Next Level Coaching: Open to 10WGT graduates only.
You’re listening to the Parents of Hardworking Teens podcast, Episode 10. And today I'm going to be going through the top ten mistakes that I see hardworking students (and sometimes they're supportive parents as well!) making - and how to avoid them.
Hello VIPs! I am so excited that we are here at episode 10 and so I have put together a very special 10th episode. I’m going to be going through a combination of some of my top resources tips I most positive feedback on, and the most loved information and revelations in my live parent events or student trainings, and basically things that I see happening regularly or are the easiest to change or will get your teen most reward by making these changes. Because so many students are making either small or big mistakes that can easily be rectified. And so many of the strategies, so many of the ways to overcome these mistakes are instantly actionable, and I’m going to be including plenty of real life examples, real student experiences and situations that I have come across to really help you see if your team is making any of these mistakes; to see if you are doing any of these things as well in terms of maybe the advice or the things you are thinking they should be doing.
However as I was prepping for this episode I just had so much I wanted to say that I could tell it was going to get pretty long, so I've decided to make this a two parter. We’re gonna have mistakes one to five here in episode 10, and then next week I'm going to share mistakes 6 to 10 in episode 11. So let's dive in!
Mistake number one is not answering the question. Now, I know you will have heard me say this before but it is the top mistake that students are making. Sometimes they realise it but don't know really how to rectify it, and sometimes they're not even realising that this is happening. Not answering the question comes from not being skilled or having the techniques and strategies to be able to dissect the question. Whether that is an exam question, whether it's an essay title question, whether it is just homework questions, or a research question.
One of the most important skills that any student needs is to be able to dissect the question to be able to not just identify the key command of the question, by identifying the actual command word, the ‘cognitive verb’, the ‘task word’, the ‘directive’. (All different countries states exam boards call them slightly different things.)
They need to be able to identify that, but they also need to know what to do with it. So I have some students who have never really done that before and didn't really realise it was a thing. And I have some students who kind of know about it. They’re like “Oh yeah, my teacher does talk about them”. But they don't really know what to do with them, or how to respond in the right way, at the right level once they have identified the command.
So here are a couple of examples:
Let's take something like the topic of global warming. Let's say that one question says: ‘Define global warming.’ And let's take the other question to say: ‘Explain global warming’. Notice how I've kept everything super simple for this particular example, just to make it really clear and easy for us to see and I know that of course not every question is worded in such a simple way but this is a really clear way to see what is going on here. Define global warming would be pretty much a one-sentence answer. Notice that the topic is the same. Global warming in the topic, and defining it requires one sentence. It’s probably going to be a definition statement response. Then let's take explain global warming. Now that is going to require multiple sentences. It’s going to require a different set of information in the answer. It's probably going to be an extended paragraph. It could be a whole page. I mean, it could be like a whole research project just to explain global warming! So notice how the topic stays the same and the topic is the thing that most students end up looking for and focusing on, but it is the command that actually determines what is required in their answer.
Another example is with essay questions, or sometimes it'll just be the essay title. And your teen needs to respond and write an essay in response to the essay question or title. This is where I use my two step topic and focus system. Because same thing again: most students get really into the topic, whereas they need to go further and truly identify the focus.
Let's take a real life question. Now, I coached one of my Next Level students on this a little while ago. It is an English essay question and the question asks:
‘How does ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ show the importance of empathy in overcoming discrimination?’
Now I will tell you, I have not read that novel and I am not an English expert, and notice how this is great news for you as the parent. You also don't need intricate knowledge of the actual topic or whatever it is that they’re studying to be able to help them with this. And this is also why students can use so many examples to be able to practise this skill.
So, ‘How does ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ show the importance of empathy in overcoming discrimination?’.
I just know that, marking this task, there would be so many students who would write about the examples of discrimination in To Kill a Mockingbird. So they would have most likely three body paragraphs, and in each one they would be discussing a different type of discrimination and how it was happening, what was going on. They would give evidence in quotes to show that discrimination, but the question says: “How does ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ show the importance of empathy in overcoming discrimination?”.
