Episode 33: Hidden Demands of Your Teen's New Year Group
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As a student I always thought two things changed when you moved up a year level: the difficulty of the subject content, and the type of task you had to write. E.g. essay instead of a project. Exam instead of a test.
But as a teacher, exam marker and assessment moderator, I know now that these aren’t the only things that up-level.
And it’s the hidden, more subtle changes that catch students out.
Listen in to discover how these hidden new demands show up and the essential skills that'll help your teen meet them so they succeed this year and every year beyond.
You’re listening to the Parents of Hardworking Teens Podcast, episode 33 - and what REALLY up-levels as your teen goes into their new year group of high school, because it’s not just the subject content.
Hello wonderful VIPs, very important parents. I hope your week is going super-well and if you’re here in Australia or New Zealand, then I hope that you and your teen are enjoying the last parts of the summer hols - and if you are elsewhere in the world - I know we have listeners in Singapore, the UK and the US then I hope your 2023 is getting off to a great start. And although we’re going to be discussing the new school year and specifically what changes as your teen moves up through years Years 9 - 12 or 10-13, this will be super-relevant for everyone, because the insights I’m going to share today are relevant at any time of the school year.
Because I know that for me as a student, all I really considered as things that would up-level in each new year group was the level of difficulty of the subject content, and probably the amount of homework that would get set.
And those things DO happen, but, from my years of teaching and working with exam boards, I’ve realised that homework and subject content aren’t the only things that up-level, and that there are other more subtle but super-important aspects of your teen’s education and the demands of their classwork, homework and assessments at play as they move up through the year groups.
SO, if you’re concerned about their grades either because they need certain results for the next steps they might want to take, or because of the impact those results have on their confidence and pride in themselves, or you’re a bit worried about their life balance as the workload increases then this is the episode for you because the hidden demands I’m going to share with you today will be a huge influence on both of those.
Because yes, the subject content does up-level a little each year, yes the amount of homework may increase a bit, but I would say that for most smart and hard-working students, they aren’t the things that catch them out or cause them issues.
And fairly regularly I get emails from parents about their teen who was doing great up to a certain point, and I have to say that Year 8 or 9 are common points where this happens, and then for no clear reason, their results started slipping even though they were still working hard and even though they ‘got’ the subject content, they understood the topics they were learning. In fact, this is such a thing that I even made a full podcast episode on this - it’s episode 6 if you want to check it out - and it ties in really well with what I’m going to talk about today.
So, this episode is all about having full awareness from the outset and ensuring that doesn’t happen.
Now, if you’ve been with me a while, you’ve likely heard me talk about the Study Success Formula: Knowledge plus application equals success.
And if you want to hear me explain that formula in detail, then go back and listen to episode 1 of the podcast. Because that formula was devised by me over the course of hmmm, probably 10 or 11 years of teaching, tutoring, study coaching, exam marking, coursework moderation and from thousands of conversations with parents, students, teachers and examiners.
It came from realising there was a whole missing piece of the study puzzle - and realising it too late for my own study I will say. And that piece is the skill of APPLICATION - your teen being able to APPLY the knowledge they’ve been taught and studied to learn in class, in homework; apply it in the exact way an exam question asks about it, apply it in an assignment, in an essay, in coursework, through an oral presentation or multi-modal, or even just in classwork and homework. And apply it in the way that meets the mark scheme criteria. So that they actually ‘answer the question’, don’t end up waffling in an essay, and also don’t do more than they need to.
Because I’ll talk about this more in a moment, but in the lower year groups, in primary school and in Year 7 and even in Year 8 really too, going over and above, putting in as much information as possible, that gets good marks. But as your teen moves up through the year levels, it’s much more about being able to respond to the question in the right way, than about impressing with quantity. In fact, especially in the senior year levels, going off topic, even if the information is actually correct, can actually bring down marks, because it may be considered to lack structure, or focus or represent a lack of understanding of the key focus of whatever’s being asked for.
So whilst yes, the level of subject content does increase in terms of complexity and the amount of KNOWLEDGE required, that is only half of the success formula and from my experience, what I also see is that the skills, strategies and techniques in APPLYING that knowledge also increase.
