Joe’s Jotter: Parents and Primary School Children: Working in Harmony

With Primary school students having spent much time recently learning from home, parents are now taking a greater role and Interest in their children’s education. This is a difficult task, as many parents are working from home and trying to support their child’s learning also. Creating a consistent routine, keeping positive, keeping calm, putting rules and consequences in place, allowing time for your child, talking to and reassuring them are all factors that will contribute to producing a more harmonious learning environment.

I have worked with a Primary Teacher to develop this feature and I hope you will find it helpful as we move to a new normal and different ways of learning and communicating. In this feature I have included some areas we consider important to you as a parent at difficult times like these. I hope they are of some help and create a safe, happy and loving environment for your child.

It is important to plan a daily structure and involve your child in this process. With your child, sit down together and draw up a balanced timetable of learning, fun and breaks. A child will follow a timetable better if they help plan it and this will also build their confidence. In doing this you are giving them a level of ownership to control and determine their own routine.

Tips on planning a routine and timetable

  • Set times to get up and go to bed
  • Agree a timeline including structured work, recreational/practical activities, and breaks
  • Choose activities the child enjoys
  • Plan short sessions e.g. 20 mins and always allow flexibility. There is no set time if the learning is balanced and varied
  • Identify times you can work with them and times they can work independently
  • Aim to include movement breaks regularly throughout the day
  • Ask your child what they like to do and include this in the daily schedule
  • Introduce a positive reward system e.g. choice time, sticker chart. treats etc
  • Decorate the timetable and display it at your child’s eye level

Supporting Schoolwork at Home

Junior Infants – 2nd Class

The best way to support children of this age is to:

  • Sit with them as they work
  • Work for short intervals
  • Take movement and snack breaks
  • Use the outdoors to break away from tabletop tasks
  • Use a reward system
  • Encourage your child to focus on the task in front of them
  • Read words/questions carefully
  • Form letters correctly
  • Check correct pencil grip
  • Have concrete materials readily available for number work
  • Provide practical experiences for Maths work, e.g. Shapes around me, weighing food from the cupboard, counting, checking etc
  • Challenge them by asking different types of questions in various subject areas
  • Try and relate topic areas to your child’s own experiences
  • Always give praise and encouragement
3rd Class – 6th Class
  • Allow children to work independently as much as possible
  • Offer support and assistance as needed
  • Assess learning by observing, questioning and correcting work
  • Monitor presentation of work and handwriting
  • Look at their school workplan beforehand to familiarise yourself with the different subject areas
  • Use age appropriate actions from the ‘Junior Infants – 2nd Class’ list above

Outside the Classroom

It is important for your child to enjoy free time and activities they have fun with. Here are a range of activities that you and your child can choose from:

  • Practice how to keep safe during Corona virus spread
  • Exercise, sport, games
  • Imaginative free play
  • Fine motor skills: Lego, play dough, beading, building blocks and cutting
  • Linking in with loved ones and friends on voice calls and video calls as social interaction is very important
  • Learn life skills: indoors and outdoors (Choose jobs that children can do)

– Baking, cooking, gardening, (planting, weeding), setting the table, emptying the dishwasher, making their bed, tidying their room, folding clothes, sorting clothes, hanging out the washing, farming (safely) etc

Media and Online Time

It is important that your child has access to recommended online facilities during any school closures where possible. Ensure your child’s safety online and set up parent controls on devices to monitor child’s activities online. Below I will list some of the more useful websites you can work on with your child.

It’s a good idea to link with the school and class teacher through email, in order to give and receive feedback and to send on work samples for assessment.

Twelve Useful Websites to Support You as Parents

helpmykidlearn.ie (Learning for all Age Groups)

PrimaryScience.ie (Science)

twinkl.ie/offer (enter the code IRLTWINKLHELPS)

webwise.ie (Online safety)

vooks.com (Literacy)

starfall.com (Literacy)

scoilnet.ie (All curricular areas)

topmarks.co.uk (Maths)

learn.khanacademy.org/khan-academy-kids (Words and Numbers)

askaboutireland.ie (SESE)

krokotak.com  (Arts and crafts/colouring)

positiveparentingsolutions.com (Parental Advice)

 

More details about Joe as a Maths Tutor for Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate (2022), ACE Maths Assessments, and his Award winning ACE Maths Solution Books can be found via the links below.

W: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-maths-tuition
FB: facebook.com/JoeMcCormackEducationalExpert/

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Joe’s Jotter: Guidance on How to Improve Your Motivation

Students, did you find being at home all the time during lockdown with no teachers or fellow students to encourage and motivate you challenging? Most did in fairness. Even us adults struggled greatly with the situation. The reality, however, is that a good chunk of your preparation will be done ‘home alone’ no matter what the circumstances. There are plenty of things you can do to maintain high spirits and decent motivation levels, both for home and school time. Have a read of this feature article and pick out two or three things you can implement that might improve your motivation levels and your attitude towards schoolwork and the homework/revision you do each evening.

Firstly, set up a Lifestyle (Study) Timetable with all different subjects, different subtopics, and different ways of learning each day. Start with a trial run for three days and tweak it as you go along. Secondly, challenge the brain to perform different types of tasks every thirty minutes, whether that be taking notes, writing bullet points, watching a YouTube video, listening to an audio file or discussing a sub-topic on the phone with your friend. Variation in stimulus will trick the brain into maintaining concentration for longer. Mixing the above with regular breaks will alleviate boredom and increase productivity. These are definitely two starting points to drive the desire to be more successful, whether that be in a small class test or the final state exams for exam years.

