Year 12 Success: working smarter, not just harder

CONGRATULATIONS! You made it!

Your final year of high school has begun. At the other end, your world awaits. But what will happen in between?

Everyone tells you that it is an important year, that it will be a stressful time and that you should make the most of your opportunities in this last year.

They say you should work hard, stay focussed and yet keep balance in your life.

And the clock has already started ticking!

There is no doubt that Year 12 requires hard work, but that is not the same as stress. You can work hard and still have some balance in your life.

Working harder should involve working smarter.

So how do you have a successful, productive and balanced year, with minimal stress?

Five words – Planning, Structure, Balance, Positivity, Support

If you want to know more, click on the link below. You will learn some valuable tips that I have been sharing, successfully, with senior students for many years.

Year 12 working smarter

NAPLAN: Loathe it or love it – How can you best prepare your child for this testing process?

NAPLAN: Loathe it or love it – How can you best prepare your child for this testing process?

Since its inception, there has been much debate about the usefulness and validity of NAPLAN testing in Australia.

To learn more about the debate, read on. Otherwise, click the link to go directly to the strategies page

On one hand, experts argue that it puts too much pressure on students and the curriculum, while only providing a distorted view of student achievement.

Dr Pasi Sahlberg is a renowned author and educator from Finland, a country which is recognised internationally as one of the more successful and innovative education systems. He is currently a professor of educational policy at UNSW and has just finished a research tour of Australian schools.

In a recent interview with The Guardian1, Dr Sahlberg expressed the following concerns:

“… in their pursuit for results, Australian politicians have placed too much emphasis on competition between schools and students, making education ‘too high stakes’…

If the main goal is to raise Australian children’s scores in both Pisa tests and Naplan, more direct instruction has meant that play, and even subjects such as the arts, are not on the agenda as they used to be,” he says.

“The problem is that wherever standardised tests are running the show it narrows the curriculum and it kind of changes the whole role and meaning of going to school from general useful learning into doing well in two or three subjects. And it often makes teaching and learning very boring when the purpose is to figure out the right answer to a test.”

In the same article, it was noted that

“This year’s Naplan results found that, a decade since testing began, the average reading and numeracy skills of Australian primary school students has improved only marginally, while writing skills went backwards.”

Sahlberg agrees that governments need a way to monitor and measure student progress but is critical of “ the way the test is conducted and the use of the data as a sort of school shopping guide for parents on the My School website.”

On the other hand, ACARA CEO Robert Randall, in an interview in Education Matters2, asserted that NAPLAN provides important data “…used for forward planning, allocating support and resources and tracking the progress and achievements of individual students, as well as an entire group of students, over the course of their educational journey.”

“NAPLAN tests are constructed to give students an opportunity to demonstrate skills they have learned over time through the school curriculum, and NAPLAN test days should be treated as just another routine event on the school calendar,” he says.

In the same article, however, Dr Bronwyn Hinz, Policy Fellow at the Mitchell Institute, Victoria University expressed her concern about the “overemphasis” placed on the test results.

“NAPLAN is a point-in-time test of a just a few, albeit important – subjects which can be compared to the same data collected at other times and around Australia, to help work out, among other things and alongside other data, the effects of different education programs and policies, and the places where additional resources could make the greatest impact.

“NAPLAN does not replace the much deeper, more sophisticated and more frequent formative or summative assessments of student learning done by school teachers, nor does it provide judgement on how “good” a student, teacher or school might be,” Dr Hinz says.

“However, some schools and families add their own high stakes to it, and overemphasise or misunderstand it.”

(If you want to read more about this debate, follow the links at the end of the article.)

As a teacher, I hold my own views about NAPLAN and standardized testing in general, but they are not relevant here. The reality is, love it or loathe it, NAPLAN is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

So how can you, as a parent, support your child to have the most productive experience of NAPLAN.

  1. Play it down

As mentioned earlier, one of the biggest concerns is the high degree of importance many parents place on NAPLAN results. Their anxiety consequently passes down to the students. NAPLAN is a

“… point-in-time test of a just a few, albeit important – subjects which can be compared to the same data collected at other times…”  Dr Bronwyn Hinz

It is not an overall measure of your child’s abilities, intelligence and achievements. For that week in May, it is simply a comparative measure to help schools, education administrators and governments work out distribution of (increasingly limited) resources. It also provides an opportunity for students and parents to monitor individual growth and progress from previous years. But it is not the only measure and it should always be considered in the context of all the formal and informal feedback available about your child. These should also include your own observations as parents.

