Category: Parenting

The Impact of Tutoring On Teen Mental Health

If there is one thing that I’ve become more passionate about the longer I’ve been involved in education, it’s the impact that our system has on the mental health of our young people. Each week there seems to be a new hashtag or thread out there to support people who feel like it’s just them. One that’s done the rounds for a long time is #ItsOkToNotBeOk and it remains something that I often look through and offer an ear on.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about implementing a digital detox for a few hours each weekend as a part of improving our own mental health. Perhaps what I missed out on there was the impact that the education system was having on the mental health of almost every member of our family. Our KS3 kids were overwhelmed by the pressure of GCSE options and increasing homework loads; as parents we were stressed out by the pressure to be “good parents” that ensured all school work was done, keep a nice house, and spent quality time with increasingly large people who declared how lame we are; and with exams looming and my tuition timetable overflowing, my anxiety levels were through the roof (which meant everything was being cleaned & organised to within an inch of its life). It’s not really the insta-worthy picture is it?

Photo credit Chalk and Salt

After 7 weeks of our weekly digital detox for just a few hours each weekend, I can report back that everyone is feeling much better without exception. Clearly, we’ve done more than just put our phones away for a few hours, but it’s been the catalyst to consider whether all work and no play is a healthy state of being (spoiler: it isn’t).

However, it dawned on me that I am in a unique position to do something about lessening the impact on those around me as an independent tutor. The views on employing a tutor are polarised, possibly because it often costs a tidy sum to bring an individual into your home to work one-to-one with your child. Because of the price tag attached, it’s seen as only accessible to the elite and another way to create unequal access to education. But talk to many private tutors and you’ll find that the students that come to them from a variety of backgrounds, and more often than not a percentage of their tuition is through scholarship or pro-bono. Talking to tutors will also highlight the variety of reasons that students access their services.

Anxiety is the top reason why parents seek individual tuition for their child from me. Whether this is exam anxiety where I can prepare them better by familiarising them with the exam style and answering their questions until they feel safer (and safer is absolutely the right word to use with anxiety), or an overall fear of what is perceived to be a difficult subject, almost without exception the students seeking tuition are looking for confirmation that it’s going to be ok.

Part of my toolkit for reducing educational anxiety is to use a form of gentle stoacism. We look at the toughest questions together and I mark harshly.

So, if I marked this trace table as a 2 out of 5, but you answered these correctly what is the worst grade you’re going to get?

Ok, so if you get that grade, what’s the worst outcome?

That may sound harsh, but as we progress and the worst grade becomes a 5,6,7, or even 8 or 9. What’s the worst that could happen is that they get their chosen place in college even though it wasn’t a 9. Stoacism is a form of CBT that I use myself (Good rule of thumb: I wouldn’t try anything that I wouldn’t put myself through).

Once students are feeling more confident to try questions, I throw in a few from the next level up (AS questions at GCSE, or A Level for AS) without telling them. Once they’ve answered and gained marks I confess that it was actually far more than they needed. Ater a few weeks, my students know I’m sneaky and expect some kind of evil but fun activity.

Anxiety isn’t the only issue that teenagers are suffering from, but it is the pastoral area where tutors are most likely to be supporting the work that teachers are already putting in. By working one-to-one with a student, we have a unique ability to address that child’s individual fears and help them feel heard. And this is not a dig at teachers – with 30 kids in a classroom for an hour lesson, that’s two minutes per student if you did nothing else but talk to them. This also isn’t a millenial snowflake* situation, but a real issue that impacts on not only grades, but will follow a child into their adult lives.

If a tutor can help a child feel less anxious and give them the tools to learn independently, then we’ve done a huge service to the child, their parents, and their teacher. Strategies like digital detoxing are part of a whole toolkit for mental health – your tutor is another.

*These are quotes words, I shudder using them

Holly

Going Screen Free – Helpful or Harmful?

Over the past few weeks we have begun to introduce screen-free time into our family lives. A combination of both adults working from home, me setting up my own business, and two teenagers means that a large proportion of our lives is spent working at or conversing through screens. After what has felt like an alarmingly long and grey winter we were all feeling a bit, well, meh.

