Category — Secondary school

Focus, Focus, Focus

The kids are back at school now and some of you ultra-organised ones may have turned your minds to Christmas already. Don’t worry if you haven’t –there will be more on that in our next newsletter. Others may be focused on your child just having started a new school or a new year with a new teacher and will be wondering how to support your child to do the best they can do.

In a recent article in the Telegraph (7th August 2012) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/9458290/Teaching-toddlers-to-pay-attention-is-the-key-to-academic-success.html# reference was made to recent research by child development experts which concludes that it is not tutoring in academic subjects that will help your child to succeed but supporting them to pay attention and to perservere. This particular research by Dr Megan McClelland from Oregon State University, published in the online journal Early Childhood Research Quarterly, reflects what the Gottman Institute had noticed as part of their research on developing emotional intelligence. Drs John and Julie Gottman found that children whose parents are emotion coaches for them, that is they recognise, respect and respond to their child’s emotions:

  • Are better able to manage their feelings
  • Have better academic achievements
    - They are able to sustain attention for longer and
    - Able to shift attention from one subject to another more easily
  • They get along with their peers better

Author (and champion table tennis player) Matthew Syed, in his best-selling book Bounce, explores the idea that innate talent (whether in academic, musical, business or sporting fields) is a myth and that all the best performers in their various areas of endeavour have got to the top of their fields by a combination of opportunity, application and focus. (He does concede that it helps to be a tall if you’re a basketballer).

Professor Carol Dweck of Stanford University’s research into mindsets is particularly interesting for parents. She developed the thesis that people can have different attitudes to learning which either promote or inhibit their development. With a fixed mindset one believes that one has a fixed amount of innate intelligence and that if you can’t do something it means that you have exhausted your store of intelligence. A person who has this attitude will not want to challenge the status associated with his cleverness and will not take risks that will show him to be less intelligent. Her research showed that children would not tackle harder tasks when in this fixed mindset. By contrast people with a growth mindset believe that they can with effort get better at anything and therefore are willing to try new and harder things.

A child’s mindset is affected by how adults talk to them. When we praise a child for cleverness or talent and when we focus on their results we promote a fixed mindset. However when adults praise kids for the effort they make, the attitudes they show, the strategies they employ; when we focus more on the process than the outcome we encourage in them a growth mindset. So don’t praise your child for being clever and don’t let your first question after a football game be did you win?

Parents often ask us, in classes or consultations, how to help children to focus more. Here is what we say:

