A: "Okay thanks!"

*A proceeds to get lost anyway*

Ladies and gentlemen, how many times have you been in a situation similar to this? Was B a good instruction giver? Something for you to think about while reading the following thread :)


The number of instructions you have given in your lifetime, is probably the same as the number of stars in the sky.

Prior to PSP, giving instructions was something I was oblivious of - Good instructions and bad instructions? How bad can one's instruction be? As long as I convey all the necessary steps, that is a good instruction right? Do this, then that, like what B did above! Isn't that a good instruction? I conveyed all the steps! Wrong!
How I felt when we were told that giving instruction was important

I've always thought that giving instruction is just, well, giving instructions, until I set foot into a classroom.

On my very first day of class, I wanted the students to play a game of guessing the name of the food their partner drew by asking yes/no questions. A pretty simple game right? To play the game, I need the students to pair up, draw a picture of their favourite food on a post-it note, without telling their partners. After they are done, they have to stick the post-it note on their partners' forehead, then proceed to guess the name of the food, by asking yes/no questions.

Little did I know I'll be spending 10 minutes to explain the whole set of instructions, repeating some instructions a few times to ensure the game runs smoothly. Conversation transcript of what happened on that day:

"Okay students, please find a partner! You have 10 seconds!"
*Students scrambling around, chatters, clatters sounds*"Okay time's up! Who doesn't have a pair?"
"Teacher, I don't have a pair!"
"Who else who does not have a pair?"
*Cricket sound*
"Okay, you can pair up with Teacher Hazwani!"
*after a few seconds*
Le Random Student 1: "Teacher I don't have a pair too"

"Okay both of you *pointing at the student that I paired up with Cikgu Hazwani* pair up please. Who else here do not have a partner?"
*silence for a few seconds*
"Okay, I want you all to draw your favourite food on a piece of post-it note. But DO NOT SHOW WHAT YOU'VE DRAWN TO YOUR PARTNER. I repeat, DO NOT show what you've drawn to your partner. *points at le random student 2* xxx, can you repeat my instruction?"
*le random student 2 repeats the instruction*
"Ok good. After you're done, I want you to stick it on the forehead of your partner, WITHOUT letting them know what you've drawn. Then, you are going to ask some yes/no questions about the food to guess what did your partner draw."
*Proceed to give some example of yes/no questions. Wrote the examples on the board*
"Okay any questions before we start?"
"You may begin drawing"

Random questions starts pouring in after I gave the green light to start.

"Teacher, who starts asking the questions first?"
"Teacher, are we drawing our favourite Malaysian food or any food will do?"
"Teacher, when do you stop asking questions?"

"Teacher, xxxxxx"
How I felt in class
Transaction cost, is the amount of resources required to execute an exchange, in economical terms. You would always try to minimize the transaction cost, and maximize the outcome. In teaching terms, transaction cost is the time required to execute an activity, and the outcome would be the students' learning.

How do you keep transaction cost low in teaching? By simplifying instruction, ensure the instructions are easy to understand to save time to maximize learning time. 

I was lucky as I was observed by a LDO (Leadership Development Officer) during that particular lesson, and she gave me solid feedback on how I could have done better:

  • Use more effective CFU method
    • Ask the students who already have a pair to raise their hands, those who do not have a pair to stand up
  • Do the instructions as you give
    • ie, ask the student to draw their favourite food first and ensure they are done before proceeding with further instructions
  • Have visible instructions
    • Pre-writing the instructions on a mahjong paper, stick it up on the board so that students can cross-check & also to ensure no instructions are left out by accident
  • Model the instructions
    • Model the steps to give students an idea what is supposed to be done

It sounds a little crazy but after that lesson I have been scripting my instructions. I'll write a checklist of instructions to be given, and tick it off as I give the instructions to ensure no important instructions slip off my mind. 

Back to the example of A & B above. B can be a better instruction giver, if he has a visual aid to show A (eg Google Maps!). Come to think of it, Google Map & Waze are good examples of instruction givers, as there are visuals representation, you do the instruction as it goes. 


Le random conversation I had with my mum a few weeks ago.
"How do you save stuff on Google Maps?"
"Oh you just search for a place, then press the star icon - it'll be saved on your maps,"
*Mum proceeds to watch her drama and ignore whatever I said*

"Why aren't you saving the places you want to visit on your maps?"
"I don't understand what you've just said???!!!"

And I sat there, feeling baffled on why she couldn't understand the instruction. 

Oh wait, I should have broken down the instruction further, do some modelling, and use the "I do, you do, we do" model. And I should be modelling the instructions, step by step. Yeppppppppp. 

4. Power of reflection

Ya I know - You don't have to be a teacher to realize the power of reflection.