Now this is going to involve quite a different response, and as you can imagine, different examples, evidence and quotes to show the importance of empathy in overcoming the discrimination. This is where getting to grips with that FOCUS is so important. This is not an essay about discrimination. Yes, discrimination is definitely going to come into it because we're overcoming discrimination, so we are going to need to know what that is, but that is not the focus. And we also need to identify the command. Now there is not a verb in this question. Again, this is why having full training on this is so good for students. This is an analysis level question. So we've got to analyse how the novel shows how important empathy is in overcoming discrimination. Now I will link up the video excerpts that I put together from that coaching call into the show notes, so you can go to the episode 10 web page and get it there. It's www.rocksolidstudy.com/10. That's 10 the number, 10 in digits, to go and see that. And if you want a more detailed explanation and examples of the mistake of not really understanding exactly what the question is asking, and identifying those command words, I cover this in my free parent guide which is called ‘The Three Huge Mistakes Even Smart Students Make in Exams and Assignments’ and that is also available on the website at www.rocksolidstudy.com/guide.
So, let's get into mistake #2; trying to learn responses off by heart. Particularly with seen exam or essay questions that they are going to then have to write a response to or complete in exam conditions. Now, I could go off on a whole rant about these types of tasks. I do not like them. I think it really encourages students to try to be just memorising and learning stuff parrot-fashion which is not what’s going to serve them going into their exams or really in life we could argue. But I will save that rant and I won't expose you to it right now. But what I will say is if your teen ever has something like this, where they have been given maybe a question or a task that they know they need to respond to under exam conditions, what most students do is they practise writing like full draft responses. And there's nothing wrong with that, because they may want to time themselves, get used to writing a full response, but then they try to memorise their final version. That best version, to just regurgitate it in that exam. And there is no way that that is going to work.
I have many students ask me on my Next Level coaching calls “What are your best tips for helping me memorise?”. And my response is always “I'm not going to give you any tips for trying to memorise everything word for word”. Here's what I do advise them to do. They need to know their overall thesis statement. So, what is the overall response or point that they're trying to make? And then, if it is a full essay and they're gonna have maybe three or four body paragraphs, for every paragraph they need to know the topic or point that they're making, they do need to know the evidence that they're going to use, and how that evidence will link back to the question. How does that evidence answer the question? And then they write the full response, putting those key points together as an essay.
Now, continuing this theme of rehearsing and memorising, is mistake #3. And this is going to sound like I'm opposing or going against what I just said, because mistake #3 is not rehearsing for presentations and speeches. If they have to write a written piece and then they're trying to memorise that word for word, they don't want to do that. Likewise, they don't actually want to rehearse the presentation or a speech word for word if they're not going to be reading it from their actual notes. If they've actually got to present it and do it without their notes, here's the issue: when they’ve not rehearsed well enough, I’ve seen students who have struggled with pronouncing certain words or vocabulary. That is a massive telltale sign that they have not rehearsed and they're not confident in the content that they're putting across. I have seen students who have struggled to move between their points or their slides and it's a bit clunky and it isn't smooth and they get a little bit lost and then of course that adds to their nerves. Because I know that this is something that so many students a nervous of. And when students are not keen on a particular type of task, of course they don't want to spend extra time on it. So, here's what I always advise students to do who have to make a speech or have to do a presentation. Record themselves. Now, it is never pleasant watching yourself back on a recording! Having done hundreds and hundreds of recorded coaching calls, tens and tens of live webinars and masterclasses I know that it is not a fun or enjoyable experience watching or listening to yourself back. But, if they want the quality of their presentation to be high, and if they want to feel much more at ease and confident in the delivery of it, that is the best advice I can give them. And I'll give you a bonus kind of tip with this as well. They need to be over-enthusiastic in the way that they deliver it. In the way that they speak, in their mannerisms, in their movements, in their eye contact. Because what feels like you’re being fairly energetic, will look average to your audience or on camera. If you want to look energetic and enthusiastic, you have to be twice or three times more enthusiastic or energetic than you think you are looking. And here's a bonus part of this that I just mentioned: you really do want to make an impression on the marker, who is most likely their teacher. And here's why. It is kind of unofficial advice. If they present really well, really confidently, then it will feel like this should be a high quality, high mark piece. And therefore, the teacher is going to make an extra effort to be looking for and listening out for any places where they can allocate a mark. Because the impression of it is that it's a high quality piece and so the teacher is going to be more inclined - because we are human beings, we are not robots - yes we have criteria to mark against, but they are more likely - to look really hard and listen really hard for any evidence where they can allocate a high mark. It's just human nature. OK, so that's a little bonus unofficial mistake.
Mistake #4… this is a big one. And this is particularly applicable to hardworking students. It is writing more than they need to. Now I have mentioned this on previous episodes. I would particularly recommend going back and listening to episodes three and four where I talk about exams in detail, but this is why it's so important that students understand how mark schemes work. So yes, they need to be able to - as per mistake number one - dissect the question and figure out what it's really asking. But they also need to, either from a success criteria sheet or a rubric or marking guide that they are provided if it's an assignment, or, they ideally need to be able to - this is what I really want the students who I work with to master - I really want them to be able to predict the mark scheme. Just by reading the question, knowing how many marks are allocated, and then have the skills to predict the mark scheme. Just by reading the question, understanding the wording, know what level it's at and figure out what is going to be required in that answer.
