Learning about Peer Evaluation in Singapore

Eunice TanLearning about Peer Evaluation in Singapore

by Eunice Tan


Disclaimer: The diary page below was written by a teacher and cannot be said to contain 100% accurate reflections of a Singaporean student learning English.

It’s time for our daily English class again. While it’s not like I dread learning English, I sometimes think I am not improving at all. Not my teacher’s fault I think – she’s nice! But being in Secondary One this year means that there’s a big difference from the way we learn English now and the way I used to learn it in primary school. Hopefully it’s because of this new learning environment and not me.

We’re working on writing emails again today and Ms. T is introducing something called peer feedback. I think it means my friends are going to *gasp* READ MY WRITING!! Also, something I’ve been thinking since she first taught us about emails… Who writes emails anymore? Will I really need to write something like that when I start working? Why can’t we just Instagram or Whatsapp our colleagues? Ok fine, Ms. T says we’ll be practising writing emails to our Principal and I guess talking to the Principal through Whatsapp is a little strange. Email it is.

Anyway, Ms. T is telling us not only do we have to read our classmates’ emails, we have to give feedback on the email we’re in charge of. That’s fun! I totally know how to give advice, so I’ll be good at giving feedback I think. Oh wait, now she’s saying she’ll show us how to give feedback. Alright, let’s see… She’s talking about Daniel Wilson’s (who is this guy?! Maybe he has Instagram…) Ladder of Feedback and first we have to Clarify, then Value, then State Concerns and lastly, Suggest. OMG, this is impossible. Can’t I just tell my friend if I like the email or not? Oh alright, she’s giving us some help. Help is good. Very good.

The handout given to students to guide them in giving effective peer feedback

I guess those helping words are kind of useful. Giving feedback using the table like this is going to take some time though, but it makes me feel more useful and I get to do more than just write emails! Maybe that’s what Ms. T means when she says she wants us to be more engaged and take ownership of our learning. I really wonder though, if the comments that I give will help the person, and if I can give accurate comments… also, since my classmates are my peers, it’s going to be quite difficult to give extremely honest feedback because some people may take it personally.

Anyway, let’s try this. I’m excited to see what feedback my classmates give me… 

Who do you write for? Why do you write? For some time now, peer assessment has been used in Singapore public schools to communicate the idea of writing for an audience (other than the teacher). Recently, coupled with Jan Chappuis’ strategies for assessment, some Singaporean teachers are also finding out answers to questions like these: How do you know which areas of writing students need to improve in? How can we help students improve in those areas?

In a Singapore secondary school, a group of English teachers took a systematic approach to peer assessment through the use of rubrics and teacher modelling. Some classroom activities carried out included editing the rubrics commonly used by teachers to feature student-friendly language for student use, teacher demonstrations using strong and weak examples of writing, and peer feedback, which is the focus of this post.

The learning process used by some Singaporean teachers

Peer feedback was the teachers’ way of applying one of Chappuis’ strategies in helping students to improve their writing – guiding students to identify their current skill level. According to Chappuis, this can be done by “offering regular descriptive feedback during the learning.” By teaching students how to carry out peer feedback, the teachers are aiming for students to develop as self-regulated learners.

At the end of this project, the teachers learnt four things about how students could improve their English writing skills. First, clear learning goals have to be set, what students are expected to write should be modelled, and scaffolding students in peer evaluation is necessary. Lastly, for this systemic approach to peer assessment to work, both students and teachers should have ample opportunities to familiarize themselves with the process.

*The project described above was a huge undertaking by a particular Singapore secondary school and as such, names of the teachers and students could not be provided. For more information, please contact the author and if possible, she will put you in contact with the teachers who led and participated in the project.


Chappuis, J. 2015. Seven Strategies of Assessment for Learning, 2e. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, pp. 11-14.

Defining the Team in Team Teaching

Eunice TanDefining the Team in Team Teaching

by Eunice Tan.


Team teaching. One of the gnarliest issues of EFL teaching in Japan, and in my opinion, one that is fiercely linked to the idea of the “native speaker.” The notion that the Japanese do not speak English clearly (even though there is strong evidence opposing this) is still firmly rooted in the minds of many English teachers in Japan, nationality notwithstanding. Many schools across Japan still feature a “native speaker of English” JET (a participant in the Japan Exchange Teaching Programme), ALT (Assistant Language Teacher), or NET (Native English Teacher), who tends to be consulted on all things speech-related in the classroom. I know. All those acronyms!

