Interactive group activities during English lessons complement current affairs topics covered in the Little Red Dot blog.
It all started two years ago when Miss Genevieve Wong felt an urgent need for her students at Canossa Convent Primary School (CCPS) to broaden their minds and become more aware of what was going on around the world.
Getting children to read newspapers, however, was a real challenge for both teachers and parents. To overcome this mental hurdle, Miss Wong's solution was to throw the ball squarely in the pupils' court by creating a blog called the Little Red Dot. This foray into new media proved a hit and upper primary pupils now gather each week to discuss news reports they read in Little Red Dot, a primary school supplement produced by The Straits Times, and post their responses on the blog.
Personalising news stories
According to Miss Wong, who is English Co-ordinator at CCPS, a personal touch is what it takes to get her pupils interested in happenings and headlines from across the globe. "I saw the blog as a way to help them relate to the news events in Little Red Dot in their own contexts," she explained. Besides having the pupils pen their individual takes on the news stories through blog posts, Miss Wong organises debates on hot-button topics during English lessons to encourage her classes to think and discuss aloud about current affairs.
The English teachers get pupils to post on the blog their reflections on the latest news stories every week.
"I always look forward to our Little Red Dot lessons," said Christine Chiang, a Primary 6 pupil. "We get to discuss what's happening in the world and share our ideas openly. Sometimes, our opinions even change after we learn more about different people's perspectives." She also recounted a lively class debate over a news report on plastic surgery. "Before reading that article, I couldn't understand why anyone would want to go through plastic surgery," she quipped. "While it's still not something I would do, I now have a better understanding of the viewpoints of people who opt for it."
For other pupils, the recent spate of natural disasters that wrecked countries like Japan, New Zealand and Chile was an opportunity to remember how interconnected the world really is. "When we covered the story on killer waves today, it really felt like the event was a part of my life as well," recalled Joleen Chan. The Pri 6 pupil revealed that her father had returned from a business trip in Japan just a day before the earthquake happened. "When I read about the people who died or lost their homes there, it made me feel very sad."
On her part, Merissa Ariff developed an interest in the environment following the news on the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year. "While I know it was an accident, I was concerned about how this was affecting marine life and the birds," said the Pri 6 pupil. "It made me more aware about how the environment affects my health."
Becoming avid readers
For Miss Wong, the Little Red Dot blog is not just about getting children to read more widely and write better, it's also about expanding their horizons and preparing them for a globalised world. She believes the experience of writing for the blog puts her pupils in good stead not just in English competency and infocomm technology skills but also for other fields such as Social Studies and National Education.
The investment in the blog programme has also paid dividends for CCPS, which received the 'Top Dot' award from Singapore Press Holdings last year for its efforts to engage pupils with news content through technology. Miss Wong added that many other teachers had expressed interest in similar initiatives for their schools after she shared the blog in educational seminars.
Pupils from Pri 6 Charity enjoy reading the news and keep their favourite articles in scrapbooks.
It's not surprising that having to thoroughly digest the news and share it in an appealing form with their schoolmates has transformed the pupils into news 'junkies'. The pupils maintain a close tab on current affairs and some confess to having moved on to the "grown-up" Straits Times newspaper in order to learn more about certain stories.
A few pupil-bloggers are also exploring further by scouring educational websites through links on the Little Red Dot blog. "I really love the National Geographic Kids website I was introduced to during one of the lessons," exclaimed M. Vaishnavi from Pri 6.
But amidst the heavy-going stream of news on world events, there's still room for brevity and the lighter side of life. Taranya Gandhi, for one, is always eager for more news about the upcoming British royal wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton. "It is the marriage of the decade," stated the Pri 6 pupil with undisguised excitement. "It's like a real life fairytale and I can't wait for this prince to marry his princess!"
*Note: Canossa Convent Primary School will go co-educational with effect from January 2019 and will be renamed Canossa Catholic Primary School.