It should never be used by parents to compare their child with other students. Every child is unique. They start school with different strengths and abilities, develop and grow at different rates, learn in different ways and have varying interests and passions. NAPLAN simply takes two important skill areas and assesses your child’s current level of development. Are they growing and developing in Numeracy and Literacy testing? Has their growth accelerated or is it slowing down? Please note my emphasis of the word ‘testing’. Most people are aware that some students perform well under test conditions, while others do not respond well to the pressure of time limited, silent, written demonstration of their skills. Think back to your own experiences at school and work.

Make it clear to your child that you are not anxious about it and that you are not placing great importance on the outcome.  

  1. Reframe the idea of NAPLAN for your children.

Having de-emphasized its importance, turn it into a fun challenge. Today’s children understand and love video games, where the basic premise is to try to reach the next level, through experimentation, risk-taking, determination and guesswork. Encourage your child to see NAPLAN as the same – each test as a challenge to see whether they have progressed to a higher level. It does not matter about where the other kids finish. Everyone player knows that there are ‘masters’ of the video game, much better than themselves, but that does not discourage them from trying to improve, nor takes away the enjoyment. So, it should be the same with NAPLAN.

  1. Help them understand how it is structured.

To play any game, it is always important to understand the general principles. Make sure that you and your child understand how NAPLAN works. As it is a multi-level ‘game’, there will be some easy questions, lots of more complex but still familiar tasks, and then the really tricky and unfamiliar challenges, designed to see who is ready to move to the next level. Explain to your child that they can expect to come across some questions that they, as yet, have no idea about solving or completing. That is to be expected. It is okay, and perfectly valid, to not know some answers.

Just like the video game, they may not yet have the skill to attempt that particular task. Remind them that it is okay to skip a task rather than stress or panic about it.  And it is also okay to guess. (It is amazing how often our ‘wild’ guesses are correct – the solution is often locked away somewhere in our brain). If your child understands that they are not expected to know everything, they will approach the other tasks with more confidence and are then more likely to perform to their best ability. This is an important strategy for those students who generally become anxious or freeze in tests.

  1. Recognition and familiarity.

In video games, familiarity with any level is the key. Players spend much time just exploring the features of each level, identifying and decoding clues and recognising markers, landmarks and pathways. Similarly, with NAPLAN, familiarity with the format of the tests, the types of questions and their structures is important. Having the freedom of ‘playing’ at that level to understand the clues, will help your child be more relaxed, confident and curious, as they approach test week.

  1. Take the initiative early
  • Schools generally prepare students for NAPLAN but unfortunately this preparation can be performance driven and anxiety and tension can be generated. Make sure you are aware of how this ‘preparation’ is being presented in your child’s class, and talk to the teacher or the principal if you believe it is creating a negative or anxious environment.
  • There are many NAPLAN style resources available for families to purchase. Sit down with your kids and ‘’play’ together, exploring and decoding the puzzles and challenges. They are all just puzzles and challenges!
  • If you do not feel confident in doing this, then engage a tutor or mentor who has experience in counselling students to face challenges in a positive and motivated way.

Beware of the large commercial entities providing intensive NAPLAN preparation – check to ensure that their methods are appropriate and do not simply perpetuate the pressure of competing to be the best.

Very few people can ever be ‘the best’, by its definition, instead we should all work on being ‘the best we can be’.

For more information about mentoring services I can provide for your child, please follow the link below.

The Learning Circle mentoring

Article links

1 The Guardian interview with Dr Pasi Sahlberg

2 Education Matters – The Pros and Cons of Naplan

Dr Pasi Sahlberg’s award-winning book : Finnish Lessons 2.0: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland

 

Tips for meeting assessment deadlines

For every minute spent organizing, an hour is earned.                                                                                                       Benjamin Franklin

Getting organized and staying organized is a challenge for most people, but an important hurdle to overcome for high school students.

When students struggle at school, it is not always because they lack the intellectual capability, but more commonly because they do not know how to plan and structure their work. This leaves them feeling over-whelmed and prone to last minute panic. Not a recipe for good grades!

The most successful business people will always stress the importance of goal-setting, brainstorming and action planning. Having a clear and logical list of tasks for each day, establishing priorities, committing to these tasks and then reviewing plans for the next day, are vital strategies for achieving long term goals.