Improving your Motivation at Home

Maintaining high motivation levels is an important element of getting any task completed. The first thing to realise is that you can achieve any goal by discovering ways to motivate yourself. The way we converse can sometimes reflect our motivation levels and can also increase them intrinsically, without us even knowing. Highly motivated individuals will use words like ‘could’, ‘will’, ‘may’, ‘like to’ as opposed to ‘must’, ‘won’t’, ‘can’t’ and ‘need to’. Writing, considering and repeating positive sentences out loud can improve motivation and reset a positive mind-set. Here are some examples of these sentences in the context of your exam year. You should re-write these into the back of your journal to reflect your own current situation and attitudes:

  • I want to start preparing myself for the upcoming exams.
  • I need to put a structured timetable in place.
  • I’d like to get into Third level when I complete school.
  • I should get my head in the books this week.
  • I must start working hard to reach my short-term goals.
  • I can achieve whatever I want through hard work.
  • I will deliver brilliant exam scripts in this year’s Junior/Leaving Cert.
  • I will get organised and sort this out step by step.
  • I know that I have plenty of ability.
  • I must organise to share study notes with my friends.
  • I can be as positive and as focused as anyone in my year.
  • I am a good all-rounder.
  • I am well able to take on this challenge.
  • I am a force to be reckoned with.
  • If it’s meant to be, it’s up to me.

Hearing about the study habits of others on Instagram or Snapchat can be a positive thing. Instead of feeling guilty about not being currently highly driven; use it to motivate yourself. The fact that there is someone out there competing against you, who wants your college place, should get you going and make you more determined.

Another motivating factor in your exam year is its length. The length of the school year is nine months, and with only a few months of that left now, you only really need to raise your game for that short period. Do you fancy repeating the year while your friends head off to college or employment? Not too appealing I would imagine. Again, don’t ignore these thoughts; instead use them as the driving factor every morning to ‘get started’, while always remembering It’s never too late to step into your own greatness! ?

It’s a nice idea to copy down your motivations into the back of your school journal, having a glance at them whenever you find yourself losing interest in your work. Having a role model friend who is very driven can also help you to fulfil your potential. Talk to as many former exam students as you can to find out how they navigated their path. Above all, I want you to compete against yourself and not anyone else. Use your previous results, grades and recent comments from your teachers to strive for something more.

Accept the Things You Currently Cannot Change

As this point in time, you need to reflect a little about what kind of a start you have made to the year.  Ask yourself now, “Am I on track to deliver a performance when the big day arrives?”, “Will I feel better or worse if I do absolutely nothing over the next week?” It is worth remembering that you cannot change the past and it shouldn’t limit you either. This week is a good time to start. I always remind my students that you can only shape your future through present actions. Start again tomorrow if today didn’t go so well. Move on and accept. For me, the prayer of serenity comes to mind here:

“Accepting the things, I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”

Having a bad day may commence a negative thought process: “I’ll drop down to pass or foundation to concentrate on other subjects”. You need to guard against one lapse destroying your desire to achieve at a given subject. A bad day is not a bad week and remember that this is a long-term project. However, there are things that you can control, including, keeping yourself as healthy as possible by eating well, exercising and completing those timetabled revision blocks you put in place.

In summary, find out what motivation techniques work for you and repeat them. Try not to worry about what you cannot control. At the minute, you have no control of when the exams will happen or even when you will be back in school. Your job now is to settle into a good revision routine at home. You can only do your best so try not to be too hard on yourself. Joe

More details about Joe as a Maths Tutor for Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate (2022), ACE Maths Assessments, and his Award winning ACE Maths Solution Books can be found via the links below.

W: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-maths-tuition
FB: facebook.com/JoeMcCormackEducationalExpert/

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Joe’s Jotter: Tips for 2nd and 3rd Years to Make the Most of their Evenings

Students, as we come towards the end of the first few weeks back in Secondary School, it is important now that you get into a routine of homework and revision, both during the week and at the weekend. Breaks are important for all students who are putting effort in at home each night, as well as giving yourself some wind down time before bed also. Over the next few months, try and improve the standard of your homework. Always take pride in how you complete written homework. Doing homework like a mini exam is the best form of preparation for your any upcoming tests. Here are four more practical tips you can try to get the more out of your evenings.

Be positive

Being positive will vastly improve your attitude towards study and therefore its quality. You should always focus on what you have studied, what you have learned or what you know as opposed to continually looking at what needs to be done. When you come across an awkward question, you need to box it off properly in your mind. Instead of thinking, “we haven’t covered this!” or “how is this relevant to what I know?”, you need to reflect on how it links into your subject, topics within the subject and what your Teacher has taught you in class.

The same goes for studying prior to the exam. Take control by changing the way you speak about your preparation. Instead of saying “I should be studying more”; be good to yourself and say, “Well I did a solid two hours this morning and will go back to it tonight”. Change “I should be…” to “I’m going to…” Research has shown that positive language can lead to more positive results. If you say: “I can’t climb that wall”, you are less likely to succeed in the task, as your brain has almost been auto programmed to fail. As a Maths teacher, I love this equation of positivity:

Positive attitude + Positive actions = Powerful results

Look after your eyes

You will be doing plenty of reading from textbooks, summary notes, post-its, flashcards and the likes over the next few years, so it is important to look after your eyes during this period. The expert’s advice on reducing eye strain is to apply the twenty-twenty-twenty rule. That is to take twenty seconds to look at something twenty feet away and repeat this every twenty minutes. Going outside on your breaks will get some fresh air to the eyes. Another good exercise is to simply rest your eyes in the palm of your hands for a few minutes, making sure that no light gets through. Too much time on devices wouldn’t be great for keeping your eyes fresh. Just saying!

Rotate your learning

The brain can only concentrate on a subject matter for a certain time period. At times, when I was penning my ACE book, I needed to get away and come back to it in order to maintain my focus. Rotate your work between memorising content, writing, oral work, audio, Internet research and watching documentaries. Most importantly, rotate your subjects. We all enjoy discovering about subjects we find interesting, but it is so important not to forget the subjects you find difficult or the ones you are just not as interested in. Rotation of stimulus will trick the brain into performing better and going for longer.

