Formative vs Summative Assessment

Many of you will have received NAPLAN results for your child recently and you may have heard the suggestion that NAPLAN-style testing should be replaced with a ‘formative’ assessment process.  If you’re wondering what this means, you’re not alone.

Robert Starke summed up the difference well when he said, “When the cook tastes the soup, that’s formative; when the guests taste the soup, that’s summative.”  In other words, formative assessment is supposed to track progress and make adjustments along the way, whereas summative assessment looks at the end product.  The infographic on this page provides a good overview of the differences.

One of the main issues that many have with NAPLAN is that it is very much a summative assessment.  Problems with this type of test are obvious – what if your child had a slight flu the day of the test?  What if teachers spend too much time ‘priming’ children for the tests and neglect general necessary academic skills?  If some schools are resourced better than others then how should this be tied to NAPLAN results (if at all)?

Generally, NAPLAN seems to be plagued by limitations (consider for a second how multiple choice questions can skew any valid results) and aspects of it have come under criticism worldwide (even the NSW Minister for Education has repeatedly called for NAPLAN to be scrapped).

On the other hand, many people see that formative assessment would need to rely far more on an individual teacher’s judgement of ongoing student performance, while a standardised test (where students across Australia are compared to each other) is more transparent.

It seems the general consensus is that despite its shortcomings, the merits of having some form of snapshot of child (and, by association, teacher) performance is better than none, so it is here to stay for the time being at least.

It is worth remembering that NAPLAN performance does not affect your child’s grades and that for a motivated teacher if the information is used as intended the results can provide useful feedback.

There is plenty of information (if a little biased!) at the website of the Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority (the organisation that administers NAPLAN) at www.acara.edu.au.  If you have further questions or concerns, we recommend that you call us for a chat, contact your child’s teacher or school principal.

At Mesh we use a combination of formative and summative assessment to monitor your child’s progress – if you have any questions at all please give us a call.  (We promise our results are a lot easier to understand than NAPLAN!)

Springtime Goalsetting

It’s the first day of September and sure enough, the sun is shining.  While the temperature is just in the high teens and if I’m honest I do still feel a twinge of jealousy at the 30 degree forecast where my parents live up in Cairns, I think wearing a t-shirt for the first time this season felt all the more special because we don’t get to do it all year round.

There is something nice about having four seasons in a year.  Barbeques in the summer, cosy fires in the winter, blankets of red leaves in Autumn and bursts of blossom in the Springtime.

I know that the tradition is to set resolutions at the beginning of the calendar year, but in some ways I find this difficult.  Usually at that time I’m feeling bloated from too many Christmas lunches and it’s too hot to really feel motivated enough to make significant changes.

Spring, on the other hand, marks a definite change from the cold, short winter days, to an emerging newness.  We have a lot that we take for granted in our beautiful country.  What better time is there to take stock and make changes than when we can stand in the sun and literally enjoy the warmth of a new season?

Mentalfloss.com (what a great name for a website!) even gives 15 ‘Scientific Reasons Spring Is The Most Delightful Season.’

As well as being able to spend more time outside, being able to open the windows means we can invite the outside in.  We become more creative, have more energy and get more natural vitamins simply because of the change in our lifestyle.  Apparently, the crime rate also drops as the weather warms up!

Perhaps if you’re not convinced yet, it might be a good idea to put down your mobile phone, slap on a hat, wander down the street and see how many blooms you can spot!

Take some time to enjoy the sunshine, take stock of where you are at and think about what realistic goals you can set right now.

Raising confident kids

As a tutor, I see first hand that confidence plays a key in the success our children have, both socially and academically.  In fact, instilling self-belief is absolutely necessary if we are to make any progress with students acquiring any literacy or numeracy skills.

There are many websites with content by ‘experts’ to give you tips on how to ensure your child grows up believing in themselves, but it is important to remember that each child is different.  Don’t lose heart if you follow this advice and it doesn’t all work for your child.  Talking to them and getting to know them and what makes them tick is the most important part in this process.

