Category Archives: Building Better Students

“T” is for Tying Laces and Writing

It caused considerable concern when I read that the American Government dropped teaching cursive writing from the core curriculum in 2010.  They have left it up to the states to decide if it should be taught in elementary schools.  Some have decided not to teach the writing and reading of cursive script.  Their students are not being taught to read or write past the printed letter.

Does not teaching how to write have repercussions other than affecting the way we develop and record our thoughts?  Is it even a concern that we become solely dependent upon smart phones, tablets and computers for recording our words?

People may have asked the same question as the motor car replaced the bicycle or television replaced evening family interaction.  Change produces change and each alteration to our lifestyle needs to be considered for its own new path.  If we haven’t looked far enough down the path before taking the first few steps, we may arrive at a destination we did not desire.  I don’t think an obese society and world environmental problems was what Henry Ford envisioned with his Model T; nor did Steve Jobs foresee family members retreating to separate rooms when he wanted to bring the world together.

What damage can possibly be caused by not teaching cursive writing to young students?  I have already encountered a young postman who has difficulty delivering handwritten letters because they used “running writing”.  So, we don’t receive our mail, is that a problem these days?  The fact the young man couldn’t decipher or decode the letters on the envelope is of greater concern to me.

Cursive writing as with all writing requires the development of fine motor skills; skills that come with practice.  The fine dexterity of finger and hand movement learned by a seven-year-old child is the same skill required to tie shoelaces, do up buttons, place a nut on a bolt or to produce a painting.  I have already begun to see within my tuition experience young students unable to control letter and number formation between 8-millimetre lines or contain them within 7-millimetre squares of a quad page.  Is this a problem?

When I was in primary school, the pencil and then the pen was an important tool to my learning.  Our teachers came in early to prepare the black board with the day’s lessons.  These lessons were copied into our notebooks.  Maths problems were copied from the board or the textbook before being solved.  Our scholastic days were filled with scribing and learning.  Our weekends required us to compose an essay, so we could practise our scribbles and improve our imagination.  Even now I produced drafts for this post with pencil and paper before committing them to digital creation.

Reading, writing and arithmetic formed the foundation of independence for an individual.  With all three mastered a person was armed to contribute to society, create wealth from nothing and control their destiny.  I am afraid the removal of just one may have an impact on creating an independent individual.

By Peter Kenyon: Online Tutor

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“R” is for Readiness for School

“A stitch in time saves nine.”  How do you know if your pre-schooler is ready for their big jump into primary school? 

Does your child understand these words – “above”; “below”; “on”; “in”; “before”; “after”; “beside”; “first”; “second”; “last’: “stop”; “go”; “left”; “right”; “top”; “bottom”; “middle”?

Pre-school education should help young learners with their spatial skills and prepare them for primary school, however there are times when these skills are not acquired.  This is no reflection upon the child, though not having an understanding can place the young learner at a disadvantage when they first attend primary school.

Can you imagine the difficulty a young learner will have following the simplest directions if they do not understand the words from the list above?  We are seeing more instances where the parents of children in Years 1 and 2 are seeking help because their little ones are not keeping up at school. 

How can a student fall into difficulty at such an early stage of their education?

Let the early years be play.  Young children learn through play, being read to, and through song.  Have any of these three things changed in the last two decades?  Do children play with other children or with their parents like they used to?  Are they being read to by an adult?  Do the songs they listen to teach them about the spatial world around them? 

The things we do with our children before they attend school are just as important as the education they receive before they become adults.  If you can get the foundations right the structure is strong.

By Peter Kenyon: Online Tutor

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“K” is for Kinaesthetic Learner

Not everyone learns the same way, and that creates problems in classrooms and at home. 

As a generalisation, there are three types of learners: auditory, kinaesthetic, and visual.  These are the main channels of learning.  It’s a generalisation because, a person is more likely to be a combination of two (or more) rather than simply one, as in being purely an auditory learner.  How do you identify a kinaesthetic learner? 

Kinaesthetic learners just want to touch and feel everything. As adults, their mates give them plenty of personal space because they just want to playfully thump them all the time.  Their house is a mess because they just want to collect and pull everything apart, just to see how it works.  Putting it together again may be another matter.  Does this sound like someone you married?

