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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

English lesson in Singapore

The lesson I had observed was an English lesson about situational writing. The objective of the lesson was to prepare the students for the situational writing section of their Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), which is the test that determines what secondary school they will be attending. The test includes a writing section that requires students to write a response to a situation that they are given. For example, during this lesson, the students were given a graph depicted the results of a survey asking students what is their favorite weekend activity. They are asked to write a summary that describe the results of the survey. This may seem simple for the 6th so I would like to point out that students in Singapore struggle with the English language due to English being their second language.

My CT had planned the lesson using resources of the PSLE booklet the school had given out to the teachers. She had taken an example of situational writing out of the booklet (which was the graph) and presented it to the class. Then she asked the class what they observed and worked through their conclusions with them (as a whole class activity). At the beginning of the lesson, she reminded the students of what they should think of in all their writing, P.A.C.T.: Purpose, Audience, Content, and Tone. She also gave the students helpful hints and reminders as they voiced their observations to her.

One of the challenges my CT faced while teaching lesson was focusing on content as well as grammar. Since the students are still struggling with English as they study for the test, my CT must remind them of correct grammar in addition to what they should write about. Students in the class were using phrases such as “most favorite” and my CT would stop to remind that that favorite already implies that the activity is most liked. Another challenge was having the students focus on using the graph to write instead of spending too much time on the content of the graph. The students were starting to discuss each activity individually and saying things like, “I think the students who chose reading are lying.” She had to remind the students that they just need to extract the graph for specific factual information instead of discussing their inferences. The students would get sidetracked into talking about their own activities during the weekend and asking to look at the other survey graphs. They also wanted to do a class survey of their own. It was a challenge to keep them focused on the task at hand. The students never actually got to writing during the lesson and they were given the writing assignment for homework.

The teaching style for this lesson was less structured than previous classes. Students were allowed to sidetrack for a bit when discussing the content of the graph. This resulted in students that were energetic about contributing what their favorite activities were on the weekends. The information was presented to the students on a “visualizer,” which is similar to a projector here but it is more high-tech. Instead of having to use transparencies, you can just put a regular sheet of paper on the visualizer and it will show up on the projector slide as it should for the whole class to see it. Every classroom in Singapore (that I have been in) has one. The class also started the lesson on a whole class discussion about what they observe. This is similar to many of the lessons I have observed in the United States. While the classrooms in the United States have usually had the students on a rug during a whole class discussion (or at least in group seating arrangements), the students in Singapore were in rows. This resulted in students having to speak up and some students becoming distracted due to be far away from the person who was speaking.

Usually, after a whole class lesson in the United States, students break off into a group or individual activity. This usually happens in Singapore too but, for this particular lesson, discussing the graph took up the entire period so the entire lesson was a whole class discussion. During this discussion, I noticed a teaching style that my CT had mentioned to me before, drilling. Since students in Singapore continue to struggle with their English, especially their writing, teachers provide useful “hints” to their students to help them produce well-structured writing. For example, a hint for students is to begin their reports with, “The aim/purpose of this report is…” and a hint for students to end their report is, “In conclusion, the survey shows…” or “On the basis of these findings, it would seem that…” These hints are brought up during the lessons to continue to “drill” them into the students’ minds so that they remember to use them on the PSLE. They are recommended to choose one that they know how to use and are comfortable with. They are also told that hints are just suggestions and if they have a better phrase, they should use it.

The students were informally assessed based on their participation in the lesson. Since we did not get to their writing assignment, there was not a chance to walk around the room and assess their writing process. They were given the writing assignment for their homework and it would be collected the next day for assessment. My CT informed the students that there will be class editing the following day for their homework assignment so it is important that everyone completes the assignment and has something for their classmates to edit. Class editing is something I have also observed back in the US but one thing I found interesting was that the students in Singapore find it very easy to give criticism to their classmates’ writing and find it harder to give compliments. My CT must remind them that they should start by giving compliments instead of just criticizing each other. I always found that it was easier to give compliments instead of criticism. My CT mentioned that this may be due to the different cultures. She said that students in Singapore are typically hard on themselves so it is easy for them to be hard on others. It seems as if positive reinforcement plays a smaller role in Singapore (although it is definitely not absent).

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