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#TopicTips Important Tips for Narrative Composition Writing (Primary School)

Continuous writing, for many students, is almost like being in a limbo – the child would expect to get marks in a certain range. As parents, you may be wondering if your child can only produce compositions of that standard.

The truth is, scoring above 35 marks out of 40 for continuous writing is NOT impossible. With a good understanding of the requirements, clever and creative language use, well-developed plot and characterisation, clear writing and good time management, students can craft engaging stories.

The following is a typical continuous writing question, to be graded out of 40 marks.

A Challenge

– What was the challenge that you faced?
– What did you do (or not do) when faced with the challenge?
– Where you successful in overcoming the challenge? Why, or why not?

1) Look at the THEME and QUESTIONS before looking at the pictures

A common pitfall when students attempt their compositions is not understand the main theme that their compositions should adhere to. The visual prompt is obviously eye-catching, but it is not the main guide.

Instead, train your child to inspect the theme and the questions first. This is to prevent them from crafting a composition that is out of point. In this case, the theme is A challenge, and not a set of challenges. The composition should be very clear in telling and showing about one specific challenge (question one).

Looking at the other questions, the students will then have to detail the course of action taken in the face of that one challenge. Finally, the OUTCOME of the efforts (or lack thereof) would also have to be addressed adequately in the composition.

This would make for a complete narrative plot, with an identified tension and avenue for resolution.

2) Make sense of the pictures

How the children interpret the images is a new aspect in the new format. Children can select one, two or all of the images to craft their stories. We typically advice our students to push themselves to selecting one or two, and selecting all three would result in a limited range of plots.

3) Connect demands of the composition to the visual prompt

Naturally, the student would then have to fit the visual prompt chosen to the composition requirements. Whichever way the student chooses, the interpretation would still have to make sense in the larger context of the composition, which is identifying one challenge.

Furthermore, the interpreted element from the visual should make for a significant aspect in the composition, and not merely an afterthought. For instance, if the student chooses the first image, the composition should also revolve around the challenge, resolution and outcome of a public speaking (or singing) event. The challenges and resolution should therefore be unique, and adequately described in the composition.

Alternatively, if the student chooses the second image, which is more open to interpretation, perhaps the student will focus more on the emotive aspect of the narrative. The student, however, HAS to choose a plausible challenge upon which the visual prompt rests on. This allows for imagination and creativity, but do keep in mind the overall requirement of the composition.

4) Take 5 minutes to plan

Learning Studio drills our students to think of every narrative piece in terms of the Introduction, Rising Action, Climax, Resolution and Conclusion + Reflection rubric.

Even for secondary level narrative writing, the flow of the narrative generally adheres to this rubric. Clear and engaging narrative writing focuses on one main tension point, its solution and outcome.

Any more, it would surely be muddled and confused writing, which is common for many students.

5) Challenge yourself: have something spectacular in every paragraph

Having understood the previous points, elevating the continuous writing to another level would take good and engaging language use. This ranges from interesting vocabulary, phrasal verbs, idioms, similes, purposeful dialogue, mature and emotive writing, and masterful build up to the climax.

We hope you will employ these tips in guiding your children. Good luck, and all the best!

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NPR Blog Spotlight: “How Parents And Teachers Can Nurture The ‘Quiet Power’ Of Introverts”

Quiet kids get a reputation for being closed-off, aloof, and perhaps even disconnected from the classroom. Is that true?

We have to understand that not every engaged child is engaged like a typical extrovert. As they say, still waters run deep. Read this article to better understand the quiet genius of introverts, and how we can all facilitate their learning journey.

“When Susan Cain wrote Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking in 2012, it was a big success. (…) Kids, Cain says, “are at the heart and center of it.”

“Introverts often are really amazing, talented, gifted, loving children, and they feel like there’s something wrong with them,” she says. “And our mission is to make it so that the next generation of kids does not grow up feeling that way.”

#MotivationMonday NYTimes Spotlight: “Nudges That Help Struggling Students Succeed”

It’s the little things that make the biggest difference. This article details how small but impactful activities can alter core beliefs in disadvantaged students, which improves school performance with sustainably over time.

“There are three strategies represented here. The first, pioneered by the Stanford social psychology professor Carol Dweck and illustrated by the initial example, aims to change students’ mind-sets by showing them that their intelligence can grow through deliberate work. I’ve written about Dr. Dweck’s theories as applied to college students, but they are just as successful with students in middle school.

The second uses constructive critical feedback to instill trust in minority adolescents, a demonstrably powerful way to advance their social and intellectual development.