  • Don’t pay too much attention when your child’s attention wanders and particularly don’t criticise it. Instead notice when they bring their attention back to the task in hand and mention that. You’re looking at your page. You brought your focus back to your work without me saying anything to you.
  • Praise in a descriptive way whenever you see signs of persistence. Wow, you really stuck with trying to learn to balance on your bike. You didn’t give up until you mastered the wobbles!  One mum told us how she’d been praising her daughter for persevering with tying her shoe laces, thinking it was big word to be using for a little girl. Then when she’d just finished manoeuvring her big car into a tight parking space a little voice from the back seat piped up with “Gee mum, you really persevere.”
  • Our children need to think of themselves as people who can pay attention and persist if they are to do well in life so we need to notice and point out to them whenever there is behaviour which shows up these qualities. Children are natural learners; just look at a toddler learning to walk. They don’t give up despite numerous set backs. We can train ourselves to notice their efforts and point them out to the child. Some families put the words on their fridge so that they remember to notice them. Others use a jar in which they collect tokens for examples of focus.
  • Give lots of descriptive praise, not just for paying attention and persistence but more generally. A child who feels generally capable will be better able to handle set backs and try again.
  • Be an emotion coach for your child. Help them understand their emotions by talking about them so that they can manage them and move on to the next task. This is surprisingly one of the most helpful things we can do in encouraging focus.
  • Some families have found that it helps to use an idea from Neuro Linguistic Programming to help children focus. It might work to use an ‘anchor’ or a talisman which is an object imbued with certain qualities, in this case focus, which the child can look at or hold (or listen to). Choose your object and invest it with its magical properties by recalling a time with your child where they were very focused (something about which they were very enthusiastic). Relive that moment by focusing on all the details of the event; what could you see and hear, what could you feel? While bringing that moment to life have your child hold or look at his object and describe what was happening to him –“you were really concentrating hard, you were so focused.” Then when focus is needed pull out the magic focus object. Refer to it as the focus object.
  • Enthuse about the tasks they are doing. If your child is learning to read try to read with them at a time when you’re not exhausted so that you can be interested. Get into the story they are reading. If decoding the words becomes too consuming that the story gets lost share the reading with them. Look at the pictures and guess what is going to happen next. Talk about how the characters feel.
  • When children are motivated and interested it’s easier to focus but there are many things they need to do where they may not be so interested or motivated. Parents can do a lot to build motivation, mainly through descriptive praise. But even if children remain unmotivated about the intrinsic nature of the task we can motivate through praise for doing what they have to do even when they’re not interested! I know that brushing your teeth isn’t interesting and it gets to be a bit of a drag day in, day out. I know you’d rather just skip it and get on with your game so I really admire you for doing it anyway because you know that’s the only way to have healthy teeth and gums. Not only are you doing it but you’re doing it thoroughly so you now have a really sparkly smile and beautiful fresh breath!
  • Of course it helps if we can provide our children with an environment where it is easy for them to focus so when they’re doing homework or tackling some other kind of task try to eliminate noise and visual clutter.
  • Limit the amount of fast moving TV and computer and other electronic activities your children do where they are not required to focus for more than a few seconds. Instead encourage activities which involve their own creativity and sustained thought to work out a problem or develop a story line, such as fantasy play, building a den or board or card games.

So be focused on developing good habits of focus and perseverance in your child to help them do well in life.

17/09/2012   No Comments

Homework: Reduce your child’s stress levels without compromising their grades

By The Study Gurus.

The Race To Nowhere film showed us that an increasingly significant number of high school students are feeling an unhealthy amount of pressure when it comes to school and their future. In some cases it’s so extreme that it’s not unheard of for 16 year olds to be popping pills to sacrifice sleep for more study.

Clearly, something’s out of kilter.

Perhaps you’re concerned your child is feeling a lot of pressure to get into the right university? Perhaps they’re at risk of burning out before they even get there?

Well here’s the question; what is it you want your child to value?
Success for the sake of success? Or happiness and career satisfaction?
If your answer is the former, then by all means do everything necessary to get your child into the ‘best’ school possible. But if it’s the latter, then what are you so worried about? To achieve career satisfaction and happiness your child needs to have confidence in themselves and the right attitude, not necessarily an Oxford education.
The children who enjoy learning, have a good work ethic and a likeable personality are guaranteed to go far. And YOU can instil these characteristics into your child quite easily all on your own.

What are you talking about at the dinner table?
Do you spend more time over dinner obsessing over what school or university your child is going to get into, or more time having erudite conversation about current events? More time discussing what grades your child needs to get in their exams, or what they learnt today at school?
No wonder our kids are crumbling under pressure… all we talk about is grades, grades, grades!
But grades are important right? Of course – they can have a huge influence on a child’s life after school. But we are saying that we need to emphasise both grades and the importance of learning and actually enjoying it.
The reason being, a student who enjoys learning will do well at school for all the right reasons – because they want to, because they’re curious, because they’re motivated.

Where should you start?
A technique we like to use to spark an interest in learning in our students is to steer conversation away from solely facts and equations, and more towards the real world context behind their subjects wherever appropriate.
For example, if they’re reading a book for their English class, instead of just talking about what’s going to be in the exam, we ask questions like, what’s it about? What do you think the author was trying to say with the story? Are they enjoying it? Yes? No? Why not? What would they rather read?
Or with their maths and science subjects, we try and talk about how these are applied in real life. What does E = mc2 actually mean? Who figured it out? How did it change what we know about the world?
Open and topical questions like these that spark an interesting conversation will make your child appreciate their school subjects in a way that isn’t necessarily attached to school. They’ll be more interested in the content of their subjects, rather than totally consumed by grades.

