We are empathetic towards our students’ challenges, and we cannot negate that there are many challenges the typical student faces. The following is a list of some common challenges that we hope students can overcome and we will do our best to help them do so.
1- Students may not read comprehension passages slowly and carefully.
We always advise two rounds of reading, the first to understand the passage as a whole picture and the second to make deeper connections. Likewise, students may not always read question requirements and mark allocation carefully. We teach students to underline keywords and integrate them into their answers. We teach them little strategies that add up to make a big difference such as using precise nouns and using connecting words. We hope that they will practise these strategies in their school examinations too. Once careful reading of passages and questions is carried out, together with good answering habits, students can see improvement in their comprehension scores.
2- Over the past few years, some students’ sentence construction and grammar seem to be deteriorating.
Some struggle to even form sentences which are error-free and clear. Likewise, many seem to adopt too casual a tone when they write their essays which mandate a formal tone. We remind students to check their sentence construction carefully because, if a sentence is poorly structured, their intended meaning inevitably falls apart. This is especially so for comprehension as students only have one sentence to prove they know the answer. Also, many students are careless about spelling, tenses, prepositions and connecting words. We remind students to be careful and to check, even if it means to point at each word to slow down the speed of reading. Corrections are also important to do in order to weed out errors once and for all. When in doubt, one good strategy to adopt is to keep sentences short and simple to avoid mistakes in sentence construction.
3- One key reason for the deterioration of language standards for some students can be attributed to digital device usage.
When we type, we tend to be careless with tenses, spelling and even sentence construction. We seek parents’ help to monitor their children’s device usage at home in order to aid them in their language learning. Also, when a student is playing games on his/her phone more than he/she is reading, the consequences are obvious.
4- Another reason for the decline of language standards is the lack of reading.
We can all agree that mastering a language is about the natural, everyday exposure to good language usage. Therefore, if students no longer read sufficiently and write regularly, their progress in language learning will be held back.
Mastering English and augmenting our proficiency is really about the kind of ongoing exposure we have on a regular basis to good language usage.
If students are able to commit themselves to at least 15 minutes of reading 5 to 7 times a week, this would definitely have accumulative, long-term benefits. They should peruse newspaper reports as well as opinion or analysis articles in The Straits Times, The Guardian and The New York Times. They should also read news magazines such as Newsweek, Time and Reader’s Digest. These resources all have digital versions online, thus they are easily accessible.
One effective way to ensure that reading is done carefully and effectively is to read an article or sample essay aloud. When we hear the words, our brain tends to process the meaning better and also to retain the information.
5- Yet another cause of less-than-successful results can even be due to handwriting and the general presentation of written work.
Untidy, illegible and small handwriting do not help students in any way. What they are trying to communicate may not be clear enough and examiners will not spend time to re-read answers to figure out students’ answers.
Students should thus be mindful of writing their alphabetic letter clearly and properly. They should also avoid excessive cancellations and insertions of details as this suggests poor planning. It is advised that students even leave lines in their essays as this makes the essay more reader-friendly.
There is no concrete evidence, but we have had students who were competent in English not securing an A1 for their O level English but obtained an A2 instead. We suspect this might have been due to their illegible or untidy written work.
In all honesty, there are no quick solutions and no shortcuts to learning a language. We need to be wary if there are such promises made by any teacher. It does require a lot of hard work and a very good learning attitude. We often seek short cuts to learning, but for languages, there may very well not be any way to bypass hard work and carefulness. In other words, a positive attitude triumphs over pure aptitude.
Students who commit time and effort to weekly revision of their language materials will reap benefits in the long run. We have had students improve from E8s to A1s because of consistent hard work and a dogged attitude to want to improve. They may spend a few hours a week on mastering their English as a communication skill, seeing beyond examinations.
On our part, we promise you that we will do our very best to help our students, and there will certainly be positive outcomes if they work with us. At the end of the day, as teachers, we aspire to teach English and aim to teach it well because we believe that having a sound mastery in English is not just for passing examinations, but to equip our young charges with crucial communication and life skills so that they can be more effective individuals.