The third intervention — and in some ways, the most powerful — invites students to acknowledge their self-worth, combating the corrosive effects of racial stereotypes, by having them focus on a self-affirming value.”

What can you do to change any core beliefs in your child, or even yourself?

OUP Blog Spotlight – “Does Pronunciation Matter?”

Students mirror how the adults in surroundings communicate – be sure to speak with proper pronunciation to facilitate effective learning in the English Language! Read this blog entry by the Oxford University Press English Language Teaching Global Blog.

Pronunciation does matter. And rather than being marginal to the core elements of ELT, it lies at the very heart of teaching English. Grammar, vocabulary, speaking, listening, writing and reading – what holds them all together, what is common to them all (…)

While this blog was written in context to English as a Second Language students, we can apply the same takeaways when we communicate with our students and children. Singapore is, afterall, a largely bilingual country, and the mother tongue languages are still spoken to a significant extent at home.

Languages are an everyday, immersive experience. To teach a language well is to speak it well – from the pronunciation to the content of speech.

Poor pronunciation, Catherine explained, often lies undetected behind the poor reading skills of many students. If we want them to get better at reading, she proposed, help them to improve their pronunciation.

Simple steps for parents to implement would be to have reading sessions where the use of proper pronunciation is emphasised, or to watch the news or listen to radio stations that have a decent amount of talk time in formal, standard English.

Tuition – Understand the Investment and the Risk!

Hello Learners!

Let’s think about the nature of tuition services in Singapore. It’s a huge education sector in Singapore. According to the latest Household Expenditure Survey conducted between 2012 and 2013, Singaporean families spent $1.1 billion a year on tuition, doubling the amount spent a decade ago ($650 million). Just five years ago, households spent $820 million.

Our MPs have even urged for us to reconsider the seemingly maddening culture of tuition. Perhaps with good reason as well – with how the global and Singaporean economy is evolving, there is room and opportunity for our future generations to excel in fields that go beyond academics. Entrepreneurship, innovation, the arts and creative industries are avenues where fresh talents can consider joining, just to name a few.

But let’s get absolutely REAL with the reality of the education system and structure. Firstly, it is still testing-based. The new banding system awards students based on their academic performance even if it is not relative to the overall cohort performance. Students are still scored on a revamped banding system, ironically called Achievement Levels (AL). Achievement, evidently, still counts.

Should academics be de-emphasised, and should we allow students to learn and study in school at their own pace, without supervision? After all, isn’t the government emphasising skills, instead of academic achievement, as the enabler of an empowered future? Does this mean I don’t need to invest in my child’s education? No more tuition?
You make your own judgement. As educators, we can only emphasise that we should look at academics as the means of development, not the ends (this will be addressed in a different blog post).

Let’s consider tuition from an investment and risk perspective.

The investment in sending children for tuition would be that the child would have more contact time with an educator (our student-teacher ratio in formal classrooms are still dismal), more personalised attention, and a mentor to guide them in their poorer or stronger subjects.

The returns in investing is manifold. It could be the intangible outcomes, such as reprogramming a child with a more empowered and confident mindset, instilling learning discipline. What parents often focus on are the tangible outcomes – immediate improvements in the results – which is expected, as that is the easiest outcome to measure. We should remember that the intangible outcomes are most often the longest to produce, and are necessary before any visible, significant improvement in marks can be observed.

However, with ANY investment comes a risk. And the risk is NOT in whether or not the child produces the tangible returns in investment. The risk is in whether or not the invested tuition fits with the child’s learning style, personality, current ability and capacity. Hence, parents HAVE to do their due diligence in finding out more about the teaching philosophy and teaching styles of the available tutors and educators.

There has to be a level of discernment and constant communication between all stakeholders of a child’s education journey. Whether or not at-home supervision is sufficient or not depends on the capacity of the parents to be there for the child. Leaving your child alone to face the stresses of school makes it all the more difficult for your child, unless he or she has the support system, attitude and approach to self-study masterfully.

We at Learning Studio believes that the biggest risk of all is in not making any investment at all – neither investing your time to monitor, guide and teach your child, nor seeking the professional help of educators to rectify any gaps that your child may face. As the new year approaches, let us all seek to reflect on the ways that we can improve as parents and educators to support our children better, to fully realise their potential!

Putting it all together – academic challenges through different levels

Hello Learners!

We hope you have enjoyed and benefited from our Three Learning Gaps series. This last installment aims to explain how there are different challenges that students face at different levels. Watch it below!

