Children’s Writing, Creativity and Exam performance

Children’s Writing, Creativity and Exam performance

We receive lots of inquiries about students and their problems with writing. The connection between the tech age and writing is apt in this instance. We have great tools to enhance children’s learning, however while these tools are a standard in classrooms, how much time is actually spent in the quiet contemplation of writing by pen and hand.

As I search for images of children writing, the most appealing are those taken outdoors surrounded by nature or in a warm cosy corner of a house.  To me writing is an art form and one that has been forsaken in favour of technological tools that  thrill a child’s visual senses. However are their senses being awakened to the detriment of an inherent creativity that lies within all of us.

As a child I was an avid reader and writer.  Without realisation, they provided me with priceless opportunities to grow in areas of self discovery, contemplation and self expression.  As  I speak with parents on the subject of the child’s reticence to write,  I am grieved by the lack of emphasis on this skill in many classroom settings and carry a concern that it is a dying art.

The huge issue however is this; children falter in their enjoyment of writing, they struggle with the development of ideas and an understanding for the structure of writing and how to engage the reader. How does this really affect a student’s performance at school?

For many who read this short expose, they will wonder why it is so important to be a skilled craftsperson of pen and paper writing. My answer will always be twofold. On a personal level, handwriting is a creative act that uses a part of the brain that will be lost if not used. On a practical level, it is the medium by which we expect our children and youth to perform in examinations and thus the reason for the many inquiries I receive on this subject – children struggle with short and extended written answers in pen and paper examinations and how can WE help.

For further support and an understanding about methods you can use to assist your child OR how Nepean Tutoring can offer blocks of lessons to bring the writer in your child to the fore, you will find me excited to discuss this topic with you.  Access the contact form at  https://nepeantutoring.com.au/contact-us-2/ and I will schedule a time for a no obligation call.

Sleep to live and learn

Why good sleep is essential for health, wellbeing and even academic success.

It’s already more than half way through term one, and the heat is on for students in years 11 and 12. Assessments pile up, test times loom and the realities of senior years stress start to set in.

While we always encourage our students to do regular revision and practise, sometimes the combination of super high expectations, tougher subject content and assessments can be truly overwhelming. At these times -more than any other- maintaining good health is essential. Having regular breaks, socialising, exercising, eating well, and of course getting enough sleep are essential to health and wellbeing.

Sleep is one of the most important correlates in determining health, success, and mental wellbeing. Sleep is important for memory and learning. When we sleep our brain processes information from the day before and stores knowledge in our long-term memory. Additionally, a well-rested mind is a better functioning mind the next day; the better rested you are the better you can reason, think, remember, and process new information.

To read more about the importance of sleep especially for teenagers (https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/sleep-newzzz/201901/what-modern-science-says-about-teen-sleep)

Here are some simple tips for parents, or students who may be struggling with sleep…

Create a relaxing evening routine that works for you.

This is something you should develop for yourself, we all have different needs, and it can take some time to find what really works for you.

A relaxing bath, herbal tea, journaling or stream of consciousness writing (a technique where you write any and all words that come to mind without any self-editing), a podcast, guided meditation, yoga or cool evening walk can do wonders for clearing the brain and letting it know that now is the time to relax and get ready for rest. Start by imagining what things truly make you feel relaxed and see how you can adapt them to realistic nightly additions that work for you.

Over time as these activities become habits, you will start to slip into a more regular routine with sleep. These activities will start to become triggers that let your brain know it is time to get ready for sleep.

Ban the blue!

You’ve heard it a hundred times before, but the evidence is overwhelming(https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/how-blue-light-affects-kids-sleep) ; avoiding any blue light from phones laptops or TVs for at least an hour before you attempt to go to sleep is ESSENTIAL to having a solid nights zzz’s.
The challenge is that our devices themselves are often used as a method of relaxation, and a way of easing stress. If we just check our calendar, our emails, or our social media accounts we can rest easy knowing all is sorted for today… right?

The trick is to try and put these worries to bed, so to speak, well before you put yourself there. Physically tick items of a paper diary, to feel the sense that you have achieved what you needed to today, or at least have scheduled a time to do them in the future. Try an app blocker and/or website blocker for social media. There are many options that allow you to block these at only certain times of day, so you can still get your social fix without it upsetting those all-important twilight hours. And try journaling to get all those worrying thoughts out of your head so it can hit the pillow lighter tonight.

While these cures may not work overnight – pun intended – with patience, practise, and most importantly self-kindness, eventually you will start to adapt to a routine of relaxation and device free evenings, allowing your body and mind to adapt a new natural rhythm towards sleep.

