During the past month, there has been a media focus on the drop in Literacy and Numeracy standards in Australian compared to the global community. To arrive at a reason for this phenomenon would be too broad to address in this short article except to say that we either don’t have a rigorous enough curriculum or students are just not being taught within their own learning styles for success in the changing climate of 21st century educational needs.
It does beg the question as to what the education community as a whole needs to do to return our Aussie system to its former glory of being consistently in the top eight on the world stage in all learning areas until very recent times. To arrive at solutions often means looking back and analysing the way we deliver education to our students. Do we truly whet their imaginations to know how to be critically thinking “learners” or are we simply in a state of flux where no one seems to know the way forward in a world where the goal posts are shifting as I write.
Sir Ken Robinson image credit: https://blog.simonassociates.net
Recently I was reminded of a clever TED talk from Sir Ken Robinson called Changing Education Paradigms. It was an engaging expose on this topic and makes for essential viewing as this man’s brilliance and insightful. https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_changing_education_paradigms
It was delivered 18 years ago and at the time when I thought he had really nailed the problem. However accurate I feel he was, and still is, we just didn’t heed his advice and continue to miss the mark. This was reinforced by a more recent video by Prince Ea https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dqTTojTija8
Prince Ea rocks in his opinions on a variety of topics but what struck me was that this young man, from a different time and background saw exactly what Sir Ken Sir 18 years ago. Yet “the system” continues to haggle with the idea of change and how to make it relevant to our children. They are lost between the old formal way of learning and struggling to keep pace with how to implement changes that would seriously challenge the status quo as we know it. Innovations such as open classrooms, a return to project based learning and injections of funding into school based reading programs demonstrate the intention to find solutions, but are we missing the mark?
Why am I bringing this to the attention of our readers? Well I tend to agree with both Sir Ken and Prince Ea. I am always trying to work on making education relevant to students and to ensure we have a diverse range of tutors to teach them. I know it is am imperative to give our children opportunities to reach their potential in a world that is ever changing. The sameness of the last century is just not reaching the mark!
Although the luxury of my stance as a tutoring business cannot be emulated in a busy classroom, we can really benefit from the wisdom of Sir Ken and Prince Ea – that time has stood still in the broader education arena for far too long and it is time to change the way we deliver education as a nation for the sake of our children and the future of our world.
Celebrating your Child’s Academic Achievements
In 2011, after the Wall Street Journal published the essay “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior: Can a regimen of no playdates, no TV, no computer games and hours of music practice create happy kids?” by Amy Chua, people around the world went wild on the web reflecting on their own parenting and judging the parenting of others. The question of how and when parents should support their child’s academic achievement seems to be an on-going controversial topic. The debate still remains unanswered – How do we support academic achievement without creating undue pressure and comprising independence, confidence and self – esteem?
Recognise ALL achievements of your child
Tutoring is there to assist children to achieve within the education system and that is where we as tutors can provide immense support. However, acknowledging other worthy achievements is just as important for the child’s emotional development. As parents, we need to recognise that the effort that our children put into achieving should be rewarded. If it’s sport, music or performing – whatever it is, your child has displayed effort in some form and this distinction needs to be recognised. They won’t succeed all the time but they have tried their best. And this is an accomplishment that should be acknowledged.
Create an educational environment
There is no better way to get excited about your child’s education than to see them engaged and immersed in learning. It is far more rewarding to see your child express an unbound enthusiasm for something that they have recently learned. As parents creating a high energy learning environment that is inspiring and encouraging is a constant reminder that the idea of education is an investment, not an expense. The “Did you know that…?” or “Look what I learnt…” conversations that flow grows your child’s awareness and appreciation for the world through educational experiences.
