Once again, many thanks for taking the time to read this week’s Academic Newsletter. The focus this week is on support and how we, as Parents, can support our child’s (or children’s) learning on a day-to-day and weekly basis.
The vast majority of students do not understand the notion of how to work and when to work. It is the role of the school and parents to help facilitate this. If left to their own devices, many students will find study methodologies difficult to maintain and develop – particularly time management.
Due to the nature of the Cambridge curriculum as well as that of the English National Curriculum, students are given a very wide breadth of subjects (Mathematics, English, English Literature, 2nd Language, Geography, History, Science, Religious Studies, Art & Design, Music, PSHE, Drama and IT) totalling thirteen in all. This means that not only are students expected to complete classwork in due time but also to extend their learning beyond the classroom with advanced research, ahead of lessons and beyond classroom-based teaching and learning.
I asked a very successful former student how she managed to achieve her 9 A* and 1 A at IGCSE and she told me (this was on results day in 2014) in a beleaguered voice that she would not only complete her classwork, but would set aside 1 hour 30 minutes at home for homework, but also a further 2 hours for reviewing and reducing (thereby processing) notes made throughout the school day. She also told me that she had a ‘mirror’ set of exercise books which were her own and had never seen the light of day, outside of her study zone. The notes in her mirror set replicated, in shorthand form, the notes which she already had and would make no sense to anyone but her. These were her individual memory triggers which she had developed. What was clear was that certainly hard work paid off but as the process was intensifying for other students racing towards examinations, for her, the process was becoming simpler – she put the work in when no-one else was even thinking about the end game.
In an ideal world every student or child would be imbibed with this diligence but, as educators and parents, we know that this simply is not the case and that every child has her or his own learning style and quirkiness which is unique to them. So the question remains: what can we do to help?
Scheduling and Frameworking
A golden rule to live by when dealing with children during school term time is to have a regular schedule for everything on a Monday to Friday (weekends and holidays they can go as wild as they wish!). From the regular wake-up time, to the routine of dressing, teeth brushing, breakfast, bag-checking and so on to developing time for when we sit and read/review our children’s work – all is of the utmost importance and begins, from a very early age, the process of developing a strong work ethic. The temptation is always to forget what has happened through the day and focus on fun. Having fun and developing the softer skills is equally important to the child’s academics, of this there is no doubt, but finding time to schedule this during the working week also needs to be a part of frameworking on behalf of a child.
Therefore, try to ensure that your child reinforces their learning as soon as possible, upon arrival from school. This could be a reading activity to completing their homework. As the child grows into the CIE and National Curriculum formats they will need more time and structuring to ensure this important element of learning is completed. Thereafter, it is time for social activities.
It is a good idea to have children, of all ages, work on a timetable which enables them to be discriminatory on events and to prioritise between school time and fun time. Having the children work with you, as a parent, means that they feel as though the timetable is theirs and not simply imposed upon them.
Rooming and Basic Needs
In order to ensure that your child maximises her or his time usage, without distraction, it is important that all members of the family respect the fact that your child has set aside time for working relatively independently. In this regard creating a quiet environment which is well-lit and away from the normal household distractions – television, radio, social media, games consoles, adults and other children) is essential. For the first few times this will seem very alien to your child but with perseverance your child will begin to see time in this area as their time and they will become very productive.
Also, it is imperative that children take breaks when studying. For younger children this can be every 10 to 15 minutes and for older children, they should be having a break after 25 to 30 minutes. A ‘break’ means time away from the books, so to speak – so a run outside, a chat with a sibling or five minutes on the X-box can invigorate a child ready for the next phase of their learning.
Finally, in this section is the need for a balanced diet:
- slow release carbohydrates (such as porridge, pasta, brown rice, spinach, cauliflower onions or asparagus) provide sustainable energy levels;
- fresh fruits (berries, melons, cherries, apples plums and pears) are also important – though avoid exotic fruits such as pineapple and mango as these are quick release and will produce a spike in energy as well as a very quick dip (also, fruit juices, canned fruit and dried fruit are also quick release);
- nuts are also a fantastic source of slow-burner energy and will sustain energy levels until a next meal – though avoid coated or sugary nuts and
- Water is king – seeing as the human body is made up (at school age anyway) of between 57-65% water, it is important to maintain hydration levels. Once a child becomes even slightly dehydrated it is the brain that takes the first hit! Therefore, sipping on water, which is not too cold, throughout the day and into the evening is vital.
