Revision Tips

It may be the oddest “exam” year ever, but with assessments planned for all Year Eleven students after Easter, there is still the need for revision. With that comes the need for guidance on how to handle this period – hence this blog post! Here are some tips on how you can help your child use this time effectively, in order to ensure they perform at their best. These tips are also handy for students at any stage of their secondary schooling. 

  1. The timetable 

Students need to decide how many hours a day they will dedicate to revision. This will of course vary depending on whether or not they are at school or on holiday, and will also need to take into account their extracurricular activities. Whilst it may be necessarily to make a few adjustments to their hobbies during the exam season, exercise and socialising will support their academic performance, so avoid withdrawing them from all extra-curricular activities.

The number of hours will also depend on the student, and needs to be realistic. As an incredibly rough ballpark figure, during the holidays, I would recommend about four hours a day of revision for students who have exam periods coming up in the summer. This may be too much for some students, and that is fine, so do not panic if this sounds huge. A student with ADHD may simply not be able to commit to more than a couple of hours, or even an hour, and there is no point setting expectations that they cannot reach. It may be better to start revision earlier, so that these students have more time and can therefore do a smaller number of hours each day. 

The next thing to consider is when to do revision. I always preferred to revise in the morning and early afternoon, so that I would then have  the remainder of the day free to do what I wanted to do. Your child may perform better in the afternoon and evening, although at their age, late night cramming sessions and the dreaded all-nighter are not to be encouraged. 

Deciding how much time to dedicate to each subject is another area where I sometimes see students fall down. It is very tempting to prioritise the subject that is coming up first in the exam schedule, but students need to be careful they do not subsequently neglect subjects coming up afterwards and leave insufficient time to prepare for these. 

On the revision timetable, students should also make a note of which topics they are going to cover in each revision session, to ensure they are getting a good balance. A final warning on revision timetables – do not let your child waste time decorating it! It should be clear, but it does not need to be pretty! 

  1. The Strategy 

When revising, students need to use a mixture of different revision styles. If reading notes genuinely works for your child then that is fine, but most people need to make their revision more active, for example by taking notes or highlighting key sections. Other possible strategies to use could be index cards, posters, flash cards and mind maps. 

However, perhaps the most important revision technique that many students neglect, is actually practising questions. This can involve a mixture of planning answers, and also writing them out in timed conditions. If possible, students can seek out feedback from their teachers. I know when I was a classroom teacher, I was happy to mark extra essays for students, but so few of them took me up on this! If teacher feedback is not possible, then some form of self-assessment is needed, using mark schemes available. Alternatively, if your child has a revision buddy, then he/she could ask them to give them some feedback on their work.

  1. The Environment 

When students are doing their revision, the area needs to be clean and tidy, with good daylight. Whilst it is not necessary to wait on them hand and foot, bringing them drinks and snacks may help them to avoid classic distraction opportunities. We all know that a trip to get a cup of tea can easily turn into an hour watching something on the television if we are not careful. Ideally, they need to revise somewhere where there is a television. If music genuinely helps them to work, and there is evidence that for some students it does, then this can be used, but they should choose their accompanying soundtrack wisely. 

  1. The night before 

As I have said, all-nighters and cramming sessions are a no-no. They will not work, and will result in your child going into the examination exhausted and stressed. Ideally, the night before the examination  they should watch a television programme they like and then get an early night. In the morning, they need to have breakfast and ensure they stay hydrated (although not so hydrated they are in danger of needing the toilet constantly!)

  1. Other opportunities

If your child struggles to stay motivated when revising independently, or perhaps needs more teacher input, then have a look at the options of live revision classes and courses online  These can help your child focus, and it is also beneficial to revise with other students. I would avoid necessarily booking your child into a course everyday, as this could be counter productive, but they are definitely something to consider. 

If your child is struggling with English, then Bright Sky Tutoring can help. We offer one to one and small group tutoring for KS2, KS3, KS4 and KS5, as well as adult learners. Founded by myself in 2020, Bright Sky Tutoring is all about helping students find their spark and fulfil their potential. To find out more, email jo@brightskytutoring.com

Comparing Poems Effectively

The poetry examinations for GCSE English Literature rely on the student being able to compare poems effectively, but this is a skill that is not always easy to achieve. It can feel very overwhelming, especially to students who are struggling to understand and analyse one poem, let alone two. So where do you begin? 

Differences, not just similarities

The first thing to note is that comparison does not just mean things that are the same, it can also refer to differences between texts. I often see students stress that they cannot find any similarities to discuss, but this is not a problem. Differences tend to be more interesting than similarities, and create more insightful analysis points! 

