It will be 2 more weeks left of school, followed by 1.5 months year end school holiday, and next year when school starts again………………my boy will already be in Primary 5. I know I’ve said it many times, but I’ll say it again……………how time flies! Even the boy said it felt like just yesterday when we were moving here and he started his first day as a Primary One student in Singapore, and now he will be sitting down for PSLE (the very scary Primary School Leaving Examination, hahaha………….) in less than 2 years! Time does move faster than a jet coaster…………
Although our mother tongue is not English, but I’m happy because he is very strong in English, and no, he’s not taking any English tuition. I know some friends whose kids taking English tuition, and the kids have so much homework to do every week, it even takes most of their weekend time to do the homework. The question is, how can children perform well in English subject even though they do not join any courses outside the school? What can the children do to improve their English skill and perform well in exams?
In Singapore, English (including Chinese and any other mother tongue languages being taught in primary school) exams are performed differently than in Indonesia. When I was in school, we would do the exams (Indonesian and English language) by sitting down for 1 to 2 hours answering all the questions in the exam paper.
In here, it is totally different. Children have to do 4 kinds of English exams every semester:
- Oral test, one children and one teacher at the time. The teacher and the student will be having a conversation about anything that is being tested on that day, but usually discussing a picture or some pictures. Children will be asked of what they see in the pictures, how they feel, do they have the same experience, do they have any opinion about what happen in the story, what will they do if they were in the same situation, etc. In short, children are asked to express their thoughts, their opinions, and their sides of the story. They will asked to read a story and the teacher will mark them based on their intonation, pronunciation, etc.
- Listening and Comprehension test, when the children are asked to answer some questions in the paper based on the story or facts that they hear after listening to a story
- Composition test. Children are asked to make a composition based on pictures. The minimum words for this compo test are increasing as they get to upper primary. The compo test has changed its format now due to change of compo model in PSLE.
- Paper test, basically it is the usual written down exam consists of multiple choice, questions and answers, comprehension, etc.
To me, this type of exams are exploring all the children’s ability in English, they do not have to just sit down to do exam paper, but they are also tested based on their communication skill, listening skill, and writing skill.
The hardest part for parents is that the children do not bring their English book home except when exam days are approaching. So basically, we do not really know what they are learning at school. The reason why students can’t bring the workbook home is because the school doesn’t want the children start doing all the work in the workbook at home before the teacher ask them to do it (just like what my mom ask me to do when I was in school), so when they are at school, they will loose interest on the subject because they already try it at home. Interesting, right?
There are no textbooks also. There are only workbook (for lower primary) and worksheets (for upper primary) and very thin copies of how to do your oral and compo in the right way. For some parents this can be quite confusing, so I understand why some parents put their children into tuition because they are also clueless of what their children should learn at home and how to prepare them for the exams.
Based on my experience so far, there are some things that parent can do to help the children doing good in exams without the help of tuition:
# Buy assessment books or copies of English tests from other school of previous years. Ask them to do only one test every week or every two weeks (they will get bored if they do this too often). In this way, they will learn new vocabularies, grammar cloze, practicing Synthesis & Transformation, Edit for spelling and grammar, comprehension cloze, etc. This is the easiest and cheapest option to do to improve the paper exam marks. By routinely practiced and doing revisions, they will get used to do the exam and learn how to answer the questions correctly
# It is very fortunate that he is chosen as student leaders for these two years, so he has done many project and presentations that helped improve his confidence, communication skill, and presentation skill
# I always take time to study his copies of how to do the composition based on the school standards, then I will explain to him using examples that I created. The teacher usually also gives words and phrases that can be used to make the compo more interesting. There’s no other way than to memorize these phrases. For example, there are many ways to express your happiness, anxiety, anger, etc. I only ask him to memorize one or two phrases from each category. I also read all his compo practice at school and carefully read the teacher’s marks and suggestion for improvement. His previous teacher last year gave so many comments and I liked it that way because we could learn from those comments and advises. After that, I will explain again to him about his teacher’s comments and what improvements that he can make. It takes time for both of us but it is very useful because it helps him to be a better writer.
# There are also books to practice for listening tests with some tips and tricks. The most important thing is actually not just the listening skill, but how to remember all the important details being read aloud and answer the questions afterwards. This needs special techniques too that can be easily learnt.