The jury seems to be out on whether screen time is is a good or bad thing. Certainly, there are arguments for both sides and a study at the University of Cambridge in 2018 suggested that it was no more damaging than eating potatoes.

As a teacher & tutor, spring is my busiest time of year – daily emails requesting a space for lessons remind me that I am just one person and there are only so many hours that I can offer. I have not yet mastered the art of cloning myself or dividing into two like bacteria, so for now I will have to resign myself to pleasing some of the people most of the time.

The pressure that I was beginning to feel from my email and social media accounts pinging at me appeared to be mirrored in my family, perhaps not from work but the feeling that when a message was sent to them they had a duty to respond no matter what time of day or night. I don’t believe that this is true, and decided over the past two weeks to test this theory.

I started testing the theory on my own to see if it made any difference to how I felt before inflicting my psychological studies on my kin. On Sundays, I have been writing a short blog but have switched off my emails. Then during the week, I have switched on my email assistant after 7pm. I’ve fiddled with social media, but only on my own accounts – work accounts are switched off. In effect, I wasn’t limiting my screen time but giving myself permission to enjoy other activities.

Suggesting a walk outside to teenagers instead of the standard combination of Playstation & Discord may seem laughable, but once the predictable groaning and flopping into the car was over we all experienced a change. The teens were delighted and confused in equal measure that I insisted on them abandoning homework and leaving the house. Putting down the phones and being outside allowed us to chatter and drop the pressure of being ‘on duty’. Instead of being horrified at mess & disorder, I thoroughly enjoyed watching the teens chase each other about with muddy sticks and explore.

Photo Credit: ChalkAndSalt

Now clearly, I’m not suggesting that we transformed into the Von Trapps with a couple of weekends of fresh air, but with the rise in teenage stress levels during exam season there is method in my madness.

As parents and teachers we sometimes forget that the overwhelming stress and pressure to be a success is also felt by our children, and with the more emphasis placed on exams at all key stages the need to walk away for a while is more pressing than ever.

Photo Credit: ChalkAndSalt

Being in the fresh air may work for us, but isn’t the answer for everyone. Whatever is it that allows you to step back for a while and just be whether you’re a student, teacher, or parent is what is right for you. In some cases, that may well be screen time!

Now back at work and typing a blog about sharpening my own axe, the connection between me needing a break from my emails and my students needing a break from constant revision is really clear. So parents: please make sure your teenager gets some regular down time (even if like madam above she doesn’t appear entirely enthused!), and teachers: the most frequent feedback I get as a tutor is planning for homework. Please give kids a week to complete it. Let them attend those time out activities, have that family time, and get to bed early.

Oh, and one other benefit of getting outside and away from screens? How often do you get to see things like this? David Attenborough eat your heart out! (alsocue swaggery teens instantly whisper-squealing things about Bambi)

Photo Credit: ChalkAndSalt


Holly

For more information about GCSE Computer Science, revision resources, online tutoring, online courses, and teacher CPD, visit www.TeachAllAboutIT.school

Helping Your Teen Revise Over Christmas

Christmas GCSE Revision

Christmas is almost here! There’s no doubt that it’s an exciting time, and the whole family comes together. However, when you’ve got a teen who’s trying to revise for their mock GCSE Computer Science exam, everything becomes a bit more complicated! Of course, it’s important to make sure that they’re studying for the exam, but at the same time taking the time to be with family, so we’re going to look at how you can help them with this.

 

Establish Goals From the Beginning

One of the first things that you’re going to need to do is to establish a clear set of goals from the beginning with your teen. Make sure that you know what they need to do to be ready for their exam, and what Computer Science revision needs to get done. If you set clear objectives with them from the very beginning, then you can make sure that they’re doing what needs to be done without compromising on family time.

 

Be Positive

When trying to get the GCSE mock revision exam nailed, it’s easy for your teen to be discouraged or even upset. It’s brand new territory for them – there won’t have been exams like this before on this scale, and it can be seriously tough. However, what’s important is that you take the time to encourage them and support them through the journey. They may be older children now, but they’re still your kids, and your encouragement will mean everything.