I saw this just recently. It was one of the things that actually triggered me into making this particular episode as the top ten mistakes. It was a senior Biology class. A year 12 Biology class that I was covering. 'Cause I still do some relief, some supply teaching, and I love to do this. I will always do this. I don't do any full time teaching anymore because I like to put all of my brain cells and energy and time into Rock Solid Study and the 10 Week Grade Transformation Program and my Next Level Coaching. But I love to still be able to teach in the classroom, see what students are doing, and how they're working, and what is catching them out. So I love to still do some relief teaching to see all of that and stay in the real world of education and schooling and study. And the student was doing some revision questions, and I was just so pleased and so impressed that this student even asked me this question, which was: “How come this is all you had to write for this answer?”.
The question had provided a graph and there were some chemicals involved on the graph and there were some reactions involved on the graph. And again notice; we don't need to be an expert in all of the details of whatever they are studying. But the question said something along the lines of: “What was removed at X minutes?” (whatever the time was). There was something like, on this line graph something changed, and it asks what was removed and they had to use their knowledge of what was going on to figure out what had been taken away in that moment that resulted in the changes they then saw on the graph. And the answer was that flourine had been removed from whatever the equation in the chemical reaction was that was happening. And that was the answer: fluorine. One word. Because it said “What has been removed?” or “What has been taken away?” and the student had written flourine in their answer, so they had it right. But they'd also gone on to say what the effects were of it. So they'd gone on to say ‘therefore this other thing is increased or this thing has decreased’ and they were like, “I don't know how like such a simple answer can be given and that it's the right answer.” So, I took a look at the question and it was fantastic teaching moment from my perspective of teaching things like exam technique, because I all I had to do was read the question. It was just asking ‘name the thing that has been removed’. And so I explained that to the student. You've given the effects or the impact of removing that thing. It didn't ask for that. It just said ‘tell me what's been removed’. And so I think this is great news because you could save yourself 20 words by just writing that one word answer instead of the other two sentences that they'd also added on to the end. The key though is of course having the skills to be confident enough to know that that was all they were looking for. That is why this training is so important for students. Otherwise they are always a little bit worried that they’re not giving enough, or think ‘maybe I need to give this instead’. So they hedge their bets and they end up writing too much. That is when they run out of time in exams.
Okay, mistake number 5. And I will say this is probably a student mistake and a parent mistake as well, and that is measuring study by time, rather than by outcome. So students will say something like ‘I'm gonna spend 2 hours on my history study each Tuesday’. Or, I get questions from parents along the lines of ‘How many hours per week should my teen be studying for in, Year 10 or Year 11?’. And my answer is never a number of hours. It's always about what are they wanting to achieve or accomplish in that time. So a student could spend 3 hours studying, but what have they really and truly accomplished, or completed, or done, in that time? And were those things the most important priorities? Were they things that are going to give the most bang for buck for that effort? Are they things that are going to give them greatest payoff? Are they going to result in maximum marks for effort? What is happening in that time? How will they know that they now know that content that they wanted to review or revise? If they are researching for an inquiry project, how will they know when they have got enough research? How many sources do they actually need to find? What information do they specifically require? How many math questions do they want to complete in 45 minutes, and which questions are going to be the most useful ones for them to complete? So, I always talk instead about scheduling outcomes. What is the outcome that is going to be achieved? And of course we do some work to make sure that that is the most appropriate or most effective outcome. What is the thing they're actually doing or producing? But also, how much time is it going to take? Put a time limit on it. Now if they get it done faster than that or that takes longer than that, this is not necessarily a problem, because it gives them information. Now of course, if they have a deadline and it’s taking longer than they estimated, this exactly is why it's so important for students to become more aware of how long things are really taking them.
Okay, this does actually lead nicely into mistake #6, but I'm going to make you wait in suspense for a whole week for the final five mistakes. (Just like those good-old days when you did actually have to wait a week to see the next episode of the program that you were watching!). So you can use this as a reminder for telling your teen that ‘they just don't know how good they've got it these days!’ and all of those other things that our parents said to us, that we always swore we would never say ourselves. So, have a think or have a chat with your teen. See if any of those mistakes so far are happening and I will see you back here next week with mistakes 6 to 10.