What happens if you drop the ‘T’?

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At the British Council, the focus is not just on established methodologies and testing but on all-round enrichment that offers advice and guidance while encouraging individual development.

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If you have visited any enrichment centre, you have probably heard people talking about the establishment’s methodology. Methodology is a catchy word that describes the style of teaching that centres offer.

It might be ‘learner centred’, ‘multimedia orientated’ or even ‘multi-faceted, multisensory, dynamic instruction facilitated through multimedia’. Generally, the more multi-words, the more dynamic and interesting the centre sounds. It’s a bit like shampoo advertisements that attempt to blind us with science. However, there still remains the question of what these catchy buzzwords mean in practice.

Dropping the ‘T’ for teaching

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Test, Teach, Test (TTT) is a frequently employed ‘methodology’ in classrooms around the world. It encourages the teacher to first ‘test’ the student to find out what they know, then ‘teach’ them what they don’t know, followed by ‘retesting’ them to see what they have learned. However, all too often problems occur when you drop the middle ‘T’ and forget to ‘teach’.

What happens when we just ‘test’? Well, the answer is simple – not a lot. Testing without teaching is a bit like chilli crab without the crab, it’s not the real deal, it doesn’t satisfy you and ultimately you go away hungry with a burning sensation. It’s not that testing is a bad idea but when it replaces teaching then learning doesn’t occur. Too often I’ve heard students complain about ‘lessons’ which consist entirely of past-exam paper practice. There is an assumption that doing past-paper after past-paper makes you a better student, when in fact it can crush a student’s confidence.

Practice papers without good instruction and comprehensive feedback can lead to a sense of abject failure. How often do students see hours of hard work disappear under a wave of red ink? Worse still, instead of constructive advice on how to improve, the student simply receives a grade compounding their disappointment while receiving no advice about how to fix their errors. The big question is ‘why do we send students for enrichment programmes in the first place’?

Singapore’s education system is one of the best in the world and frequently ranks higher in international league tables than the USA. Enrichment centres should be there not just to support children in their school work but also to broaden their horizons and offer something unique which does not perfectly replicate the school system. Enrichment centres have the opportunity to show students new ways of approaching challenges and problems that compliment their school work while cultivating students’ passion for their studies. After all, if you give up your free time to study it should be enjoyable as well as instructive.

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Duncan Rose, Head of Schools, British Council Singapore

What makes the British Council different? 

When people ask me why the British Council is different from other enrichment centres, I reply that it is in the way in which we treat our students. We offer them recognition as individuals who are still growing, developing and learning. As an educator, I would hope that enrichment offers students something more fulfilling than rote-learning and past-papers. Enrichment should offer advice and guidance while encouraging individual development. By encouraging learner autonomy we discourage passive acceptance, blind copying of answers and over-reliance on teachers, all of which reduce students’ creativity.

Ultimately, the British Council believes that ‘happy learners get results’. Even though the British Council still follows the widely used TTT methodology, we focus on the middle ‘T’. We don’t test excessively or use past-papers, instead we ‘teach’. We encourage our students to strive to achieve their personal best by offering relevant instruction, guidance and support. We develop our own materials to avoid relying on off-the-shelf assessment books and we encourage students to communicate with us and each other.

New examinations, new directions

Ironically, the development of the new O-level (2013) and PSLE (2015) examinations may initially reduce ‘testing’, as access to the 10-year series and other ‘exam practice books’ will be temporarily cut-off. However, instead of weakening tuition centres the absence of these books may force enrichment centres to ‘up their game’. Instead of teaching to the ‘examination’ there could be renewed focus on teaching ‘skills’ which help students throughout their lives.

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The development of the new O-level and PSLE is a dramatic step in the right direction. These new examinations appear to reward students for considered thought and for supported ideas. Additionally, the greater focus on skills such as note-taking, error correction and essay writing in the O-level is likely to be warmly welcomed by junior colleges, polytechnics and universities who expect students to demonstrate such skills upon arrival.

“Those who know how to think need no teachers”

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The British Council strives to create autonomous students who can recognise their own weaknesses and learn from them. We hope to develop ‘thinking’ individuals who are able to cope with the demanding, higher-order activities required for examination success. Everyone knows that ‘testing’ in schools is important but ‘teaching’ should still take precedence. Through good instruction we equip students with the necessary skills to lead successful lives. Gandhi summed up the role of educators succinctly when he said ‘those who know how to think need no teachers’. Even though it’s a bit of an own goal in terms of teachers’ job security, it is an aspiration that any caring educational establishment should strive for.

British Council Singapore:  www.britishcouncil.org.sg

If you have any questions, contact us or call +65 6473 6661.

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