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Tips to Get the Most Out Of Parent-Teacher Night

Parent-teacher nights can be almost as daunting for parents as they are for kids! Parents are often uncertain about what questions to ask and how to make the most of the brief time allotted to them.

It’s important to use this time to get feedback, discuss areas for improvement and find out if your child needs extra support. This information will help you make the right choices for your child’s future and ensure they are receiving a quality education.

If you student seems to be doing well, it might be tempting to skip parent-teacher night, but this is not a good idea. Attending shows interest and support, and it allows you to establish a rapport with teachers which will help if problems do crop up later.

Be Prepared

According to the Director of the Gonski Institute for Education Adrian Piccoli, parents can ensure the night is a success by planning ahead and taking notes during meetings.

This gives parents something to refer to and will help you remember what was discussed, which can be an issue when meeting with multiple high school teachers, especially if you have more than one child.

In his book 12 Ways Your Child Can Get The Best Out Of School, Piccoli lists some questions for parents to ask at parent-teacher interviews:

These questions will help you gauge how well your child is performing and if they are keeping up in class. They can also give insights into your child’s social skills and adjustment.

If a teacher’s answers to your questions seems vague or unclear, don’t be afraid to ask for more specific information and examples. This is an opportunity to assess how closely the teacher is following your student’s progress and the quality of education provided at the school.

If your child needs help, now is the time to find out what additional support the school offers.

Teachers’ Advice

Teachers have advice of their own when it comes to parent-teacher night. Many believe it’s good for students to be present during meetings when possible. They welcome the opportunity to find out how their students home lives may be impacting on their behaviour and results.

Teachers also like to get an idea of how interested parents are, so be prepared for your child’s teacher to turn the tables on you by inquiring if you know what your student is learning about in class.

When discussing results, teachers would like parents to focus on their child’s overall journey, not just their performance in standardised tests.

Follow these tips to make the most of parent-teacher night.

Benefits for Students of Learning a Foreign Language

Students often don’t see the relevance of learning a foreign language, or they overlook this option when choosing subjects because they think it will be too difficult. While learning a language can be challenging it is also immensely rewarding with many advantages.

One obvious benefit is in the area of career as there is a big demand for people with bilingual qualifications in the government, private and non-profit sectors.

Studying another language can also help students stand out when applying for university courses through alternative pathways to ATAR as this demonstrates academic rigor, commitment and curiosity.

Here are some less obvious but important benefits of studying another language:

Cognitive Development

Multiple studies have found that learning another language enhances problem solving skills, memory and concentration. Students who study a foreign language are better at multitasking, score higher on standardised tests and have denser grey matter in the part of the brain involved in executive function.

The skills gained through studying languages are used in all subjects and can improve overall academic performance. The reason languages are so effective at boosting brain power is because of the mental agility needed to translate, make connections and memorise rules and structures.

This is the equivalent of doing a mental workout, and it explains why learning a language can help ward of Alzheimer’s disease in the elderly. Babies also benefit from being exposed to different languages, and experts claim that the earlier this happens the better for mental development.

Improved Literacy

Students who study the structure and rules of another language gain a much better understanding of how their own language works. Rather than being immersed in it, they are able to step outside and view their native language in a different way. This has been found to improve literacy skills, with students performing better in reading, comprehension and grammar tests.

Superior Verbal Skills

Unlike most other subjects, language study requires continuous verbal practice and assessments. The experience of speaking frequently equips students with the confidence to communicate clearly and fluently in their native language.

Preparation for Higher Education    

It’s not surprising that those who study a foreign language perform better in higher education. Their improved problem solving and literacy skills, combined with the discipline and effort required to master another language, lay the foundations for academic success in later years.

Once students have learned one language, it becomes easier to learn another one, opening up a world of opportunities.

Personal Growth

Studying a foreign language gives students insights into other cultures which can expand their worldview and foster empathy. Those who can speak another language are more likely to travel and work overseas. Having the ability to communicate directly with people in another country is a powerful and authentic experience.

The benefits of studying another language are quite simply amazing!

How to Choose the Right Subjects for the HSC

Deciding which subjects to study for the HSC can be challenging. Not only do HSC results determine your ATAR for university admission, but many university courses have prerequisite subjects.

