Monday, September 29, 2008

Andre's very short stint at Morris Allen

In my very first post, I wrote about how we sent Andre for English tuition at Morris Allen in the hope that he can improve his writing and comprehension skills.

Let's just say that we're glad Morris Allen offers a one-month trial period because that's all Andre went for. I know one month seems like too short a time to determine the effectiveness of any tuition centre, but even after just four lessons, it felt like we were throwing money down the drain.

It all looked promising enough. Andre was given this folder, which had an introductory letter to parents on what the centre was trying to achieve, a detailed curriculum and how each item taught relates to the MOE syllabus. Each week, any written work he did would be put into the folder so we can view his progress. Among other things, here's what the letter contained:

"Please understand that we base our teaching on positive reinforcement. We commend the achievements and do not usually highlight every mistake."

"As a parent, please do not expect perfection from your child's first attempt. Writing is an ongoing process and can always be improved, expanded and developed."

"Please remember that a lot of oral and interactive group work goes on in each lesson, and the written items you are seeing only represent a small part of our communicative approach."

It all sounds very nice, doesn't it? I think this sort of motivational style is very much in line with the western educational system, something Morris Allen follows since it's run and taught exclusively by expats.

So we were quite hopeful - maybe this is the answer to Andre's English woes. He went for a 1½ hour lesson on Sundays, and after each lesson, he got to bring home 3 books from the class library. He's supposed to read them and choose one to tell the teacher about the following week.

To my surprise, this was one of the books he brought home:

This is the inside of the book:

I mean, really? This is for the p2 class? This is the type of book Andre was reading when he was in kindergarten! I thought maybe they had a range of books in case some kids were reading at slower paces. But even though Andre brought home some more difficult books, many of them were pegged at a very elementary level. Often, he would complete all three books within half an hour.

I thought ok, maybe that's just the reading portion. Maybe the teaching process is their selling point. In the folder, I found this piece of written work. It's a character web of the story of Prince Cinders:

In a character web, the child is supposed to write a word that described a quality of the chosen character and what example in the story demonstrates that quality. It helps the child develop story lines and supporting sentences for composition.

I thought Andre's looked quite good and was quite pleased that he could come up with something so logical and coherent. Until he told me that the teacher wrote most of it on the board and all the kids just copied it down!! Each week, it was something like that. One week, probably out of some loyalty to his teacher, Andre said, "no lah, she doesn't always write down on the board. Sometimes she just tells us the answer."

You have so gotta be kidding me. If I thought Andre's English could improve with reading simple books and being given answers to exercises, I can do that myself. I don't need to pay someone $40 a session for that. (I can use the money to take Andre to a nice pasta place, and we can both sit down to a yummy dinner while he reads a book).

Morris Allen claims that all their students have 100% passes in PSLE English. Well, I'm sure that's true but I'm also positive that a pass is not the lofty target that parents set for their kids. While I agree that grades are not everything and learning to love the language is more important, I don't believe that should be the excuse for pitching the teaching at such a low level.

I want to stress that Andre only went for 4 lessons in one class led by one particular teacher, so I wouldn't presume to write off Morris Allen based on our limited experience. For all I know, the centre has helped other kids improve their English standards. But I know for us, we won't be forking out more money to find out.


Lilian said...

I burst out laughing at what Andre did. He was very sweet trying to defend his teacher but ALAMAK, PECAH LOBANG! All was revealed LOL!!

Sean brings back the most baby-ish books from school too. In fact, the most advanced book he brought home was Eric Carle's The Mixed up Chameleon, which he read when he was 3+. Obviously, he still enjoys such books, so I leave him be.

I think your idea of spending that $40 eating pasta/sushi and having Andre read during that time is excellent. Lots of nice joints in Eastpoint to do that. Make it your special weekly date with your little imp, just you and him and some good books to read.

monlim said...

Maybe Andre just brings back the easy books so he can finish them real quick, dunno lah... (I can't believe your little one could read at 3!!!!)

Can't be my standard is so high I cannot find an English tutor for Andre right! End up still I must do myself, sigh...

bACk in GERMANY said...

Oh dear... I'm not even sure if Bryan can read "Bad Bear" all by himself now and he's already in kindergarten.

So how did you train your little one to read at 3, Lilian?

I don't think we slack in reading to our kids n any way. But they never make the connection of words to sounds... all that matter is the story and the picture. For Bryan, he could only start entertaining himself with a book, i.e he would be flipping stacks of books through for half an hour, pretending to be reading at the most when he was three... picture reading and mainly recalling the story from memory, I guess. Now at 5, he will go to his reading corner pretty often during the day to read his Tintin, which is really the pictures more than anything else. He's too lazy to sound out anything more than 2 syllables, though I was pretty surprised that the "Cigars of Pharoah" has taught him something. When the teacher asked about the pyramids in class last week, he told his teacher that there were traps in them. "Trap" is monosyllabic!

monlim said...

Cindy, I wouldn't worry about it, I think it was just in k2 that Andre's reading really picked up. In k1, I was still teaching him phonics, so he could only manage the very simple words.

Reading at 3 is something only a gifted child can do, I think!

Alcovelet said...

Cindy, it'll happen lah. He's already got a good start and he's got plenty of time. Someone told me about this learning spurt at K2 also, so take heart!

Monica, your Andre is a very sweet boy. I guess I'm lucky with regard to enrichment classes - my son won't go, so we can have our pasta without too much thought!

monlim said...

Alcove: I don't think your son needs enrichment classes anyway, he's so brilliant! So you can definitely enjoy your pasta :)

Lilian said...

My kids aren't those gifted kids who taught themselves to read. I explained it all here. I really believe there's method to teaching reading; there was an excellent article on the net (which I can't find anymore) that said just like in Math, you've gotta learn your numbers first, before you move on to adding or English too, the basic foundation has gotta be strong, ie letters, their sounds, and finally blending and decoding. I'm not talking here about phonics with all the complicated rules, just simple beginning sounds.

A friend of mine who was trained in Montessori argued that it wasn't my method, but that Brian was special hence he read at 3. She also said research showed kids' brains aren't wired for reading till after they're 5. I told her she'll have to agree my method works if Sean reads early too. It's not the child, it's how he's taught...that's what I think lah. This friend's 2 older girls didn't read early, but she used my method for No3, and she read early hehe.

Gotta emphasize that her oldest girl now reads voraciously, so it really doesn't matter when they start. For me, it's just something I liked doing with the kids, cos I was too lazy to do anything else with them. Kids who find too much enjoyment in reading at too early an age will miss out on other stuff, eg fun at the playground (my kids would rather stay home to read than go to the playground), even playing with friends; something has to give...and just look at my kids' glasses (though I blame Eddie's genes for that too) kesian :(

monlim said...

I'm sure there are methods to teach your kids to read faster, like what you did, but I also believe that giftedness had something to do with it. At 3, Andre had just started to speak (very late) and his mental capacity was not tuned to it (in fact, we thot he might be autistic for a while), so there was no way he could learn to read, method or not!

As for glasses, all in the genes, not much you can do there :P

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