You’re listening to the Parents of Hardworking Teen Podcast, episode 15 - and today I’m answering your questions about subject selection, command words in different subjects and perfectionism.
Hi VIP’s. How are you? I am great and I’m super excited to get into our first Q&A episode here on the podcast.
If you haven’t heard, I’m going to dedicate 3 episodes over the next 3 months to answering your questions - anything you want to ask me about anything study related. It could be about exams, homework, your teen and their specific strengths, weaknesses or goals, or anything about me or the training and coaching programs I run for students here at Rock Solid Study.
And oh my goodness, I’ve already had so many great questions that I think I’m going to need way more than just 3 episodes, so I’m also going to weave some of your questions into episodes that I’ve already got in mind or that have now been sparked off in my brain.
So, if you have a question you’d like me to answer, please email it in to: Support@rocksolidstudy.com and put in the subject line: Podcast Question.
And then, the first Tuesday of each month is where I’m going to dedicate an episode to answer your questions, right now in September, and then in October and November as well.
Okay, Iet’s dive in. I’ve picked out 3 really great questions for today and as you can imagine, I’ve got a LOT to say in my answers to them, so here goes.
First question is from Jen who asked:
"My son is choosing subjects for the HSC. Do you have any guidance about subject choices, given content levels or essay requirements of one versus another?"
Now, I don’t tend to give much advice on subject selection, other than what everyone says: choose subjects you enjoy and are good at.
Of course, do also look at pre-requisite subjects or other requirements for any future uni or career choices your teen is thinking they’d like to do - but I know that most students don’t really know what they want this to be at this stage, and even for those that do, still do it knowing that they may very well change their mind on that, so don’t necessarily revolve everything around it.
I personally don’t get into things like scaling and GPAs. I do recognise that for some school systems these are important but there are people out there who are super-clued into that stuff - and I’m going to leave that side of things to those people, while I stick to my power zone of helping students get those as high as possible, no matter what subjects or route they take.
Now, the good news is that very often the things we enjoy are also the things we’re good at, and that also often therefore guides our ideas on careers. It’s rare to enjoy something you’re terrible at.
Me and surfing is a good example of this. Of course, as an Englander moving to Australia, you think that you have to learn how to surf in order to have any kind of life. Now, I actually don’t even particularly like swimming, so you’d have thought that would’ve been enough to know it was never going to be my thing, but hey. And so after a couple of weeks, of me and my not-yet then husband -Alistair, hiring out boards on a weekend, getting a couple of lessons - and him being annoyingly much better at it than me, I quickly decided that the effort of carrying the board, the whole wetsuit thing, and then endless paddling only to fall off within 2 seconds - or actually not even get up - just wasn’t fun or worth it or in any way enjoyable. This was not how it looked in those years of watching Home and Away as a teenager.
I actually had one lesson where I stood up and stayed up for a decent amount of time. It was fairly shallow and just on a small wave, barely a wave, but I had a big grin on my face and turned around ready to shout to Alistair ‘ did you see me, did you see me?’ like 5 year old’s do… until I realised that the instructor was literally behind me, holding the board for me the whole time.
So, anyway, needless to say - I’m no surfer. And with the whole getting the hair wet thing - when you have hair like mine, that’s no small deal either, it clearly was doomed to never be my thing.
So let’s get into the second part of Jen’s question because this is where I do want to dive in on the requirements of subjects.
I like how Jen worded this. She said Do you have any guidance, given content levels or essay requirements.
In other words, this she’s talking about the subject knowledge and then what has to be done with it. So, what do they have to learn, at what level of difficulty or detail, and then are they assessed through exams, essays, coursework, inquiry investigations or research reports. So, it comes down to, those two parts of the Study Success Formula: the knowledge i.e. the syllabus content, - and the application of that knowledge.
Now, the content is more down to personal preferences. Are they interested in History, do they have more of a Scientific or artistic mind? And it’s where a subject specific tutor could help if that side of things is ever a struggle - if they need help really understanding the actual subject content. Now, I talked about this on the podcast recently so check out Episode 12 for more on figuring out whether or not your teen needs a tutor.
But, the tasks and assessments themselves are down to techniques, skills and strategies.
The application of that subject knowledge.
And the best news here is that skills and strategies are not innate talents. It’s like having an interest or passion for cars, vs. learning to drive a car. We aren’t all sports car enthusiasts, but most of us are able to learn the skills of driving and become independent in mastering the steps and techniques with the right training.
Essay strategy or exam technique can be learned and can be applied to any subject.
