Homework and assessment need a PR revamp! These are two cornerstones of a child’s academic development. The former should never be treated as a chore and the latter should be approached without a smidgeon of fear.
Assessment of a child’s current level of progress can be experienced in a variety of ways; formal feedback from an education professional, tailored testing in order to identify areas of relative strength and weakness, national testing, group consultations between parent, pupil and teacher and, of course, homework itself. Assessment is essential towards, both, the achievement and recognition of progress.
Homework is a pivotal factor in enabling a child to consolidate the knowledge and skills that they have learnt in the classroom. Furthermore, not only does homework increase their capacity to become a productive, independent learner; however, homework, also, offers a parent an immediate insight into what their child is being taught and how well they are processing these ideas.
Ultimately, these two components should be embraced as a perfectly normal, yet vital, part of a child’s successful journey through education. Homework and assessment are the glue that unite all three parties – teaching professional, parent and pupil.
Here are six bullet-point suggestions for how to get the most out of these two vital areas of academe:
Resist the urge to do your child’s homework for them. This does not offer a true reflection of a child’s understanding of a topic. As a teacher, homework is the gateway to understanding whether a child has grasped a topic sufficiently.
Adhering to the principle of ‘little and often’ is the best approach. It is not a good idea to sit down for hours on end at a time. This will lead to a loathing of learning!
If possible, homework should be completed in a quiet space, wherever this can be found. Studies have shown that changing the place in which you choose to complete your homework encourages a fresh and revitalised approach.
Welcome assessment as a mere learning tool. It is the first stepping stone towards a child’s academic improvement. Confidence can be gained from the recognition of areas of achievement and, moreover, progress can be targeted in a systematic way by an assessment’s identification of gaps in knowledge.
Discuss assessment with your child in an open and relaxed manner. The greater the dialogue, the more a child will realise that assessments are not horrible tests; rather, they are helpful guides towards realising one’s full academic potential.
Constructive criticism, conveyed in a positive and correct manner, is not an enemy. Perfection is an idiotic pursuit, as it can never be achieved. Strive for progress, not perfection.
Our 11+ revision classes take place throughout the month of August.
Our courses are designed in such a way so as to offer flexibility upon which day you can attend. Year after year, our August 11+ revision classes have been the vital catalyst towards ensuring that children achieve a positive result in September’s quiz. The classes give children comprehensive oversight of ALL aspects of the 11+ exam. In addition, these classes offer a healthy balance between the revision of essential and challenging 11+ topics, as well as a series of timed exercises. Our exclusive learning materials are developed in a way that reflect the precise nature and wording of the 11+ questions that they expect to face. The period between the end of the summer term and the beginning of the following academic year (the week when the date for the 11+ is, more often than not, set!) is a too long a time to neglect 11+ preparation. Our August revision classes are structured in a way that enables knowledge, skills and confidence to stay refreshed, topped up and further developed, whilst also allowing for those fundamental periods of rest and relaxation.
Supplementary learning, in the form of preparation for the 11+, should be carried out in a calm, systematic manner. A child must be taught in an inspiring way that aims to achieve a dual objective; consolidating knowledge and skills that are in tune with the national curriculum, whilst generating a love of learning that allows children to embrace those extra demands of the 11+ syllabus. In preparing for this quiz, the intention should always be to provide children with the core fundamentals of learning; the ability to problem solve and think logically, thus making a child a productive learner for the 11+ and beyond.
When should preparation begin?
If we take the avoidance of unnecessary hysteria to be the ultimate goal within 11+ preparation, like when preparing for anything in life, we want to avoid a mad rush. One extra hour a week (no more!), throughout Year 4, is incredibly helpful in introducing a child to the joys that can be gained through a stimulating form of supplementary education. With the demands presented by a vast national curriculum, Year 4 is vital in establishing those all-important solid foundations that will enable a child to hit the floor running when they enter Year 5. An extra hour a week can achieve four main things. It can cite gaps in knowledge that might have been missed as a result of the rapid coverage of topics at school, accelerate learning at a child’s own pace, help to maximise a child’s academic potential and discover a passion for learning.
The Year 5 journey:
These twelve months should be about receiving calm and professional advice, the opportunity to benefit from invigorating teaching, regular assessment and the development of new skills and confidence. The quiz needn’t be mentioned until June! The intention should be to build upon the progress achieved at school and relish the opportunity to learn new topics, such as reasoning, more advanced grammar rules, as well as Maths topics related to ratio, probability and algebra. With the popularity of after-school clubs and the fact that there are 168 hours in a week, two one-hour lessons a week, plus 45 minutes’ homework, is a relaxed and manageable amount of supplementary learning to undertake. The 11+ is not about succeed or fail. It is a mere barometer, serving to highlight whether a Grammar School is likely to be a suitable environment within which a child can learn and flourish at Secondary level.
