If the skills of 'application'
- dissecting questions, responding to specific commands, note-taking, active revision, and more! -
are so critical to students' success, why aren’t they being taught in schools?
AND - a less common question, but one I got recently - why aren’t there more teachers or tutors or tutoring companies out there delivering this stuff?
Listen in to discover my answers and to find more about how I came to be delivering this training and coaching.
You’re listening to the Parents of Hardworking Teens Podcast, episode 38 - with my answer to one of the most common questions I get from parents - why aren’t the skills and strategies that I talk about all the time, the skills of applying subject knowledge, why aren’t they being taught in schools? AND a less common question, but one I got recently - why aren’t there more teachers, tutors or tutoring companies out there delivering this stuff?
Hey VIPs! I hope you’re having a great week so far.
I have to say, I feel like I’m just loving life at the moment. I’m loving the weather right now, still hot and sunny, but not crazy hot and humid and that’s good, because I’m out doing lots of longer dog walks at the moment, because, not so great, I’ve strained my back a bit - nothing serious, but I was kinda getting up out of chairs stuck at a bit of a 45 degree angle for a couple of days, so I’ve been staying off the gym a bit. Last week, I literally just went walking every day and this week, I’m just gradually getting back into a few light gym sessions, but still doing lots more walking. I do a fair bit of walking anyway, but doing way more at the moment and just loving it.
Now, the other thing that I’m loving is answering your questions and receiving your requests for topics for me to cover on the podcast. I have a spreadsheet where I have all the things I want to talk about and right now, I have about 40 episodes that I could make. So, I’m picking out the ones that you’re requesting AND coming up with new ones based on your emails and on conversations I’m having. So, if you have a request, send me an email email@example.com and you may well have your wish granted on an episode soon.
So, I’m going to get into not one but two of those questions right now.
The first is the one I get all the time: ‘Why isn’t this being taught in schools?”
And by ‘this’ they mean the skills and strategies of effective study, and in particular how to actually APPLY knowledge to the way the questions are asked and the mark schemes require.
These skills that make up the ‘application’ part of the knowledge plus application equals success formula. The skills that I keep talking about all the time and that I believe are critical to your teen achieving their true potential when it comes to the grades, their coursework and assessments, their exams and especially the external exams. Like, if this is so important, why aren’t schools teaching it? And related to that is another question I got asked recently, and really was the catalyst for this episode, which was, ‘why aren’t more tutoring companies or teachers doing this outside of school?’ - or even in school.
As in, there’s obviously a need for this so, if it isn’t being delivered in schools, ‘How come there aren’t other people or courses teaching this?’ Why haven’t I seen this offered elsewhere? And so I’ll explain my take on it all.
First up -why this isn’t really being taught in schools.
Or at least not in any comprehensive and integrated way. Because I do know that there are things like one-off study skills workshops, but during and within lessons, or as part of the delivery of assessments. To my knowledge, the skills of application; of exam technique, of strategic study aren’t being taught in schools.
But to be honest I only really and truly knew this and understood the problem with that once I’d (a) taught and tutored enough across different countries and states to realise that, and (b) had the experience of external exam marking myself to realise these skills were what were making the biggest difference to students in my own work.
And from my experience, I see three main reasons why it isn’t being taught in schools:
The first is that it’s not required to be.
Everything in the curriculum or syllabus documents is orientated around the subject content. The facts, the knowledge, the understanding. Now, yes, some subjects might have certain subject-specific skills that are associated with the subject, for example, dissections in Biology, or using a certain tool in D.T, or a cooking method in Food Tech. But specific and universal skills of application, they aren’t really taught.
Universal meaning they apply to any subject, any exam board, any high school year group, particularly from Years 9 - 12 or 10-13.
The second reason is that there simply isn’t time.
Those syllabuses - I just can’t bring myself to use the word syllabi - they are jam-packed with content. Just ask any teacher, especially a teacher of senior years subjects, and they’ll tell you that probably one of the top 3 challenges of teaching is getting through and delivering all of the content in the timetabled time available.
