Exams: They’re about more than grades

Exams: They’re about more than grades

What if I told you that there is more to exams than striving for a certain grade? Many students, particularly studious HSC candidates approaching their trial exams, would be astonished to hear this. Actually, they probably wouldn’t believe it at all. That’s not hard to understand because of the amount of air time given to talking about grades and marks and passes and fails.

Of course, marks are easy to measure and compare with previous personal bests or to compare with classmates and siblings. You don’t have as much hard data to measure and compare how much more you know about the causes and effects of the Vietnam War since the start of term or how much more confident you feel tackling quadratic equations in word problems since last year. As we know, exam questions are designed to prompt you to show how much you’ve learned over the topic or course.
However, as many disgruntled students say, “What’s the point of exams? I won’t have to do exams once I’m working.” Depending on your career, you may be right, but that doesn’t automatically mean that exams are pointless.

Firstly, we need to think about what assessments are for. Assignments and exams give teachers quantitative (numerical) data to support their qualitative (observational) assessment of a student’s learning. Assessment marks help teachers to give appropriate feedback to guide and extend the student’s learning.

Exams are one half of a holistic assessment program. They are designed to test a student’s subject knowledge and challenge them to move beyond recalling information to applying what they’ve learned to new scenarios. The other 50% is assignments which the student’s prepare at home over several weeks or months and submit. Assignments also test a student’s application of knowledge, but specifically focus on creative problem solving. For example, if a student is tasked with making a poster about Ancient Egypt, they have to research their information and then communicate it through written and visual methods to show what they’ve found out. The poster tests their knowledge, but also challenges them to present their information in a creative, visually appealing, and memorable way. The benefit of this two-pronged assessment program is so that all learning styles and learning needs are catered for when it comes to assessment. This also implies that critical and creative skills are equally necessary for students to learn.
Exams test the breadth of a student’s knowledge and their depth of understanding. A good test for when we know something well is that we can apply those principles to a new situation. To test mathematical knowledge, you could ask questions such as:

  • How many minutes will it take to get to the shops if the shops are 10km away and we are travelling at 60km/h?
  • How many seeds can I plant in our garden bed if I can plant 1 seed in each hole, each hole in 5cm apart, and our garden bed is 1m x 0.5m?
  • How long will it take me to save for a $200 scooter if I earn $10 each week for doing the chores? (In fact, you could use this example as a springboard to expend their financial literacy by asking them to find which store will sells the same scooter for the lowest price including shipping.)

In each of these examples, we have applied textbook knowledge to everyday scenarios in a way that requires creative thinking understand the problem and find the most efficient solution.

Similarly, the time pressure of exams, while nerve-wracking, helps us to develop decision making and evaluative skills under a deadline. These situations arise in every workplace.

  • You load the truck and realise that the strap keeping the pallets in place is frayed. The delivery is on a deadline. Do you replace the strap and call the customer to say you’ll be a few minutes late, or do you determine that the strap is functional and passes all WHS requirements and is safe to use but you will keep an eye on it?
  • Your boss asks you why you made a certain decision so you have to justify your choices and persuade them that your decision was in the best interests of the business.
  • You’re in charge of evaluating your household electricity contract. You need to choose between Company A whose rates are the cheapest but their customer service is average, Company B who is more expensive but gives you discounts to a few of the shops you use regularly, or Company C whose rates are the same as Company B but who promises to offset your energy with a clean energy scheme. What you choose depends on what your values are, which will be different in every household.

Of course, it’s entirely reasonable to say that exams aren’t a reliable form of knowledge testing because students study for a test, accumulate a superficial understanding of the topic, and then forget about it as soon as they walk out of the exam room. Exams, you might say, focus a student’s learning on achieving a certain grade instead of acquiring relevant knowledge and transferable skills.
However, that’s exactly what teaching study skills in class and in tutoring is all about. Some students pick up these skills really quickly but many students don’t see the point of regular revision, or creating a study routine, or indeed, studying at all when they’re rewarded for cramming for a grade the night before the test. This is why we need to address the fundamental misunderstanding that exams are purely for assessment purposes.

