So many of the parents of my pupils seem to find it nigh on impossible to obtain information from the schools their offspring attend. The best schools send out schedules for the year ahead to keep parents in the loop. That way parents are alerted to important dates of controlled assessments and modules to be taken early etc. They see the books that will be studied and the format, in outline, of the exams to be taken. This information is important for all subjects but vital for English Language and English Literature in which the options are so numerous. Parents shouldn’t have to beg repeatedly for this information as often appears the case. Such knowledge can allow them to help their son/daughter to maximise revision.
I recently learnt of an instance when parents were strongly encouraging their son to revise for a subject (not one of mine) over the half-term only to find out subsequently that the school had taken this module early. Their son could have used this time to revise for another subject – what a waste!
Concerned parent does not equal pushy parent. They want their child to achieve the best possible grade – surely the desired outcome for the school too? Their input can be useful. Yes, some pupils don’t have involved parents and that’s a shame – but don’t punish those that do by scorning any signs of interest and concern.
Why do schools seem to see parents at best as an irritation and at worst as the enemy? They only want to help – what’s so bad about that?
… until GCSE and A levels start. Have you drafted your revision plan? Hopefully you’ve already made a good start on your revision. It’s still not too late to book a couple of lessons to sort out a tricky piece of the syllabus. Perhaps you struggle with the poetry section of the Literature paper or can’t get to grips with writing non-fiction? Perhaps you need more practice with French listening? Two or three lessons could make all the difference to your final grade and push you up to that all important A or A*.
It’s getting towards revision time of year again and it’s all too easy to forget to take care of yourself. Keeping fit and healthy is more important than ever so here are some tips:
- make sure you get enough sleep. Having the standard 8 hours per night has been proven to increase memory retention by up to 35%. So don’t stay up studying too late as it will affect how much you can learn the next day.
- keep hydrated. Again studies have shown how important it is to drink lots of water for the brain to function well.
- eat sensibly. Avoid those fatty snacks like crisps or chips and try to eat balanced meals which include your 5 a day fruit and veg.
- try not to overload on caffeine – it may help you stay awake to cram but you’ll end up feeling tired and stressed.
- take some exercise every day – don’t stay hunched over your books or laptop for hours on end. Even a short walk with the dog will help.
How much assistance do you give your pupils with their controlled assessments?
If you read the various teacher forums you will see that there is quite a discrepancy between schools. Some schools seem to just treat the CAs virtually as exams with the minimum of preparation. Pupils are only allowed to take in a few notes. Other schools seem to prepare draft versions with huge teacher input and then allow pupils to take a virtual draft copy into the assessment. And, of course, there are all the variations in between these two extremes.
Now, I’m not saying that one is right and one is wrong, but what does seem wrong to me is that pupils aren’t competing on a level playing field. The marks gained in these CAs form a sizeable part of the final grade and it seems unfair if pupils are sitting them under vastly different conditions. The idea was that CAs would remove exactly that inequality that many teachers felt existed with coursework where many pupils were able to call on a lot of external help – parents or tutors. It doesn’t seem to have worked does it?
Are 100% exams with no coursework/CAs the fairest way forward? What do you think?
Why not consider some tuition through the Easter holidays to help boost GCSE grades? The margin between GCSE grades can be very small yet make a huge difference in terms of university entrance and careers. Many schools run revision classes at Easter which are excellent, but another perspective, a different style of teaching or simply a new face can work wonders. Private tuition will be tailored to your son or daughter’s needs specifically – not to a whole class. I still have availability during the holidays – why not send me an email to discuss further?
Many parents ask how they can help encourage students’ French learning. Of course, you can always help with testing vocabulary, for example, but in my experience students often resist the more obvious types of parental assistance. So, how about some other ploys?
Why not try switching your car radio to a French station – France Inter and Europe 1 are both easy to get on Long Wave – they won’t understand the majority of it but it will tune their ears to the pronunciation, and some of the words from the new bulletins and weather forecasts should be familiar.
Or, if you’re lucky enough to have satellite TV there’s a movie channel that shows a topical current affairs/news programme late afternoons plus a variety of French films. You may also find that your local Blockbuster has French films to rent and even if they read the subtitles they’ll still be absorbing some French.
Why not encourage your son or daughter to do a French exchange if their school runs a scheme (and if it doesn’t, you could suggest it)? There’s nothing quite like staying with a French family that speaks no English to force you to speak French!
Or, if finances permit, a trip to France will certainly help. Even if little French is actually spoken (you could try getting your son or daughter to order in cafes/buy food in markets but co-operation is not a certainty!) they will passively absorb a huge amount of French just by hearing it and seeing signs etc. Even a day trip to Calais to buy wine for Christmas would give them a taster of France.
Learning a language is so much more than just mastering the grammar – it should involve an appreciation of the culture of the country too. And with France’s reputation for good food and wine that’s not a hardship. is it?
Don’t leave it too late to organise tuition for your son or daughter.
Now is a good time to start contacting prospective tutors as their availability soon fills up. Many tutors like myself have several pupils who continue lessons for a couple of years – to cover their GCSE or A level courses, for example. So some slots are already taken before the beginning of the school year. This means that matching up diaries can be tricky and it’s first come, first served! English and Maths tutors tend to be particularly in demand and many have waiting lists later in the year.
So don’t risk a last minute panic – start phoning/emailing around now!
Everyone needs a break and I’m not suggesting that you force your children to study during the summer holidays, however there are painless ways to help boost their literacy skills.
Why not choose a family book that you can all read together – taking in turns to read a chapter out loud. This works particularly well if you are on holiday with another family or are a large group. Younger children enjoy this especially and don’t forget to encourage people to try out character voices for the dialogue. Roald Dahl’s The Witches was a great success for one of our family holidays.
Encourage them to keep a holiday diary.
Why not take your youngsters to a play? Introduce them to Shakespeare with an open-air production – usually great fun. There are regular open-air productions all over the country from London (Regents Park) to Cornwall (Porthcurno). Taking them to any type of play/musical will encourage their powers of concentration if nothing else.
Many theatres run activities for young people over the summer – check out The Watermill in Newbury, for example, in this area. Museums and art galleries also offer similar opportunities – The Lightbox in Woking is a good example in the South East.
If you’re going on a long car journey, what about an audiobook? It’s a great way to revise a setbook, for instance, or to get a head start on one you will be studying when you go back in September.
If you’re going to France don’t underestimate how much French you can all pick up by listening to French radio or watching French TV. I particularly recommend silly quiz games – it’s fairly easy to follow these.
If they see you reading – they might too! Reading is one of the best ways to increase vocabulary and improve spellings. Encourage them to read anything and everything – football mags or OK are much better than no reading at all.
If you’re staying somewhere with plenty of outside space why not challenge them to devise a treasure hunt for the adults (you buy the prize!) perhaps with rhyming clues – or if that’s too tricky you write one for them. A good bottle of red wine can provide excellent inspiration (for the adults that is!).
Learning isn’t just something that happens at school.
If your children are heading for exams there are a few things you can do to help:
- make sure they have a quiet dedicated space in which to revise
- ensure they’re not disturbed by siblings
- encourage them to make a revision plan
- occasionally check they really are revising – not just on their Playstation/Nintendo or gazing into space
- encourage them to take regular breaks from revision – at least 10 minutes for every hour of work
- insist on one complete evening OR one day at the weekend revision free
- feed them lots of healthy, additive-free food to increase that brain-power
- offer to help with testing (but don’t insist!)
- make sure that they have all the equipment they need for the exams well in advance
- most important of all – reassure them that you only expect them to do their best!