So, the fact that these things aren’t required to be taught, and there’s very little time to do it even if a teacher had the training for it and wanted to as an extra, are two reasons this doesn’t happen. But the third reason is that most teachers don’t have the exam board training to do it even if there was.
It’s only a very small percentage of teachers who have even been exposed to these in depth aspects of assessment. Yes, all teachers are trained about assessment in the classroom, or for internal exams, or reporting, but there is no requirement to ever work with an exam board.
And in each school I've worked at, I've either been the only one doing any kind of external assessment, or there has been as far as I know, a maximum of two other teachers who've done some sort of external assessment work. And then, only a fraction of those teachers love it. Most are doing it for the two reasons it's advertised - as valuable professional development and for extra money. And I can tell you - not that much extra money.
Some of the roles you don't actually even get paid for. For external exam marking you do, as you're doing that on top of your teaching work at home or on weekends, but for the writing panel I was on last year, you don't actually get paid for that time. The school just has to cover you while you go to the exam board offices. For me as a relief teacher now, I did get paid, but it was not as much as you would get paid for a relief day at school.
And there are also not necessarily that many opportunities to do it. So, for the writing panel I was on, there were only two of us teachers aside from the exam board officer, who were on the panel. When I did the scrutiny panel the year before - or it might have been the year before that - there were three of us. And that's out of the whole state!
So, there are not that many teachers who do it, and the fact is, for most teachers who are doing external exam marking, which there are a few more of us, they don't necessarily love it. I know. So shocking. So, even less would want to then create a big project and whole new career path out of it for themselves.
Which leads us nicely to that second question.
“Why haven’t I seen more teachers or tutors or companies delivering these sorts of skills and information?”
Now, there may well be other people or companies delivering these skills.
I have to say, I don’t spend a whole lot of time, in fact I don’t spend any, looking at what other people or companies are doing. I purposely just prefer to stay in my lane. Stick to doing what I know I do best and I believe is most helpful. And even back in the beginning, when I first set up Rock Solid Study I didn’t need to go and do any ‘proof of concept’ research. I had that from the hundreds, maybe by then, thousands, of students I’d been working with in class and in tutoring, so I didn’t research other tutoring companies, I didn’t write a business plan, and I’ll admit, I didn’t really know what I was doing when I started. I just knew that I wanted to share the strategies that I’d developed and all of my experience and training more widely.
And the best way to do that was to set up something online.
I was teaching full time and tutoring on top. I never had enough time in the classroom to do as much of this stuff as I wanted with my own students, and there were only so many hours in the day for tutoring.
So, being someone who likes steps and structure, I decided to put everything into a program that I could then put out online.
And that’s what I got to work doing. I didn’t actually have a clue about how to set up a business, or any idea about marketing, or even what was really happening out there with tutoring companies. I just figured it all out as I went and I vividly remember in the early stages telling a friend of mine, ‘I think I’ve created a monster’.
Because I’d mapped out the modules and I’d figured out how to make a website - albeit a simple one. And I’d started to make the workbook resources, but I realised I needed to record and edit the videos, I needed to figure out how to make an actual member portal on the website, which was a whole extra thing to just making a website, I needed to set up payment and access and I didn’t have a start up fund or a ton of spare money, so I tried to do as much of it as I could myself.
I did eventually pay a website company to set up the course and payment processor for me eventually when I had everything ready. It felt like a small fortune at the time, but I’m a girl who likes to have a project and a challenge and this was the project I wanted to pursue, and like I said, I already knew this was something students really needed.
So there are many layers of all the reasons I don’t think there are lots of other teachers or tutors doing this. Like I said, maybe there are, maybe just me and the parent I was talking to just hadn’t seen them. But it takes a LOT to actually create and deliver something like the 10 Week Grade Transformation Program (in fact, honestly, if I’d known in advance just how much of a monster a project like that would become, chances are I may not have done it) and it’s based on years and years of in depth and diverse experience in assessment .