It is easy to identify an adult kinaesthetic learner, but how do you identify it in your child? 

Well for starters, their teacher will be strongly suggesting you attend Parent Teacher Nights, so they can discuss how disruptive this young pupil is in the classroom.  They fidget, leave their seat to touch things, move things and find it difficult to sit and learn.  They may not even be aware of their movements as they are easily distracted by the movement of others and want to investigate.

This student needs a hands-on approach to learning so sitting in class and listening, reading from a book, or even taking notes from the whiteboard is not the best way for them to learn. 

They will respond better when learning is through participation, such as in chemistry experiments, or building a model. These students do well in sports, drama and live for school lunch breaks.  By the age of seven, they have been categorised as being an under-achiever, or worse still, hyperactive.  But fear not.

Being a kinaesthetic learner is not a problem, as approximately fifteen percent of the population are kinaesthetic learners.  The problem is our education system is geared towards auditory and visual learners, and kinaesthetic learners are the speed bump in our systems road to education.  What can you do? 

For starters, accept them for who they are, healthy active children.  Give them down time after an active session and reward them for the tasks they perform.  These guys may be reward driven.  Kinaesthetic learners do best with images so paint them a picture of what you want from them and give them regular breaks while studying.

Your student is likely to become an actor, dancer, physiotherapist, massage therapist, surgeon, mechanic, carpenter, P.E. teacher, athlete, farmer, etc.

The point is, be patient, give them space and let them grow.

By Peter Kenyon: XtraMile Tuition Strategies Tutor

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“G” is for a Good Read

“Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.” – Margaret Fuller

How important is it to be a reader in this world of instant information? 

Does sitting with your child and playing computer games produce the same outcome as sitting with them and reading a book? 

Does it matter that you have never sat with your child and read to them before they have attended school?

More research is coming forward to indicate it does matter that a child is not read to or encouraged to pick up a book, even to scribble in.

Sitting with book in hand and child on lap allows them to see symbols, words and images.  Moving your finger, leading their eyes along symbols of words and from words to images, allows little ones to make connections, at their own pace, with these symbols, words and images.  Their vocabulary grows.

They may not yet be attending kindergarten or pre-school, but you are already preparing their mind for life-long learning.  You have been helping their brain develop neuropathways that will assist with learning when they attend pre-school and beyond.  Now, not every child will be ready to make these connections, just as not every child is ready to attend school at the tender age of five.  These things happen when the child is ready, and you can’t rush it. 

Spending this quality time with your toddler is crucial to early childhood development. 

Andre Biemiller, a Canadian psychologist, studied the consequences of lower vocabulary levels in young children.  The results of his studies indicated that children entering kindergarten in the bottom 25% of vocabulary generally remained behind the other children.  By year six they were approximately three years behind their peers in vocabulary, reading and comprehension.

But what of teenagers?  Is this a time for them to stop reading and focus on computer coding and superhero movies?  Jonathon Douglas, of the National Literacy Trust (U.K.) doesn’t think so in his 2013 article “The Importance of Instilling a Need to Read”

“Teens who choose to pick up a book for pleasure are more likely to succeed in life.”

His article intimates that reading for pleasure reveals a predisposition for life-long learning which he suggests explains increased social mobility.  If life-long reading is one indicator for success, then how may you encourage your moody teenage, or pre-teen, to put down the games console in exchange for the printed word?

We are unlikely to read material that doesn’t interest us, so to encourage a reading for pleasure environment in your household you should supply reading material (graphic novels, magazines, fiction and non-fiction novels) that will be of interest to your teenager.  Hopefully, the school library will also have a supply of reading material that falls outside the curriculum.

What about reading on the internet?  Research has shown that we adopt different styles of reading for different formats.  Internet reading tends to lead to short concentration skimming rather than long-term absorption.

Over the past few decades, authors have been producing extraordinary books written with the adolescent in mind.  These books deal with issues teenagers may be exposed to or experiencing in their life and allows them to deal with them from the safety of the book.

This is not to say teenagers should not be exposed to the classics of Dickens and the like, but there are books more relevant to them and their time.  The classics may come later in life with the pleasure of reading.

Exploring the world through books, gathering information and understanding develops a solid core of knowledge upon which to build ethics, morality and character that becomes the young adult.