 

Help Them Revise

pexels-photo-1467564

For some teens, their Computer Science exam may well fall on how good their general knowledge is. You can help them in this area, so it’s often worth taking the time to do just that! If they need someone to revise with, then this could be your chance. Even if you’re helping them with quizzes and general knowledge questions, it’ll make the revision process a bit easier for everyone. If you feel particularly nervous about the content, have our GCSE Computer Science introduction pages open.

 

Maintain a Healthy Balance

Revision is an essential part of any teen’s school life, but a balance is also vital. You need to try and find that balance to help your children to do well without burning out. It is the festive season, after all, so you should take the time to give them breaks from their revision. Revising in chunks of 30 minutes broken up by a mince pie & a cup of tea is going to give their brains chance to digest what they were working on and be ready for the next topic. No-one wants to work over a family holiday and teenagers especially find it difficult to visualise the long-term benefits of giving up fun things, so avoiding long periods of work and arguments really will go in everyone’s favour.

 

Overall, these are some of the things that you can do to help your teen revise over the festive period. It’s not an easy task by any means, but they’ll be so thankful they took the time to revise; it makes all the difference when it comes to trying to get those higher grades. However, you need to make sure that your teen has good mental health as well because we all know how difficult it can be to try and juggle all of these responsibilities while at the same time looking to the future.

If you’re a parent in the UK and concerned about your teen’s mental health, you can get in contact with Young Minds who support both parents and young people. You can also support us on our Facebook Page where we are raising money throughout 2019 for the charity.

Holly

 

 

For more information about GCSE Computer Science, revision resources, online tutoring, online courses, and teacher CPD, visit www.TeachAllAboutIT.school

 

 

 

 

Is GCSE Computer Science Hard?

With many Key Stage 3 students contemplating choosing their GCSE options this term, I’m asked again and again is GCSE Computer Science hard? Computer Science certainly has a reputation for being a tough subject, and with good reason. So is it as tough as some people say?

It depends on the student

Now I know that’s a total cop out, but stick with me here. We could just as easily ask ‘is Art hard?’ – for some, absolutely; and yet for others every art lesson is a island of calm in a relentless educational storm (can you tell that I enjoyed art?). If you have a genuine interest in Computer Science as a subject, then the hours of hard work really won’t seem that much of a chore.

Success rates in Computer Science make for some interesting data. Entries at GCSE level increased by 11.8% in 2018, and 3.7% of all students recieved the top grade of a 9. Grade 9s are awarded only to those scoring in the top 20% of the top 20% of grades). Taking into consideration that this was the year group whose controlled assessment was withdrawn at such a late stage, over 60% of all students receiving a passing grade or above is a positive sign.

GCSE results by grade in England

Data source: https://schoolsweek.co.uk/gcse-results-2018-computing

So in fact, a better question may be: Why do so many people find Computer Science hard?

There are a number of reasons why Computer Science may be a difficult path for you. Not impossible, because there are never any absolutes. And just because something is hard, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it anyway.

Your level of maths doesn’t match the syllabus

Calculator mathsWhen the new 9-1 GCSE syllabus for Computer Science was launched, the exam boards advised that students should be studying the higher maths specification to support the topics. Why?

Well, when introducing new students to Computer Science I often describe my subject as just ‘Maths with Toys’. 80% is decision maths, or problem solving, or just plain algorithmic thinking. What do all of these have in common? Maths!

At A Level, the the data shows that a 6 in maths (a B in old money) is an indicator of a pass at Computer Science A Level. This is because there is a huge cross over with Further Maths. Using that as a comparrison, it would be safe to suggest that a target of 6 or more for GCSE maths would predict success in Computer Science.

In the words of Beyonce, without Further maths I don’t think you’re ready for this … Er… Topic.

 

You were expecting to play games

children playing PS4 gamexLast year, I overheard a university lecturer in games development tell a student that you’re either a gamer or a develiper, not both.

