NAPLAN: Lifelong Learners in The West Australian 30/4/12

Article written by Melissa Smith, Lifelong Learners.

Tutoring services for English (all year levels) offered in Victoria Park, Perth by a qualified teacher with a MEd who has in-depth experience as a tutor.

On the 30/4/12 Lifelong Learners was featured in The West Australian newspaper discussing the current issues surrounding NAPLAN testing. See the link below, the text of the article is included at the bottom of this post.

As the article highlights, many parents have come to me requesting help with NAPLAN preparation. What the article doesn’t mention is that this is not about their children doing significantly better on the test…mostly it is about ensuring they are confident in the lead up to it and reinforcing skill areas they are lacking in. Remember, year three children are experiencing it for the first time and often the fear comes from conflicting messages via school and home.

Students who come to Lifelong Learners for NAPLAN preparation do significantly improve their results – most move up at least one band and last year one student achieved band 8 in ALL AREAS. This is not because we rote learn the materials and practice test sample after test sample like some schools and other private tuition companies do.

It is because the students and I work together to allay any fears they have about the test, to build basic tools to help them in a testing environment and to cover the curriculum they should have already learned in the classroom. If a parent asks me to drill their child solely for the purpose of NAPLAN testing I would refer them elsewhere, that is not what I see as a beneficial learning activity.

I won’t say whether I agree or disagree with NAPLAN testing but the number of students who start their classes with me in tears because they are scared indicates to me that somewhere along the line there has been a significant breakdown in communication. Students should NEVER be afraid to learn!


Demand for tutors amid NAPLAN worry

After-school tutors are reporting a sharp increase in demand as parents put increasing pressure on children to perform well in national literacy and numeracy tests.

Tutoring services in WA said they were offering special classes for the tests even though the National Assessment Program -Literacy and Numeracy did not count towards school results.

About one million students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 will sit the tests in two weeks.

Tutors said many parents were concerned that if their child did not do well in NAPLAN, they would not get into a private high school.

Melissa Smith, who runs Lifelong Learners tutoring, said few parents responded last year when she offered NAPLAN preparation for the first time.

This year she had a lot of interest with eight additional clients solely to do with NAPLAN and two of her 20 existing clients asked her to focus just on NAPLAN.

During the recent holidays she taught NAPLAN classes to children in Years 3 and 5 for eight hours a week at about $40 an hour. Though she explained that NAPLAN tests were to give an accurate reflection of their child’s results, mostly to indicate which schools needed extra funding, parents still wanted their child to do well.

Danielle Calleja, from the International Centre for Excellence, said parents often compared their children’s NAPLAN results. She was sick of seeing children stressed so she ran NAPLAN classes so they could see what the tests were like.

Australian Tutoring Association chief executive Mohan Dhall said schools were also under pressure because their results were put on the My School website.

Exam Preparation Tips

How to prepare for Exams

Exam week can be difficult, dangerous, even overwhelming. You may feel helpless and hopeless, as though there is nothing you can do. After a semester of too many classes and too much work, you think you’ll have to stay up all night studying to pass your final exams.

But wait! Help is on the way!

Below are my handy hints for exam time, developed during six arduous years as a university student and five more as a teacher.

Two – Four Weeks Before the Exam

– Make up a set of study sheets for each class.

– Each set of study sheets should summarise the reading, your class notes, and any handouts. Usually there will be 3 – 4 main ideas you have covered (e.g. documentaries, feature articles, novels, short stories, film etc) so try and create a sheet for each one. Consolidate all those class notes!

– Type the study sheets so they are easily readable. Use plenty of bold type and white space to accentuate important ideas.

– For the next two weeks, read through your study sheets three times each day. Do not try hard to memorise the information. Just read the notes once, three times per day.

The Night Before the Exam

– Read your study sheets as usual.

– Go to bed early and get a good night’s sleep.

The Day of the Exam

– Set your alarm and get up early. Allow plenty of time to get to the exam.

– Eat a good breakfast, including simple sugars (fruit juice), complex carbohydrates (cereal or toast), and protein (milk, eggs, meat, cheese). This will help your blood sugar stay at a stable level, and since your brain runs on sugar, you don’t want to have an empty tank. DO NOT drink energy drinks or snack on sugary treats beforehand because you don’t want a sugar crash on the exam.

– Caffeine has been shown to increase alertness and performance. If you are a habitual user of caffeine, be sure to get your accustomed dose.

During the Exam

– If you feel tense, relax, take a deep breath, and remember that you know the material because you’ve been reviewing for two weeks.

– Keep your eye on the clock while taking the exam. Allow enough time to finish the entire test. Avoid focusing on one question and running out of time on others.

– Read the entire exam before beginning to write. Know your enemy, in other words.

– Be sure your name is on the test. (This sounds silly, but sometimes if we feel tense or pressured, we forget the little things.)

– Read each question a second time, then answer that question. PLAN!

– Go on to the next question. Remember to look at the clock and keep moving through the test.

– After the first hour and fifteen minutes, relax, stretch and calm down. You know the material.

– Use the entire exam period rather than rushing through the test and leaving early.

Special Information for Students Taking Essay Exams

– Read the question carefully and analyse what the teacher wants in the answer. If the question has several parts, use these parts to structure your answer.

– Use the writing process: brainstorm, organize, outline, add supporting information, write, revise, edit.