Parent for character and not for grades
A study of Year 12 students from a range of schools in Sydney did not paint a happy picture of life for the students. Of the 722 students surveyed, 42% registered high-level anxiety symptoms, high enough to be of clinical concern. In general, 54% of students felt that too much was expected of them in Year 12. The main causes of pressure identified were workload (50%), expectations to perform (26%) and importance of exams (22%). This unhappy picture of student life begins during the early stages and becomes unmanageable as the years progress. As parents we need to recognise to take a stand by making a simple decision to focus on character development and not grades. Children who grow up in a home where character and responsibility are valued and enforced are able to manage successfully during school and their adult lives.
Always encourage your child
It’s as simple as “Wow, you worked really hard,” “Tell me about your project” or “You are doing so well, keep it up” – that makes an influential difference to building your child’s intrinsic motivation as opposed to becoming dependent on external rewards.
Whatever your style of parenting is, getting excited about your child’s educational future and achievements – academically and non – academically, will provide a window of opportunity to child’s personal and professional development and overall enthusiasm for learning.
We go through the present blindfolded. Only when the blindfold is removed and we examine the past, we realise what we have been through and understand what it means. That’s exactly what it feels like now after completing my HSC five years ago. I can truly see and understand the impact the HSC had on my personal and professional life, my confidence and self-esteem, and more importantly I can now understand how to effectively manage the HSC without stress and with ease. I wish all teenagers can experience this realisation whilst completing the HSC but presently, for parents and your children, it’s a roller coaster full of tears, stress and (hopefully most of the time) pure joy to excel.
There are five key understandings I have gained from my past:
- Importance of Year 11
- Study program
- Failure and Opportunities
Importance of Year 11
Just like learning your first words. You start with what a word is by sounding out syllables, repeating it over and over again till a whole word comes to form. This grows over the first five years – with more syllables and words. Ultimately, you reach a point when it becomes natural. Natural to sound out a word and use it. You keep building your foundation till you achieve a sophisticated, larger vocabulary. It’s the first five years which were crucial. Without those first five years we wouldn’t be able to talk. And that’s exactly what the 365 days of Year 11 is. Year 11 is the foundation in mathematical, verbal, written and functional problem solving and learning. By excelling in Year 11, you have already set yourself to excel in the next year to come. You have set a layer of knowledge that will only build as you move onto your HSC. So pay attention – Year 11 is important!
Hans Seyle, a pioneering Austrian-Canadian endocrinologist once said “Adopting the right attitude can convert negative stress into a positive one.” Wise words that profoundly resonates with the HSC. One of the first things I started to work on consciously with my own personal development through my HSC and after was to improve my outlook on life. An attitude that would over time become more and more stable so that I could not only look at world in a positive way during the good days but also so I could stay positive, focused and constructive even during tough times, and keep working towards something better. The HSC opened my eyes to strive to build my resilience to stress and pressure. It pushed me to have an attitude of optimism in a negative situation. There were many days of poor marks and effortless work – stress built up and negative thoughts about anything started to well up. But if I slowed down just for a few minutes – even if it was going for a run, talking to friends on social media or watching television – then my mind and body relaxed. It became easier to think things through clearly and easier to find the optimistic and constructive perspective of the HSC. However, everyone has their own methods of dealing with stress – it’s your choice to find a constructive way to handle the stress and stay positive or let it eat you up!
Many parents’ place different expectations on their children during the HSC. Some students are burdened by great expectations while others, receive support for their efforts regardless of the outcome. My parents were not the latter. Now five years down the track I owe this structured, focused and disciplined lifestyle to excellent marks, acceptance into one of the top five universities in Australia and a degree in my hands with valuable work experience in my field. I owe my parents the sacrifice they made of sitting endless hours to teach me, nurture me and love me even when times were tough.
Reality is, this method doesn’t work for most children and as parents and HSC students finding the balance is a difficult one. All students are different and need to be handled by their parents in a way that is in keeping with their own ability to cope with stressful circumstances. The crucial element is communication between you and your child. Teenagers are thirsty for independence and freedom – if that means taking 1 hour of the day to “close your eyes”, watch television, meditate, play video games or one day in the week as a “day off” from study; then it should be discussed by parents and your kids. Attending parties, social functions and dates with your boyfriend (if you have one) are rampant during these teen years, and it’s vital to have communication between parents and children to set boundaries. HSC requires focus and dedication, and swaying off this path can be detrimental to marks and confidence. As we all have heard; balance is the key to success – so let’s live by it.
