Feeling ‘in control’ of the school journey


Students shouldn’t feel swept along or left behind by school! It is their journey – they should know where they’re going, and be relaxed and confident behind the steering wheel.

When driving a car, we have learned not to focus on the road immediately in front of the vehicle. Otherwise we have no time to react to hazards. So, we focus on the road well ahead and avoid the hazards by making subtle adjustments early.

School content is the road racing towards us.

There will always, always, always be obstacles ahead. Always an impending test. Always homework due next week. Always another assignment due date bearing down on us. Always missed lessons for sick days or rehearsals or interschool sports, etc, etc, etc.

Some students’ tendency to want to use ELC time to prepare only for whichever task is due next is like staring at the bitumen blurring away under the front wheels. Trying to react to each bump in the road moments before you hit it is STRESSFUL. And as hard as we try, with such short-term focus, we hit all the potholes anyway.

By taking this approach to school, when do primary or secondary students ever have a free moment to look at the road ahead? To think, plan, and avoid the major obstacles we know are waiting down the track? To sit back, relax, and feel in control of their school life?

ELC Student: “But I have a test tomorrow!”


ELC tutor makes face palm when student says they need to prepare for tomorrow's test

Us still: “Well, yes. You always know there is going to be a test. What’s different now to a month ago?”

Ok, we’ll be a little more sympathetic! But that’s the message we need to impart. That feeling of urgency would have served them well weeks ago when they had opportunities to prepare.

The night (or even week) before is not a very effective time to prepare for a test, let alone to learn and retain information. At that point all they can do is memorise, short-term, rather than understand, long-term.

“Test prep” is everything that they (should) have been doing since they started learning the topic. And home assignments should be finished with a week spare whenever possible. (More on procrastination here and on ‘cramming’ vs effective test prep in coming pieces.)

Preparing for tests means practicing a little bit of everything, often, not a lot the week before.

It’s learning ahead to lessen the effect of unexpected disruptions or forgotten due dates.
It’s frequent revision of all that year’s topics.
It’s studying beyond what teachers present in revision sheets, to prepare for the A-standard ‘Complex Unfamiliar’ questions which must be included on all tests these days.
It’s employing modern, proven study methods, rather than those handed down the generations.
It’s recognising how your body and mind react subconsciously to test stress, and knowing how to combat that.

Long-term understanding and retention is now a critical skill for students to develop early, since Queensland has introduced external final exams that cover the whole year’s content.

However, when/if short-term schoolwork or test preparation does become a stressor for your child, we can switch our ELC focus temporarily. If things are sometimes not as “under control” as they thought, we can give direct point-of-need support, if appropriate.

But it’s critical that we soon return our focus to the future. Otherwise, the obstacles on the School Curriculum Motorway soon start catching them “by surprise” again (particularly in Maths). Then we all default back to stressful reactionary mode. We lose our big advantage.

Developing your child’s forward planning

We are constantly reiterating this philosophy to our students so that they make the most of their ELC time.

But students spend less than 1% of their week with us. And schools sometimes inadvertently impart the complete opposite message to students. So, if your children are hearing the same ELC philosophies on the home front, they will sink in deeper.

Help your child make the most of their 75 minutes per week at ELC by understanding what we’re working towards with them, and reminding them:

  • When they need advice on current school content:
    • They should tell us in the very next session. And tell us first thing, at the very start of the session.
    • Bring in everything to show us: textbook, workbook, term planer, notes, theory book, handouts, photos of the whiteboard, a photo of a friend’s notes from a missed class… If we can see exactly which concept is needed, we can quickly hit just that bit, rather than guessing what the class did from the student’s own vague description. (Though, man, are we well practised at that!!)
    • Bring assignment task sheets (and all auxiliary pages). We can’t give succinct advice on drafts if we can’t see exactly what the task requires. Read the whole task sheet before coming in, to have a full picture of what is required. Tasks these days are no longer step-by-step.
    • Prioritise which specific questions from school they need our help with. It’s crazy to use ELC time to do questions which could be done in home time, and then run out of time to ask about the harder questions on the next page!
  • Prompt them to start picturing themselves as an adult.
    • What do they see? How should they start aiming for that?

Where will they be in 20 years?

Ultimately, while necessarily dealing with the day to day, at ELC we’re not just looking at the coming weeks and terms. We’re imagining our students in their 20s and beyond…

After QCE.
After they get their Ps.
After tertiary study or training.
After they move into their own place.
When next week’s test has loooooong vanished in the rear-view mirror, never to be thought of again.

Where would they like to be in 10… 15… 20 years?

That’s our intended destination.

That’s where all today’s decisions and actions can lead us if we can look up from what’s immediately ahead and take the long view.


More tips for navigating children through education:

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About the Author: Dan Blore
Dan Blore manages and teaches at Extended Learning Centres. He has spent 20 years in education, having studied secondary education at University of the Sunshine Coast. He has taught in Australia and Germany and studied at university in Italy. He most enjoys teaching and studying mathematics and languages, both of which he focused on at university.

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