The Battle For Balance

The Battle For Balance

High school students know the struggle of time management all too well.

Throughout primary school, we managed our home readers, maths worksheets and the occasional poster or diorama without thinking about it. All of a sudden, we reached year 7 and we’re expected to spread our afternoon across 8 subjects worth of homework and assignments as well as any work we didn’t finish during the day’s lesson.

For some students, the struggle to do it all can be dangerous. They strive to keep up with their homework, yet their to-do list only grows longer, so students regularly stay up until the early hours of the morning, sacrificing sleep, exercise and self-care. They know this routine isn’t sustainable, yet in our workaholic “hustle” culture it’s nearly impossible to see an alternative way to succeed.

The school curriculum is designed to share knowledge about the world and give students the skills they need for the world they’ll graduate into. By this logic, the school years are also a training ground for students to develop the time management practices and principles that will enable them to succeed in life after school.

Here are 3 tips that every student should know to achieve a healthy balance between life and study:

A paradigm for prioritising.

One of the books I read and re-read in high school and my early university days was The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey. It’s based on the bestselling The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey, but has been revised with examples and scenarios relevant to teenagers. Both Covey’s write about ‘The Time Quadrants’ but you might have heard of this called the ‘Eisenhower Matrix’. It is a 2 x 2 table divided into:

  1. Important and urgent,
  2. Important but not important,
  3. Not important but urgent,
  4. Not urgent and not important.

Adapting this framework to a student’s to-do list would look something like this:

STEP ONE: List all homework and assessment activities and their due dates.

STEP TWO: Sort them into the following categories:

  1. Homework that is due tomorrow (important and urgent),
  2. Assignments and exam revision (important but not important)’
  3. Recommended readings for tomorrow’s class (not important but urgent),
  4. Optional extension activities that are relevant but shouldn’t be done until more important tasks are up-to-date (not important and not urgent).

By following this guide, you can tame your to-do list in less than 20 minutes and work out where your focus should be in the present.

Once we’ve prioritised our to-do list, we have to do the work. The next tool for effective time management is what I call time-blocking.

STEP THREE: Estimate the time it will take to complete each task.

Be realistic and round up by 5-10 minutes. If your teacher says to spend 15 minutes writing a paragraph, allot 20 minutes. If you think the maths worksheet will take 20 minutes, allow 30 minutes. Most people underestimate how long it takes to complete a task so it’s wise to leave some margin.

STEP FOUR: Break it down

If the task will take over 45 minutes to complete, break the task into smaller pieces. You could divide 2 hours of research into 4 x 30 minutes blocks or divide a 90 minute essay into:

  • Introduction (10 minutes)
  • Body paragraph 1 (20 minutes)
  • Body paragraph 2 (20 minutes)
  • Body paragraph 3 (20 minutes)
  • Conclusion (10 minutes)
  • Proofread (10 minutes)

Time-blocking is crucial for students who work slowly and carefully to make sure they get everything right, since they are the students most prone to sacrificing sleep, exercise and self-care to finish a never-ending to-do list.

Change your definition of productivity.

Instead of asking yourself, “Did I complete the task in the time I set?”, time-blocking allows you to re-frame effectiveness as “Did I focus during the time set?”.

  • If you answered “no”, then you need to identify and manage distractions.
  • If you answered “yes”, but the task still isn’t done, you may need to re-evaluate how realistic your time estimates were or whether you are putting more time into a task than the teacher is asking you to. You might have to shuffle some time blocks to tomorrow to get the task done tonight (if it’s important and urgent) or allocate an additional time block to the task another day.

In some cases, it is possible that your child has been assigned an unrealistic amount of homework or that the teacher’s expectations about what tasks are and are not for homework are unclear. If you think this is the case, speak to your child’s teacher.

Spending too much time on homework is counter-productive to learning (which is the goal of homework) because you are compromising on your body’s need for rest and movement which help your mind to retain the information and skills you are revising.

Sleep is non-negotiable

High school students, whether they’re in Year 7 or Year 12 need at least 8-10 hours of sleep each night.

Contrary to popular opinion, you cannot catch up a sleep debt. Sleeping in more on the weekends might help you to feel better, but you cannot buy back lost sleep. This is because one of the many functions of sleep is moving short term memories (what we learned that day ) into long-term memory. The brain creates new synaptic connections and reinforces or changes neural pathways, linking new information to what we already know, and organising it in a way that helps us to recall that information when we are awake.