"We believe that corporate leaders in today’s complex world urgently need to recultivate the art of reflection....By reviving the art of reflection, leaders can reclaim their time, deploy their fully cognitive powers to the increasingly complex challenges they face and, by inspiring the same behavior in others, liberate employees from the corrosive effects of information overload and incessant reactivity."
Excerpt from an article published at Harvard Business Review (Heads up, only 3 free articles per month)

Most of us are aware of the power of reflection - why it is important and such. But what do you reflect about? How do you articulate what you've reflected? Why are you even reflecting? What is the next course of action after your reflection?

Even before PSP started, we were dumped with a truckload of self-reflection task: Post-ROS (ROS: Rancangan Orientasi Sekolah, a one-week orientation programme where we were attached to a fellow/teaching alumni in a school) reflection, Pre-PSP reading reflection, weekly PSP reflection.

I initially found the reflections really mundane and tedious - I wasn't used to dwelling deep into whatever I've experienced and I feel like I am being interrogated sometimes. The TFM model of reflection was very specific to areas where they think it is vital to the fellowship, and we have to dwell deeper in every aspect, listing down our next steps of action for each reflection and questions we were asked to ponder. But looking back, the reflections helped me articulate and organized my thought flows, and also it helped me understand my strength/weaknesses/point of improvement so much more.

Quoting what my buddy Emily shared,

"Sometimes I get asked - and used to wonder myself - how the Teach For Malaysia Fellowship qualifies as a leadership development programme. One justification that can be made is the strong structure that TFM has in place for reflective thinking. I can vouch for this, having recently completed the 7-week pre-service training.
We 2018 TFM Fellows are going to embark on a real life case study in our respective placement schools very soon. No two schools/classrooms/students are the same, thus productive reflection should ground our decisions and actions in these coming two years and beyond."  
Emily, TFM 2018 Cohort

Heck, even this blog post is a piece of reflection, reflecting on what I've learnt and how I could have done better + focusing on next course of action.

Looking forward to the start of fellowship experience! 

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Erawan Waterfall, Kanchanaburi, Thailand

One of the most beautiful waterfalls I've ever been to was Erawan Waterfall at Kanchanaburi province, Thailand. Erawan Waterfall is named after the three headed elephant, and is famous for its clear, emerald blue, seven tiers of falls. The cold, emerald blue water runs from the Huai Mong Lai River down a 2100 meters tall mountain.
My favourite part of Erawan Falls, Tier 5
I visited Erawan Falls during my recent trip to Thailand in October 2017, and I was awestrucked! I can still remember vividly the excitement I had, from planning my trip, to hiking the waterfalls from tier to tier! Every tier was different and beautiful in their own way - and the water just gets clearer and more blue as I hiked up further! 

Here are some useful info for those of you who would want to visit Erawan Falls! 

When to Visit

The park is open all year round. However, the seasons you visit Erawan Falls might change the landscape drastically, which will dictate your experiences. The higher tiers, especially the seventh tier, dries up during dry season. Whereas during rainy season, you might risk seeing murky brown water instead of emerald blue water. And sometimes when the rain gets too heavy, the ranger might deem the falls too dangerous for visitors, and thus closing off the falls. There are two main seasons at Kanchanaburi: 

Dry Season: February to April
Rainy season: May to October

The best time to visit is probably from late October to early December, just after the rainy season, and right before peak tourism season. I visited the falls in late October - when the rain was unfortunately, still relentless. I was checking Erawan National Park's official Facebook page diligently every day - It was nerve-wrecking, as visitors were limited to visiting the first few tiers, and higher tiers were off-limits a few days before our intended trip to the falls.

Some snippets of Erawan National Park's Facebook page a few days before our visit: 

Below: Facebook update on the day we visited Erawan! We were somewhat lucky as the falls were open on the day we visited Erawan Falls. I was brimming with joy when I found out all tiers were accessible, and the water was somewhat emerald blue - not as blue as it usually is on a good day, but nevertheless I was still really satisfied with my experience.

Here is a Blog Post to get a gist on how it is like visiting Erawan Falls during drought season. 

Snapshot of Erawan Falls on better days below. Rest assured, the photos are not photo-shopped! 

Do check Erawan National Park's Official Facebook Page to ensure that the falls are feasible for visit before embarking on your journey! 

The official opening hours of the falls are 8am - 4.30pm daily.

Although the official close time is 4:30 pm, the rangers start ushering visitors down from the seventh tier around 3pm. The rangers will then move down tier by tier to ensure all visitors are out before closing. I would recommend hiking to the seventh tier first, then enjoy the falls while you descent, as the higher tiers are more likely to be less crowded in the morning. 

Getting There from Kanchanaburi

1. Self-Drive

Cost: Around 180 Baht (4.5 USD) per day for bike rental + petrol cost + parking (50 baht for bike)
Duration: Around 1 Hour

There are plenty of bike rental services around Kanchanaburi. We rented a bike for two days for 9 USD, which was pretty reasonable. The roads to Erawan Falls from Kanchanaburi was straightforward, with sign boards present every few kilometers or so.

