Student Resilience and Anxiety Disorders

There has been a great deal of discussion in 21st century education, especially in the past few years, about the importance of resilience for success in school. Glazed-eyed students study their fingernails for many an hour in Life Skills lessons in junior high school, and later attend – often with sighs – a variety of seminars focused on building their skills to ‘bounce back’ from the pressures of senior high school and university. But despite this, feedback from teachers and schools continues to portray the reality that students are not coping well with the stress, deadlines and steep learning curves now associated with study, as we move through the Information Age (and beyond). According to Youth Beyond Blue, “One in fourteen young Australians (6.9%) aged 4-17 experienced an anxiety disorder in 2015. This is equivalent to approximately 278,000 young people.”

Student ResilienceAustralian higher education rates have also been falling. According to studies within the last couple of years, a quarter of students fail to complete their Year 12 certificate, and as per the Sydney Morning Herald’s 2016 report, ‘NSW Universities: Decade of drop-outs prompts warning from Simon Birmingham’, “Up to one in five students now drop out of university, according to figures released by the federal Department of Education.”

But is dropping out of school the positive ‘way out’ to avoid stressful situations that will most likely reappear in the workplace? Is it the only option?

These are some alarming statistics. Perhaps somewhere between learning about resilience and practicing resilience, students are finding themselves overwhelmed by challenges and a lack of real skills and support to begin ‘just doing it’. So, how can modern students practice resilience?

Firstly, what does this concept mean? A Harvard study defines resilience as being, ‘…the ability to recover from setbacks, adapt well to change, and keep going in the face of adversity.’

This could not be more important for our students today. Let’s break this down into practical strategies rather than sticking to definitions and conceptual discussion.

1. Recovering from setbacks
Learning is an experience. A commonly heard phrase in classrooms and ad campaigns today is: ‘you are not a mark or a number’. This is true, and it is vital that students believe and understand this. Teachers, tutors and markers know that students are real people on a learning journey, bringing with them valuable, unique ideas and approaches. These teachers, tutors and markers are there to assist each student with their educational experience, but sometimes, it comes down to the individual effort and dedication of students to accept this help, learn from feedback and seek advice from available resources. One bad mark, or one exam that did not go to plan, can mean failure – or growth. If students build up a support network of family, friends, teachers or tutors and resources to consult when things don’t go to plan, failures can quickly be converted into another step forward on their learning journey.

2. Adapt well to change
Gone are the days when students competed to get into one stable job at the entry-level of their career path and stayed on that path until retirement. Now, career-switching is common and education and work settings are constantly undergoing change. There is also flexibility associated with this – new hours of work, a variety of qualifications that will get you where you want to go. Exams are moving from paper to laptop screens, as marking already has.

Resilience is adapting to change.
A well-known proverb states, “When you can’t change the direction of the wind, adjust your sails.” If a study technique didn’t work this time around, students should change the way they study for their next exam and utilise those around them for advice – teachers and tutors can suggest new approaches, such as flashcards, handwriting notes, or voice recording important themes and concepts. If a subject at school isn’t enjoyable, students should attempt to figure out why, and address their specific dissatisfactions, rather than resorting too rashly to dropping out of the subject, or school altogether.

3. Keep going
Most importantly, keep going! The best way to do this is to set goals. In a modern world with an overwhelming amount of information and demand for splitting one’s attention between hundreds of tasks each week, setting SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely) goals to break down larger tasks and projects can provide a way of coping with challenges. At Nepean Tutoring, our consistent message to our students is not to give up, and goal-setting decreases the lack of motivation or feeling of “but I can’t do it!” that often crops up when things get too busy or stressful.

Just do it. If it fails, try and try again…differently each time.

That is resilience and learning.

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.

Tutoring and Learning Styles

When I first began tutoring students in English, I expected that I would be helping them in a variety of areas. I knew that some of these would perhaps include revising the basics of Grammar, building vocabulary and aiding in comprehension and analysis of texts. The one thing that I did not expect however, is that my job as a tutor would also incorporate building the self-esteem of my students.