Develop a focus on positives

Most of us know that if our children experience defeat, we need to encourage them to be optimistic, but rather than giving them an off the cuff comment such as, “Well your mum and I think you did a great job,” acknowledge how they are feeling.  Try something like, “I can see how disappointed you are.  How about we see if we can come up with a plan so that you do even better next time?”

Try to get involved in setting realistic goals with your child and be specific about developing tactics to help them achieve these goals.  Don’t forget also that the goal for today might just be to get out there and have fun!

Encourage decision-making

Like adults, children also like to feel as if they are in control, but for a child with low self-esteem, this can become daunting.

Giving children a chance to make choices from an early age can help build a sense of responsibility.  Simple situations, such as deciding what to have for a meal, can provide you with an opportunity to get them involved in this process.

Talking to your kids about some of the everyday decisions you face is also an ideal way to get them involved without them feeling too much pressure.  You could discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the situation – this reinforces to them that their opinions are valuable.

Don’t always rescue your child

Of course we all want to support our children, but as Robert Brookes writes, children learn to succeed by overcoming obstacles, not having you remove them.  We need to strike a balance – while setting goals and achieving them should be the aim, kids need to understand that failing is often a part of life and dealing with this is just as important as celebrating success.

It is also important that children feel that they can play and try activities without thinking that as parents we will criticize them for doing something wrong.  There is a big difference between being there for them when things don’t go well and always trying to fix things for them.

Be realistic about what ‘confidence’ is

Being self-confident is not the same thing as being narcissistic or arrogant.  Having your child develop an awareness of what is realistic and  where their strengths and weaknesses lie will help them constantly aim higher and achieve more, but developing empathy is also an important part of the equation.

We all need to fit in and be appreciated and giving your child opportunities to help others is an excellent way of fostering this type of self-worth.  You can start by asking them to help with small tasks around the home.  Simply knowing they played a role in making the dinner that the family is eating can offer them an enormous amount of pride and more importantly it lets them know that even adults need help.

 

It’s important to realise that there is no perfect strategy for raising your child – otherwise we would all be reading the same book rather than browsing the internet reading articles like this!  See what works with your child – its most likely that instead of following one ‘guru’, you’ll get the most from taking a snippet here and something else from there.  The fact that each child is individual is what makes this whole parenting process so special.

Apps that can help your child get organised

While most of us would agree that our kids spend too much time on their iPads, there are actually tons of applications out there that can be quite useful for students.  If they can’t put it down anyway, why not put that device to some good use?  

*Before we get started, it is worth noting that all these apps have a free version available and also that I do not have any affiliation with any of the companies mentioned.  With any app, it’s definitely recommended that you check it out yourself before telling your child to download it.

Google Calendar  

How many of us WISH our child would use her diary more?  It seems that even if things do get written down, they are just forgotten.  Given the reminder facilities and the fact that her device is permanently attached to her hand anyway, there is a far better chance that an electronic equivalent will be used effectively.

While most devices come with a stock calendar pre-installed, Google Calendar lets you create notes and to-do lists within the app.  With all the colour-coding options (great for distinguishing between assignments and tests) and notifications and event repetition items, there will be no excuses for missing due dates again.  There are also plenty of other calendars out there that are pretty good as well – sometimes using productivity tools effectively comes down to the aesthetics.

Office Lens

This app is particularly good for students who want to capture images from a whiteboard or TV monitor.  Images are automatically flattened and cropped and the contrast and brightness settings are adjusted for optimal readability.  Remarkably, the app manages to cut out glare from screens and even produces pretty clear images in low light.

Dropbox

A lot of students run out of storage space on their device, what with all the selfie-shots and videos they take.  Dropbox is less of an ‘app’ and (as Dropbox calls itself) a workspace, letting you store and access all of your documents safely from any device.  It is also useful where more than one person is working on a project at a time.  Files can be shared with specific people and even those that would chew up huge amounts of data if you were to email them back and forth are easily accessed.

There are other alternatives, such as Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive.  The point is that there really is no excuse these days for losing work.

 

Noisli

Many students find it hard to avoid external distractions and apps like Noisli aim to provide a background environment that helps them to focus on their work.  (Of course, switching off message notifications is also important.)