- Straightforward and wide road, sign boards present
- Flexible journey, able to stop whenever you want. You can visit a nearby cave and dam lookup point 10-20 minutes drive from Erawan Falls.

- A little pricier compared to public transport

2. Public Transportation

Public Transportation is definitely the cheapest way to get to the falls. There are frequent bus services from Kanchanaburi Bus Station to Erawan falls which departs hourly. The journey will take around 1.5 hours. You can check the bus departure schedule here 
Photo Source: Trip Advisor
- Cheap
- Frequent departures

- Last bus to leave Erawan is at 4pm
- Longer journey time
- No stop over for photos etc.

Another alternative is by flagging down a taxi, which might be a more expensive but time-saving option.

Entrance & Parking Fees

(As of November 2017)

Entrance Fees:

Adult 100 THB
Child 50 THB

Adult 300 THB
Child 200 THB

Parking Fees
Motorbike 50 THB

The entrance fees to Erawan Falls also entitles you to visit Phartat Cave, which is about 10km away from the falls. The only way to get to this cave is by self-driving or hiring a taxi, as there are no public transport heading there so far (as of Jan 2018). Did not visited the caves as we were tired after spending half a day at the falls.

The Hike into the Falls

The hike from the parking lot/bus drop off area to the seventh tier will take around 1-2 hours without any breaks. You'll definitely stop more numerous times for photos so do allocate at least half a day to visit the falls!

Upon arrival at the parking lot/bus drop off area, visitors have to walk around 500m to the first waterfall. You can opt to take a buggy for 30 Baht from the entrance to the water fall. The trail is flat and mostly paved, so I personally feel that the buggy ride may be little overkill, as you still have to hike up the falls, unless you only intend to visit the first two tiers.
Path from the carpark to the falls
After a short 10 minutes walk, we arrived at the first tier.
Tier 1, featuring fallen tree

There are plenty of picnic area around the first and second tier, as well as toilets. You can also purchase some food and drinks at the stalls around the first tier as well. Not too sure about the pricing as I did not purchase anything when I was there.

The first and second tier are just less than a minute walk away.
Second Tier
You can walk behind the waterfall when the water volume is not as high!

Food and beverages are not permitted beyond the second tier. Visitors are required to register the number of plastic bottles they are bringing beyond the second tier. The rangers will be collecting a deposit of 20 baht per plastic bottle. You may get back your deposit if you can show the ranger you brought your bottle back with you at your return leg.
Expect more stairs from second tier onward!
Tier 3
The trail from the third tier onward becomes more like jungle trail and more rocky. However, the trails are well marked & the hike was relatively easy – nothing too strenuous, but it can be a little steep and slippery at some point. Bring decent footwear and drinking water if you plan to hike up to the highest tier!

Waterproofs shoes are highly recommended - though it is almost close to impossible to keep your shoes dry if you hike during rainy season due to the higher water level!
Spot the fishes in the water? You'll see plenty of fishes lurking in the clear water, waiting for humans to dip their leg into the cool and refreshing water, to nibble on their flesh. "Free Fish Spa", what most visitor would call it. Personally am not a fan of fish spa (nor the idea of fishes feeding on my dead skin) so I stayed away from the fishes, though they are harmless! 
Fish spa? Uhmm, no thank you!

Fourth Tier
The rocks at the fourth tier forms a natural slide.
5th Tier
Suddenly I realize the stairs are forming another waterfall, and it was impossible to keep my shoes dry as the water level was higher than my ankle, so water just started seeping into my waterproof shoes....

7th Tier

Pool at the seventh tier

More fish spa
Read somewhere that you can climb the falls at the seventh tier, which will lead you to a "secret" pool. However, the water level was higher and there were rangers around that whistle blows anyone who tries to do any act that is deemed dangerous during my visit.


You can camp at Erawan National Park for a really reasonable fees. We were intending to spend a night but changed our mind due to the monsoon season. We ended up staying in Kanchanaburi and doing a day trip to the falls.

Not a fan of camping? You can also book bungalows for a really reasonable fee. You can book tents and bungalows here in advanced!

What to Pack

- Sturdy pair of waterproof hiking shoes/sandals
- Waterproof bag
- Extra Set of Clothes
- Towel
- Mosquitoe Repellent
- Sunblock
- Water bottle (preferably not plastic bottles!)

Other Practical Info

- Visit the falls on weekdays if possible, as it gets packed with holiday-goers on weekends!
- Try to visit the falls as early as possible! Bear in mind that you have to start descending from the 7th tier from 3pm, and the hike up is about 1-2 hours without stopping (which is, mission impossible, because you will be stopping numerous time to take photos of the breathe-taking falls!)
- Alternatively, stay a night at Erawan National Park, you'll get the advantage of being the first few visitors !
Back to Top