Please don’t get me wrong here. There are many teachers out there with more years of teaching and even external examination experience than me. Teachers who can teach in different ways than I can. Tutors who have extensive experience in their subjects. I think it’s just that everything for me has come about through a series of events, circumstances and choices, and a lot of hard work… it is certainly not just through some special talent that was bestowed upon me or through being better than anyone else.
For me, this began back in 2010 when I did my first ever external exam marking for the GCSE exams back in England. I partly applied to do it for the extra money, because I was 29 and what 29 year old teacher couldn’t use some extra money? And also it was because I was genuinely curious about what really went on behind the scenes in the world of exams. I’d been teaching for four years by then and each year saw a few of my classroom students do better than expected, and a couple do worse. And I wanted to figure out why. PLUS, I’d always been aware when I was a student myself, particularly in my A-Levels - the equivalent of ATAR here in Australia, that some students seemed to just hit nails on the head with certain questions, and I never quite seemed to. I couldn’t have been a more B+ student if I’d tried. So I really did want to go behind the curtain and see how it all really worked.
And from that first ever day of exam-marker training, I was hooked.
All the things I’d wondered about I found out - and more. Like why does that get a mark, but that not get a mark? Why was the question worded in that way?
And so every opportunity since, I’ve jumped on - to be a marker, a moderator and in more recent years, also a writing and scrutiny panel member.
Yes, there are definitely other teachers who do enjoy this type of work. Who also find it interesting, but here’s where things went a step further for me. Moving to Australia and also moving between different states - and getting a few dodgy teaching timetables along the way with subjects thrown at me that I had no experience teaching, meant I got a whole lot more experience in the world of assessment.
For example, as I already knew that exam marking had helped me improve my teaching by then, so one of my ways to improve my teaching in subjects I had to teach but was not proficient in, was to do exam marking for it. Hence why I’ve now marked externally across Dance, Geography, the Naplan Writing Test, the Y12 QCS writing test and short response paper Maths questions.
Again, I’m guessing, but I reckon there’d only be a tiny percentage of teachers who’ve done that. And it was only after all of that, that I started to see the commonalities across all different types of mark schemes and the ways they’re worded. The structure of the questions. The requirements of assessments and how they’re actually universal across different exam boards and subjects.
So, that’s why I don’t think there’s much of this sort of training out there.
There’s not that many teachers who are trained in it all, even less who do it and love it, and then even less who want to then create more work for themselves - who are so totally engrossed and so passionate about sharing it all with as many parents and students as possible.
Because, like I said, it’s not like I did all of this in pursuit of a big goal I had to create Rock Solid Study or the 10WGT.
This has all come together through a series of decisions, some related to education, some not. Like leaving England chasing the sun to Sydney, then to Brisbane and now to the Sunshine Coast. That wasn’t so I could do more exam marking in another country. It was because my not-yet-then-husband and I wanted a new adventure - and yes, plenty of sun. But with that came the new and additional teaching and exam board experiences. That’s coupled with an uncommon love of all things exams and how they work, the fact that I don’t have kids, so I objectively have more time and headspace to work on this stuff. (In fact my husband and I now call Rock Solid Study our business baby.) That probably also meant I felt more able to take the financial risk of teaching less and training and coaching more.
So, no I’m not a special unicorn with amazing talents. But I do think my experience and the extent of my personal training and expertise - and having a genuine love for all of this - is probably fairly unique. And I’m going to keep honing and developing and extending my knowledge and understanding of all this with the aim to now, intentionally be able to deliver the best training and coaching I can to your teen. And to be able to share the most up to date and useful information with you, here on the podcast and in my online events.
And I’m going to keep enjoying the sunshine that I moved half way around the world for! So, I’m off for a morning dog walk. The sun is shining and it’s another beautiful day here. I’m recording this super-early in the morning. I’m not just an exam-geek but also very much a morning person.
So for more, crazy rock and roll fun, I’ll see you back here next week for another episode, be sure to email me with any podcast questions or requests, have a brilliant week and I’ll catch you soon. Bye!