A conversation with a close friend, who is worrying about their daughter’s 11 plus in these difficult times, has prompted this post.
In truth, we don’t know exactly what is going to happen. We can predict, though, that something will happen. Either the tests will be rearranged, postponed, or a new system will be temporarily introduced. The first two of these are most likely; the third is not impossible to imagine. Schools could re-open earlier or later than we could predict, with the likelihood of some form of social distancing in place. It is, quite honestly, a horrible situation for our children, and for us, their carers and educators, who want to to do the best for them.
Simply, it is a reminder that we cannot control all events. We never have been able to. The current situation just makes this very, very obvious. Perhaps less obvious is the idea that this is okay, that not controlling all events does not mean we cannot control any events.
It is not, I think, about doing the right or wrong thing. No one knows enough. Instead of right or wrong, far better to think in terms of helpful or unhelpful. What is a helpful thing to do now? How can we help our children? This question opens up a world of opportunity and the realisation that there is so, so much we can do.
For me as a dad and as a teacher, two of the most helpful things we can do are:
- Continue to allow them to study for the 11 plus. Continue to support them, continue to find resources and use them, over time, to make deliberate improvements in skills and knowledge, one by one, folding in new skills on top of practising old skills and knowledge.
Remember, this is helpful or unhelpful – not right or wrong. Although there are only around 4-5 months remaining before the typical 11plus entrance test season starts, your child possibly has a lot longer than that in terms of extra time through being at home and being able to spend more time focused on 11 plus learning. In effect, the extra time to spend on targeted learning each day means it is more as if they still had 6-8 months to prepare, simply because this time wouldn’t exist under normal conditions.
I’ve written before how holidays, particularly the summer holidays, are true gifts of learning for the time they create to learn undisturbed. I don’t mean your children should study 6-8 hours a day and do nothing else – that would be unhelpful! However, three hours a day, plus reading, leaves so much time for childhood, while also offering unrivalled moments of learning among the people they love most – you!
This is certainly no holiday. But if we are thinking helpful or unhelpful, then it is definitely a learning moment to seize.
2. If we must worry, and worry, it seems, we often must, then we can try and find a really helpful way of worrying, a way that actually leads to less worry and more learning. There is a way, it is very simple, and if you haven’t tried this already, I invite you 100% to try this. It is going to help a lot.
The ‘write way to worry’ means simply this: the right way to worry is to write.
Write down what YOU worry about, both in your own education, and in helping your child to get as ready as they can be for the entrance test.
Do you have gaps in your own learning? Are you worried about verbal reasoning or non verbal reasoning, possibly because, like me, until you start out on the grammar school journey, you’ve never heard of them? Do you worry about the effect of ‘pressure’ on your child? Are you unsure of what is in your chosen school’s particular test? Are you comparing your child to others?
Maybe you fear your maths isn’t good enough, or maybe it’s just one area – division, or percentages, for example.
Is English your second language? Do you get spellings wrong? Would you worry about writing a letter?
Getting your worries – all of them – down in writing (and don’t judge yourself on HOW you are writing down your worries!) might take you half an hour, an hour at the most (trust me, you’ll run out!)
it will save you and your child weeks of time on your 11+ journey.
Please – do this. Remember, this is about helpful or unhelpful. Grab a piece of paper and get going. Think-writing is amazing at bringing thoughts up you didn’t even know you had, including worries you might be pretending are not there but are nevertheless holding you back from helping your child right now. Enjoy a good worry-write. My worries about my education/What I think I don’t know/What are my gaps?/What do I think I can’t help my child with?/What are my barriers to helping my child?
How do you feel? Worse, or relieved?
However you feel, shake your own hand for what you’ve just done.
Because now you know that what you are worried about is what YOU are worried about.
Your child is not worried about the same things, and you don’t have to pass on your worries to them. None of them. At all.
Admit it, not knowing some things? It’s pretty normal. It applies to every human being on Earth, right?
