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7 Things I’ve Learnt About Education Over The Past 14 years Running Spectrum Tuition

‘Education is the best weapon you can use to change the world’ – Nelson Mandela.

It’s a bit hard to believe that Spectrum Tuition is heading into its 15th year. Over the years, we have been helping both students who struggle to keep up with their classmates as well as students who are so bright that their mainstream schools struggle to keep up with them. As a result, I have been given a unique insight into how to best cater to students from these two extremes as well as gain a wider understanding of how the education system works from the inside.

With the school year fast approaching and as a parent to a child who is about to start school this year, I thought it’d be a good time to share the most significant learnings I’ve developed over the time I’ve been running Spectrum Tuition. This is so that you too are equipped with the knowledge to make more informed decisions for your children.

Here are 7 of the most important lessons I have learnt about educating mainstream students from my experience running Spectrum Tuition.

1. Students should be grouped based on ability, rather than age.

Most topics at school are based on a series of skills that if learnt in the correct sequence will lead to success.

If your child is finding a specific topic difficult, it is rare that this is the only topic they are having problems with at school. A student who is having problems with fractions or algebra is most likely also having problems with multiplication or division. If a child is struggling with spelling or reading, it’s because they don’t have a strong enough handle on phonics. Most topics at school build on from earlier topics.

We do not recommend placing children into classes that may be beyond their ability level before they have built a strong enough foundation in earlier topics because they will constantly feel like they need to catch up. Children develop and mature differently and to ensure that they achieve high results at school, they need to be taught at a level where they can engage with the material as well as provide enough of a challenge to give them the best opportunity to shine.

This is why at Spectrum Tuition, our number one priority when new parents enquire about classes is to book in for a free, no obligation assessment where we thoroughly assess students’ existing abilities in writing, grammar/ punctuation, reading comprehension and mathematics across several year levels in order to pin-point exactly what your child’s level is in order to tailor a plan to best meet their specific needs.

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How A Child Overcame Illiteracy In Just A Few Short Months

I first met Carly*, a Grade 2 student, when she came in for her initial assessment back in April. She was bright, looked me in the eye when she answered my questions and spoke with a nice, loud voice. Carly enjoyed drawing, painting and playing on the playground, but found it difficult to read. She wanted to learn but didn’t like going to school because she found it really difficult.

Her parents wanted to initially enrol her because the school she attended did not set any homework, and they felt she needed to do more in order to build up confidence in her studies before doing the NAPLAN test the following year.

We conducted our assessment and what we found was that:

  • At Grade 2, Carly could not write her name properly.
  • At Grade 2, Carly could not count to 10.
  • At Grade 2, Carly did not know how to add or count back from 10.
  • At Grade 2, Carly could not read or spell simple words such as ‘cat’ and ‘dog’.
  • At Grade 2, Carly did not know any of her letter sounds.
  • At Grade 2, Carly could not recognise all the letters of the alphabet.

Our assessment showed that Carly needed to start at the very beginning and we enrolled her into our Prep class. Although Carly recognised that she was behind, she wanted to do better at school.

Parent talking to child

10 Different Ways Of Asking “How Was School?” That Might Get An Answer

Does this following conversation sound familiar?

Parent: How was school today?

Student: Ok. Parent: Nothing interesting happened?

Student: No. Do we have anything to eat?

Parent: …

Asking your child about their day at school is often one of the most difficult tasks in the world. They’re tired, they just want to relax, and the last thing they want to do is to be interrogated. But, on your end, all you want is to know how they’re doing, whether they’re enjoying their subjects, whether they’re having any trouble and whether you can do anything to help. It’s a difficult situation, so today I will provide 10 different questions you can use to ask your child about their day at school.

  1. What was the best thing that happened at school today?
  2. What was the worst thing that happened at school today?
  3. Tell me one thing that you are looking forward to tomorrow.
  4. Did anything surprise you at school today?
  5. Tell me one thing that you learned today.
  6. What do you think you should learn more/less of at school?
  7. If you could go back and do today over again, is there anything you would change?
  8. What was the nicest thing you did for someone/someone did for you today?
  9. If you had to describe your day using 4 words, what would they be?
  10. If you got to be the teacher tomorrow what would you do?

How do you go about talking to your child about their day at school? If you have any good tactics, let us know in the comments!