Goal trackers

If your child is in her senior years, a dedicated goal tracker, such as Beeminder or lifetick might be worth a look.  Most students own a smartwatch or activity tracker and love clocking up steps every day.  Why not apply the same principle in encouraging them to get their work done?  Many of these apps produce great-looking charts and reward you for progress.  It’s actually a pretty good idea for us adults too!

Talk about it with your child

Rather than just nagging them to get things done, remember that kids love using technology.  Suggesting that they look into using their devices to help them get things done might just be the bridge that you need to have this conversation in a constructive way.  Who knows – that device you’re always trying to get them off might actually be part of a solution for a change!

Mesh Learning Secrets

Mesh secrets revealed!

From time to time I get asked why the tutoring we do at Mesh is so successful.  While my usual response would be that we try to give each student what he/she needs as an individual, there are some key policies that we have in place across the board that make this achievable.

Challenging but achievable
Firstly, we strive to get the difficulty level of work right.  If topics are too easy, boredom will eventually set in.  If the work is too hard, it won’t be understood in enough depth to be retained for the long run.  The initial test are important for this as they provide us with a benchmark and they make it easy for tutors and parents to see where a child’s strengths and weaknesses lie.

We believe all kids love to learn
It is our belief that children enjoy learning new things as long as they are set up for success.  This means more than just a gold star or a big tick.  We are always striving for that ‘lightbulb’ moment where we can see that the child has finally ‘got’ it.  As a teacher, this is one of our greatest joys.

In a tuition environment we have the ability to break topics down and deliver them in small chunks, targeting exactly what needs to be learnt at a pace that suits each child individually.

Every child is different
It might sound like a cliché but getting to know each student really does help with the learning process.

For example, if a child is getting stuck on percentages at school and we know that they find fractions challenging, we have the advantage of immediately knowing what part of the question is most likely causing problems.

Methods and materials
All the materials we use have been designed specifically for a tuition environment.  Activities are carefully tiered, so that they gradually get more challenging as a child’s ability level increases.

Revision is built into the system so that we are able to check that students are retaining skills.  Our iPads are not used for games – they are an important tool that we utilise to check understanding and promote independence.

Qualified, dedicated teachers
Many of you will notice that the way subjects are taught has changed over the years.  Our tutors are qualified teachers who understand current techniques and the requirements of the curriculum.  Having the best materials in the world will not help if the people delivering the content are not competent and caring.

Transparency
We are always happy to talk to you about any aspect of the service we offer.  Please book an appointment if you have any questions at all.

How you say it is just as important as what you say

I was introducing one of my Primary students the other day to the idea of irony, when she asked me, “So how do we know if someone really means what they say or not?”

Because most of us grow up in a consistent social environment that presents us with norms we instinctively develop the maturity and skills needed to recognise this, but the question led me to wonder whether most of us act with the sincerity that is needed when raising children.

We all realise that we need to give positive messages to our children. This instils self-confidence so that they can deal with life’s knocks and challenges.

When we say compassionate, rather than judgemental things, this rubs off on our children and affects not only the way they behave but the way they feel toward us. This article from thedaddude.com talks about the inner voice that children develop from the words we say to them.

We also want our kids to be kind towards others. That’s why it is sometimes shocking to see their early command of sarcasm. You only need to do a stint at yard duty at a school at lunch time to witness this. Studies now show that kids can pick up on sarcasm as early as age 4.

So when your child comes to you with her latest piece of art and you reply, “That’s lovely, dear,” they can tell whether you are being sincere. We often use sarcasm without even realising it. Phrases such as, “How many times have I told you not to do that?” demand an understanding of the implied message behind the words.

What this suggests is that while what we say is obviously fundamentally important, kids are able to pick up a lot more than we often realise. Especially in this new age of information technology, they are confronted with more at an earlier age than ever before. It makes sense then, that if we want them to achieve their potential, we should probably be more conscious of the fact that they don’t just listen – they interpret what we say and how we say it.

Keeping motivated through the colder months

Many of us find that our habits unconsciously change when the weather turns cold.  If the sun is not shining we often find that energy levels drop and so too does our productivity.

Stay active

The middle of the school year is often where the most important concepts are taught and so students need to make sure they are getting the most out of their study at this time.

