The World Cup and Home Learning

There are plenty of events that can involve education without children realising that they are learning. Some companies make amazing resources to support local, national and international events and help your child to continue learning at home. Previous events included the Olympics, Royal Wedding and Wimbledon. Supermarkets and other shops are full of merchandise and memorabilia to help bring a topic or event to life. There are a huge variety of websites that offer free printable activities for children to do at home.

Being interested in a topic or event will make learning much easier. Using cross-curricular links helps to embed learning and can make it much more ‘alive’ for the learner. Learning in this way will also develop new questions for the learner to answer. Something that may not have occurred at the beginning of an event could be vitally important at the end and bring greater understanding to learning.

With the World Cup fast approaching, many newspapers give out wall charts. Even if your family only has a vague interest in football, entering the different country names on the chart as they win and lose can lead to great conversations about the country that is being represented. Many subjects can be covered:

English – Create an information sheet about the country. Make up a poem about some of the players.

Maths – predict the scores based on previous matches. Work out the cumulative number of goals. Create charts based on how long the players have been on the pitch.

History – Find out how long has the country been playing in the World Cup

Geography – Research where are all of the teams from. Find out who has travelled the furthest.

RE – Discover the main religion of the country

Languages – Find out what language each team speaks.  Learn to say “Hello” in each language.

Music – Find out and listen to the National Anthem of each country.

Art – Research what all of the different flags look like.

This is just a selection of ideas that could be easily done at home to broaden children’s learning. Here at Star Education we like to use events that capture children’s attention as well as their hobbies and other interests to make learning fun and interesting. We use this in our sessions to make sure our students stay interested and focused on their learning.

What to do with your teenagers when they finish their exams?

The end of exams is in sight for most teenagers. There is nothing that you can do about their exam results – they either revised or didn’t! But what to do with them until September?

For the 16 year olds this isn’t easy. Hopefully you will be lucky enough to take a family holiday, either in the UK or abroad. But keeping an eye on them for the next 8 weeks is daunting. This is a great time to teach them some life skills – how to do the washing, cooking dinner etc. This won’t always be easy depending on your teenager but they will need some focus over the long summer. Encourage them to read, learn a new hobby, get into a sport; anything that will provide a focus before starting college and a slight distraction before the exam results are announced. A part time job is an excellent idea for a 16 year old – however these can be difficult to find.  Once the exam results are released, even if they are not what was predicted then talk to the college and find out what needs to be done. Positive exam results are fantastic and a reason for celebration. Colleges often set pre-course work. They should let the student know what tasks need to be done, this is their way of getting their students ready to learn again. These should be taken seriously as they are the first opportunity to set a good impression.

For 17 year olds encourage them to learn how to drive. The earlier that they learn then the easier it is. This can also come with massive car insurance prices – careful research can help here. This is a great time to learn since they are at an “in-between” stage. Hopefully they will have passed their AS Level exams and be able to progress to A2 courses. There is still that element of waiting to find out. A lot of colleges will request AS Level students return to begin the A2 courses early – this is a great way of getting ahead. This can mean the holiday is shorter for them. At this stage independent study is a skill that should be being developed. Some of our local colleges arrange for their AS level student to have access to the University libraries over the summer. Achieving a higher level of understanding will help during the A2 course.

The 18 year old waiting for their A2 exam results should (hopefully) be reasonably independent. If not, then now is the time to learn about all of the activities mentioned in the above paragraphs! Now is definitely the time to get a part time job, learn how to drive and develop life skills, especially if they are planning to go away to University.

At Star Education we can’t always help with these activities but we can support students who are taking exams. Once the results are through then we can support students taking the next step in their education. Whilst waiting for those results, visit our shop and stock up on any books ready for the next stage.

Revision guide for parents

We have found a few tips for parents around the internet but not found an up to date guide for parents on how to support their children whilst revising. In no particular order we have put together our top 5 tips:

  • Help your child to make a revision timetable (and don’t get mad when they don’t stick to it). Your child needs to have ownership of this, you cannot take the exam for them. If they choose not to put the hours in then, as frustrating as it is, there is nothing you can do about it.
  • Make sure they have all of the revision resources that they need. At GCSE level this can be a lot of text books. Ensuring they have the right one can be difficult but the school should be able to guide you to find the right ones. We have come across students who keep their books in a suitcase (yes, they had that many!) Buying every book on the subject will not guarantee an A* grade.
  • Agree on how much you can interfere. You might feel that your child is not doing enough revision (see point 1) and they feel that they are doing too much. Try to agree on a balance, if this isn’t working then try to find out why and what can be done to change it. An angry teenager is unlikely to be doing revision once the bedroom door has slammed.
  • Food. Keeping a secret stash of their favourite snacks and drinks to help break up revision will only be a good thing. Also arranging surprises and treats (timetable permitting!) will help them to feel like they have not completely lost control of their life.
  • Being interested in what they are doing, without being nosy. Don’t keep asking what everyone else is doing. Ask them what they are doing. A more important question is what do you need to revise next? This will tell you if they are aware of their weaker topics and need some support.

