If at first you don’t succeed…

During one of our holiday courses, we were working through a Non-Verbal Reasoning paper one section at a time, marking the section and then going over the questions the children got wrong. Now, it was a reasonably tough paper and it was the first full paper these year 5 children had attempted.

All was going well and the children were getting scores reflecting the difficulty of the paper, their individual ability as well as how far they were through the 11 plus course.

We reached the third section (Non-Verbal Reasoning series), marked it and totalled the scores out of 12. It was at this point where one of the top children in the class broke down, put his head in his hands on the table, and began to cry. He had scored 1 out of 12. Nothing would bring him around for us to continue with the class and go over the section.

After a couple of minutes of trying to console him, I began to talk to the child sitting behind him who happened to play chess and tennis for the county. I knew the other child was listening at this point albeit with his head resting on the desk.

“How long did it take you to get your first decent serve?” I asked.

“Two years,” he replied.

“How long did it take you to win your first game of chess?” I asked.

“About 3 months,” he replied.

I then asked the class, “how long do you think it will take to get a decent score in a Non-Verbal Reasoning section? Longer than 6 minutes right?”

The whole class agreed.

You are never going to master something instantly and there will be at least a few occasions where it will be difficult and quite a few where you will make mistakes. Learn from these difficulties and mistakes and try not to let it bring you down or put you off even trying as this is where the learning actually takes place.

The moral of this story is if at first, you don’t succeed, try and try again.

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Can pushing children through the curriculum too soon be detrimental to their development?

Can pushing children through the curriculum too soon be detrimental to their development?

The challenge in front of teachers and their students is vast; education has so many stages and levels, so much to learn and such a finite time to do it all in. The temptation is that, once they can do something or have shown an understanding to move them onto the next stage. But, is this the right thing to do? It may seem logical to move them forward when they appear ready but when are they ready? Some teachers may say once they can do something half a dozen times, independently, then they are all set to progress but is this true understanding, do they really understand the concept which will, in turn, enable them to grasp more complex ideas?

Currently, education systems around the world are redirecting their efforts to a different teaching style. The buzzword ‘mastery’ is prevalent throughout schools in the UK and beyond and especially with regards to the teaching of mathematics. With a very quick browse of school websites, you will see statements such as ‘The Mastery-learning model forms the basis of our teaching approach as we aim to ensure there are no gaps in children’s subject knowledge.’ This kind of statement suggests that in previous years the approach was different and in turn led to gaps in children’s development.

Mastery is definitely an ideal that should be part of a school’s ethos when learning. Ensuring that children have plenty of time to observe, comment, understand, apply, evaluate and thus learn is imperative. One of the main concepts in this mastery approach is to allow students to practice a skill within a variety of contexts without increasing the difficulty or changing the focus of the learning. For example; 6 times tables, First you might group items by 6; then start counting in sixes; then create arrays of the 6 times table; then maybe make links with the ‘law of commutativity’ e.g. 5 x 6 and 6 x 5 both equal 30.

There are some who think that this approach is one that could hold back more able children, as they are introduced to more advanced topics too late for the ability they have to advance. This is a very good point and with some children, it should be considered. If you as an educator or parent feel their understanding is sound and concrete then, of course, yes they should be moved on to more advanced work. However, for most children, an increase in variety and deeper thinking questions can provide much more scope in their progression.

I personally believe it is a good approach and that all educators should at least consider some of the benefits of a mastery-style approach. As a teacher myself, I would hate to think that my students had been rushed through aspects of the curriculum (mainly to ensure they are ready for testing) and then they find later in their education they struggle with a concept because of their lack of true understanding or mastery.

The challenge of working with high-achievers

As a tutor, I have come across many children who find school work easy. Despite having natural ability and being ahead of their peers, children who are perceived as highly intelligent often seem to have character traits that bind them together. I talk about “perception of intelligence” because it is the perception of being intelligent which can truly damage a child, not the fact that the child may have extraordinary mental abilities.

 

These are the four points that have stood out to me with the children I have worked with (there are actually much more):

 

  • Seeking perfection

Children are often told that they are intelligent by those around them. This adds to the internal pressure that they feel (as clever children often feel) that they need to be perfect. They thus identify themselves as “the clever one” in their peer-groups.

 

  • Inexperience in failure

Naturally, many of these children past most of their early years being able to accomplish most of the academic tasks set by their teachers. This means that they may lack the experience of real failure, which is important for well-rounded developmental.

 

  • Lack of mental resistance to failure

As a consequence of not failing in their young days and the need to seek perfection, some children take failure in their later years particularly hard.

 

  • Difficulty relating to others in their peer group

If others perceive a child to be intelligent, and the child, in turn, believes this idea, this can lead to isolation in social situations.

 

As an educator, my role is not merely to facilitate learning, but to understand the issues affecting a child.  At every point, I have to always be aware of the words I am using when working with children. If anyone has comments about the points I have mentioned or has experience dealing with these issues, please feel free to comment.  

 

Jonathan Strange

The Power of Practice.

 

We have all heard the saying ’practice makes perfect’.

Well, that saying is not exactly true- it needs some further insight and explanation.

Take for example, writing your name.

How do you know that what you have written is correct?

When you first learned to write, you had to be told that in English, we write from left to right. You had to be told what the letters were and you were taught to make the connections between those letters to make sounds and eventually create words.

Now imagine that you had only ever written your name once in your entire life. Would you remember how to do it so many years later? You would be able to write your name but would have to think about it. It would not be instinctive, automatic and natural.

The same is true of most things, whether it is mental agility or physical exercise. The brain is a muscle and needs to be exercised in the same way that you would exercise your body.

Practice Makes Perfect

by PookyH

Nothing is easy

Unless you know how,
What was not easy then,
Might seem quite easy now.
What is hard when you’re three
Isn’t hard when you’re four,
By the time that you’re five,
You will know even more.

It’s not practice, but deep practice that makes perfect. So what is deep practice?

Deep practice is effectively breaking down the components of practising anything, whether it is learning to play tennis or your times tables.

The first step is to break it down into small, manageable pieces.

The next step is to focus ONLY on those small pieces and repeat the practice of them.

The final step is to review what your mistakes were when practising and correcting those until the process ‘feels’ natural.

Rupa Harji

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