16 June 2016
By Dan Blore, Educator
The best way of effecting long-term student success is to expose students to curriculum ahead of school.
When working towards a student’s future, we always take into account the bigger picture and the long-term. This goes to the core of what we do.
Over-emphasising test scores
Following the dominant school narrative, parents sometimes don’t realise that they have narrowed their thinking to focus overwhelmingly on test results. Test results have important uses. But they are very limited as an assessment of student capabilities. Emphasis on test scores has more negative effects on students than constructive effects.
Poor test performance
Many students have developed anxiety towards test situations, particularly in maths. This seeps into their learning. In severe cases it pervades their whole school experience. A major factor is an overemphasis on test performance.
Clinical psychologist Aliza Werner-Seidler works with high school students, developing skills to prevent mental health problems.
“The problem with a lot of testing is it creates a lot of pressure on young people,” she said.
“As soon as performing poorly is conceptualised as a failure, it can affect their self-esteem, particularly perfectionists and anxious young people.
“If they don’t perform well, it can be a severe source of stress and anxiety for them and it can be a self-perpetuating cycle.” –ABC, 2017
This is why many countries have moved towards equal assignment/test assessment, and are shifting focus to formative rather than summative assessment. Parents (and frustratingly, still some teachers) often wrongly diagnose poor test results as a content knowledge problem. They try to solve it with more explanation and more practice. But many students demonstrate that outside of test environments they do already understand the content. In such cases the problem is emotional/psychological.
Long-term focus “pays off”
Test and school anxieties are affective* habits which have embedded themselves over a long time. They will take time to unlearn. This is part of the reason for “learning ahead”, which will only pay off in the future: pre-exposure to core school content replaces potentially stressful maths experiences at school with positive experiences. Imagine being one of the students in class who is already familiar with the concepts being taught. You understand, you can participate and pick up the finer points. And it feels fantastic! With time, the balance tips from maths anxiety to maths enjoyment; from that point progress snowballs forwards rather than backwards.
*relating to moods, feelings, and attitudes
The problem with “Tutoring”*
*We prefer not to call ELC “tutoring” or “tuition”. We extend learning!
Only in some cases can approaches focused solely on content rather than confidence improve test results by much. Each new test covers different content. So students continue to stumble at every hurdle along the way. Demoralised, never reaching their stride, compounding the anxiety. There is market demand for this kind of approach, but in most cases we do not base our pedagogy on such approaches because we know that it is not in the best interest of the children and does not give parents what they ultimately want either.
Extended learning is key
We have our students working on content beyond their school year because this is the most effective* way to increase confidence in the long-term – once the confidence is in place, the affective block dissolves, they understand content so much more readily. When their teacher presents the concept at school, students recognise that they have done this before and have no reason to stress; it becomes revision, picking up anything they didn’t yet fully absorb; they need less study time, they answer questions in class, help other students.
*time-effective, cost-effective, least stressful – however you want to measure it.
But test scores are important
We know that to do well in senior secondary school, to have widest choice of university courses straight out of Year 12, students need to perform under test conditions. Short-term focus can effect short-term performance, but cannot address the core of the problem. Test scores improve so much more once students not only know the content but they are relaxed and confident going into the test because of all their positive maths experiences.
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