If you don’t plan to go to university, you still need to choose subjects which will give you a foundation for further study and enhance your job prospects.

To help you decide which subjects to study for the HSC, ask yourself these three questions:

What do you enjoy?

Learning should be interesting and enriching, not boring and difficult. You will also perform better in subjects you enjoy. Students often make the mistake of selecting advanced subjects because they believe they will get better marks due to scaling. If you perform poorly in a high scaling subject the result will still reflect this.

Other common mistakes students make include choosing subjects because they are considered easy, because friends are doing the course or because they like the teacher.

The knowledge you gain through a subject will stay with you long after your memory of who you sat next to in class or who taught it has faded. The purpose of education is to help you grow, so it’s important to choose subjects that inspire you.

What Are You Good At?

There is usually an overlap between the subjects you enjoy and those you are good at. If you’re not sure about your strengths and weaknesses, ask your teachers for advice.

Most schools run subject information sessions where you can ask questions about the requirements and assessments to help you work out which subjects are most suitable for you.

What Career Would You Like to Pursue?

Career choice should stem from your interests and abilities. It’s a great idea to see a careers counsellor before deciding which subjects to study. You can also attend university information sessions and make use of the services for prospective students to find out more.

At this stage in life, nothing is set in stone and if you change your mind about what you want to do halfway through the HSC, don’t panic, there are plenty of other pathways to the course or career you want.

Things to consider

These guidelines will help you choose the right HSC subjects for you.

Benefits of Joining a Study Groups for Teens

Studying alone in a quiet place helps students concentrate and absorb knowledge, but it’s not the only method that works. Study groups are also a great way for teens to learn, revise and develop important interpersonal skills.

Extroverts and auditory learners are particularly suited to study groups because they enjoy discussing concepts and sharing information, but introverts also have a lot to gain. Reserved students may feel more comfortable speaking up and exchanging ideas in a small group setting.

So, what are the benefits of studying in group?

Increased Motivation

Sticking to a study schedule can be hard for teens when there are so many other distractions. When they commit to regular study group sessions, students must come prepared each week, helping combat procrastination. Working together is also more enjoyable for young people, giving them added incentive to revise and stay up to date with assignments.

Students Teach Each Other

Research has confirmed that one of the best ways to learn something is to teach it to another person. In study groups teens can take turns explaining concepts to each other to ensure all group members understand. Everyone in the group will bring different skills and strengths and by sharing these, all members benefit. Hearing and seeing concepts explained in different ways helps solidify learning.

Ownership of Learning

Students gain the most from education when they have a sense of ownership over learning. This means they understand why they are studying subjects and they feel empowered to find out more. When teens run their own study group, they take control of their education in a way which builds confidence and inspires a thirst for knowledge.

Collaboration

Most jobs require students to be skilled at working with others. Group study is a perfect way to nurture these skills. By working with their peers, teens learn to listen closely, ask questions and appreciate different points of view. Collaborating also saves time as students can solve problems together and share study techniques.

Reduced Anxiety

Group study helps teens understand that everyone feels nervous about exams and results. A good study group can provide a valuable support network for young people, helping them cope with anxiety and stress.

Tips for Organising a Study Group

7 Reasons Older Children Should Still Read Picture Books

“Those books are for babies.” That’s the reaction teacher’s often get when they introduce picture books in the classroom to older primary and high school students. There’s a widespread belief that once children start reading at a certain level, they should leave picture books behind forever.

Children absorb this belief from well-meaning parents who think that to succeed academically students need to graduate to chapter books as soon as possible. Unfortunately, this view is doing children a disservice as picture books have much to offer students of all ages.

Educators have long recognised that picture books are an excellent resource which is why they still use them right through primacy school and high school.

Here are 7 reasons older children should continue reading picture books:

1. Increased Engagement

While older students may scoff initially when picture books are introduced in the classroom, they quickly forget their misgivings once the stories and images start working their magic. These books are particularly good for disengaged students and they can help foster a love of reading in those who are struggling. Advanced students also have much to gain because the beauty of picture books is that they can be interpreted on multiple levels.

2. Improved Literacy

The language in picture books might be minimal but it is often evocative and colourful. Reading with images can boost literacy by helping students interpret new words in the context of the visual story. Students who shy away from chapter books, are more likely to read picture books and graphic novels on their own, leading to improved literacy.