How To Get Your Head Around Long Term Goals

Don’t you find that the biggest and most rewarding things are always the hardest to achieve? This is because, to a large extent, our brains are mostly incapable of dealing with large-scale long-term goals. Our minds are very good at focusing on the immediate future: what we want to do on the weekend, what we want to eat for dinner and whether or not we feel like sleeping in. But we are much worse at thinking practically about the long term future: what we have to do to get into the University course of our dreams, what we can do to achieve a high ATAR score. When we think about these goals, it is often hard to figure out how to act on them. Today, I will provide my top 5 tips on how to get your head around your own long-term goals and start working towards them today.

1. Understand your motivation

Before you can start working towards a long-term goal, you need to understand your motivation. What do you hope to achieve? Why do you want to achieve this? How will you feel when you achieve it? The more you focus on your motivation and exactly why you care about the particular goal, the more likely it is that you will work hard towards achieving it

2. Set smaller milestones

As I have said, our brains are pretty terrible at thinking in the long term. If you plan something that you want to achieve in a year, you will either find yourself overwhelmed by the enormity of the task or entirely apathetic and inclined to procrastinate.Ideally, you should set yourself clear milestones of what you wish to achieve at least every couple of weeks. This will make it easier to plan what you have to do.

3. Make a clear plan

“Work hard” is not a plan. “Study every day” is not a plan. “Get better at maths” is not a plan. In order to achieve a long-term goal, it is important to set yourself clear objectives and clear instructions as to exactly what you need to do each day to achieve it. Do this when you are most motivated and make sure you live up to the tasks that you have set yourself.

4. Assess your progress regularly

Every couple of weeks, it is important to check your progress and ask yourself whether or not you are on track to achieve your goal. Try not to think about this in terms of succeeding or failing; rather think about whether or not you can change anything in the immediate future to make it easier for your to achieve your milestones. Perhaps you need a new plan, or perhaps you need to reassess your motivations.

5. Enjoy your successes

A lot of students forget that they are allowed to enjoy their successes. Every time you achieve a short-term goal, every time you make progress towards your long-term goal, you should allow yourself to feel a sense of accomplishment. We are driven by emotions; the more you link your hard work to positive feelings, the more you congratulate yourself for your efforts, the harder you are likely to work in the future.

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Top 10 Signs Of A Gifted Child

Intellectual giftedness is often a confusing and complex concept for parents to get their head around, particularly because there is no one clear definition of what it is that makes a “gifted” child. In general, the term refers to children or adults whose IQ are over 130 and, as such, lie in the top 2 percent of the population. However, there is no clear cut distinction between a gifted and a non-gifted child; children mature at different rates and develop different capacities and skill sets. Giftedness is more often associated with academic success; gifted children often excel at one or more areas of their education, though their talents, if not properly fostered, might also leave them feeling unsatisfied, bored or isolated at school. As a parent, you are in the best possible position to identify whether your child has any unusual capabilities and, if so, make sure they receive the support that they need to reach their potential. Here are the top 10 things that, at a young age, might suggest giftedness in a child.

1. Specific Talents

Does your child have a specific skill that seems impressive for their age, such as musical ability, creativity, language comprehension or numeracy skills?

2. Expanding Vocabulary

Does your child seem to pick up, understand and use words quicker and more naturally than other children their age?

3. Asks “What If?” Questions

Does your child think about situations in an abstract manner? Do they ask lots of hypothetical questions?

4. Relentless Curiosity

Does your child seem constantly hungry to learn more and more about the world? Do they pursue things that they are interested in?

5. Vivid Imagination

Does your child seem particularly creative or imaginative? Do they have an aptitude for telling stories, drawing pictures or creating imaginary situations?

6. Memorisation Of Facts

Is your child able to recall facts with unusual accuracy? Does your child seem to have an encyclopaedic memory of everything they are taught?

7. Observation Skills

Does your child notice things that other children their age, or even you, don’t? For example, does your child remember exactly where you set down the set of keys that you can’t find in the morning?

8. Problem Solving Skills

Does your child come up with creative and novel solutions to problems that they face in their day-to-day life. Do they tend to solve their own problems rather than coming to you for assistance.

9. Sense Of Justice Or Fairness

Does your child seem to express an above average concern for the ethical or moral implications of situations? Are they able to put themselves into other people’s perspectives and think about big-picture issues such as fairness and justice?

10. Sense Of Humour

Is your child able to understand and tell complex jokes? Does your child have a good sense of comedic timing? Though this may not seem like an academic skill, a good sense of humour often requires high levels of intelligence.