By Peter Kenyon: Tutor

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“F” is for Foundations

If your child was an average student last year, chances are they will be an average student this year.  If they struggled with maths last year, they will probably be struggling with maths this year.  Nothing changes unless something changes.  What must change to improve your child’s grades?

The first thing that must change is someone’s attitude.  Children are children and they will not change unless they are given a reason to change.  Telling them to do better or to change their ways will probably not get the result you, as a parent, desire because they do not know how to change.  They are children, they are young, and have a limited frame of reference when it comes to change.  They must be taught how to change.  At this stage, the biggest change must be in you as a parent.  You must make the decisions for them, and then guide them along the path.

One of the biggest issues seen with students is they have problems with weak foundations.  They simply don’t know their multiplication tables up to their year level and they don’t have in place a memory of subtraction and addition of the numbers up to twenty (20).   No matter how well a student understands the mathematical concept they are being taught at school, if they can’t perform the foundations, they will not be able to solve the maths problem.  Continually getting the wrong answer whittles away their confidence.

Every student needs to build strong foundations.  You can’t have lasting structure without strong foundations.

By Peter Kenyon: Online Maths Tutor

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“E” is for Enough Sleep

“Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” – Benjamin Franklin

And on the other side of the coin insufficient sleep will make children:

  • Hyperactive.
  • Lacking in confidence.
  • Irritable.
  • Inattentive; and
  • Fall behind in class

If this sounds like your youngster then it is so easy to fix.

Much study has been devoted to knowing how much sleep is needed, or not needed, to remain healthy and productive.  The conclusion being “…. there is a lot of individual differences in what children and adolescents need to sleep to be at their best.” (Australian Centre for Sleep Education).

As a general guide, primary school students require between ten and twelve hours of sleep per day, while secondary (higher) school students get by with eight to ten hours each night.  Research has indicated children of any age will arise at about the same time each day so the difference in hours of slumber occurs at the time of going to bed. 

What time should a child go to bed to be at their peak the next day?  To make this exercise easier and because Australian schools commence at 9:00 a.m. let’s assume our children get up at seven to start their day during the week.  This would require a primary school student to be in bed by 7:00 p.m. and no later than 9:00 the night before, and our secondary student in bed by 9:00 pm no later than 11:00.

The younger the child the more sleep required.  Students from grades one to three require closer to twelve hours of sleep each weeknight while those from grade four to six/seven may drop to needing ten hours of sleep. 

Problems occur with teenagers as their bodies are not ready for sleep when the clock says it is time for bed and they stay up whiling away the hours until slumber overtakes them.  Unfortunately, the activities they do while waiting to sleep may not be conducive to bringing sleep on and they miss out on their required sleep quota.  They then go into sleep debt which they try to reclaim on weekends by sleeping in.  This problem may be compounded by staying up later during weekend nights to interact with friends and sleeping even more of the morning away to further knock the body clock around and make sleeping during the week more difficult.  As a parent, you must take control of this situation.

Children deprived of sleep, like adults, are hard to rouse and will feel sleepy during the early part of the day.  Unlike adults, primary school students will become more active during the day, though still be less able to concentrate. 

Because they have become more wired, they will be less likely to fall asleep easily, thus becoming more sleep deprived.  Parents may have trouble identifying a young child who is not getting enough sleep because they are active.

Some home factors compound sleep deprivation in children.  Families in general are not going to bed as early as they need.  For one reason or another, parents are staying up later and as role models may be setting poor examples of a healthy lifestyle.

We see how the concentration of a child who has insufficient sleep is affected in our tuition room.  A student who the previous week was performing wonderfully on our program suddenly has low scores and answers very few questions.  When asked what they did the previous night the answer always involved a late night of movie watching, game playing, internet surfing or social media.  We have also seen how a poor student changes so quickly when they stop being tired.

You can take steps to create good sleep habits by cleaning up the bedroom and time leading up to retiring.  Some good sleep hygiene habits are:

  • No T.V., computer, mobile phone or exercise 1 hour before going to bed.
  • No T.V., computer, mobile phone in the bedroom.
  • No coke or caffeine drinks 2-3 hours before sleeping.
  • Set bedtimes and wake times and keep them to form healthy habits.
  • As a parent, be a good role model and lead by example.
Visit the Australian Centre for Education in Sleep website for a more comprehensive read.