Help your child find their magic study formula
Every student will have their own unique way of studying most effectively. This is why your child needs to figure out their study formula. This is their personal formula for academic success. It’s the academic equivalent of a personally designed training regime for a top athlete.
Once your child knows what their study formula is, they will understand exactly what they need to do to get the most out of any study session. They won’t have the stress of not knowing how to approach study, and they’ll save time by avoiding study techniques that don’t work for them.
There are a number of facets involved in understanding what your study formula is. Questions you and your child need to start thinking about might be:
• What sorts of techniques help them remember stuff well?
• What’s their predominant Learning Style?
• Do they like writing long notes, or bullet-pointed short lines?
• Do they like drawing diagrams?
• Do they like watching videos?
• Do they learn best by actually doing things?
• Do they study best in the morning or at night?
• Do they study best with long periods or short bursts of study?
The list goes on…
Figuring out your study formula is a game of trial and error. It should be thought of as a constant work in progress. But very quickly it will enable your child to study efficiently and effectively, and will be something that will serve them well all throughout their life.

If you have a child who’s motivated and who wants to succeed, you should be celebrating – not stressing.
Sure they’re going to be nervous when it comes to exams and university acceptance letters – that’s not a bad thing. But if your child has a good work ethic and enjoys learning they are 100% guaranteed to make a success of themselves.
It would be impossible not to.

The Study Gurus are Clare McIlwraith and Chris Whittington. Their aim is to show parents how they can help their children reach their academic potential. They’re sharing their years of studying and tutoring experience at www.thestudygurus.com.

31/03/2011   No Comments

The Race to Nowhere or the Path to Somewhere?

The Path to Somewhere

The Parent Practice is delighted with the response of our two screenings of “Race to Nowhere” earlier this month. If you attended a screening, we hope you enjoyed it.  If you weren’t there, we thought you might like to hear how the screenings went!

If you’re unfamiliar with “Race to Nowhere”, it is an American documentary that explores the pressures today’s children are under to succeed.  While the film is American in content, the themes are absolutely universal, and as we saw from the speed with which the tickets sold, it seems the concerns are shared by many parents in the UK.

While some children are able to thrive with pressure placed upon them by schools and extracurricular activities, there are also many that aren’t able to deal as well.  This film tells their stories.  It raises so many questions: the benefits of standardised testing and early years’ homework, getting into the ‘best’ school versus a school where that particular child may be better able to flourish, and redefining success.

We had initially planned on holding only one screening at Channel 4, and were bowled over by the overwhelming response which had that screening sell out within hours – and almost crash our website!  The waitlist quickly grew, so we decided to host a second screening at the Clapham Picture House.  Overall, the film screened to over 150 people. Both screenings were followed by a 30 minutes panel discussion which was led by Elaine Halligan of The Parent Practice, and included Bonnie Harris M.S. Ed, the author of the series of parenting books including What To Do When Kids Push Your Buttons; Heather Hanbury, Headteacher at Wimbledon High School; Charles Bonas, Educational Consultant & Commentator; Sue Kumleben, Facilitator with the Parent Practice, Holli Rubin (Psychotherapist), and Philippa Jackson (Headteacher of Hollymount School).

From the panel discussion, and conversations afterwards, it was apparent that all the parents attending have a clear awareness of the challenges and pressures their children face within today’s education system. There is a collective sense of helplessness – many parents feel they are on a treadmill, and that if they decide to step off, they have in some way failed their children, despite knowing instinctively it may be the best thing for them!

Although our audience was just a small sample of parents, it was clear to us that that there is a considerable increase in parents’ concerns about how their children are coping at school. At the same time, many parents don’t believe they possess the appropriate knowledge, confidence or courage to support their children through school, and make the most appropriate choices for them.

