A Differentiated Curriculum: Same Same…but Different?

Why tutoring can give students equal opportunities to learn

A differentiated curriculum is a learning program that, ideally, meets the academic needs and interests of every student. This means that all the teaching approaches outlined in the curriculum are flexible, so that the content being taught is digestible and refreshingly challenging for each individual child. In a class of twenty or thirty students, who will undoubtedly possess slightly different needs, interests and skills from each other, an effective differentiated program is a challenge for teachers to implement. Nonetheless, experienced teachers, including educators at the new NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA, formerly BOSTES), know that such an individualised curriculum is necessary if all students are to meet their full potential. Susan Winebrenner, an experienced education consultant of the Education Consulting Services in the US, has put forward a compelling argument for differentiated learning, “Equality means giving everyone equal opportunities to learn, not teaching everyone in exactly the same way.

Differentiated CurriculumNESA agrees, and differentiated programming of lessons is integrated within the current K-10 Syllabus Framework. The ability of proficient teachers to individualise and create greater flexibility in lesson plans is also a clear requirement of the NSW Proficient Teacher Evidence Guide (BOSTES, published June 2014), in which the first standard discussed is a knowledge of students and their diverse learning processes. For example, some students may be visual learners who prefer teacher demonstrations, and some students may be more autonomous when given a written list of instructions.

Unfortunately, efforts towards establishing curriculum differentiation in schools often falls short. Within NESA guidelines, such programming is a guide, rather than a requirement whose success can be evaluated by students and their families. In reality, curriculum differentiation may go little further than a few sentences in a school’s teaching/learning policy handbook, or informal extension programs where gifted students meet once or twice a term to work on self-guided projects. Not all schools offer the supported learning or acceleration programs that many students need. And what about HSC students in Year 11 and 12, whose teachers already have their hands full with weekly marking and feedback, and a strict limit on the length of time they can spend on one learning outcome?

Despite schools’ best intentions, classroom sizes and a lack of support materials can mean some students (whether they require additional learning help, would like to fill a few gaps in their knowledge, or are gifted students needing a challenge in class) simply do not receive an equal opportunity to learn.

So how can tutoring provide the flexible learning opportunities often lacking in many classrooms?

NESA recommends these following methods for differentiating students’ learning programs (Differentiated Programming, NSW Education Standards Authority, NSW Government, 2014):

  • tiered and levelled activities
  • interest centres
  • problem-solving and challenge-based learning opportunities
  • open-ended questioning
  • collaborative and individual learning
  • student choice
  • teacher/student dialogue around learning activities

Tutors, such as those on our team at Nepean Tutoring, are highly experienced in providing individualised, focused learning opportunities. In a tutoring setting, students have the opportunity to learn one-on-one, or in a small group. Programs are tailored to their own specific needs and are free from the distractions and competing requirements of other students in a large classroom. Furthermore, our tutors can fill those gaps in knowledge, support students to learn classroom content at their own pace, and find an approach that allows each student to be challenged and grow from their learning experience, without feeling overwhelmed. This facilitates student/tutor discussion and encourages learners to generate their own ideas and questions about content, an important learning process that leads lead to further investigation – that is, further learning. At all times, our tutors ensure students’ needs and interests are at the centre of learning opportunities.

While classroom learning often assumes that students are the same, the individual nature of tutoring recognises that this is a myth. Difference should be valued, and used as a means to help students grow.

Learning to Play and Playing to Learn

Why Time for Fun and Games is Essential for Early Childhood Education

The early years of childhood, specifically those before and during kindergarten, are vital years for growing minds. It is during these years that children first learn how to perceive the world around them, build relationships with others (such as preschool friends) and begin the foundational process of learning problem-solving and analytical skills. For the awe-inspiring curiosity and creativity of young children, into whose early development much research has been undertaken, every marker stain and scattering of building blocks tells a story of a learning journey. For parents, a common question may arise as little ones prepare for their first year of school – what is an appropriate balance between play and more traditional learning activities, like homework and reading?