By Peter Kenyon: Tutor

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‘D’ is for Don’t Give Up

People, being social animals, need to mix with others and children are no different.  So, what is going on when a child who was excited about attending school is suddenly resisting?

At the start of the school year there are mixed emotions from the new students.  Most of the time going to school for the first time will be met with excitement generated from buying books, a school bag, trying on uniforms and covering schoolbooks. 

The first day or three will be an absolute dream, unless it is your first child going off to school and the tears come from you.  There will come a time when the novelty wears off and your eager young prodigy will dig their heels in explaining they have finished with school.

Sometimes explaining that this is their lot for the next twelve plus years (an explanation better than that I hope) will have them merrily kitting up for the next day, however at times there may be a deeper problem. 

School refusal is an emotional problem experienced by some parents with their children.  Some signs of school refusal are when your child:

  • Throws tantrums about going to school
  • Hides when it is time to leave for school
  • Begs or pleads not to be taken to school
  • Complains about being ill when it is time to leave for school

There are other indicators for school refusal you may read about on the Raising Children website.  Addressing the cause is the key to handling the problem.  There are many causes, but tuition may help when the cause is school refusal because of academic problems.

It is sad to think a Year One student is experiencing academic problems, but it does occur with no fault of any person.  A new school student may be having difficulties because:

The assumed knowledge of Year One (e.g. spatial skills, order and counting, grouping, singing the alphabet) has not been learned in Prep.

The student is not quite ready to learn.  Sometimes students struggle with learning something they see others around them learn easily.  They become frustrated to tears, at which point we praise them for giving it a go.  One day their eyes light up as they have answered a question correctly, but more importantly they understood the question they answered.  Their brain is now ready to learn, and they take off catching the class (with the help of tuition) and at times moving to the head of the class with their results.  Every child is ready to learn at a different time, so you never give up on them.  Sometimes they are seven years of age before they are ready academically for school.  This is a problem when school commences at five years of age.

The student has a learning disability and this may be something as simple to correct as a tracking issue.

Sometimes you may need the assistance of your G.P. or a child psychologist to help overcome your student’s school anxiety or low academic results.  Never give up on them and consider an after-school tuition program to help subdue their anxieties and achieve academically.

By Peter Kenyon: Tutor

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“C” is for Copy Book

The downside to the Information Age is the decrease in fine motor skills used for writing. 

It is a problem presenting more often as laptops and tablets replace the use of pad and pen.  An increasing number of students are unable to form legible letters of the alphabet or write numbers clearly enough so they may read them thirty seconds later.

Some students going into Year 8 are incapable of writing between the lines of a paper or forming numbers within the squares of a quad ruled page.  Students in Year 5 are unable to produce or read their name in cursive script.  These students are struggling with the fine motor skills required to help them to learn.

An article by Maria Konnikova, “What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades?”, suggests evidence is emerging of a greater link between handwriting and learning.  It appears children learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand.

Learning is a complicated process.  When we reproduce letters or anything else by hand, a plan is required before executing the action.  The result is highly variable in that it will not exactly represent the original.  Learning to identify variable representations is important to decoding letters when reading.

The research by Virginia Berninger, a psychologist at University of Washington, indicated that when a child who composed text by hand (either printing or cursive) “They not only consistently produced more words more quickly than they did on the keyboard, but expressed more ideas.”

There is also a suggestion of different neuropathways being developed in the brain when a child progresses on from printing to cursive writing.

Researchers at the University of California have reported laboratory and real-world studies of students learning better when they take notes by hand than when they type on a keyboard.

I ask you, “Is it time to throw away the pen and paper and adopt the technology of the keyboard?  Was it time to give up walking when we invented the car?”

My suggestion to help build a better student is to let your pre-school child use colouring books and pencils; jigsaw puzzles and building blocks; to help develop fine motor skills.  When they are at school continue to use the old-fashioned copy book, so your student may practise and learn to form letters and numbers.  Encourage them to practise twenty minutes a day until they are proficient with writing the printed word.  Allow this to develop into the practice of cursive writing so they may be able to record classroom notes in secondary school, lecture notes at university or record the minutes of a business meeting.

We may lose so much by giving up the pen.

