Greendale Sec students learn via real-life scenarios

Ms Tan Jie Qi guiding her students (from left) Javier Teo, Rishika Janarthanan, Mong Zi Xuan and Jon Yeo, all 14, while they use the NewsEd app on their mobile phones.
Ms Tan Jie Qi guiding her students (from left) Javier Teo, Rishika Janarthanan, Mong Zi Xuan and Jon Yeo, all 14, while they use the NewsEd app on their mobile phones.ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

In a world where information is easily accessible, having the skills to analyse content - inferring the meaning of a text or evaluating a source's credibility - has become more important than just knowing the content itself.

So schools are teaching "source-based" analysis skills during their language and humanities lessons.

Some teachers, such as Ms Tan Jie Qi, subject head of English language at Greendale Secondary School, go a step further by designing "experiential" lessons.

Rather than deliver a lecture on inference-type comprehension questions, and then assigning a worksheet to test how much her students have learnt, Ms Tan turned her 1hour 10min English lesson into a crime scene investigation.

"I wanted students to be able to apply the skills needed for the subject in a real-life scenario which interests them - in this case, mysteries and forensic science. When learning is fun, engagement and motivation is higher and students tend to pick up concepts or skills faster."

To get her Secondary 3 students excited, Ms Tan assigned an article on how the police use forensics to solve murders. The students read the piece before the lesson on their mobile devices via NewsEd, a "news-in-education" portal by The Straits Times specially designed for teachers and students.

The learners also weighed in on the article in NewsEd using its forum discussion feature, and answered thinking questions set by Ms Tan before class.

Then the investigation began.

She briefed the students on a "crime scene" featuring several suspects with their respective statements. She also gave students printouts of various pieces of "evidence" such as mobile phones with messages in them and a letter opener with fingerprints on it.

The students discussed in groups what each piece of evidence meant. They had worksheets that guided them to support each claim they made. At the end of the lesson, the groups shared their thoughts on what each piece of evidence meant and inferred who the "murderer" was.

Mong Zi Xuan, 14, said: "I enjoyed discussing with my friends who the murderer most likely was as I got to hear different perspectives about the evidence that would never have occurred to me."

To gauge how much her students understood the concept of backing up claims with evidence, Ms Tan also asked her students to do a post-lesson reflection on NewsEd.

Besides Ms Tan, other teachers at Greendale also constantly try to infuse current affairs into their lesson plans, to draw parallels between the real world and academics.

Said Ms Tan: "Our English teachers take turns sharing interesting and relevant news articles during our weekly professional development time. These articles are often related to the topic or unit that we are teaching.

"Especially for Upper Secondary English teachers, current affairs is a recurrent feature in our resource packages, and we engage our students on trending news regularly so that they can build their ideas bank for writing."

Last month, Greendale Secondary joined 18 other schools in using NewsEd to bring current affairs closer to students. Ms Tan felt that NewsEd's quiz function and its game-like interface, where students chalked up points as they read news articles, motivated her students to read more on their own.

Another of Ms Tan's students, Jon Yeo, 14, said: "My teacher assigns articles relevant to us and most of the questions are fun and easy. We can even take photographs or videos as an answer to the questions! These, together with the points awarded for getting the questions correct, make me want to read the news."

The positive response made Ms Tan want to incorporate even more real-world elements into her lessons, from project work to learning journeys, she said.

David Tay

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 12, 2018, with the headline 'Greendale Sec students learn via real-life scenarios'. Print Edition | Subscribe