by Jerry Lee
Dillon was my student in Primary 6. I wrote about his PSLE success story here. He came back for Upper Secondary English tuition last year. He was Sec 3 then, and he had to come back because he just failed his English CA1.
Failing Upper Secondary English was a wake-up call for him. It was also shocking to me too as he was always scoring B on average and never once did I remember him going below a C grade. However, the syllabus changes and increased difficulty of Upper Secondary English was a bit too much for him to handle.
When he came back to find me, he was still at a lost for what he did wrong for English. He is not a lazy student; in fact, he is one of the most hardworking students I have taught. He is also not playful; He is one of the most obedient and respectful students I have taught. His good attitude, his determination, his discipline, his drive to do well…made him a very easy student to teach.
I love teaching students like Dillon. All they need is a little tweak, a little push, and soon enough, you get to see some pretty ‘miraculous’ results. From F to A2 – in about 6 months.
Pretty amazing, right?
I would like to go around bragging about my SUPER-STAR ENGLISH TEACHING METHOD that will GUARANTEE A1 but alas, very few students can replicate Dillon’s fast improvement results.
But I dare say, if a student has Dillon qualities,
My SUPER-STAR ULTIMATE MASTER ENGLISH TEACHING METHOD will work for him. 110% results or money-back guarantee!
The problems that Dillon face with Upper Secondary English aren’t new. Almost all my students face the same problems. After looking through his test papers, I understood how to help him and how to push his grades up in the shortest time possible.
I am going to share my SUPER SECRET ULTIMATE MASTER ENGLISH TEACHING METHOD. But I will only summarise the main points – if I were to go into detail I might end up writing a book with as many pages as Lord of the Rings….
So here it goes:
1. Refocus on Grammar
After Dillon got his A’s for PSLE and happily went to Xinmin Secondary, he stopped tuition. Nothing wrong with that. Only as time passed, his grasp of English grammar slowly got thrown down the drain.
The English language is best learnt through application and habit. And when the Bad Habits start creeping in, they may just take over the Good Habits and replace them for good. It was appalling to see his Grammar degenerating to such a lousy state. I was almost tempted to believe that he scored A for his PSLE by fluke!
I forced Dillon to refocus on grammar by nit-picking on every single mistake he makes, and making him do corrections for every sentence that has a mistake. This process was so tedious and painful that he soon learnt to be more aware of what he is writing so that he makes less mistakes.
I also got him to refocus on time frames and subject-verb agreement rules. I wanted the Good Habits to come back and kick out the Bad Habits.
His grammar was getting flabby. I made sure it got back in shape again. Dillon learnt fast and cut down on a lot of mistakes. He started scoring an average of 8/10 for grammar editing, and all his sentences for his compositions and comprehension had less mistakes.
2. Tackling Inferential Questions
Dillon is your typical, good in math and science, struggle-with-languages-type of boy. Due to this inherent weakness, he had difficulty tackling the harder questions that deal with inference. In case you didn’t notice, most English questions in Upper Secondary deal with inference.
Inferential questions require a higher degree of thinking :
– seeing from perspective of a character or the author
– making logical interpretations based on the words used or evidence/ fact available
I trained his thought process to not read or see things so literally, at face value. I got him to think harder of hidden meanings. I got him to infer more from paragraphs, sentences and words. This thought process took some time to cultivate. But Dillon was a smart kid who was determined to learn. Soon, he got better with such questions.
3. Tackling Language Questions
Just like inferential questions, language questions are aplenty for secondary English.
“What does this phrase mean?”
“What does this sentence mean?”
“Why did the author used this word?”
I helped Dillon expand his limited vocabulary. But because there’s so many English words in the dictionary, I taught him to a smarter way – to infer the meaning of words, phrases or sentences based on the context of the passage and the adjacent sentences. All he needs now is a little common sense, a little logical thinking, and he should be able to get most language questions right.
4. Writing Expository / Argumentative Essays
All Upper Secondary students struggle with their essays. Not only do they have a lack of knowledge in general subject matters, they also do not have the skills to phrase a point across.
This is a tough area to teach. But I got Dillon to understand the requirements of Expository and Argumentative essays. I taught him how to come up with sound logical points, organise them, and back them up with evidence. I taught him how to write powerful introductions and strong, body paragraphs. I taught him how to construct a sound compo.
Dillon loves writing overly-long, complicated sentences with flowery words that are usually out of place. He is also prone to repetition of the same point again and again just to make up for the lack of content in his essay. I made him cut down on unnecessary words, phrases or sentences that provided no value to his essay. I taught him how to get his point across in the clearest and most succinct way possible.
Although he still can improve further in this area, at least he is not writing gibberish or failing his compos anymore.
5. Situational Writing
For situational writing, many students (including Dillon), worry so much about the format and structure of the situational writing that they forget all about the tone and context. I got Dillon to understand the nuances between different writing tones:
Next I made sure he matched the right tone with the right context.
E.g “Write a graduation speech for your school”
– context=graduation speech for school
– tone= motivational and polite
I taught him the right words to use for the right context and tone. I taught him how to vary his sentence structures for greater impact. I made sure his points are well organised.
Improving Upper Secondary English
Once a student reaches Upper Secondary, his grammar application should be sound (hopefully), and he should be focusing on learning the harder content such as the last 4 points mentioned above.
Again with the right attitude and mindset, half the battle is already won. All Dillon needed was someone to coach him and guide him in the technical aspects of the English language. With sufficient coaching, he was able to boost his marks so ‘miraculously’.
I hope this article has been helpful in providing an insight on how to prepare your child for the Upper Secondary English syllabus and of course, the eventual, big O-level.
Stay consistent in your learning and you will reap the results of your hard work.