At Star Education we can provide revision support from the start, right up to the night before the exam. We are able to help with revision timetables, difficult questions and sticky subjects to help the student be the best that they can be. We believe everyone should be able to do their best and by being prepared (and having revised) there is no reason that they should not get the grades that they deserve.


What we see as private tutors

There was an article recently about a private tutor and exams. We have published several blogs ourselves about how we can support children and adults taking exams and the different revision services that we offer.

This article talked about how parents with children at private schools can be very ‘pushy’ and want their children to achieve the best grades in the class to get into the top schools, but it isn’t what the child wants. To some extent we agree that this can happen, but not in our experience. We work with students at private schools and have supported (not coached) children who are taking entrance exams. Some of these pupils are still with us as they need elements of their learning to be supported still as well as being slightly extended to keep them interested in learning.

We completely agree that parents should talk to their child’s teacher before taking on a tutor. As fully qualified teachers we understand the pressure that the system puts on the teacher to produce the results as well as the pressure on the child. The child still needs to come first, the teacher should be the best person to advise on the support for the child’s education. They should be able to specify the areas that the child would benefit from having support in. The private tutor should then use the teacher’s report to work from.

In our experience with any student, tuition will only work if they are willing to learn. We set Child's hand colouringextension tasks (depending on the student) and encourage all family members to get involved with the learning. Playing a times table game on the way to and from school will soon pay off and doesn’t feel like homework. The article recommended 5 hours extra work per hour of tuition; we feel that this is excessive. Children need time to be children. Learning can be done in a variety of ways and should be something that is enjoyed. A good private tutor can support this and make recommendations.

We have supported children in the run up to a scholarship entrance exam, the parents asked us to come in and refresh the student’s skills. We had full and extensive support from the school and had no doubts that the child was able to pass the exam. The student needed guidance on how to show their skills and abilities. There was no pressure on them to pass the exam and we were confident that the student would be able to cope once in the next school. This was proven by the student passing the exam.

Here at Star Education we don’t believe in ‘super tutors’ flying to the rescue. We believe in great teaching and learning to create students who are confident in their own abilities. If you would like to experience our services then please contact us to find out more.

Special Measures – what does it mean?

We have heard recently that one of the local secondary schools, Oakmeeds Community College in Burgess Hill,  has been put into special measures, but what does this actually mean and how does it happen? Before a school is put into Special Measures, they have been inspected by Ofsted and found to be Inadequate. Ofsted define Inadequate to mean:

“A school that has serious weaknesses is inadequate overall and requires significant improvement but leadership and management are judged to be Grade 3 or better. This school will receive regular monitoring by Ofsted inspectors.”

However, a school in special measures is defined by Ofsted as:

” A school that requires special measures is one where the school is failing to give its pupils an acceptable standard of education and the school’s leaders, managers or governors have not demonstrated that they have the capacity to secure the necessary improvement in the school. This school will receive regular monitoring by Ofsted inspectors.”

In the case of Oakmeeds Community College, GCSE results had been falling over recent years and the previous year showed particularly poor results. Children are not making as much progress as they should be and in Ofsted’s opinion the Leadership/Management team and Governors should have been working on how to improve their results.

The school will have to adapt their current School Improvement plan or write a new plan explaining how they will rectify the problems that Ofsted have identified. Schools in Special Measures will be supported by the Local Authority and HMI (Her Majesty’s Inspectors) to action their plan and be able to show their improvements. For Oakmeeds Community College this will mean a lot of work to ensure that the standards are kept up, all paperwork is completed, training is effective and correct support is being given. Depending on the Local Authority, staff may be seconded from other schools, consultants may be brought in and schools may be partnered with other succeeding schools.

Parents should be informed that a school has been put into Special Measures and what the plans of the school are. There may be meetings that they can attend to participate in the development of the school. Through all of this they should support their child. The child should still be able to make progress and reach their academic potential.

Special measures can often mean a quick turnover of staff. Whilst a school is in special measures they are usually only allowed to employ experienced teachers (not newly qualified teachers) so that they can be assured that classroom practice is secure. Parents should support the school through these times of change. It can be unfortunate and disruptive for the child but in the future should help to redress the problems that the school have been having. With a change of staff can also come a change of leadership, again parents should be supportive as this will help the school in times to come.

