Dr Elizabeth Pang oversees MOE's STELLAR programme, which promotes English-language literacy development.
The next time a young child comes home beaming about blowing bubbles with her friends in the school field, sampling a slew of delectable flavours at a class ice-cream party or making a mouth-watering sandwich for "The Hungry Giant", don't be surprised if it turns out those were activities conducted during English lessons.
"We want to put the sparkle in children's eyes so that they look forward to class every day," says Dr Elizabeth Pang, who manages the development of English Language curriculum in primary schools as Programme Director for Literacy Development at MOE. As the brains behind the 'Strategies for English Language Learning And Reading' (STELLAR) programme, Dr Pang has overseen the entire project since the planning stage in 2005. Today, the STELLAR programme has been implemented in all primary schools, alongside the launch of the new English Language syllabus.
At the heart of the STELLAR programme is the belief that enjoyment is a fundamental aspect of shared reading and writing experiences. "We use enjoyment to drive learning, so that children are motivated and want to read and learn long after school is over," Dr Pang points out.
STELLAR in the classroom
The three teaching strategies underpinning the STELLAR model are: the Shared Book Approach, the Modified Language Experience Approach and Learning Centres. As part of the Shared Book Approach, the teacher might use the Big Book edition of "The Hungry Giant" in class and model reading aloud, creating a social experience. "Through questioning techniques, the teacher will get the students to respond to the books while also teaching grammar, punctuation conventions and concepts of print," Dr Pang explains further.
The STELLAR programme aims to strengthen language and reading skills as well as promote a positive attitude towards learning.
Using the Modified Language Experience Approach, the teacher might then organise the class to make sandwiches for the character, the Hungry Giant. "You cannot just set a topic, say, 'going to the market', because how then do they write about it? In the early years, children need concrete experiences and this is where developmentally appropriate lessons come in," Dr Pang adds.
At the initial stage, the teacher facilitates class writing. "We just get the students to talk. The author will be the whole class, so it will be the students' story about how they made a sandwich for the hungry giant, not the teacher's story," Dr Pang emphasises. "While acting as the scribe, the teacher will enunciate the words and create the connection between sound and print." The teacher will then model the editing process, questioning the class as to what needs to be changed. The collective work will then be published and displayed in the classroom.
Next, the students undertake writing in mixed-ability groups. After attaining greater confidence, they will embark on individual writing by creating parallel stories. More advanced learners may spin their own version of the story, such as making a pizza. Finally, at the Learning Centres, students will go on to the Reading Centre, the Word Study Centre or the Listening Centre where they have the chance to review what they have learnt, with mini-lessons catering to their different progress levels.
Making the transition
As students reach the upper primary levels, they learn to make the transition from learning to read to reading to learn. Over half a year, they are eased into reading silently as well as reading longer texts without visual support. With a strategy called supported reading, students read chunks of text silently while teachers ask guiding questions about how they can work out the meaning of a word they have not seen before, how they put ideas together and what the passage is trying to say. This enables teachers to gauge their comprehension levels.
Teachers receive extensive professional development support to conduct the STELLAR programme.
Students are also slowly introduced to non-narrative texts such as information texts, instructional texts or personal recounts. Dr Pang cites one example: "Lessons could be done in the context of a science experiment where the language of the instructional text, such as the imperative form of the words, is highlighted."
As the next stage of the STELLAR programme revs up with its pilot run at the Pri 5 level in about 30 schools, it's already won over students in its early stages. "One teacher said a child wanted to go to school even though he was sick because the teacher would be teaching a Big Book," says Dr Pang. "Another teacher shared with me that a child who had been naughty begged the principal to allow him to go back to class for his STELLAR lesson. It's stories like these that truly impact me most," concludes Dr Pang.
Look out next week on Schoolbag for Dr Pang's tips on encouraging young children to read and develop the reading habit for life.