You’re listening to the Parents of Hardworking Teens Podcast, episode 24 - and my explanation of how some students manage to get the huge jumps in results that you may have seen or heard me share.
It’s down to the skill web and today I’m sharing with you what I believe are the 5 skills and practices that make up that web and how they interlink to create a whole that’s greater than the sum of the parts. So, let’s dive in!
Hey VIPs! I hope you and your teen are going really well wherever you are because I have to tell you, I am SO excited for this episode. I’ve been talking about making it for a while now and it’s been on my mind for months. And personally I often tend to have, with certain podcasts that I listen to, a few core episodes that I go back to and listen to again from time to time, sometimes because I think I need to hear something again, to really have the points drummed into me to listen, or because I’m at kind of a different point or want to hear things from a slightly different angle from where I was at the first time I heard it, and I really think this is going to be one of those episodes.
Because I want to share with you, what I’ve come to call, the Skill Web.
This is a concept that I named as a web because what I’ve found more and more over the years, is that all of the critical skills and strategies that I’ve been training students in interlink.
Each skill on it’s own is valuable. But put them together and they really compound so that the whole skill SET becomes stronger, and creates confidence and results beyond the sum of what those skills can do individually.
And so, to give this a bit of a visual, I personally think of it like a spider’s web.
Where each of the skills, techniques, practices or strategies are the main arms of the web coming out from the centre. And then these interlink and combine to become stronger and more effective via all of the linking strands between them.
Now, I did go and look up the actual science and nature of this.
Just because that’s the sort of thing I do. And those thicker threads coming out from the centre are called the radius threads, they spread out radially from the middle.
And interestingly, those aren’t sticky, they are what the spider walks along when making the web. They aren’t what actually catch the insects. It’s the circular thread going around between them that does that and is sticky and that is called the auxiliary spiral. The part that goes around and around, linking the radius threads. Or in this metaphor, this is what catches the marks.
The marks allocated to an essay, marks in an exam paper, points on a test, or the grade criteria on an assignment your teen will catch and grab.
So, the more skills, the more threads we have, the more links we can make
and the smaller the gaps. It’s not that there are NO gaps.
Even if a student has all of the skills and does the practices that I’m going to share with you, they are still going to miss something somewhere on different tasks.
There are going to be marks that slip through or off to the sides, just like an insect might fly through a tiny gap between the silk threads, or the web might not be big enough or wide enough. But what we don’t want are the gaping holes, the gaps.
And I want to start out by acknowledging that often times we don’t even realise we have gaps. I certainly didn’t as a student. And even in my years of teaching before I became an external examiner, there were things I didn’t realise were important, or even really ‘a thing’.
So I hope that this episode will help provide that first step of awareness. And then, if you realise that your teen has some gaps in their skillset and you’d love for them to come and build a really well-structured, strong web, then you can check out
the 10 Week Grade Transformation Program to make that happen.
So let’s get into what makes up the web and specifically, how the links create more strength in that web.
I’ve spent a long time thinking about this and I’ve come up with 5 key skills and practices that are the foundations of the skill web. The radius threads that come out from the middle and hold everything together.The critical tools I believe every student needs.
They are in an order that I think is the most logical but this is not an order of importance. In fact, I’d suggest that the extension task here is that you could work out your teen’s own individual order of importance by working out where their biggest gap is. The skill or practice that they are missing should be the most important for them to learn and master.
Okay, so the first skill is the skill of processing information.
That means not just reading information, listening to information, or watching information. It means doing something with it. Transforming it or converting it into a different format.
This includes strategic note-taking skills for when your teen is learning or researching information. And it includes their revision after they’ve learnt something - where they need to be actively, not passively revising.
Processing means they aren’t just copying out notes or diagrams. Because just copying, or even just doing some ‘light re-wording’ doesn’t mean that they understand the information. Doing that activity might feel to them like they’ve been productive, but it hasn’t necessarily done what they needed it to.
And just reading or ‘going over’ information, perhaps from a textbook or a hand out, or even just watching a tutorial video doesn’t have it stick in their memory and it certainly doesn’t mean that they can easily retrieve it or put it across on paper in their own words.