Now, Jen mentioned essays. And I don’t know ANY student who just loves writing essays. Yes, some students may feel more confident than others, but that’s just because they are more skilled or proficient in the skills and steps involved. Steps like breaking down and understanding the essay title and what it really means and requires in their response. Like crafting a strong thesis statement. Like brainstorming and then selecting the best points and evidence in response to the question. Like structuring clear and succinct yet detailed paragraphs. Like writing conclusions that do more than just repeat the intro or what’s already been written. Like responding at the top level demands of the mark scheme.
All of these things are skills. They include steps, systems,techniques, strategies. Yes, to execute them well requires solid knowledge of the topic or the text being studied, but the essay is all about how students APPLY that knowledge to the essay task.
And therefore these are skills that can be trained and honed and practised.
And, if your teen could do with getting those skills into their toolbelt, then if they are in Years 9 -12 or 10 - 13, then of course get them into the 10 Week Grade Transformation program.
Because when students HAVE them, this then takes away a lot of the overwhelm, stress or confusion because they have the HOW part - HOW to put across or show their subject knowledge in the way the assessment demands.
Okay, next question is from a student, Keira:
"Are the command words always meaning/requiring the same thing in all different subjects?"
Now first of all, I want to say I’m really pleased that you’re now switched on to command words Keira and I love that you’re asking this question.
Yes, the meaning and requirements are the same across all subjects.
What we’re looking for - as teachers and examiners - is the same in terms of the elements that are required in responding to a command. But what will vary the specific subject content in your answer -i.e. What you’re saying or writing about as you meet those requirements in relation to the topic.
The easiest way to explain this is with an example.
Now, because when I’m coaching students I always tell them to pick out the toughest or worst-looking example for us to do together, let’s go straight to the top of Blooms Taxonomy for this and consider the evaluate level of commands.
(Side-note: if you haven’t heard me explain Blooms Taxonomy before and how it relates to your teen’s study, then be sure to come to my next free online parent event. Everyone on my email list gets information and invitation to these direct to their inbox, so if you’re not already on my email list, then just go request the free parent guide that’s on the website: www.rocksolidstudy.com and we’ll automatically add you).
Now, I will say - there has been debate over the years about the top of that model. Whether the evaluate or create level goes at the top. They’ve been inter-changed in different versions since, but when it comes to exams, essays and most types of assignments, the cognition of create is rarely used and if you’re raising an eyebrow to that, then make sure you’re subscribed or following the podcast so you get all future episodes, because I’ll be explaining why that is in an upcoming episode that I’ve planned for you.
But back to the now - here’s how the high level skill and process of evaluating is the same in any subject.
Evaluating is always about making a judgement.
I’ll say that again. Evaluation requires students to make a judgement. Not talk about something, not discuss it, but make a judgement.
So, let’s say we have to evaluate in History. It might be a question about whether a particular political leader was effective. In other words; To what extent they were an effective leader, or simply stated - were they a good leader?
To answer this, we have to find evidence for both sides - ways they were, so things they did that were successful- and ways they weren’t, things they did that weren’t successful.That’s the discussion part, and from that evidence, we then make an overall judgement. Yes they were, no they weren’t or they were somewhat effective or successful.
Let’s compare that to evaluating in a subject like Design Tech. You might have to evaluate a product. In other words you’re judging how good - or bad - the product is. Or how successful or unsuccessful it is.
Again, you’re going to have to find all the ways it is good - maybe that’s ways that it meets the design brief, or the meets the needs of the user, and all the ways it doesn’t, and from those, you’ll make - yep, you’ve got it - a judgement.
And what about in Science. When you’re evaluating an experiment. You’re judging how accurate your data collection was and how reliable the experiment and your conclusion are.
You’re identifying and explaining all the ways it was accurate and reliable, and ways that it wasn’t.
See how the subjects and topics are very different, but the skill and the steps are exactly the same.
This is where the coaching side of things comes in, in Next Level Coaching. It’s where I help students go beyond identifying command words and knowing what they mean and what they require. That skill is essential, but then they need to apply these skills to their own real life tasks - across all different subjects, in every type of assessment or question. This is where the practise and real-life action and personal coaching and feedback comes in.
Okay, third and final question for today, is from Ron who asks:
What do you say to a teen who is a perfectionist?
My daughter will spend hours and hours on writing notes that look like a work of art and often takes forever to just get started on an assignment, partly because she is worried she’ll do it wrong and partly because she really wants an A or A+ and will be disappointed with even an A-.
How can I help her be more efficient and get things done faster so she can have a better life balance, without it sounding like I’m trying to bring her down?
Excellent question. Because there are quite a few angles to this and from my experience, perfectionism shows up in a few ways.