The short answer is that play is just as important as learning. In fact, learning through play is a process of unparalleled value for the development of childhood cognition. Australian educational institutions have recently put considerable efforts towards embracing a play-based learning approach.

The Early Years Learning Framework was implemented in 2009 as a national response to scientific and social research into the value of play in the classroom. According to the Child Development Institute of California, USA there are different types of play:

“Social Play: By interacting with others in play settings, children learn social rules such as give and take, reciprocity, cooperation…and…learn to use moral reasoning to develop a mature sense of values.

Constructive Play: Constructive play is when children manipulate their environment to create things. This…allows children to experiment with objects; find out combinations that work and don’t work…Children who are comfortable manipulating objects and materials also become good at manipulating words, ideas and concepts.

Fantasy Play: Children learn to…try out new roles and possible situations…to experiment with language and emotions. In addition, children develop flexible thinking; learn to create beyond the here and now…In an ever-more technological society, lots of practice with all forms of abstraction – time, place, amount, symbols, words, and ideas – is essential.”

The evidence in support of the cognitive benefits of play-based learning is overwhelming. Early Childhood Australia describes this, ‘it is believed that play shapes the structural design of the brain…secure attachments and stimulation are significant aspects of brain development; play provides active exploration that assists in building and strengthening brain pathways… [increasing]…flexibility and improved potential for learning later in life,’ (‘Why Play-Based Learning?2009-2013, Early Childhood Australia), adding that, ‘Worksheets and other ‘formal’ teaching strategies tend to make learning…for many children…more difficult.’ For these reasons, it is important that early childhood educators learn to create learning environments that support physical, mental and social play and experimentation.

The real question is…how is this done?

Modern educators must be equipped to ensure a holistic approach; the layout of classroom furniture, the availability of resources, and the attitudes of tutors and teachers themselves can promote opportunities for children to find the fun in learning. Integrating time for creative, musical or performance activities and lots of discussion into lessons creates a basis – interactive toys, from games to dolls and building materials – support this process. When planning lessons, tutors and teachers should perhaps keep in mind the following model of the ‘spiralled’ learning process of young children as described by Mitchel Resnick from MIT’s Media Lab, ‘children imagine what they want to do, create a project based on their ideas, play with their creations, share their ideas and creations with others, reflect on their experiences – all of which leads them to imagine new ideas and new projects.’ (‘All I Really Need to Know (About Creative Thinking) I Learned (By Studying How Children Learn) in Kindergarten’ Mitchel Resnick, Creativity & Cognition conference, 2007).

NAPLAN and HSC Changes: Teaching the Skills Students need to Succeed

Read on for more information about how Nepean Tutoring can help your child to achieve a ‘world-class’ HSC credential.

You may have heard the news – for the first time in seventeen years, changes have been made to the NSW school curriculum. These changes require students to achieve a Band 8 or higher in their Year 9 NAPLAN results, to be eligible for attaining their Higher School Certificate (HSC) upon completing their Year 12 studies.

NAPLAN“The state’s 70,000 HSC students will have to achieve a pass mark in numeracy and literacy to be awarded the world class credential under the biggest overhaul of the end-of-school exam in 17 years…Education Minister Adrian Piccoli…said Year 9 students next year would be the first to be measured for the standard when they sit the National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy tests.” (‘Tough new HSC rules to test 70,000 students’, The Daily Telegraph, July 19th 2016).

That means these changes will be relevant to students in Year 9 this year.

So what now?

The NAPLAN assesses students’ current skills in reading, writing and numeracy. These are foundational skills important to academic success throughout high school and tertiary schooling, as well as in the workplace, as the Education Minister reported to the ABC when introducing these new minimum standards, “So when you walk into a training provider or a university or an employer and you give them your HSC, they know that you’ve met a minimum literacy and numeracy standard.” (‘HSC revamp: New test to set minimum standard for literacy, numeracy in NSW’, ABC, July 19th 2016).

