Education – A Matter of Wisdom

future - pastDuring 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

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?

Prince Ea

Prince Ea

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.

How Learning a Second Language Benefits Students’ Development and Education

Increasingly, Australian schools are taking positive steps towards making language lessons a compulsory part of the syllabus. Many primary and high school students now learn Italian, French or Japanese, among other languages. But languages classes aren’t just a ‘fun alternative’ to get students trying something new. They’re a very real way of benefitting growth and learning skills.

As discussed in many research publications and news reports, learning another language assists students with multitasking, processing information in more complex ways and, of course, in expanding their social and cultural understanding. More information about the benefits of bilingualism to physiology can be found here: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationopinion/10126883/Why-learn-a-foreign-language-Benefits-of-bilingualism.html

Since the beginning of the year, Western Australia introduced language classes for all Year 3 students throughout the state.

“Exactly what language is up to individual schools to determine, but the School Curriculum and Standards Authority has developed syllabuses for the six most popular choices — Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, French, German and Italian.

Second LanguageIf schools decide to go it alone and teach a different language — such as Arabic, Hebrew, Korean, or an Aboriginal language — they will be able to use an alternative curriculum approved by the authority.” (Language classes compulsory for Year 3 students in all WA schools from 2018, November 2017, ABC).

Such classes are also integral to helping students negotiate an increasingly multicultural Australia, and giving them a competitive edge for future careers as employers increasingly value bilingual skills in their new employees.

Do you know someone wanting to learn a second language?

We’ve compiled a checklist to help them decide which language to choose.

Cultural significance

Over 70% of Australians today have family born overseas. You might think about learning a language that strengthens your relationship and knowledge with your cultural background, if you can’t already read and write in your family’s ethnic language. Alternatively, you might want to branch out and experience a new or exotic culture, such as the language spoken in a country you might want to travel to.

Usefulness in School or a Workplace

Professional environments increasingly require additional language skills for productivity. Conduct some research – if you’re a student, you might want to learn a language which you will excel in during HSC exams. If you’re in a workplace, your business might have ties with another country, so learning a certain language will benefit your communication.

Enjoyment

Make sure you enjoy the language you’re learning! Learning a language should not be a rushed or stressful process. Go at your own pace. Useful apps and both print and electronic resources can assist you. Many can be borrowed from your local library, and other free resources are listed here: https://www.thebalance.com/the-7-best-free-language-learning-apps-1357060 and here: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/fodors/7-outstanding-language-le_b_6431448.html. Above all, have fun!

If you’re already bilingual, you may consider learning yet another language! This can be a fun hobby that is genuinely beneficial to your quality of life. Of course, language tutors are also great resources, who can guide you through the process supportively, sharing ­

Balanced Life During Christmas Holidays

The Christmas Break…A Time to Study? Ho ho…No!

It’s looking a lot like Christmas… and the holidays are upon us!

When you hear of the festive holidays, you’re either one of two people. You’re thinking, “No, please get me out of here! I have work to do!” OR, you’re jingling out to your favourite Christmas carols!
If you fall into the second category – deck the halls!

If, however, you or someone you know is stressing about the work they should be getting done, then read on!

Getting a balanced life, study/life (and sometimes, a work/study/life, particularly for our older students) can be difficult. There aren’t many resources out there for primary and high school kids on how to manage time, get work done AND grow as a person during the holidays. We have some tips for you.

1) Put yourself first!
There will always be work, assignments, practice essays, homework, Christmas shifts…you name it! But to engage in all of that, you need sleep and fun to keep you motivated and energised. Don’t underestimate the significance of taking some time off to chill and just be yourself. Watching movies, spending time out with friends and catching up with family might seem like guilty pleasures during the busy year, but these Christmas holidays are a time when you can do all of these things and get some sleep, and reward yourself for a year of hard work!

2) Break things down
A snowman doesn’t come in one piece – he’s built up in three smaller steps, and then you need to find buttons for his eyes, a carrot for his nose, and maybe even a Christmas hat!
That’s a lot like what your Christmas study should look like. It’s fine to keep your brain active, and do a little revision (especially for our HSC students)! Plan out your study and your work. These holidays, you should be making LOTS of time for fun and sleep, so factor these into your calendar. How about a couple of hours of work or study a week? Sound fair?