I don’t particularly hold with that view – I am both a programmer and a gamer. However, I am acutely aware of the difference and although knowledge of gaming can help with logic, the likelyhood of playing games in Computer Science is slim to none!

If you’re not sure about what topics are, a good place to start is to look through the specification for the exam board that you will study. Alternatively, have a look through the topic lists on our GCSE Computer Science introduction pages. You’ll certainly be asked to code some simple games during your time studying Computer Science, but it is likely that they will be based around the key topics and will generally be text based.

 

You love programming, but not theory

teenager sitting at laptop with coding stickersAs teachers and tutors, we’ve all met that student who arrives in our class absolutely buzzing about the latest program that they’ve written. They race through every programming task that we give them and make an attempt at learning degree level concepts in year 8. If you’re that kid, please know that we love you but you’re an absolute nightmare!

We usually see a lot of ourselves in you, and it’s practically painful not to let you play in the metaphorical ball pit of coding. However, conscience dictates that we must guide you towards success in both the practical and the theoretical aspects of the course. Because of this, we have to ask you to curb some of the enthusiasm for the fun stuff.

Later on, when you’re taking over the world, you’ll come across an issue that suddenly needs an understanding of the mechanics of merge sort. It’s usually then that I get a surprise message via LinkdIn or on here letting me know that our Binary/Hex battles on the board suddenly got context.

The theory topics are complex and often require an understanding of a vast number of key terms, but if you fall into this category, the hardest part is staying on task. Learning to tackle all of the tasks no matter how interesting is a valuable skill and you’ll be able to use it in other subejcts.

 

So, should I study GCSE Computer Science?

Only you can answer that, but as with any subject if you know what’s involved in the course you’ll be able to make a much more informed decision. If you’re still unsure, try a short course like my Introduction to Number Systems to give you a flavour of what the topics are like. Look out for local coding clubs or coder dojos near you, and get involved with Big Bang events as they generally have coding and maker sessions.

Finally, talk to others who have taken the course and your teachers. Don’t just take my word for it!

A Parent’s Guide To Surviving September

A Parent’s Guide To Surviving September

We’ve all seen the memes doing the rounds on social media about how tired parents are and how the kids dread September, but the parents will be waving them off gleefully. But I’m going to buck the trend here and say that I’m dreading it too – and not just because I’m heading back to the classroom myself!

Term time holds mixed feelings for us. With one child firmly on the autistic spectrum and another with a painful genetic condition, maintaining a busy routine during term term is not always a pleasant experience. We’ve learnt to put strategies in place to help everyone get through the weeks until the relative peace of the holidays returns. I’ve talked about some of those strategies below, and whilst they may not work for everyone, hopefully they will give someone some ideas from both a parent and a teacher perspective.

Maintain a Bedtime Routine

pexels-photo-1021051.jpegMy teenagers really don’t thank me for this, and according to them I am the only parent on the planet that insists on a bedtime for a child over the age of 10. My Occupational Therapist, the ever lovely Jo Southall calls this ‘Sleep Hygiene’ and it has incredible impacts for both mental and physical health.

Now they’re older, we no longer have the bath and story type routine that they had as tiny people. Instead, their optimum sleep hygiene routine includes handing over phones & laptops to be charged in our room (no wriggle room on this), tidying up their sleeping area (I can dream!), and lights down with books. Of course this means that the eldest reads horrific horror books until late, but the brain activity caused by reading is very different to screen time.

But this doesn’t just apply to the kids. How exhausted do you feel as a parent with the school runs and juggling kids and work and a million other activities? Having a wind down routine to help you get the best rest is just as important.

Have Set Homework Time

Yes, I know, I mentioned the ‘H’ word. But there is method in my madness here. As their homework load increased, we implemented set times and days where homework would be done. Having a regular time each week acts a little bit scheduling in a meeting at work – if it’s in the diary, you avoid booking in other things and pushing it down the to do list.

pexels-photo-515171.jpegSaturday mornings whilst I am tutoring, they address any outstanding homework for the next week. Two hours and no more is allocated. And they have three hours over the week in the evenings to get a head start on other things. With five hours set aside, that is enough. That’s not to say that it’s always enough time to complete everything to perfection, but we are also teaching them that work & life must balance and to achieve that you have to let go of some perfectionism. (of course we won’t let on that I haven’t mastered that whatsoever).