Tutoring and Learning StylesAs I began to tutor, I became very familiar with phrases such as, ‘I suck at English,’ or ‘I’m not that smart.’ I was both shocked and saddened by these comments. The shock stemmed from the fact that they were coming from very bright, intuitive and capable children and the sadness from the fact that their own absurd belief in their limited intelligence was actually holding them back from learning. Once they had become convinced that they were stupid, their learning became more difficult which led to worse marks, which then reinforced their belief in their ‘stupidity’ and the vicious cycle became entrenched.  Most of the time, it was the child’s parents who had identified that they needed help and requested tutoring. Unfortunately, the child would often then interpret the fact that they needed ‘tutoring’ as further proof of their own inadequacy.

Discovering more

So I began to have conversations with my students that challenged these deep-seated beliefs. I would ask questions like ‘why do you think you are stupid?’ and, ‘why do you think you are not good at English?’ We began to discuss other reasons that could be responsible for their poor marks other than lack of intelligence. I eventually began to see a pattern in the information I was obtaining and concluded that there were two main reasons why such bright and capable students were receiving such poor results. The first was that often the curriculum had been rushed through too hastily and students had not been given adequate time to grasp key concepts and once the student had fallen behind, the speed of the system had made it almost impossible for them to catch up.

The second reason was that often that particular child’s learning style had not been catered to, either by an individual teacher or the school system as a whole. Though researchers have identified eight different types of intelligence (that is different ways of using the brain) our school system, unfortunately, only tends to cater to two of them, the Verbal-linguistic and the Logical-mathematical.[1] I began to raise all of these factors with my students and once they began to realise that there were practical reasons for their struggles and that they were, in fact, capable of understanding the work, I began to see transformations take place.

Also read: Online Tutoring

The most amazing part of my job is when I see that light come on in their eyes, that light that says ‘Wow! I’m not stupid. I can actually do this!’ Once the wall of self-deception has been broken down anything is possible. For as long as a student has become convinced that they are stupid, learning will never be an easy task but remove those blinkers, and they become free to run wherever the joys of knowledge beckon them.

[1] Maggie Clark, Sharon Pittaway, Marsh’s Becoming a Teacher, New South Wales, Pearson Australia, 2014, pp.249-251

Standardised Testing: The Pros and Cons

Standardised testing is a subject that many people believe is placed on either ends of the spectrum; the best way to assess student’s abilities or a complete stress invoking exercise for everyone involved. However, if we take a step back and look at it objectively, it becomes clear that it is neither. Standardised testing has both positive and negative aspects and when used effectively can play a vital role in improving the education of our students.

Let’s being with the negatives:

  • Standardized testing does not take into account external factors and evaluates a student’s performance on one particular day. Many students have the ability and knowledge to answer questions and topics, however do not perform well when it comes to examinations. This can be due to many external and emotional factors comprising of; stress, anxiety, family pressure and conflict and lack of focus or motivation.
  • Moreover, standardised testing only evaluates the individual performance of the student instead of the overall improvement and growth of the student over the course of a period of time. For example; a teacher who has worked hard to assist their students to grow and the students who worked extremely hard over the course of the subject/subjects and improved substantially, unfortunately failed to score proficiently in one examination. This does a disservice to both teacher and child, and argues the question if standardised testing ignores the full evaluation of a child and the education system or instead of one single test performance?
  • Standardized testing is argued to create stress, anxiety and pressure on both educators and students.
  • The success of Australian schools and many around the world are dependent on the performance of their students in standardised tests. Federal funds are given only to those schools that perform well compared to others and this adds an extra pressure on public schools to constantly evaluate their performance. This can lead to unhealthy competition among schools and evoke a tough screening process on students to perform for standardised tests.

Positives:

  • Undoubtedly, the greatest benefit of standardised testing is that it provides a set of established standards or instructional framework which provide teachers with guidance for what and when something needs to be taught. The net result is less wasted instructional time and a simplified way of timeline management. It also enables students who move from one school to another from being behind or ahead in their new school.
  • Standardized testing gives parents a good idea of how their children are doing as compared to students across the country, states, and districts and in their local area.
  • It can be argued that standardised tests are objective in nature. Standardised tests are either scored by computers or by educators who do not directly know the student.

Standardised testing is an arguable topic and can be swayed on both sides of the spectrum. However, the most significant opportunity standardised testing provides is the ability to use the results in an effective manner by educators, students and most importantly by parents.