– Anne Gwilliam

Help Your Child Improve Their School Marks and Confidence: Adopt a Growth Mindset

A ‘growth mindset’ is the belief that abilities are developed over time, and any skill or area of knowledge can be developed with hard work and perseverance.

Improve marks and confidenceA term coined by educational psychologist Dr Carol Dweck, growth mindset contrasts to the much more common ‘fixed mindset’ where we believe that abilities, cleverness, or knowledge is innate, fixed or stuck. “I’m a maths person” or “I just can’t do art”, are examples of a fixed mindset; regardless of whether the belief seems to be positive or negative the defining feature of a fixed mindset is that you believe your abilities are fixed or unchangeable with effort.

You could think of a fixed mindset as a self-fulfilling prophesy. A child who doesn’t believe they can improve at maths has that hanging over their head in every maths class. Alternately thinking they can learn new things and ‘grow’ (growth mindset) will see them approach new information and classes with an open mind and positive attitude, setting them up for success with that new content, which in turn will reinforce the belief that they can do it.

There is strong research to back up this theory. You can read more about it here or for a longer more in depth look, access to a book by Dr Dweck herself can be found here.

Impact of a Growth Mindset InterventionThe nutshell version;

Students were taught to hold a growth mindset for maths learning. Compared to the control group they showed a significant improvement in their actual maths ability over time. To read more about how to help students with maths in particular click here.

Growth mindset is also essential for high achievers, despite currently doing well in school these kids often show the strongest fixed mindsets of all. They have been taught to believe their smartness is inherent, rather than earnt through hard work. The tragedy is that eventually everyone faces challenges and without the belief that they can improve and the resilience a growth mindset gives, they crumble under pressure.

With a growth mindset, you believe that you can improve, not that you are ‘smart’ or ‘gifted’, and in fact regardless of what level you are at or what hurdles you face, you believe you can improve and overcome.

 

Impact of Praise on Performance After a Failure

Students praised for hard work and effort (growth mindset) have been shown to persevere past failures, attempting more questions and showing more resilience than students praised on their intelligence levels alone (even if those students did better to begin with).

 So, what can we do to help students adopt a growth mindset?

1. Change your language;

As teachers, parents, or tutors we need to consider the language we use. Are we building a growth mindset, or a fixed one?

 Avoid any language that implies that skills, knowledge, and abilities are fixed.

Instead of

Try

“You’re so smart”

“Great work!”

“You are so good at science”

“Wow, you worked so well this year, great job!”

 

Encourage children to change their own language and beliefs;

Instead of

Try

“I’m just not a maths person”

“I haven’t learnt that maths yet”

“I can’t do it”

“I can’t do it yet”

 2. Encourage mistakes

Making mistakes is not only fine, but essential to the learning process. It is so common to see students (and sadly commonly girls) unable to bounce back from mistakes, being their own harshest critics and seeing every perceived ‘failure’ as evidence that they just can’t do it.

Mistakes are part of the process of learning. It is normal to make mistakes, what makes someone ‘smart’ or good at a certain skill is only that they persisted through mistakes until they had mastered the skill!

3. Challenge your own beliefs;

The simplest change we can make is in our language, and our own attitudes. Children pick up on our true beliefs and behaviours. If they see you challenge yourself, make mistakes, recover and learn, they might just do the same. The language we use to describe ourselves and our own beliefs about our abilities is so important too. Remember, it’s not that I can’t do that, I just can’t do it YET.

It can be difficult to make this radical change in thought, or help a child to change their mindset, especially after experiencing failures in the past. However, it’s this radical shift we need to adopt in society and in education to enable the next generation of learners to hold strong growth mindsets – set to learn and grow for the future. To accomplish anything!

Challenge Your Own Beliefs

Mindset works have a great tool to think about and assess your own mindset right now, try it out here.

Written by Anne Gwilliam

Help Me Help My Child to Read!

3 Essential Things to Know When Teaching Your Child to Read

Reading is an essential early skill that underpins so much future learning. But what can you do if reading really isn’t as easy as ‘a b c’ for your child? How can you help get them back on track with reading, preparing them for the years of education to come?

Learning ABC

We interviewed Kathy Nolan, a reading recovery and learning support teacher to find out exactly what you can do to support the little one in your life with learning to read.

Q: What’s the biggest barrier for children learning to read?

A: Their own belief in themselves. I find its not until they start realising ‘oh I can do that’ that they start getting anywhere. It’s a struggle until then! The hardest and most important part of teaching children to read is making them believe that they can do it.

Q: Ok, so how exactly do we make them believe they can do it?

