My pupils can't spell the polysyllabic words on their spelling list!
My pupils can read, but they don't understand what they're reading!
Ms Noormala Ahmat showing how to help pupils recognise suffixes in words.
These frustrations are common amongst teachers and parents with children who struggle, for a variety of reasons, to read with fluency and comprehension like the rest of their peers. These children seem "lost" in regular English language classes and unresponsive to teaching methods that work well with their peers. While the teachers might have the desire and conviction to provide these children with additional reading support, many are not sure how they should go about doing so.
For about 100 teachers, a solution emerged at the recent MOE ExCEL Fest, where Reading Officers from the Psychological Services Branch, MOE, teamed up with Learning Support Coordinators (LSCs) from six primary schools to share effective strategies for helping weak readers in lower primary.
Weak readers often have trouble reading polysyllabic words. Teaching pupils to recognise chunks within longer words and to recognize syllables gives them a way to attack unfamiliar polysyllabic words. In addition, teaching pupils to recognise prefixes and suffixes as well as their meanings is a step towards helping them to access the meaning of words.
Mdm Ong Pei Pei introducing the big book .
Another common comment is some pupils are able to read a text orally, but they do not understand what they read. LSCs use the "story map", a graphic organiser that provides a framework to help pupils track what they read in stories and enables them to recall what they have read.
LSCs also demonstrated a 30-min Learning Support Programme (LSP) lesson that gave participants a concrete idea of what teaching and reading in an LSP classroom involves.
Two's better than one: partnering with LSC mentors
For the LSC presenters, ExCEL Fest was an opportunity to reach out to their English language (EL) teacher colleagues. They believe that weak readers can be it only through a partnership with their EL teacher colleagues. A senior teacher and an English language teacher for 26 years, Mrs Alice Lee, LSC of St. Hilda's Primary, expressed her hope that ExCEL Fest would be a "platform" where she could inform colleagues of "how the strategies used in class are effective". She believes that "pupils have benefited from this kind of learning experience". Similarly, Mdm Noormala Ahmat, of Tanjong Katong Primary School, who has been an LSC for a mere six months, presented with the attitude of wanting to "convince" EL teachers by "selling the strategies".
Mrs Alice Lee demonstrating chunking.
Mdm Noormala deserves applause for it is certainly no easy feat to share before an audience of fifty colleagues at a public platform after just six months as an LSC. A factor that helped Mdm Noormala was, no doubt, a mentoring scheme that began in Jan 2008. By pairing up newer LSCs with more experienced LSCs, the scheme acknowledges that experienced LSCs are in the best position to guide beginning LSCs in their new role.
Mdm Noormala co-presented with her mentor, Mrs Josephine Wang, LSC of Paya Lebar Methodist Girls' School, at the ExCEL Fest classroom experience session. For Mdm Noormala, the frank feedback provided by Mrs Wang during their mini-rehearsals was a valuable learning experience. To her, Mrs Wang is a "nurturing" mentor who has "demonstrated why it is important to be humble and always hungry to learn".
Strategies to help weak readers
Some of the strategies for helping weak readers with word and text-level reading difficulties shared at ExCEL Fest this year include:
Chunking - Breaking down a sentence into meaningful units to help pupil read aloud fluently with rhythm and expression
Explicit teaching of Grammar - Direct, systematic step-by-step teaching of grammar items, e.g. change singular nouns to plural; changing verbs from present to past tense
Guided Reading Comprehension - Using questioning to guide pupils to monitor their own understanding during reading
One-minute Dash - Timed reading of letters or words within a minute to build fluency
Repeated Reading - Repeated oral reading of connected text to improve fluency
Syllabication - Breaking down polysyllabic words into syllables to access their pronunciation
Retell - Guiding pupils to summarise what is read using the story map