3. Better Understand of Literary Concepts

Sophisticated literary concepts such as point of view, symbolism and intertextuality can be difficult for children to grasp. Picture books make teaching these concepts much easier because they use tangible images to make them concrete. Many picture books explicitly play with narrative conventions to teach children how stories work.

4. Enhanced Visual Literacy

In today’s highly visual culture, students need to understand how meaning is created through images. Picture books allow them to study techniques such as the use of colour, the placement of objects in the foreground and background and the impact of different angles.

5. Critical Thinking Skills

When children are aware of how images create meaning and affect emotions, they can think more critically about advertisements and other visual mediums designed to influence them.

6. Increased Emotional Intelligence

Far from catering only to small children, picture books tackle weighty subjects such as bullying, divorce and bereavement. They stimulate discussion and encourage children to think about other people’s perspectives.

7. Shared Enjoyment

Picture books are perfect for enjoying together, which is why they work well in the classroom. At home even older kids can benefit from reading with parents or siblings. Reading picture books together provides an opportunity to discuss the images and themes, which is very beneficial.

Picture books are fun and educational for all students.

How Mindfulness in the Classroom is Helping Kids Achieve

Mindfulness has become very popular over recent years. Even corporations like Google and Nike are encouraging staff to embrace this ancient practice to increase productivity and reduce stress.

Teachers around the world have also found that practicing mindfulness in the classroom has significant benefits for learning. Many schools now include mindfulness exercises throughout the day to help children concentrate and reduce behaviour problems and anxiety.

How Mindfulness Works

An OECD report on student wellbeing found that 47 per cent of Australian students feel stressed when studying, compared to 37 per cent internationally. The major source of pressure, according to these students, comes from within.

Clearly there is a need for stress management in schools, and while parents generally welcome anything that will enhance children’s wellbeing, many don’t understand how mindfulness works.

To put it simply, this practice involves teaching children to become aware of themselves by noticing their breathing and observing their body and emotions.

These simple techniques work by grounding students in the present, which has a deeply relaxing effect. This grounding is especially important today when lives are so busy, and much time is spent online disconnected from the body.

Learning to Focus

“It’s about developing attentional control,” says Wynn Kinder, an instructor for the Wellness Works in Schools program. “If you can quiet yourself and get yourself to a place where your mind is settled, that is a great tool to have.”

By bringing their focus to the present moment, students are able clear their minds of worries, fears and thoughts of the future to concentrate on learning. When their minds are in this relaxed state, they are much more open to absorbing and retaining knowledge.

Discovering they have the power to calm themselves is very empowering for young people. Being aware of their inner states and having the ability to self-regulate allows students to develop higher order skills such as patience, empathy and resilience. They also have the tools to resist peer pressure and avoid risky behaviours.

Rachel Fisher, who teaches mindfulness to children and teens through her KindKids Project says, “Mindfulness shows that real choices come from self-awareness. It helps them notice their feelings before making a decision.”

Mindfulness is having a real impact in the classroom, with students showing significant improvement in focus, self-regulation and executive function. Mindfulness techniques are particularly helpful for ADHD students and those on the autism spectrum, but everyone stands to benefit from this simple practice.

Tips for Mindfulness at Home

10 Inspiring Ways to Motivate Reluctant Learners

There are many reasons kids don’t enjoy school. Sometimes it’s due to learning problems or because the work is too easy, but sometimes it’s just because they haven’t developed the persistence and discipline needed to apply themselves.  

There’s a consensus that students’ attention spans have suffered in the digital era, and this view is supported by some research. Learning, in contrast to social media and gaming, requires sustained effort and attention with no immediate gratification.

When children are bored with schoolwork, the first impulse of parents and teachers is to offer rewards and try to make learning as fun as possible. These strategies have a definite part to play in increasing motivation but relying too heavily on them can hinder students from developing inner motivation and discipline.

