Tag: exam stress

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

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

Exam Revision Health Check – Are You Studying Too Much?

Study Revision Blocks

With exam season about to get into full swing it seems a strange question to ask, but are you studying too much? Just how much is too much? And how much should you study during the holidays leading up to exams?

Exams are not just about the ability to simply recall key words, but being able to apply then in context; and this is where long term memory techniques are needed! Comitting information to your long term memory requires a combination of repetation of similar topics in small chunks, and a low stress environment.

According to Barnaby Lennon, ICS (Independent School Council) Chairman and former Headmaster of Harrow, students should be revising for 7 hours each day for most of the Easter Holidays. This applies to both gcse and a level students. whilst I don’t entirely disagree with him open brackets and certainly don’t disagree with his methods close brackets, my own approach uses the 10-minute approach that can be applied to any year group.

The 10 minute method is usually applied to the amount of time for homework during a usual term time. But can be easily adapted to plan revision during the holidays full stop new line the system suggests 10 minutes of study for each year of education per day. For example, in year 11 in the UK, you’ve been in formal education for 12 years:

12 x 10 minutes = 120 minutes or 2 hours per night

This means that over 5 days you’ll be studying 2 hours per night or 10 hours per week when also attending school with usual lessons.

Revision Takes Time
Revision takes time. But how long?

Using Barnaby Lennon’s theory, if you continue your 2 hours of homework time throughout the holidays and add the time you would usually be in class (5 hours) then 7 hours makes perfect sense. However, class time also includes group discussion, admin (register, answering questions, other disruptions) so working individually may not actually require quite so long. Instead, try this equation for working out your easter revision schedule:

10 Minute Rule (TMR)  = (Year Group + 1) x 10 minutes

TMR x 5

Add (2 x Number of Subjects)

Using this, the average Year 11 with eight GCSE subjects could calculate their time in the following way:

TMR = (11 + 1) x 10 = 120 minutes per day (2 hours)

(TMR x 5) + (Subjects x 2)

(2 x 5) + (8 x 2)

10 + 16

= 26 Hours per week during the holidays

  OR

  5.2 hours each day

But how do I spend that much time studying?!

Breaking down your revision into manageable chunks will help. using the calculation above, you could cover all 8 subjects each day with 40 minutes per subject.

Study for 80 minutes, then build in a 20-minute break. The example below shows how you could divide your eight subjects into smaller, more manageable daily chunks. This is a technique called “time chunking’ that many bloggers and vloggers use to maximise their time:

9.00English
9.40Maths
10.20BREAK
10.40History
11.20German
11.40LUNCH
12.40Computer Science
1.20Science 1
1.40BREAK
2.20Music
2.40Science 2
3.20FREEDOM!


For the days you want to go out with friends, or just have a little downtime, split the study in two or get started little earlier. Don’t be tempted to remove the breaks though! It’s important to give your brain some time to digest the information – just like you wouldn’t go for a run straight after a meal.


If you’re struggling to set out your study plan, you can always use a timetable templates like my Painlessly Planned Revision planner to help get organised. Just remember to spend more time revising then planning!

Holly

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

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