There is no right or wrong way to study. No rules, guidelines or methods of a correct way to study. No one taught me to “study.” It was my own drive and dedication to achieving good marks to implement a study program. A weekly structure of revising what had been taught, what will be taught and assignments that need to be completed. Daily, I would dedicate a certain time to revising a subject and covering the content according to the HSC syllabus. This time limit was set by myself – 1 hour or 4; it’s entirely your discretion of what you can strive to sustain. Recently, a study of 722 student surveyed painted an unhappy picture of life for the students during the HSC. This study showed 42% registering a high level of anxiety – high enough to be of clinical concern. Of the total survey group, 16% of students reported extremely severe levels of anxiety, while 37% registered above-average levels of stress. A study program can to some extent relieve this overwhelming stress experienced by our youth. Many universities and colleges provide HSC preparation courses, study skills courses and training programs across a wide range of subjects to help students maximise their HSC results and pace themselves throughout the year.
Additionally, your study program should not stop during school holidays. Within each holiday period, students should prepare for key HSC dates and revise content that has passed. It might seem overwhelming but the HSC was not set to be easy. By implementing a structured routine of study, the HSC will become much easier to accomplish successfully – trust me!
Failure and Opportunities
Failure was not an option. Again, that’s what I thought during my two years of the HSC. I thought my parents would hate me if I failed any test, subject or assessment. But that undoubtedly was not the case. Now when I look back – I was more afraid of disappointing myself. I was frightened of failing – my own expectation I had set in my mind. The reality is we all will fail in something on many occasions throughout our life. It’s the ability to pick yourself up and keep moving forward that makes you successful. The two years of HSC will have many ups and downs – days of disappointments and poor marks but it doesn’t mean the world will collapse. It means keep striving to improve and do better. The HSC is a mark – a ticket to allow you access into a world of opportunities of study in university and colleges. To some, it’s the only access to what life goal they want to accomplish but to many the HSC is a stepping stone and there are other pathways to their goals. Whatever your goal is for the HSC, at the end of the day you have to put your 110% in everyday over those 2 years and be pleased with your efforts. As Colin Powell once said “A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.”
I have always been a learner because I knew nothing.” These profound words were written by Sydney Poitier in his novel “Life Beyond Measure, Letters to My Great-Granddaughter.” If only we all had this attitude towards learning. He poetically writes “I didn’t have an education, and I couldn’t read very well. I couldn’t spell. I could barely count to a hundred. But I did have a curiosity. I looked at insects. I looked at birds and crickets. I looked at fish on the edge of the sea.” Sydney had the curiosity, persistence, responsibility and creativity to learn. If only all human beings had this drive to be a “learner,” especially our children and the generations to come.
A learner prides themselves on key characteristics:
- Meta learning: This concept describes the notion of being aware of and taking control of one’s own learning. The ability to be in control of habits of perception, growth and regulate your own learning according to the demands and difficulty of the task at hand is one that only skilled learner’s experience.
- Curiosity: Typically, questions are seen as the province of teachers, who spend years figuring out how to craft questions and fine-tune them to stimulate students’ curiosity and engage them more effectively. However, teaching students to ask their own questions enables greater ownership of their learning, deepen comprehension, and creates new connections and discoveries on their own.
- Persistence: the continuation of effort in the face of difficulty is a sought after attribute. The willingness to continue to try in the face of adversity does not come naturally for children – as giving up is easier. A child with persistence is undoubtedly a skilled learner!
Teaching this generation to become “learners” – an individual who thinks about their own learning, makes a habit of asking questions, use what they have learned, teach what they have learned to others and enjoy the learning process on an intrinsic level is a challenge. The good news is there are strategies that can be adopted through practice for your child to intrinsically be connected to the concept of “learning.”