While it might be tempting to stay curled up in front of the TV where it’s warm and cosy, an active brain relies on an active body.

Unless it’s raining heavily, encourage your kids to rug up and get outside.  Despite what many people believe, they won’t catch a cold just from being outside when it’s cold.

Keep to a schedule

With the dwindling daylight hours, it often seems that we have less time to get things done.

If you don’t have one already, create a realistic schedule and try to stick to it, especially when it’s cold and dark outside.

Make a to-do list

Following on from the last tip, setting goals will give you focus, especially when it doesn’t come naturally!

Stay off Social Media

Bad weather might seem the perfect excuse to sit in where it’s warm and catch up on all those Facebook posts you have been missing out on, but if you have a tendency to get hooked on Social Media, you may find that your habits become worse when it’s cold.

Once you become aware of what motivates you and your children there really is no reason that this cannot be maintained throughout the year, regardless of the season.

Who knows – actively putting measures in place before the cold really sets in might just see this the most productive winter yet!

 

Digital natives or digitally naïve?

Are you continually amazed at how your toddler seems to intuitively know whether to swipe, tap or click their way to successfully navigate an app they set eyes on only a few seconds ago?  Techopedia, the encyclopedia of all things technology-related, calls such individuals ‘Digital Natives’ – individuals “born after the widespread adoption of digital technology.”

While there is plenty of research that tells us limiting the use of technology and increasing the amount of free play (preferably outdoors!) is something we as parents should actively be encouraging, there is no getting away from the fact that the digital world is already playing a huge role in our children’s lives.

Honestly, when was the last time your child looked anything up in a book?  I would guess they either typed a search in Google, or that they asked Siri (I have lost track of how many times my daughter has asked Siri, “Why did the chicken cross the road?”).

No matter how hard you try to limit their exposure to the internet, there will come a time when they “need to use it for my research project.”  As parents, though, this does not mean that we bow out and let Siri become their best friend.  Just the opposite in fact.  Whether you believe that the news has always been skewed or not, there is no doubt that with a 24-hour news feed in the form of Facebook, Twitter and even the major news networks, creating a buzz around a story is what makes headlines (although that is a little old-fashioned – these days it’s about getting ‘likes’ or ‘retweets’ – ask your kids if you’re unsure what these terms mean).

And it is here that lies the dilemma.  While our kids these days are super-tech-savvy, they will also believe just about anything, as long as it is exciting enough.  I am constantly reminding my daughter that Justin Bieber is not going to be impressed with her (or any of her friends) miming to a song, no matter how catchy it is.  The threat of online predators continues to be a major concern and something we are all struggling to get on top of.

What might seem to us something that is so preposterous that there is no way our kids could think it is true to them is simply thrilling.  Then I have to remind myself that only last year she still believed in Santa Claus and the year before that she was desperate to get a hug from the person in the cute killer whale costume at SeaWorld.

My point?  The purpose of this little blog was not to try and give all the answers, but to get us parents thinking about how we can help them safely and responsibly navigate the online world.  Just because they are now besties with Siri that doesn’t mean we no longer have a role when it comes to the information they are absorbing, it just means we have a different (more complicated?) one.  And I haven’t even started on ‘Fake News’ …

Positive Reinforcement (Getting Things Done and Keeping Your Sanity)

Waking up early, packing the bag, arriving at school on time and getting homework finished.  It all starts again in less than a week!  Surely there must be a better way than getting through it all than last year?

There are plenty of sites that will help you ‘de-stress your morning routine’.  This one even has pictures!  I also came across this (semi) humorous page titled “26 Simple Tricks To Make Your Kids Do Whatever You Want.”

Wouldn’t it be nice, though, if there were a magic technique that would work in every situation?  Some sort of holy grail of parenting that would allow you to organise, motivate and promote healthy behaviour in your child?

Amongst all the buzzwords out there, “Positive Reinforcement” are the two that seem to provide the most hope.  Who wouldn’t want to be seen as a positive parent who raises positive children?

The issue comes when we look at what this new catchphrase means.  It is important not to get things confused with the idea of praising everything your child does unnecessarily.  This type of ‘Parental Overvaluation’ can often lead to narcissism in children.