Especially from Y9 onwards. Because up til then, I would say that the formula is more heavily weighted towards the knowledge side of things. Students can get great results by just learning and presenting their subject knowledge, they get marks by giving lots of stats and facts and showing their comprehension of a topic or a book or an event, and get extra ticks, and bonus points by going over and above when it comes to pretty presentation or giving more than was asked for.
However, this changes in Y9 and beyond as the balance swings more and more towards those skills of application. But there’s no big announcement, no alert that this is happening as we move up through the year groups, it just happens in a really subtle way.
So, to help you see this, I’ll share some really specific ways this shows up, and then if you want more help, more explanation and see me dissect real life examples, at the end of this podcast I’ll share the details of a webinar I’m running live to kick of the new school year and that you can join me on for free.
So, one way that you and your teen will be able to see the application side of things up-level is in word counts. The word counts increase on assignments, essays and reports, going from maybe 800 to a thousand and maybe up to 2000 words by Y12. BUT this doesn’t mean that just more and more information is required. The mistake I see so many students make is that they think they just need to include more stats and facts. And if your teen has ever struggled to fill a word count, then this is likely the reason.
They’ve given all the information there is to give, have filled about two thirds of the word count and don’t know what else their teacher or the marker wants. Or, they may do the opposite and go totally overboard with their research and writing up TONS of information - everything and anything related to the topic. In fact I had a Y9 student recently join the 10WGT who’s mum sent me her research assignment for feedback on a coaching call and it was jam-packed with data and online research she’d spent hours and hours on. Now, she did get a good result for the task, but she’d spent a crazy amount of time and effort on the task, and she could’ve gotten the same result with not even half, more like a quarter of the information and time she’d put in. The trouble was, she didn’t have the skills (yet) to distinguish that for herself.
So what do those bigger word counts require? How’s your teen supposed to fill that word count?
They need to do the opposite of putting in more and more descriptive information. They need to go narrow and deep. They need to take one aspect and analyse it in detail, they may even need to evaluate it. They need to go further than just describing or explaining and respond to what the task or the question is relly asking of them which might be to analyse the information, evaluate the sources of that information, consider different perspectives, compare and contrast different elements. This relates to one my favourite skills, the ability to identify and understand and respond to command words. And so if your teen isn’t super-clear and confident in all of the different levels of cognitions - Describe, Explain, Apply, Analyse, Evaluate, Create - and if they’re not super-confident in all of the different command words at each of those levels of cognition, then this is where they need to work on their skills of application. And just that will make a huge difference to how they fill a word count.
This also shows up in terms of the TYPES of tasks they get set. Instead of being asked to do a ‘presentation about their favourite sport’ or write a ‘project about Christianity’ for example, where they simply have to compile lots of facts and information about the topic, you’ll see these instead become tasks like a research investigation or an analytical essay. Unlike those projects in the lower year levels, these don’t just want lots of info. They require higher level commands like comparing or evaluating, and that means that presenting lots of researched information that would’ve gotten them good marks back in Y7 or 8, will now perhaps scrape them a C grade if they’re lucky. At the higher year levels, the tasks are much more about what they DO with information than just finding or knowing the information.
Likewise this is the case in tests or exams. If you ever get to see one, because I know a lot ot times they don’t get to bring them home, but you can always just go check out a past paper on an exam board website, but if you scan through, you’ll notice that there will be fewer short response questions and more extended response questions. Fewer 1 or 2 or 3 mark questions and more 6, 7, 10 and even 20 mark questions. And just like the word count of essays and reports, this does not mean they just need more info. An eight mark question does not require eight facts. The wording of these questions will also change accordingly. The command, won’t be state or define, it will be discuss or justify. And so your teen’s skills of application will need to match this, tso they apply their subject knowledge to respond to the question and the way it is worded. They’ll want to (a) become a master at dissecting the wording of the question so they know exactly what it’s asking… and (b) be able to respond in the way the mark scheme that matches that wording demands.
And one more example I’ll share today of the application element in action is in the marking criteria, the rubrics and assessment success criteria. Now I know that back in our day, we never used to get given any of this when we were students, but these days your teen will often have these attached to assignments, provided with coursework, and for the external exams, most past papers have the mark scheme also published on exam board websites.