Handy abbreviations and native-speaker-isms aside, another reason why team teaching is such a minefield in Japan could be due to how differently Japanese and non-Japanese English teachers understand team teaching to be. Brigham Young University’s Center for Teaching and Learning summarises the act of team teaching to be anything ranging from having two teachers fronting a lesson together, to any situation where educators collaborate on developing a curriculum or teaching materials. In a Japanese public school classroom, chances are that the two EFL teachers’ ideas of team teaching could be on very different points of that team teaching spectrum. Teru Clavel, writing for The Japan Times, also states that sometimes the labour policies of the companies or organisations that the non-Japanese EFL teacher belongs to can directly contradict what the Japanese EFL teacher has been told is allowed in team teaching.

With all the sound and fury related to team teaching, how have the non-Japanese EFL teachers been dealing with this issue, practically, in their classrooms? Earlier this year, a colleague and I crafted a survey titled “JETs’ Perceptions of Team Teaching” and asked former and current JETs to complete it. The survey focused on the use of textbooks in team teaching because most public school non-Japanese EFL teachers have to contend with using a set textbook.

We received 47 responses, most of which reported having mostly positive team teaching experiences. However, these were just 47 JETs out of the tens of thousands who have gone through the programme since 1987, hence the survey results were not an accurate representation of how most JETs feel about team teaching.

So, we decided to focus more on the advice they gave concerning team teaching (their imagined audience being current JETs), and the relevant parts are presented below.

Note: The term “JTE” used in the comments below refer to the “Japanese Teacher of English”, or the Japanese team-teaching partner that JETs usually work with. 

Get your team-teaching partner onboard!

I was lucky in that my JTEs allowed me to use the textbook more as a guide than an actual teaching material. I used it to find topics that are related or interesting and presented new material on that.”

“If the JTE is not flexible, try to make it more interactive. For example, one of the sections was about making coxinha so I pushed to do the lesson in the kitchen area to not only go through the section but also make coxinha. I made the mistake early in waiting for the JTE to approach me for lessons.”

Be Proactive!

Find a way to meet with the (Japanese EFL) teachers out of class and plan lessons properly.”

Actively ask your (Japanese EFL) teachers to plan lessons together. Approach them with ideas for each lesson.”

“Once I figured the JTE didn’t want to do much team teaching, I was proactive in creating things like games (in PowerPoint, etc.), flash cards to supplement, etc. which got me a pass into better team teaching.

Find ways to engage your JTE and students through warm up activities. Warm-ups are the best!!”

Ask your JTE what some of the phrases you are helping teach are in Japanese so you can help confirm or edit student dialogue later.”

Sometimes, you just have to accept things the way they are.

“…recognize that at times you will be unable to deviate from the curriculum because of test prep.”

“You’ll be very lucky if your JTE values English learning and by extension your input. Just go with the flow and accept the things you cannot change.

Just agree with the (Japanese EFL) teachers and things become easier.”


Good, solid advice, all of the above.

Lastly, here is a reflection on my own team-teaching experience. Before I moved to Japan to teach EFL, I taught in a secondary school in Singapore and was the sole teacher in the classroom. In Japan, I enjoyed team teaching for the most part, but I really felt uncomfortable and stifled by having a team-teaching partner. I hid it well though, because all my teaching partners thought I really loved team teaching!

After leaving the team-teaching field, I realised that the discomfort I had experienced was due to me trying my best to achieve an equal distribution of work in lesson planning and delivery. That is a unicorn in the making, a legend, a wish, a fable – but not in a wistful sense. There is no such thing (in my opinion) as an equal distribution of team-teaching work in Japan. There is partnership and there is each member of the team pulling his/her own weight. By and large, we bring such different things to the team, and each team-teaching unit is so different, that to try to achieve equality is to try to teach unnaturally. If I had sat down with all my different Japanese teacher partners and had together worked out what kind (see the Brigham Young article) of partnership we desired, I think I could have had a much happier team-teaching experience.

What about you? Do you know what kind of team teacher you are? Do you know what kind of team teacher you want to be?

Community Activist in Progress

Eunice TanCommunity Activist in Progress

by Eunice Tan.


I never thought that teaching would lead me to becoming a community activist. My goal when I first started out teaching, was, very simply, to be the best teacher in the school I worked at. Thankfully, I was shown a better way and I now approach teaching less as a competition and more as a collaborative effort. This paradigm shift was the beginning of the shaping of my teacher self into some sort of a “community activist.” In this post, I will share how enjoying collaboration led me to becoming a community activist and introduce you to the community that my team and I support.

Discovering the power of collaboration

I started out teaching in Singapore for the Ministry of Education, which trains its body of teachers very well and sets teachers’ development as one of its priorities. When I moved to Japan, I did not have similar learning opportunities and so charted my own, rather lonely, professional development journey through taking the CELTA course and studying for an MA in TESOL.

