The Hills District Think Tank for Gifted and Talented Students

Hands on … Hills Grammar teacher and elite sportswoman Alyssa McMurray shares the secrets of athletic success with Think Tank workshop students. Credit: Hills Grammar

An exciting new initiative is bringing together the Hills district’s best and brightest primary school children to intensify their learning potential.

Established by Hills Grammar Junior School, the Hills District Think Tank compounds the intellectual, creative and athletic power of high-ability students from seven independent schools in the local area, including: Tangara, Pacific Hills Christian School, William Clarke College, Rouse Hill Anglican College, Adventist College and Australian International Academy.

The Australian Curriculum (AC) defines gifted students as those “whose potential is distinctly above average” intellectually, creatively, socially or physically, whereas talented students are characterised by their demonstrated outstanding skills in any field of human endeavour.

While the AC acknowledges the influence of a number of factors on student achievement, it emphasises the transformative role of schools in helping gifted students to translate potential into talent by “giving students appropriate opportunity, stimulation and experiences.”

Born to run … Sports Science workshop participants learned how to hone their gifts to achieve even better results. Credit: Hills Grammar

The Think Tank series of workshops meets this imperative by providing deeper and broader enrichment opportunities to supplement classroom learning, says Hills Grammar Gifted and Talented Coordinator Deborah Wightley. “Gifted programs are often just an extension of existing studies. We wanted to expand on what was already on offer and bring in students from different domains of learning: academic, creative and athletic so we can cater for the learning needs of all high-potential students.”

“Research shows that these children need to work with like-minded peers to maximise their learning,” says Mrs Wightley.

Last term’s inaugural Think Tank event focused on physical prowess. Led by elite sportswoman and Hills Grammar teacher Alyssa McMurray, a group of 28 athletically-gifted Year 5 and 6 students participated in a sports science workshop examining performance-optimising strategies.

Students analysed the impact of diet, fitness, technique, skill, and strength and conditioning on athletic outcomes to create a personal training regimen, which they then compared to that of an elite athlete from their chosen sport. Utilising the Hudl app on iPads, these students were able to log their results and can continue to record their progress as they incorporate theory into practice.

Multi-dimensional … the Sports Science workshop examined the many factors required for optimal performance. Credit: Hills Grammar

The collaborative nature of the workshop was enthusiastically embraced by students. “The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. They really enjoyed making connections with like-minded kids from other schools and working together on their area of passion,” Mrs Wightley says.

And it’s not just the kids who are loving the opportunity to take a deep dive into their favourite field. Teachers too are excited by the prospect.

“We asked our staff to self-nominate to design a workshop in their own area of interest,” Mrs Wightley says. “They’ve been very positive, especially as the students’ feedback has been so good. Teachers from the network stayed for the entire day at the first event and were really impressed by the level of engagement of the students.”

Peer perfection … the Think Tank brings gifted and talented children together to maximise their learning potential. Credit: Hills Grammar

This term’s workshop, Debating Skills and the Secrets of Adjudication, was designed for Stage 2 students by Hills Grammar Debating Coordinator Fiona Khoo who is also an adjudicator, “so she’s perfect to run the workshop”, Mrs Wightley says.

In Term 4, Creative Writing and Cookie Characters will bring high-ability students together in a literary bake-off.

Students will be tasked with creating a fictional character and then designing and baking a cookie representative of that character.

“It’s a stimulus to creative writing,” Mrs Wightley explains. “The idea of the workshops is to be engaging for students who have a strength in that area already. It’s about engaging them in higher-order thinking and adding some complexity to the task so they’re challenged.”

After the biscuit-making, participants will spend the afternoon dramatising their characters. The action-packed day is calibrated to match these students’ natural aptitude, says Mrs Wightley.  “The fast pace is deliberate because the kids acquire knowledge so quickly.”

With every member school scheduled to run a workshop for each learning stage, the Think Tank will eventually comprise a multifaceted set of learning tools designed to turn propensity into proficiency.

