Posted: Friday, January 17th, 2014
Blogger Ing writes about parenting, educational activities, and family fun at Ingspirations. Through personal narrative and family photographs, Singapore-resident Ing shares her knowledge as a mother and educator to help parents foster early learning in their homes. Ing spoke to Education.com editor Katherine about her philosophies on education, teachable moments, and project-based learning.
KS: You’re a big supporter of child-directed activities. Why do you think it’s so important for little ones to take the lead in the great learning adventure of life?
Ing: Watch a child at play or doing something he’s interested in, and you’ll see a high level of engagement and focus. I’m really attracted to this kind of engagement in my own children and students in my classroom. Children are born with an innate desire to learn and explore the world around them. Letting them take the lead in what they’re interested in is usually more productive than trying to get them to learn something they have no interest in. I know this may sound idealistic, because children need to learn things that they have no interest in. A child who dislikes numbers still has to learn math in school and use numbers in daily life. In such instances, it is a challenge for the parent or educator to find ways to arouse the child’s interest in the subject.
KS: I’ve read quite a bit about STELLAR (Strategies for English Language Learning And Reading) on your blog. Could you explain what it is and share with us a little bit about why you think it’s such a promising approach?
Ing: STELLAR is a program for teaching English [to non-native speakers] in the lower grades in Singapore primary schools. A typical STELLAR lesson begins and revolves around a big book, which is a bigger version of a children’s story book. Teachers will read the story to the class, and conduct activities to highlight and teach different components of English, such as grammar, vocabulary, reading, speaking, listening and writing. This approach allows children to learn the language in context, instead of simply memorizing isolated language rules or vocabulary meanings.
KS: What big book was the biggest hit with your Primary 1 classes?
Ing: There are a number of books which my students enjoyed in Primary 1, including There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly and There’s a Nightmare in My Closet.
KS: A new classroom approach called “project-based learning” has started gaining traction in the United States. Are you familiar with this approach?
Ing: Yes, we have an approach that resembles project-based learning in Singapore too, although I’m sure there are a few differences. We place students into pairs or small groups and they work together to solve a particular problem or do research on a particular topic, depending on the subject. The success of this approach really depends on the teacher’s objective: What do you want to achieve by using this approach? Teaching the importance of learning to work with others? Developing learning skills, such as researching, thinking, negotiation, planning, or independence? The level of success depends on the facilitation of the teacher.
KS: What are a few of the most memorable student learning moments that you’ve had the privilege of witnessing?
Ing: One unforgettable moment I experienced was with one of my Primary 1 classes. It actually happened outside the classroom, in a non-academic setting. That day, there was a team-building activity for all Primary 1 classes. Each teacher had to get all of her students form a line holding hands, and pass through obstacles without letting go. Along the way, I could see a few of my students getting tired and frustrated. I casually told the whole class, “Come on, we can do it!” and these six and seven year-olds surprised me when they started to chant, “We can do it! We can do it! We can do it!” As they made their way through the obstacles, they began to chant louder and louder. The frustrations and negative attitudes soon disappeared and we made it all the way through the obstacle course! Although our class didn’t come in first, I know all of them learned a lot that day: the power of teamwork, focusing on goals, and positive reinforcement.
KS: Is there a favorite craft or activity you’ve recently discovered, but have yet to do with your little learners?
Ing: That would have to be snow dough! I’ve read so much about it but have yet to try it with my kids. It seems so simple, but I need to find a good time for them to play with it, due to the potential mess.
KS: Can you tell us about an all-time favorite or most memorable activity that all three of your children enjoyed?
Ing: That’s a tough one. I’d say when they were younger (two to four years old), they looked forward to our daily bedtime reading. We would cuddle on the sofa and either my husband or I would read them a book or two before their bedtime. I’m thinking they loved the bonding as much as listening to the stories! Painting is a close second favorite activity. All three kids love to paint. And, of course, water play and bubbles never fail to captivate them! We’re also very into outdoor activities and letting the kids explore nature; they enjoy building sand castles, cycling, feeding fish, and having picnics at the park. And the most memorable activity that our two boys have tried is parasailing!