Learning English without textbooks and workbooks

Learning English without textbooks and workbooks

SINGAPORE - Stellar, or Strategies for English Language Learning and Reading, was put in place in all primary schools here, starting with Primary 1, in 2009.

Textbooks and workbooks are not used. Instead schools get learning resources such as collections of stories from the Ministry of Education (MOE), which teachers can adapt.

Some 800 to 900 teachers are trained each year through workshops and mentoring, and by 2015 all English language teachers will be trained the Stellar way.

All levels in primary schools will also be using Stellar by next year – when the real test for the initiative will also come.

This is because the current Primary 5 pupils – about 40,000 of them – become the first to take the revised Primary School Leaving Examination English Language paper in 2015.

The revised paper will allow pupils to express themselves more freely in speaking and writing, and develop creativity and critical thinking. For example, they can write compositions in various styles based loosely on a topic and pictures and not a fixed scenario.

Dr Elizabeth Pang, the Education Ministry’s programme director for literacy development, said she was confident Stellar works.

She cited results from research done from 2007 to 2012, which tracked 160 pupils from 10 Stellar pilot schools over six years from Primary 1.

Their yearly results in a language exercise were compared to those of another 160 pupils from schools which started Stellar later. Those on the programme longer scored significantly higher in areas such as speaking and reading.

The study was important in establishing Stellar’s effectiveness before the ministry extended it, said the MOE.

In the same vein, the ministry has embarked on a project, now in its third year, to improve English language teaching at the lower secondary level in about 12 schools. It is doing this through lesson study, where teachers meet to test and share teaching methods, and watch each other’s lessons.

“The strategies used at the secondary level are not really the same, but we want to continue having good teaching practices,” said Dr Pang.

Stressing that the project is in its experimental stages, she said that while a common curriculum in primary schools is possible as the focus is on foundational skills, secondary schools are “much more diverse”.

“The idea is to really focus on the teaching approach and to get teachers to reflect on how they customise their teaching to the kinds of children they teach.

“These are the enduring principles in language teaching.”

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