For the high school student, this translates to recording deadlines, scaffolding tasks and setting timelines.

I have to confess here that I am an avid list maker. It is one of the key reasons my students and colleagues see me as an organized and efficient person. But the list, by itself, is not enough. Each item on the list needs to be broken down into small manageable steps, each with their own mini deadlines.

We spend a lot of mental energy trying to keep track of all the things we need to remember. Putting them on paper frees up some of that mental energy.                                                                                                                                                                                 Ballard

When beginning high school, students are usually handed a diary and encouraged to use it daily to record homework and due dates.

As a nightly homework tool it is very useful. It reminds students which books and accessories to take home that night and provides a record of that evening’s set work. Used consistently, it is a great tool to keep up with daily homework.

To train your child to use this tool, get into the habit of asking to see their diary each night. If they know you are checking, they are more likely to get into good habits.

But as the demands of high school increase, the diary is not enough.

Students are encouraged to use their diary to record due dates for assignments and upcoming tests. But a date scribbled on a page a few weeks ahead, is not a useful planning strategy.

Assignment deadlines require a planning process with a formal timeline to ensure that the student has completed the appropriate preparation and paperwork by the due date.

But an A3 sheet of blank paper, some coloured textas and a cheap note pad can do the trick. Want to learn more?

If your child needs help to get organized, take some time over the holiday break to share 6 Steps to Successfully Meeting Deadlines with them.

If you feel that your child could benefit from some individual mentoring or tutoring, click on this link for more information.

What is Resilience?

 

What is resilience? Simply put, resilience is the ability to ‘bounce back’ from adversity. Adversity can range from serious loss or a hurtful event to the disappointment of missing out on something or failing at a task. Resilience is the ability to adapt and change to situations, learning from them and improving the chances of successfully dealing with unexpected or challenging things in the future.

Resilience is not about struggling alone. Rather it means harnessing your personal and external resources.

It is impossible to protect children from all the things that may disappoint or upset them in their lives. In fact, over-protecting children can result in learning problems.

In her book, The Pampered Child Syndrome, Maggie Mamen suggests that “The dependent learner, who relies on, and receives, direction and constant bolstering from adults, will have a very difficult time developing the confidence to become a competent, risk-taking problem-solver”. Such children “will not even consider tackling this often painful and frustrating task because of the discomfort it causes

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.

Charles Darwin

A resilient child is characterized by their flexibility, hopefulness, optimism about the future, positive self-esteem and their strong relationships with others.

Resilience, despite common belief, is not a personality trait that we are born with. Rather it is a set of skills, attitudes and learned behaviours that can be influenced and facilitated by the child’s environment. As parents, we can guide and support our children to better cope with changes, disappointments and challenges.

Research has discovered that resilient children share most of the following factors:

  • The ability to stay focused on tasks
  • Problem – solving skills
  • Self -regulation of emotions
  • Self – efficacy and positive self esteem
  • Being involved in groups (sport, religious or community)
  • Optimism about the future
  • Feeling valued and knowing their strengths
  • Contact with caring and competent adults

Why is resilience important?

Resilient children are flexible and cope better with change and uncertainty. Their optimism and confidence helps them to resolve problems more easily; mastering tasks increases self-esteem and generates hopefulness about future challenges. Resilient children, therefore, tend to be happier, sociable, positive thinkers, and are less likely to develop mental health issues like anxiety and depression.

You cannot appreciate the sun until you go through a rainy day

Matthew Johnstone

How can you help your child learn to be more resilient?

Help them to develop a more positive view of their strengths and abilities. Redirect any discussion about what they cannot do. Show them how they can apply their strengths to solve problems and deal with difficult situations. Teach them to use positive self-talk like “I think I can” or “I cannot do it yet”.

Stop them from disasterizing. Don’t try to protect them from difficult feelings and situations. Help them to keep things in perspective. People make mistakes, are disappointed, lose friends, struggle to learn new skills every day. Making mistakes and overcoming difficulties is how we learn and become stronger.

Acknowledge their feelings but then help them to look towards the future.

Help them to accept things that cannot be changed, and encourage them to make plans to change those things that they can influence. Remind them that the longer they hold onto their negative feelings, the longer it will take to improve a situation.

Check that their plans and goals are realistic and help them to break their goals down into small, achievable steps. No one achieves all their goals, so encourage them to acknowledge their efforts each day.