If you suspect that your child may be gifted, you might be initially quite daunted by the responsibilities and challenges that this may prevent. However, every expert will tell you the same thing: relax. Before your child starts school, there is no need to subject them to an IQ test or put any undue pressure on them. This may have a negative impact upon their attitude towards learning. What you should do, however, is support and foster their growing interests and encourage your child to pursue them to their fullest potential. When your child starts school, however, it is important to keep an eye on them to make sure that they are receiving the support that they need. Gifted children can often feel stifled, frustrated or alienated within a conventional school environment, and it is important to ensure that this does not hamper their educational and social development. You may choose to get your child’s IQ tested. If it does turn out that your child has a significantly high IQ, then there are plenty of resources available to help your figure out how to best support your child’s need. A good first stop for information is the Australian Association for the Education of the Gifted and Talented.

What Kind Of Learner Is Your Child?

Did you know that not all children learn in the same way. In fact, there are 7 different intelligences or ways to learn? These 7 different learning styles are known as Musical, Visual, Verbal, Logical, Kinaesthetic, Social and Reflective. Each child has a different style that works best for them. Quite often, when students struggle with new concepts, the problem lies, not with their ability to learn, but with the style in which the material is being taught. Figuring out what kind of learner your child is will put you at a great advantage when it comes to helping with their education in the future. Today, I will explain the 7 different styles of learning and how you can figure out what kind of learner your child is.

1. Musical Learners

Musical learners respond well to sounds, melodies and rhythms. The things that they remember and appreciate the most are those things that they can chant, sing or put into a rhythm. Depending on their age, musical learners can benefit from simple chants such as “three in the bed”, singing the alphabet song, listening to times tables songs, or even using music to remember the periodic table!

2. Visual Learners

Visual learners prefer to see what they are learning. They respond extremely well to pictures, diagrams, colour codes and mind maps. Often, they have trouble organising their ideas unless they can sketch them out on a page. Visual learners benefit greatly from having paper, post-it notes, highlighters and coloured pens and pencils at their disposal when brainstorming ideas.

 3. Verbal Learners

Verbal learners love language. They respond well to written or spoken explanations and work best when they can put their ideas into words. Verbal learners are often avid readers, and they find it easier to crystallise their ideas by writing them down.

 4. Logical Learners

Logical learners prefer clear, consistent rules. They don’t like ambiguity or uncertainty, but prefer to know the exact steps that they have to follow to solve a particular problem. Predictably, logical learners often take to Mathematics due to its predictable and reliably logical nature. That is not to say, however, that they can’t excel in other subjects as long as they are able to figure out a clear, consistent approach.

 5. Kinaesthetic Learners

Kinaesthetic learners are physical people. They feel most confident when they are moving or engaging in physical activity. Whilst most people associate learning with sitting still and reading a book, kinaesthetic learners prefer a hands on approach.

How To Help Your Child Avoid Distractions While Studying

Distractions are everywhere. No matter how enthusiastic or dedicated your child is about their studies, we live in a world that is designed to divert their attention elsewhere. Surrounded by television, video games and mobile phones, it can be almost impossible for a student today to give 100% of their attention to their homework or study. However, there are some things you can do to make it easier for your child to avoid distractions; check out my top 5 tips!

1. Establish Boundaries Between Work And Relaxation

One of the main reasons that students get so distracted, particularly when studying or doing homework, is that there is very little difference between the space in which they study and the space in which they relax. A lot of students try to study on the couch, in bed, and in front of the TV. It’s only natural that they find it hard to switch into the serious, focused mindset required for study. In order to ensure that your child avoids distractions, it is important that they have a dedicated study area that they use only for their studies. This will help them establish firmer boundaries between study time and relaxation time.

2. Make Their Free Time Count

Just as it’s important for your child to be entirely focused on their studies during study time, it’s also important that they are able to fully relax during their free time. The best students are those that work hard for a period of time and then allow themselves to put away their work, close their computer and fully enjoy their free time. These students are the ones that will work extra hard to get their work done on time, because they know that they won’t be thinking about it all once it comes time to relax.

3. Focus On Short Term Goals

It’s a simple fact that it is much easier to focus on short-term goals than on long-term goals. For example, if your child has two weeks to write a long essay, it is likely that they will be overwhelmed by the enormity of the task and find ways of distracting themselves until the last minute. If you asked them what they were working on, they would say “I’m working on my essay,” but this is vague and means nothing. Each night, your child should set a short-term goal that they can realistically achieve that night. If you ask them what they are working on, they should be able to say, “I am going through my books and making a list of important quotes to include in my essay” or “I am writing the first two paragraphs of my essay.” The more specific these short term goals are, the more likely it is that they will have to focus to get them done!

4. See To Their Basic Needs First

It is impossible to study effectively if you are hungry, thirsty of sleep deprived. The first step to ensuring that your child is able to focus effectively on their study is to make sure that they are well hydrated, well fed and have had a good night’s sleep the night before. Without these vital ingredients, your child’s brain will never be able to work at full capacity.

