For Primary 1 students with behavioural difficulties, MOE programme helps them adjust to new environment
SINGAPORE: It’s a typical Friday morning at Elias Park Primary School and the Primary 1 students are waiting to start their lessons for the day.
They are restless and one student starts to scream. The teaching support staff member, known as an allied educator, takes the student aside to calm down – in a small tent at the back corner of the classroom.
The teacher, Madam Jessie Wong, waits for the student to sit in the corner before giving the cue to start their morning greeting.
She later has a chat with the student in the corner. They look at a diagram depicting a range of emotional “zones”, under which students are taught different strategies to manage and regulate their emotions.
Mdm Wong asks if he is ready to join the class again. He nods and heads back to his seat.
In this classroom, there are only eight students.
They are part of the pilot Transition Support for Integration programme, or TRANSIT, designed to support Primary 1 students with social and behavioural difficulties and help them with the transition to primary school in the first six months.
The Ministry of Education (MOE) announced on Wednesday (Mar 3) that it will introduce the programme in all primary schools by 2026.
By the end of this year, about 40 schools would have piloted it, with about five to 10 Primary 1 students from each school involved in the programme.
The pilot's outcomes have been "promising", said Minister of State for Education Sun Xueling in Parliament.
“These students will receive support from allied educators (learning and behavioural support) and teachers to develop foundational self-management skills, in small groups and in their classrooms during their P1 year," she added.
"By the end of P1, students should be able to learn independently in class, with occasional help."
READ: ‘Targeted intervention’ for Primary 1 students with social, behavioural needs at all schools by 2026
Elias Park Primary is one of the schools that has been part of the pilot since 2017.
Teachers and allied educators observe the students for a week at the beginning of the year and identify those who may need support under the programme. TRANSIT classes then begin, usually in early February.
“For example, if they are unable to manage their emotions or simple classroom work habits like moving out of their seat, walking around the classroom … these are some of the children where we will be teaching them explicit skills on how they can manage their emotions and also how they should be behaving in the classroom,” said Mdm Wong, who has been a teacher for more than 20 years.
Explaining how teachers and allied educators approach students who may benefit from the programme without making them feel like they are being singled out, she said teachers first have casual talks with the students to build rapport.
“We bring them into the classroom gradually. We will not force them to join the classroom for our programme. We get used to them and build a rapport with these children before we really get them to join us in our lessons,” Mdm Wong added.
Primary 1 students in the programme take their English and mathematics classes separately from their form classes for the first six months.
After that, they rejoin their form classes permanently, and allied educators check in on them every day. In the classrooms of their form class, there will be stickers on their desks to remind them of the strategies they learnt.
Even after Primary 1, teachers and allied educators check in regularly on the children to monitor their progress.
The transition back to their form classes is “gradual”, Mdm Wong said. “Before they go back to the class, we get the classroom ready, the children ready and teachers are ready to accept them.”
“TRANSIT is important to support the inclusiveness in the school, and at the same time it helps to support students in terms of self-management skills, where at times if they’re lacking in different areas.
“And it benefits those students who want to be integrated positively in class,” said senior allied educator (learning and behavioural support) Madam Mastura Hashim, who has been with Elias Park Primary for 15 years.
Adding that there is an increase in awareness of the need to be inclusive, Mdm Mastura said: “That's why it is important to have this programme now to include students who have skills deficit in the area of self-management skills.
“This programme actually helped them to develop positively in the area of social and communication skills, self-management skills and emotional regulation.”
In supporting these students, teachers and allied educators use evidence-based approaches like positive behaviour support - praising and affirming the child - across different classroom settings, said Mdm Mastura.
At Elias Park Primary, students in the TRANSIT programme are rewarded with tokens that can be exchanged for rewards each time they display good behaviour, said Mdm Wong.
“We want the children to know that we reward them for their good behaviour, and not reprimanding somebody who’s doing the wrong thing,” she said, adding that other children follow when they see their peers getting rewarded for good behaviour.