Encourage them to reach out – to make new friends, spend time with other positive adults and take part in group activities. Children who are able to develop supportive, healthy relationships tend to cope much better with life’s difficulties. These relationships can also help them develop other resilience skills.

Talk to them without judgement. Find out more about their fears and dreams. Teach them to communicate their needs and ideas clearly and openly, and provide lots of fun games and activities that use problem-solving.

Encourage a positive outlook for the future by helping them to recall all the good things they have experienced and achieved so far. Family photo albums and gratitude journals are good starting points.

Help them to visualize a positive outcome when facing a situation that provokes fear. If the fear is based on a previous negative experience, revisit that incident with them to identify some ways where they could have handled the situation differently.

Remember! Resilience is not a personality trait. It is a learnt set of skills, behaviours and attitudes.

Feel like learning more?                                                                           Watch this inspiring story – Sam: My Philosophy for a Happy Life

Would these ideas be useful to present at a staff meeting or a parent evening? Go to my workshops link.

Further reading

You might be interested in these:

The big little book of resilience by Matthew Johnstone (Pan MacMillan Australia)

Resilience series for teachers by Annie Greeff (Crown House Pub Ltd)

One Step Ahead: Raising 3 to 12 Year Olds by Michael Grose (Random House Australia)

The Pampered Child Syndrome by Maggie Maman (Jessica Kingsley Publishers)

 

Factors that influence Learning

We are all unique individuals with unique talents and preferences.

We all have the ability to learn, but we each have a personal learning style, and our own natural strengths and weaknesses.

By the time they start school, each child has learnt to walk, talk, play and create in their own style and in their own time.

When a child learns to walk, it is a process of trial and error, bumps and bruises, frustrations and experimentation.

But they persevere – because they want to explore their world and be like everyone else.

They are wired to learn, but they are also warmly and proudly encouraged by the adults on the sidelines. Everyone expects that, before they learn to walk, there will be many failed attempts. But each time, with encouragement from the sidelines, they will readjust their efforts with the insight gained from their earlier mistakes.

Then, one day, they will take those first tentative steps and the sidelines will cheer. The child is praised for their efforts and encouraged to venture further. (They are not graded for their learning outcome!!)

They will take on more challenges on two feet, trusting their ability to develop stronger skills and to overcome new obstacles.

But then … things can start to change for some children!

Difficulties in learning may not just be related to ability. Yes it is true that genetically we are all different. We have some natural gifts and the potential to develop others. In some areas, that potential is harder to embrace, and we will not be excellent at everything, no matter how hard we try. But all human beings have the potential to grow and learn, providing the conditions are right.

Learning requires persistence and optimism,  yet many students have lost or not yet developed these strengths.

Learning requires motivation and organization, but many students are overwhelmed by the scope and quantity of the demands on them. They lose focus and confidence, unable to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Learning requires insight which comes from taking risks and being curious. However, many students have stopped asking questions and trying new things due to negative experiences in the past.

Learning requires self-belief, yet many students quickly learn to measure their success by the grade they receive and not the effort and progress they made. Failure to achieve an A grade, no matter how much progress was made, can quickly translate into a sense of failure as a person.

Everyone has the ability to learn, but each person starts at a different point with different learning styles and at their own pace. In the classroom some individuals may struggle to keep up with the pace and level of their peers, and can benefit from individually tailored approaches.

Before you know how to ride a bicycle,

you don’t know how to ride a bicycle

To learn how to ride a bicycle takes courage, optimism and eagerness to learn. It starts with a struggle, a little nervousness, trial and error, wobbling, falling sometimes, feedback from others, approximations, encouragement, going at your own pace, starting on a clear, smooth surface, wobbling some more, straightening up, relaxing a little, venturing further, getting confident, speeding up, feeling in control… and they’re off!

Learning to solve a Maths problem, to speak in Italian or to write a history essay is no different. Students need to remember that before they are successful, they will not know what they are doing. And to struggle with not knowing is not only okay, it is vital in the learning process.

But they also need the right conditions – time and space, encouragement for effort, a safe place to experiment and take risks, patient guidance and feedback, and an environment that breeds optimism and is free of judgement.

There are many amazing teachers doing amazing things in classrooms, creating great conditions for learning. However, some students need extra individual support to account for their unique learning style and pace, to address earlier gaps in their learning, or to rebuild optimism and self-belief that has been lost through past negative experiences.

If you believe your child could benefit from some individual mentoring then please feel free to contact me.