By Peter Kenyon: Tutor

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“A” is for the Academic Year

Sometimes there just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in a day to fit in what needs to be done, and there seems to be not enough weeks in the year for the school curriculum. 

There are forty academic weeks to the Australian school year.  This is little enough time to squeeze in the content of the curriculum.  The problem is the school year is not exactly forty weeks.

There are several public holidays to be removed, and then there are “student free” days also to be taken out.  If we remove the school camp that all students seem to be attending these days, sick days and time spent out of school for one reason or another (sports, museums, etc.) then we have a shortened academic year. 

This all puts our teachers and students under pressure as a larger amount of acquired knowledge is squeezed into a reduced amount of attendance time.

“A” initially stood for Academic Year but now I think it should stand for “Attendance”. 

So, how do you make a better student?  Don’t add to the problem by reducing your student’s school attendance by removing them from school for a week-long holiday because it is more convenient.

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“U” is for Understanding the Curriculum

There has been some talk of late about the school curriculum and the changes it is going through.  These changes, like any change, cause ripple effects of anxiety on students, teachers and parents.  But what are the learning expectations of our young students?

I have been looking at www.australiancurriculum.edu.au for some guidance just so I, as a tutor, am aware and aligned with expectations.  I would advise popping onto the website and having a look.  Meanwhile I will give a brief summary focusing on maths as this is the area parent seek the most guidance from tutors.

Year 1

By the end of Year One a school student is expected to know the numbers to one hundred; skip count by 2, 5 and 10; and be able to locate numbers on a number line.  Simple addition is accomplished by counting on, re-arranging or performing partitioning.  Fractions are introduced as they learn to recognise “1/2″ and be able to tell the time to the half hour.

I mentioned only a small area of the curriculum as these are the areas I see most when a student is presented for tuition.  At this stage of learning any short coming in these areas may be made up by parents sitting down with their little one and turn learning into some form of game.  There are several aids available from various websites and suggestions on the Australian Curriculum site.

Year 2

If you are a parent with a young student in Australia, then chances are you have your mind in a muddle as to education expectations.

In Year 1 students have mastered the numbers up to 100 and skip counting by 2, 5 and 10.  This year sees them progress even further on the number line as they move towards recognising and placing order to the numbers to 1,000, and investigate the number sequences of 2, 3, 5 and 10.  It is this year they explore the connection between subtraction and addition.

By the end of this year they will master reading a clock (analogue and digital) to the quarter hour using the words “to” and “past” appropriately.   They will be able to name the months of the year in the correct order as well as the seasons of the year.  They will be able to use a calendar to find the date and know the number of days to the month.

This is only a small amount that is on the curriculum and only relates to maths as this is the area, as a tutor, I see the most problems. 

How can you help your child with their studies?  Do you remember this:“Thirty days has September, April, June and November,all the rest have thirty-one days clear,except February alone which has twenty-eight daysand twenty-nine each leap year.

Year 3

“These are the best years of your life.”, self-assuring words spruiked by many a parent and teacher to seven-year old students who don’t need reassurance after remembering their potty-training years.  They have just cruised through the first two years of primary school, they know all the numbers, the alphabet and can write their name; what else is there to learn?

Year 3 is where many young students realise their world will never be the same again.  It is during this year they discover numbers do not stop at 1,000 but continue all the way to 10,000 and they must know their order, place value, and be able to recognise if they are odd or even!   Not only that but there are numbers smaller than one that no-one told them about as they are introduced to the fractions 1/2, 1/4, 1/3, and 1/5.

When learning the multiplication table by heart for 2, 3, 5 and 10 no-one warned them about having to manage multiplying a two-digit number by a single digit number, without a smart phone.  In fact, they are expected to develop strategies to perform addition and subtraction in their head (mental maths).  Counting on, regrouping and partitioning are all strategies employed to perform mental maths.

It is during this year our students are introduced to metric measurement.  I hear very few complaints from students in our tuition centre about learning measurements.  I simply remind them that learning 1,000 metres equals one kilometre is much easier than remembering there are 1,760 yards to a mile, 22 yards to a chain, or 16 ounces to a pound.

Yes, there is a lot to learn in Year 3 (and this is only maths) and yes, these may be the best years of their life because Year 5 is ahead of them, but we won’t tell them about that yet.

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