Star Education is able to work with children of any ability to achieve their full academic potential. This could be on a short term basis to support pupils whilst they may be unsettled by changes in their day to day schooling or on a longer term to support their learning as they progress through the education system. We offer free consultations in your own home to assess a child’s current ability and identify areas of future development and extended learning.


Learning by experience

We were having a discussion recently about how learning occurs. Is it a natural process or does it need to be explicitly taught. In the case of very young children they learn by watching others, walking for example. Young babies naturally have a walking reflex which disappears then reappears as a voluntary behaviour at about 8-12 months. Children learn to talk by listening to speech around them and copying the sounds. As adults, we naturally correct speech for children and explain other words to them. However, more academic subjects are not natural.

Reading, writing and numeracy are not naturally learnt. They need to be explicitly taught and repeated regularly until they are learnt. In the early years at Nursery and School children are encouraged to make discoveries and links for themselves. However, we feel that they need input to be able to make these discoveries. For example, in a school the other day a Reception child showed us a dodecahedron (12 sided 3d shape). They were able to build this using the materials available to them. The question comes, would they have been able to make this discovery on their own?

The answer we have come to is Yes, and No. The child would have been able to make the 3d shape independently and could have repeated the activity when asked. They could probably have also created the same shape using different construction materials. However, they would not have known the name or been able to count the faces on the shape without some adult support.

Only by the adult sitting with the child and discussing how many faces on the shape and discovering what it was called together, could the child have found out this information. The adult had extended this discovery, developing it to bring a further level of learning. Lev Vygotsky believed in a Zone of Proximal Development where a child follows the adults example and gradually develops the ability to do certain tasks without help. In our example, the child would have discovered the shape by themselves, but without the support of the adult would not have known the name of the shape.

We find, with our pupils, we are often scaffolding their learning to enable to them to achieve further. Our pupils have often reached a plateau with their learning in a particular subject. This isn’t unusual but sometimes they need some support to be able to be able to progress further. Mostly there is a topic that is holding our pupils back, this can be due to a misconception or misunderstanding. Once the tutor has been able to identify this issue and work with the pupil to ensure they understand then learning can progress.

Star Education is able to work with students of all ages to support their learning, whether it is sorting a misconception or extending learning to a further level.

Teachers open the door, but you must enter by yourself (Chinese proverb)

We find that children frequently have the abilities and skills to achieve their potential but expect us to always provide them with the answers. As good teachers we do always have the answers but encourage and expect our students to discover the answers for themselves. If we were to always just give the answers, then our students would never be able to use the skills for themselves and no learning would take place.

Learning is an interactive process which takes place, mostly on the part of the learner but does require the teacher to have an input. By questioning our students and challenging them to find out the answers for themselves, we take the skills that they have explicitly been taught and use them in practices. We can support the student to apply these skills and make sure that they are being applied correctly, however we cannot apply the skills for them. When a student gets to an exam situation they need to be able to select the correct skills and apply them correctly to succeed.

Teaching students a variety of skills is important, but they also need to know when to apply them. If we taught these skills abstractly then the student would be able to apply them, but not necessarily to the right situation. A student would be able to add, subtract, multiply and divide but not be able to work out how much their shopping cost and how much change they would get. A good process is to identify the skills required, then remove the calculation from the situation. Completing the calculation is then easier, but the answer must be put back into the situation to make sense.

Star Education is able to teach students the skills but also supports them to apply them in the correct situations. This is done practically to ensures that students are able to use their skills in a variety of situations and apply them outside of a session.

Reading for enjoyment and understanding

Many of the students that we work with think reading is boring, it’s hard, it takes time and they don’t see the point. That should be the complete opposite. Without reading they would not be able to understand the instructions on their latest game or what the ingredients were on a packet. It is true that some of these items can be replaced with pictures but reading is still essential.

Practicing reading when children are young is essential. Forming a love of books from an extremely early age gets children into the habit of reading. A story at bedtime is an excellent part to a routine and begins to promote a love of reading. Even if children know all of the words off by heart and their parents are fed up of reading it, the children are still developing a love of language.

Stories are inherent in many cultures. They are passed down through generations, mostly by word of mouth which can explain a great deal about our history. In the Maori culture it is traditional to tell stories about their heritage. The elders use their oral history to teach tribal lore, etiquette and genealogy. They do this through song as well as stories.