When your little one comes to you with big proud eyes displaying her latest squiggle of colours and blobs, rather than just blurting out, “Wow!  That’s amazing – you’re the best artist in the entire world!”  the idea is to comment on either the effort that was put in (“Gee, you obviously worked really hard on that”) or some detail that indicates you actually paid attention to what she has done (“I really love the blue that you used here – can you tell me about it?”).

The biggest benefit of positive reinforcement, though, is (at least in principle) its ability to negotiate outcomes without conflict.  This is also the hardest aspect to put into practice and the most confusing to understand.  What follows, then, is an extremely simple summary based on personal experience that will hopefully encourage you to get on the bandwagon.

I have found firstly that it helps to explain the situation rather than laying blame.  Rather than flailing your hands and exclaiming, “I can’t believe you spilled your drink on the carpet again!  How many times have I told you not to bring drinks into the lounge?” I have found that it actually helps to explain the situation.  “If we spill drink on the carpet, it attracts ants.  That’s why it’s better to keep drinks out of the lounge room.”

Saying things calmly also helps.  Yelling invites more yelling and (most of the time) seems not to have any more effect than saying the same thing at a lower volume.  I have a sneaking suspicion that children also learn from modelling.  Using rhetorical questions at high volume while flapping one’s arms in the air does not set a great example.

The next thing I had to come to terms with is that the idea of ‘positive’ does not always equal ‘pleasant’.  If the explanation method doesn’t seem to be working (and sometimes it needs quite a few repetitions to have effect) then letting ‘natural consequences’ take effect may help.

This has nothing to do with any spiritual holistic beliefs.  It may be something as simple as agreeing that screen time is tied to room cleanliness and that if the room isn’t clean there is no time on the iPad.  Sticking to this is vital.  If you establish rules (and these need to be ‘negotiated’, rather than dictated) then your child needs to see that you are serious about sticking to these.

Also, your wording has a lot to do with how successful this will all be.  Talking about screen time as being a reward for keeping the room tidy works better than saying that if their room is not tidy then they will not be get any screen time.

Mrs. Bhandakar summarised most of this in an excellent article titled “How to Go From a Nagging Parent to a Master Motivator” and while I’m not there yet, I also take solace in her advice to occasionally “put things in perspective and let things slide.”  The main thing is to realise that (and yes, I know this comes across like a cliché) you are not going to get it right all the time.  But even if this strategy helps me to get to know the way my daughter ticks a little better then I feel I’m making progress.

Is play on the way out?

Why, you might ask, given that I run an education centre, would I be writing an article about the merits of children spending time more time playing?

While grasping academic basics is essential in building a foundation for learning, exploring the outdoors and using our imagination are just as important for developing cognitive and social skills.

Play helps us mature in our ability to solve problems, develop empathy and self-confidence.  There has even been a shift in many classroom models towards activities that are self-directed by students for similar reasons.

The trouble is that children just don’t get enough old-fashioned play.  There are often many opportunities to take part in organised sports but not much time is set aside for time for the child to direct his or her own play.

Probably the single biggest change to our lives that has encroached on play is the increasing amount of time we all spend in front of screens.

The American Journal of Play states that alongside the decrease in the amount of play, there has been a sharp rise in the amount of depression, anxiety and narcissism in children.

According to a report from The Alliance of Childhood, a non-profit partnership concerned with the health and wellbeing of children, kids “spend less than 50% of the time in unstructured outdoor activities than in the 1970s.”

Ironically, if your child seems stressed or irritable, it may just be that what he or she needs is more time for unstructured play.  One of the major benefits is said to be the development of children’s ability to regulate their anger and emotions.

A thought-provoking quote that stood out to me was by psychologist Peter Gray.  He noted that

 

“Tantrums might work with parents, but they never work with playmates.”

 

As we strive to develop independence and resilience in our children, we sometimes forget that the best way to do this is through a process of self-discovery in an environment where formal structure is actually kept at a minimum.

To summarise, then, it should make sense that far from being at opposite ends of the learning spectrum, play and academic success go hand in hand.

When students are able to operate independently and creatively, they become better problem-solvers and ultimately better learners generally.