3) Work smarter, not harder
There’s lots of ways to keep learning while you take time out to focus on yourself and those you love. Summer sports, reading and travelling are all rewarding ways to meet new people, have new cultural experiences and learn a whole heap of things to get you ready for the adventures that await in 2018! Don’t feel guilty to spend some resources and time on something that is important to you – whether it’s refreshing your library or catching that plane to a snowy Christmas! From painting to learning a new instrument or language, almost any hobby can really be thought of as ‘study’, as long as you’re learning new skills!

So, what’s the overall answer to positive study/life balance? The key word is balance! Your academics and your work are definitely important. But life encompasses so much more than that, and if you’re not going to explore and spend time with the important people and experiences in your life during the holidays, when will you? The Christmas holidays are a time when you can procrastinate without guilt…so turn on those OUT OF OFFICE automated email replies, close your textbooks, and do something adventurous at least once a day!

Check out the links below to help with your Christmas crafts and your Christmas shopping!
If there’s ever a question you have about study/life balance, we’re here to help – even when Santa’s elves have gone to sleep!

Wishing you and your families a very Merry Christmas and happy holidays from Nepean Tutoring!

Family Christmas crafts: http://mumsgrapevine.com.au/2011/12/25-fabulous-christmas-crafts/
Shopping at Christmas: https://www.moneysmart.gov.au/tools-and-resources/news/12-money-tips-for-christmas

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.

A Differentiated Curriculum: Same Same…but Different?

Why tutoring can give students equal opportunities to learn

A differentiated curriculum is a learning program that, ideally, meets the academic needs and interests of every student. This means that all the teaching approaches outlined in the curriculum are flexible, so that the content being taught is digestible and refreshingly challenging for each individual child. In a class of twenty or thirty students, who will undoubtedly possess slightly different needs, interests and skills from each other, an effective differentiated program is a challenge for teachers to implement. Nonetheless, experienced teachers, including educators at the new NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA, formerly BOSTES), know that such an individualised curriculum is necessary if all students are to meet their full potential. Susan Winebrenner, an experienced education consultant of the Education Consulting Services in the US, has put forward a compelling argument for differentiated learning, “Equality means giving everyone equal opportunities to learn, not teaching everyone in exactly the same way.

Differentiated CurriculumNESA agrees, and differentiated programming of lessons is integrated within the current K-10 Syllabus Framework. The ability of proficient teachers to individualise and create greater flexibility in lesson plans is also a clear requirement of the NSW Proficient Teacher Evidence Guide (BOSTES, published June 2014), in which the first standard discussed is a knowledge of students and their diverse learning processes. For example, some students may be visual learners who prefer teacher demonstrations, and some students may be more autonomous when given a written list of instructions.

Unfortunately, efforts towards establishing curriculum differentiation in schools often falls short. Within NESA guidelines, such programming is a guide, rather than a requirement whose success can be evaluated by students and their families. In reality, curriculum differentiation may go little further than a few sentences in a school’s teaching/learning policy handbook, or informal extension programs where gifted students meet once or twice a term to work on self-guided projects. Not all schools offer the supported learning or acceleration programs that many students need. And what about HSC students in Year 11 and 12, whose teachers already have their hands full with weekly marking and feedback, and a strict limit on the length of time they can spend on one learning outcome?

Despite schools’ best intentions, classroom sizes and a lack of support materials can mean some students (whether they require additional learning help, would like to fill a few gaps in their knowledge, or are gifted students needing a challenge in class) simply do not receive an equal opportunity to learn.

So how can tutoring provide the flexible learning opportunities often lacking in many classrooms?

NESA recommends these following methods for differentiating students’ learning programs (Differentiated Programming, NSW Education Standards Authority, NSW Government, 2014):

  • tiered and levelled activities
  • interest centres
  • problem-solving and challenge-based learning opportunities
  • open-ended questioning
  • collaborative and individual learning
  • student choice
  • teacher/student dialogue around learning activities

Tutors, such as those on our team at Nepean Tutoring, are highly experienced in providing individualised, focused learning opportunities. In a tutoring setting, students have the opportunity to learn one-on-one, or in a small group. Programs are tailored to their own specific needs and are free from the distractions and competing requirements of other students in a large classroom. Furthermore, our tutors can fill those gaps in knowledge, support students to learn classroom content at their own pace, and find an approach that allows each student to be challenged and grow from their learning experience, without feeling overwhelmed. This facilitates student/tutor discussion and encourages learners to generate their own ideas and questions about content, an important learning process that leads lead to further investigation – that is, further learning. At all times, our tutors ensure students’ needs and interests are at the centre of learning opportunities.

While classroom learning often assumes that students are the same, the individual nature of tutoring recognises that this is a myth. Difference should be valued, and used as a means to help students grow.