Top Ten Tips for Parents and Carers on  Helping with Homework

In the feedback we got from a recent survey of parents and caters we had the question ‘how do I help my kids with homework when it’s above my level?

It’s a question parents often ask when their children move up to secondary school. Homework may become a more prominent part of school life and aspects the curriculum will have changed (several times!) since parents were at school themselves. We don’t of course want parents to do the homework for their children, but looking around at websites offering help to families, some of the advice seemed a bit too generic.

I wrote this piece for our school bulletin. If you feel it’s useful, Please feel free to use and adapt as you wish. The first point refers to Show My Homework which we use to set tasks. Parents can monitor it using the website or app.
 

 

How do I help with homework?

This is a question parents often ask when their children move to secondary school. Here are our top ten tips on how you can support your child:

1. Keep track of homework at http://www.showmyhomework.co.uk or by downloading the app. You can see what tasks have been set, when deadlines are and when your child has submitted it.

2. Help your child organise their time: keep an eye on deadlines and encourage them space work out, rather than leaving it to the last minute.

3. Make sure they have space and somewhere quiet to work. If that’s difficult at home, our library is open before and after school each day.

4. Make sure they have the right equipment to tackle a range of tasks: pens, pencils, ruler, sharpener, eraser, coloured pencils or pens, scissors, glue stick, protractor, drawing compasses, calculator, and a dictionary. If money is tight, contact school: we can often help.

5. Limit distractions – no screens or TV. Check that any online research is directed at the task. Some people feel that music helps them to work, but there is good evidence that it can impair performance.

6. Take an interest in what your children are studying and the homework they are doing. Talk with them about school, and encourage them to try their best, and ask them to share the feedback they get from teachers.

7. Insist on the basics of good presentation: titles underlined, work dated, neat, legible handwriting, answers in full sentences, good punctuation and spelling.

8. Encourage regular reading: well-read students develop better communication skills and knowledge across a range of subjects. Reading should form a part of homework each day.

9. Ensure that your child acknowledges sources of information. From year 7 they should list the books or websites they have used. This good habit will help avoid plagiarism later and make the move to formal referencing of work easier.

10. Encourage reflection, resourcefulness,  and resilience. If  your child has difficulty with a question or exercise, ask what they have already learned that could help them. Prompt them to use resources like a dictionary, for help. If they are still unable to complete a task, please write a note to the teacher in your child’s planner. When work is returned, help them learn from the feedback their teacher has given and apply this next time. Learning from mistakes is a valuable part of both class work and homework.

 
I hope others find this helpful. I’d be interested in examples from other schools, or suggestions for advice I could add.

Image: pixabay 

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Ten tips to avoid exam stress (revisited)

Exam season looms large on the horizon and we teachers must balance appropriate motivating of our students with awareness of likely stress or anxiety.

I wrote an earlier version of this post in April 2016. In 2017 there seems to be even more uncertainty, for teachers and students alike. In the new GCSEs we can’t guide students with any real certainty as to which grades they will achieve. For A levels, it’s the first time any of the new Advanced exams have been set, and only the second for new AS qualifications. Such uncertainties are likely to add to the anxiety of some students. Teachers need to be especially careful not to project our own worry on to those we teach.

Here, then, I am revisiting ten helpful things students can do to keep motivated and stay healthy too. The list originates from an (old specification!) A level psychology task I gave my students to do when they studied a unit on stress. The aim was to use what they had learned to write advice for fellow students. I have developed it over the years and this latest version is influenced by advice from our School Health Nurse, the NHS, and the charity Mind. 


Ten tips to beat exam stress

  1. Get Organised. Make sure you know what exams you have, what kind of questions they will have and when they are.
  2. Manage your time. Your time is precious, so make the best use of it by drawing up a revision timetable. Make sure you build in breaks between sessions.
  3. Stay In control by sticking to your plan and using it to review what you have achieved and what is coming next.
  4. The right Environment. Work somewhere that is light, has enough space and is distraction-free. Music may be OK (you’ll know what works for you) but visual input from TV, screens & social media will just distract you. 
  5. Boost your confidence. Use a revision journal, recall things that have gone well in the past and visualise your success.
  6. Eat Healthily and stay hydrated. Avoid ‘energy’ drinks: they may give the illusion of alertness but actually impair your performance (that’s why you never see an advert saying ‘Drink Red Bull: it helps you revise.’ Because it doesn’t.
  7. Get enough sleep; don’t stay up late revising, a tired brain does not work well, either at the time, or the next morning.
  8. Friends & family. Let them know you have exams and need to revise. Keep in touch during those breaks you planned into your revision.
  9. Avoid life changes. Now isn’t the time To start a new relationship or plan to run away to the circus (however tempting that may seem).
  10. Understand your body and the signals it sends you. Recognise that signs of exam nerves like ‘butterflies in the stomach’ a dry mouth, or sweaty palms are nothing to worry about. They are just symptoms telling you that your body preparing for action. 