ROLE OF TEACHERS AND ALLIED EDUCATORS
Strategy teaching, or implementing routines and structures so that students know what to do, is equally important, said Mdm Mastura.
“One of the main differences is that a TRANSIT teacher has to help the AED LBS (allied educator, learning and behavioural support) and support students in the area of generalisation of the skills by infusing those skills in her daily teaching,” said Mdm Mastura, describing the differences between teaching styles for TRANSIT students and the other students.
“For example, if she's teaching English or math, she might want to infuse those skill sets like maybe raising hands in her lesson because it has been taught during the week or that particular session. This is one area whereby students will then be able to generalise the skills across settings,” she added.
TRANSIT teachers like Mdm Wong are trained to teach those classes and support them in regular classes.
“We will be there to observe them and remind them using visuals on the expected behaviours that they should exhibit when they’re in a normal classroom,” said Mdm Wong.
Raising their hands is one common challenge faced by these students, she added.
“I think this is a habit brought up from home. Young children when they talk to their parents they get the full attention of the parents, and so they do not know how to wait for their turn when they need to speak,” she said.
“When it comes to school, there is more than one child in the classroom, so we have to teach them the skill of waiting for their turn to talk by raising their hands. And not only by raising their hands and shouting out answers, but they have to raise their hands and wait for the teacher’s acknowledgement before they can answer a question.”
Some students may also get frustrated when they are not called on and will have to learn that they should put their hands down and wait for the next question, said Mdm Wong.
ROLE OF PARENTS
In the programme, parents also “work very closely” with teachers and allied educators, said Mdm Mastura.
“When we teach specific skills, we do share those specific skills to parents, and parents can use that to support them at home and also when they go out, like for example, parties and in social settings,” she added.
But the parents’ receptiveness to the programme can be a challenge, said Mdm Wong.
“But we let parents know that we are here to support the child, we are not saying that the child is special. But every child is different, we all learn differently,” she added.
“As a parent myself ... we understand that from the teacher’s point of view, if we are trying to help the child with whatever strategies we can think of, this is the job as an educator.”
Mrs Sharlene Tan, whose son was part of the first batch of TRANSIT students in Elias Park Primary, said that before going through the programme, her son was unable to focus and stay still in his seat. He would also have meltdowns during classroom break times.
At home, he would climb on chairs and tables, hide under the sofa and play with water in the bathroom.
Mrs Tan and her husband were having difficulties managing his behaviour since he was two years old and took him to see an occupational therapist when he was in kindergarten. That helped, but not as much as the TRANSIT programme because he only saw the therapist about once a month, said Mrs Tan.
“I have less worries because they really helped my son to know what are dangerous activities. I kept telling him, but he doesn’t want to listen or cannot understand. But from then, he could understand and he could talk to me about it and discuss with me,” she added.
“They (the teachers) used a lot of time to talk to him with patience, and he slowly understood what was going on.”
Mrs Tan used to receive updates about her son’s behaviour in school from Mdm Mastura almost every day. The teachers and allied educators also gave her tips on how to manage his behaviour at home.
“For example, if he has a meltdown, give him some time. Maybe give him something for him to hold to manage his emotions. After a while, instead of scolding, (we should) ask him why (he is behaving this way). We have to understand him, understand his situation, understand his feelings and recognise it,” said Mrs Tan.
Now in Primary 5, her son still needs support in some areas as he often feels stressed and finds mathematics especially difficult.
“He’s weak in that. In the second week of school he told me it’s difficult and he is very stressed. (He) kept telling me it’s really tough and that he can’t make it. I said ‘you have to try’. We keep encouraging him,” said Mrs Tan.
Adding that she is thankful for the help of the teachers and allied educators, she said: “It helped my son a lot, not just (in his) academics. Emotions, self-management, it built his confidence and supported us as well.”