Body language and animated movements help pupils at Bukit View Primary forge links between words and each other.
Most people in Singapore are familiar with the so-called '5Cs', but at Bukit View Primary School, just '3Cs' matter for Pri 1 pupils in their English Language lessons: Curiosity, Cooperation and Confidence. Using poetry recitations, drama and show-and-tell sessions, the school seeks to develop these three qualities in every child. At the same time, the school has adopted holistic assessment tools that show pupils how well they are learning and help teachers gauge the progress of every individual.
Bukit View Primary School is one of 16 schools across the island at the forefront of MOE's drive to make lower primary education less a matter of marks and tests, and more of a holistic development for each and every child. This follows the recommendations of the Primary Education Review and Implementation (PERI) Committee.
To this end, lessons are designed to boost the desire to learn, give pupils the confidence to explore and share, as well as ignite their imagination. Regular and clear feedback is also a pillar of holistic assessment, allowing pupils, teachers and parents to chart the pupils' development and pinpoint areas for improvement.
"Action!" is a weekly drama session in which pupils learn to translate words into action and read each other's movements.
Balancing knowledge with skills and values
Holistic assessment has been a part of English Language lessons at Bukit View Primary School since 2011. Ms Rose Aizashira, Section Head for Character and Citizenship Education and STELLAR, explains that the school seeks to balance the acquisition of knowledge with a suite of transferable skills and lasting values. "Besides equipping pupils with content, there is a deliberate focus on developing in pupils 21st-century competencies - in particular, confidence, cooperation and curiosity," she says.
The school has introduced a diversity of programmes to get pupils to nurture their language skills. 'Action!', for instance, uses drama to show the power and possibilities of English as it is spoken. "Our teachers conduct weekly one-hour lessons using a bank of visual props to enrich the learning environment," says Ms Aizashira, noting that the sessions also arouse a curiosity for fiction and promote teamwork. "Pupils have the opportunity to connect with their peers in a more meaningful way as the activities encourage speech development and awareness of body language, and help the child to become more socially aware."
Another programme, dubbed MBA (Mass Brain Activities), uses games to develop a child's ability to observe, solve problems and work together. "As games are engaging and attention-grabbing, it makes learning fun and enjoyable," Ms Aizashira remarks. "In the process, the 3Cs are naturally taught."
In this "Action!" session, the pupils play characters from a story titled "The Enormous Watermelon", acting out their role as they listen to a narration.
A different approach to assessment
Pupils keep track of their progress in English through weekly peer assessments. Ms Aizashira emphasises that this process is not weighted as the aim is to develop the 3Cs, namely "by listening to others, receiving feedback positively and asking relevant questions." At the same time, teachers use detailed checklists and rubrics to determine how well each pupil has learnt and performed in tasks such as poetry recitation, penmanship and show-and-tell.
Parents also join their children for a conference every term with the respective form teacher. During these sessions, the pupil relates his or her recent progress and shows off a personal portfolio of achievements. This approach allows parents to keep abreast of their children's development and understand how to better support them. As Mrs Vaani, mother of a Pri 1 child, put it, "Holistic assessment has definitely brought teachers and parents together. My child is also more comfortable in communicating the difficulties she encounters during lessons."
Before the drama activity begins, the teacher explains clearly to the pupils the goals of the exercise and what is required of them.
After one year of holistic assessment in Pri 1, the school finds that this approach gives pupils greater ownership and command of their own learning, and is yielding tangible results. Pupils are "more aware of the need to cooperate and to readily work in teams," observes Ms Aizashira. "They are also more confident in expressing themselves. This was clearly demonstrated when pupils who are now in Pri 2 took on the role of being our ambassadors for holistic assessment at this year's MOE ExCEL Fest."
Summing up the impact of holistic assessment, Ms Aizashira says, "Our students are more engaged and motivated." The process also takes into account each child's learning profile and language background, she adds, and seeks to strike a balance between formal assessment and holistic feedback modes that encourage a positive attitude towards learning. The outcome is that we have "pupils who are confident, flexible and better team players, and who have a keen thirst to learn and acquire knowledge."