Future Skills brings about better English grades

Marks are important to your children. One mark can make a difference between grades. One grade can determine what school your child can be posted to.

Marks are important for English Language as it is one of the core subjects. Especially so when English forms the basis of all other subjects except Mother Tongue. For example, weak English would lead to difficulties with problem sums in Mathematics. That is why you put so much money and effort in ensuring the best for your children.

You may find that your child did well in English when they were in lower primary. However, as your child moves up in levels, you may find your child’s grades dropping. There are many factors, but the most common and important reason is that your child is stuck in a rote learning mode.


Before I start any discussion about the pitfalls of rote learning, let me clarify – rote learning is not inherently bad. All of us need to memorise information and knowledge, whether it is for business presentations or simply for grocery shopping. In fact, rote learning is a great skill everybody needs to masterHowever, you do not want your child to be stuck with rote learning when upper primary English begins to demand for more cognitively challenging skills. This is because upper primary assessment features a slow shift from testing memorisation to testing for inference and analysis. The inability to shift from rote learning to these skills is basically what stops your child from scoring great English grades.

To step up, your child needs to build on their foundation of rote learning and embrace what education psychologists call ‘higher order thinking skills’. These skills include the ability to analyse and evaluate information. After digesting information, your child needs to be able to create new knowledge. As such, higher order thinking skills are definitely more difficult than just memorising knowledge and applying it.

What I just described is known by psychologist and teachers as Bloom’s Taxonomy. Originally formulated in 1956 and further revised in 2000, Bloom gives us a map of the different thinking skills. For many years, teachers worldwide have been using Bloom ‘s Taxonomy in different subjects. For example, K Ranga Khrisnan, the dean of Duke – NUS Graduate Medical School, has a series of articles in the Today newspaper detailing how they use Bloom’s Taxonomy in their teaching and assessment. Therefore, the ability to hone and refine higher order thinking skills is the key to better grades.

Future Skills

The higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy are what I categorise as ‘future skills’. These thinking skills are increasingly becoming more important for academic and business purposes.

Business leaders all over the world also agree with the importance of future skills. They have been complaining about the disconnect between education and real life skills needed for the corporate world. Dr Tony Wagner of Harvard University interviewed business leaders all over America and he discovered they were looking for people with the following:

  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Collaboration and Leadership
  • Agility and Adaptability
  • Initiative and Entrepreneurialism
  • Effective Written and Oral Communication
  • Accessing and Analysing Information
  • Curiosity and Imagination

He calls them the ‘seven survival skills’. Interestingly, other than the obvious personal traits like collaborative skills, agility and adaptability, many important skills are basically the same skills as the higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. In other words, one of the basic requirements for being successful is high cognitive development.

This trend has not escaped Singapore’s Ministry of Education (MOE). They have realised the importance of these skills. They have launched programmes to boost the mastery of these skills. The most obvious programme would be the 21st Century Competencies (21CC) in 2010 where skills like those mentioned above are the desired outcome of the programme. This has been followed up by the Applied Learning programme in 2013 that applies thinking skills and stretches the imagination of the children. Likewise the Learning for Life programme develops people skills and cultivates attitudes necessary for students to succeed in the future.

This shows the importance of future skills – MOE has made it a point to plan programmes that challenge the cognitive development and change the attitudes of students.

Future Skills and its relation to grades

Despite all these developments in the educational and business landscape, many parents mistakenly dismiss future skills as soft skills that have no bearing on their children’s grades, English or otherwise – I hope you are not one of them. They rather make their children focus the examination skills than have a holistic view on education. The focus on memorisation might work for lower primary, but is increasingly of less importance in upper primary school levels and beyond.

You might ask ‘how do future skills relate to grades?’ For example, in upper primary and increasingly in secondary school, comprehension questions focus on inference and analysis skills. If your child is unable to analyse the passage and read between the lines, they will not score well for Paper 2. It is therefore important to develop these skills to score in the English examinations. At the same time, your children develop the important skills and abilities for the workforce.

There are many resources for developing your child’s future skills. One resource I like to use is the ‘Great English: The CAL2 way!’ activity book. One activity that really showcases this is the ‘Drawing Dictation Activity’.

Drawing Dictation Activity For this activity, your child needs to describe the shapes and the lines of a picture they drew without showing you the picture. To start, you need to get your child to draw a picture that has many geometrical shapes. Your child then needs to connect all or some of the shapes with straight lines. After drawing the diagram, get a blank sheet of paper yourself. Get your child to describe the digram to you. After the description is completed, compare your drawing and their drawing. An example of the type of diagram your child should draw is given below:

Cognitive development

What is the objective of the drawing dictation activity?

Firstly, your child gets to practise prepositions and other words that describe positions. This improves their grammar. This helps to boost their Paper 2 marks as well as other parts of the English paper in general. In addition, it helps to improve their English oral examination grades as that is exactly what students do in the PSLE English oral examination. Of course, it obviously boosts their ability to communicate effectively, one of the important future skills.

Secondly, your child needs to analyse their own diagram and figure out the best way to describe the diagram. Would describing it from left to right be better? Or would making the biggest shape an anchor and describing everything based on it be better? This helps in their problem solving skills as well their analysing skills. It ultimately helps them in organising information, something that will help them in Paper 1 when they need to organise their thoughts to write a composition.

As a bonus, this activity helps your child to work together and bond with you. This activity allows your child to be in control and not you, the adult. This will aid your child in leading people and helping them deal with frustration respectfully when their teammate makes a mistake. Trust me, you will make mistakes – it is not easy to describe such a diagram.

To scale up the difficulty, your child can also choose real photographs. That will really give your child a brain workout! As you can see, this activity not only helps in English grades, it also trains your child in important future skills.


There is a positive relationship between future skills and English grades. To develop future skills means to develop a bright future for your child in both their academic and future work success. It is therefore important to view these soft skills as something vital to their studies and not as