Become an active learner

During study sessions, always have a pen and a highlighter to hand. You should mark the key points onto your textbook, write brief comments at the side of the page or underline the important sentences. This information should be transferred to a summary page later. I really like this method of revision as it reduces the quantity (amount) of notes you have to analyse and there shouldn’t be a need to revisit that part of your textbook again. Active learning is a great way to keep yourself tuned into what you are studying. Spend time thinking about how you can use your life experiences and places visited to enhance essays or answers with a few extra bells and whistles. Individuality and drawing on your personal experiences are what every Teacher and examiner is looking out for. You need to try and stand out a bit from your fellow students.

Joe’s Jotter next week will provide students with six ACE pointers to settle them back into revision. Don’t miss it. To view last week’s feature article on ‘How to Perform Well in Subjects you Find Difficult’, click here. Get in touch if I can help you in any way. Joe.

More details about Joe as a Maths Tutor for Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate (2022) and his Award winning ACE Maths Solution Books can be found via the links below.

W: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-maths-tuition

FB: facebook.com/JoeMcCormackEducationalExpert/

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Joe’s Jotter: Performing Well in A Subject You Find Difficult (Case Study – Maths)

As you settle into the new year, teachers and parents totally understand that even though you are making great strides, you still have plenty of fears. From speaking with students over the years, I find it’s not the full set of exams that cause concern; it is usually only one or two subjects. Naturally everyone has their own talents and subjects they prefer. Personally, I was better at the Sciences than the languages, but I persevered and got the grades I wanted in the languages I chose.

Sometimes subjects you are not looking forward to are the ones that have you on guard and you end up doing better in; A paper on the day can go well in an exam you were dreading. I regularly hear welcome surprise coming from students on results day, with comments such as “I didn’t expect that result in xxxxx”. The moral of the story here is that too much concern about a subject could end in false worry and be draining you of energy; energy you need for revising and getting your head right.

Preparing for one of your less favoured subjects is a blatant case of having to ‘get on with it’. Of course, it is easier to revise and work on subjects you enjoy and are good at, but you must not ignore the others. Studying and preparing the ‘frog subjects’ is probably the biggest challenge you will face in school. You must prioritise these subjects on your ‘Lifestyle Study Timetable’. I will detail how to setup this timetable in a later blog feature. Author and reconstructive surgeon, Jack Penn, once said:

“One of the secrets in life is making stepping stones out of stumbling blocks”.

Maths is one of those subjects that many students find difficult. To me Maths is about grafting to understand the basics, building your confidence and not being prepared to give up easy. Always start by attempting the easier topic questions (usually the part a’s and b’s) and subsequently graduating to the part c’s and d’s. You should check your work as you go against a good quality solutions book and thus be constantly ‘learning by doing’. Here are some of my top tips to improve your performance in Maths (and its exam) at any level:

ACE Maths Tuition’s Top Tips for Success

  1. Put formulas, explanation of words and keynotes into a little pocket notebook.
  2. Practice as many past exam questions as you can and check your answers against a fully developed and explained solutions book.
  3. Challenge yourself to try and come up with a second method of doing questions.
  4. Try to approach each question from different angles. Always write down something. Do not be afraid of making a mistake.
  5. Draw a diagram (if possible) and label it to simplify a question.
  6. Be familiar with what is and what is not in your log tables.
  7. When studying, exhaust all attempts to answer an exam question before referring to your solutions book. Do not give up easily.
  8. Read each question in Maths carefully underlining the key words and phrases.
  9. At all levels, if you feel overwhelmed by the length and difficulty of the course – start with basic Algebra.
  10. Find yourself a study buddy to share questions and resources with. Discuss problems with each other and encourage.
  11. Use various Internet sites as a companion to improve your Maths skills.
  12. Consult your teacher about problems with topics or specific Maths questions during and after class.
  13. Start by attempting basic questions for each topic, building up to a full exam question. Answer the exact question being asked.
  14. The word FAIL in Maths for me means First Attempt In Learning.
  15. Do not be afraid to explain a solution to a question with words if you cannot do so with numbers and symbols.
  16. Spend five to ten minutes daily going over what you have learned in class.
  17. Every time you write down a formula, draw a box around it to help you remember it. Check if this formula is in your log tables. If not, you need to memorise it.
  18. Anything that you type into your calculator (related to a question) must be written on your answer book/copy also.
  19. Have all resources present when doing Maths questions i.e. Full Maths set, pencil, calculator, and log tables.
  20. 3rd and 6th Years, practice as many previous exam questions as you possibly can.
  21. Rewrite sample questions from your textbook to get an understanding of the basics.
  22. It is ok to look at a solution to a question if you have tried your best to solve it alone. Use the answer to figure out the exact method for the question.
  23. Work with groups of friends on harder Maths questions. Bounce ideas off each other in order to understand and learn from their thinking.
  24. Always write out every single step of your answer. This will be easy to look back, revise and follow later.
  25. Talk positive about subjects you find difficult. Don’t throw away your shot at success by talking your way into failure.

In next week’s Joe’s Jotter, I will advise 2nd and 3rd year students on how to restart a revision routine. Don’t miss it. To view last week’s feature article on ‘How to Efficiently Review your Exam Scripts’, click here. Get in touch if I can help you in any way. Joe.

More details about Joe as a Maths Tutor for Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate (2022) and his Award winning ACE Maths Solution Books can be found via the links below.

W: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-maths-tuition
FB: facebook.com/JoeMcCormackEducationalExpert/

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Joe’s Jotter: Navigating Secondary School as a Student with SEN

Students who have Special Educational Needs (SEN) can struggle with a variety of tasks each day at Secondary School. As teachers and parents, we want to make their transition to Secondary School as smooth as possible. This feature article gives some tips on how you can help your child navigate their day-to-day engagements more seamlessly. It also contains some useful advice and informative recommendations for Parents of Students with SEN that are already attending Secondary School (2nd Years upwards).