Not knowing we don’t know, refusing to accept we don’t know, or pretending we do know, can be a bit more risky to your child’s success: because of superinfluence, there’s a risk they will absorb your worries, or learn to believe it doesn’t matter if you don’t know some things.
In superinfluence, we’re only passing on the helpful stuff that actually supports their 11+ success. Well, now you know your worries, you can leave them behind or keep them with you.
So not passing on your worries, that’s one great result of writing them down and exploring them. Two more things to think about.
A second benefit of getting your worries down is you’ll probably realise that a lot of the time, that’s all they are – worries.
One of my worries at the time my daughter was preparing was non-verbal reasoning. I had an almost superstitious doubt (in that I had no evidence to support the worry, it was just fear) about my ability to see patterns and work with pictures. Rather than help my daughter, I worried I would actually make things worse for her. It stopped me covering the topic. I was a primary teacher, yet nowhere in the curriculum at the time was anything about non-verbal reasoning.
Of course, it wasn’t that I couldn’t do it, it was that I hadn’t done it, so had never learned how to.
Going through various books and website resources,step by step, at a pace right for both of us, my daughter and I learned the various types of shapes and sequences. Over time, our score in tests reached the level they needed to be. That would not have happened without time, and time would not have happened if I hadn’t admitted my worry months before.
The point is this: knowing you don’t know something is a strength because you can now find about it and learn it to a level that will help support your child. This is the third benefit of worrying in this helpful way. We can look at each worry objectively and take steps to deal with each and any step that moves our child’s learning forward. Isn’t that amazing?
It might help to bear in mind, too, that whatever you do not know, you are not expected to know anything a curious, interested 11 year old is not capable of learning.
That’s a helpful perspective to keep in mind.
This doesn’t mean that you wait until everything you worried about is dealt with, that you must be ready before you start helping your child – this will lose you time. You are never ready, you become ready by doing. There are actions that you can do to help right now. Pick one and do it. My science teacher, when I was at school (Hello, Mr Jackson) taught me one of the most helpful quotes I’ve ever heard: “Don’t worry, work.”
Perhaps the most common worry is the ‘What if..?’ kind. What if they don’t get in? What if I miss something? What if they find it too hard? What if I ruin it for them? What if I show myself up and can’t understand the learning myself?
Nothing is guaranteed in life, but the possibility of things not working out is never an excuse for not striving for those things anyway. Better results often come when you believe in something as if it is already a fact, and then work backwards to map out the plan to get to that reality.
I began my son’s 11+ journey with the end in mind – I already saw him getting in to his grammar school, and then worked backwards to find all the ways needed to get him to that truth. Did I have proof that it would happen? Not a chance!
I didn’t know all the ways – I knew close to nothing. Instead, I believed that there were ways, and if there were ways, then I could find out what they were, learn them and follow them.
I invite you to do the same.
One helpful tip to stay one step ahead of your child’s learning is to read through the lesson or part of a book or resource you’re going to use by yourself before reading through it with your child. In Bond, How to do 11+ Maths, for example, read the chapter on ratio before you teach them it.
A week, an hour, even ten minutes is sometimes enough to grasp the general learning you’re about to cover. By the second or third time, as you read it with your child it will probably make sense. Even if you don’t understand a concept completely, you can lead the situation confidently and honestly by saying,
‘Well, it looks tricky, but so did the other things and we worked on them, and we can do them now.’
Another tip is to do some of the work they do with them. If you are asking your child to practise writing an extended metaphor paragraph, then have a go at writing one as well. If you are showing them long division, have them give you questions to solve, or do the same questions your child is doing, modelling a couple, then hiding your answers and turning it into a game.
Thank you for teaching and nurturing your child, you are making a difference to the world.
If you are looking for help in multiple choice English or creative writing, I invite you to a 50% discount on the 11 Plus English Masterclass 4-book Ebundle, with immediate downloads available to save even more time. Enter ‘stay at home’ in the cart. The discount is good for any book, any purchase, until our precious children return to school.
Wherever your child is in their eleven plus journey, I hope they are safe, always making progress and remain in love with learning as much as ever. Education is amazing!
My very best, Lee Mottram