School-Within-School for Dynamic Learning
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Mention “progress charts”, “target setting”, “conferencing” and most people will probably think about the workplace. However, for Pri 1 and 2 pupils at Cedar Primary School, these are part and parcel of classroom activities.
That’s not all. Pupils also take part in “peer coaching”, sit for “Mastery Tests” and are given “reward time” if they can stick to a task for at least half an hour. What’s more, all these activities are conducted in “multi-aged classrooms” where children from different levels learn together.
Personalised learning for each pupil
Welcome to “School-Within-School” (SWS), a radical approach that Cedar Primary School has adopted in response to the call to “Teach Less, Learn More”. This programme is undergirded by the concepts of Human Dynamics and multi-aged classrooms, which Principal Mrs Shirley Ho-Woo introduced when her teachers wanted to find ways to address the different learning needs of the pupils.
Human Dynamics offers an understanding of how individuals learn, develop and function. Specifically, there are nine “personality dynamics” where the mental, emotional and physical systems interact in unique ways to express how people function individually as well as a member of a collective. More importantly, each personality dynamic is of equal value and has its distinct path of development. Understanding the various personality dynamics allows teachers to cater to the different learning styles of their pupils.
The conception of SWS began in November 2005 when three Cedar Primary School teachers spent two weeks in Lindsfor Skola, a Swedish school that applies Human Dynamics in a learning setting with pupils of different ages. This Swedish model of self-paced learning seemed to be what the teachers were looking for. Back in Singapore, they began developing the SWS programme, adapting the teaching methods and pedagogies to suit the local context.
Aiming for mastery
In SWS, teachers conduct some frontline teaching, but this is where the similarity with normal lessons ends. SWS pupils are each given a learning plan that states what worksheets are to be completed for the various topics under the different subjects. The relevant textbook pages, workbook pages and materials needed are listed.
Even though SWS has targeted the school’s youngest pupils - one class each from Pri 1, 2 and 3 in 2006, and all Pri 1 and 2 classes this year - pupils take a tremendous amount of responsibility for their own learning. They do weekly “target setting” based on the learning plan and decide how much work they want to do to meet the target. The work is done during “independent learning” sessions, either on their own or with schoolmates. Pupils who are academically stronger may be asked to coach those who are weaker. During fortnightly “conferencing”, teachers check on the pupils’ progress according to their targets. This is also a time for teachers to get to know their pupils better.
To see how well pupils have understood a topic, a Mastery Test is held after the topic is covered instead of at the end of each term. They sit for the test individually, not as a whole class. Those who obtain “Mastered It” (scores of 80-100) and “Got It” (60-79) will move on to the next topic whereas those graded ‘Getting There’ will be taught the concept again. Furthermore, instead of showing parents a test score, teachers write their observations about the pupil in learning that topic.
In addition, the pupils in different levels form multi-age groups work on a 10-week long Interdisciplinary Project Work (IPW) where they learn about teamwork in the process.
All-round enthusiasm for SWS
“I like IPW and being able to mix with other classes,” enthused Pri 2 pupil Siti Hanani Bte Mohd Hussain. “We discuss what we are supposed to do and how we can do it.” Another Pri 2 pupil who is equally happy learning the SWS way is Nabeela Nadeem. “I like doing ‘target setting’ and when I forget something I haven’t done, I can look at my timetable,” she quipped.
One parent observed that while his son used to procrastinate at homework, he has become more motivated and tries to finish his homework quickly. He attributed the positive change to SWS.
As for the teachers, they appreciate the new ways in which their pupils are learning. “I’ve become more reflective as a teacher,” said Ms Maimon Abdul Samad, one of the teachers who pioneered SWS. “When the pupils are used to the routines, they begin taking charge of their own learning and deciding for themselves how much they want to do. I can see improvement in them, not only in terms of their academic performance, but also in their behaviour, and this gives me great satisfaction.”