We go through several sleep cycles a night, and when we compromise on the amount of sleep we get during the week, short-term memories miss their opportunity to be consolidated into long-term memory. Sleep only works on what you’ve earned that day, so if you learned something on Monday and stayed up all night doing homework, sleeping less that you need to, your extra efforts aren’t going into long term memory.

We also know that when we are well-rested, we focus better and actually get more done in the same amount of time, meaning your time blocks will be even more effective.

We can’t hack our biology and overworking does not equal effective learning, but balance does.

Nepean Tutoring cares about the whole student because we know that that achieving success is supported by a healthy body and a healthy mind. Our tutors not only help students with assignments and homework, we also help students to get organised. If your child needs help with time management, Contact Us to see how we can support your child to success.

(Photo by Gustavo Torres on Unsplash)

Curiosity: Toddlers have got it right

Curiosity: Toddlers have got it right

Since the iPhone brought the internet out of cyber cafes and into our pockets, our worlds have grown smaller. We might think that increased access to Google means that we’ve become more curious, but curiosity is actually more about the questions we ask than the answers we reach.

Toddlers are the most curious people I know. Spend a day with any child who has learned the word ‘Why?’ and you know exactly what I mean.

‘Why can’t I have ice cream for dinner?’

‘Why do we have to hold hands?’

‘Why do fish need water?’

Any answer you give elicits another question, and another, and another.

When did we grow out of our curiosity?

We all want our students to develop open, inquiring minds, but what qualities are we actually looking for? What questions do we want them to ask? And what is the end goal of all this questioning that we’re asking them to do?

Adults are keenly aware that the nature of the workforce has changed and the days of 30-year service awards are disappearing Current statistics reveal that millennials change careers every few years in search of better pay, better conditions, and new ways to use their skills and pursue their passions. It’s highly likely that current school students will join this self-directed protean career path in search of fulfillment, reinventing their careers as their work environment and interests change. If they can’t find the job they want that supports their values, they’ll probably create it.

Organisations are now looking for T-shaped employees who have deep skills and expertise in an area (vertical) and proactively collaborate across different disciplines (horizontal) to contribute to their area of knowledge and others fields of expertise. T-shaped employees are curious about their own areas of interest, and genuinely desire to harness other people’s expertise and use that knowledge to contribute to the social knowledge community. Whether your child wants to be a politician, a brick layer, a musician, an accountant, a teacher, or a full-time parent, curiosity is an essential workplace skill.

But there is more to education than preparing for a career, and there is more to curiosity than gaining marketable skills. Curiosity is also an essential life skill.

In 2019, Associate Professor Mario Di Paolantonio wrote a study about curiosity in education where he made the case that education and learning helps us to achieve self-improvement and self-actualisation. By understanding ourselves and the world we live in, we are better equipped to contribute to social improvement, which is intimately linked to the careers we choose.

In other words, there is more to learning than brain work or intellect. Our learning informs and engages our passions, sense of purpose and meaning which in turn increases our learning and our capacity for meaningful contribution.

This corresponds with psychology’s concept of the four types of intelligence:

  • IQ (Intelligence Quotient): understanding and remembering information and being able to apply your knowledge to different situations.
  • EQ (Emotional Quotient): emotional intelligence, or the ability to understand and manage your own emotions and empathise with others.
  • SQ (Social Quotient): your ability to make and maintain relationships.
  • AQ (Adversity Quotient), also known as resilience.

Curiosity is fundamental to each of these. To grow in intelligence, academic talent is less important than willingness to learn. To have positive and fulfilling relationships with ourselves and others ,we need to be genuinely curious about or our own inner lives as well as those of others. To be resilient, we need problem solving skills which requires us to be curious about creative solutions.

So how to we encourage curiosity in our students? The rise of project-based learning and increased focus on independent learning in upper primary and high school is a positive trend, but since learning happens in all areas of life, not just in the classroom, we need to support our children’s curiosity at home too.

  1. Be a curiosity role model

Share your discoveries with your family. Admit when you don’t know an answer and find out together. The best way to encourage your child’s in-class participation is by encouraging them to ask questions at home and reminding them that there are no silly questions.

  1. Create space for wonder

Allow free time in your family schedules to give students time to think deeply instead of accepting the first answer. There is usually more than one way to get the answer in maths, more than one method to test an idea in science, and more than one meaning to an English text. Include space in your own schedule to be available for them to ask you questions too.