At the Lower Primary level, it is important that the fundamentals of reading and writing are instilled. These skills forms the basis for a smooth learning journey not only for the Languages, but for the other subjects. Additionally, students should learn to enjoy consuming  fiction and nonfiction content, and to communicate these ideas clearly. An effective approach to building these skills would be to have parents investing in quality talk time and immersion at home.

For students at the Upper Primary level, getting into and solidifying a routine of habits (planning) is especially crucial for self-motivated revision. They must also master the approach aspect, which is “knowing how to study”. Effective studying should be focused, with achievable objective set with a time frame. They must also be very aware of the content and concepts that are to be tested.

The transition from Upper Primary to Lower Secondary level is a big challenge for students as they have to manage a new social environment, managing more subjects and to balance their time and energy among many different school activities.

As such, Lower Secondary Students should start reading higher level materials (fiction, novels, newspaper, magazines) to tackle the higher-order concepts and content in additional subjects such as literature, history and geography. Science and Mathematics are also increasingly conceptual in secondary school, hence the heuristics to think in terms of ideas should be strengthened early on. In terms of exam preparation, secondary-level exam tests the understanding and application of concepts, which is harder to improve through simple repeated “time trial” exam and rote learning. Rigour and perseverance to master content and concepts is particularly important at this level.

As students enter Upper Secondary, counter-intuitively, the approach and attitude counts a whole lot for a smooth journey towards the big national examinations. As they are growing up to be young adults, they will have more autonomy and freedom in their day. They should therefore have a solid understanding of knowing how to plan the entire day, week and month for effective revision.

At this stage, students will usually have a clear indication of the subjects that they prefer and are better at. However, given the global and holistic system of determining the cut off scores, their performance has to be rather balanced out between languages, the humanities, sciences and mathematics. Students should learning to LOVE the subjects that count, to make friends with the ‘adversary’ – here, attitude and approach gaps towards specific subjects have to be closed as quickly as possible!

The bulk of the time for mid year secondary three to mid year secondary four is to master the content and concepts for most of their subjects. As the critical national exams nears, performance and preparation activities should be the focus after the preliminary examination period.

However, as responsible educators, we emphasise the need for parents to be very honest about the progress of their children; different students will have different gaps to fill, in different degrees. Their individual learning journey is valid, and while our framework gives our readers and viewers a general, holistic framework to troubleshoot challenges, we have to listen to our students, first and foremost.

What counts at the end of the day for results and progression is the support from their family and school environment through the various stages in their academic life.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our Three Learning Gaps series! We are offering a post-PSLE offer to all viewers and readers: register for 2017 intake HERE and enjoy $35 off the total administrative fee!

If you have any questions that you would like us to answer regarding your child’s learning journey, please drop us a message!

Learning Gap 3: Performance & Preparation Gap

Hello Learners!

Let us begin this last installment in the Learning Gaps Series with an analogy: attitude and approach are the vehicle needed for an effective and results-oriented study plan, content and concept are the fuel to travel in the vehicle, and performance and preparation efforts are lubricants to smoothen the journey and to get to the destination faster.

Undeniably, the Singaporean formal education system is still test-based, and the pathways that avail to students are still largely based on their T-scores and aggregate scores. Hence, unless students choose to retake their examinations, they cannot really hedge their bets on multiple tests to equalise performance. Where does that leave us?

A good system, adequate materials and time for exam preparation is vital – this is addressed in the first two gaps. This means that we cannot just make do with students reading textbooks and making notes – a point related to the approach gap.

To see significant progress, paying attention to performance and preparation gap is vital. This gap deals with improving speed, accuracy, and crafting effective strategies to aid our students to be at their A-game when it comes to the exams.

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While every failure is only an opportunity for greater learning, when students reach important exams, the cost of not being prepared in terms of performance is definitely high.

As educators, we have seen bright and capable students be sidetracked by pre-exam jitters, carelessness, poor time management, not employing learned strategies, not applying content and concepts mastered. These factors do lead to marginal improvements- despite hours and hours of tuition, self-study.

This begs the questions – do we really know what is going on in our students’ heads during the exams? How then do we plug this gap?

At Learning Studio, we integrate short segments where students attempt exam-based questions in set time. By having students subject to doing time-trials in exam conditions, we can track their progress, and are better able to identify weak spots in content and concepts over time. Our academic Booster Programmes zoom in on the pitfalls and strategy to handle the exams better.