Start big 

The next issue that tends to be encountered when it comes to comparison work is students starting off too small. Comparing the word level features of a text is going to be harder, and will not create really interesting and relevant points about the writer’s meanings. First of all, students need to think about the message and the story that is being told. What themes and ideas are they engaging with? Are there similarities here, or have they focused on different ideas? Do their messages overlap? For example, John Agard’s Half Caste and Benjamin Zephaniah’s No Problem both explore the theme of race and prejudice, although the focus is slightly different, with one addressing the issue of prejudice against mixed race people, and one looking at the stereotypes faced by black people, particularly teenage boys. Although they have different subjects, their messages are primarily the same. 

Or for another example, look at “Porphyria’s Lover” and “The Farmer’s Bride”. Both poems explore the idea of men controlling women. However, in “Porphyria’s Lover” this instinct to control is taken to a murderous extreme, as the speaker literally silences Porphyria. In “The Farmer’s Bride”, the speaker’s actions show his own desire to control, but also his confusion at his inability to earn his wife’s love and respect. It ends with the idea of him locking her in a room to prevent her running away; an image that in some ways is equally as disturbing as the murder of Porphyria. 

Another area to explore is perspective. Who is telling the story in each poem and how does this affect the message and the meaning? For example, “Poppies” by Jane Weir and “Exposure” by Wilfred Owen both show the trauma inflicted by war, but they use different voices in order to do so. “Exposure” tells the story of those who fight in the War, whereas “Poppies” gives a voice to those who get left behind by war. Thus, although they share a theme, they also tell different stories. 

Developing from the next point, context is also key when it comes to comparing two poems. The period in which the poem is written, as well as the experiences of the poet, is going to have an impact on the story that is told. For example, Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade” was inspired by a story he read in the newspaper, and he had no firsthand experience of war at all. His poem, whilst powerful, is built upon a skewed version of events, which makes the soldiers sound like noble heroes, rather than just the victims of a serious communication blunder. In contrast, a poem such as “Exposure” recalls the experiences of Owen, and presents a far more graphic representation of the reality of war. 

Once you have got some of the bigger ideas pinned down, you can then look at elements such as form and structure. Do the poems use set forms, for example a sonnet or a ballad? Do both poems rhyme, or does one use free verse? It will be highly unlikely you will be given two poems that use exactly the same form, so look at the different effects that are created by both. Another area that can create useful comparison is to look at features such as enjambment (no punctuation at the end of the line of poetry) or caesura (a break in the middle of the line of poetry). Does the enjambment help to create a sense of fluidity, as the speaker recalls memories, or does it help to build up pace and action? 

Language devices are a smaller feature, and it can help to look at whole-text features such as form and structure first, before going into word level analysis. For example, compare the type of imagery that is used in the poems. Does one use more metaphors and similes than the other? Does one use monosyllabic words? Look for patterns in the imagery and see how these are different/similar. How do these link to the themes of the two poems and the stories that they are trying to tell? 

Comparison is a challenging skill to master, but it does get easier with practice. As you work through your anthology poems, keep thinking about which poems naturally go well together. Remember this does not mean they are completely similar. In fact, it may be that they approach similar themes or events but from a completely different perspective. Group poems together in your notes, and keep the comparison element at the front of your mind from the beginning of your poetry studies. 

Looking for more support with secondary English? Bright Sky Tutoring offers one to one and small group tutoring to help your child flourish. To find out more, get in touch on jo@brightskytutoring.com

Using Context Effectively

What is context? 

Context is information that is outside of the text that can be used in order to help us understand and evaluate the piece of writing more effectively. Whilst there is a school of thought that argues texts should be explored in total isolation in order to fully appreciate them on their own terms (called New Criticism), most teachers and academics recognise that it is not possible to truly understand the text if you do not understand its context. The examiners for GCSE and A Level English Literature want to see that students have evaluated the contextual factors and how they influence a reading of the text. However, students are often uncertain about how to include this context in their essays. It can feel like there are so many different elements to include in a literature essay, and just another box to tick to get marks. Yet when used properly, context can really illuminate an interpretation and help the student truly evaluate the effect the writer is creating. Here are a few tips on how to include context skilfully in your work. 

  1. Sweeping Statements 

This is a very common error when discussing contextual ideas. Statements that make huge and inaccurate generalizations about a whole period of history, for example, “all women in Victorian times were treated badly by men” can actually be counterproductive. A much better way to express the above idea would be to say “Victorian society was patriarchal, meaning the rights of women were often limited.” This shows a more nuanced approach, and will impress the examiners more. Making big sweeping statements suggests that you do not really understand the context properly, and you may therefore make generalised assumptions about what the writer was trying to do. 