  1. Ask open-ended questions

Curiosity questions the status quo. Encourage the use of examples in family discussions and debates. Ask questions to guide your child to discovering the answer for themselves and respect their ideas, no matter their age or limited experience: they have potential.

  1. Utilise mistakes

Mistakes are excellent learning opportunities. As students get older, resist doing the problem-solving for them. Instead, guide them to acknowledge the mistake and brainstorm solutions. Likewise, reward learning as well as great marks.

  1. Encourage empathy

By being interested in other people’s experiences of nationality, gender, job, culture and belief systems, we develop empathy. Curiosity reduces stereotyping, increases community and team mindsets, and helps us to practise genuine listening skills.

At Nepean Tutoring, our tutors value and intentionally foster curiosity in their students. We know we can’t prepare the world for our students, but by helping them develop the knowledge, skills and confidence to solve problems, we prepare them for the world that awaits them. Are you interested in tutoring for your child? Contact us today to see how we can support your child’s curiosity and their future.

References:

Di Paolantonio, M. The Malaise of the Soul at Work: The Drive for Creativity, Self-Actualization, and Curiosity in Education. Studies in Philosophy and Education 38, 601–617 (2019). DOI: 10.1007/s11217-019-09653-4.

(Photo by Jeremiah Lawrence on Unsplash)

Reflective climbing for academic success

Reflective climbing for academic success

As we draw nearer to the start of a new school year, it’s worth taking time to think about how our reflections from last year can be turned into actions. Last year, students developed greater resilience through lockdown, learning from home, dealing with the emotional stresses of the 24-hour news cycle and not being able to see their friends face-to-face.

Resilience is often defined as the ability to bounce back from adversity or to overcome challenges. It is likened to failing forward and the well-known expression ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try again.’
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus, said ‘Change is the only constant in life.’ Once we accept that even the most carefully considered study routine, note-taking system, or assignment timeline will experience hiccups, we are more prepared to overcome them and get back on board, adjusting our processes to suit our new circumstances.

The key to developing resilience is to take time to reflect on our experiences, evaluate the efficiency of our processes and the appropriateness of our emotional attitudes and reactions.
Reflection can be tailored to all ages and learning styles. Some students prefer to go on a walk or do something physical to blow off steam in order to help them reflect. Others prefer journal, discuss, paint or draw responses to questions such as:

  • What did I expect to happen?
  • What happened instead? How do I feel about what happened?
  • How did I react? Was my reaction or attitude helpful?
  • How can I adjust my response, my approach, or my environment to overcome the setback?
  • Who can I ask to help me?

Reflection is a worthwhile exercise in the classroom as well as at home, to look back on what we’ve learned and what strategies help or hinder that process so that we can be more effective learners. Throughout each term, a tutor will often ask their student to reflect on their processes to demonstrate and guide the student to become a self-reflective, more independent learner.
Vince Lombardi, one of the greatest American footfall coaches, once said ‘The man on top of the mountain didn’t fall there.’ In other words, success doesn’t just happen. We don’t get to skip the challenges along the way. Instead, like the mountaineer, we reach the summit by placing one foot in front of the other, climbing up hill. Along the way, we stop to admire the view, we look back and encourage ourselves by how far we’ve come, and we set our sights on the next destination. Sometimes we make mistakes or hit unexpected obstacles. When we do, we stop, assess what went wrong, and make a plan for overcoming the challenge or a way to not make the same mistake.

So as we start a new academic year, encourage your student to reflect like a mountaineer as they climb towards their goals. If academic confidence or achievement is one of their goals, get in touch with our team of experienced tutors who can provide the support and guidance your student needs to reach their summit.

(Photo by Clay Knight on Unsplash)

Silver linings

Silver linings

2020 was a year that changed much of the way we do things. In some cases, the changes have been irritating and time-consuming, such as the fact we can no longer dine in at a restaurant without ‘checking in’ for contact tracing, or that long-awaited international travel plans have been changed or cancelled. Nepean Tutoring, however, has changed for the better.

Our objective has always been to offer a safe learning environment for our students and our tutors. This year, we’ve expanded our services to include online tutoring so our students can still receive vital learning support they need. Our tutors responded swiftly and professionally to the COVID-19 lockdown so our lessons continued uninterrupted. This gave our students the assurance of familiarity and certainty when everything else was in flux.