The ‘Home’ Support

  • Photocopy their timetable, have copies in their locker, on the fridge, in their journal and for their pocket.
  • Photocopy their bus ticket. Have a spare ticket in their school bag, at home and in their school locker in case it is misplaced.
  • Get colour coordinated folders. Give each subject a colour. For example, all English related work and notes goes into a green folder. Put a green sticker on the English textbook and English copies and colour code ‘English’ green on their timetable. If you have a map of the school, then the room where English class takes place should be shaded green also. Everything ‘English’ is green and so on.
  • If using a locker key, make multiple copies and get a springy key chain so that they can attach it to a loop on their pants or skirt. Alternatively, use a combination lock and get them to memorise the code between now and the start of school. Mark with nail varnish or spray paint to make it brighter and easier for them to see their property from a distance.
  • Have a stash of spare copies and stationery material in a cupboard. Let them know where it is, so that they can draw on it as things go missing or get filled up.
  • Have a morning checklist on the fridge for: books, lunch, key, jacket, PE gear etc.
  • If possible, arrange for them to tour the school before day one. It is also a good idea to do a trial run of their trip to school with them, to get an idea of the route and timing. This will avoid any travel trauma’s during week one.

The ‘School’ Support

  • If possible, arrange that they meet as many of their subject teachers and year head prior to starting back or as soon as is possible. This gives them certainty about who will be working with and helping them this year.
  • Look into having a safe and reliable person that they can approach for help and advice in school on a daily basis.
  • If they have an SNA, make sure that person also has a copy of their colour coordinated timetable, a spare key/combination code and bus-ticket.
  • Make it your business to get to know your child’s Assistant Principals and Class Tutor as soon as the year commences.
  • Have a notebook that they can write in during the day in case they find something challenging. Both of you can reflect on it together when a suitable time during the week arises to see what challenges might need to be overcome.
  • For the first hour each evening, allow them to breathe and relax when they get home. Do not expect them to talk immediately after school. It is advisable to allow them some quiet wind-down time first.
  • Advise them to choose a Locker at eye level. This is so important, as all their classmates and other classes may be scheduled to go to their lockers together, leading to mayhem at times. Having to reach down with people blocking their path can be especially challenging for someone with social or communication difficulties. This is definitely one practical suggestion that will ensure they are on time for each class and that they bring the correct materials to each class also.
  • Encourage them to link up with a buddy or designated person in each subject class, so they can text them to find out what homework they have, should the need arise.
  • If they are using a laptop, most Secondary School books now come with a code written inside to allow the eBook version of it to be uploaded digitally. This means they can leave more books at school each day, lightening their load.
  • Getting to know the school secretary, for both you and your child is definitely worthwhile, as they will have an awareness of who they are and their challenges etc. Any extra support or eyes around the Secondary School environment can help greatly for those who struggle in various practical ways.

To view last week’s feature article on ‘Transitioning to 1st Year from Primary’, click here.

More details about Joe as a Maths Tutor for Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate (2022), ACE Maths Assessments, and his Award winning ACE Maths Solution Books can be found via the links below.

W: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-maths-tuition
FB: facebook.com/JoeMcCormackEducationalExpert/

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Joe’s Jotter: ACE Tips for Transitioning into 1st Year (Part 2)

Practical steps to smooth the Transition into Secondary School

There are loads of steps and initiative’s both you and your child can take as they start Secondary school. In Part 2 of this feature, I will discuss three key areas for you to consider in order to ease this transition: One, the importance of learning support; two, your awareness of how the first few weeks are actually going for them; and three, practical tips for both you and your child to consider at school and at home.

The Importance of Learning Support

  • Secondary Schools will have learning support for your child. If your child’s new school are missing any key Information around this, ensure they get it as soon as possible. Many schools will have a staff meeting (in September), where your child’s year head will outline important strengths and weaknesses of each student.
  • Learning support at Secondary is different to that at Primary school level. Contact the school if they had been receiving any type of support at Primary that their new school may not be aware of.
  • Flag any difficulties that your child had in primary school, so that it is entered onto their personal file. The class tutor and year heads will then have access to it from there. Ensure to always request the correct learning supports that your child is entitled to.
  • If your child has complex special educational needs, they may need a transition plan to assist them to transfer to their new secondary school. You and your child will be involved in developing this plan. Other people may be involved, as necessary, including relevant teachers from their primary and post-primary school, NEPS psychologist, health professionals etc.
  • As appropriate, a support plan may also include information on your child’s learning, social and communication, care, (for example: dressing, toileting, mobility, and medication), sensory (such as over sensitivity to noise, textures, lights) and physical needs that require environmental adaptations such as adaptations to the school building, adapted seating or other specialised equipment.
  • Most post-primary schools will have links with their feeder primary schools. This allows for an easier transfer of information between them. Usually, there is contact between the 6th class primary/resource teacher and the receiving post-primary school. This will help to overcome any disconnect between what was taught in primary and the starting point in certain subjects at second level.
  • For all parents, I would recommend writing a one page profile about your child noting the difficulties and barriers they faced at primary school. Include in it the strategies that worked and that didn’t work for them. This would be valuable Information for their tutor, year head and individual subject teachers should you like them to have it. I know that as a teacher, I am always pleased to get Insights like this, should parents be willing to present them. It gives us as teachers a deeper understanding into how each child interacts and learns, allowing us to support and get to know our students better. Outcomes are always better with Informative Insights like these.

You may also wish to ask the school some key questions at the start of the school year…

  1. Where can my child go if they are struggling, anxious or having a meltdown?
  2. What happens at break and lunch time? i.e. unstructured time
  3. How can my child get help with reading, spelling, Maths, or homework?
  4. How will support during class assessments work in each subject?

