Striking a balance

Posted by on Mar 23, 2017 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

I’ve just filed my article for this months Monnow Voice on striking a balance when it comes to study. It is easy to underestimate the damage stress can  cause when exams or deadlines loom. In the article, I recall that the sound of a lawnmower and freshly bruised grass has me right back behind a rickety desk, window open and the helpful gardener creating a din while I try to recall the intricacies of Perkin Warbeck and Lambert Simnel, or photosynthesis. At weekends we would lie in the meadow, working on our tans and kidding ourselves we were revising. It was a long time ago but the memories are still clear. Often, I would doze off while writing notes. Some 20 years later I realised that a shortcut to learning and retaining for me was listening to recorded lectures. I still needed to write notes, or at least the key points but I remembered the detail best by listening. I could have saved myself a lot of grief in my teens if I had known this! I was the student who threw up copiously before the exam, could faint during and maybe throw up again afterwards. Happy days! There was little sympathy from staff and Matron, in particular, found me to be a pain in the neck.

Learning effectively is not simply a matter of sitting in front of books or screen and reading and writing. While some students can work like this the majority need a range of strategies to stave of boredom and aid retention. Some students find the whole process of even starting work challenging. They are overwhelmed by what seems to be an insurmountable workload, don’t know which topic to tackle first and certainly don’t want to be marooned in their room for a whole day in front of a laptop or a notepad. Often their notes are in disarray and they have a short attention span. A recipe for disaster? Not at all. Given some useful strategies, some gentle chivying, lots of t.l.c. and plenty of snacks they can overcome their reluctance to engage in study.

Equally as challenging, although you may not suspect it at first, is the student who secretes themselves in their room all day, possibly surrounded by meticulous files and pores over their books. What a diligent child , you think perhaps rather smugly. You may be correct and in many cases you will be but there are two obvious downsides. The first is that a child who works strenuously all day without break is ramping up the stress levels and not giving his or her brain a chance to absorb and process the information. Fresh air and exercise is essential for well being and getting out, moving around and socialising will be of enormous benefit. Secondly, those who are meticulous often have a ‘cant see the wood for the trees’ approach in that when they hit a problem or something they can’t understand they are unable to move on. They stick in the one spot worrying at the problem, hoping for a solution, rather than moving onto the next topic and then returning later to the sticking point with a fresh pair of eyes. There is also a third possibility: that your seemingly diligent offspring is daydreaming over their work and not applying themselves, writing copious notes on automatic pilot without absorbing the information or even just socialising online.

When I first started working with teens on their learning preferences I thought that it was all about how they processed the information. However, as time went on I realised that this was a small part of the process and what was really important was Attitude. I’m not talking about the attitude that answers back but about how well motivated they are, their self esteem – if you like their happiness and stress levels. Before you can learn effectively, you have to be on an even keel which is difficult to achieve in the turbulent teenage years. If they feel good about themselves, are well motivated and are then given the tools to study effectively things can really happen. It all comes back to lawn mowers as a stress trigger. If you don’t know how to cope, its difficult to be an effective learner. However, if you have the tools to help you feel good, know where you are going and how to get there, the sky is the limit.