Our tutors and administration team worked closely together to provide the smoothest transition experience for our students and families. As families from the Blue Mountains to Penrith, from Cranebrook to Glenmore Park, to Wallacia, and across to the Blacktown area grappled with home learning, we’ve forged deeper relationships with parents though phone conversations, emails, texts, our Blog and our Facebook page.

Nepean Tutoring strives to be a holistic educational support company working with K-12 and tertiary students to coach reading, writing, spelling, numeracy, essay writing, organisational habits and study skills. Through our work with NGOs and government agencies, and thanks to countless personal recommendations from our Nepean Tutoring families, the number of students we serve has increased exponentially and is continuing to grow.

During lockdown and beyond, Nepean Tutoring embodied our core philosophy of relational tutoring that assists whole families. Our tutors prioritised the health and wellbeing of our students and regularly encouraged self-care and self-compassion. Our students know we care about them as individuals, not just their grades. Our students know they are more than their accomplishments.

In many ways, COVID-19 has been a tragedy for our world and our communities. As 2020 draws to a close, its helpful to take some time to reflect on what we’ve learned and how we’ve grown.

What are you thankful for?

  • More time spent with family?
  • Getting to sleep in when you’d normally been commuting?
  • Having a chance to slow down and check in with yourself?
  • Prioritising your mental health?
  • Getting to know your neighbours or reconnecting with old friends?
  • Starting a new hobby or reviving an old one?

We don’t know what 2021 holds, nor do we know what the job market will be like by the time our children graduate, but we do know that they’ll have the resilience, adaptability and imagination to solve the challenges of the future.

If you, or someone you know, would like tutoring in 2021, consider the Nepean Tutoring team who always put the student above the syllabus. We have tutors available to tutor online and face-to-face, and most tutors are available for holiday tutoring in January also.

But contact us soon because our offices are closed from Tuesday 22nd December until Monday 11th January so our hard-working admin team can have a little break too.

Our team at Nepean Tutoring wish you and your family a memorable, happy and safe Christmas and New Year.

(Photo by Jen We on Unsplash)

Senior School Transitions

Senior School Transitions

For a student transitioning from Year 10 to Year 11 or from Year 11 to Year 12, their journey through senior school feels both exciting and intimidating.

  • Exciting because they have more opportunities for leadership, wider subject selections, and are closer to the end of their time at school.
  • Intimidating because of the responsibilities and expectations thrust upon them seemingly overnight. They know that previous years have been preparing them for senior school, yet they feel like they’re staring into the unknown with no idea what to expect or how to survive, let alone thrive.

In these transitions, students who are well-organised and self-motivated have a distinct advantage. Even more so, students who are proficient with reading comprehension, writing, and general maths skills. Students who have not found personal motivation for learning or feel behind their classmates often experience anxiety, which can appear to concerned parents and caregivers as worry, irritability, or apathy.
Qualities of successful students, such as diligence, curiosity, and self-motivation, take time to develop, so it is crucial that students feel encouraged and supported as they seek to cultivate a positive attitude to their education.

Some students in year 10 are completing their Preliminary HSC course amongst their other year 10 subjects. Students in Years 11 and 12 need to complete their Major Works (HSC) and Internal Assessments (IB) alongside exams and other assignments. For all students, organisational skills are crucial to managing the competing demands of senior years.

  • All students need an effective method of note-taking and revision.
  • All students need a reliable system for managing email inboxes and cloud-based file storage using Google, Microsoft Office, Canvas, or another online storage platform provided by their school.
  • All students need to allow adequate time for researching and referencing assignments to comply with academic honesty policies.
  • All students need to balance their studies with time for family and friends and getting adequate sleep and exercise. Some students also need to balance extra-curricular activities and part-time jobs with their studies.

Whether your child is academic, sporty, musical, arty, or just looking forward to life after school, all students need to feel supported through times of transition and encouraged to meet new expectations about workloads and responsibilities.

At Nepean Tutoring, each one of our tutors has been there. We know how it feels to juggle competing priorities and we’re well acquainted with the range of emotions that your child is feeling. Our tutors are patient listeners and passionate about sharing realistic advice and giving practical support to help your child reach their learning goals.
No matter what year your child is in, there is no better time to begin working on these essential skills. We have tutors with openings for Term 4 and for the summer holidays, but be quick! These slots are filling up fast, so contact us today. We’d love to welcome you into the Nepean Tutoring family and help your child on the road to successful life-long learning.

(Photo by Brad Neathery on Unsplash)

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