“We will have a lovely collection of workshops,” Mrs Wightley says. “The schools are really engaged with the vision and see the opportunity for their own school. Between us it’s a very positive network aimed at providing more opportunities for our high-potential students and staff members.”

Interested parents are encouraged to contact their school about this program and other enrichment activities available to their children.

For more information on independent schools in the Hills area, visit the Hills School Expo on Saturday, September 9 and Sunday, September 10, 2017.

Where: Federation Pavilion, Castle Hill Showground, Showground Road, Castle Hill
When: Saturday, September 9 and Sunday, September 10, 2017
Time: 10am to 4pm both days
Cost: Free admission
Parking: Parking is free and plentiful at Federation Pavilion
Contact: Dorothy Willoughby on 0412 233 742

Tough love trumps puppy love: Expert parenting advice from teachers, researchers and Trinity Grammar

There are as many different ways to raise children as there are parents and kids but some styles are definitely less effective than others.

Too permissive or outrightly neglectful child rearing are obviously problematic but research shows too-close supervision can be almost as detrimental to children’s development.

From tiger mums to doting dads, there’s mounting evidence that over-involved, “helicopter parenting” is at the very least, counter-productive, if not damaging.

Standing on their own two feet … even puppies benefit when parents encourage them to overcome obstacles on their own. Credit: Shutterstock

Interestingly, this holds true not just for human parents but for canine carers as well.

A study on guide dog training released this week, shows that overprotective canine mothers produce less capable offspring as measured by guide dog training completion rates.

The researchers attributed the dogs’ handicap to their mothers’ propensity to shield them from adversity in the first few weeks of life. Over-zealous protectiveness inhibited the development of resilience in puppies with lifelong temperamental consequences.

“It seems that puppies need to learn how to deal with small challenges at this early age and, if they don’t, it hurts them later,” lead researcher Emily Bray said in a University of Pennsylvania media statement.

“A hypothesis might be that you have to provide your offspring with minor obstacles that they can overcome for them to succeed later in life because, as we know, life as an adult involves obstacles,” said Bray’s co-researcher, Robert Seyfarth.

Indeed. A growing body of opinion sees overcoming failure in childhood as integral to long-term success.

In The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go so Their Children Can Succeed, US teacher and author Jessica Lahey cautions, “today’s overprotective, failure-avoidant parenting style has undermined the competence, independence, and academic potential of an entire generation.”

To counter our modern tendency to coddling, Lahey offered these words of parenting wisdom to Psychology Today readers:

  • Failure helps children learn about themselves…and they will recover
  • Be patient and trust in your kids
  • Remember that when we say “Let me do that for you,” we are telling our kids we don’t think they are capable
  • Let kids make mistakes that test their abilities. This is a good thing that will strengthen learning and teach them how to be resilient
  • Remember that intelligence is malleable. The harder kids work to overcome challenges, the smarter they become
  • The children of parents who support autonomy are more competent and resilient in the face of frustration, so give kids space to work through temporary setbacks
  • Kids who pursue their own goals are far more likely to meet those goals and stick with activities for the long haul

Experts agree that allowing children to make and learn from their own mistakes is of primary importance but knowing exactly when — and how far — to let go can be difficult to judge.

An “authoritative” parenting style that tempers discipline and clear expectations with warmth and acceptance is generally considered to be the approach most conducive to raising resilient and successful kids. It is also the most closely associated with good academic results.

As children move into the later stages of adolescence, it’s important to allow them greater autonomy but within the framework of “a secure and predictable environment”, says Andrew Martin, professor of education psychology at UNSW.

Some parents may be reluctant to pull back at this stage, fearing the worst; but it’s a normal and necessary part of helping them grow up, Dr Martin says.

“Undoubtedly, they will push and exceed the boundaries, but that and its consequences are part of the development of their identity and understanding the social ‘norms’ to which they will be held to account in adulthood.”

