The things you can do and learn online for General Paper (and Project Work).

In this well-written blog post, the writer, l.z.y, comments on people who compare other people's blogs/posts to the General Paper essay.

The blog on which this post resides, Singapore Ink., contains a category called 'metablogging'. Haven't had time to look it up, but maybe I've been doing a fair bit of it all this while. That's if 'metablogging' means blogging about blogs.

l.z.y. has his own blog as well, full of good stuff. Check it out.


Comments on: "‘The world is one big GP essay’" (15)

  1. twostepsfromtwilight said:

    What really kills GP for me is that – assuming the average Singaporean student does not ordinarily spend too much time mulling over such issues – the best students are rigid and consistent in their position, and from my reading of a few model essays, necessarily more hardline than flexible. In any case, with such little time to mull over any given issue it is not unreasonable to expect students to take the obvious route.

    GP encourages rushed, judgemental, superficial, moralistic thinking, which is, I think, not very much different from that of the wider society, so how can it be any useful (apart from allowing students to flex their linguistic muscles once in a while)?

    Izy seems to think that thinking about GP issues has wider benefits, but he puts his arguments in vague terms at best – you “can be an important part of what it means to be a member of local & also international society”. Really? That would be true in America, perhaps, because everybody there feels they have political, intellectual and moral clout, a kind of conviction that their opinion matters in a grander scheme of things. Me, I just happen to share this Earth with the Americans.

  2. twostepsfromtwilight covered a fair bit of ground in his comment, so let me try to tease out (my interpretation of) his main propositions:

    • the essay length (500 – 800 words) is too short for delicate and thorough treatment of issues, so the written product tends to be superficial
    • the time given in the exam is too short for the students to have thought sufficiently, so the students use 'the obvious route'

    My response:

    'The obvious route' is often the case offered by common wisdom, or a reaction to it. GP rewards students who are aware of common wisdom, and this is good because it's an important consideration in real life decision making. The subject does not insist that the students follow what common wisdom dictates, but it does encourage them to seek out reasons for its position, and challenge it, however superficial the challenge they produce might be.

    GP encourages the students to formulate verbalise (often reproduce) an opinion and consider the arguments for and against that opinion. The assumption made here, in producing the syllabus, is that a reasoned opinion is better than no opinion or one produced with little thought.

    The assumption made in the first paragraph of twostepsfromtwilight's comment is troubling. I don't want to quibble over how much time is sufficient for the rumination over the issues. One of the aims of GP is to bring about an awareness of these issues in the students. And often, we hope, the students' scruples would respond to the knowledge and drive them to individual reflection and discourse. GP lessons provide the space in the curriculum for the students to consider these issues. Very little useful reflection can happen on the spot at the examination itself.

    We can hope that the reflective habit will help guard against extreme forms of bigotry. The above comment warns us against the negative sense of 'moralistic' thinking – a narrow and conventional ethical system. Narrow-mindedness is indeed something many of us would want to discourage, but it's also something many others are guilty of.

    Finally, the attack on lzy's argument is not a fair one. In the sentence after the one quoted by twostepfromwilight, lzy elaborates on the point he's making. While there is a hint of the underlying idea of transcending beyond the self in one's influence, to the realm of the country or the world, there's also his 'argument from practicality', that these larger issues will actually affect one's individual existence. Maybe there's little an individual can do to delay the impending effects of global or regional developments, but thinking about these matters can bring about an understanding of one's condition and thus inform personal decisions to make adjustments or at least help one come to terms with one's predicament and find peace.

  3. twostepsfromtwilight said:

    I didn’t assume, as you say, that reasoned opinion is no better than no opinion – I spend much time reading reasoned opinion, if anything. I did assume, however, that what passes off as “common wisdom” in this society is not founded in reasoned opinion. And I don’t see why there is a reason to. When a student thinks the most obvious reason why abortion, or homophobia, or gay marriage, or cloning is wrong is because “it is against God’s will”, does one classify that as reasoned opinion? (A few of these have made my school’s model essay collection, so I guess I have my answer.)

    GP, of course, can bring awareness to the issues, but I’m not sure about its utility beyond that point. There is an instructive element in local society – the local thinking, the people, the curricula, the government, the local media. My school’s GP lessons are used to whore everything from “racial harmony” to “total defence” – nation-buliding, apparently. Students might be brought to realise why racism is ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’, for instance, but the first and most significant lesson the student takes back is “today was the annual racial harmony lesson and there’s an ugly racial harmony related freebie rattling in my shirt pocket”.