# As I always wrote in my previous posts……………reading books play a very important part in my boy’s English development. For the paper test at school, many of the questions are usually general or special knowledge. My friend once asked me how my son could answer the questions in the exam paper although they weren’t taught at school, and I just simply said……………..”he read about them in the information books that he borrowed from the library”. Reading books will help children learn new knowledge, new vocabulary, difficult spelling and grammar, phrases used in a composition, how to express oneself in a conversation thorough writing. At school, he also uses phrases that he had learnt from books. This usually gave extra marks for his compo.
# Last but not least, although Geronimo Stilton books are very entertaining and easy to read (and funny too), but like his P2 teacher said: “Don’t just read Geronimo Stilton books, try to find some books more difficult to read”, I also always encourage him to step up the game and find new books which are thicker and with difficult words and phrases. I will go thorough the book shelves in the library to find new books that can bring his interest.
Early this year, when he was bored with Stilton books and had no other thing to read, he found one of daddy’s book at home and started to read it, and he loved it so much that he was crazy about this book and tried to find similar books from the same author. It was Rick Riordan’s books from the Percy Jackson series. Then suddenly he was so interested in all the gods and all the characters from the books that he wouldn’t stop reading and talking and watching the same movies again and again for months.
He remembered all the gods’ name, the story lines in each book, all the characters and what happened to them (too bad he doesn’t show the same level of enthusiasm when learning Chinese……….), and even made board games and quiz based on Riordan’s books. Riordan’s books are all very thick and very complicated especially for a 9 year old boy, but he liked the stories, and he could read for hours.
After Percy Jackson, I introduced to him the trilogy of The Lord of The Rings. Just as the parents, he loved the movies so much………….but that was it, hahaha…………the books were too expensive and we couldn’t find them in the library, but I was glad that he liked something else besides cartoon movies (and Percy Jackson movies).
Then came………….Harry Potter! He was so addictive to Harry Potter movies and books and he is officially a big fan of Harry Potter. From that day on, everything was about Harry Potter and his friends. I don’t know how many times that he had been watching all the Harry Potter movies, read Harry Potter books, searched for facts about all characters in these J.K Rowling’s books, took quiz on the internet about Harry Potter stories………………in other words: the world was all about Harry Potter.
I know it was very late, and I’ve tried to introduced him to Harry Potter stories, but he never seemed to show interest, maybe it wasn’t the right age at that time. Then suddenly, he just loved Harry Potter and all his friends.
I have shared the story before that the boy is very creative and imaginative in different ways than any other kids. He’s never interested in building blocks or Legos, but he likes making game boards on his own or making games that we can play together that’s related to the books or movies that he likes at the time. He will spend hours writing, drawing, thinking of how to make the game works, cutting the paper to make hundreds of card games, making the game rules, etc. That’s why we must always have blank paper at home so he can get into action anytime he feels to.
He even drew maps and making his own stories based on the books that he likes. Mostly, his inspiration comes from books. That is why reading good story books will help the children to have good imagination, positive thinking, and also increase their creativity…………..but we parents must also support and encourage them to be creative, like asking what they read, what lessons can they learn from the books, read with them and explain things that they don’t understand.
# One of the thing that children must do during English lesson in the classroom is to draw. They are asked to draw the stories that they’ve heard, or make their own stories through drawing. I’ve shared many of the boy’s drawings as part of his lessons at school in my previous posts. After they draw some pictures, the children are asked to compos their own stories. This technique can hep improving children’s composition skill, because most children like to draw and tell the story of their drawings.
# Encourage the children to write. They may not like it, but in able to write well, they have to practice. Then read their stories and do correction…………..always, because correction is very important. There is always room for improvement. I always ask him to think outside of the box and to explore each character in the story before he start to write, especially that he is in higher primary now, the standards are increasing every year.
# And now, since he is done with Harry Potter, he moves on to another books: detective stories, hahaha…………….I love detective stories and I do encourage him to read mystery books. After he’s finished with Enid Blyton books in the library, now he’s reading The Hardy Boys (I like the Private Investigator / Trio Detektif better), but we can’t find those book anywhere, so I asked him to try reading The Hardy Boys and he loves it. I believe that mystery books will help him developing his analytical skill and to think based on facts and logic explanations. So parents, help to choose good books for your children as encourage them to read lots of books. Reading plays a very important part in developing English skill, especially their general knowledge and writing skill.
My homework now…………….is to encourage him to read more Chinese books………… sigh…….I’ve tried fro years with no luck…………but more about that later……………