Balance is the key word here – I am certainly not advocating removing all treats through the week (indeed having a treat every now and then reduces cravings and the desire to binge on the forbidden foods) – but it is important to maintain a healthy diet offset with regular exercise.
Sleep is a key part of being a human being: too much and the restorative effects are reduced; too little can, in extreme cases, result in hospitalisation, ill-health and even death! As humans we need less sleep as we become older but it is important to understand basic sleep cycles to know what is the optimum time for bed and sleep and how much is required to maintain a healthy balance. The diagram below shows the five stages of a normal sleep cycle:
The majority of teenagers seem to require 6 cycles of sleep (6 x 90 minutes = 9 hours) to operate at optimum functionality. This does increase with earlier phases of age and decreases as we get older.
What is important to note is that this is an average and each individual’s needs may well be different.
However, what is clear is that if a child’s sleeping pattern is interrupted, the cycle begins all over again! Therefore going to bed at the right time and switching off electronic devices is of real importance.
The increasing prevalence of electronics in children’s bedrooms creates a culture of evening engagement and light exposure that negatively impacts sleep time, sleep quality and daytime alertness. Literature shows that children using electronic devices in the bedroom at night:
- Tend to have later weekday bedtimes, experience fewer hours of sleep per week and report more daytime sleepiness;
- Tend to have more difficulty initiating sleep and shorter total sleep times, if, say, an Adolescent with a bedroom television;
- Can result in dramatically increased self-reported daytime sleepiness among teens if texting and emailing after lights out and
- Creates a significant light source late in the evening – not all electronic usage is recreational as the burden of homework is great for many of our children and their work is often completed on the computer.
The increase in academic demands, busy social and extracurricular schedules and the lure of entertainment conspire to keep our children electronically engaged at night.
Many children are not fulfilling basic sleep requirements and adequate sleep is essential for growth, learning, mood, creativity and weight control. Understanding the influence of light and evening engagement on sleep is the first step in helping us all address the dilemma of electronics in the bedroom.
Whilst most parents can engage with their children in the majority of subjects, the fact that Royal School is both an English National Curriculum and Cambridge school means that the certain subjects will be fundamentally different to what parents may have studied in school. Furthermore, methodologies may well have changed also. It is important, therefore to allow your child to explain the methodology to you and, in a sense, to teach you what they know. Where there are clear gaps in knowledge, please support and advise your child.
Wherever possible follow the teaching methodologies to which your child has been exposed in school. To give an example, as parents we may be well versed in the shortcuts we use on a computer keyboard but in order for a child to understand this process, she or he must learn the full process first. In a way learning to walk before running! Another example is in Mathematics: Mrs Pop may have a perfectly acceptable method for solving quadratic equations but a parent who is passionate about quadratic equations may know a quicker method – the child still needs to learn the traditional method before attempting the short cut. In this way we can all ensure there is no confusion in the mind of the child.
As mentioned in last week’s newsletter, the Internet is an amazing resource for children, parents and teachers but it must be used with caution. Aligned to this, and generally more accurate, are the recommended texts from Cambridge, Oxford University Press and Collins (https://collins.co.uk/index.html) all of which provide text books which are strong in content and aligned with both the English National Curriculum and Cambridge. The majority of what is recommended can be easily bought through Amazon also.
Resources are not confined to textbooks though – you, as a parent , are the primary resource in so many ways but there is key information you need in order to offer the best academic support you can. At the heart of everything academic in the school is the philosophy of education imbibed by both the National Curriculum and Cambridge and in order to measure your child’s progress, it is important to have Bloom’s Taxonomy to hand (these are the widely accepted stages of learning) and these are aligned with assessment:
Many people believe that Evaluation and Synthesis are interchangeable. However, what is clear through National Curriculum and Cambridge assessment policies and mark schemes is that the higher one travels on Bloom’s pathway, the more marks are available. My advice: don’t try to run before walking and treat Bloom’s like a ladder for success – you cannot reach the next level unless the rung below is completed.
Much of what I have written here forms a part of the teacher’s toolkit. We use and apply this knowledge every day at Royal School – from the timing of lessons to the meals eaten, to teaching methodologies and assessment. It is of vital importance that the ‘Triangle of Education’ (see below) is maintained:
Again, many thanks for taking the time to read this Academic newsletter. I hope that the information herein can be of use to you and your role in supporting your child. Should you wish to discuss further, anything which is presented, please do not hesitate to contact me.