  1. Context is not just historical 

When most people think of context, they tend to assume we mean either historical events or episode’s in the writer’s own life. However, there are other types of context that tend to be less commonly explored in essays, such as literary context. A writer may well be working on a particular genre, and be inspired and influenced by the features of the genre. For example, if a writer is writing in the Gothic genre, then he/she may use key features, or more interestingly, they may choose to subvert them. For instance, in Jekyll and Hyde, Stevenson moves from the traditional Gothic setting of a foreign country to the streets of London. By doing so, he is implying that the dark and disturbing elements that make up the Gothic novel are closer to use than we may think. 

In drama, another important form of context to consider is performance. When we read a play script, we are only ever reading the blueprint of the text. It is not until it is put upon the stage that a text comes fully alive. The choices that directors and actors make can have a big impact on the way in which we view characters and actions. For example in Macbeth, the director’s choice of whether or not to actually have the ghost of Banquo physically appear on the stage can become very significant. If the ghost appears, we see that Macbeth is actually being haunted, but if the ghost does not, it leads us to question whether it is just a projection from Macbeth’s own mind and a sign of his growing insanity. 

  1. Keep Biographical Context Relevant 

Examiners tend to be less keen on biographical context, as it does not always really tell us that much about the meanings the writer is expressing. Writers do write about things they have experienced, but equally they research and write about topics that have no relevance to their everyday lives. Therefore, pointing out that Dickens’ father was sent to a debtor’s prison does not on its own constitute a meaningful contextual point. It may have given him empathy with those who spent their lives in the workhouse, but it does not mean this is the only way a writer could find out about this. Placing too much emphasis on biography can imply that a writer can only write about something if they have experienced it first hand.  It can lead to points that feel very forced and can also lead us to make assumptions about their work, and to see connections where they do not exist.

 This does not mean there are no links to be made, but we need to be careful about how we make them. For example. Christina Rossetti worked with prostitutes at the Highgate Penitentiary, helping these women to rebuild their lives. This attitude could be significant when analysing a poem such as “Goblin Market”, and looking at the presentation of the fallen woman. Rather than condemning the actions of Laura, Rossetti could be encouraging her to see her as capable and deserving of redemption. Making a biographical context point is effective, and helps to add more depth to the interpretation. 

  1. Use the context to support the argument, not the other way around 

Context needs to be used to support the points in your argument about the text. You should always start with the text, and the evidence that is there first. Your point should not just be a piece of information about the context; it needs to be a thematic point about the novel/poem/play. For example: 

The audience can see that Eva Smith is seen as expendable by the Birling family. 

Rather than:

In 1912, poor people were treated badly by the upper classes. 

The first point will lead you far more naturally into analysing the text. Remember, first and foremost you are writing an English essay, not History. Once you have analysed your textual evidence, then it is normally the right time to bring in contextual points well. The contextual information helps to enrich your analysis, adding depth and showing evidence of a wider interpretation. The textual analysis is key, and not something that can ever be sacrificed in the interest of shoehorning in context. 

If you would like further support with secondary English, I offer one to one and small group sessions. Get in touch at jo@brightskytutoring.com to find out more. 

Five Key Elements of The Detective Story

This half term, The Writer’s Club will be exploring the Detective Story. This genre is so much fun, both to read and to write, but there are rules to follow in order to make the story work. Here are the five key elements that detective story writers follow.  

The Detective The detective is obviously central to the detective story. He/she needs to be a character that will engage the reader. Detective stories often become series, so this should also be a character that readers will keep coming back to and has enough depth that you will be able to show different aspects of their personality and develop the character further over time.Detectives often have special skills that they have harnessed are used in order to solve crime effectively.They normally have a different way in which they see the world, and this allows them to spot patterns that others do not notice. 

A good crime The obvious crime to centre a detective story on is the murder. However, this does not always have to be the case. It could be a robbery or entrapment. For example, in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Scandal in Bohemia, the case centres on a compromising photograph and the subsequent power play between the King of Bohemia and Irene Adler. Whatever the crime is, it does need to be interesting and not have an obvious solution. 

A worthy opponent A good detective story will have someone who acts as an opponent. For example, Sherlock Holmes’ famous nemesis is Moriarty. Moriarty shares Sherlock’s incredible powers of observation and detection, but he represents what would happen if these powers were used for evil rather than good. The opponent could be the person who is culpable for the crime, but this does not have to be the case. The opponent could be a character who is constantly trying to get in the way of the detective, and thwart their progress in the case. 