Then, very recently, there came a point in my career when I returned to a work environment that takes the professional development of its teachers seriously.

I had been working in solitude on developing my teacher self for so long that when given a community of like-minded individuals (my current department!) to develop and grow with, I was struck by how much more fun and more satisfying it is to accomplish something with others. Nowadays, things always turn out differently and just better whenever I build up the courage to ask for and accept help from people around me.

Realising the need to give back beyond the classroom

Having gone through many a professional development course/session, I have realised that professional development for teachers is effective up to a point. There is only so much I am able to apply to a lesson after expanding my repertoire of skills.

So how do you give back as an educator? In many of my colleagues as well as in the general teaching community (of course, bearing in mind not all teachers do what they do for the same reasons as me), I see that we seek out ways to facilitate learning in others who are not our students – through mentoring, leading and managing local educational circles, or simply listening to a fellow educator. I believe that, to keep on being an effective educator, teachers who have been blessed with a rich professional development experience have to give back, and not only in the sense of teaching a better lesson to our students. Sustainable teacher development entails opportunities for teachers themselves to give back to a wider community. That’s why I chose to financially support a teacher development programme.

Finding a community to support

While looking for ways to give back, I read an article about a Singaporean missionary who went to the Democratic Republic of the Congo a year after she graduated, despite a brilliant undergraduate performance and potential to succeed in academia. Here was a fellow Singaporean who had taken the road seldom travelled (not a crazy rich Asian!), and maybe I could do the same.

She now works for an organisation called Justice Rising, which sees teacher education as part of the solution to rebuilding communities suffering from conflict – and right there was the connection I was looking for! This was the wider community I could contribute to, who lack the very resources I have easy access to, and for whom having effective, committed teachers establishes a level of stability and peace many of us take for granted.

* * *

The Campaign

Ariette in her classroom, getting students involved in their learning.
Credit: Justice Rising International

So, earlier this year I started a crowdfunding campaign entitled Teachers For Progress: Help Congolese Teachers Make Education Sustainable to fund a teacher training programme for Congolese school teachers. At the heart of this campaign is the drive for sustainability that results in a long-term solution for Congolese children. This solution comes from an education system that works and which cannot exist without the continual training and development of teachers – local educators with strong, organic ties to their communities, who stay despite conflict and violence breaking out in their villages. Justice Rising, that I mentioned earlier, takes a three-pronged approach to achieving its goals, the third of which is related to training and developing teachers to educate a new generation of Congolese children, many of whom have never known realities outside of teen marriages and child-soldiering. Most of the teachers themselves have experienced social and political instability for the majority of their lives since conflict in the Congo has been going on for 20 or more years.

This is the community we are campaigning for – Congolese teachers who have learnt to teach in unstable environments and yet who are bent on improving as educators so that they can lead their communities out of a vicious cycle.

Credit: Justice Rising International

As I started, I approached this campaign as an individual hoping to get help from others here and there; I had thought this cause was just that – mine, and mine alone. What happened next was unexpected, though. Through the fundraising activities, I began to see that my colleagues, friends, and family had in different degrees taken on this cause. Many of them are now part of the campaign community, expressing interest in the Congolese teachers’ professional development needs as well as raising funds for Teachers For Progress in their own ways. They have made me a community activist. From each of their areas of expertise and experience, they offer help, encouragement, and valuable ideas; from their understanding of who I am and what I do, they inspire me to continue being a community activist.

My colleagues at the Food Sale with their delicious contributions.

The campaign activities that Teachers For Progress carries out are simple, ranging from Dessert and Food Sales to Crochet Craft sales and donations from friends and family. We are also planning to share more about this Congolese teacher development programme at conferences or through blog posts like this, hopefully providing opportunities for other educators to join us in supporting them. If you have any ideas on how we can better run our campaign, we will be happy to hear your ideas!

How You Can Help

As with many non-profit organisations, it is monetary funds that are needed to sustain the teacher training programme, to pay for the 80+ teachers’ trips from their villages to the training site, for their food, board, and learning materials. The programme costs USD$20,000 to run, but if you break it down simply, USD$44 will cover one day of the annual week-long training programme for one teacher (if you are keen to support our efforts, you can go to our website or join our Facebook page to find out more). Upcoming fundraising events include a pub quiz and a progressive dinner walk in late autumn, in western Tokyo – anyone is welcome to these events (please leave comments if you’re interested). If you do not live in Tokyo, but would like to join us in supporting our fellow Congolese teachers, please share your crowdfunding experiences or crowdfunding activity ideas in the comments to this post!