How many times do we read a passage and then think to ourselves, ‘I have no idea what I just read’. ‘ I didn’t take any of that in’.
Now yes, every student does have different ways they learn best,
some take things in better by listening, others by seeing, but almost all of us do best by ‘doing’. And I think that a lot of the time we are led to believe that means things like making a model, or something super-practical, and it can mean that, but it can also just mean DOING something with the information.
And that’s whether it’s learning information they’re being taught by the teacher, from a text book, or looking up independently for a research project, or revising for an exam.
So don’t worry all parents of kinaesthetic learners. Glue sticks are not essential and your dining table does not have to be taken up with a lifesize model of the latest science topic for them to be able to learn effectively.
It could be converting a page of text into a mindmap, or categorising information into a table or a venn diagram, or turning a diagram into a written account. When they transform information, it means that they are building their knowledge in a way that they truly understand and comprehend what they are learning.
And ideally, the cherry on top is that they are also able to make strategic decisions about what format is most appropriate. What will be the most effective format for that particular information, or for their best learning style or for the purpose they will eventually be using that information.
That is really awesome.
Okay, the second skill in the skill web is understanding and responding accurately to command words. A command word is the verb in a question, like describe or explain or estimate or analyse. And I won’t go into detail on these here - because I could honestly do a whole series of episodes on this topic - but I will explain why this skill is so important AND how it links to the others in the skill web. But if you do want more of the explanation of what they are and how you can help your teen identify them and know how to respond to them, then be sure to come to my special parent webinar event coming up soon called: Get Your Teen Ahead Over Summer. It will be available for one week only - from 15th to 21st November - so look out for more details on that soon and I promise to share the nitty-gritty details and real life examples on command words in there with you.
But right now, here’s why command words are crucial to your teen’s skill web.
Being able to dissect the question and work out exactly what it is asking them to do is the key to them being able to put across the knowledge and information that they have learnt in exams and assignments.
And this is one of the links. Effective learning of information from skill 1 has to be accompanied by the ability to put it across in the way the question requires in order for your teen to be able ‘show they know’ it.
It’s the key to them getting more marks on their papers and having their results actually match their subject knowledge.
If they are great, or even pretty good, with their subject knowledge, but their grades just don’t quite seem to match up, especially in exams, then this is likely a skill that’s missing for them.
And note that I did say the skill is identifying and RESPONDING to the commands.
In my experience, some students do get what they are, but still struggle with how to respond at that level. Like, how do they write at an analytical level, not just an explanation.
How do they actually EVALUATE and not just analyse?
Students need to know what all the different command words are, AND what they mean AND how to write and convey their subject knowledge at those different levels.
There is a huge overlap and link here between building knowledge and then conveying that knowledge.
The next skill in the skill web is becoming a master of mark schemes. Understanding how marks are allocated so that your teen can access more of them and achieve more of them.
Do they know exactly what they are being marked on?
Do they know what the marker is really looking for?
In fact, this is probably where I’ve developed most of my trainings and systems for students from. From doing over a decade of external exam marking and coursework moderation and every time, working out exactly what we’re looking for in students’ work. Honing that for myself as a marker and then being able to reverse-engineer it for students. So it’s like: Here’s exactly what I know I’m looking for. How could a student work that out for themselves from the wording of the question?
And I specifically say ‘access marks’, not just ‘get marks’ when talking about mark schemes, because many students are not even giving themselves the access to the higher level criteria without realising it.
Probably one of the simplest ways for me to show this is with that link back to command words.
If your teen is answering a question that asks them to evaluate - that is, to make a judgement, but in their response, they are just describing and analysing, then they are not even ACCESSING any of the evaluate level criteria that will be in the mark scheme.
They will get SOME marks for the relevant points or observations they make,
because these would be necessary to do that evaluation, they are a part of what would inform the evaluation.
Or, the other side of this is where they are relying solely on skill 1 - and putting down lots of information in their answer, not really being sure which parts will or won’t get marks.