    Ultimately that instructive element, to me, overrides the potential utility of GP. When I read a few of my classmates’ essay the responses are packed with rhetoric I’ve heard from telly. That’s because GP has failed to teach them only thing that matters about GP: opinions are first owned, then shared – and not the reverse.

  4. Sorry if I was unclear about the assumption mentioned in twostepsfromtwilight's last comment. I meant to say that it's my assumption based on my understanding of the GP syllabus, which I tried to indicate with the addition of the parenthetical clause:'in producing the syllabus'. I did not mean to suggest that he would disagree with that assumption.

    If a student's essay gives 'God's will' as the only reason for why the student rejects a position without qualification, then it certainly does not deserve to be included in a collection of 'model' essays. But religious students would be right to state it as their reason, as long as they're clear about which God they're referring to and take into account the opinions of the rest of the world who do not believe in the same God, or even those who believe in a different version of that same God.

    What I say to my students about the model essays is that they are not perfect ones, but they're the best we've got, or something to that effect.

    I hope they read twosteps' last statement, so that GP will not fail them. Very incisive. Thank you.

  5. Just my 2 cents worth here:

    we may need to l@@k at the (examination) syllabus to better appreciate the teaching and learning of the subject and what teachers are doing in the classrooms.

    The syllabus aims would have covered many of the desired outcomes and intentions we would like to see by the end of the GP course. However, the assessment objectives can only serve to achieve the syllabus aims to a limited extent. This is because one needs to be practical when it comes to the design of the assessment papers and implementation of the examination. Consideration must also be given to logistic issues or factors such as candidature, time frame for UK to complete the marking and concerns such as overlapping with other A-level subjects etc. {This is a critical aspect many practitioners, teachers and members of the public have not given much thought.}

    At the end of the day, I am not just concerned with what opinions my students hold. For a start, what I value more is that they are engaged, or want to be engaged with the issues surfaced. What I strive for at the end of each lesson is not merely to challenge, but to let them leave the classes with an (or a deeper) undestanding of the issues, an awareness of the different perspectives and learn to put forth their opinions, whether shared or owned, in an effective and diplomatic manner.

    As ideal and polished as we wish our students to be, we must also be aware that not all JC students, or any 17- to 20-yr olds, are adequately equipped to be cogent, succinct and effective in their expressions. Credit must be given to A-level teachers who are trying their best and at wits end to prepare students at the tail-end of the cohort. Try facilitate a class where some students do not even know the meaning of the word 'repercussion'. It tests your patience, challenges your passion as an educator and at times, makes you wonder if you have made a mistake for the choice of profession. I get this frequently – even without having the usual distractions and annoyance from the administration.

    Let's be realistic: the English language is still a "foreign" language to almost all of our students. I just heard a potential political candidate mentioned the word 'irregardless' on national tv on 930pm news. !! . What does that reveal?

    I may be wrong, but I avoid asking students to tell me what is their opinion in class or in their essays. This is because what I am likely to get is what you can also gather from uncles at neighbourhood coffee shops. (Hence, I tend to reject essay questions with 'in your opinion').

    Instead, I strive to ask: tell me what you think are the reasons/ motives/ explanations/ justifications… What does ___ reveal? Can you explain ____?

    It saves me a lot of heartache.

    Moanday tomorrow… aargh! Aargh!! AARGH!!! :p

  6. screena said:

    I am very poor in GP.My status is so low that I can’t hope more than “E” in GP.
    So,I want to improve my GP.How can I do this?
    In other subjects I am quite good.Then,can I get a good college or not(with scholarship)?

  7. Have you spoken with your GP tutor?

  8. visit different web sites
    read daily magazines
    collect different info

  9. Reading widely is important cause gp is very content based. But i think u should also keep a ‘vocab book’ to store unique words while reading. Maybe doing mind maps on texts u read can also be helpful in helping u remember the content of the texts..

  10. helo,
    i’ve noticed that while most of subjects offered in examination at cambridge have a definite syllabus with particular topics to be covered, the general paper merely states its requisites….i mean am going for cambridge examination this year and i fear the most for gp since it covers every topic…it is very interesting in the sense that it is not limited but for exam purpose..i find this frightening since while i might have been properly equip to argue many topics but it is not enough.

  11. Free essays for higher school certificate students

  12. i agreed that gp is mostly concern about the facts around us..but how come to write a perfect essay..what cambridge looks for..? can anyone tell me?

  13. i thnk the answer must be general knowledge and creativity..:p

  14. jtm osi pree…<3

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