To help parents find the right balance between strictures and structure, Trinity Grammar offers this excellent advice:

Encourage independence
Don’t be tempted to do everything for your child because it’s quicker, they need to gain some independence from a young age, so even a pre-schooler can be encouraged to do things on their own, like dress themselves. For older children and teens, resist the urge to solve their problems and protect them from disappointment – they will learn much more from making mistakes and considering the consequences of their actions. Demonstrate your belief in your child’s abilities to boost their self-esteem and confidence.

Maintain stable and loving relationships
This applies to relationships between parents, children, other family members and with the Church. Ensuring a child experiences secure relationships based on respect, trust and love shapes the way they manage relationships for the rest of their lives. If they experience conflict being managed in a respectful way, children in turn will learn to manage conflict in a passive rather than aggressive manner. If you apologise to your child for a wrongdoing, they learn the importance of acknowledging mistakes and considering the feelings of others.

Be there for your children
It is easy to get bogged down in the routine of daily life and chores that need our attention. Regularly put aside some of those tasks and make a point of spending time with your children and simply having fun. This will strengthen your relationship and is rewarding for both you and your child. Properly engage with your children, whether it be through play or really listening to what they have to say.

Set clear rules
Children crave boundaries and need clear rules for behaviour. Try to avoid making threats you do not plan to carry out and instead be consistent and ensure you and your partner provide a united front to avoid confusion for children. Although the equilibrium can sometimes be difficult to maintain, parents must balance empathy and support with structure and clear expectations.

Be a good role model
We can try to teach our children morals and values by talking about it, but children learn far more from the behaviours of their role models. Try to be the person you want your child to be, whether that be patient, loving, trustworthy, respectful or all of these things. For example, if you demonstrate sensitivity, your child will develop empathy for others.

Love unconditionally
You teach your children many life lessons through the simple act of loving them. They learn when you show them affection, play with them, provide encouragement and advice, and offer them security. By remaining steady, being attentive and listening to your children, they become self-confident with higher self-esteem. Praise them where it is due and try to avoid comparing siblings to each other.

 

References:

Children of “tiger parents” develop more aggression and depression, research shows — Stephen Smith, CBS News, June 20, 2013
http://www.cbsnews.com/news/children-of-tiger-parents-develop-more-aggression-and-depression-research-shows/

7 crippling parenting behaviours that keep children from growing into leaders — Kathy Caprino, Forbes, January 16, 2014
https://www.forbes.com/sites/kathycaprino/2014/01/16/7-crippling-parenting-behaviors-that-keep-children-from-growing-into-leaders/#207130b85957

Helicopter parenting bad for kids: study — AFP, NewsMax, June 2, 2015
http://www.newsmax.com/Health/Health-News/helicopter-parents-study-brigham/2015/06/02/id/648311/

Successful guide dogs have “tough love” moms, Penn study finds — Michele Berger, Katherine Unger Baillie, Penn News, August 7, 2017
https://news.upenn.edu/news/successful-guide-dogs-have-tough-love-moms-penn-study-finds

How allowing children to fail helps them to succeed — Susan Newman, Psychology Today, August 11, 2015
https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/singletons/201508/how-allowing-children-fail-helps-them-succeed

How to maintain the balance between boundaries and freedom in secondary school parenting — Andrew Martin, The Conversation, July 13, 2017
https://theconversation.com/how-to-maintain-the-balance-between-boundaries-and-freedom-in-secondary-school-parenting-80388

Celebrating parents and six tips for effective parenting — Trinity Grammar website
http://info.trinity.nsw.edu.au/blog/celebrating-parents-and-six-tips-for-effective-parenting

The independent school advantage: student engagement

From girls to Renaissance women … nurturing student engagement is central to Wenona School’s teaching practice.

Disruptive behaviour, talking back, schoolwork avoidance. These are some of the telltale signs of a disengaged student. Media headlines tend to highlight extreme misbehaviour in schools but low-intensity resistance to learning is far more common — and equally problematic.