To motivate your reluctant learner and help them develop the skills needed for academic success:  

  1. Acknowledge effort, not just results. Don’t save your approval for good grades. Change focus by asking what your child learned instead of what mark they got for a test. When you see your student trying hard on a task, offer encouragement and support.
  2. Let kids make mistakes. Many parents like to step in and fix mistakes in their child’s homework, but this is counterproductive. Making errors is a vital part of the learning process. You want your child to take ownership of their learning, and this includes mistakes. The satisfaction of doing things on their own and working problems out themselves helps develop motivation.
  3. Create an atmosphere of learning. You can encourage kids to love education by creating an atmosphere of learning in your home. Reading together, watching educational shows and having discussions about what you’ve learned will stimulate kids and make them eager to know more.
  4. Explore your child’s interests. Find out what your child is passionate about and use this to encourage them to read and think. If they like dinosaurs, for example, find books on this subject and take them to exhibitions and museums.
  5. Explain why education is important. When kids understand why they are learning about a subject they will be more motivated. Try to relate the subject to real life and engage their emotions through stories and by talking about your own experiences.
  6. Take breaks. Kids become bored and stressed when forced to concentrate for extended periods. When they are studying or doing homework, it’s important to take breaks at regular intervals.
  7. Give choices. Having choices is very empowering for children. You can give younger kids a feeling of control by letting them set their own study schedule based on when they prefer to do homework.
  8. Find a study group or tutor. Students who enjoy interacting with others and who learn by discussing ideas and concepts will be motivated by taking part in a study group or working with a tutor.
  9. Set goals. Setting realistic goals gives kids something to work towards and allows them to experience the inner rewards that come from striving and applying themselves to reach a goal. 
  10. Organisation. Sometimes kids are unmotivated because they are overwhelmed. Helping them to organise their schoolwork and prioritise tasks can do a lot to help students enjoy learning.

These tips will inspire even the most reluctant learners!

How to Help Introverted Students Relax and Enjoy School

Introversion is often mistaken for shyness and many well-meaning parents and teachers believe the best way to overcome this is to encourage introverted students to speak up and participate more actively in class.

Fortunately, there’s a growing awareness that introverts are not shy but think and react differently based on biological variances in the brain.

Researchers have found that introverts require less sensory stimulation to release dopamine, explaining why they are more easily overwhelmed. Grey matter is also thicker in the prefrontal cortex of introverts, which is the part of the brain involved in deep thinking and planning.

The school years are often difficult for introverted students because they are overwhelmed by all the noise and activity. Being required to participate in group work and speak ‘off the cuff’ in front of others is very daunting for this personality type as they like to ponder ideas and plan what they’re going to say.

Due to their reflective nature introverts have many strengths, including good listening, observation and planning skills. While educators are beginning to recognise these positive attributes and adapt their teaching methods, the education system is still largely geared towards extroverts.

To help your introverted student relax and enjoy school:

Determine if they are a true introvert

It’s a good indication your child is an introvert if they like to spend a lot of time in solitary pursuits and retreat to their bedroom after socialising. Unlike their extroverted counterparts, introverts are depleted by social contact and need time to replenish.

Respect your child’s differences

It’s important for introverts to know there’s nothing wrong with them. If your child is listening and engaged in class, but is reluctant to speak up, don’t try to force them ‘out of their shell’ as this will have the opposite effect. If they feel uncomfortable working in groups encourage them to step out of their comfort zone, but without judgement.

Talk to them

Introverts often have a great deal to say and the best way to instill confidence is to get them used to sharing their thoughts. Ask them about their opinions on different subjects and discuss what they’re learning in school. The more accustomed they become to sharing their views, the more comfortable they’ll feel in the classroom.

Accept they don’t need a lot of friends

Many parents become worried that their child doesn’t have many friends at school. Introverts are self-reliant and prefer to develop close relationships with a few people rather than a wide social circle. Making them feel inadequate about this will only cause anxiety.

Limit after school activities

Going straight from school to other activities can be exhausting for introverts. The easiest way to gauge what is best for your child is to ask them. Introverts generally have good self-knowledge, so listen when they tell you what they need.

Educate the teacher

There are many things teachers can do to make school a more inviting place for introverts. If your child is not feeling supported at school, speak to their teacher about their needs. You might want to recommend Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. There are some great free resources for parents and teachers on Cain’s website.

Expert Advice on Preparing Your Child for NAPLAN

It’s almost time for the annual National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN), and parents across the country are wondering what they can do in the next few weeks to prepare children for the test.