We include a version of this list in the revision advice we give to students and share it with parents through our school newsletter. This year we have also run special sessions on tackling exam anxiety this year which have proved popular. 

Students can get more help and advice on student life from the Student Minds website and  these pages on the Mind website where you can also download a PDF document. Advice directed at parents and carers can be found on this area of the NHS Choices website.

I hope you found this post useful. Please feel free to use and adapt it as you wish. I’d be interested in which resources other schools use.

Snow Joke: Severe Weather Planning

Earlier this week (w/b 9/1/17) an off-the-cuff comment about snow became my most ‘liked’ tweet ever:

Today I made sure our severe weather closure procedures were in place. Absolute guarantee that not a single snowflake will fall on school.

I’m glad that so many people liked it but, joking apart, here’s what some of that planning actually was.

Verifying our priorities for partial closure if necessary. We’re an all-through school so we would prioritise nursery and primary pupils where parents would find it difficult to organise childcare or time off work at short notice. The next priority is students in exam years. We would redeploy staff as necessary. We also check which colleagues are most likely to have transport difficulties in the event of severe weather.

Checking the communication cascade for staff. We use a text/phone cascade to communicate quickly to all colleagues if we have to partially or fully close. This uses our line management structure so we checked that everyone had the up to date details they needed. Better to check before the weather turns!

Checking contractors. We have a contract in place for snow clearance on campus. Worth checking they were ready for a possible snowfall. Similarly checking our own provision – salt, grit, etc.

Parental communication. Checking and where necessary updating draft messages ready to be sent out by text, email and website. Just as well we did, version we had was dated 2013 and from previous Head! We also checked that procedures for contacting the LA and local media were up to date, including current code words for local radio stations.

Snow Rules. Check what advice and rules need to be in place for snowfall, in addition to our code of conduct, so we can enjoy snow safely.

Update work for students in the event of snow closure. This is our current advice which would be posted on our website and emailed out in the event of a closure. We like to think it is both productive and fun:

Work in the event of a Snow Closure

You should aim to gain at least 16 points from a mix of the following activities.

 Individual work:Please check Show My Homework and Doddle to see if your teachers have set you individual or class tasks. 1 point per 15 minutes

Art:​​ 3D Sculpture. Keeping warm and working safely, build a snow sculpture to a design of your choosing. You can work on your own or with others. Take a photo of your completed sculpture or draw it. If there isn’t enough snow, sketch a design for a sculpture. 4 points

English: Persuasive Writing. The decision to close schools because of heavy snowfall is sometimes controversial. Write an argument for or against closing schools for this reason. You must consider both sides of the debate. 6 points

Points to consider:

• Health & safety of pupils

• Ability of pupils and school staff to travel to school safely

• Impact on parents of having to miss work to look after children

Faith in Action:Snow can be a lot of fun, but for some people such as the elderly, it can create real difficulties. Design a poster, leaflet or radio/TV ad about helping elderly relatives or neighbours during winter. If you can help out someone in need, please do, but only if you know them and with permission of your parent/carer. 4 points.

French / German:​ Linguascope. Please log at least 30 minutes of Linguascope activity. 1 point for every 15 minutes.

Maths:​ Mymaths. Please log at least 30 minutes of activity on MyMaths. Your teacher will receive an update of your progress. 1 point for every 15 minutes.

PE:​ Aerobic exercise. Keeping warm and staying safe, do at least 30 minutes aerobic exercise including any of the following activities:

• Snowballing

• Sledging

• Building snow sculptures

• Making snow angels

If there isn’t enough snow for this, design a 30 minute winter aerobic exercise workout. 4 points

Science​: Use your knowledge of states of matter to predict the volume of liquid produced from a volume of liquid snow. Use a measuring jug, old drinks bottle, etc. to test your hypothesis. Record your results. 4 points.

ICT​: Tweet a message about your work using the hashtag #stgregorysnow or email a message to Dr Caseby: r.caseby@dbmac.org.uk with ‘stgregorysnow’ as the subject header.1 point each, max 3 points.


Postscript

14/1/17. After all that planning, as I predicted in my tweet, we didn’t have any significant snowfall last week; what there was quickly turned to slush. I am now being blamed by several colleagues for ‘jinxing the snow day’!

10/12/17. However, at the other end of 2017, it all turned out to be worthwhile, because on Monday we’re having to close because of… snow!

Comments are always welcome. I’d be interested to know what work or activities other schools set in the event of a snow day.

No more mobiles – the first week

At the start of September, I wrote my post ‘No more mobiles’ about why we took the decision to ban mobile phones from school. There were several reasons, the foremost being the level of distraction they created. That original post generated quite a bit of interest, so this is my first update on how our decision is going, based on the first week back at school.

