Monday, 29 April 2013

STELLAR Programme : Primary 1 (Part 1)

There has been far too many feedback from supposedly concerned parents from years ago that Singapore education only breeds "squares"... that the national curriculum needs to be tweaked to nurture students who can think out of the box.. students who can express themselves eloquently.. students who can take ownership of their projects and learn leadership skills, are creative and many other interesting must-haves for the Singaporean child. Our national education has been compared to those of other countries far too often. Parents rave how the national education in other countries support a child's holistic growth in both values and academia apart from envying how the children turn out to become confident public speakers who can offer thought-provoking insights to ignite constructive discussions, can think out of the square box and they never seem to be left behind. It seemed that the national (preschool to high school) curriculum of every other country is the envy of Singaporean parents. 

Singapore's Ministry of Education's English department and research team then came up (together with designated publishers) with a "new" English curriculum they named, STELLAR. STELLAR stood for STrategies for English Language Learning And Reading. 

Despite the initial outcry from parents for more creative ways of engaging children in the learning process in primary schools all over Singapore, instead of the old-school method of rote-learning to nurture more rounded children... many parents began to doubt if this change in the national primary English curriculum would work. 

STELLAR became the hype of the nation when it first started with only a few schools piloting this initiative for their students. Other schools joined in the bandwagon and eventually all schools will be equipped with materials to execute STELLAR literacy programme effectively in all schools. This directly means that teachers too need to be trained.

This post is meant as sharing a personal experience with the STELLAR programme. The lack of real-time information on the said programme made it too vague for parents to understand the effectiveness of learning the English Language. On the contrary, for the first in a long time, I felt that the Ministry of Education did something right. STELLAR was a hit with my children and many other children of our acquaintance. Here's sharing how this very interactive English programme changed how students in Singapore learnt English.

The most common complaint of the STELLAR programme was how un-structured it was and next was how parents are kept in the dark of what's been taught in class. 

In our personal experience, we were briefed during Primary 1 orientation on how STELLAR was going to be carried out. There were slides during the parents' briefing, there was a tour to the classrooms, there were children's work all over the classroom walls and corridors and there was a complete handout (like the one pictured above) of what was to be covered for the term/semester! We were very impressed! Scroll down to see more details on the items to be covered with the children in class. These are the detailed outlines of what the children and the parents can expect their children to be learning in the coming months.

There was a list of books/titles detailed in the handout given to the parents on the first day of school. No, the children do not have to purchase any of them. These are provided for by the school (used in school) in the form of big books (large sized story books suitable for classroom reading). The children are not expected to have read them prior to attending Primary 1, nor should it be of any pressing concern to parents at all. The books have beautiful illustrations, some titles are fiction and some are real stories and others are familiar rhyming books to recap on combinations of phonetic sounds that may have been done in preschool but in general all the books are easy to read-along together or for children to read on their own.

A spelling list was also given out to the children, all words that will be tested for first term of the new year. (ie. 10 weeks) The words were not too challenging for this school and all taken in context with the stories they will be covering in the different units as detailed in the given lesson plan.

Despite the many parents who have the notion that this "Teach Less, Learn More" effort from the Ministry REALLY teaches the children less (during curriculum hours), we found that the teachers had to prepare even more materials and resources to ensure the programme ran smoothly and most importantly the delivery of the programme would be fun for the children, without compromising on the fact that children will still need to know the basics of the literacy from reading to writing to comprehending. STELLAR books come with activity worksheets & teaching ideas but teachers/schools are given free rein to add on creative and interesting project ideas to bring the learning experience to a different level. Here are some samples (yes, you can peek at them) for your perusal to gauge "standard" in case you think that your children may not be prepared for early formal education. Children who have attended preschool (kindergarten) should have no major problem in completing the written assignments.

As you can see here, these class assignments are projected at an age-appropriate level so students who are advanced will have no problem with them.. students who have grasp concepts can manage them.. students who are slightly weak in language can catch up eventually. The words used in the crossword puzzle activity for example, are words taken from the big book, Dan The Flying Man. If you have noticed, this activity covers the nouns in the story. The teachers will introduce nouns as : people, places, animals and things.

For children who may still require help with spelling words, written assignments vary in difficulty and some worksheets do come with helping words.

My children had fun learning prepositions with games conducted in class and role play during speech and drama class where they get to re-enact Dan, flying over the different things in the story.

Teachers recap on phonetic combination sounds which children may or may not have already learnt in preschool. These efforts, (to us) are great measures so teachers can distinguish the independent readers from the children who are still work-in-progress.  

Like this sample worksheet below, children revise the double consonant blends...

... and this activity encourages children to listen to the short vowel sounds in words.

Punctuation is also an important factor when learning how to write simple compositions. These are also revised at Primary 1 level to complete the fundamentals of learning the English Language.

Look out for Part 2 of this Primary 1 STELLAR sharing, where I will share other resources from other good schools. In Singapore, all schools are good schools. 

Teachers are all trained under the same institute, however there are many who surpass basic teaching quality because of their passion for teaching young children and also their passion for the English Language. 

In Part 2, I will commend some exemplary  school initiatives that complement teaching of English the STELLAR way. Check back soon.

Meanwhile, have a peek at this book Dan, The Flying Man with this photobook. 

Dan, The Flying Man Photobook.

I like this animation (video) from zarahalexis.

Dan, The Flying Man Video.

Watch this video to see how these children sing Dan, The Flying Man song in class.
By Lily Hoi.

Dan, The Flying Man Song.

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