The motive When you reveal the motivation of the characters to the reader, it must be believable. The reader is normally more interested in the why, than the who. The character needs to have a clear motive for committing the crime. Just saying that they are evil is not really convincing enough for the reader. We want more detail about what motivated them, and an implausible killer will leave the reader feeling disappointed. 

The resolution It is important that the resolution to the story is not too obvious. When a reader has invested in your detective story, they do not want to feel let down by the ending. So this means avoiding any easy resolutions, such as it all being a dream. Furthermore, it should never be down to the supernatural. It needs to be a solution that has been there in the story the whole time, and it was never completely impossible for the reader to solve it, since the clues were there to see. 

The Writer’s Club meets on Sundays at 11 am. It is aimed at Key Stage Three students and it is a fantastic way to build your child’s confidence in English, in a fun and creative space. Spaces in the group are extremely limited. To find out more, get in touch at jo@brightskytutoring.com

Jekyll and Hyde – What lies beneath

Jekyll and Hyde is a very common choice for GCSE English Literature, but it is not an easy text to study. It explores some complex ideas about the human psyche, and also requires students to get to grips with psychoanalysis as well. Having said that, students often engage well with the mystery of the text, and are normally hooked by the last chapter when everything is finally revealed to the reader. In this blog post, I share five key ideas that can help students get to grips with the complex and often dark subject matter of this novel. 

  • Duality and Freud 

This is one of the central ideas of the text: the notion that man is “not one, but two”. Jekyll has grown up with a strong sense of morality, but also a conviction that there is a much darker side to his character that has never been given expression. This relates to the notion of the id in Freudian psychoanalysis. Freud believed that we are all born with the id, the desires that reside deep in our unconscious mind. The id is driven by the pleasure principle, the part of us that wants immediate gratification of our needs and desires. As we begin to grow, we learn to control the id, through the development of the ego. The ego is aware of how we need to operate in society, and seeks to regulate the desires of the id. Later on, the superego also forms. The superego embodies idealistic standards, and is the part of us that strives for perfection. The ego’s job is to keep the balance between the id and superego. 

Hyde is the physical representation of Jekyll’s id. We can see that he has grown up under the influence of the superego, forcing him to strive for excellence. His ego has kept the demands of the id in check, but Jekyll still feels incomplete. Initially, Jekyll believes that being Hyde allows him to gratify his desires without fear of consequence. Of course, he comes to realise that he cannot control his id in this way. Once he relieves the ego of its duty, the id takes over. Whilst he wants to believe that he is two, the reality is more complex than this. He cannot keep the id and the superego separate in this manner, and live in both states simultaneously. 

  • Victorian hypocrisy 

Students sometimes oversimplify the Victorian period, and this means overlooking some of the key contradictions of the era, that are reflected in the literature of this time. The Victorians adhered to strict moral principles, which did not condone sex before marriage and required women to conform to a notion of innocence and virginity. There were clear codes that dictated how men and women were to behave in society, and any deviations from these standards would result in scandal and ruin.

 Yet at the same time, drinking, gambling and prostitution were rife in Victorian London. Men often lead double lives. During the day they were respectable, upstanding gentlemen, and at night they frequently brothels and public houses. Jekyll’s sense of being two different people could therefore be seen as a metaphor for the paradox these men were living. Furthermore, it has been suggested that the novel is a metaphor for homosexuality. Jekyll is always vague about the exact nature of the activities he is participating in when he is Hyde, and there is a sense that he is harbouring a secret that he feels is potentially even more shocking than the deeds to which he has confessed. 

  • Gothic genre

The novel is a mystery, but it is also a key example of Gothic literature. Students often query what makes a text Gothic, rather than horror. The differences are subtle, but Gothic tends to have more of a preoccupation with the darkness within our own minds, rather than horror which focuses on the darkness in the world around us. In that sense, Jekyll and Hyde is the perfect expression of the main concerns of Gothic writing. The most disturbing aspect of Gothic is often the acknowledgement of deeds we did not even know we were capable of. Ultimately, the horror of the novel has not come from any external forces, but from the turmoil within Jekyll’s own mind. 

Setting and atmosphere are also key components of Gothic literature. Whilst the Gothic literature of the Eighteenth Century is often set in isolated settings in foreign countries, Jekyll and Hyde is a great example of urban Gothic. London is represented as a dark and sinister place, where horror lurks around every street corner. Most scenes take place at night, and even when we see London in the daytime, Stevenson often evokes a dark atmosphere, for example in the Incident at the Window chapter. 