Awareness of how they are Settling In

  1. Watch out for any early signs of bullying by regularly checking in with your child. Tune in from day one to see whats going on and whats being said. A lot of bullying goes on via their phone; so ask them to pass on any issues or concerns they may have e.g. a hurtful comment, message, or mean social media post.
  2. With things being a little unsettled for the first few weeks, establishing a routine is really important. I would try to maintain the dinner, bed, study, training, and recreational routines at home as best you can. Kids that are going through change crave some kind of routine and they will look to you for that stability.
  3. After the Initial settling in period is over, keep an eye out for disturbed sleep, anxiety, and poor eating habits – it may be a sign of something not being quite right at school.
  4. Watch out for emerging red flags i.e. Not wanting to do activities they enjoy, spend time with friends or worse, an unwillingness to go to school. Teach your child to talk to you.
  5. Ask them what classes they like?, Who are they sitting beside? Who are you hanging around with? What clubs have they? Always try and get an honest conversation going.
  6. Try to listen to them if they have had a bad day.
  7. In general, if you get them into good habits in 1st year, 2nd year will be way more straightforward (A major ACE tip here) especially from a communication viewpoint.

 Practical Tips for things to do……….together at home

  1. Make a few copies of their subject timetable.
  2. Photocopy the bus ticket, keeping a spare one in their locker and at home.
  3. Help them get organised with colour coordinated folders (available in most stationary shops). Give each subject a colour, so for example, English goes in the blue folder. Put a blue sticker on the English textbook/copies and colour ‘English’ blue on the timetable. If you have a map of the school, the room where English class is on would be blue also.
  4. Have a morning reminder checklist on the fridge for: PE gear, lunch, keys, jacket etc.
  5. Know the system. If they can view their books on a laptop, this may sometimes allow them to leave books in school. Most secondary school textbooks now come now with a code where you can upload them onto their laptop. Handy to know this Information.
  6. Making a distinctive mark on their belongings will give them a better chance of them not being lost or stolen, especially during the upheaval of the first few weeks.

Practical Tips for things they can do……….at school

  1. Having a safe person they can approach for help or advice, more than one if possible.
  2. Carefully minding their colour coordinated timetable, the spare key/code and bus-ticket.
  3. Trying to build a good relationship with their class tutor and year head.
  4. Having a notebook that they can write in during the day if they find something challenging. It is advisable not to expect them to talk immediately after school. Giving them some quiet processing time will allow you to get the chat going as the night progresses.
  5. Getting to know a friend in each class that they can text to find out what homework or revision they have for the next day. Classmates will vary depending on the subject.
  6. Getting to know the school secretary, should any issues or concerns arise.

To view part one of this feature article on ‘Transitioning into first year’. click here. Joe

More details about Joe as a Maths Tutor for Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate (2022), ACE Maths Assessments, and his Award winning ACE Maths Solution Books can be found via the links below.

W: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-maths-tuition
FB: facebook.com/JoeMcCormackEducationalExpert/

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Joe’s Jotter: ACE Tips for Transitioning into 1st Year (Part 1)

There are so many genuine concerns for students as they make the leap into the big pond that is secondary school. Over the next few weeks, I will provide some Information and direction to help you as a parent to reduce the stress of this unique transition. This feature article comes in two parts. Firstly, i will analyse the differences between Primary and Secondary School followed by my Top twenty tips for Transitioning from one to the other. A further instalment of this feature will follow online in two weeks’ time. There will also be a feature article to aid Parents (of Secondary School students) who have children with a Special Educational need (SEN) to follow soon.

The Main Differences Between Primary and Secondary School

 

Subjects and Settling into Secondary

  • All first year students will take Irish, English, Maths, Science, History and Wellbeing (excluding exemptions).
  • Students may get a chance to sample subjects in first year before committing to them.
  • Various extra-curricular activities such as debating, drama, science club etc available.
  • It is a great idea for students to join clubs and make new friends. Remind them about some of the skills of making friends; good eye-contact, smiling, showing interest in other children and reciprocal conversational skills. Making friends is a key element to settling into secondary school.
  • The more exercise that students get the better. I did a little study of a panel of footballers I coached previously, and they performed better on average academically compared to those in their year. This is another reason to get active and stuck into clubs and sports.
  • If your child enjoys a specific sport/club, it is a good idea to get to know the teacher who co-ordinates this.
  • It will be exciting for your child to start new subjects – woodwork, home economics and metalwork etc.
  • Students should give each subject an equal amount of homework time for the first few weeks to give each one a chance.
  • It is wise for students to complete the homework of their less favoured subjects first each evening. This will ensure their concentration is at its maximum for these subjects.
  • The better your child’s teachers know them, the better working relationship in class they will have with them. This feeds back into what extra-curricular activities they sign up to. Personally, I find that the better I know my students, the more I am able to help them.
  • Advise your child to enjoy their secondary school experiences. This takes any early pressure off them.

Secondary School Structure

  • The Subject Teacher – most teachers teach two subjects and may spend up to six classes per week with your child.
  • The Tutor/Form/Home Room Teacher – involved in attendance, day to day and possibly some pastoral care or discipline work.
  • The Year Head – Home room teachers report to this person. They usually deal with serious discipline or pastoral care issues also.
  • Deputy Principal and Principal – Admin, Organisation, Events, Final decisions etc.
  • Students are usually divided into 4/5 groups of 25/30 (depending on the size of the school) with possible class names being: 1a, 1b., 1c, 1d, 1e. They stay with this base class for core subjects: Irish, English, Maths, Wellbeing etc. The majority of schools have mixed ability classes in first year. This helps with socialisation. “Mixed-ability groupings in first Year leads to improved progress in literacy and numeracy and can give students more confidence as learners’ (Moving Up -ESRI/NCCA 2004).
  • Students are usually mixed based from Information from their Education Passport from primary school and performance in their entrance tests.
  • Streaming may occur in some subjects in second year. This is where students are grouped by their ability – Higher and Ordinary. e.g. Maths
  • The student council body suggests ideas and raises student related issues with school management. Usually one student is nominated from each class or year. This is the students’ vehicle for discussion and influencing change. The schools’ head girl/boy and deputy head girl/boy are usually elected by the school’s student council.