For modern-day students, these basic skills and the ability to adapt them to new information is critical in all aspects of life. However, in the school system with ever-growing class sizes, teachers may find themselves limited in the individual attention they can provide to children, who are often each at different stages in their learning process. According to the Sydney Morning Herald and the Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards respectively, according to 2016 NAPLAN results, ‘half of NSW students would fail the first HSC test’ and ‘about 24% of Year 9 students are at or below the national minimum standard for Reading and about 19% are at or below the standard for Numeracy.’ A view frequently taken is that these students simply ‘fall through the cracks’. At Nepean Tutoring, we do not believe that this is so.

A company founded on the basis of an inherent belief in the potential of NSW students, Nepean Tutoring provides one-on-one support for students that improves not only literacy and numeracy skills, but nurtures confidence that makes independent learners, who believe in their own ability to understand and apply their learning. With the pressure of exams like NAPLAN, this is just as important as knowing the content being assessed.

At Nepean Tutoring, our approach is a comprehensive one and our experienced tutors have themselves excelled in their fields of study. Our tutors offer students an opportunity to engage with class material outside of the distractions of the classroom, to learn at their own pace, and to identify and improve on their specific strengths and weaknesses, which can make all the difference in pushing their marks into the top NAPLAN (and later HSC) bands. As the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reports have showed in the past, tutoring can help struggling students catch up and advance those students already excelling. It is never too early to start, as a good grounding in literacy and numeracy skills puts students in good stead for NAPLAN and HSC success.

Contact us today for more information on how we can help your child to succeed, and build confidence in themselves as 21st century learners.

Tips if You’re Cramming for Exams

Don’t Cram; Cramming for exam is the study-mate of procrastination. It is what happens when you decide, the night before the exam, that you can make up for lost time. “All I need is coffee and I’ll stay up all night reading all of the text book and then I’ll be set for the exam.”

The problem is; it doesn’t work. First of all, sleep is essential. For everything. Even short term sleep deprivation has observable consequences for memory retention and recall. Thinking slows down, reasoning gets cloudy and your stress levels elevate. All of the research around sleep and memory report that people who are sleep deprived achieve poorer results on memory and skills tests. If you haven’t slept your brain can’t store facts, it can’t recall them, you have a reduced ability to reason and you feel stressed.

Second, you don’t learn by rereading the text book or your notes. We have all reached the bottom of a page and realized that not a single word has made it from your eyeball to your brain. This is because, apart from your fatigue (see above) you aren’t paying attention to the words. In you stressed state you are probably thinking about how many more pages there are, how many more hours you have, how many hours of sleep you’ll be missing and what people are going to think of you when you flunk chemistry. Your anxiety levels are making your brain unreceptive to any information that isn’t directly related to the stressors.

So, cramming for exam the night before doesn’t work. It can even make things worse. A good tutor can help with study planning skills, gaining confidence for learning and effective exam preparation.

exam-cramming

Avoid this last minute approach by avoiding procrastination.

Procrastination is a stress response; you avoid study because it feels stressful.  The reason that you will avoid hitting the books today, and every day, is because you think it is too hard. Just about ANYTHING seems easier than practicing algebra. Right? Naturally, you want to avoid something that is too hard or stressful.

The opinion that something is ‘too hard’ is based, not on the intrinsic difficulty of the task, but on the belief that you’re no match for it. Are these beliefs true? And is it actually too hard? Is it harder than staring at a mystifying exam paper? Harder than admitting to yourself that you have, actually, made life harder for yourself?

The problem with avoiding things is that they don’t go away. All the stress you avoided by not studying will present itself again, now significantly intensified, in the exam room. This heightened level of stress will encourage your rational brain to shut down and hand everything over to your emotional brain. Your emotional brain (While great for making friends and many other things) cannot help you with algebra or comprehension.

So, you’re constantly avoiding studying because it is hard, at least you think so, and then your brain can’t help you at all when that stress you’ve been avoiding comes back all at once. And, of course, when you’re exam doesn’t go very well you will site it as evidence that you’re not smart. You are smart – you just need to stop procrastinating. So, here are some tips for getting past your procrastination.

cramming-for-exam1, Have a plan. Break down your study into increments. Even if your plan simply involves writing a list of the things that you have to cover. You will feel organized, instead of stressed, and you will have jumped the ‘getting started’ hurdle.