  • Narrative perspective

The novel is told predominantly in the third person, and mainly through the perspective of Utterson. This means that although Jekyll is our protagonist, we often see him through the eyes of a relative outsider. It helps to build up the suspense and tension throughout the story, as we piece together the clues alongside Utterson. We also get the perspective of other characters at key moments, for example the murder of Sir Danvers Carew is narrated through the eyes of the maid. This decision seems to emphasise the idea of brutal murder as spectacle, treated by society as a form of grotesque entertainment. 

  • Victorian pull between rational and the supernatural 

The Industrial Revolution meant that the Victorians went through a huge amount of change in a relatively short period of time. This changed many key aspects of society. From being a predominantly rural farming economy, there was a shift towards factories and urbanisation. Society was shaken further by the publication of Darwin’s Origin of the Species, presenting a threat to core values held by the Victorians. Key elements of religion and faith seemed to be questioned by scientists, and this led to a surge of interest in the supernatural, most notably in the form of Spiritualism. 

This movement began in America, and emerged in Britain in the 1950s. Spirit mediums, normally young women, conducted seances, and Victorians flocked to see them apparently communicating with the dead. There was a real fascination with the idea of being able to experience something that could not be explained by science, and the popularity of Spiritualism can be seen as part of a Victorian crisis of faith. Whilst the initial transformation of Jekyll into Hyde can be explained by science, there is still a strong supernatural element in the novel. The transformation process quickly runs out of control, and it emerges that the initial discovery was in fact down to an impure sample, not the perfection of a scientific process. The novel definitely seems to explore elements of Victorian society that have eluded the grasp of the rational mind. 

Looking for further support for secondary English? Bright Sky Tutoring offers one to one and small group sessions. To find out more, get in touch at jo@brightskytutoring.com

Reading Between the Lines: An Inspector Calls

It is the almost universal choice for the Post-1914 option in English Literature, and students normally enjoy unravelling the mystery and getting to the heart of injustices that led to the suicide of Eva Smith. Students do well with the play, but sometimes they struggle to engage with some of its complexities, and this prevents them from achieving higher grades in their essays on this text. In this blog post, I share a few of the more subtle issues that students sometimes miss. 

The play is not written when it is set (or vice versa!) 

Hopefully, this is pointed at to students, but they do not always take in what this means. The play is set in 1912, in Edwardian society, when the Titanic is about to set sail and World War One is still two years away. However, the play was written by Priestley in 1945. This means that his audience would have experienced two World Wars, and been highly aware of the irony of Mr Birling’s claims that there is no chance of a War breaking out, or his extremely misplaced confidence in the unsinkable nature of the Titanic. The audience are led to see Mr Birling from the very beginning as a character whose views on politics and economics are wildly misguided, and whose arrogance will lead to suffering. When the Inspector warns that if we do not learn our lesson from the death of Eva Smith, we will be “taught it in fire and blood and anguish”, the audience are painfully aware that this is not an idle threat, but the Inspector foreshadowing the mass death and destruction of the two World Wars that are lingering on the horizon. 

The Birlings are rich, but not as rich as they want to be

When we are introduced to the Birling family, we are told that they are clearly “prosperous”, and the props on the dining room table connote luxury. In 1912, the gap between the poor and the wealthy was far greater than it is today, and Priestley leaves us in no doubt which side the Birlings are on. Having said that, they are not at the very top of Edwardian society. Mr Birling has made his fortune on the basis of his factory, and not through inheriting land. In 1912 people still cared about details such as this. Mr Birling is very aware that Gerald’s family, the Crofts, come from the landed gentry, and are not thrilled about having a factory owner’s daughter for their daughter-in-law. Hence his desperation to secure a knighthood, which would have given him access to the circles that the upper classes moved in, and the chance to make better connections. The Birlings are still climbing their way up the social ladder, and people like Eva Smith are the victims of their determined climb. 

Priestley does not necessarily think it is wrong to have money, but it is to be used responsibly 

Students sometimes get muddled between the concepts of Socialism and Communism. Communism is a much more extreme political stance, which dictates that all wealth must be shared equally amongst citizens. Everyone contributes equally to the running of society, and receives a share in return. Socialism refers to the need for those with more money to look after those in society who have less.The Inspector does not dispute the fact that Mr Birling has earned his money through hard work, but it is his complete lack of compassion towards those workers upon whose backs his success has been built that is condemned. The Birlings have the potential to at the very least make the lives of those with less than them bearable, and yet they choose instead to use their power to make them miserable. 

Women are restricted, whichever class they belong to. 