A recent Grattan Institute report found that up to 40 per cent of Australian students are effectively tuned out in any given year. The consequences for their education and that of their fellow students are dire.

Disengaged students quickly fall behind with their performance trailing their peers by up to two years, on average. The difficulty of teaching children with insufficient base knowledge is stressful for teachers and hinders the progress of the entire class, the report found.

Study authors Peter Goss and Julie Sonnemann have called for urgent reforms. Their recommendations are two-fold: augmented teacher training that incorporates specific classroom management strategies and the development of techniques to establish a constructive learning environment in the classroom.

The overall aim of teaching should be learning — now and into the future, say the researchers.

“The teacher’s ambition should not necessarily be a quiet classroom, but a genuinely productive class. The broader aims are to help students feel comfortable, be confident in their own abilities, be willing to participate and make mistakes, and be keen to challenge themselves in learning.

And effective teaching goes further: creating an environment that not only makes learning possible now, but also teaches attitudes and behaviours that enhance learning and success in later life. Student skills in self-regulation, such as self-monitoring and self-evaluation, are vital for life-long learning,” the report states.

International research bears out these findings. The UK’s Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has assessed the impact of various components of the educational experience on learning outcomes based on worldwide evidence. Assessing everything from physical aspects such as the built environment and digital technology to parental involvement and teaching methods, the results show that teaching children meta-cognition skills such as reasoning and self-evaluation are the most effective strategies for improving engagement and lifting academic results.

As EEF chief executive Kevan Collins told Quartz, “Getting children to think and talk about their own learning more explicitly can be one of the most effective ways to improve academic outcomes.”

Independent schools are well aware of the benefits of this teaching style and have fully embraced it.

An exemplar is the Renaissance Woman educational framework found at North Sydney’s Wenona School. The school says this holistic practice is “modelled on the Socratic method of teaching, a form of cooperative dialogue and debate that encourages critical thinking; there are no ‘right answers’ in the course. The point is to consider, contemplate and question.

Strengthening student engagement is of primary importance at Wenona. “We explore ways to enhance our girls’ engagement and connectedness, including providing opportunities for them to learn to be present with themselves without distraction. Encouraging this capacity for reflection and self-awareness promotes self-confidence and a stronger sense of identity, building all-important resilience.”

The Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) has found that independent schools have the most deeply engaged students and this is due to the nature of the schools themselves.

Family background and a student’s inherent motivation play a significant role but on the centrality of schools, ACER is unequivocal: “It does matter which school a student attends,” the organisation says. This, ACER explains, is because the highest levels of engagement are found in schools where “students believe that their school has a good school climate, that is one where they have high quality teachers, effective discipline, high levels of student learning and a positive school spirit.”

Research shows that academic achievement is closely correlated with student engagement. “There is a mutually reinforcing relationship between engagement, wellbeing and outcomes. Engaged students do better and doing better increases engagement,” says the NSW Government’s Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation.

The excellent HSC results attained by independent schools throughout the state are testament to the positive learning climate found in these schools and the deep engagement they cultivate in students.

To learn more about what makes independent schools so successful, visit the North Shore School Expo, August 5-6, at the Concourse in Chatswood.

 

References:

Engaging Students: Creating Classrooms that Improve Learning — Peter Goss and Julie Sonneman, The Grattan Institute, February 2017
https://grattan.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Engaging-students-creating-classrooms-that-improve-learning.pdf

Teaching and Learning Toolkit — Education Endowment Foundation, 2017
https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/resources/teaching-learning-toolkit

We’re asking kids all the wrong questions in school — Jenny Anderson, Quartz, July 7, 2017
https://qz.com/1022656/teaching-kids-reason-in-school-boosts-their-math-and-english-scores/

Student engagement with school: individual and school level influences — Sue Fullerton, ACER, July 2002
http://research.acer.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1030&context=lsay_research

Student Wellbeing — Literature review, Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation, NSW Education and Communities, May 2015.
http://wellbeingaustralia.com.au/wba/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/student_wellbeing_litreview_v6.pdf