Day to Day School Routines

  1. It’s important to have a substantial breakfast each morning e.g. Porridge with fruit and yoghurt or a healthy cereal. Students will need something ample to sustain them until little break when they can have a snack. Advise them on the sensibility of not eating their packed lunch at 11am (the first small break) and being hungry for the afternoon then as a result.
  2. Roll call, locker access and lunch are at certain times. If your child is a bit scatty, make sure to advise and help them to be organised for these situations. Ask them to speak to their class tutor or mentor/buddy if any early issues emerge here.
  3. Get them to copy out their timetable into their journal in order to get familiar with it. Colour coding subjects on this timetable can help them track their progress for the week.
  4. In some schools, the students travel to the teacher’s base rooms. In other schools, the teachers move around, and each class has their own base. Movement may be reduced from now on. Having the correct materials for each class every day will be Important. Being good at this will greatly help the transition to secondary school.
  5. Moving around a new building can be disconcerting for a child. They can get lost and that’s upsetting for them. Advise them to tag on to one person from the class for the first few days or weeks until they get their bearings.
  6. Many schools have gone to hour long classes to facilitate the new Junior Cycle. During the first few weeks settling in, they will be tired each evening. It may be an idea to plan ahead so that extra-curricular activities outside school are minimised during this period. After this ‘fitting in’ period is over, plough on with these important pastimes as normal.

Twenty ACE Tips for Transitioning into 1st Year

  1. Talk with your child, listen to their views and concerns and answer any questions they may have about the planned move. Talk to them about individual subjects. Help them plan their evenings and the fact that each one will now be different.
  2. Many students get anxious about assessments. You can explain that they are to help the school to learn more about the supports that they may need. Advise them to speak with the individual subject teacher if they are concerned in any way about a subject or a test.
  3. Try and bring them inside the school building before term starts. This is to familiarise students with the school at a time when there are fewer students in the building. They can learn about the layout of the school, get to know some of their new teachers and become familiar with the operation of the school including the frequency of bells, the location of lockers, where their base room and other key practical rooms are.
  4. Involve your child in buying schoolbooks, uniform, P.E. gear etc. Involve them in more decision making from now on. Empowerment works.
  5. Talk to your son/daughter about the length of the school day, how a timetable works and how they are going to travel to school. Trial runs are good. Leave early for school each morning to minimise this anxiety. Anticipate where they may get anxious during the day.
  6. Talk regularly over the next few weeks about the new school rules, P.E. arrangements, the canteen, lunch breaks, uniform, and the timetable. Make yourself familiar with the policies of the school, regularly checking the school’s website for updates.
  7. Ensure as many of their subject teachers know about their exact strengths and difficulties. i.e. The information on their ‘Education Passport’.
  8. During the first term, if possible, visit the school every so often to meet their subject teachers, tutor, and year head. Always keep an eye on their journal for teachers’ notes.
  9. Get your hands on or draw up a map of the school to promote familarisation.
  10. Consider that it may take your child time to adapt to a new classroom, new activities, and new subjects. Ensure they build in down time each evening to maintain freshness and enthusiasm for the next set of challenges ahead. Unlike Primary School, every week differs.
  11. Organising Issues: Purchase materials for each subject. School booklists and stationary lists (from their website) are the first port of call here. The website theschoolrun.com is useful for an insight into each subject and Introductory worksheets.
  12. If possible, show them a few little skills around note-taking. Most of their subject teachers may not get the opportunity to work on this vital skill.
  13. Talk about and help clarify the Locker process. Many kids get bogged down with this.
  14. Advise them to use their mentor/buddy and class tutor as best they can.
  15. Getting clever at knowing what equipment is required for each class is important: i.e. protractors, setsquares, colours, stencil sets, rulers, pens, calculators etc. A good tip is to remind them to write down each teachers’ instructions during week one about what is required in each subject. There is no need to carry all of their books all of the time. Put their Timetable and Calendar on the fridge at home as a family reminder to all.
  16. Encourage them to sign up to a few clubs and society’s on ‘club’s day’ in September.
  17. Re-enforce the Important habit of recording Information, especially in relation to homework. Check their Journal weekly to ensure homework is being recorded properly.
  18. Get the 3-way communication going i.e. Teachers-Parent-Student. In primary school, it was more about the Teacher-Parent link. Start including your child in more conversations as appropriate from now on. This allows them to be involved and take more ownership.
  19. Do as much preparation for the next school day the night before as you can. Get them into the habit of having the uniform out, bag correctly packed by the door, lunch ready etc. This again will reduce stress levels for all involved in the morning madness.
  20. At secondary school, the days are longer. Encourage them to start their day with a healthy breakfast or give them some dried fruit or yoghurt to eat in the car if in a hurry.

Part 2 of Insights on transitioning into 1st Year will be published online in two weeks’ time. Don’t miss it. Do contact me if I can advise in any way. Click #JoesJotter for more. Joe

To view last weeks feature article on ‘Summer Nutrition suggestions for Students’, click here.

More details about Joe as a Maths Tutor for Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate (2022), ACE Maths Assessments, and his Award winning ACE Maths Solution Books can be found via the links below.

W: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-maths-tuition
FB: facebook.com/JoeMcCormackEducationalExpert/

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Joe’s Jotter: Students, Practice Thinking Critically

Students,

Did you struggle to find a way to revise this year? Did you feel like your classmates were always a step ahead of you with study? Do you just read content in the hope that you will remember it later?