As a poor woman, Eva’s options are extremely limited, but the women in the higher classes face their own kind of oppression. Mrs Birling mentions early on that women have to accept that men will spend their time and energy on their work, and not ask questions about where they actually are or who they are with. Sheila’s own life seems incredibly limited. She is constantly being sent out of the room and patronised, or told she is becoming “hysterical”. Whilst there does seem to be some genuine affection between Gerald and Sheila, it is also clear that the engagement has been engineered by their parents in order to secure the financial future of the businesses. Even on the day she has Eva fired, she seems to be under the control of her mother, who even selects her clothing. Sadly however, this frustration fuels her spiteful attack on Eva. Feeling her own lack of power, she uses “the power she had” in order to have Eva sacked. 

Gerald is not the good guy! 

On the surface, Gerald does appear to come out of the whole evening the best. Even the Inspector admits that he does show Eva some “affection” and “made her happy for a while”. However, ultimately their relationship is not a love affair between two equals. Gerald has money and status, and hence he always has the power over Eva from the beginning. He treats her kindly and gives her charity, but it is always on the understanding that he is the provider, and hence can take this kindness away as easily as he gives it. In that way, he is not as different from Eric, in a state “where a chap easily turns nasty”, as it might initially seem. Both men take advantage of Eva’s desperation and powerlessness. Gerald begins a love affair that is clearly never going to end in anything except heartbreak and disappointment for Eva. He can give her money and food, but he cannot give her the love that she wants in return. Arguably, he causes her more pain than anyone else, as he is the only one who touches her heart.

Looking for further support with secondary English? Bright Sky Tutoring offers one to one and small group tutoring sessions. To find out more, get in touch at jo@brightskytutoring.com 

So what happens now?

As we enter another week of home schooling and online lessons, Year Eleven and Year Thirteen continue to plough on in uncertainty, not quite sure of exactly what they are now working towards. We know that examinations are definitely being replaced by teacher assessments, but we are still not sure what the requirements/deadlines for this will be. Many students understandably are feeling unmotivated and lost right now, as well as exhausted by the onslaught of online learning. 

So what can they do? Unfortunately, I do not have any magical solutions on this one, but here are a few suggestions that may help: 

Tackle the Online Learning Fatigue 

Being sat at a computer screen for so many hours a day is exhausting. We are not meant to learn in this way for extended periods of time, so it is no surprise that teachers and students feel so tired at the end of the day. It is really important for students to understand that they are asking more of their bodies and minds at the moment, and thus they need to adapt their behaviour accordingly. Taking regular breaks is so important, as is getting fresh air between sessions. Even if this is standing in the garden for two minutes between classes, it will help. Students also need to ensure that they are eating and drinking enough to help them stay focused. 

Another tip for online learning fatigue is to look at how your child is actually engaging with the sessions. It may seem counterintuitive, but actually the more a student actively engages in an online learning session, the less tired they will feel at the end. Rather than staring at the screen aimlessly, they will be focused on their learning and their brain is less likely to switch off. So encourage your child to participate in online learning sessions as much as possible. 

Revisit Goals 

With examinations now not taking place, your child’s initial response may be to question what the point is now. However, this is clearly not the case, since they will be assessed by teachers, and there is still likely to be a series of internal assessments to help teachers do this. Students need to remind themselves of the grades they are hoping to/need to achieve in order to progress to further education/employment. It is more important than ever for students to have clear goals to work towards, and to understand what they need to do in the next few months to make these a reality. 

Reread past essays and assignments 

One of the best tools that your child has right now in order to help them formulate a plan is feedback from teachers and past assignments. They need to be going through these, and identifying for themselves the key areas for development. Even though they do not have examinations to revise for, they will have to revise for mocks and internal assessments, so they need to have a plan in order to do this. There are still several months until teachers will be submitting grades to the exam boards, and teachers will want to give their students as many opportunities as possible to show what they are capable of. Thus, it is even more important than ever not to waste this time. 

Talk to your teacher 

They may not be available in person right now, but your teachers will be doing all they can to support your child. If your child is not understanding topics covered in online lessons, or perhaps has a topic that they are concerned about, it is vital to raise these concerns with the teacher as soon as possible. They will not have given up on your child or written them off, they will want to do everything in their power to get them a grade that reflects their true potential. So do not be afraid to reach out to them. 

Find your online support community 

Everyone needs support in these tough times, so make sure your child has people around him/her to talk to. This could be a Whatsapp group with their school friends, or an online study forum such as The Student Room. Having other people going through the same process of uncertainty right now will help your child stay focused and motivated. 