2, Break it down; so, instead of telling yourself that “I’ll just play one game of Candy Crush then I’ll get started.” Try this instead: “OK, one hour of algebra then I can relax with Candy crush” By breaking your study into smaller units; hours or half hours, it will seem more achievable and you will be less inclined to avoid it.

3, Believe in yourself. Don’t listen to that doubting voice in your head that says “I’ll never understand it anyway” or “If I was smarter I wouldn’t need to study”. You will and you do. That voice is lying! You have a giant brain and it was built for learning. You are capable.

4, Be kind to yourself. You don’t have to know everything. You do have to know more than you did yesterday. If you got a C last time – let’s shoot for B next time. Don’t compare yourself to the person at the top of the class. The only person you’re competing is with the person you were yesterday.

5, Just do it! Keep your eye on the prize! Suck it up Princess! It’s annoying to hear but sometimes you just have to sit yourself down and make yourself do it. If you struggle with motivation – that’s completely normal. Consider getting a tutor who can help you with your motivation and confidence.

exam

We’d love to hear your thoughts. Comment below if you have any you would like to add.

Online Tutoring

online-tutoringWhile Nepean Tutoring is predominantly an “in home” tutoring service, the need to diversify became evident as the business grew and time restraints caused availability issues.  The inception of online learning as an option still met our philosophy of “one to one” tutoring but it broadened the scope for this to take place.

The opportunity to tutor young children in remote areas, young people in the Senior Secondary sector whose timetables often made it difficult meet tutoring appointments and our editing service were able to utilise technology via google drive and add another dimension to our services.  Below is a testimony of how this online service was borne and the success it has bought to the learning of some of the students we work with.

DANUTA PAXTON

Danuta PaxtonI have been tutoring for 10 years, 4 of them with Nepean Tutoring, and via Skype for over two terms. Skype has been a welcome addition to my tutoring skills and the skills of my students. Most of them are familiar with both Skype and Google Drive and do not quail at the thought of opening laptop to access the information they need. However, since most of the initial resistance has come, not from the students, but from the parents, I thought I would like to give some reassurance. So this message is for the parents.

Recently I had the opportunity to take on a year 2 student. No surprise in that, but the fact that she lives in rural NSW meant that the only way to tutor was via Skype. Now, I had often thought that tutoring via Skype would be the solution to issues of geographical availability and save on travelling time between students. Nevertheless, because the student is only very young, I was a little anxious. Needlessly so. The lessons continue to go well and the student is gaining computer skills as well as improving in numeracy and literacy. This gave me the confidence to explore the possibilities with my other students.

As most of my students are high school students and due to a change in my personal circumstances, I suggested that with the permission of their parents, they try a Skype lesson to see if it suited them. I am pleased to say all of them said it made no difference whether I was actually in their home or on screen. Furthermore, by using Google Drive (which everyone has on their computers if they have internet) I am able to share files and edit them with the students. Whatever either of us writes comes up on both screens and is saved automatically. This works really well especially with year 11 and 12 students. Both student and I can access any changes that have been made on the document, regardless whether the other is on line at the time.

The advantages of Skype tutoring are the greater flexibility and availability of the tutor and the ability to catch up on lessons that have been missed. The geographical location of the students ceases to play a role in availability and travelling time is diminished. The technology is simple and carries no extra cost. The advantages for the student are that their work is always there, saved, so no excuses. The work can be added to and edited by both parties as needed. The student can still see the tutor in a small window and vice versa.

I now do all my lessons on Skype with very pleasing results. I would encourage year 11 and 12 in particular.students to give it a go.

Other tutors are beginning to see online tutoring via Skype and Google Drive as an option. Our plan is to fine tune this method of delivery by a range of tutors and invite you take Danuta’s stance and give it a go. It may provide you with a solution to tutoring your child with some flexibility and utilise the wonderful technology we all have at our fingertips.