“I don’t know how to do that difficult part! You know, the one where you fill in the blanks. I just write the answer anyhow...”


“Wait, what do you mean by anyhow?”

 

The above conversation must sound familiar to many of us teachers and parents when we ask our children about how their English exam paper went. It would usually end with a cheeky grin or snigger from them as they retort that they simply wrote the first word which came to mind since they had no clue on how to get the correct answer. In response to that, we chuckle and shake our heads, assuring them that they had tried their best while acknowledging at the back of our minds the fact that we ourselves once had a hard time with it too.

This ‘difficult part’ students often struggle with answering is none other than the comprehension cloze task. Totalling 15 marks, the comprehension cloze section accounts for 20% of the primary school Standard English Paper 2 exam. Many students may normally find it hard to score the passing mark, usually landing themselves anywhere in between 5 - 8 points.

The comprehension cloze is so challenging as it demands that the student possesses and is able to apply a combination of skills such as reading, understanding details, making inferences and predictions to name a few. It also demands that the student has a good grasp of grammar as well as a high knowledge of vocabulary and complex sentence structures. Depending on their abilities, students with dyslexia may face difficulties to decode and comprehend the given passage, let alone to simultaneously apply the above skills all at once to tackle the task. Consequently, they may heavily ‘lose hope’ and lose marks in this section.

Recognizing that this is a topic which our students need a lot of help in, the PREP 2 PSLE Team launched the comprehension cloze Short-Term Programme (STP) in June last year. The first of its kind, the STP is essentially a modular programme that covers English exam components which are not included in the main Prep 2 PSLE curriculum. It is a one-time programme taught through 10 hours of lessons and is conducted in two separate runs. The holiday run lasts for one week during the June and December break while the term spans over 10 weeks.

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Bearing our students’ needs in mind, the main objective of the programme is to first and foremost build their confidence, and equip them with the application skills to answer a comprehension cloze task. Together with fellow developers of the programme, Tuty and Joanne, we designed a comprehension cloze curriculum that is aligned with the Orton-Gillingham principle. The basic, simpler topics are covered first before we introduce the students to more complicated ones to ensure that the material is delivered in a sequential and cumulative manner. These topics are chosen based on the frequency at which they have been tested in the PSLE papers within the past 4 years.

Joanne and I had the pleasure of conducting the first comprehension cloze STP in Jurong Point and Bishan Learning Centre respectively during the June vacation break last year, with a pioneer class of five Primary 5-6 students in each location. In the first two lessons, we focused on firming up the students’ foundational skills as they learn about basic sentence structures and components - namely the SVO (subject-verb-object), subject-verb agreement, adjectives and adverbs.

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A comprehension cloze passage is, after all, made up of paragraphs which in turn consist of sentences. As students with dyslexia require structured and explicit instruction, they are made aware of this as they tackle blanks at the sentence level first before progressing to do the same at the paragraph and passage level. This also helps to increase their chances of success at the beginning stages, thus boosting their esteem and confidence as they gradually move on to tackle a full comprehension cloze passage.

It is also crucial that we activate our students’ prior knowledge so that they familiarize themselves with the context of the passage. This helps to trigger and build their vocabulary of words which are appropriate and specific to the theme of the passage. A pre-reading discussion is thus conducted prior to a comprehension cloze passage task. Before answering, they are taught and encouraged to annotate each blank on which word class they think the answer might be, using the concepts they have learnt as well as the contextual clues which are evident in the sentences surrounding a blank.

 

Written by:
Hakimah Nur Diniyah
Senior Educational Therapist
PREP 2 PSLE Programme