- Cognitive strategies: As educators and parents, we can directly assist our children to manipulate incoming information in order to enhance learning. By repeating tasks, using resources thoroughly, taking notes and contextualising words and phrases – children can be taught and nurtured to change the way they learn, rather than being forced to learn.
- Meta-cognitive strategies: We can encourage our children to form their own cognitive processes and gain skills used for planning, monitoring and evaluating their learning activity – it’s more about strategies about learning rather than learning strategies themselves. It’s all about self monitoring, self evaluation, and self reinforcement.
- Motivation and Self esteem: A child that is motivated can initiate their learning and later drive to sustain long and tedious learning processes. It is manifest that in learning, people are motivated in different ways. Your child may like doing grammar and memorising; others want to speak and role-play; while others avoid speaking. Assess what motivates your child and remember a pat on the back and a “You can do this” goes a long way!
The ability of your child taking responsibility of their learning is undoubtedly possible. The path to become a “learner” and experience “learner autonomy” should be realised and aided in order to achieve self sufficient learners; in becoming aware of, and identifying, their own strategies, needs, and goals. As parents and educators, we can adapt resources, materials, and methods to the learners’ needs and even abandon all this if need be. But ultimately, the road to becoming a learner takes a long time to develop and as we watch our children grow and prosper, all we can do is assist and nurture.
Learning – An Unexpected Journey
Five and a half years ago, I fell on black ice in England and smashed my shoulder to pieces, which left me in a state of trauma. The loss of my home in rural England, my isolation from loved ones, my lack of income and, most decidedly, the need to return home for some serious treatment and rehabilitation catalysed my return to Australia and the end of my European chapter.
The healing process for this injury involved three bouts of surgery, over a year of rehabilitation and many hours on my own to think about my future as a teacher and to re-evaluate my ideas about learning. It was during this time that I began to conquer many of my own personal disappointments as I fought to overcome the loss of my dream to teach and travel throughout Europe. I was thrust into a state of isolation emotionally, physically and financially, and could have drawn up the bed covers and wallowed in my own pity party with good reason.
However, after almost two years, I slowly found the confidence to begin a little work again. While convalescing, I decided to move out from my comfort zone into a new learning journey and investigate how I could utilise internet technology to build a small business – how to build a website, how to market a product and to learn what all the social media fuss was about. As thus, with many birth pains, Nepean Tutoring was born. What started in a little rented unit in Penrith in January 2012 and has thrived far beyond my initial expectations.
Previously, I had been a classroom teacher for twelve years in Australia and for a year in the UK. I loved the creativity that this career provided me; to be able think outside the square and help children learn in ways that best suited them was exciting and rewarding. I always believed that a productive classroom was a busy place where all children were engaged in learning which they enjoyed (whether that be in small groups or independently). I liked the idea of child-centred learning, but also believed that left to their own devices entirely, many children would acquire gaps in their learning that would interfere with their ability to remain confident and actively engaged in the formal school arena.
With a passion to teach others that learning is about many facets of a child’s development, I had a strong desire to change the way tutoring was perceived in the community. I learned the importance of listening closely to the concerns of parents and students, and to begin to offer what I believe to be a unique model of home tutoring across all grades and subjects.
I had always known that the first objective should be for students to desire to learn, to feel confident they could overcome any difficulties with support, and that they be treated with respect and dignity. I also knew that the development of creative thinking, the ability to express ideas outside a prescribed paradigm, and fostering a child’s joy of discovery were keys to success. Learning through all our senses and adding to the formal learning model, rather than regurgitating it outside the classroom, has become central to my learning journey as a tutor.
Today, teachers and parents are faced with many challenges and demands, and I feel that Nepean Tutoring offers a model in which we can work together as a support team to provide successful learning outcomes. Moving forward, I intend to further explore the needs of our community in the home tutoring niche, and continue to listen to the ideas of the tutors who work with me, along with the parents who trust their children to our expertise. My own learning journey, during the past three years, has been full of invaluable experiences – but they are only of value if they are utilised to assist others.