It’s sometimes an indicator of uncertainty or a lack of clarity. If there’s anything that we’re not sure about, we tend to go over and over things, trying to figure it out or hoping that the more we go over things, somehow we’ll find clarity. Which sometimes we might, and sometimes we don’t.
It can also come from thinking that effort = results. That the longer we spend on something and the more effort we put in, the more likely it is that we’ll get the result the mark, the grade that we want.
But for anyone who has ever had their teen put in tons of effort only to get a disappointing result, we know that isn’t the case.
The problem with this is that by putting in that effort, often we feel accomplished, but in reality we actually haven’t accomplished much in terms of how this will actually benefit us and turn into the outcome and result we want.
And then the problem with that is that it can give us a false sense of security.
I remember these sorts of things in my own student days. For a couple of my coursework projects at GCSE, I got the front covers laminated, back when the average person did not have access to a laminator. My best friend’s mum worked in an admin office where they had a laminator and she’d take our front covers- , that were drawn in bubble writing of course, by HAND, and coloured in BY HAND - and laminate them and hole punch them and I’d give in my project with this slightly over the top front cover but feeling just as proud of the appearance as I was of the other 20 pages inside.
Trouble was - there was no marking criteria that said - impressive front cover.
In fact I have no idea what the criteria did say. Back then we weren’t given the page full of criteria to work with, but I’m still certain it didn’t say anything about a laminated front cover.
Now, this isn’t your teen’s fault, because here’s where I think this comes from: Often, in the lower year groups a beautiful project or impressive presentation with props and other added extras resulted in extra ticks, smiley faces and gold stars. Going over and above what was asked for got great effort marks, glowing report comments and postcards home.
And that can be great in instilling a good work ethic in those formative years - having that effort rewarded and recognised, but when it comes to formal assessment in high school, there’s nowhere to tell the external examiner how much revision you did.There’s no little box on the assignment hand in sheet where you to write in how many hours you spent on it.
I’m afraid that hours and effort are not directly correlated with results. Well, actually, I shouldn’t say I’m afraid. Of course zero effort is likely to get a zero result, but beyond that, there is no guarantee either way which is why the skills of application, like exam technique, effective revision and essay strategy are so important.
Another thing I want to say on perfectionism is that it can also be a form of productive procrastination. Where spending hours and hours making something beautiful or re-writing it, is really just a distraction from the thing we really should be doing.
Definitely check out episode 2 of the podcast if you want more tips on helping your teen overcome procrastination.
And again, I see students putting in the hours, doing ‘study’ but here’s what I want to know: is it going to positively and significantly impact their results?
Think about something like procrastinating over cleaning the oven. We want a clean oven, but we don’t really want to clean the oven, so instead, we do other things that feel productive… like sorting out the kitchen cupboards - it’s activity, it’s taking time and effort and it is producing SOMETHING. We get to escape the feeling of lazy, we get tidy cupboards, but it’s not going to get us the result of a clean oven. Now, we can argue that it’s a good thing to have the kitchen cupboards cleaned out, and maybe it is. Just like maybe your teen might have needed to still get done the thing they did do, but now they still have the original task hanging over them, and it’s closer to the deadline and they’ve already used up some of their time and brain energy on something else.
And I also think that ties into the fact that for some students, if they’re not feeling like they’re studying every minute they could be, then they’ll end up beating themselves up for not working hard enough if they get a grade they’re not totally happy with. So they tend to fill their time with study-related activities.
Now, I know I’ve talked a lot there about why Ron’s daughter might be in that perfectionist mindset, rather than how to overcome it, and here’s the reason: When it comes to considering what to do about it, we need to know which of those things are going on beneath the surface. We need to identify the cause, not just treat the symptoms.
Only when we know the reasons driving the perfectionism can we then figure out the best way to make some changes - and changes that she will truly see the benefit of and therefore be able to get on board with. Because you’re right. We don’t want her to feel like you don’t want her doing her best or submitting work that she’s not proud of. But we do want ‘her best’ to pay off for her, and so working out they reason and then solving for that is key.
So, thank you to Jen, Keira and Ron for these questions and to everyone who has already sent in questions. With another 2 Q&A episodes still to come the first week of October and November, please keep them coming.
Make sure you click follow or subscribe on your podcast app to make sure you don’t miss an episode and if you want to always be in the loop for my online free parent events, webinars, resources and other things I share with my VIPs, then head to www.rocksolidstudy.com/guide to get my free parent guide and be added to my email list. I usually email about once a week, and more when we have an event or or special things to share.
Have a brilliant rest of your day and I’ll see you back here next week.