On the first day back everything went very smoothly. We had made the decision to give students warnings and literally only a handful them needed a reminder about having their phone out, or headphones round their neck. All responded straight away, a couple saying it was news to them. Several students proffered their phones for safe-keeping at reception in the morning but mostly there was no phone in evidence. It’s likely that most had decided to keep their phone off and in their bag. I only spotted one student at lunchtime with their head almost inside their bag – “I’m just putting it in my bag.” The first day back usually goes smoothly though, doesn’t it?

The rest of the first week continued much the same way however. By Friday several staff reported that they had given reminders / warnings to students, but students had responded quickly and put their phone away. Colleagues also said that students were giving each other reminders not to have phones out.

What surprised me was the lack of complaint or questions from students. I had thought that the new policy wasn’t a change as far as lessons went, but at break and lunchtime, some students would might have difficulty adapting. This just didn’t happen. Apart from the few reminders I mentioned, phones weren’t in evidence in the cafeteria, indoor social area, playground or the field. 

So what were students doing if they weren’t on their phones? Talking to each other, face to face, in groups, chatting, smiling, laughing! I also think there were more playing sport, skateboarding, etc. These are just casual observations – most pupils chatted in groups last year, with maybe one in four on a phone at the same time, more were outside playing but we had good weather last week. Colleagues report a ‘renewed focus’ among students, but then it was the first week of the year. We will need to see how things develop as the year progresses.

Did we have to confiscate any phones? Yes, six from five pupils, who did not respond to reminders (that’s  about 0.4% of students). In my first post on this I listed four reasons for our decision to ban mobiles:

  1. Distraction, most likely to be those who had fallen behind their peers and could least afford it.
  2. The high proportion of behaviour incidents in school that centred on phone usage. 
  3. Use of social media in bullying (and other interpersonal  nastiness).
  4. Thankfully much less frequent and involving very small numbers of pupils, the use of mobile phones in the involvement of children, by older peers and adults in substance abuse, crime, and CSE. 

In all five cases, confiscation was because of 1 – distraction from getting to a lesson on time – moved to 2 by the students’ choice to ignore a warning. In a couple  of cases there may be a connection to 4, readers will appreciate that I cannot write more on that.

This may or may not turn out to be representative of the year ahead, we shall see. I aim to write another update later in the autumn term. As always, your comments are very welcome.

Ten tips to avoid exam stress

Exam season is upon us again and it can be a fine balance for teachers between motivating students and causing undue stress or anxiety.

Here are some helpful things students can do to keep motivated and stay healthy too. This list originated several years ago from an A level psychology task I gave my students to do for a unit on stress – use what they had learned to write advice for students who had upcoming exams. I have developed it over the years and this latest version is influenced by advice from our School Health Nurse, Deb Burdett, the NHS,  and the charity Mind.
 

Ten tips to beat exam stress

  1. Get Organised. Make sure you know what exams you have, what kind of questions they will have and when they are.
  2. Manage your time. Make a revision timetable. Make sure you build in breaks.
  3. Stay In control by sticking to your plan.
  4. The right Environment. Work somewhere that is light, has enough space and is distraction-free.
  5. Boost your confidence. Use a revision journal, recall things that have gone well in the past and visualise your success.
  6. Eat Healthily and stay hydrated. Avoid ‘energy’ drinks: they give the illusion of alertness but impair your performance.
  7. Sleep. Get enough sleep; a tired brain does not work well.
  8. Friends & family. Let them know you have exams and need to revise. Keep in touch during your planned breaks.
  9. Avoid life changes: For example starting a new relationship.
  10. Nerves: Recognise that signs of exam nerves like ‘butterflies in the stomach’ or a dry mouth are just your body preparing for action. 

We include this in our revision guides we give to students and it has also just gone out as the regular (‘Dear Deb…’) item from our School Health Nurse in our school newsletter.

I hope you find this list useful. Please feel free to use and adapt it as you wish. I’d be interested in which resources other schools use.

Students get more help and advice on student life from these pages on the Mind website and advice directed at parents and carers can be found on this area of the NHS Choices website.

  
April 2017 Update

Our old school nurse Deb Burdett has been promoted on to another area, but we still use the materials we produced together and our current school nurse, covering more than one school, keeps up the good work. We have run special sessions on tackling exam anxiety this year which have proved popular.

This list is made up of simple, but proven advice. The websites cited provide further guidance and signpost additional help for students who need it.

In It To Win It – Top Ten Tips for Attendance

of all the key elements to raising standards in school, attendance has to be the most basic. Unless students are in school we can’t teach them; when absent they miss out on learning. You have to be in it to win it.