Most clients come to Nepean Tutoring to improve their grades and our expert tutors are certainly up to the job. More importantly, though, our focus is holistic. We foster confidence and curiosity in our students which prepares them for real-life problem solving where there isn’t always one right answer. We help students to plan realistic and regular revision into their busy schedules so that they understand and remember what they’re learning, helping them to succeed in school and in life.

Are you searching for success? Look no further than Nepean Tutoring. Contact Us today for a free consultation.

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Inspiring growth through constructive critique

Inspiring growth through constructive critique

Ah, half-yearly reports. Some students are thrilled to see their achievements praised by their teachers. For others, it’s a time of dread where they feel like they don’t measure up to expectations. For both groups, learning to receive constructive criticism is a crucial life skill.

We encounter feedback situations throughout life; in performance reviews at work, teacher’s comments on an assignment, suggestions given by our doctors, and the reactions of people we talk to based on how we’ve acted. The ability to consider feedback increases our ability to learn and work independently, promotes self-awareness and self-improvement, and helps us to more effectively communicate with others.

Unfortunately, not all feedback is helpful and not all helpful feedback is delivered kindly. So how do we give constructive criticism?

The purpose of giving feedback is to improve performance. As teachers, parents, and carers, we give our children feedback to guide and shape their behaviour so that they will become respectful and cooperative members of our families and communities.

Giving feedback is a relational exercise that has the potential to grow and strengthen the receiver and the relationship between the giver and the receiver. To avoid damaging the precious relationship between us and our children, it’s important that our feedback is intentional and well prepared. Here are some helpful principles to think about as you approach giving feedback, and don’t worry; once you’ve done it a few times, the art of providing effective, kind feedback will become second nature.

1. Preparation is key

Preparing what you say helps you to stay on track and stick to the issue at hand. It isn’t helpful when one suggestion becomes a list of improvements that leaves a child feeling like they can never do anything right. Likewise, praise for a great exam mark should remain positive, instead of being used solely to raise the benchmark, leaving the child feeling like the initial achievement wasn’t good enough. The solution is to limit your focus to avoid message overload. Use specific statements such as ‘I like it when you…’ and ‘I was so proud to hear that…’ and save off-topic comments for another time.

2. Be sensitive

Think about your motive for giving feedback. The purpose of feedback is to inspire growth, whether that is growth through a change in behaviour or aiming to beat a personal best. Negative feedback is better done in private, so that your child feels psychologically safe and more open to hearing what you have to say. When negative feedback is given in public, a child can feel belittled and  discouraged. Similarly, depending on the student, positive feedback given in front of others is mortifying. In that scenario, opt for a quiet word in private to let them know you recognise their achievement and you’re proud of them.

3. Timely and regular

Effective feedback is timely feedback. Part of the problem with biannual reports is that there is so much pressure to summarise two terms of school work into a few sentences, meaning a lot can be missed. Instead of giving all your observations at report time, make feedback a regular part of parent-child discussions. You could ask your child what they learned from each assignment or exam after they complete it, and discuss their teacher’s feedback when their results are released. Perhaps before parent-teacher interviews, you could have your own parent-child interview to tell your child what you’ve noticed over the term and ask them for their reflections.

4. Use ‘I’ statements

Just like arguing, ‘I’ statements help us to avoid accusations and generalisations. We want our students to be open-minded listeners when receiving feedback and willing to consider what we have to say. ‘I’ statements show that the feedback you’re giving has been observed from your personal experience, and sets up your specific expectations so your child understands where you’re coming from.

5. Ask questions

Giving your child a chance to reflect and respond is crucial to helping them become a self-reflective learner. Asking questions guides their reflective process and encourages them to respond using reason and evidence. Asking them for their insights, and listening actively, also gives them the chance to explain their actions and maybe even correct some assumptions beneath the feedback they’ve received. You might even ask “How can I support you?” which opens space for them to ask for help.