If students are mark-scheme savvy, they have a much better chance of knowing exactly what to put into their answers AND what to leave out, what isn’t needed, what WON’T earn them any credit.
And that means a much clearer idea on how to respond and a much more succinct answer being written.
This is why, when these skills are understood and used TOGETHER, that’s when they really work together to create huge leaps in confidence and success for students.
Now, the fourth and fifth elements of this skill web are kind of skills,
there is skill to do them, but they are more things that students need to actually do and commit to, so I’m calling them practices, but you could also think of them as actions or routines.
They do take time and effort to do them, but the truth is that doing them actually saves students time and effort overall - and lead to better results too.
It’s a bit like if you’re wanting to eat well or just have a really efficient week ahead - or both - and so you do food prepping and batching on the weekend.
Even though it takes a few hours at the time, it saves you much more time compared to making brand new meals every day, and helps you eat better throughout the week, compared to grabbing snacks on the go.
I say this as someone who knows this is the case, but does not do this.
I definitely do some batch cooking and baking, but I have never done that thing that you see online where they have all their lunches or dinners prepped and stored and ready to go.
I do consider myself a planner and an organiser, so hey, maybe I should give it a go - because skill number 4 is the practise of fully planning extended tasks. Whether it’s an essay, assignment, or just an extended paragraph, a high quality response requires solid planning.
They should not start writing until they know exactly WHAT they are writing - for example, what points and evidence they’ll be including and in what order. Of course, this should be based on them having dissected the question and knowing exactly what’s required and what they’ll be marked on. So lots of overlap with the previous two skills here, for sure.
Only once they have got their points, the evidence, the structure and any other content they want to include planned out can they then start writing.
It might feel like a long process. And sometimes it is. But it is ALWAYS time well spent. It makes the actual writing MUCH faster and results in a much higher quality response, which also therefore requires less editing, cutting or changes to be made.
And the final skill or practice in the skill web is intentionally and strategically reviewing completed tasks. Actually going back through past assignments and exams and using the mark scheme, teacher feedback, or if they’re a 10WGT or Next Level student, with my input, figuring out exactly where they did and didn’t get marks and WHY.
This is SO valuable, because just like with skill number 4, doing this review will help them do a more efficient and more effective job of all future tasks. And this is why everything I do with students is skill and strategy-based. Because we both know that they aren’t going to be asked the exact same question again.
And they don’t just have to learn from their own tasks. They can use chief examiner reports and retrospectives published by exam boards for their subjects where they review what students sitting that exam did well and where they went wrong with things and recommendations for future students. And for my Next Level students, this is how they get so much from watching other students being coached on our group coaching calls. They get to see why another student did well or didn’t - and exactly WHY - and do this objectively for a task that they are personally and emotionally detached from.
In fact the whole of Next Level Coaching revolves around just two words.
HOW? and WHY?
How do I tackle this question, task or assignment in the way that will let me access all of the marks and enable me to complete it in the most efficient way?
Why did I get that mark - or - more specifically - did that response get that mark?
It’s their response, not them that’s getting marked.
I’ll say that again. It’s not them getting marked. It’s what they write on the paper.
And this really shows the key point I want to make here.
That all of these skills, strategies, practices are interlinked in so many ways.
Having and using just one skill on it’s own is definitely beneficial.
It can definitely raise grades and increase confidence. BUT the magic really happens when your teen has all of the skills and can see and optimise the linkages between them.
It really is a beautiful thing when you see all these skills working together.
And this is how students report jumps of 2 whole grades in just 10 weeks.
It’s not because they went from average to genius in terms of their brain cells and subject knowledge. It’s because they got the skills that were missing and that now enable them to learn and convey that subject knowledge in a more efficient and much more effective way.
And the more skills they have, and the more they use and practise and hone them, the stronger their web becomes.
If you’d like more information and explanation on the skills and strategies I mentioned here and how your teen can either begin to learn them, or ideally master them, then look out for your invite to my free parent webinar during the Get Ahead Over Summer event week.
In the mean time, be sure to subscribe or click ‘follow’ to get more episodes like this, have a fantastic week, and here’s to building that skill web.