This warrants a caveat. The overall plan leading to enhancing performance and preparation should be calibrated to the needs of the student. Simply launching into performance and preparation is often counter-productive, as there should be a gradual progression from mastering content to improving performance and preparation. This is why having a timely plan to fill the different gaps is needed. In this case, time is truly of the essence.

Lastly, this gap is also affected by emotional intelligence, knowing how to operate at optimum attention and mental receptivity, and knowing how to manage stress levels. We do not give Singaporean students enough credit when it comes to be amount of stress that they have to cope with. We at Learning Studio believe in learning smart and effectively, rather than studying hard. Studying hard usually leads to additional stress and anxiety, which may adversely affect the attitude and approach of students.

We urge that educators and parents be highly empathetic to the demands of balancing mastering content and making progress in performance. Gentle reminders to take mental breaks, and to take good care of their physical health, nutrition and stress levels would be incredibly useful to enhance performance and preparation.

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Learning Gap 2: Content & Conceptual Gap

Hello Learners!

This blog post accompanies the second part of our Three Learning Gaps Video series, specifically on Content & Conceptual Gap. Watch it below! 🙂


As was discussed in the previous post on Attitude & Approach gap, ensuring that students understand, master and recall the required content and concepts is critical; after all, content and concepts form the very stuff that exams test.

We observe this gap in students when a student has not “cleared” the learning objectives from the previous levels. For example, a student might be struggling with upper primary mathematics due to not not mastering arithmetic skills with speed and precision, hindering solving of sums. If the student also lags behind in understanding higher order topics such as speed, percentage and algebra, the concept gap only gets bigger. This gap is particularly important in the Sciences, which call for concept mastery in order to apply principles and theories in different experimental set ups.

This applies even to Languages and the Humanities. In Primary English compositions, a wide scope of a student’s vocabulary, grasp of narrative devices, as well as being able to understand the demands in continuous and functional writing are all conceptual learning outcomes that students would have to meet. A strong foundation in writing and reading ability carry on to Secondary level English and Humanities, as they have to be able to understand complex information, identify themes and to answer questions in an accurate, succinct and thoughtful manner.

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We believe that students should be given the appropriate window of time to understand content and concepts to minimise learning anxiety. Students have to be begin sufficient time for them to understand, to internalise, to recall and to apply content and concepts. However, this particular gap may be an uphill struggle to overcome, especially if the gap is wide nearing to critical periods.

In certain cases, if content and conceptual gaps are left unfilled for too long, it might be detrimental to attitude and approach as well. If a student feels too far left behind, overwhelmed and hopeless, there may be a big mental block towards even approaching the subject (“I just don’t get it, I can’t do Maths, ..”). Ineffective approaches may also be employed in desperation (e.g. simply reading notes and textbooks for exam revision).

As this gap is cumulative, it requires the most amount of consistency to plug, which then depends on right attitude and approach is crucial. At Learning Studio, we strongly believe that the most sound and fulfilling way to see improvements in results and motivation is to build solid fundamentals consistently. We have had the pleasure to guide students over the course of many years, and to see their gradual improvement and mastery, through our weekly coaching sessions.

To learn more about the Performance & Preparation Gap, stay tuned to the next blog post! 🙂

We are offering a post-PSLE offer to all viewers and readers: register for 2017 intake HERE and enjoy $35 off the total administrative fee!

If you have any questions that you would like us to answer regarding your child’s learning journey, please drop us a message! Do visit our Facebook page as well, we’d like to hear from you!

The Grace in Falling Short of Expectations (Embrace Failure!)

This time of the year is typically marked by buzz and fervour, especially among Singaporean parents and educators of primary school students. The PSLE results have been released, and the next step in their children’s education is seemingly determined by the three digit aggregate score.

This year has been an interesting year in particular. A high percentage of students qualify to enter secondary school, and the percentage of students qualifying for the express stream has increased by 0.2% from the previous year.

In an era of social media connectivity, our Facebook walls have born witness to posts related to this time of the year – proud parents celebrating the achievements of their children, parents offering encouragement despite any outcome, success stories of extraordinary students who achieved against all odds .. as well as the infamous Nintendo DS-gate incident with a parent and a straight-A child.

The latter had sparked the Facebook mass-sharing post, in which adults stated their aggregate and how the aggregate ain’t nothin’ but a number at the end of the day, as their performance did not necessarily dictate their situation as adults.

