Moving on…

Posted by on Mar 10, 2014 in Blog | 0 comments

Hasn’t the academic year gone quickly? For those facing exams the end of the course is in site and many are counting the days till the last exam and the end of Year 13. For others though it has been a long hard slog through Year 12 and the thought of exams is, well, rather worrying. For some pupils it is the age old problem of not enough work because independent study is a difficult concept to grasp. Why is it, that when teenagers are feeling at their most sociable, that teachers and parents expect them to work? It’s all very unfair, at least, from the teenage point of view.

Some of my students have tried their best to ignore the growing work load in the hope that it will go away. Unfortunately it hasn’t and their teachers have become a little upset. When parents are trying to encourage a good work ethic and teachers become exasperated, the hapless teenager often goes into a lock down mode, ignores work and school based activities and retreats to the bedroom. Here they  might engage with cyber space, which appears much less of a threat, or perhaps go out and attempt to drown their sorrows. Either route leads to conflict. Perhaps the worst case scenario is a refusal to go to school. Can any of these situations be resolved? In many cases the answer is yes.

Holistic learners see the big picture and the situation, if you haven’t completed essays, coursework or revision can be terrifying. Mountains of work pile up and while the parent or teacher might suggest that starting at the beginning is a good idea your teenager may not even know where the beginning is or how to start. The student who shuffles work to one side often does not know how to start, whether it is an essay, coursework or other assignment. They can be very indecisive and need support to get going. It is quite normal to expect that students in post 16 education should be mature enough to cope with the demands of their courses but these are the students who will go into a clothes shop, try on a range of outfits and not be able to decide which to buy. If they can’t make decisions about something close to their heart, they cannot make decisions about learning!

Step one means that they need to assess the size of the problem and then ask for help in chunking it down into manageable size pieces. This is a big ask and the struggling teen may need help in taking the first step.

In addition, these students often have a short attention span. Sitting still for more than 5 minutes without recourse to texting, social networking, flicking pieces of paper, swinging on their chair or tapping a pen will be extremely difficult. Naturally, while all these displacement activities are taking place, they won’t be concentrating on their work. Teenagers can be helped to get down to work and concentrate and short bursts often work best. Environment can also play an important part in concentration and it is not always a quiet room which  is most conducive to learning.

Step 2 is to get help with working out the optimum time, place and attention span for the student.

While they probably excel at networking with friends they find it difficult to communicate with their subjects. The opening paragraph of an essay or piece of coursework can be the equivalent of the north face of the Eiger; completely un-climbable! Communication comes in many guises and although teenagers are often good at communicating in word bites over social media, sustained writing, like sustained reading takes a little more effort.

Step 3. Get a plan for writing extended pieces of work. I often use flash cards and flip charts to help reluctant students structure what they need to say.

Knowing why they are doing the work is also important. Many of my clients are externally motivated; school really isn’t the most important thing in their life so we have to look beyond the next exam. What will good marks buy them in the long term? If they don’t have a goal it is very difficult to get them to work. Be realistic about what they can achieve and what they want to achieve. Often what the student sees as a potential occupation does not coincide with parental expectation. Try to achieve a balance and remember that it is the teenager who has to achieve the goal, not the parent.

Step 4 Find a goal – without a goal it is difficult to move forward. (N.B. a worthy goal is not a monetary sum for each grade achieved. it has to be a life goal).

If you have some of the above in place you may get them out of the bedroom and on task. If only it were that simple but these are steps I use in conjunction with a lot of discussion and help in getting the reluctant student back on track. It does work and it often helps the student if someone completely unbiased helps them through the stages to getting back  to work. Parents have too much emotion invested in their offspring and can become frustrated or even irate when their teenager does not reach expected standards. Teachers are often pushed for time and it can take a long time to tease out the problems and find solutions. So I would say that Step 5 is to contact me so that I can assess, talk to and help your teenager work out a strategy that helps them regain confidence in their own abilities and able to face the tasks ahead.