Moderate news intake 

Be careful about how much news your child is being exposed to. Whilst we want them to be engaged in current affairs, watching/reading the news can feel like being bombarded with negativity right now. The situation around the GCSE and A Levels is still very uncertain, and many people are still conjecturing about what will happen. Taking in too many news stories could give your child false hope/expectations, and is likely to be more of a distraction right now than a help. 

If you are looking for further secondary English support for your child, Bright Sky Tutoring offers one to one and small group tuition. To find out more, get in touch at jo@brightskytutoring.com

The Reading Habit

It is probably one of the most common questions that I get asked as an English tutor – how can I get my teenager reading? Reading a wide variety of literature will improve writing skills, exposing your child to different techniques, styles, themes and ideas. It will also make him/her a more perceptive reader, able to spot patterns and engage with more complex ideas. But how to make it a habit? Here are a few suggestions. 

Everyday in some form 

In order to make anything a habit, you need to do it everyday for at least 21 days. This is not always easy, and I have tried and failed to embrace new habits (like getting up early!) However, reading is one thing that is an ingrained habit for me, and I cannot imagine a day that does not involve reading in some shape or form. If you want your child to become a reader, they need to read something everyday. This can be a few pages of a novel, or a news article, and does not need to be for more than ten minutes at a time. 

Short stories 

Short stories are a great option for getting your child into reading, since the time commitment is much shorter than a novel. If your child is not used to reading at home, it can be frustrating to only be able to delve into a novel for short periods each day, so short stories will help your child experience the pleasure of reading a story in a much shorter space of time. Short stories will show your child that it is possible to tell a compelling story in a much smaller time frame, which is definitely a skill that they need to master for examinations. 

Graphic novels 

Graphic novels are another resource that I consider to be very underused with students. The visually appealing nature means that they tend to engage students much more quickly, but many still contain a high language content. These are particularly good for texts that your child may find challenging, as the images will also help with their comprehension. 

Audio books 

If your child is genuinely struggling to find time to sit down and read, then audio books are another possible solution. Arguably, it is more beneficial for your child to see the written text, but there are still more skills that can be gained through audio books, and it may be that listening rather than reading helps your child to engage more with a story. Listening during breakfast, rather than dinner when your child is more likely to be tired after school, can be a good way to get in those ten minutes of reading time. 

E-Books 

This can be a bit of a controversial subject, and I feel that whilst e-books have many advantages, they do need to be used carefully. Some students genuinely do engage more with writing in this format, and dyslexic children in particular benefit from being able to enlarge print or change the background. It is still recommended that children read a mixture of electronic texts and print though, so not all their reading should be on devices. 

Be around other readers 

Any habit is going to be easier to embrace when there are others around you to emulate. Let your child catch you reading during the day, and wherever possible, try and sit down for a few minutes and read together (you can be reading separate books – the point is to make reading a shared social experience). Do your ten minutes in a coffee shop (when they are open again) with a hot chocolate and a cake to make the experience more special. 

Leave your child invitations to read around the house when you are at home. Remember, these do not have to be fiction or long novels, you could share a news article with them that you think they may find interesting. 

If you would like to know how Bright Sky Tutoring can help your child develop their confidence in English, then make sure to join my Facebook group for secondary parents: 

I offer one to one and small group sessions for KS2, KS3, KS4 and KS5 students. To find out more, email jo@brightskytutoring.com

The Growth Mindset

In the classroom, I would often see children demonstrate traits of two types of mindset: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. Children (and adults) with fixed mindsets see intelligence as something that is ingrained, and cannot be changed. They will thus be quick to decide that they cannot do a task, and there is no point in trying since it is beyond them. A growth mindset means that individuals believe that tasks are achievable given time, and that skills can be learnt. Obviously, the latter is the mindset that we want to encourage in all our learners, but it is not always easy to achieve. So how can we help teenage learners adopt the growth mindset? 

Teach them about neuroplasticity

As well as being one of my favourite words, this scientific concept has shown that it is possible for us to rewire and reprogramme our brains. Up until the 1960s, it was believed that once we reached adulthood, our brain development had finished, and we could not change our mindset. Now we know that is not true, and we can train our brains to think in a different way. This means that we can reprogramme a mindset that is negative into one that is positive, if we expose the brain to enough positive messages, and challenge our negative way of thinking. 

Affirmations 

A great way to do this can be through the power of affirmations. These are short positive statements that need to be repeated daily in order for the message to enter our subconscious. Some people like to write them out each day, others like to say them in front of the mirror. 

Yet 

Yet is a powerful word that can make a big difference in mindset. Every time your child goes to say something negative about themselves, try to get them to rephrase it with the word “yet”. So instead of saying, “I cannot do this question”, they need to say “I cannot do this question, yet”. For such a small word, it has a remarkable power to change a sentence and encourage a growth mindset mentality. 