NAPLAN measures the reading, writing, spelling, grammar and numeracy skills of students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9. It is designed to test higher-order problem solving and interpretation skills. The purpose is to determine if educational programs are giving students the critical foundation they need to succeed.

NAPLAN tests skills that have been developed over time through learning programs and ‘cramming’ for the test is pointless. Experts claim that too much preparation can be detrimental, but there are several things you can do help your child perform well on the day.

Relax

While students receive individual results for NAPLAN, the test does not replace school-based assessments and only provides an overall snapshot of each child’s progress. Its purpose is to help educators design a curriculum that meets students’ needs and to identify areas for improvement in the school system. Students should be encouraged to see the test as a normal part of the school calendar rather than a major event requiring extensive preparation.

Practice

Your child should be familiar with the format of NAPLAN before they take the test. Most teachers will introduce practice questions throughout the school year so students know what to expect, but they can also practice at home using the sample tests. Online testing is currently being rolled out in schools on an opt-in basis. You can find out more about this through the NAPLAN website. Being familiar with the test format and style of questions helps reduce anxiety.

Measure

If your student is completing practice tests at home, it’s a great idea to measure how older children are making use of time. When they know how long to devote to each section, students are less likely to panic, become overwhelmed or get stuck on a hard question.

Brainstorm

Students may be asked to write a narrative, informative or persuasive text based on stimulus material. This is the most challenging part of the test for many students as they lack confidence in their writing ability. Make sure your child understands the difference between texts types by using examples from everyday life. You can brainstorm ideas and practice planning what they’re going to write so they don’t run out of steam halfway.

Sleep

Getting a decent night’s sleep is essential in the lead up to NAPLAN. Poor sleep affects memory, decision making and cognitive ability. You can ensure you child sleeps well by doing something unrelated to the test the night before exams and by using relaxation techniques. This is a perfect opportunity to help students learn how to manage exam stress.

These tips will help your student perform at their best in NAPLAN.

6 Holiday Activities to Boost Literacy and Numeracy Skills

The school holidays are a time for kids to relax and recharge in preparation for another term. Students need a break from the daily routine, but this doesn’t mean learning has to stop altogether in the holidays.

There are many simple things kids can do at home which will keep their brains active.

These activities will keep children entertained and inspired:

1. Take a Camping Trip

The purpose of this activity is to get kids involved in planning the trip. Even a camp out in the backyard with some friends is fine for younger kids. Ask your student to work out how many tents and sleeping bags are required, and what supplies to pack. Give them a budget to plan meals and tell them to write a list of ingredients. Older kids can shop and manage the money. If camping is not your child’s style, they can plan a picnic or small party.

2. Design a Picture Book

Reading is very important during school breaks, but children need to keep writing too. Designing a picture book is an ideal way for kids to express themselves creatively and develop their literacy skills. To get them started, look through some of their picture books together and ask them about the story and images. They can draw or paint pictures for their own book or find them online. When it’s finished, they may enjoy reading it to a younger child.

3. Start a Garden

Many kids will jump at the chance to get their hands dirty. Encourage them to start their own garden in the backyard or buy a planter box for a balcony or windowsill. They will need to research appropriate plants, read labels and estimate how much room to give each plant. They’ll also have to work out how much fertilizer and watering are required. Encourage your child to document the garden as it grows by taking photos and even creating a blog.

4. Watch Sports

Watching sports and following a favourite team is something many young people enjoy. You can turn this into a learning activity without taking the fun out of it by talking about game statistics. Encourage kids to research their team’s performance and discuss things like batting and bowling averages, strike rates, possessions and the ratio of goals scored compared to attempts made.

5. Do Crossword Puzzles

Crossword puzzles are an easy and fun way to enhance literacy skills. You can do them with your child or challenge each other to complete a puzzle a day. The trick is to find puzzles that are appropriate but still challenging. There are many great puzzle books available to buy or you can find quality free puzzles online.

6. Try Some Online Activities

Gaming is a popular pastime for young people, and there are many excellent educational resources available online to boost numeracy skills. Examples include Prodigy and Dragonbox. You can also find an endless supply of free maths quizzes and activities by doing a Google search.

These cost-effective activities are fun and educational!

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