Listening to and reading stories are the best way of being exposed to new language. It is heard in context and this helps our brain to understand and remember it. A book relies on your imagination to fill in the pictures, it can only do this through the language that is used. Stories start with picture books that have illustrations to support the text, however as children get older the pictures become fewer and the text becomes longer. We expect children to fill in the pictures in their heads. It is important that we also teach them how to understand the language and infer from the text but early exposure to plenty of stories supports this later learning.

Sometimes it is important to find the right books for children to read. They might want to read their older siblings book, but find the language too difficult. This is where shared reading will be important. If the older child can “share” the book with their younger sibling by taking it in turns to read or reading aloud to them then they will both be benefitting from the experience.

Stories can also be accessed in simpler versions for younger children. Film adaptations also play their part, especially from longer books. Children (and adults) will be able to understand the majority of the story from the film. This helps them to understand the main plot of the book so that when they read the text they can focus on the finer detail. This also helps with reading for understanding.

Exams – emotional torture?

We are currently working with several children who are taking/have recently taken exams. The ages of these children vary from 11 to 16 and cover GCSE’s, school entrance exams and 11+. The children have all needed to focus on different aspects of their learning to be able to pass the exams (currently we have a very high success rate), however one common theme with them all is exam technique.

Test paper for an exam

During a session recently, knowing that the student had just taken a mock GCSE paper, the tutor asked how it had gone. “It was awful, I had a panic attack” was not quite the response we would have hoped for, (you should know we have only recently started working with this student). From the story that unfolded it sounds like she was unfortunate and had a series of events that went wrong that day, from being sat at the wrong desk with the wrong level paper, to working through the correct paper only to discover that it was still wrong. Everyone else was doing a non-calculator paper – she had been given a calculator paper, with no calculator! Extra time was quickly given and a calculator found, she then sat the non-calculator whilst everyone else was sitting the calculator paper and hopefully it has all worked out in the end.

Even with the exam going to plan are we still putting extra stress on our children? Is an exam “emotional torture?” We hope that with the right preparation and practice that it shouldn’t put any extra stress on a child. With younger children we explain that this is just to see what they understand and that they should have a go at every question; they need to try to do their best. Children can very quickly pick up that their parents think this test is very important and they need to be amazing. This leads to them putting pressure on themselves as well as the possible and unintended pressure from their parents. Older children can also follow the same route as they become aware of how important GCSE and further exams are for their future.

During exam time it is important to keep routines familiar and flexible. Establish a revision timetable as soon as possible so that it becomes part of the routine. Keep calm about the practice exams as well as the actual exam so that it becomes natural. Some adrenaline is a good thing as it will keep energy up during the exam but too much can lead to rushing through questions without reading them properly or thinking what the question is asking.

Exams really shouldn’t be emotional torture; at the moment they are the method used to assess learning and knowledge. The support from family, friends, teachers and tutors can make a big difference to the student and their results.

Increasing confidence through learning

Many of the students we work with have confidence issues. This can be in a particular subject or topic or generally within learning. This can be a huge concern for parents as well as teachers. The child may not appear to progress as quickly as they should do. This can then lead to one subject or area holding the student back in their further learning.

The causes of this loss in confidence can vary. Sometimes it can be a lack of understanding caused by absence or a bad explanation. If this mis-understanding is not quickly put right then it can hold learning back. The effects of this lack of confidence can be far reaching, going as far as adulthood. We meet many people who say that they want to re-take exams because they are not satisfied with the original grade they achieved but they also say they don’t believe they could try again.

Working with students who have already decided they want to improve in a subject is incredibly rewarding. These students have already overcome most of the barrier which is stopping them from learning and are ready to move on. Most of the barrier is what they themselves have put up; they are the only ones who can start to take it down. This helps to unlock the difficulty surrounding the subject and with the right teaching style can take them forwards to improve. Once this has occurred learning can sometimes be rapid but the increase in confidence will be huge.

In children the increase in confidence can be seen quickly, we have examples where children are starting to answer questions in class – much to the delight of their teachers. Sometimes this is lucky as a subject we have covered in session is then recapped at school. With the confidence they have gained from the session with a tutor they feel able to attempt to answer in class. This also starts to show through in exams, especially mock exams. We encourage the student to at least try to answer the question and develop techniques that they are able to use. They understand that it is better to have tried and gain some marks than leave the question altogether and gain nothing.  Confidence can be slower to show at home however, it may take longer for children to ask for help with homework or to practice their times tables with their parents.

Star Education works with children and adults to increase their confidence by supporting their learning. During each session we ensure that the learner achieves a positive result to develop their self-belief in this learning. This enables their confidence to develop which makes learning new topics easier.

Confident thumbs up