I can still remember how I was taught English in Primary One, back in 1973. Actually, I only remember the story-telling sessions. My form teacher would extricate her big “Enid Blyton storybook” from the class cupboard, and we would sit cross-legged on the floor, quiet and wide-eyed, entralled by the antics of Noddy the naughty toy. I also remember writing my first essay in Primary Two. But I remember nothing of the formal grammar lessons on past and presence-tense, prepositions, adjectives, at all!
Probably, those lessons were just too boring and abstract for me to recall. As a student, I never appreciated having to actually sit in class just to learn English grammar. I picked up grammar and writing styles more through my voracious appetite for reading than I actually learnt from those thousands of hours spent in English lessons. (OK, I wouldn’t have been able to tell a “past participle” from “past tense” if not for those lessons, but I’ve never quite understood WHY I need to know the difference).
I supposed this is one reason why MOE started introducing the Strategies for English Language Learning and Reading Programme for Primary schools, since 2006. That’s quite a mouthful, so most just call it STELLAR. From the 30 schools that adopted the learning framework at the initial phase, it turned out to be so effective and successful that it expanded to over 90 schools by 2008. Since 2010, the STELLAR curriculum is available to all Primary schools. Do note that STELLAR is non-compulsory, and schools still retain autonomy on how it rolls out the programme alongside their school-based curriculum.
What exactly is STELLAR? It is set of 6 distinct approaches for teaching English at various levels:
P1 to P2
- Shared Book Approach (SBA)
- Modified Language Experience Approach (MLEA)
- Learning Centres (LCs)
P3 to P6
- Supported Reading (SR)
- Writing Process Cycle (WPC)
- Differentiated Learning (DI)
Crossed-eyed yet, with the whole bunch of acronyms and impressive sounding “chim” words? Never mind. Here’s the gist of what they are all about:
P1 and P2
The goal is help young children to cultivate the love for reading. The strategy is to get the teacher to share a book and read together with the child. Through this shared reading experience, the child can discuss the stories with his teacher and his classmates, instead of passively participating as a listener. During the discussions, the teacher encourages the children to think and talk about the story from their own views, and perhaps even create their preferred ending for the story. Subsequently, the teacher will jot down all the inputs from children to create an outline based on the children’s ideas, and encourage the children to complete the writing.
The above process, if properly carried out, can result in sub-conscious learning of the English language while having lots of fun. It is supplemented by a more explicit and specialised “learning centres” process during which the kids get to reinforce what they have learnt.
P3 to P6
By this time, children are expected to already be accomplished independent readers. The focus therefore changes to encourage children to read to learn. Children are exposed to non-fiction stories, which they must not only read and comprehend, but be able to extract key points about the topic. The teacher would teach them how to extract, organise and remember these information. This is done at different granularity. Children are first expected to understand the big picture of the whole story. It is then decomposed into paragraphs, statements and even words to get children to understand the structure and grammar of the text.
The writing process is now formalised to get students familiar with the structured processes of planning, writing and reviewing, and to add more creative elements to their own stories.
So now we understand what STELLAR is all about, the question is, what is the role of us parents in the process? Here is what MOE recommends:
I thought all the above are very sound advice, until I think about the “everyday” part. Unless parents have time to spend an hour with the child, one-on-one, everyday, this is going to be quite a challenge to accomplish, everyday.
If time is the issue, then the minimum we should do as concerned parents is the first, which is to talk to your child everyday. This can happen during dinner, or in the car as you drive. While it is tempting, don’t ask questions that warrant only a “yes” or “no” answer. Start your questions with “What”, “How”, or “Why”. If the child responds with “I don’t know”, answer the question yourself using your own context and ask the same question again. This way, you are implicitly giving your child some guidelines on how the question should be answered, and he can follow accordingly.
Parent: “Hey Junior, how’s school today?”
Child: “Same same lor. Nothing important.”
Parent: “Really, well, I have had fun today meeting up with a new customer. He is the fattest man I’ve ever met, and he really smells. But he is very nice and polite. Do you have such friends too?”
Child: “Yuh… my best friend Jack is also very fat, but nice.”
Parent: “Yes, I remember him. What did you do with him today?”
So, is STELLAR important? IMO, STELLAR has become vital to getting our children ready for the impending changes to the 2016 PSLE English Examination. And there’s no better time to start preparing our kids for such fundamental changes to the testing scope than now.
If you need to find details about STELLAR, MOE has a nice website just for STELLAR. It is also filled with lots of resources for students and parents, including:
Language Games for P1
Language Games for P2
Recommended Books for Children (Multi-languages)