And if you compare a mark scheme for a Y7 or 8 exam or assessment with one for a Y11 or 12, or even a Y9 or 10 assessment, and you’ll notice that yes, the subject content is at a higher level, but also the ways that the responses are marked is different.
It’s less about ‘the answer is this’, it’s not just about the content or the information, and it’s much more about the quality of the discussion of that information.
For example, a senior research task will have levels of response. It’ll have descriptors that go from statements like, provides some evidence, through to discerning analysis of evidence.
This is why saving and using scaffolds or outlines of tasks from previous years doesn’t always work. Now, I’ll caveat that for the senior years. Often scaffolds will be given for tasks in Y11 as they are prepping students for a very similar independent task in Y12, so I would definitely save scaffolds for those, but for lower year groups, students need to be careful that they aren’t limiting themselves to lower levels of response that previous scaffolds would have matched but aren’t sufficient for the levels they need to be operating at in their new year group.
And I hope that these examples have perhaps started to spotlight a theme here. That much of this revolves around command words and the hierarchy of them. This is why I always say, if I could only train a student in one thing, it would be command words - getting in depth knowledge and understanding of them, what they mean and how to respond to them all at the right levels. Because this skill infiltrates so many elements of their study, and how the requirements up-level through the year groups, and it’s critical to the APPLICATION element of the study success formula. It’s not the only part of the application element, but it is perhaps one of the most significant parts.
And so I hope that this episode will help you spot some of the more subtle and hidden demands of your teens new year level and how they can meet those demands by developing, honing and actioning the skills of application so that they maximise that subject knowledge and have both parts of the study success formula.
The knowledge part is the part that they are guided through and is certainly focused on almost exclusively throughout their schooling. But the application of that knowledge is the part that often goes under the radar and is given little attention aside from the odd study-skills workshop.
Yet it is, in my experience, the part that becomes more and more relevant and important as your teen moves up through the year levels. Because no Y12 essay question ever simply asks - tell me everything you know about topic X. Yet that’s how many hard-working students have achieved success through their earlier years of their education - giving as much information as possible and going over and above in their fact-finding.
And if you’d like to learn more about this side of things and see me dissect and explain real life examples of these in action at specific different year groups and levels, or if , you’re thinking that yes, your teen could really use these skills of application and you’re interested in seeing how they can training from me in them through the 10 Week Grade Transformation program and want to make sure that they can up-level this area in line with their subject knowledge this year and every year beyond, then definitely register for the brand new, live parent parent webinar I’m running on Wednesday the 1st February. It’s totally free to register and if you’re listening to this before the 1st Feb, you can do so right now at www.gradetransformation.com/new
Now, it’s a live webinar and we’re starting at 7pm AEST, so that’s 8pm Eastern daylight time, 5pm for those in WA, and everyone else will have to check their own time zone - I used to love the novelty of hearing all the different time zones on the radio news when I first moved to Australia.
Coming from the UK it just felt very exotic to have so many time zones in one country - so that’s my mini version. But, if you can’t make it live, don’t worry - there will be a replay sent out to those who register, BUT you still have to register - and you really will want to do whatever you can to make it live, because there are going to be a few special bonus inclusions that I’ll be doing live that won’t be in the replay, that you won’t want to miss, like a special secret-segment with a bonus strategy I’ve just recently decided to add in, and a very special competition for live attendees to win a personal coaching session with me for your teen. Plus I’m sharing a free resource download with my top 5 Google Tips so that your teen can get the info for that knowledge part as quickly and easily as possible, without spending hours researching or ending up with useless sources, and can instead spend their energy and brain power and time on applying it all at the highest levels.
So, register for the webinar for free atwww.gradetransformation.com/new - I’ll put that link in the show notes so you can just click directly on it - and you’ll get the exact steps, how-to and examples to have your teen meeting all the demands of their new year group with confidence and a huge amount of success.
I’m really excited for what 2023 can hold for your teen and I hope that this podcast episode is the first stepping stone in making this an awesome year for their study.
Have a wonderful week, go register for the webinar, share it with any other parents of hardworking teens and I’ll see you back here next week for another episode of the parents of hardworking teens podcast!