This article relates how you understand and learn subject content, and the different angles you can approach it from to get a better handle on it. The more ways you can approach learning, as opposed to just ‘learning off’ material, the more successful you will be.

I believe successful students are those who can think critically about the information they have in front of them. To do this, you as a student should read the information presented by the author, understand it as best you can and then begin to question it critically. Being critical does not mean just being negative; it also means being knowledgeable and really assessing the quality of the information. My ACE tip here is to use your imagination, challenge the question being asked and don’t be afraid to offer your own personal opinion on topics. Teachers and Examiners like opinions as it shows you can think independently.

In 2013, The Open University (UK) developed a ‘stairway’ to help students understand the skills of critical thinking. Students should apply these steps to a specific topic in order to understand it better. I think this is an excellent way of studying, as you are reflecting on all aspects of the information presented. This method would be particularly useful in subjects like English, Economics, History, Geography and Business.  The steps are as follows:

  • Process: take in the information (i.e. in what you have read, heard, seen, or done).
  • Understand: comprehend the key points, assumptions and arguments presented.
  • Analyse: examine how these key components link together.
  • Compare: explore the similarities and differences ideas you are reading about.
  • Synthesise: bring together different sources of information making logical connections between them.
  • Evaluate: assess the worth of an idea in terms of its relevance to your needs.
  • Apply: transfer the understanding gained and use in response to questions, assignments, and projects.
  • Justify: use critical thinking to develop arguments, draw conclusions, and identify implications.

In today’s Junior and Leaving Certificate, where you need to be able to apply knowledge to a topic, learning off too much information is a common mistake made by students and is not recommended. There is more of an emphasis now on applying everyday life experience to each question asked. Similarly, if the butterflies are fluttering madly on the morning of the exam, you are less likely to remember a lengthy essay you have learned off. In my opinion, you are better off to stick with summaries, bullet points, post-its, quotes, mind maps, definitions, and little hardbacks. The state exams are now more about identifying the important information in a question and discussing its merits, as opposed to emptying the contents of your head onto the answer book. This is something to reflect on over the summer as you plan your Autumn revision strategies.

To view last weeks feature articles on finalising your CAO decisions, click here.

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More details about Joe’s ACE Maths Tuition classes for Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate Students (2022), ACE Maths Assessments, and his Award winning ACE Maths Solution Books can be found via the links below.

W: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-maths-tuition
FB: facebook.com/JoeMcCormackEducationalExpert/

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Joe’s Jotter: Improving Your Homework at Secondary School



Is Homework useful?

Students. Time spent at homework each night serves two purposes. Firstly, it is a reminder of what you did that day in school. In my opinion, the first five minutes of homework you do in each subject should be to go back over what the teacher did in class that day. Secondly,  it also allows you to test yourself to see if you now understand information about a topic, and maybe how you may need to explore it further. Students should take care over each piece of homework that you do and complete it as best they can. Personally, I really see the value of homework as a key tool in re-enforcing learning that has taken place during each day.

The Best Way to Tackle Homework

How you approach homework after a long day is a secret to being more efficient with it. Firstly, I would make sure to rest a little when you get home and get a good solid meal into you, especially if you have plenty to do. Clever students ‘eat their frog’ and do the difficult homework or subjects they struggle with first. This allows them to feel better as the evening goes on. As I see it, this make total sense, as your concentration levels, later in the evening, do not need to be as high for subjects you are good at or enjoy, as tiredness creeps in.

On a similar note, attempt the type of learning you do not particularly enjoy first. In other words, if you aren’t fond of reading or learning off, do that first as opposed to writing or note taking. Homework and revision are all about tactics and working smarter. It is better to write some short jottings and key points as opposed to spending hours mindlessly reading. Fact.

No Homework Tonight!

If your daily homework has been completed during ‘free periods’ during the day, it is still important to use those few hours in the evening to revise material from last week or the week before. You need to use these opportunities, if they arise, to catch up. For students in Senior cycle, you cannot really afford to take a full night off. I am in no way saying you have to work from 5 – 10pm every night. You should take a short break every thirty minutes. Even on weeknights, take some exercise or go do that little activity you enjoy that keeps you sane.

Homework is the Best Form of Study

Homework done to a high standard is a brilliant form of study. Reviewing work done in class via mini test questions or checking what’s coming up tomorrow can be included as part of your homework if time allows. Homework teaches you to analyse the information your teacher has given to you. Always take pride in the homework you produce, as it will stand to you in the end. Time spent doing homework should be counted as part of ‘exam preparation’ time and you shouldn’t feel in anyway guilty about doing ‘all homework’ and ‘no revision’ (or study as you like to call it) on certain nights.

Super Organisation

The importance of homework and being super organised are important aspects to kick-start success. In my opinion, homework is the best form of study and you need to be disciplined with it. Write it diligently into your journal each day and complete each piece of homework like you are doing an exam question. Being efficient with homework takes time. It may take months to figure out the best way to approach it. Ensure each subject gets a fair amount of ‘homework time’, depending on what you schedule is like for the next day.

Every day, I make a list of tasks on my phone that I need to complete. At the end of the day, I review this list to see how many of them I have actually fully completed. Tasks unfinished are then moved to another day so that each task is eventually dealt with. At times, tasks are postponed (put off into the future), but ultimately they always get completed unless I eventually deem them unimportant. Apply this to your revision, ensuring that everything gets completed as soon as is possible in the most efficient manner. Task monitoring, homework discipline and dedication are all attributes of the ‘Super Organised’ student.