If anyone is interested in hosting their own screening of the film we are happy to support you in doing so.  It looks like there will be 2 or 3 more screenings in the London area this spring/summer.

We feel really thrilled to have brought this film to London and look forward to seeing what impact it will have for parents and educators alike.   Some changes have already started to happen!  A few days after the first screening, Wimbledon High School’s Headteacher blogged that:

We should beware of ‘over-scheduling’ children’s lives: students need time just to ‘be’, to play, to ‘hang out’ – it’s something we believe in strongly at WHS. Within our new timetable, which I am announcing soon as part of the outcome of the curriculum review, there will be more time at lunchtime to do just that. I want our students to enjoy extra-curricular clubs for their own sake, not in order, as they get older, to tick boxes on a UCAS (university entrance) form. I do think that busy teenagers are often the happiest. Those with interests and hobbies will gain confidence which will help them academically as much as socially. But those interests have to come from the girls themselves – we can’t and shouldn’t push them.    

True to our Parent Practice ethos, we have decided to be part of the solution as well, and to focus our minds and resources on creating a response for parents. We are in the process of developing a workshop, which has a working title of ‘The Path To Somewhere’. This workshop will look at how we can re-define success, and how we can empower our children with appropriate life-skills so they can thrive within whichever school environment best suits them.

So, stay tuned … it looks like something exciting may be starting to happen, and we’re proud to be part of it!  And in the meantime, we’ll let you know when ‘Path to Somewhere’ is ready to launch!

If you’re curious to know more about the film, please take a look at www.racetonowhere.com.

22/03/2011   No Comments

Are our schools overly competitive?

By Elaine Halligan

From the moment your child is born, the conversation from coffee mornings to dinner parties can become unhealthily preoccupied with the topic of schools, and for many parents this can almost leave them bordering on an obsessive, compulsive disorder!

 “Overly pressurised” and “far too much competition“ are the phrases that come to mind. Competition is healthy if it means we are teaching our children to do their best and strive to improve, and in this process we need to teach them how to handle failure and to regard it as an impetus for improvement. Competition is good as long as you don’t devalue yourself or others in the process -i.e. what are they prepared to do in order to get ahead? The recent “Blood Gate” scandal last year with the Harlequins rugby team gave our family much fodder for discussion as we analysed the nature of competition in sport. We are highly competitive on the sporting front and winning is important but not at any cost if it means we end up devaluing ourselves by cheating.

 We can have a huge impact as parents on the way our children view themselves. This is built over time -you can’t ‘quick-fix’ it. If you only focus on and praise achievements the child will come to feel that something is wrong if they don’t come top/win the race/ get voted as class captain/ get a leading role in the play. The child who gets 7/10 in a spelling test and can’t report back to his parents the result through fear of disappointing them, will in time view themselves negatively and this will impact on their self esteem.

 What does this all mean for you if you are in the process of choosing schools for the first time or at secondary level? Always match your child’s needs to an individual environment suited to them – this is the hardest part as many of us may not understand or accept our child’s temperament; character; strengths and weaknesses –both social and academic.

Be careful of labelling an educational environment as overly pressurised. There is only too much pressure if indeed your child is struggling and not sufficiently supported in that environment. If your child is academi­cally able, is in good work habits and has the ability to be organised the environment will be right for him.

Be aware of the impact on children of prizes and comparative grades. In reality prizes often go to the same children every year and many know they are never going to get a prize so forms no kind of incentive, and can lead to feelings of hopelessness. Comparative grades are the kind where your child is ranked in class as opposed to their own performance being looked at on its own and against the last effort. There are many high performing schools that have no prizes for academic achievement . Instead they recognise the achievements of the pupils whether sporting; in the arts, or the school community or in contribution to the liberal work the school has been involved with

How well rounded will those pupils be when they move into the adult world, knowing from the exam grades obtained how well they have done and also being commended for their activities outside the classroom!

 Do your research; follow your beliefs and value system and stay calm in the face of other’s rising hysteria!

By Elaine Halligan

26/09/2010   2 Comments