– Write a version of the classic five-paragraph essay. Answer the question in the first paragraph of your essay. State and support one proof for your answer in each of the following paragraphs. Answer the question in different words in your concluding paragraph.

Genesis – Philosophy and Scifi with a twist

Genesis – Bernard Beckett.

Are humans the only beings capable of reasoning? Capable of innovation? Capable of structuring an argument and adjusting under different situations? Or are machines, technologically advanced machines, just as able to perform the same as a human would.

Those who know me, know that I love to read. Anything and everything that crosses my path gets a go and no genre is off limits. Very rarely do I come across a book that not only keeps me interested the whole way through BUT has an ending that was so surprising and so unexpected I had to read it three times to make sure!

This novel is definitely unlike anything I’ve ever read before. It’s set in a post-apocalyptic future and the main character, Anaximander is undertaking an oral examination to enter a prestigious unit known only as The Academy. The entire novel consists only of the interview between The Examiners and Anaximander as she answers questions and states her opinions on her chosen topic, the life and actions of Adam Forde, a soldier of a time gone by who is long dead. His story is taught in schools and Anaximander has chosen to make it her study, working with a tutor for The Academy, Pericles. The Academy are advisors to those who make the rules and Anaximander knows that they take only students who perform at the highest level. Everything she says in this interview will be analysed, questioned, criticised and judged.

Through this interview and the questions The Examiners put to her, Anaximander takes us back in time to the history of how her world came to be the place that it is today: a time of war in the world as we know it now leading to plague, leading to isolation, barriers formed around the islands with soldiers posted along all the coastlines with orders to shoot to kill if  any boats or humans make their way to the fences. Adam Forde was one of these such soldiers but the choices he made were significantly different from those he had been trained to.

Exploring a world with incredibly advanced technology and it’s interactions with humans, Genesis deals with Anaximander’s shocking discovery of the real history of her Republic, as well as the startling realisation of what her fascination with Adam Forde really means to those who are questioning her.

It’s a short novel, only 150-odd pages, and there’s not a word wasted. From the very beginning we’re straight into the story with Anaximander going into her 4hr oral examination. The Examiner’s questions skilfully draw out an explanation of the background of the Republic where Anaximander lives, giving us a rich and colourful history that gives us understanding of what has gone before and shaped the way things are now. Anaximander, through her chosen study of Adam Forde hopes to join The Academy and work in the top echelon of the Republic, advising those who make the decisions, those who create the rules. She has to think carefully on everything she says and we are also privy to her thoughts as she processes the questions from the Examiner’s and seeks to shape her answers in the best way.

What you get is a novel that’s philosophical, ripe with ideas that are familiar – Plato, Socrates, Pericles and also the idea of rational thought. Are humans the only beings capable of reasoning? Capable of innovation? Capable of structuring an argument and adjusting under different situations? Or are machines, technologically advanced machines, just as able to perform the same as a human would.  It’s an interesting, thought-provoking and often frustrating attempt to attribute the same qualities humans have to a robot-type machine and all throughout those scenes I went back and forth on my position of whether or not a soul could be attributed to a machine.

This novel amazed me with how much Beckett managed to put into the 150 pages. It’s a smart novel, it will challenge your views on things you think you know and raise questions that might not have occurred to you before. Although it’s categorised as YA it’s much more than that. It’s also one of those books where all of a sudden you reach the end and you’re left utterly stunned and sort of gasping for air, wondering if you really just read what you thought you did. I had to go back and read the last couple of pages another 2-3 times just to make sure and the impact was not lessened each time at all.

Genesis is an incredible book, unique to the post-apocalyptic and dystopian genre’s and one of the best reads I have had in a very long time.

Available via, and to name a few sites.

Phonics Development

Article written by Melissa Smith, Lifelong Learners.

Tutoring services for English (all year levels) offered in Victoria Park, Perth by a qualified teacher with a MEd who has in-depth experience as a tutor.

Phonological awareness and phonics are intimately intertwined, but they are not the same. Phonological awareness involves the auditory and oral manipulation of sounds. Phonics is the association of letters and sounds to sound out written symbols; it is a system of teaching reading that builds on the alphabetic principle, a system of which a central component is the teaching of correspondences between letters or groups of letters and their pronunciations. If children understand that words can be divided into individual phonemes and that phonemes can be blended into words, they are able to use letter-sound knowledge to read and build words.

So that sounds all nice and fancy but what does it mean? Basically it is confirming what most parents already know – before students can learn to read and write they need to develop “the basics” and have a firm grasp of what it is they are hearing in words.

The basics include:

– Onset riming which is a specific term that refers to the sound at the start of a word and how it can be altered and change the meaning of a word e.g. L-E-G and B-E-G.

– Syllables and how words can be divided into segments. Students should also be able to identify that each segment contains a vowel sound and this is what provides the “burst” of sound.

– Traditional rhyming where students can identify that whole words can sound similar to other words e.g. black and whack, red and dead and so on. This is not a spelling based exercise but focuses on identifying what SOUNDS the same.

Once the basics are laid out, the teacher or tutor can focus on developing the grapheme relationships (what sounds go with what letters?) and reading will significantly improve.

Caffeine and learning – do they go together?

Many students (young and old) use caffeine to get through classes – sometimes in the form of soft drink, energy drinks, coffee or even No-Doz tablets. This article looks at the effects of caffeine at a neurological level and the short term vs long term outcomes.