The Importance of Homework Survey

I did a survey of students previously and asked them to think about the importance of homework to them and how its benefits helped them achieve their goals. Here are some of the more interesting observations and advice they gave about it:

  • Record your homework carefully in your journal every day.
  • Use class time well if teachers allot it to homework.
  • Set the same time aside every evening for homework.
  • Do your homework after dinner and soon after arriving home.
  • Try to complete the majority of homework before nine p.m.
  • Try to be honest with your teachers in relation to homework.
  • Tick off your homework for each subject as it gets done.
  • When doing your homework, do not lounge on a bed or sofa.
  • Ask your parents/teacher if you cannot understand your homework.
  • Have a quiet study area with a desk, fresh air, and good lighting.
  • As well as written work, browse over what was covered in class.
  • Do not let homework affect sleep time.
  • Plan ahead on assignments if you are expecting a busy week.
  • Get the phone numbers of classmates for queries on homework.
  • Leaving homework until the next morning is a bad idea.

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More details about Joe’s ACE Tuition (Maths and English) Classes for Junior Cycle (2022) and Leaving Certificate (2021) Students, ACE Maths Assessments, and his Award winning ACE Maths Solution Books can be found via the links below. Be sure to pick up your copy today!

W: acesolutionbooks.com
FB: facebook.com/JoeMcCormackEducationalExpert/
#:   #JoesJotter

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Joe’s Jotter: Parental Insights to support your child through to Exam Day

Dear Parents,

You may now be in the situation where your child is preparing for a final state exam and at times it will seem like you are the one actually sitting the paper. Firstly, ‘you’ getting stressed out and worked up will only make them more anxious. Students need to be encouraged and rewarded and this will be your main role around exam time. Getting annoyed or even angry with your child for not studying or putting in the hours will achieve very little. Ultimately, the only person you are upsetting is yourself. The old adage is apt here:

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink

As a parent, all you can do is put the conditions in place to help them flourish. Purchasing some revision and solution books, making healthy food, providing a quiet house for study and plenty of love and support are all positive actions around this time.

Providing that Subtle Support

Being in the background and offering that hassle free support is what most exam students want right now. Firstly, let’s focus on the support they need for revision and homework now. Homework is an extremely important part of your child’s learning in exam year. Below are some short tips that will facilitate your involvement, in making homework, a positive learning experience for your child:

  • Provide your child with a suitable place and time to do their homework. Minimise interruptions/distractions from television, phones, and other siblings.
  • If a child has difficulty with homework, you should try where possible to help them overcome it with explanations and examples, without actually doing it for them.
  • In the case of recurring homework problems, it is advisable to ring or send a quick note to the subject teacher to explain what the problem or issue is. If you are a parent of an exam year student, a phone call is probably the recommended form of communication at this stage of the year. More detailed advice on homework will follow in feature articles over the next few weeks.

 Encourage them to Express Themselves

If you find your child is getting quite anxious about upcoming exams and needs more than talking, ask them to write their thoughts and concerns on a sheet of paper. Having kept a diary for ten years as a child, I found that writing down thoughts and feelings helped to get them out of my head, so I could deal with reality better. An idea might also be to ask them to write down some positive actions, such as “I will relax and perform well” or “when I get the first question on the first paper started, it will settle me”.

It’s important to guard against what they perceive as failure; support instead of policing is the way to go. To me failure in school is not about grades; the students that fail are those who don’t try, and the same philosophy could be applied to life. From this point of view, encouraging all their efforts and promoting calmness is the ideal standpoint for any parent as exams near.

Get in touch with their school if you are overly concerned about your child’s anxiety, as sometimes it can happen that teachers are not aware of issues with students, and being informed, they can take steps to help them or at least cut them some slack in class. Ultimately, if you feel exam anxiety (or any other serious anxiety for that matter) is reaching an uncontrollable level, you need to seek advice, support, and guidance, probably from a medical practitioner.

 Five Practical Tips to Support Your Exam Student

Parents, here are more real and practical insights into how your support can really help your son/daughter be their best around exam time:

  • Help them maintain a well-balanced daily routine. You should guide your child to aim for a proper balance between revision and rest. After each exam or class test, they need time to rest and recharge before they can do any beneficial study for the next challenge. With a lot of tests in school at the minute, it is important to maintain that freshness where possible. Late-night study sessions are not advised.
  • Studies have shown that a good night’s sleep improves exam performance. All revision should end at least an hour before bedtime to allow your child time to unwind before sleep. Encourage them to conclude revision and start to relax, in order to slow down the body and mind. This will result in a refreshing night’s sleep. It is not advisable to fall straight into bed from the study desk as their mind will be buzzing for hours as they attempt to get to sleep.
  • “You are what you eat”. What you eat and drink affects your performance in any activity, especially one involving mental sharpness. As a parent, you should try to ensure your child has nutritious food as exams approach, starting with breakfast each morning, the lunch they bring with them if they are facing long days, their evening meal, as well as snacks during the day. Grazing on junk food is very tempting at times of increased stress but should be avoided as much as possible.
  • Success is always a team effort. Drawing on the support of everything that is potentially positive in a student’s life helps to maximise exam performance. Such supports include a heightened awareness on the part of all family members in their interactions with the person doing exams. Meeting with friends and participation in sporting or social activities should be encouraged. All these factors help to maintain a student’s ‘spirits’ during an extended exam period.
  • It is advisable not to over hype the importance of any examination. It is very easy in the middle of a stress-induced experience, such as a major exam, to get the whole event totally out of perspective. The secret here is to try and maintain their normal school routine. Parents should ensure their child is clear that your unconditional love and regard for them is in no way dependent on how they perform in these annual academic Olympics. Your affirmation is the greatest gift you can give them, prior to and during their tests.

To view last weeks feature article on ‘Revising from Home for an Exam (Feature 5 of 6)’, click here.

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More details about Joe’s ACE Tuition (Maths and English) Classes for Junior Cycle (2022) and Leaving Certificate (2021) Students, ACE Maths Assessments, and his Award winning ACE Maths Solution Books can be found via the links below. Be sure to pick up your copy today!

W: acesolutionbooks.com
FB: facebook.com/JoeMcCormackEducationalExpert/
#:   #JoesJotter

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