A: Three things!

1. Start with a roadmap

If you are going on a long journey you must look at a map first. Reading is the same, tell them where the story will go, and what will happen. Take time to sound out tricky words and practise new or difficult phrases. After all that you can start trying to read the book.

Because the child knows what the story is about ahead of time they can comprehend what it is happening, and when reading they do some visual comprehension of the letters as well as guesswork to figure things out.

Q: So, guesswork is ok?

A: Yes, its encouraged! We want them to guess because this is building vital inferential skills. They can use the pictures or storyline to interpret what is going on. It makes them active, rather than passive learners because they are searching for the answer themselves.

‘It also helps link the visual information of the shape of the words to pictures and knowledge the child already has.’

Never Stop Learning

Learning is all about making mental connections and linking new information to things you already know. As you learn your brain literally builds new pathways between pieces of knowledge so making those connections between ideas is so important! To read more click here.

2. Start with what they know

You must always start with what they already know, no matter what level they are at.

At the most basic level a child may only know their own name, but you can work with that!

Have fun creating a short book with them; photograph them skipping, jumping, running, playing, and print out some pages with the words “John is running, John is skipping” in large print.

It is very simple, but some kids need that first stepping stone to get the confidence to try slightly harder things. This is part of building that belief that they CAN read. Give them material that is accessible, which also brings me to…

3. Never let them struggle

If the child really can’t work out a word – help them straight away. If you let them struggle all the time that tells them that they can’t do it, which we want to avoid!

You also don’t want to just give them the answer, then they aren’t doing any mental work at all. Instead give hints and prompts – getting progressively easier – until they get it. The challenge is figuring out exactly why they are struggling, what they know already, and what hints will get them to the right answer while making them do a lot of the thinking work themselves.

Hints like; “rhymes with star” or “what was the blue thing we drew earlier? That’s right a car!” have the added benefit of creating those oh-so-important connections between bits of knowledge. The more connections, the more neural pathways are built, and the more likely the child will remember the idea and how to read that word later.

Eventually with patience children will start to realise “I can read!” Once they have that confidence their learning will accelerate and soon they will be keen reader.

Never Stop Learning

Q: Any final thoughts?

A: Children are world class mimickers. Point at the words as you read them one by one when reading to very young children; eventually you want to encourage them to mimic this behaviour when they start trying to read.

Exposure is everything. Expose kids to many objects, words, shapes, images, ideas, and environments. Speak to them often and speak in front of them complexly. The more language and ideas they are exposed to, the more they will absorb and the more connections between ideas can be made.

Written by Anne Gwilliam 

Teachers and Mentors: Bridging Two Roles as a Tutor.

Increasingly, tutors are fulfilling the role of ‘mentor’ for young people. As well as teaching the skills and knowledge students may need in a tailored one-on-one setting, tutors can provide mentoring support – helping students build study skills, test skills, organisational skills, as well as encouraging and supporting students who may be managing anxiety or other issues that present in the transition between childhood and adulthood.Teachers and Mentors

So, what makes a good mentor? How do tutors fulfil this role?

A good mentor is invested in the success of the mentee;

The best teachers are the best learners. This is a motto I stand by. Tutors are almost always people who themselves LOVE learning and will often have a rich and varied educational background. Tutors are people who are passionate about education, who have transformed that passion into a desire to teach others, so that they can experience that same love of learning. For this reason, tutors are extremely invested in the success of their students, they want nothing more than for students to learn – and learn to love learning!

When a mentor (tutor) is invested in the success of their student, they give their absolute best knowledge, tips, advice, and encouragement, which is just what students need to succeed.

Shares KnowledgeA good mentor shares their knowledge willingly;

And this goes double for tutors! As well as subject knowledge tutors can share their knowledge of the experience of school, exam taking, the HSC, and tertiary preparation.

This insight and guidance from someone who has experience as a learner, who themselves has overcome struggles and triumphs on the way to their own education is invaluable.

Tutors can develop a rapport with students and provide the encouragement and advice they need, which sometimes counts for so much more than academic knowledge alone.

A good mentor sees an individual’s needs for support, and provides for them;

Whether its medicine, fashion, finance or education – culturally all over we are adopting a more individualistic approach to life, and this goes equally for education.

SupportEvery student has different learning needs, passions, likes, dislikes, and drives and these factors will all effect a student’s ability to learn a given subject. Traditional learning environments in increasingly large classrooms can not cater for individual needs, and this is where a tutor comes in.