We’ve been making year-on-year improvements to attendance at my school for the past few years, but need to improve further. As part of my thinking about parental engagement, I decided to ask parents and carers for advice on getting kids to school regularly and on time. After all, it’s parents who have to do this, so who better to ask than those who have been successful. This, and a bit of additional research has led to the following advice:

Top Ten Tips for Attendance

  1. Establish basic routines, like waking up time, that will help your child develop good attendance habits.
  2. Get everything ready for school the night before: uniform, homework, PE kit, packed lunch, etc., so that your child has everything they need for the day. Check if there are any letters from school and anything that needs a signature.
  3. Talk to your child regularly about why going to school every day is important. Set a good example yourself, so your child can see your own commitment to being on time for work and appointments.
  4. Avoid making routine medical or dental appointments during the school day.
  5. Look up the NHS guidelines about when a sick child should be kept off school and when they should attend. Generally, if they have a fever, diarrhoea and/or vomiting, or certain infectious illnesses, they should be at home, but coughs, colds, aches & pains are not a reason to miss school.
  6. Make an emergency plan for who will ensure your child gets to school if you can’t, for example if another of your children is ill. Agree this with someone now: you might be able to help each other out in a crisis.
  7. Let school know if something happens that means your child will have a problem getting to school on time (for example, your car won’t start, or a bus is late).
  8. If your child is absent, work with their teachers to make sure they catch up with the work they missed. Their form tutor will usually be the best point of contact.
  9. If your child starts being reluctant to go to school, find out why and work with teachers to sort out any issues. Just keeping them away will not resolve anything.
  10. Get involved with school. Support school events and perhaps join the PTA. When your children see that you are taking time to get involved, they will take school more seriously too.

Much of this may seem obvious, but I think there is something to think about in the list for most people. For example, I hadn’t thought of making an advance plan for getting my own kids to school if there was a problem.

We received quite a lot of other advice about encouraging teenagers to get out of bed in the morning. This included putting the (very loud) alarm clock out of reach, turning the lights on, and giving a running countdown of time left before having to leave for school. As for buckets of cold water, deary, deary me…

I hope you find these top ten tips useful; if you want to use them, please feel free to do so. Comments are always welcome and if you have any more tips, I’d love to hear them.

Engaging with parents: making time for what makes a difference

In recent months I’ve been thinking about what really makes a difference at school. Inspired by a post by @leadinglearner, I wrote this post In January on ‘brass tacks’. At the same time I have also been trying to improve my organisation and time management. My recent posts on this include getting to grips with email and achieving a better work-life balance. 

One of my ‘brass tacks’ was about parental engagement. I believe that supportive and engaged parents and carers are key to children being successful and happy. Through tracking the goals that I had completed each day and those which were unresolved (originally as part of a technique to detach from work at the end of the day), I came to realise that the thing most likely to derail my carefully scheduled plans was an interaction with a parent. The meeting about a behaviour issue that overruns, the referral from a Head of Year, or the unexpected phone call or email that reveals an important issue, can all suddenly take precedence. This is, of course quite right, but it got me thinking why I wasn’t building more interaction with parents and carers into my schedule in the first place?

I took a look at my calendar and decided Thursdays would be a good day. We already calendar most parents’ afternoons / evenings on a Thursday. It’s also the day for Governors’ meetings so when there isn’t one the time already feels like a bit of a gift. For me it’s a good day too because I’m not teaching first or last thing and have no regular morning meetings. This means I am likely to be free at the times most parents are too – before and after the school day.

So, I have reserved these times (but clearly not just these times) for parents. Where I can, I am arranging meetings then. So far I’ve scheduled discussions about attendance, a behaviour concern, and a matter referred to be by a colleague. When I’m not doing this, I use the time to contact parents about their children’s achievements, either by phone or email. I use this as an extension to ‘Feelgood Friday’ when each week we encourage each teacher to make at least one positive call home. I contact parents about things I’ve seen that have impressed me. This is also something I can include in our school ‘pupil premium first approach. I edit the newsletter which goes out on a Friday, so I can also alert parents to look out for it when their child gets a mention. For example, this week I called home with news of students who had produced impressive ‘six word stories’ in tutor time for World Book Day. Sometimes these calls lead to wider conversations. It’s good to have a talk with a parent when the initial cause hasn’t been something that has gone wrong.

I have recently read Sir Tim Brighouse’s ‘Five time expenditures’*, the first being ‘sit on the wall, not on the fence’ – heads who make sure they are around at the start and end of the school day to be available to parents. Far fewer parents come into our secondary phase regularly, compared with the primary, but I think I might just try being around in reception at the start of the day when I can.

Comments are always welcome and I’d value any suggestions for working with parents & carers, particularly those who find it more difficult to engage with us.

*In How Successful Head Teachers Survive and Thrive by Professor Tim Brighouse, RM  Education, 2007.