Use feedback as an opportunity to learn 

Many of us, myself included, can often fear feedback, and see it as criticism, intended to know us down, rather than advice that is intended to build us up. Change their approach to feedback, and help them engage with what the teacher is saying. Remind them that this is their chance to learn, and that the teachers want them to do better. Encourage him/her to seek further feedback where necessary, or ask for clarification if it is not clear. 

Catch them being persistent 

In order to encourage resilience and persistence, make sure that you actively praise them when they are having a go at something they are finding tricky. Perhaps if they complete an extra class they were feeling nervous about, or go and see a teacher to ask for help. Every time you see them taking steps out of the comfort zone, recognise their achievement and encourage them to keep going. 

Permission to make mistakes 

This is perhaps one of the most important things to show your child. Remind them that making mistakes is a vital part of growth, and many of us wander down the wrong path for a while, before we discover the right one. This does not mean that it has all been a waste of time, as every opportunity means a change to learn something. Why not share some examples of “famous failures” to inspire them? For example, Oprah Winfrey was fired from her first job and told she was not a good fit for television! Stephen King had Carrie rejected for publication thirty times and even through it in the bin (his wife rescued it!) 

Want to know more about how to help your child develop their growth mindset? I will be running a free five day challenge in my Facebook group, with a live video and handout each day. These will be quick tasks, designed to fit into your child’s busy online learning schedule, and help your child persevere in these challenging times. To join my group and take part in the challenge, go to: 

https://www.facebook.com/groups/496757410999463

Five quick ways to help your child with English home learning

In the last lockdown, the overwhelming consensus seemed to be that students were not getting enough work sent home, and teenagers were either not doing anything, or struggling to continue their studies on their own. This time around, the issues seem to be to do with overload and overwhelm. Schools are terrified of being accused of not sending home enough work (thanks Gavin) so they are instead sending out unrealistic amounts. This is putting huge pressure on both children and parents, especially those who are working. These five tips are not designed to add to the workload, but to give you some simple ways you can encourage and support your child if he/she is struggling, without burning yourself out in the process. 

  1. Get them to the dictionary! Encourage him/her to be resilient, and use resources around them to aid their learning. If your child is not understanding what they are reading, do they need to be a bit more proactive, and look up words? Of course, if they are doing this and still not understanding, then it could be that the reading level is not quite right. In normal circumstances, I would recommend discussing this with your child’s teacher, but if this is not possible at present, then encourage your child to get what they can from the text, answer the questions they can, and then leave it. 
  2. Use the power of the internet. There is a lot of rubbish online, but there are also a lot of good resources that may help your child make sense of the work they have been set. This is particularly the case with some of the established GCSE texts such as Macbeth or An Inspector Calls. There is a lot of material out there that can help, especially if your child is struggling to follow the story, or needs some historical context explaining. For example, if he/she is struggling with Shakespeare, there are websites such as No Fear Shakespeare, which provide modern day translations of many Shakespeare plays. 
  3. Make use of self-assessment tools. Whilst it may be tricky to get your child’s work marked at this time, there are things they can do to help them assess their own progress. If your child is in the examination years, looking at mark schemes can be a good way to focus him/her, reminding them of the skills they need to be developing in order to make progress. Many schools also provide level ladders to encourage peer and self-assessment, so ensure that your child is making use of these wherever he/she can. These measures are of course only a short-term replacement for teacher feedback and assessment, but they will give your child some way of knowing whether or not he/she is making progress.
  4. Use film to help where you can. Film is an underrated teaching tool in English and could help if your child has hit a brick wall with his/her studies.If they are finding the text too overwhelming and cannot access any of the work, go to the film. They will get an overview of the story and the characters, and whilst it will not necessarily unlock the text for them immediately, it is definitely a start. If he/she is studying the play, then have a look and see if there are any versions of the play available online to watch. With theatres in crisis, places like the National Theatre have been streaming plays to help stay afloat, so you could see if there is anything on offer. Plus, it may buy you an hour or two where you know they are engaged in work but they do not need your help! 
  5. Ask questions. Do not struggle in silence. Get your child to ask their friends for help, or perhaps create a Whatsapp study group. This is great for their mental wellbeing as well, as it will help them not to feel so alone. If you know any other parents with students in similar age groups, make a Whatsapp group between you. Use online study forums, or post in groups, such as my secondary parents’ group, Flying High. 

For further tips and support, including weekly lives, make sure you join my Facebook group, Flying High – Helping Your Child Flourish at Secondary School Level. 

https://www.facebook.com/groups/496757410999463