The angst that surrounds the 11+ can be tied to three principal vehicles. In triggering an open discussion around these three areas, one hopes that we can begin to reduce the irrepressible frenzy that girdles this pressing Tunbridge Wells topic.
Firstly, the vast majority of schools are inclined to disregard the issue and not talk about it; nor do they appear to offer any assistance to pupils or parents. This creates a secretive aura around the issue, which presents a significant challenge to parents regarding their knowledge of how preparation should be approached most effectively. As a consequence, a fervent atmosphere of competition can make it even trickier for parents to know what the best course of action should be. My advice would be to seek an informed opinion from a specialist within this domain and put on the ear-muffs at the school gates!
Secondly, our great nation’s media would do well to dig beneath the veneer of this issue and develop a more profound debate about ‘tutoring’, our approach to assessments as a nation and grammar schools at large. I would suggest that the 11+ narrative, as projected by the media, has become stuck in a vacuum. Within recent years, an ever-wider demographic have begun to gain access to supplementary learning, as rates have been driven down by the emerging prominence of small group learning. Nowadays, more children than ever are benefiting from a more diversified educational experience and, consequently, are having the ceiling of aspiration removed, thus enabling them to realise their true potential.
Lastly, it goes without saying that parents always have the absolute best intentions for their child; however, all too often, this can boil over, producing high degrees of anxiety that can filter down to the very people for whom they desire the best for. This tension can be alleviated by talking to professionals who specialise in the area of the 11+ and by making sure that discussions around this topic are always open, honest and frank.
Supplementary learning, in the form of preparation for the 11+, should be carried out in a calm, systematic manner. A child must be taught in an inspiring way that aims to achieve a dual objective; consolidating knowledge and skills that are in tune with the national curriculum, whilst generating a love of learning that allows children to embrace those extra demands of the 11+ syllabus. In preparing for this quiz, the intention should always be to instil children with the core fundamentals of learning; the ability to problem solve and think logically, thus making a child a productive learner for the 11+ and beyond.
The benefit accrued through formal grammar being cemented as a cornerstone within primary learning cannot be underestimated. It is imperative that we seek to protect its place within the school curriculum, amidst an ever-whopping tidal wave of ungrammatical influence from mobile telephone users, colloquial speak and the social media glitterati. Whilst the last of this triumvirate has achieved much in fuelling mass communication amongst peoples, I am merely advocating the need to maintain a level of recognition towards the importance of good grammar, clear and concise sentence structures and not being consumed within a vacuous melee of verbal detritus.
Good grammar offers language users control of expression and communication in everyday life. Possessing a firm grasp of words and how they are most coherently deployed, helps speakers and writers to convey their emotions and purpose in a more effectual manner. Poor grammar can have the unfortunate effect of making someone appear like a toddler getting agitated because they cannot express their thoughts. In contrast, grammatical precision and decent written communication skills evoke a strong sense of professionalism. In taking presumptuous artistic licence with Sir Clement Attlee’s famous assertion, it could be argued that you can get away more easily by spouting a mildly cretinous idea whilst employing appropriate grammar than you can saying something perfectly sensible in essence, yet grammatically incorrect. The errors distract from the intent.
Good grammar can be linked to future achievement. The inclusion of grammar testing within school SATs exams as well as the Kent Test, is both worthwhile and admirable. It affirms the importance of grammar to the nation’s young from an early age. Sharing thoughts with one another is a vital aspect of learning and the clarity of message gained though grammatical correctness can help children to better understand and learn from their peers. If not taught, nor a recognition of its significance made apparent, linguistic rules will simply become a product of everyday conversation where mistakes are rife.
Whilst the Kent Test’s involvement of grammar within the English part of the eleven plus is pleasing to see, it is perhaps somewhat odd that they reduce writing to secondary consideration. The multiple choice comprehension and spelling, punctuation and grammar sections provide the basis for a child’s English mark; however, the creative writing part of the test goes un-assessed and only used in what are termed ‘borderline cases’. I am not sure that the time taken to mark such an amount of work is a plausible or morally justifiable excuse when making such an important decision about a child’s future education.
Creative writing is immensely useful in developing a child’s imagination and lateral thought process. It allows new solutions and ideas to be unearthed, as well as facilitating the fluidity of the brain. The written word is a wonderful way for children to express themselves as an individual. It must be communicated to children that they hold considerable power in being able to paint a picture in the reader’s mind. The freedom they possess to choose whatever language they so wish in order to captivate an audience is something that should fascinate them and thus stimulate intellectual and creative development. Rather than the English assessment for the Kent Test being exclusively tied to a multiple choice exam, it would be great to see a coming together of the core fundamentals that form a solid foundation of good English: spelling, punctuation, grammar, tools of analysis and creative exuberance.
Correct grammar is something that should never be trivialised. I hope that schools and national testing boards keep the momentum going in promoting this key message to children.