5. Set A Positive Example

Your child learns most of their qualities from you; you are the most important influence on their life. One of the best things you can do to help your child focus on their studies is demonstrate the ways in which you also focus on a similar task. For example, when I was young, my Mum would sit down at the dining room table with me while I did my homework and sort out all the bills, paperwork, and forms that she had to deal with that week. This set a positive example for me, and it made me feel like we were both working together to achieve our goals. And once we were both done, we could both relax and enjoy the rest of the night.

6 Education Apps For The Summer Holidays

Kids today are far more exposed to technology than ever before. With the summer holidays on their way, you can expect to see fewer kids playing in the park and riding their bikes and more kids glaring at their video games, computers, mobile phones and iPads. There are obvious downsides to this increased technologisation of childhood; there is no doubt that parents should strictly limit the time that their child spends in front of a screen each day. But it is not all doom and gloom. While new technologies may have negative side effects, they also offer valuable opportunities, particularly for your child’s education. Many teachers and education experts are coming to recognise that tablets such as the iPad, if used correctly, can play a valuable role in engaging students in their education. If your child is going to spend a large portion of their holidays playing on an iPad, wouldn’t you prefer they be doing something that will expand their minds, ignite their curiosity and put them in a better position to succeed at school next year? If so, check out my list of 6 great educational apps for the summer holidays. I have arranged them by recommended age to make sure you can find the best match for your child!

For Early Primary Students:

1. Tell Time – Little Matchups Game

Cost: Free

Ages: 4-8

This app is for younger kids who are learning to tell the time. It uses colourful animations and friendly characters to teach young kids how to read clocks in a fun and engaging way. Even better, it could easily be a great way to keep a Prep or Grade 1 child entertained while out shopping or visiting friends.

Check it out!

2. rED Writing – Learn to Write

Cost: $2.99

Ages: 4-8

This is the only app currently on iTunes that teaches children how to write letters and numbers using the Australian education approved fonts. If your child is still mastering the fine art of writing, then this is the app for them. This app is especially useful on the summer holidays, because this is the time when students are most likely to forget all of their valuable handwriting skills. rED Writing will ensure that when February comes, your child can still write their letters and numbers well.

Check it out!

For Primary Students:

3. Planets

Cost: Free

Ages: 8-14

Description: Planets is a free interactive 3D guide to our solar system. Children can easily navigate their way between the planets, learn interesting facts about each one and get an impression of the scale and magnitude of our solar system. This app is a great way to get kids excited about space. Combine it with a toy telescope under the Christmas tree or a trip to a planetarium or Scienceworks, and you’re sure to have an avid astronomer on your hands.

Check it out!

5. Comic Life

Ages: 8-14

One of the greatest benefit of new technology is that it empowers kids to express their creative side more than every before. Comic Life is a photo comic creation app. It allows kids to take photos of themselves, friends and family and turn them into a full comic narrative, with speech balloons, photo filters, templates, shapes, shadows and effects. The finished comics can even be used as cheap but personalised Christmas presents for family. The great thing about this app is that it won’t even seem like an “educational” app; your child might not even know that they are learning anything. Nevertheless, the ability to come up with and tell a story in an organised, creative and expressive manner is a valuable skill for students of all ages.

Check it out!

For Primary and Early High School Students:

4. Factor Samurai

Cost: $2.99

Ages: 8-16

Factor Samurai is a great way to learn times tables. You play as the samurai whose sacred duty is to cut all the numbers down to their prime factors. The game-play is similar to the popular “Fruit Samurai” game, but players are required to use their times tables skills as well as their reflexes. The ability to factorise large numbers quickly and accurately is a skill that will help your child from primary school to VCE; and if they can have fun while learning how to do so, everybody wins!

Check it out!

6. Geoboard, by The Math Learning Center

Cost: Free

Ages: 10-16

The Geoboard is a tool for exploring a variety of mathematical topics introduced in the higher years of Primary school and early years of High school. The app is great because it allows students to physically explore and interact with various areas of geometry. Students stretch bands around pegs to form line segments and polygons and make discoveries about perimeter, area, angles, congruence, fractions, and more.

Check it out!

Of course, these are only a few of the hundreds of education apps out there. Feel free to explore and find a program that is well suited to your child’s interest and areas of difficulty. The summer holidays are certainly not meant to be rigorous period of study, but if you can get your child engaged and excited about their education while they are relaxing and having fun (and if you can find a healthy balance between screen-based games, fresh air and exercise) then it’s a win-win!