Such is expected – in a society that is still relatively risk-averse, education is sacrosanct, the safest route to a good life, a good job, and a good livelihood. Indeed, the PSLE seems to be a microcosm of many real issues that we as a society can discuss, debate and come to conclusions about; Are academics the main way to success? What does it mean to live a good life in Singapore? Are we too pressurised as a society? Should kids have a more holistic education.. only to load more activities and programmes for them throughout the year?

As adults, we tend to understand events through our perspectives – that of one who has been through the education system. Our hindsight predisposes us to think of our advice and perspective as received wisdom, simply because we have lived through it and are living through the consequences of our actions. Because of this perspective, it is easy for us to see life as a never-ending series of actions and consequences. As such, we MUST do the right actions to get the desired consequences.

I’d like for us to consider a different viewpoint – that we can change our consequences. And by that, the meaning behind the consequences.

In the context of PSLE results, (relative) failure may just be the greatest teacher for our children – only if we allow it to be. In order for it to be as such, we must communicate with them on the grace of falling short of expectations; to understand their viewpoints, feelings, opinions and level of motivation for the next chapter of their young lives.

Progression and success is relative. We have to honour our children’s uniqueness while endeavouring to support their learning development. Yes, we should at times stretch our children – only if we know that in doing so, they can realise a level of intelligence and can-do attitude that rests within them. This is the essence of grit, of pushing through to reach new frontiers.

But by the same token, we should strive to give them the emotional and psychological support to take things in their stride – a less than desireable PSLE aggregate score or otherwise. The world hardly delivers what we desire all the time. How then do we equip our children with the resilience to pick themselves up and continue, even if they have ‘failed’? By encouraging them to reflect on what they can do differently, and to support them in their next phase in life. We can use ‘failure’ to propel and motivate us to seize the opportunity available in a fresh start.

Learning Studio have seen different students of different calibres, learning abilities, strengths and challenges. While a bulk of our time is spent towards school-based learning, we seek to never lose sight that every child is worth much more than his academic standing. What matters the most to us is that students and parents embark on a journey together, with good communication and consistency, towards progression.

Learning Gap 1: Approach & Attitude Gap Blog Post

Hello Learners!

In the second installment of the Three Learning Gaps Video and Blog series, we will be discussing more about the Approach & Attitude Gap. If you haven’t watched the video, check it out below!

Approach and attitude lays the foundation for self-driven and focused learning. Approach entails the routines, activities and processes of self-regulated and reflective learning, whereas attitude involves the mental, emotional and psychological resilience of the student.

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To rectify gaps in approach, discipline and self-regulated habits towards studying should be developed at an early age. Once the discipline is being instilled, the student should then understand that CONSISTENCY is key to having a fulfilling learning journey. Lastly, students should plan their revision to meet different learning goals (to understand, to internalise, to recall and to apply) in a sustainable and self-reflective manner.

For younger students, parent and teacher supervision is crucial to instill in them sound approach towards studying. At Learning Studio, we offer Preparatory Classes for pre-primary school students to develop the discipline for an academic learning journey.

We also offer Academic Booster Programmes, training our Primary 6 students to in adopting effective and successful approaches towards PSLE Science and Mathematics. Our weekly coaching curriculum is also designed to have a good mix of content immersion and application activities, to build the consistent effort in meeting different learning goals for English, Mathematics and Sciences for all Primary and Express & NA Secondary levels.

Attitude gaps, however, are harder to identify and to remedy.

Educators and parents have to be aware and empathetic towards every student’s unique strengths and challenges. Not every student should be prescribed identical methods of learning and studying, or be given the same type of motivational ‘pep talk’. Every student responds differently to different routines, methods and encouragement. Not every child responds in the same way to even the same tuition lesson.

Despite these differences, there are certain cornerstones to effectively plug attitudes gaps in an empowering manner. We have to listen to the valid and genuine concerns of the student. Only in understanding their worries and fears can we offer them encouragement to approach the subjects that they may be wary about. Patience and empathy are key components to empower the student.

Our group weekly coaching sessions are purposefully kept to a small size in order for our Coaches to identify and understand the Learning Abilities of each and every one of our students. Our coaches communicate with parents regularly on their progress, and how they can assist their child at home to support their progress.

We also firmly believe in progression, not perfection, and that every child should be empowered mentally, emotionally and psychologically during every lesson in order to build the confidence and gradual interest towards pursuing improvement in their performance.

To learn more about the Content & Conceptual Gap, stay tuned to the next blog post! 🙂

We are offering a post-PSLE offer to all viewers and readers: register for 2017 intake HERE and enjoy $35 off the total administrative fee!

If you have any questions that you would like us to answer regarding your child’s learning journey, please drop us a message!