I fully subscribe to the ten minute rule. That is children should study at home for ten minutes in total for every year they have attended school. Using this calculation, our eldest who is entering UK year 9 this year will have been at school for ten years this year. 100 minutes should be just shy of two hours per week. Of course this doesn’t always work out, but allocating set time each weekend based on the ten minute rule has eased the stress of getting everything done.

Shop Online

If the back to school sale aisles are making you nervous, you’re not alone. I hate seeing my eldest flinch at the crowds and hours of walking will inevitably bring on a night of pain for the smallest. So instead, we have honed a routine of creating Amazon shopping lists to deliver the non-logo items that will make life easier at the start of term.

 One of the banes of my life is buying suitable school bags. Last year, we bought two of these bags which served the additional purpose of having straps that were soft enough not to hurt the youngest one’s shoulders, and sturdy enough to last a full year at high school. They were particularly pleased with the phone charger ports!


Another lifesaver over the past few years has been my constant supply of pen grips. These are great for kids (and adults!) who find that they grip pens too hard when writing and end up causing themselves pain. With both the youngest and me having exceptionally hypermobile hands, these go on most pens we own. They also had a surprise benefit of also improving her handwriting.

A few years ago I would have balked at spending £15 on a lunchbox. And yet here I am, genuinely recommending this as the best thing since sliced bread… Our eldest has some interesting food habits – her palette is very adult (jalapenos & olives are favourites), but like a culinary Ghostbuster, the food mustn’t touch! Bento boxes were the perfect solution for this and had the added benefit of being Japanese for my little shinnichi.

Don’t Dither On Subject Changes

If your child has just made their subject choices for GCSE or A Level, you may end up having the dreaded conversation of wanting to switch. If this does happen, it’s important to make sure that this isn’t just September nerves, however keep in mind that many schools and colleges have a swift cut off date for changing courses. These cut off dates are usually early October, if not earlier.

The first port of call for subject changes is always your child’s form tutor who will advise them on the possibility of subject changes (their new chosen subject may be full, or may clash with their timetable).

Of course if you are considering supporting a subject with tuition, the same advice applies. The earlier a student receives support when they start to struggle, the more positive the outcome. There is very little a tutor can do if a student commences tuition in April. The best time to search for a tutor is July before the academic year starts – doing this will allow you the pick of the best times as many of their tutees will be sitting exams and their books will begin to clear. Failing that, August to October will still see many excellent tutors with spaces available. Look for recommendations from previous students and parents, and ensure that any private tutor is able to provide a full DBS check to ensure the safety of your child.

Keep In Contact With School

fashion-person-woman-hand.jpgOne of the biggest changes that I noticed when my children moved from primary school to high school was the contact. We went from a class teacher in a village school who knew them like their own, to a huge high school with teachers for every subject and no daily parent contact. If anything, it was more of a shock for us than it was for them.

One thing we did discover though was email contact was a surefire way to keep in touch. As parents who were new to the high school experience, we quite often dropped a short email to teachers if we had concerns. Replies were reassuring and quite often allowed us to share information that teachers were very grateful for. Often your email will provide context for something that they’ve noticed in class – if it’s big enough to notice at home, you can guarantee the teacher has a clue that something is wrong.

On average, most teachers will receive between 5 to 10 parental emails each day, so if you don’t get a reply straight away please don’t feel that you’re being ignored. It’s quite likely that your email is on a to do list for a teacher with 200+ students to wrangle.

 

Do you have any top tips for surviving September as a parent? Let me know below. I’d love to hear from you!

 

 

*Note: Some of the links above contain affiliate links. I never recommend anything that I wouldn’t wholeheartedly recommend without payment. However you are supporting the continued running of the site & blog should you click / purchase.

I have linked to Jo Southall above without affiliation – she is a genuinely brilliant OT.