At Nepean Tutoring we have tutors that have specialist training in teaching students with dyslexia, autism, brain injury, and other learning needs. We have qualified school teachers and university students in a range of fields, who can fulfil a variety of learning or support needs. We have tutors qualified at masters and doctorate levels, who can assist students who are academic high achievers and want to pursue an academic trajectory.  We pride ourselves on matching tutors for each students’ individual needs, because we know that a tutor’s role is more than just a teacher – they are a mentor to our students as they make the important journey through their education years.

Written by Anne Gwilliam

Treating Maths Anxiety: Un-learning Beliefs and Building Self-efficacy

Mathematics anxiety is the apprehension and crippling fear of doing maths, whether it be in a maths classroom or taking a test. Like many anxieties, the central problematic behaviour is avoidance. Anxiety itself is an adaptive trait to protect us from possible harms. Our past experiences teach us about dangers, and we do everything in our power to avoid them.

Treating Math Anxiety

Anxiety helps us perceive future threats and avoid them, an adaptive trait often misapplied in our modern world.

We often feel anxious about things that can’t actually harm us, and the avoidance that occurs because of the anxiety can, ironically, often lead to the bad outcome we originally feared.

In the case of maths anxiety, the fear of failure, or public embarrassment due to getting a question wrong, is self-fulfilled by the avoidance of maths learning situations. Students avoid maths by ‘turning off’ in class, ignoring their teacher, avoiding homework, or even truanting. The natural outcome of avoiding learning maths is to weaken their ability and miss out on learning new content, furthering their original problem and reinforcing their own beliefs in their lack of mathematical ability. The anxiety associated with maths increases. Maths anxiety is a crippling, cyclic, self-fulfilling prophecy

So, what can you we about it? If you, your child or your students are suffering from maths anxiety, how can we break that cycle of negative self-belief, which leads to poor performance, in turn reinforcing the negative self-beliefs and associated anxiety?

Stop it at the start

Stop from the startOf course, in an ideal world we would aim to prevent children from developing maths anxiety in the first place. For this to occur, maths education from an early age should be fun, applicable to real life, and full of encouragement of successes – avoiding negative criticism. Often the ‘absolute wrongness’ of a big red cross on a maths question feels so serious and permanent. Children should be encouraged that it’s ok to make mistakes and that they should focus on what they got right. Getting a question wrong in maths doesn’t mean you can’t do it, just that you haven’t mastered that specific skill YET.

This line of thinking stems from ‘growth mindset’ education. Read more.

Un-learn permanency beliefs

Central to maths anxiety is a permanency belief; that is, a belief that your ability to do mathematics is innate, it is part of who you are and a permanent quality you possess. And its no wonder some students can feel that way; as a society we often push this belief. How often have you heard; “I’m just not a maths person”, “It’s in my genes”, “My brain just doesn’t work in a maths way”? This is the very thinking that leads to beliefs in permanency of ability.

If you believe maths ability is genetic, innate, or a part of who you are, then of course you will believe that no amount of hard work will change your ability.

Change your language, and the way you think about maths. Encourage your children to do the same. Break free from the belief that your ability is innate, or a permanent part of you.

Unlearn

Instead of, “I’m just not a maths person”, how about, “I have struggled with maths in the past”. If you hear your child say “I just don’t have the brain for maths” encourage them to say, “I don’t know how to do certain maths problems yet”. If we allow for the possibility that mathematical skill can be acquired with hard work and good instruction, we allow for learning to occur. Which brings us to;

Provide access to success

Mathematical ability is a learnt skill that can be acquired. Often what is missing is a learning environment where children can experience success and feel self-efficacious. Self-efficacy is the belief in your own ability in a certain area, and building this belief through success is central to breaking down maths anxiety and building maths ability.

All maths skills are learnt through a series of progressive steps, students can progress through their mathematical education if those steps are presented in order, with enough time and revision to allow the student to master each skill.

This is an effect well researched in psychology. Children (and adults for that matter) can learn if they are given access to content that adequately challenges them without overwhelming them, allowing them to experience success. This experience builds self-efficacy and the belief that you can do maths. This is the great challenge of teaching maths, especially in a class of 30 where every student is learning at a different rate and in different styles. Teachers need to provide content carefully titrated to a student’s ability to allow them to experience success rather than constant failure.

This is where a tutor can be of great benefit. Working one on one with a student, a tutor can carefully assess their ability and provide content that is appropriate and achievable. Once the child starts to experience success, they will build self-efficacy, and this can launch them forward into future successes.

 You can replace the negative self-belief cycle with a positive one.

  • Adopt a growth mindset, it is possible to learn!
  • Change your language around ability – maths ability is not innate.
  • Provide opportunities for success.

Written by Anne Gwilliam