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Returning to School: Preparing for Success

September 21, 2015

The end of the summer holiday is an exciting time for students who look forward to diving back into the familiar school environment where they can thrive and continue to learn. This isn’t the case for everyone, though, as anxieties may stem from moving to a new school or country, changing the language of instruction and adapting to a new social environment and set of rules. Yet, for all concerned, plans can be made to aim for a successful academic year where success means a stress-free learning experience and academic results that correspond to the student’s maximum potential.

Start as you mean to go on!

The best way to settle into the new term is to prepare for it so you hit the ground running. Stress can act as a barrier to learning and efficient studying. It builds up fast when a student feels overwhelmed and disorganised so getting ready for school properly will help maintain the course to success. Moving up through the year groups poses increasing demands as the academic content becomes more specialist and the pressure of exams mounts. The students who will feel these growing expectations the most are the 11-12 year olds starting secondary schools, the 14+ year olds taking IGCSE courses and those moving into higher education, whether for the IB Diploma, A Levels, the French Bac or Swiss Matu.

So where do you start with preparations?

With the basics. In the bedroom (or study for the luckier ones), create an environment conducive to learning. Involve your child, even at a younger age, in making the transition between the holidays and the school term by putting away the summer paraphernalia and tidying up their study area. Ideally, there should be a space for homework and study, a clear desk or table, some shelves, not only for school books but for other reference and inspirational books, and plenty of stationery. For families in which homework happens at the same time for several children, stationery should be kept in a box (like a tool box) that can be carried to a larger communal study space; this helps avoid the distractions of comings and goings to find erasers, rulers and such like.

Establishing a routine

Students can also plan for their own learning by setting up a routine schedule of study versus play time. Again, children respond better by being involved in drawing up the rules. Not all schools provide a set timetable for homework, but this is easily done in collaboration with teachers and takes the stress out of forgotten assignments and last-minute revision. In primary school, children can cope with up to half an hour a day. Even if they are only set homework once a week, the daily routine of reviewing the week’s topics, spellings, revisiting some reading or simply sitting down with a book, a documentary or one selected educational website will be beneficial to instilling good habits and an effective work ethic. In secondary school, it is common to allow two hours a day for homework and revision. If possible, the routine should be kept up with additional reading or making revision notes in case of lighter homework. Educational websites and Apps where learning happens through games are perfectly valid sources to complement homework, so look them up now so your child is ready for the term. It is important to allow time for leisure and after-school activities, especially sport, for quality family time at weekends or anything that the students can look forward to as a reward after a week of hard work.

Looking back to last year

The students (and parents) who have been organised and used the summer holidays to recap and consolidate what they learnt in the previous school year will be better prepared than others. Once all possible online activities and games for last year’s topics have been tried, or the widely available holiday revision booklets have been filled, the best way to move forward is to make a list of what was not understood or what was a little difficult, and ask specific questions to the new teacher or tutor who will start the new term. This will help the student of course, but will equally help the teacher/tutor know where the student is in terms of level of comprehension and ability. It also shows the new teacher how dedicated the student is; positive first impressions contribute to a successful relationship.

Complimenting work in the classroom

Revision books for the coming year offer a useful complement to homework. Students can draw from them as an additional source of material, they can model their own revision notes on them and can also use them to test themselves at the end of a topic unit. The temptation, especially if pressured to do so by parents, is to work ahead of their class on topics not previously covered by their teacher. This may be counter-productive and result in misguided learning with negative consequences.

Offering support

Support means accompanying, encouraging and pushing without applying pressure or demanding unachievable results. The beginning of the school year is a good time to set targets, in the same way we have New Year’s resolutions. Whilst the latter are often unrealistic and, therefore, soon given up on, academic targets must be smart: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, timed. This target-setting tool is commonly used in English curriculum based primary schools as it empowers the students to take responsibility for their own learning. Targets can be set with the help of teachers or other education professionals. Once the timetables are in place, the clubs have started and the routine has set in, it is worth thinking about ongoing additional support. Far too often, tutors are called upon at the last moment to catch up an entire semester and perform quick fix revision during exam periods. Although this can work, nothing can replace weekly sessions that build upon deep layers of knowledge and understanding.

Setting targets

Setting targets trains students to think long term and will eventually help them focus on that towards which they are working. In order to make a good start, you need to know where you want to end up. So at the start of the first term, a student needs to look ahead. Imagine yourself at the end of June, having had a successful academic year. What did you do to get there? How did you achieve so much? Find the answer and make sure you apply it throughout the year.
Prepare, aim high and stick at it!

About the author:

Sabine Hutcheson is a British-trained school teacher with over a decade’s teaching experience in Switzerland, the UK and neighbouring France. She has taught a variety of subjects to children from 5 to 18 years old, as well as adults, and is now Academic Director at TutorsPlus.
For almost 10 years, TutorsPlus has provided high quality private tuition and education consultancy across Switzerland, helping students be the best they can be. www.tutorsplus.com

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