6. What’s next?

Most of us are naturally resistant to critique because it makes us feel vulnerable. However, listening to criticism is a challenge that brings with it a tremendous opportunity to learn and grow. As we notice our own growth, or our growth is affirmed by others, our self-esteem, emotional maturity, courage and resilience improve. An effective way to foster a growth mindset in your child is to conclude the conversation by setting SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) goals or a SMART next step by which they can measure their own growth. It’s a good idea to encourage them to write down, draw, or record their resolutions in some way so that the next time you sit down together, they can reflect on what they’ve learned and how they’ve changed.

Overall, constructive criticism is collaborative, allowing the receiver to respond to feedback and participate in determining their next steps. When done well, feedback strengthens relationships between parents/teachers/tutors and their students and empowers the student’s future learning and development.

At Nepean Tutoring, our tutors are exceptional communicators who work with their students to deliver critique in an effective, sensitive, and age-appropriate manner. We know that knowledge and growth come when students know they’re engaged in their own leaning process. We encourage our students to set their own learning goals and tailor our lessons to support them to achieve their goals. Our tutors recognise each student’s achievements and encourage them to become self-reflective learners for life who are equipped to face the challenges of the future workforce.

If you’re looking for a tutor to join your child’s educational support team, look no further than our experienced local tutors. Contact us today for a free consultation.

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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.

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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.

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What to do about maths anxiety

What to do about maths anxiety

Many students suffer from maths anxiety. The Australian Council for Educational Research estimates that around 20% of students are ‘highly maths anxious’. Signs of a high level of maths anxiety include avoiding the subject, inhibited memory for mathematical concepts, inability to focus, disinterest, and an overall negative attitude towards maths. Ultimately students who are highly maths anxious will avoid all subjects that include maths, which ultimately inhibits their learning and career opportunities.

Maths anxiety is not a diagnosable condition like anxiety disorders or other mental health conditions, however it is important to notice how your child talks about and approaches maths in order to recognise where they need help. Like most health conditions, early intervention can make a decisive difference.

Maths is weighed down by generations of negative myths. You’ve probably heard yourself that ‘maths is difficult’, or ‘maths is for smart people’, or ‘I don’t have a maths brain’. However, these ideas forget that maths is a language of its own, replete with its own symbols, logic, and vocabulary. Just as humans are wired to communicate through language, so too, humans are wired to be mathematicians in various capacities.

In his TED Talk, Australian mathematician, Eddie Woo, said: ‘Mathematics isn’t just about crunching numbers but rather about finding new ways to see problems so we can solve them by combining insight and imagination.’

Learning to understand the beauty and necessity of mathematics is fundamental for reducing maths anxiety. Here are a few examples:

  • Cooking: How many ¼ cup measures make up 1 ½ cups of flour? How much sugar do we need to make a double batch of cookies?
  • Shopping: Why is cooking from home is cheaper than eating out? How many kilos of bananas would equal $5.00 worth?
  • Decorating: How many paint tins do you need to re-paint the living room according to the formula on the tin? Will your child’s bed fit in the space between the wall and the door frame or should it sit under the window instead?

By creatively demonstrating the practicality of maths, we can decrease maths anxiety through frequent, real-life problem solving practice.

Similarly, students tend to feel less anxious about topic quizzes compared to formal exams. The informality of a quiz helps students to focus on a specific area of their knowledge and target their revision accordingly. Small check-ins like quizzes make the process of testing their knowledge less overwhelming.

Regularly monitoring a student’s progress and giving specific, timely feedback is essential for improvement. Regular feedback in small doses, one topic at a time, is more easily understood, less intimidating, and is much easier for the student to apply, compared to receiving a large amount of feedback at once.

Each student learns at their own pace and it is true that some learn mathematical concepts faster than others. Tutoring provides a focused, one-to-one approach to meet your child where they’re at. Our friendly tutors work with your child to set individual learning goals and devise a realistic plan to achieve them, giving specific, relevant, and timely feedback along the way. Our tutors are patient and empathetic, encouraging resilience, self-confidence, and a growth mindset which is an essential trait of successful learners.

By combining everyday talk about applications of maths practicality of maths with tutoring to provide regular feedback and support, you can help to maximise your child’s learning opportunities and reduce their maths anxiety. Contact Us today to see how our team can support your child’s learning.

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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.

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